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Title: Life and Gabriella - The Story of a Woman's Courage
Author: Glasgow, Ellen Anderson Gholson, 1873-1945
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Life and Gabriella - The Story of a Woman's Courage" ***

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LIFE AND
GABRIELLA

THE STORY OF A WOMAN'S COURAGE

BY
ELLEN GLASGOW



FRONTISPIECE
BY
C. ALLAN GILBERT

GARDEN CITY NEW YORK

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
1916



CONTENTS


BOOK FIRST--THE AGE OF FAITH

CHAPTER                              PAGE
     I. Presents a Shameless Heroine    3
    II. Poor Jane                      30
   III. A Start in Life                61
    IV. Mirage                         90
     V. The New World                 122
    VI. The Old Serpent               148
   VII. Motherhood                    176

BOOK SECOND--THE AGE OF KNOWLEDGE

     I. Disenchantment.               211
    II. A Second Start in Life        241
   III. Work                          274
    IV. The Dream and the Years       300
     V. Success                       331
    VI. Discoveries                   368
   VII. Readjustments                 406
  VIII. The Test                      444
    IX. The Past                      476
     X. Dream and the Reality         501



BOOK FIRST

THE AGE OF FAITH



CHAPTER I

PRESENTS A SHAMELESS HEROINE


After a day of rain the sun came out suddenly at five o'clock and threw
a golden bar into the deep Victorian gloom of the front parlour. On the
window-sill, midway between the white curtains, a pot of blue hyacinths
stood in a cracked china plate, and as the sunlight shone into the room,
the scent of the blossoms floated to the corner where Gabriella was
patiently pulling basting threads out of the hem of a skirt. For a
minute her capable hands stopped at their work, and raising her smooth
dark head she looked compassionately at her sister Jane, who was
sitting, like a frozen image of martyrdom, in the middle of the long
horsehair sofa. Three times within the last twelve months Jane had fled
from her husband's roof to the protection of her widowed mother, a weak
person of excellent ancestry, who could hardly have protected a sparrow
had one taken refuge beneath her skirt. Twice before Mrs. Carr had wept
over her daughter's woes and returned her, a sullen saint, to the arms
of the discreetly repentant Charley; but to-day, while the four older
children were bribed to good behaviour with bread and damson preserves
in the pantry, and the baby was contentedly playing with his rubber ring
in his mother's arms, Gabriella had passionately declared that "Jane
must never, never go back!" Nothing so dreadful as this had ever
happened before, for the repentant Charley had been discovered making
love to his wife's dressmaker, a pretty French girl whom Jane had
engaged for her spring sewing because she had more "style" than had
fallen to the austerely virtuous lot of the Carr's regular seamstress,
Miss Folly Hatch. "I might have known she was too pretty to be good,"
moaned Jane, while Mrs. Carr, in her willow rocking-chair by the window,
wiped her reddened eyelids on the strip of cambric ruffling she was
hemming.

Unmoved among them the baby beat methodically on his mother's breast
with his rubber ring, as indifferent to her sobs as to the intermittent
tearful "coos" of his grandmother. He had a smooth bald head, fringed,
like the head of a very old man, with pale silken hair that was almost
white in the sunshine, and his eyes, as expressionless as marbles,
stared over the pot of hyacinths at a sparrow perched against the deep
blue sky on the red brick wall of the opposite house. From beneath his
starched little skirt his feet, in pink crocheted shoes, protruded with
a forlorn and helpless air as if they hardly belonged to him.

"Oh, my poor child, what are we going to do?" asked Mrs. Carr in a
resigned voice as she returned to her hemming.

"There's nothing to do, mother," answered Jane, without lifting her eyes
from the baby's head, without moving an inch out of the position she had
dropped into when she entered the room. Then, after a sobbing pause, she
defined in a classic formula her whole philosophy of life: "It wasn't my
fault," she said.

"But one can always do something if it's only to scream," rejoined
Gabriella with spirit.

"I wouldn't scream," replied Jane, while the pale cast of resolution
hardened her small flat features, "not--not if he killed me. My one
comfort," she added pathetically, "is that only you and mother know how
he treats me."

Her pretty vacant face with its faded bloom resembled a pastel portrait
in which the artist had forgotten to paint an expression. "Poor Jane
Gracey," as she was generally called, had wasted the last ten years in a
futile effort to hide the fact of an unfortunate marriage beneath an
excessively cheerful manner. She talked continually because talking
seemed to her the most successful way of "keeping up an appearance."
Though everybody who knew her knew also that Charley Gracey neglected
her shamefully, she spent twelve hours of the twenty-four pretending
that she was perfectly happy. At nineteen she had been a belle and
beauty of the willowy sort; but at thirty she had relapsed into one of
the women whom men admire in theory and despise in reality. She had
started with a natural tendency to clinging sweetness; as the years went
on the sweetness, instead of growing fainter, had become almost cloying,
while the clinging had hysterically tightened into a clutch. Charley
Gracey, who had married her under the mistaken impression that her type
was restful for a reforming rake, (not realizing that there is nothing
so mentally disturbing as a fool) had been changed by marriage from a
gay bird of the barnyard into a veritable hawk of the air. His behaviour
was the scandal of the town, yet the greater his sins, the intenser grew
Jane's sweetness, the more twining her hold. "Nobody will ever think of
blaming you, darling," said Mrs. Carr consolingly. "You have behaved
beautifully from the beginning. We all know what a perfect wife you have
been."

"I've tried to do my duty even if Charley failed in his," replied the
perfect wife, unfastening the hooks of her small heliotrope wrap trimmed
with tarnished silver passementerie. Above her short flaxen "bang" she
wore a crumpled purple hat ornamented with bunches of velvet pansies;
and though it was two years old, and out of fashion at a period when
fashions changed less rapidly, it lent an air of indecent festivity to
her tearful face. Her youth was already gone, for her beauty had been of
the fragile kind that breaks early, and her wan, aristocratic features
had settled into the downward droop which comes to the faces of people
who habitually "expect the worst."

"I know, Jane, I know," murmured Mrs. Carr, dropping her thimble as she
nervously tried to hasten her sewing. "But don't you think it would be a
comfort, dear, to have the advice of a man about Charley? Won't you let
me send Marthy for your Cousin Jimmy Wrenn?"

"Oh, mother, I couldn't. It would kill me to have everybody know I'm
unhappy!" wailed Jane, breaking down.

"But everybody knows anyway, Jane," said Gabriella, sticking the point
of her scissors into a strip of buckram, for she was stiffening the
bottom of the skirt after the fashion of the middle 'nineties.

"Of course I'm foolishly sensitive," returned Jane, while she lifted the
baby from her lap and placed him in a pile of cushions by the deep arm
of the sofa, where he sat imperturbably gazing at the blue sky and the
red wall from which the sparrow had flown. "You can never understand my
feelings because you are so different."

"Gabriella is not married," observed Mrs. Carr, with sentimental
finality. "But I'm sure, Jane--I'm just as sure as I can be of anything
that it wouldn't do a bit of harm to speak to Cousin Jimmy Wrenn. Men
know so much more than women about such matters."

In her effort to recover her thimble she dropped her spool of thread,
which rolled under the sofa on which Jane was sitting, and while she
waited for Gabriella to find it, she gazed pensively into the almost
deserted street where the slender shadows of poplar trees slanted over
the wet cobblestones. Though Mrs. Carr worked every instant of her time,
except the few hours when she lay in bed trying to sleep, and the few
minutes when she sat at the table trying to eat, nothing that she began
was ever finished until Gabriella took it out of her hands. She did her
best, for she was as conscientious in her way as poor Jane, yet through
some tragic perversity of fate her best seemed always to fall short of
the simplest requirements of life. Her face, like Jane's, was long and
thin, with a pathetic droop at the corners of the mouth, a small bony
nose, always slightly reddened at the tip, and faded blue eyes beneath
an even row of little flat round curls which looked as if they were
plastered on her forehead.

Thirty-three years before, in the romantic and fiery 'sixties, she had
married dashing young Gabriel Carr for no better reason apparently than
that she was falling vaguely in love with love; and the marriage, which
had been one of reckless passion on his side, had been for her scarcely
more than the dreamer's hesitating compromise with reality. Passion,
which she had been taught to regard as an unholy attribute implanted by
the Creator, with inscrutable wisdom, in the nature of man, and left out
of the nature of woman, had never troubled her gentle and affectionate
soul; and not until the sudden death of her husband did she begin even
remotely to fall in love with the man. But when he was once safely dead
she worshipped his memory with an ardour which would have seemed to her
indelicate had he been still alive. For sixteen years she had worn a
crape veil on her bonnet, and she still went occasionally, after the
morning service was over on Sunday, to place fresh flowers on his grave.
Now that his "earthly nature," against which she had struggled so
earnestly while he was living, was no longer in need of the pious
exorcisms with which she had treated its frequent manifestations, she
remembered only the dark beauty of his face, his robust and vigorous
youth, the tenderness and gallantry of his passion. For her daughters
she had drawn an imaginary portrait of him which combined the pagan
beauty of Antinous with the militant purity of Saint Paul; and this
romantic blending of the heathen and the Presbyterian virtues had passed
through her young imagination into the awakening soul of Gabriella.

By the town at large Mrs. Carr's sorrow was alluded to as "a beautiful
grief," yet so deeply rooted in her being was the instinct to twine,
that for the first few years of her bereavement she had simply sat in
her widow's weeds, with her rent paid by Cousin Jimmy Wrenn and her
market bills settled monthly by Uncle Beverly Blair, and waited
patiently for some man to come and support her.

When no man came, and Uncle Beverly died of a stroke of apoplexy with
his will unsigned, she had turned, with the wasted energy of the unfit
and the incompetent, to solve the inexplicable problem of indigent
ladyhood. And it was at this crucial instant that Becky Bollingbroke had
put her awful question: "Have you made up your mind, Fanny, what you are
going to do?" That was twelve years ago, but deep down in some secret
cave of Fanny's being the ghastly echo of the words still reverberated
through the emptiness and the silence.

"Don't you think, darling," she pleaded now, as she had pleaded to Becky
on that other dreadful occasion, "that we had better send immediately
for Cousin Jimmy Wrenn?"

"I--I can't think," gasped Jane, "but you may if you want to, mother."

"Send, Gabriella," said Mrs. Carr quickly, and she added tenderly, while
Gabriella dropped her work and ran to the outside kitchen for Marthy,
the coloured drudge, "you will feel so much better, Jane, after you have
had his advice."

Then at the sight of Jane's stricken face, which had turned blue as if
from a sudden chill, she hurriedly opened the drawer of her sewing
machine, and taking out a bottle of camphor she kept there, began
tremulously rubbing her daughter's forehead. As she did so, she
remembered, with the startling irrelevance of the intellectually
untrained, the way Jane had looked in her veil and orange blossoms on
the day of her wedding.

"I wonder what on earth we have done to deserve our troubles?" she found
herself thinking while she put the stopper back into the bottle and
returned to her sewing.

"Marthy has gone, mother," said Gabriella, with her cheerful air as she
came back into the room, "and I shut the children in the laundry with
Dolly who is doing the washing."

"I hope they won't make themselves sick with preserves," remarked Jane,
with the first dart of energy she had shown. "Perhaps I'd better go and
see. If Fanny eats too much we'll be up all night with her."

"I told Dolly not to let them stuff," answered Gabriella, as she sat
down by the window and threaded her needle. She was a tall, dark girl,
slender and straight as a young poplar, with a face that was frank and
pleasant rather than pretty, and sparkling brown eyes which turned
golden and grew bright as swords when she was angry. Seen by the strong
light of the window, her face showed sallow in tone, with a certain
nobility about the bony structure beneath the soft girlish flesh, and a
look of almost stern decision in the square chin and in the full rich
curve of the mouth. Her hair, which was too fine and soft to show its
thickness, drooped from its parting at the side in a dark wing over her
forehead, where it shadowed her arched black eyebrows and the clear
sweet gravity of her eyes. As she bent over her sewing the thin pure
lines of her body had a look of arrested energy, of relaxed but
exuberant vitality.

"You won't go to the dance to-night, will you, Gabriella?" inquired Mrs.
Carr nervously.

"No, I'm not going," answered the girl regretfully, for she loved
dancing, and her white organdie dress, trimmed with quillings of blue
ribbon, lay upstairs on the bed. "I'll never dance again if only Jane
won't go back to Charley. I'll work my fingers to the bone to help her
take care of the children."

"I'll never, never go back," chanted Jane with feverish passion.

"But I thought Arthur Peyton was coming for you," said Mrs. Carr. "He
will be so disappointed."

"Oh, he'll understand--he'll have to," replied Gabriella carelessly.

The sunshine faded slowly from the hyacinths on the window-sill, and
drawing her crocheted cape of purple wool closer about her, Mrs. Carr
moved a little nearer the fireplace. Outside the March wind was blowing
with a melancholy sound up the long straight street, and rocking the
glossy boughs of an old magnolia tree in the yard From the shining
leaves of the tree a few drops of water fell on the brick pavement,
where several joyous sparrows were drinking, and farther off, as bright
as silver in the clear wind, a solitary church spire rose above the
huddled roofs of the town. When the wind lulled, as it did now and then,
a warm breath seemed to stir in the sunshine, which grew suddenly
brighter, while a promise of spring floated like a faint provocative
scent on the air. And this scent, so vague, so roving, that it was like
the ghostly perfume of flowers, stole at last into the memory, and made
the old dream of youth and the young grow restless at the call of Life,
which sang to the music of flutes in the brain. But the wind, rising
afresh, drove the spirit of spring from the street, and swept the broken
leaves of the magnolia tree over the drenched grass to the green-painted
iron urns on either side of the steps.

The house, a small brick dwelling, set midway of an expressionless row
and wearing on its front a look of desiccated gentility, stood in one
of those forgotten streets where needy gentlewomen do "light
housekeeping" in an obscure hinterland of respectability. Hill Street,
which had once known fashion, and that only yesterday, as old ladies
count, had sunk at last into a humble state of decay. Here and there the
edges of porches had crumbled; grass was beginning to sprout by the
curbstone; and the once comfortable homes had opened their doors to
boarders or let their large, high-ceiled rooms to the impoverished
relicts of Confederate soldiers. Only a few blocks away the stream of
modern progress, sweeping along Broad Street, was rapidly changing the
old Southern city into one of those bustling centres of activity which
the press of the community agreed to describe as "a metropolis"; but
this river of industrialism was spanned by no social bridge connecting
Hill Street and its wistful relicts with the statelier dignities and the
more ephemeral gaieties of the opposite side. To be really "in society"
one must cross over, either for good and all, or in the dilapidated
"hack" which carried Gabriella to the parties of her schoolmates in West
Franklin Street.

For in the middle 'nineties, before social life in Richmond had become
both complicated and expensive, it was still possible for a girl in
Gabriella's position--provided, of course, she came of a "good
family"--to sew all day over the plain sewing of her relatives, and in
the evening to reign as the acknowledged belle of a ball. "Society," it
is true, did not reach any longer, except in the historic sense, to Hill
Street; but the inhabitants of Hill Street, if they were young and
energetic, not infrequently made triumphant excursions into "society."
Though Gabriella was poor and sewed for her living, she had been, from
the moment she left school, one of the most popular girls in town. To be
sure, she was neither so pretty as Florrie Spencer nor so clever as
Julia Caperton, but in the words of Julia's brother Algernon, she was
"the sort you could count on." Even in her childhood it had become the
habit of those about her to count on Gabriella. Without Gabriella, her
mother was fond of saying, it would have been impossible to keep a roof
over their heads.

Twelve years before, when they had moved into the house in Hill Street,
Mrs. Carr had accepted from Jimmy Wrenn the rent of the first floor and
the outside kitchen, which was connected with the back porch by a
winding brick walk, overgrown with wild violets, while the upper story
was let to two elderly spinsters, bearing the lordly, though fallen,
name of Peterborough. These spinsters, like Mrs. Carr, spent their lives
in a beautiful and futile pretence--the pretence of keeping up an
appearance. They also took in the plain sewing of their richer
relatives, who lived in Franklin Street, and sent them little trays of
sweet things as soon as the midday dinner was over on Sunday. Sometimes
they would drop in to see Mrs. Carr just before supper was ready, and
then they would pretend that they lived on tea and toast because they
were naturally "light eaters," and that they sewed all day, not for the
money, but because they liked to have "something to do with their hands"
They were tall thin women in organdie caps and black alpaca dresses made
with long basques which showed a greenish cast in the daylight. The
walls of their rooms were covered with family portraits of the colonial
period, and Mrs. Carr, who had parted with most of her treasures, often
wondered how they had preserved so many proofs of a distinguished
descent. Even her silver had gone--first the quaint old service with the
Bolton crest, which had belonged to her mother; then, one by one, the
forks and spoons; and, last of all, Gabriella's silver mug, which was
carried, wrapped in a shawl, to the shop of old Mr. Camberwell. She was
a woman who loved inanimate things with the passion which other women
give only to children, and a thousand delicate fibres of sentiment knit
her soul to the portraits on the wall, to the furniture with which she
lived, to the silver and glass that had once belonged to her mother.
When one after one these things went from her, she felt as if the very
roots of her being were torn up from the warm familiar earth in which
they had grown. "There's nothing left in the parlour that I shouldn't be
ashamed to have your grandmother look at," she had once confessed to her
daughters.

Seen by the light of history, this parlour, in which so much of
Gabriella's childhood was spent, was not without interest as an archaic
survival of the fundamental errors of the mid-Victorian mind. The walls
were covered with bottle-green paper on which endless processions of
dwarfed blue peacocks marched relentlessly toward an embossed
border--the result of an artistic frenzy of the early 'eighties. Neither
Mrs. Carr nor Jimmy Wrenn, who paid the rent, had chosen this paper, but
having been left on the dealer's hands, it had come under the eye of the
landlord, who, since he did not have to live with it had secured it at a
bargain. Too unused to remonstrance to make it effective, Mrs. Carr had
suffered the offending decoration in meekness, while Jimmy, having a
taste for embossment, honestly regarded the peacocks as "handsome."
From the centre of the ceiling a massive gilt chandelier, elaborately
festooned with damaged garlands, shed, when it was lighted, a dim and
troubled gloom down on the threadbare Axminster carpet. Above the white
marble mantelpiece, the old French mirror, one of the few good things
left over from a public sale of Mrs. Carr's possessions, reflected a
pair of bronze candelabra with crystal pendants, and a mahogany clock,
which had kept excellent time for half a century and then had stopped
suddenly one day while Marthy was cleaning. In the corner, between the
door and the window, there was a rosewood bookcase, with the bare
shelves hidden behind plaited magenta silk, and directly above it hung
an engraving of a group of amiable children feeding fish in a pond.
Across the room, over the walnut whatnot, a companion picture
represented the same group of children scattering crumbs before a polite
brood of chickens in a barnyard. Between the windows a third engraving
immortalized the "Burial of Latané" in the presence of several sad and
resigned ladies in crinolines, while the sofa on which Jane sat was
presided over by a Sully portrait of the beautiful Angelica Carr,
wearing a white scarf on her head and holding a single rose in her hand.
This portrait and a Saint Memin drawing of Mrs. Carr's grandfather, the
Reverend Bartholomew Berkeley as a young man in a high stock, were the
solitary existing relics of that consecrated past when Fanny Berkeley
was "not brought up to do anything."

To Mrs. Carr, whose mind was so constituted that any change in her
surroundings produced a sensation of shock, the room was hallowed by the
simple fact that she had lived in it for a number of years. That an
object or a custom had existed in the past appeared to her to be an
incontestible reason why it should continue to exist in the present. It
was distressing to her to be obliged to move a picture or to alter the
position of a piece of furniture, and she had worn one shape of bonnet
and one style of hairdressing, slightly modified to suit the changing
fashions, for almost twenty years. Her long pale face, her pensive blue
eyes, and her look of anxious sweetness, made a touching picture of
feminine incompetence; and yet it was from this pallid warmth, this
gentle inefficiency of soul, that the buoyant spirit of Gabriella had
sprung.

For Gabriella was the incarnation of energy. From the moment of her
birth when, in the words of her negro "mammy" she had looked "as peart
as life," she had begun her battle against the enveloping twin powers of
decay and inertia. To the intense secret mortification of her mother,
who had prayed for a second waxlike infant after the fashion of poor
Jane, she had been a notoriously ugly baby (almost as ugly as her Aunt
Becky Bollingbroke who had never married), and as she grew up, this
ugliness was barely redeemed by what Jane, in her vague way, described
as "the something else in her face." According to Cousin Jimmy, who
never recognized charm unless its manifestations were soft and purring,
this "something else" was merely "a sunny temper"; and one of the
constant afflictions of Gabriella's childhood was overhearing her mother
remark to visitors: "No, she isn't so pretty as poor Jane, but, as
Cousin Jimmy tells us, she is blessed with a sunny temper."

"Give me that ruffle, mother, and I'll whip the lace on while we're
waiting," she said now, laying aside the skirt of her Easter dress, and
stretching out her hand for the strip of cambric in her mother's lap.
But Mrs. Carr did not hear, for she was gazing, with the concentrated
stare of Jane's baby, at a beautiful old lady who was walking slowly
through the faint sunshine on the opposite pavement.

"I wonder where Mrs. Peyton can be coming from in her best dress?" she
remarked, forgetting Jane for an instant while her sense of tragedy
yielded to the keener impulse of curiosity.

"She never goes anywhere but to church or to the Old Ladies' home,"
replied Gabriella. "Arthur says she hasn't paid a call since her
husband's death."

"Well, I haven't made one, except of course to my relatives, for fifteen
years," rejoined Mrs. Carr a trifle tartly. Then her manner lost its
unusual asperity, and she added excitedly, "They're coming now, Jane.
There's Cousin Jimmy and he's bringing Cousin Pussy and Uncle
Meriweather!"

"Oh, mother, I can't possibly see them! I feel as if it would kill me!"
cried Jane in desperation.

"Give her the camphor, mother," said Gabriella with grim humour as she
went to open the door.

"Brace yourself, my darling. They are coming," pleaded Mrs. Carr, as she
slipped her arm under Jane's head. At the first hint of any excitement
she invariably lost her presence of mind and became distracted; and
Jane's hysterical outbursts never failed to convince her, though they
usually left the more skeptical Gabriella unmoved. "Don't you think you
would feel better if you lay back on the pillows?" she urged.

Then the bell rang, and before Jane could swallow her sobs, her sister
ushered in Jimmy and Pussy Wrenn, who were closely followed by the
ponderous figure of Uncle Meriweather, a gouty but benign old gentleman,
whose jet-black eyebrows and white imperial gave him a misleading
military air.

"Well, well, my dear, what's this I hear about Charley?" demanded Cousin
Jimmy, whose sprightly manner was never sprightlier than in the hour of
tragedy or the house of mourning. "What does he mean by letting you run
away from him?"

"I've done my duty by Charley. I've never, never failed in my duty!"
wept Jane, breaking down on Pussy's tender bosom, and waking the
sleeping baby.

"We know, darling, we know," said Pussy, patting Jane's shoulder, while
Jimmy drew a white silk handkerchief from his pocket, and hid his face
under the pretence of blowing his nose.

To see a woman cry never failed to wring a sympathetic tear from Jimmy.
Though he was a man of hard common sense, possessed of an inflexible
determination to make money, there was a soft spot inside of him which
was reached only by the distress of one of the opposite sex. The
suffering--particularly the financial suffering--of men left him
unmoved. He could foreclose a mortgage or press a debt (as long as the
debtor's wife or daughter did not appeal to him) as well as another; but
the instant a skirt fluttered on the horizon that soft something inside
of him appeared, as he expressed it, "to give way." Apart from their
afflictions, he had an eye, he used to boast, for but one woman in the
world, and she, thank God, was his wife. Handsome, portly, full-blooded,
and slightly overfed, he had let Pussy twine him about her little finger
ever since the afternoon when he had first seen her, small, trim, and
with "a way with her," at the age of six.

"Poor, poor child," said Pussy, cuddling Jane and the baby together
against her sympathetic bosom. "Something must be done, Cousin Fanny.
Something must be done, as Mr. Wrenn said on the way down, if it's only
for the satisfaction of letting Charley know what we think of him."

"We've got to put down our pride and take some step," declared Jimmy,
wondering vaguely how he could have forgotten the spirited utterance his
wife attributed to him. "I'm all for the authority of the husband, of
course, and the sanctity of the home, and everything according to the
Bible and all that--but, bless my soul, there's got to be a limit to
what a woman is expected to stand. There're some things, and I know
Uncle Meriweather will agree with me, that it isn't in human nature to
put up with."

"If I were forty years younger I'd call him out and give him a whipping
he wouldn't forget in a jiffy," blustered Uncle Meriweather, feebly
violent. "There's no way of defending a lady in these Godforsaken days.
Why, I remember when I was a boy, my poor father--God bless him!--you
recollect him, don't you Fanny?--never used a walking stick in his life
and could read print without glasses at ninety--"

"Making love to the dressmaker," pursued Jimmy, whose righteous anger
refused to be turned aside from its end.

"Don't you think, Cousin Fanny," whispered Pussy, "that Gabriella had
better leave the room?"

"Gabriella? Why, how on earth can we spare her?" Mrs. Carr whispered
back rather nervously. Then, beneath Pussy's compelling glance, she
added timidly: "Hadn't you better go, darling, and see what the children
are doing?"

"They are playing in the laundry," replied Gabriella reassuringly. "I
told Dolly not to let them go out of her sight."

"She knows so much already for her age," murmured Mrs. Carr
apologetically to Pussy.

"I don't know what Mr. Wrenn will think of your staying, dear," said
Pussy, smiling archly at the girl. "Mr. Wrenn, I was just saying that I
didn't know what you would think of Gabriella's staying in the room."

Jimmy's large handsome face, with its look of perpetual innocence--the
incorruptible innocence of a man who has never imagined anything--turned
helplessly in the direction of his wife. All things relating to
propriety came, he felt instinctively, within the natural sphere of
woman, and to be forced, on the spur of the moment, to decide a delicate
question of manners, awoke in him the dismay of one who sees his
accustomed prop of authority beginning to crumble. Surely Pussy knew
best about things like that! He would as soon have thought of
interfering with her housekeeping as of instructing her in the details
of ladylike conduct. And, indeed, he had not observed that Gabriella was
in the room until his wife, for her own purpose, had adroitly presented
the fact to his notice.

"Gabriella in the room?" he repeated in perplexity. "Why, you'd better
go, hadn't you, Gabriella? Oughtn't she to go, Pussy?"

"Just as you think best, dear, but it seems to me--"

"Certainly she ought to go," said Uncle Meriweather decisively. "The
less women and girls know about such matters, the better. I don't
understand, Fanny, how you could possibly have consented to Gabriella's
being present."

"I didn't consent, Uncle Meriweather," protested poor Mrs. Carr, who
could not bear the mildest rebuke without tears; "I only said to Pussy
that Gabriella knew a great deal more already than she ought to, and I'm
sure I'm not to blame for it. If I'd had my way she would have been just
as sheltered as other girls."

"Don't cry, mother, it isn't your fault," said Gabriella. "Uncle
Meriweather, if you make mother cry I'll never forgive you. How can she
help all these dreadful things going on?"

She was sensible, she was composed, she was perfectly sweet about it;
but, and this fact made Pussy gasp with dismay, she did not budge an
inch from her position. With her clear grave eyes, which lost their
sparkle when she grew serious, and her manner of eager sympathy, she
appeared, indeed, to be the only one in the room who was capable of
facing the situation with frankness. That she meant to face it to the
end, Pussy could not doubt while she looked at her.

"Oh, it doesn't matter about Gabriella. She knows everything," said
Jane, with the prickly sweetness of suffering virtue.

"But she's a young girl--young girls oughtn't to hear such things,"
argued Uncle Meriweather, feeling helplessly that something was wrong
with the universe, and that, since it was different from anything he had
ever known in the past, he was unable to cope with it. Into his eyes,
gentle and bloodshot above his fierce white moustache--the eyes of one
who has never suffered the painful process of thinking things out, but
has accepted his opinions as unquestioningly as he has accepted his
religion or the cut of his clothes--there came the troubled look of one
who is struggling against forces that he does not understand. For
Gabriella was serious. There was not the slightest hope in the disturbed
mind of Uncle Meriweather that she was anything but perfectly serious.
Caprice, being a womanly quality, was not without a certain charm for
him. He was quite used to it; he knew how to take it; he had been taught
to recognize it from his childhood up. It was pretty, it was playful;
and his mind, if so ponderous a vehicle could indulge in such activity,
was fond of play. But after the first perplexed minute or two he had
relinquished forever the hope that Gabriella was merely capricious.
Clearly the girl knew what she was talking about; and this knowledge, so
surprising in one of her age and sex, gave him a strange dreamy sense of
having just awakened from sleep.

"I must say I like girls to be girls, Fanny," he pursued testily; "I
reckon I'm only an old fogy, but I like girls to be girls. When a woman
loses her innocence, she loses her greatest charm in the eyes of a
man--of the right sort of a man. Pluck the peach with the bloom on it,
my poor father used to say. He didn't believe in all this new-fangled
nonsense about the higher education of women--none of his daughters
could do more I than read and write and spell after a fashion, and yet
look what wives and mothers they made! Pokey married three times, and
was the mother of fourteen children, nine of them sons. And are we any
better off now than then, I ask? Whoever heard of a woman running away
from her husband before the war, and now here is poor Jane--"

"But it isn't my fault, Uncle Meriweather!" cried Jane, in desperation
at his obtuseness. "I've tried to be the best wife I could--ask Charley
if I haven't. He neglected me long before I let any one know--even
mother. I forgave him again and again, and I'd go on forgiving him
forever if he would let me. I've told him over and over that I was going
to be a faithful wife to him if he killed me."

"Of course, my dear, I'm not meaning to reproach you," said Uncle
Meriweather, overcome by the effect of his words. "We all know that
you've stood as much as any woman could and keep her self-respect. It
isn't possible, I suppose, for you to go on living with Charley?"

"Oh, I couldn't bear a separation, not a legal one at any rate," groaned
Mrs. Carr. "Of course she must come away for a time, but nobody must
hear of it or it would kill me. They are one in the sight of God, and my
dear old father had such a horror of separations."

"Well, I'd kick him out--I'd kick him out so quickly he wouldn't know
it," declared Jimmy. "If a daughter of mine were married to that scamp,
she'd never lay eyes on him except over my dead body. I reckon God would
enjoy the sight of his getting his deserts."

Deep down in Cousin Jimmy, deeper than sentiment, deeper than tradition,
deeper even than the solid bedrock of common sense, there was the
romantic essence of his soul, which hated baseness with a fiery hatred.
His ruddy face, still boyish in spite of his fifty years, blanched
slowly, and there came into his soft dark eyes the look he had worn at
Malvern Hill under the fire of the enemy.

At the sight Gabriella thrilled as she did when drums were beating and
armies were marching. "Oh, Cousin Jimmy, don't let her go back!" she
cried.

"I can't go back to him now! I can never, never go back to him again!"
intoned Jane with passionate energy.

"No, God bless her, she shan't go back," declared Jimmy, as profoundly
stirred as Gabriella.

"But the children? What will become of the children?" demanded Mrs.
Carr, not of Jimmy, but of the universe. Her helpless gaze, roving
wildly from face to face, and resting nowhere, was like the gaze of a
small animal caught in a trap. "If Jane separates the children from
their father what will people think of her?" she asked, still vainly
addressing Heaven.

"As long as she is right it doesn't matter what people think," retorted
Gabriella; but her protest, unlike her mother's, was directed to the
visible rather than to the invisible powers. The thought of Jane's
children--of the innocent souls so unaware of the awful predicament in
which they were placed that their bodies could be devouring bread and
damson preserves in the laundry. The poignant thought of these children
moved her more deeply than she had ever been moved before in her twenty
years. A passion for self-sacrifice rushed through her with the piercing
sweetness of religious ecstasy. Nothing like this had ever happened to
her before--not when she was confirmed, not when she had stood at the
head of her class, not when she had engaged herself to Arthur Peyton two
years before. It was the pure flame of experience at its highest point
that burned in her.

"I will take care of the children," she said breathlessly. "I will give
up my whole life to them. I will get a place in a store and work my
fingers to the bone, if only Jane will never go back."

For a moment there was silence; but while Gabriella waited for somebody
to answer, she felt that it was a silence which had become vocal with
inexpressible things. The traditions of Uncle Meriweather, the
conventions of Mrs. Carr, the prejudices of Jimmy, and the weak impulses
of Jane, all these filled the dusk through which the blank faces of her
family stared back at her. Then, while she stood white and trembling
with her resolve--with the passionate desire to give herself, body and
soul, to Jane and to Jane's children--the voice of Experience spoke
pleasantly, but firmly, through Cousin Pussy's lips, and it dealt with
Gabriella's outburst as Experience usually deals with Youth.

"You are a dear child, Gabriella," it said; "but how in the world could
you help Jane by going into a store?"

In the midst of the emotional scene, Cousin Pussy alone remained sweetly
matter-of-fact. Though she was not without orderly sentiments, her
character had long ago been swept of heroics, and from her arched gray
hair, worn à la Pompadour, to her pretty foot in its small neat boot,
she was a practical soul who had as little use for religious ecstasy as
she had for downright infidelity. There seemed to her something
positively unnatural in Gabriella's manner--a hint of that "sudden
conversion" she associated with the lower classes or with the negroes.

"You are a dear child," she repeated, biting her fresh lips; "but how
will you help Jane by going into a store?"

"I can trim hats," returned Gabriella stubbornly. "Mr. Brandywine will
take me into his new millinery department, I know, for I said something
to him about it the other day."

"Oh, Gabriella, not in a store! It would kill mother!" cried Jane, with
the prophetic wail of Cassandra.

"Not in a store!" echoed Mrs. Carr; "you couldn't work in a store. If
you want to work," she concluded feebly, "why can't you work just as
well in your home?"

"But it isn't the same thing, mother," explained Gabriella, with angelic
patience. "Nobody will get me to make hats at home, and, besides, I've
got to learn how to do it. I've got to learn business methods."

"But not in a shop, my dear," protested Uncle Meriweather in the precise
English of his youth.

"Bless my heart!" chuckled Cousin Jimmy. "Business methods! You're as
good as a show, Gabriella, and, by George! you've plenty of pluck. I
like pluck in man or woman."

"I shouldn't encourage her if I were you, Mr. Wrenn," said Cousin Pussy,
almost forgetting to be indirect.

"Well, of course, I don't approve of that store business," replied
Jimmy, deprecatingly, "but I can't help liking pluck when I see it. Look
here, Gabriella, if you're bent on working, why don't you turn in and
teach?"

"Yes, let her teach by all means," agreed Uncle Meriweather, with
genuine enthusiasm for the idea. "I've always regarded teaching as an
occupation that ought to be restricted by law to needy ladies."

"But I can't teach, I don't know enough, and, besides, I'd hate it,"
protested Gabriella.

"I'm sure you might start a school for very little children," said Mrs.
Carr. "You don't have to know much, to teach them, and you write a very
good hand."

"What about plain sewing?" asked Pussy in her ready way. "Couldn't you
learn to make those new waists all the girls are wearing?"

"I haven't the patience to sew well. Look how hard mother works, making
buttonholes with stitches so fine you can hardly see them, and yet she
doesn't get enough to put bread into her mouth, and but for her
relatives she'd have been in the poorhouse long ago. I'm tired of being
on charity just because we are women. Now that Jane has come home for
good I am simply obliged to find something to do."

"I don't mind your wanting to work, dear, I think it's splendid of you,"
returned Pussy, "but I do feel that you ought to work in a ladylike
way--a way that wouldn't interfere with your social position and your
going to germans and having attention from young men and all that."

"Why don't you make lampshades, Gabriella?" demanded Jane in an emphatic
burst of inspiration. "Sophy Madison earns enough from lampshades to
send her sister and herself to the White Sulphur Springs every summer."

"Sophy makes all the lampshades that anybody wants, and, besides, she
gets orders from the North--she told me so yesterday."

"Gabriella crochets beautifully," remarked Mrs. Carr a little nervously
because of the failure of her first suggestion. "The last time I went to
see Miss Matoaca Chambers in the Old Ladies' Home, she told me she made
quite a nice little sum for her church by crocheting mats."

"And Gabriella can cook, too," rejoined Pussy, with exaggerated
sprightliness, for she felt that Mrs. Carr's solution of the problem had
not been entirely felicitous. "Why doesn't she try sending some of her
angel food to the Woman's Exchange?"

Jimmy, who had listened to this advice with the expression of tolerant
amusement he always wore when women began to talk about the more serious
affairs of life in his presence, made an honest, if vulgar, attempt to
lighten the solemnity of the situation with a joke.

"Gabriella isn't trying to earn church money. You're out gunning for a
living, aren't you, Ella?" he inquired.

"I'm sick of being dependent," repeated Gabriella, while her face grew
stern. "Do you think if Jane had had enough money to live on that she
would ever have stood Charley so long?"

"Oh, yes, I should, Gabriella. Marriage is sacred to me!" exclaimed
Jane, whose perfect wifeliness atoned, even in the opinion of Jimmy, for
any discrepancies in logic. "Nothing on earth could have induced me to
leave him until--until this happened."

The conviction that she had never at any moment since her marriage
"failed in her duty to Charley" lent a touching sanctity to her
expression, while the bitter lines around her mouth faded in the wan
glow that flooded her face. Whatever her affliction, however intense her
humiliation, Jane was supported always by the most comforting of
beliefs--the belief that she had been absolutely right and Charley
absolutely wrong through the ten disillusioning years of their married
life. Never for an instant--never even in a nightmare--had she been
visited by the disquieting suspicion that she was not entirely
blameless.

"Well, you've left him now anyway," said Gabriella, with the disarming
candour which delighted Jimmy and perplexed Uncle Meriweather, "so
somebody has got to help you take care of the children."

"She shall never come to want as long as Pussy and I have a cent left,"
declared Cousin Jimmy, and his voice expressed what Mrs. Carr described
afterward as "proper feeling."

"And we'd really rather that you'd earn less and keep in your own
station of life," said Pussy decisively.

"If you mean that you'd rather I'd work buttonholes or crochet mats than
go into a store and earn a salary, then I can't do it," answered
Gabriella, as resolute, though not so right-minded, as poor Jane. "I'd
rather die than be dependent all my life, and I'm going to earn my
living if I have to break rocks to do it."



CHAPTER II

POOR JANE


Supper was over, and Gabriella, still in the dress she had worn all day,
was picking up the children's clothes from the floor of her room.
According to Mrs. Carr's hereditary habit in sorrow or sickness, Jane
had been served in bed with tea and toast, while several small hard cots
had been brought down from the attic and arranged in the available space
in the two bedrooms. As Gabriella looked at the sleeping children, who
had kicked the covering away, and lay with round rosy limbs gleaming in
the lamplight, she remembered that Arthur Peyton was coming at nine
o'clock to take her to Florrie's party, and she told herself with grim
determination that she would never go to a party again. The Berkeley
conscience, that vein of iron which lay beneath the outward softness and
incompetence of her mother and sister, held her, in spite of her
tempting youth, to the resolution she had made. She had told Jimmy that
she meant to earn her living if she had to break rocks to do it, and
Gabriella, like Pussy, came of a race that "did not easily change its
mind."

Turning to the bureau, she smoothed out the children's hair ribbons and
pinned them, in two tight little blue and pink rolls, to the pincushion.
Then taking up a broken comb, she ran it through the soft lock of hair
that fell like a brown wing over her forehead. Her bright dark eyes,
fringed in short thick lashes and set wide apart under arched eyebrows,
gazed questioningly back at her from a row of german favours with which
she had decorated the glass; and it was as if the face of youth,
flickering with a flamelike glow and intensity, swam there for an
instant in the dim greenish pool of the mirror. Beneath the charm of the
face there was the character which one associates, not with youth, but
with age and experience. Beneath the fine, clear lines of her head and
limbs, the tall slenderness of her figure, the look of swiftness and of
energy, which was almost birdlike in its grace and poise, there was a
strength and vigour which suggested a gallant boy rather than the
slighter and softer frame of a girl.

While she stood there, Gabriella thought regretfully of all that it
would mean to give up her half-dependent and wholly ladylike existence
and go to work in a shop. Necessity not choice was driving her; and in
spirit she looked back almost wistfully to the securely circumscribed
lot of her grandmother. For there was little of the rebel in her
temperament; and had she been free to choose, she would have
instinctively selected, guided by generations of gregarious ancestors,
the festive girlhood which Cousin Pussy had so ardently described. She
wanted passionately all the things that other girls had, and her only
quarrel, indeed, with the sheltered life was that she couldn't afford
it. In the expressive phrase of Cousin Jimmy, the sheltered life "cost
money," and to cost money was to be beyond the eager grasp of Gabriella.

The door opened as if yielding under protest, and Marthy entered, still
hurriedly tying the strings of the clean apron she had slipped on over
her soiled one before answering the door-bell.

"Yo' beau done come, Miss Ella. Ain't you gwine?"

"No, I'm not going to the party, Marthy, but ask him to wait just a
minute."

"He's settin' over yonder in de parlour wid his overcoat on."

"Well, ask him to take it off; I'll be there in a moment." She spoke as
gravely as Marthy had done, yet in her face there was a light play of
humour.

Two years ago she would have thrilled with joy at the thought that
Arthur was waiting for her; but in those two years since her engagement
she had grown to look upon her first love as the gossamer, fairylike
romance of a child. For months she had known that the engagement must be
broken sooner or later; and she knew now, while she listened to Marthy's
shuffling feet hastening to deliver her message, that she must break it
to-night. In the dim pool of her mirror a face looked back at her that
was not the face of Arthur Peyton; she saw it take form there as one
sees a face grow gradually into life from the dimness of dreams. It was,
she told herself to-night, the very face of her dream that she saw.

"Well, I must get it over," she said with a sternness which gave her a
passing resemblance to the Saint Memin portrait of the Reverend
Bartholomew Berkeley; "I've got to get it over to-night, and whatever
happens I've got to be honest." Then, with a last glance at the sleeping
children, she lowered the gas, and went across the darkened hail, which
smelt of pickles and bacon because one end of it was used as a
storeroom.

The parlour had been swept since the family council had deliberated
there over Jane's destiny. The scraps of cambric had been gathered up
from the threadbare arabesques in the carpet; the chairs had been placed
at respectable distances apart; the gas-jets in the chandelier were
flaming extravagantly under the damaged garlands; and the sewing machine
had been wheeled into the obscurity of the hail, for it would have
humiliated Gabriella's mother to think that her daughter received young
men in a room which looked as if somebody had worked there.

When Gabriella entered, Arthur Peyton was standing in front of the
fireplace, gazing abstractedly at his reflection in the French mirror.
Though his chestnut hair was carefully brushed, he had instinctively
lifted his hand to smooth down an imaginary lock, and while he did this,
he frowned slightly as if at a recollection that had ruffled his temper.
His features were straight and very narrow, with the look of
sensitiveness one associates with the thoroughbred, and the delicate
texture of his skin emphasized this quality of high-breeding, which was
the only thing that one remembered about him. In his light-gray eyes
there was a sympathetic expression which invariably won the hearts of
old ladies, and these old ladies were certain to say of him afterward,
"such a gentleman, my dear--almost of the old school, you know, and we
haven't many of them left in this hurrying age."

He had done well, though not brilliantly, at college, for his mind, if
unoriginal, had never given anybody, not even his mother, the least bit
of trouble. For three years he had worked with admirable regularity in
the office of his uncle, Carter Peyton, one of the most distinguished
lawyers in the Virginia of his period, and it was generally felt that
young Arthur Peyton would have "a brilliant future." For the present,
however, he lived an uneventful life with his widowed mother in a
charming old house, surrounded by a walled garden, in Franklin Street.
Like the house, he was always in perfect order; and everything about
him, from his loosely fitting clothes and his immaculate linen to his
inherited conceptions of life, was arranged with such exquisite
precision that it was impossible to improve it in any way. He knew
exactly what he thought, and he knew also his reason, which was usually
a precedent in law or custom, for thinking as he did. His opinions,
which were both active and abundant, were all perfectly legitimate
descendants of tradition, and the phrase "nobody ever heard of such a
thing," was quite as convincing to him as to Mrs. Carr or to Cousin
Jimmy Wrenn.

"Gabriella, aren't you going?" he asked reproachfully as the girl
entered.

"Oh, Arthur, we've had such a dreadful day! Poor Jane has left Charley
for good and has come home, with all the children. We've been busy
dividing them among us, and we're going to turn the dining-room into a
nursery.

"Left Charley? That's bad, isn't it?" asked Arthur doubtfully.

"I feel so sorry for her, Arthur. It must be terrible to have love end
like that."

"But she isn't to blame. Everybody knows that she has forgiven him again
and again."

"Yes, everybody knows it," repeated Gabriella, as if she drew bitter
comfort from the knowledge, "and she says now that she will never, never
go back to him."

For the first time a shadow appeared in Arthur's clear eyes.

"Do you think she ought to make up her mind, darling, until she sees
whether or not he will reform? After all, she is his wife."

"That's what mother says, and yet I believe Charley is the only person
on earth mother really hates. Now Cousin Jimmy and I will do everything
we can to keep her away from him."

"I think I shouldn't meddle if I were you, dearest. She'll probably go
back to him in the end because of the children.

"But I am going to help her take care of the children," replied
Gabriella stanchly. "Of course, my life will be entirely different now,
Arthur," she added gently. "Everything is altered for me, too, since
yesterday. I have thought it all over for hours, and I am going to try
to get a place in Brandywine's store."

"In a store?" repeated Arthur slowly, and she saw the muscles of his
mouth tighten and grow rigid.

"Mother doesn't like the idea any more than you do, but what are we to
come to if we go on in the old aimless way? One can't make a living out
of plain sewing, and though, of course, Charley will be supposed to
provide for his children, he isn't exactly the sort one can count on.
Brandywine's, you see, is only a beginning. What I mean is that I am
obliged to learn how to support myself."

"But couldn't you work just as well in your home, darling?

"People don't pay anything for home work. You must see what I mean,
Arthur."

"Yes, I see," he replied tenderly; but after a moment's thought, he
went on again with the gentle obstinacy of a man whose thinking had all
been done for him before he was born. "I wish, though, that you would
try to hold out a little longer, working at home with your mother. In a
year or two we shall be able to marry."

"I couldn't," said Gabriella, shaking her head. "Don't urge me, Arthur."

"If you would only consent to live with mother, we might marry now," he
pursued, after a minute, as if he had not heard her.

"But it wouldn't be fair to her, and how could I ask her to take mother
and Jane and the children? No, I've thought it all out, dear, and I must
go to work."

"But I'll work for them, Gabriella. I'll do anything on earth rather
than see you ordered about by old Brandywine."

"He won't order me about," answered Gabriella cheerfully; "but mother
feels just as you do. She says I am going out of my class because I
won't stay at home and work buttonholes."

"You couldn't go out of your class," replied Arthur, with an instinctive
gallantry which even his distress could not overcome; "but I can't get
used to the thought of it, darling--I simply can't. You're so sacred to
me. There's something about the woman a man loves that's different from
every other woman, and the bare idea of your working in a shop sickens
me. I always think of you as apart from the workaday world. I always
think of you as a star shining serenely above the sordid struggle--"
Overwhelmed by the glowing train of his rhetoric, he broke down suddenly
and caught passionately at the cool hand of Gabriella.

As he looked at her slender finger, on which he had placed her
engagement ring two years before, it seemed to him that the situation
was becoming intolerable--that it was an affront not only to his ideal
of Gabriella, as something essentially starlike and remote, but to that
peculiar veneration for women which he always spoke and thought of as
"Southern." His ideal woman was gentle, clinging, so perfectly a "lady"
that she would have perished had she been put into a shop; and, though
he was aware that Gabriella was a girl of much character and
determination, his mind was so constructed that he was able, without
difficulty, to think of her as corresponding to this exalted type of her
sex. By the simple act of falling in love with her he had endowed her
with every virtue except the ones that she actually possessed.

"I know, I know," said Gabriella tenderly, for she saw that he suffered.
Her training had been a hard one, though she had got it at home, and in
a violent reaction from the sentimentality of her mother and Jane she
had become suspicious of any language that sounded "flowery" to her
sensitive ears. With her clear-sighted judgment, she knew perfectly well
that by no stretch of mind or metaphor could she be supposed to resemble
a star--that she was not shining, not remote, not even "ideal" in
Arthur's delicate sense of the word. She had known the horrors of
poverty, of that bitter genteel poverty which must keep up an appearance
at any cost; and she could never forget the grim days, after the death
of Uncle Beverly Blair, when they had shivered in fireless rooms and
gone for weeks without butter on their bread. For the one strong quality
in Mrs. Carr's character was the feeling she spoke of complacently,
though modestly, as "proper pride"; and this proper pride, which was
now resisting Gabriella's struggle for independence, had in the past
resisted quite as stubbornly the thought of an appeal to the ready
charity of her masculine relatives. To seek a man's advice had been from
her girlhood the primal impulse of Mrs. Carr's nature; but, until Fate
had starved her into sincerity, she had kept alive the ladylike fiction
that she was in need of moral, not material, assistance.

"Of course, if there were any other way, Arthur," said Gabriella,
remembering the earlier battles with her mother, and eager to compromise
when she could do so with dignity; "but how can I go on being dependent
on Cousin Jimmy and Uncle Meriweather. Neither of them is rich, and
Cousin Jimmy has a large family."

Of course she was reasonable. The most disagreeable thing about
Gabriella, Jane had once said, was her inveterate habit of being
reasonable. But then Jane, who was of an exquisite sensibility, felt
that Gabriella's reasonableness belonged to a distinctly lower order of
intelligence. When all was said, Gabriella saw clearly because she had a
practical mind, and a practical mind is usually engrossed with material
matters.

"I understand exactly how you feel, dear, but if only you could go on
just as you are for a few years longer," said Arthur, sticking to his
original idea with a tenacity which made it possible for him to argue
for hours and yet remain exactly where he had started. Though they
talked all night, though she convinced him according to all the laws and
principles of logic, she knew that he would still think precisely what
he had thought in the beginning, for his conviction was rooted, deeper
than reason, in the unconquerable prejudices which had passed from the
brain into the very blood of his race. He would probably say at the end:
"I admit all that you tell me, Gabriella, but my sentiment is against
it;" and this sentiment, overruling sense, would insist, with sublime
obstinacy, that Gabriella must not work in a shop. It would ignore,
after the exalted habit of sentiment, such merely sordid facts as
poverty and starvation (who ever heard of a woman of good family
starving in Virginia?), and, at last, if Gabriella were really in love
with Arthur, it would triumph over her finer judgment and reduce her to
submission. But while she watched him, in the very minute when, failing
for words, he caught her in his arms, she said to herself, suddenly
chilled and determined: "I must get it over to-night, and I've got to be
honest." The scent of the hyacinths floated to her again, but it seemed
to bring a cold wind, as if a draught had blown in through the closed
slats of the shutters.

"Everything has changed, Arthur," she said, "and I don't think I ought
to go on being engaged." Then because her words sounded insincere, she
added sternly: "Even if we could be married--and of course we can't
be--I--I don't feel that I should want to marry. I am not sure that I
love you enough to marry you."

It was all so unromantic, so unemotional, so utterly different from the
scene she had pictured when she imagined what "breaking her engagement"
would be like. Then she had always thought of herself as dissolving in
tears on the horsehair sofa, which had become sacred to the tragedy of
poor Jane; but, to her surprise, she did not feel now the faintest
inclination to cry. It ought to have been theatrical, but it wasn't--not
even when she took off her engagement ring, as she had read in novels
that girls did at the decisive instant, and laid it down on the table.
When she remembered this afterwards, it appeared rather foolish, but
Arthur seemed not to notice it, and when Marthy came in to light the
fire in the morning, she found the ring lying on a copy of Gray's Elegy
and brought it back to Gabriella.

"I'll never give you up," said Arthur stubbornly, and knowing his
character, she felt that he had spoken the truth. He could not give her
up even had he wished it, for, like a belief, she had passed from his
brain into the fibre of his being. She had become a habit to him, and
not love, but the inability to change, to cease thinking what he had
always thought, to break a fixed manner of life, would keep him faithful
to her in his heart.

"I'm sorry--oh, I'm sorry," she murmured, longing to have it over and to
return to Jane and the children. It occurred to her almost resentfully
that love was not always an unmixed delight.

"Is there any one else, Gabriella?" he asked with a sudden choking sound
in his voice. "I have sometimes thought--in the last four or five
months--that there might be--that you had changed--that--" He stopped
abruptly, and she answered him with a beautiful frankness which would
have horrified the imperishable, if desiccated, coquetry of her mother.

"There is some one else and there isn't," she replied simply. "I mean I
think of some one else very often--of some one who isn't in my life at
all--from whom I never hear--"

"Is it George Fowler?"

She bowed her head, and, though she did not blush, her eyes grew
radiant.

"And you have known him less than a year?"

Again she bowed her head without speaking. What was there, after all,
that she could say in justification of her behaviour?

A groan escaped him, smothered into a gentle murmur of protest. "And I
thought women were more constant than men!" he exclaimed with something
of the baffled and helpless feeling which had overtaken Uncle
Meriweather while he regarded Gabriella.

The generalization was not without interest for Gabriella.

"I thought so, too," she observed dispassionately. "I thought so, too,
and that is why it was such a dreadful surprise to me when it happened.
You yourself aren't more shocked and surprised than I was in the
beginning," she added.

"But you've got used to the thought, I suppose?"

"Well, one has to, you see. What else is there to do? I always
understood from mother"--she went on with the same eager interest, as if
she were stumbling upon new and important intellectual discoveries--"I
always understood that women never fell in love with men first--I mean
until they had had positive proof that their love would be returned. But
in this case that didn't seem to matter at all. Nothing mattered, and
the more I fought against it and tried to be true to my engagement, the
more I found myself being false. It's all very strange," she concluded,
"but that is just how it happened."

"And he knows nothing about it?"

"Oh, no. I told him I was engaged to you, and then he went away."

For an instant he was silent, and watching his face, so carefully
guarded and controlled by habit that it had the curious blank look of a
statue's, Gabriella could form no idea of the suppressed inarticulate
suffering in his heart.

"And if he came back would you marry him?" he asked.

Before replying she sat for a minute gazing down on her folded hands and
weighing each separate word of her answer.

"I should try not to, Arthur," she said at last, "but--but I am not sure
that I should be able to help it."

When at last he had said "good-bye" rather grimly, and gone out of the
door without looking back, she was conscious of an immense relief, of a
feeling that she could breathe freely again after an age of oppression.
There was a curious sense of unreality about the hour she had just
passed through, as if it belonged not to actual life, but to a play she
had been rehearsing. She had felt nothing. The breaking of her
engagement had failed utterly to move her.

After bolting the front door, she turned out the gas in the parlour,
pushed back the lump of coal in the grate in the hope of saving it for
the morrow, and went cautiously down the hall to her room. As she passed
her mother's door, a glimmer of light along the threshold made her pause
for a minute, and while she hesitated, an anxious voice floated out to
her:

"Gabriella, is that you?"

"Yes, Mother, do you want anything?"

"Jane has one of her heart attacks. I put her to bed in my room because
it is more comfortable than the dining-room. Don't you think you had
better go back and wake Marthy?"

"Is she ill? Let me come in," answered Gabriella, pushing open the door
and brushing by Mrs. Carr, who stood, shrunken and shivering, in a gray
flannel wrapper and felt slippers.

Though Jane's attacks were familiar occurrences, they never failed to
produce an immediate panic in the household. As a child of nine,
Gabriella remembered being aroused in the middle of a bitter night,
hastily wrapped in her mother's shawl and a blanket, and hurried up the
staircase to Jane, who had broken her engagement to Charley the evening
before. Jane, pale, angelic, palpitating, appeared to draw her last
breath as they entered, while the old doctor supported her in his arms,
and Marthy, in a frenzy of service, rattled the dead embers in the
grate. It had all been horribly vivid, and when Jane had murmured
Charley's name in a dying voice, they had stood, trembling and blue with
cold, around her bed, waiting for the end. But the end had not come, and
three months later Jane was married to Charley Gracey.

After that scene, Gabriella had associated Jane's attacks with a
freezing January night and a fireless grate (though the last but one had
occurred in mid-August), and she was relieved now to find a fire burning
in her mother's room and a kettle singing merrily on the fender. The
elder children, with their flannel petticoats pinned over their thin
little shoulders, were sitting straight and stiff on a box couch which
had been turned into a bed, and their strange little faces looked wan
and peaked in the firelight.

Jane was really ill, Gabriella decided, after a glance at her sister.
Nothing except acute suffering could have given her that ghastly pallor
or made her eyes sink so far back in her head. She lay quite motionless
on the far side of the big tester bed, staring straight up at the
ceiling with an expression which terrified Gabriella, though she had
seen it on her sister's face at least a dozen times before to-night.

"Has Arthur gone?" asked Mrs. Carr in a voice that sounded as if she
were running.

"Yes. Did you want him, mother?"

"I thought we might send him for the doctor and for Charley. Don't you
think Charley ought to be told of her condition? She has asked for the
children."

"Have you given her the digitalis?"

"I can't make her swallow it. There are the drops on the table by the
bed. My hands tremble so I had to measure them three times."

Taking the glass from the table, Gabriella bent over her sister and
implored her to swallow the drops, but, without appearing to hear her
voice, Jane still stared blankly upward, with the rigid, convulsed look
of a woman who has been stricken with dumbness. Her flaxen hair, damp
with camphor, which Mrs. Carr had wildly splashed on her forehead, clung
flat and close to her head, while the only pulse in her body seemed to
beat in irregular, spasmodic throbs in her throat.

"Don't go, mother. I'll wake Marthy," cried Gabriella, for Mrs. Carr,
inspired by the spirit of panic, was darting out of the door in her felt
slippers. Then, while the children, crying distractedly, rushed to
Jane's bedside, the girl ran out of the house and along the brick walk
to the kitchen and the room above it where Marthy lived the little life
she had apart from her work. In answer to Gabriella's call she emerged
entirely dressed from the darkness; and at the news of Jane's illness
she was seized with the spurious energy which visits her race in the
moment of tragedy. She offered at once to run for the doctor, and
suggested, without a hint from Gabriella, that she had better leave
word, on her way home, for Marse Charley.

"I knowed 'twuz comin' jez ez soon ez I lay eyes on 'er," she muttered,
for she was an old family servant. "Dar ain' no use 'n tryin' ter come
betweenst dem de good Lawd is done jine tergedder fur worse. A baid
husban'! Hi! Dar ain't un 'oman erlive, I reckon, dat 'ouldn't ruther
own a baid husban' den no husban' at all. You all is got to teck 'em de
way dey's made, en dar's moughty few un um dat is made right."

Still muttering, she stumbled down the walk and out of the gate, while
Gabriella returned to her mother's room and hurried the weeping children
into their shoes and stockings. Mrs. Carr, still in her flannel wrapper,
with her little flat gray curls screwed up on pins for the night, and
her thin ankles showing pathetically above her felt slippers, ran
nervously to and fro with mustard plasters and bottles of hot water
which she continually refilled from the kettle on the fender.
Occasionally she paused long enough to hold the camphor to Jane's nose
or to lift the quilt from the bottom of the bed and then put it
carefully back in the very spot where it had lain before she had touched
it. And because she was born to take two steps to every one that was
necessary, because she could not accomplish the simplest act without a
prodigious waste of energy and emotion, because she died twenty deaths
over the slightest anxiety, and, most of all, because she was the last
person on earth who ought to have been burdened with poverty and hard
work and an unhappily married daughter--because of all these things Mrs.
Carr wore herself to a shadow in the quarter of an hour they spent
waiting for the doctor and Charley Gracey.

Though she had brought Jane through at least a dozen "attacks," she
still lost her presence of mind as completely as on that January night
when, utterly distraught, she had hurried Gabriella to the first
death-bed scene of her sister; she still grew as forgetful of herself
and her own feelings, and, in obedience to some profound law of her
nature, she still as confidently "expected the worst." For Mrs. Carr's
philosophy, like Jane's, was of that active but dreary sort that thrives
best upon misery. Just as Jane, who had lost every illusion about
Charley, went on loving him in spite of it, so Mrs. Carr, having lost
her illusions about life, retained a kind of wistful fondness for the
thing that had wounded her.

The door-bell rang sharply, and Gabriella went to let in the doctor, a
brisk, authoritative young man of the new school, who had learned
everything there was to be known about medicine except the way to behave
in a sickroom, and who abhorred a bedside manner as heartily as if it
were calomel or castor oil. His name was Darrow, and he was the
assistant of old Dr. Walker, Mrs. Carr's family physician, who never
went out at night since he had passed his seventieth birthday.
Gabriella, who liked him because he was not anecdotal and gave small
doses of medicine, hastily led the way to her mother's room before she
ran back to meet Charley Gracey at the door of the dark parlour.

"You can't see her now. The doctor is with her," she whispered. "I'll
make a light in here and you can wait."

"Let me," said Charley, quite as pleasantly as if he were not a bad
husband, while he found a match and struck it on the sole of his foot.
Then, as the gas flared up, he exclaimed, with a low whistle, "By Jove,
you're a sight, Gabriella!"

"Well, it's your fault," replied Gabriella sharply, letting him see, as
she told herself, exactly what she thought of him. "You've made Jane so
ill we thought she was dying."

"I'm sorry for that," he said, suddenly smitten with gravity. "Is she
really so bad?"

His charming freckled face, with its irrepressible humour, grew almost
grotesquely solemn, while the habitual merriment faded slowly from his
light-gray eyes, leaving them empty of expression. He was a short,
rather thick-set man, not particularly good-looking, not particularly
clever, but possessing a singular, if unaccountable, charm. Everybody
liked Charley, though nobody respected him. He was a scamp, but a
lovable scamp, while Jane, with the best intentions in the world, had
managed to make every virtue unattractive. When people condemned him,
they said that he was "utterly unprincipled"; when they softened in
their judgment, they admitted that he had "the best heart in the world."

"I suppose it isn't any worse than other attacks," answered Gabriella,
"but you know what they are like."

"Yes, I know," replied Charley. "Oh, Lord, don't I?"

"She asked mother to send for you," continued Gabriella. "She wants you
to know that she has forgiven you."

"Has she?" said Charley, without elation. Turning away, he stared for a
minute or two at the engraving of the children feeding fish in a pond;
then, with his eyes still glued to the picture, he burst out
passionately: "Gabriella, I'd hoped she wouldn't this time!"

"If I were she," retorted Gabriella crushingly, "I would never speak to
you again until the day of my death."

"If she were you," rejoined Charley, with barefaced audacity, "I'd have
been a good husband. Why, I was simply starving to be a good husband
when I married Jane. It's my ideal in life. I'm all for the domestic
thing by nature. I was tired--positively dog-tired of the other kind. I
wanted a wife. I adored--I've always adored babies--"

"If that is true," returned Gabriella sternly, for she was not disposed
to soften to Charley, and in her heart she deeply resented what she
called Jane's "weakness," "if that is true why do you behave so
outrageously to Jane and the children? Why can't you be decent?"

"I could," answered Charley, with engaging lucidity, "if she were less
so. It's her infernal virtue I can't stand, Gabriella. No man could
stand it without taking to drink."

"But you knew she was that way. She was always trying to make people
better. It is her mission. Why, I remember one winter night before you
were married mother got me out of bed in the cold to come and hear Jane
forgive you beautifully about something."

"That was the first time, and it was very touching. I suppose the first
time always is touching. Of course, I didn't know she meant to keep it
up. No man could possibly have kept it up," said Charley, with
bitterness, "but she married me to reform me, and it is the only thing
she has really enjoyed about her marriage. She's a born reformer. I
haven't eaten a thing I cared about, nor drank a drop I wanted, nor used
a bad word I was fond of, since I married, without being nagged at about
it. She loved me for my vices, and yet she hasn't let me keep a single
one--not even the smallest--not even cigarettes. Nag! Good God! She's
nagged me to perfection ever since the day of our wedding when she made
me sign the pledge before she let me kiss her!"

"Well, that doesn't make it any easier for us or for the children,"
replied Gabriella, without sympathy; "and if you don't think of Jane,
you might at least think of your children."

"Of course it's hard on the kids," admitted Charley ruefully. "But as
for Jane--now, will you tell me what would become of Jane after she had
reformed me? Why, she'd be bored to death. She'd be a martyr without any
martyrdom. When she made me give up tobacco, she lost interest in
everything for a week. She was like your Uncle Meriweather after the
surrender. There wasn't anything left to fight about, and fighting was
all he could do--"

"I believe--I really believe you have been drinking," interrupted
Gabriella with cold disgust. "Suppose Jane were to die?"

"She won't die. She'll be all right as soon as she has forgiven me."

He was not only bad, she told herself, he was perfectly shameless. He
appeared to have been born without the faintest sense of responsibility.
And yet, while Gabriella listened to him, she realized that, in some
ways, he might be a less trying companion than poor Jane. His candour
was as simple, as unaffected, as the serene artlessness of a child. It
was impossible not to believe in his sincerity. Though she "despised
him," as she told herself, still she was obliged to admit that there was
something to be said on his side. The harsh judgment of youth--of youth
that never tries to understand, that never makes allowances--softened
under the influence of Charley's reprehensible charm. Even badness,
Gabriella conceded grudgingly, might be easier to live with in some
circumstances than a too exalted self-righteousness.

"If you'll bring Jane to that way of thinking," retorted Charley, with
vulgar frankness, "I'll give you five hundred dollars down. If you'll
thoroughly corrupt her mind and persuade her to neglect her duty to me,
I'll make it a thousand."

He was jesting! It was monstrous, with Jane lying ill in her mother's
room; it was indecent; it was grossly immoral; but he was actually
jesting! Not even scandal, not even the doctor's presence in the house,
could suppress his incorrigible spirit of levity. "If I were Jane, I'd
never speak to him," thought Gabriella, and the question flashed through
her mind, "how in the world could she ever have loved him?" It was
impossible for her to conceive of any situation when Charley could have
made a girl fall in love with him. Though she had heard stories of his
early conquests, she had never believed them. There were times when she
almost liked him, but it was the kind of liking one gave to an inferior,
not to an equal. She admitted his charm, but it was the charm of an
irresponsible creature--the capricious attraction of a child or an
animal. Her common sense, she told herself, would keep her from making
a mistake such as Jane had made with her life; and, besides, she was
utterly devoid of the missionary instinct which had lured Jane to
destruction. "If I ever marry, it will be different from that," she
thought passionately. "It will be utterly different!"

The door of Mrs. Carr's room opened suddenly, Marthy's name was called
in a high voice, and the doctor was heard saying reassuringly: "She is
over the worst. There is no need to worry."

"Don't send me in there alone, Gabriella," begged Charley piteously.
"I'd rather face bullets than Jane in an attack." His bravado had
deserted him, and he appeared positively craven. The stiffness seemed to
have gone not only out of his character, but out of his clothes also.
Even his collar had become limp with emotion.

"Well, I don't care," answered Gabriella, "you've got to stand it.
There's no use squirming when you've only yourself to blame." With a
malicious pleasure, she watched the consternation in Charley's face,
while the doctor's footsteps came rapidly down the hall and stopped at
the threshold of the parlour.

"You may go in, Mr. Gracey--your wife is asking for you; but be very
careful not to say anything that might disturb her. Just keep her as
quiet as you can for a few hours."

Then the door in the distance opened again, and Mrs. Carr, in the hollow
tones of destiny, called: "Gabriella, Jane is waiting to speak to her
husband."

"Come, Charley," ordered Gabriella, grimly, and a moment later she
pushed him across her mother's threshold and turned back into the hall.
"I hope she'll make him squirm," she said to herself, with relish.
Nothing, she felt, except the certainty of Charley's squirming, could
make up to her for the half-hour she had just spent with him.

She was still standing there when Jane's medicine came from the druggist
at the corner, and for a while she waited outside the door, fearing to
lighten Charley's punishment by her entrance. The medicine had to be
measured in drops, and she went into the dining-room, where the children
were huddled together in an improvised bed, and diluted the mixture with
water before she could persuade herself to go into her mother's room.
Even then she hesitated until she remembered that the doctor had said
Jane must take the first dose immediately. Not by her, if she could help
it, should the divine wrath of the furies be appeased.

But with the first touch of her hand on the knob, Charley's flippant
voice greeted her with, "Won't you come in, Gabriella?" and swallowing
her angry retort, she entered stiffly, with the glass held out straight
before her. Charley, on his knees beside the bed, with his arm under his
wife's pillow, stared up at his sister-in-law with the guilty look of a
whipped terrier, while Jane, pallid, suffering, saintly, rested one thin
blue-veined hand on his shoulder. Her face was the colour of the sheet,
her eyes were unnaturally large and surrounded by violet circles; and
her hair, drenched with camphor, spread over the pillow like the hair of
a drowned woman. Never had she appeared so broken, so resigned, so
ineffably spiritual; and Gabriella's solitary comfort was the thought
that Jane's attack had conquered Charley as completely as it had
conquered the rest of them.

"Gabriella, I've forgiven him," said Jane, with fainting sweetness,
"and he wants you and mother to do so. He has promised to be good in the
future."

"Well, I shan't forgive him for keeping me up all night," answered
Gabriella resentfully, and she felt that even if it killed Jane, she
could not keep back her reply. "I can't answer for mother, but I haven't
forgiven him and I never shall." She felt her anger hardened to a rock
inside of her, and it hurt her so that she put the glass hurriedly down
on the table and ran out of the room. As she closed the door behind her
she heard Jane saying gently: "Yes, I forgive you, Charley, but I can't
help feeling that you don't love me as you ought to."

An old cape of her mother's was lying on a chair in the hall, and,
throwing it over her shoulders, Gabriella went out on the porch and
stood breathing quickly in the cold air, with her hand pressed on her
bosom, which rose and fell as if she had been running. She was not only
furious, she was grossly affronted, though she had known from the
beginning, she said to herself, exactly how it would end. She had never
trusted Jane--no, not a minute; she had never really trusted her mother.
Something had told her that Jane had never meant in her heart to leave
Charley, that she was only making a scene, after the immemorial habit of
women, before going back to him. And yet, though she had suspected this
all along, she was as indignant as if she had been deceived by a
conspiracy of the three of them. Her sense of decency was outraged. She
despised Jane because she had no strength of character; but even while
this thought was still in her mind, she admitted that Jane had had
sufficient strength of character to upset the household, bring Charley
to repentance, and emerge, faint but victorious, from the wreck of
their peace. Yes, she despised Jane, though it was impossible to deny
that Jane's methods were successful, since she had got what she wanted.

The street was very quiet, for it was in the small gray hours between
midnight and dawn, and a solitary policeman, strolling by on his beat,
appeared as wan and spectral as the bare boughs of the poplar trees
beneath which he moved. The wind was still blowing over the brow of the
hill, and now and then it tossed a wisp of straw or a handful of dust on
the porch where Gabriella was standing. As it swept onward it drove a
flock of shadows, like black birds, up the open street into the clear
space under the old-fashioned gas lamp at the corner. All the lights
were out in the neighbouring houses, but from a boarding-house down the
block there floated suddenly the gay snatch of a waltz played on a banjo
with a broken string. Then the music stopped, the policeman passed, and
Gabriella and the wind were alone in the street. Overhead the stars
shone dimly through a web of mist; and it seemed to her that the sadness
of the sky and the sadness of the earth had mingled there in the long
straight street where the wind blew with a melancholy sound between rows
of silent and darkened houses.

A noise in the hall made her turn, and, looking up, she saw the gaunt
figure of Miss Amelia Peterborough standing in the bend of the
staircase. In her hand the old maid held a twisted candlestick of
greenish brass, and the yellow flame of the candle cast a trembling,
fantastic shadow on the wall at her back. Her head, shorn of the false
"front" she wore in the day, appeared to have become all forehead and
beaked nose; her eyes had dwindled to mere points of blackness; her
mouth, sunken and drawn over toothless gums, was like the mouth of a
witch. The wind, blowing in gusts through the open door, inflated her
gray shawl and the skirt of her dressing-gown, while, with each flutter
of her garments, the grotesque shadow on the white wall danced and
gibbered behind her. And, as she gazed down on the girl, it was as if
the end of life, with its pathos, its cruelties, its bitterness and its
disillusionment, had stopped for a fleeting instant to look back at life
in the pride and ignorance of its beginning.

"There was so much moving about, I thought something might have
happened," said Miss Amelia apologetically, while Gabriella, closing the
door, shut the draught from the staircase.

"Jane had one of her heart attacks," answered the girl. "I'm so sorry we
waked you."

But she was thinking while she spoke, "So that is old age--so that is
what it means to be old?" There is a vague compassion in the thought,
but it held no terror, for the decay of Miss Amelia seemed as utterly
remote and detached from her own life as one of the past ages in
history. The youth in her brain created a radiant illusion of
immortality. By no stretch of imagination could she picture herself like
the infirm and loveless creature before her. Yet she knew, without
realizing it, that Miss Amelia had once been young, that she had once
even been beautiful. There was a legend, fading now into tradition, that
her lover had been killed in a duel, fought for her while she was still
a girl, and that she had worn only white or black since that day--she
who was now well over eighty. She had known love; a man had died for
her; it was said that she had been a famous coquette in the 'thirties;
and now she stood there, grotesque and sexless, with her eyes empty of
dreams and of memories, and her face as gray and sinister as the face of
her shadow.

"I hope she is better, poor child," she said, for, like the rest of
Richmond, she believed Jane to be all saint and Charley all sinner. "If
I can be of any help, be sure to let me know."

"Yes, I'll let you know, thank you. I hope we didn't disturb Miss
Jemima."

The younger Miss Peterborough--called "the happy one" by Gabriella and
Mrs. Carr because she was always cheerful, though, as far as any one
could tell, she had nothing and had never had anything to be cheerful
about--was named Jemima. A chronic invalid, from some obscure trouble
which had not left her for twenty years, she was seldom free from pain,
and yet Gabriella had never seen her (except at funerals, for which she
entertained a perfectly healthy fondness as diversions free to the poor)
without a smile on her face.

"Sister Jemima doesn't wake easily. She is a sound sleeper and she's
getting a little hard of hearing"; and lifting the candlestick to light
her way, Miss Amelia turned back up the stairs, while the flame flitted
like a golden moth into the dimness.

"Poor old thing," thought Gabriella, imagining in her ignorance that she
could understand the tragedy of Miss Amelia's life; "poor old thing, she
must have had a terrible time."

As she approached her mother's door, Charley came out, glanced at her
sheepishly, and hurried to where his hat hung on the walnut hatrack in
the front hall. Then, as if overcoming his first impulse to avoid her,
he beckoned to her furtively, and said in a sepulchral whisper:
"Gabriella, be very careful what you say to her."

The audacity of it! This from Charley, the abandoned, the depraved, the
unutterably abhorrent in her sight. Without replying, she turned
indignantly away and opened her mother's door.

Lying in the middle of the bed now, and slightly propped with pillows,
Jane was sipping a second dose of medicine from a glass Mrs. Carr held
to her lips.

"I know you don't understand my forgiving him, Gabriella," she said very
gently, "but some day, after you are married, you will realize that I do
it from a sacred duty--from a sacred duty," she repeated firmly, while
the shining light of martyrdom illumined her features.

"Well, it's none of my business," answered Gabriella crossly, "but the
sooner you do it, I suppose the sooner you will have to do it again." If
only for once Jane would be direct, if only she would be natural, if
only she would speak the truth and not fiction.

"Oh, no, dear, you don't understand him any better than you do me," said
Jane as sweetly as ever in spite of Gabriella's deplorable loss of
temper. "He is really dreadfully penitent, and he sees that he hasn't
always treated me as he ought to have done. But you'll know what I mean
when you marry, Gabriella. She'll understand me then, won't she,
mother?"

"I'm sometimes tempted to hope that Gabriella will never marry," replied
Mrs. Carr with the uncompromising bitterness of abject despair; "the
Carrs all seem to marry so badly."

In her normal mood she would never have uttered this heresy, for she
belonged to a generation that regarded even a bad marriage as better for
a woman than no marriage at all; but the night had worn her out, and one
of her spells of neuralgia, which followed fatigue, was already
beginning in her face. The purple crocheted "fascinator" she had caught
up at the doctor's entrance was still on her head, and her long pale
face, beneath the airy scallops, appeared frozen in an expression of
incurable melancholy. For the rest she had been too frightened, too
forgetful of herself and her own comfort even to put on her stockings,
though Gabriella had begged her to do so. "Don't think about me. Attend
to poor Jane," she had repeated over and over.

"Mother, go into my room and get into bed," commanded Gabriella, whose
patience, never abundant, was ebbing low. "If you don't get some sleep
your neuralgia won't be any better."

"It isn't any better. I don't expect it to be any better."

"Well, you must go to bed or it will get worse. I'll heat you a cup of
milk and wrap you up in warm blankets."

"Don't worry about me, dear. Think of poor Jane."

"We've been thinking of Jane all night, and you need it now more than
she does. I can tell by your eyes how you are suffering."

In the first streak of dawn, which was beginning to glimmer faintly on
the window-panes, Mrs. Carr looked as if she had withered overnight.

"It's only my left temple," she said dully, "otherwise I am quite well.
No, dear, I must rub Jane's forehead until she falls asleep. The doctor
said it was important that we should keep her soothed."

But it was a law of Gabriella's nature that she never knew when she was
beaten. Failure aroused the sleeping forces within her, and when these
forces were once liberated, the spasmodic efforts of Mrs. Carr and the
indirect methods of Jane were alike powerless to oppose them. At such
times a faint flush rose to her pale cheeks, her eyes shone with a
burning darkness, while her mouth lost its fresh young red and grew hard
in outline.

"You must go to bed, mother," she repeated in a voice which Mrs. Carr
would have obeyed had it issued from the wall or a piece of furniture.

Fifteen minutes later Gabriella stood authoritatively beside the bed,
while her mother, with a mustard plaster at the back of her neck,
obediently sipped hot milk from a teacup. Mrs. Carr had surrendered to
the conquering spirit of her daughter, but her surrender, which was
unwilling and weakly defiant, gave out presently a last feeble flicker
of resistance.

"Don't you think, Gabriella, we might arrange to live with Jane?" she
asked. "It would be a saving of expense for us both, and we might be so
helpful about the children."

"And about Charley, too, I suppose," suggested Gabriella maliciously.

Mrs. Carr, having been born without a sense of humour, never understood
the broadest joke unless it was illustrated; but even to her it became
evident, after a moment's anxious thought, that Gabriella was teasing
her.

"You seem to forget that he is her husband," she replied, with a
pathetic clutch at her dignity, which, owing perhaps to the purple
"fascinator" and the mustard plaster, she failed completely to
recapture. Then, as she finished the milk and handed back the empty cup
to her daughter, she added wearily, for life, as she often said to
herself of late, was becoming almost too much for her, and she was
feeling worn out and old:

"My one comfort, Gabriella, is the thought that Arthur Peyton loves you.
There couldn't be anybody more unlike Charley."

"There couldn't be," agreed Gabriella mildly, for she felt that another
blow would prostrate her mother.



CHAPTER III

A START IN LIFE


In the late 'seventies and early 'eighties the most important shop in
the town of Gabriella's birth was known to its patrons (chiefly ladies
in long basques, tightly tied back skirts, and small eccentric bonnets)
as Brandywine & Plummer's drygoods store. At that period, when old Mrs.
Carr, just completing her ninetieth year with a mind fixed upon heaven,
would have dropped dead at the idea that her granddaughter should ever
step out of her class, Gabriella's mother bought her dresses (grosgrain
of the very best quality) from Major Brandywine. To be sure, even in
those days, there were other shops in the city--for was not Broad Street
already alluded to in the newspapers as "the shopping thoroughfare of
the South?"--but, though they were as numerous as dandelions in June,
these places were by no means patronized so widely by "the best people."
Small shops, of course, carrying a single line of goods and supplying
their particular products to an exacting and discriminating class, held
their own even against the established reputation of Brandywine &
Plummer's. O'Connell's linen store, Twitlow's china store, Mrs. Tonk's
doll store, and Green & Brady's store for notions--all these were
situated in Broad Street hardly a stone's throw from the Second Market.
But none of these, excellent as they were, could bear comparison with
the refined atmosphere, so different from the vulgar bustle of a modern
department store, which enveloped one in the quiet gloom of Brandywine &
Plummer's. In the first place, one could be perfectly sure that one
would be waited on by a lady--for Brandywine & Plummer's, with a
distinguished Confederate soldier at its head and front, provided an
almost conventual shelter for distressed feminine gentility. There was,
for instance, Miss Marye of the black silk counter, whose father had
belonged to Stuart's cavalry and had fallen at Yellow Tavern; there was
Miss Meason of the glove counter, and there was Mrs. Burwell Smith of
the ribbon counter--for, though she had married beneath her, it was
impossible to forget that she was a direct descendant of Colonel Micajah
Burwell, of Crow's Nest Plantation.

Then, if one happened to be in search of cotton goods, one would be
almost certain to remark on the way home: "Miss Peters, who waited on me
in Brandywine's this morning, has unmistakably the manner of a lady," or
"that Mrs. Jones in Brandywine's must be related to the real Joneses,
she has such a refined appearance." And, at last, in the middle
'nineties, after the opening of the new millinery department, which was
reached by a short flight of steps, decorated at discreet intervals with
baskets of pink paper roses, customers were beginning to ask: "May I
speak to Miss Gabriella for a minute? I wish to speak to Miss Gabriella
about the hat she is having trimmed for me."

For here, also, because of what poor Jane called her "practical mind,"
the patrons of Brandywine & Plummer's were learning that Gabriella was
"the sort you could count on." As far as the actual work went, she
could not, of course, hold a candle (this was Mr. Plummer's way of
putting it) to Miss Kemp or Miss Treadway, who had a decided talent for
trimming; but no customer in balloon sleeves and bell-shaped skirt was
ever heard to remark of these young women as they remarked of Gabriella,
"No, I don't want anybody else, please. She takes such an interest." To
take an interest in other people might become quite as marketable an
asset, Mr. Plummer was discovering, after fifty years of adherence to
strictly business methods, as a gift for the needle; and, added to her
engaging interest, Gabriella appeared to know by instinct exactly what a
customer wanted.

"I declare Miss Kemp had almost persuaded me to take that brown straw
with the green velvet bandeau before I thought of asking Gabriella's
advice," Mrs. Spencer was overheard saying to her daughter, as she
paused, panting and breathless, at the head of the short flight of
steps.

"Oh, Gabriella always had taste; I'll ask her about mine," Florrie
tossed back gaily in the high fluting notes which expressed so perfectly
the brilliant, if slightly metallic, quality of her personality.

Beside her mother, a plump, bouncing person, with a noisy though
imperfectly articulate habit of speech, and the prominent hips and bust
which composed the "fine figure" of the period, Florrie seemed to float
with all the elusive, magic loveliness of a sunbeam. From the shining
nimbus of her hair to her small tripping feet she was the incarnation of
girlhood--of that white and gold girlhood which has intoxicated the
imagination of man. She shed the allurement of sex as unconsciously as a
flower sheds its perfume. Though her eyes were softly veiled by her
lashes, every male clerk in Brandywine & Plummer's was dazzled by the
deep blue light of her glances. In her red mouth, with its parted lips,
in the pure rose and white of her flesh, in the rich curve of her bosom,
which promised already the "fine figure" of her mother, youth and summer
were calling as they called in the velvet softness of the June breeze.
Innocent though she was, the powers of Life had selected her as a
vehicle for their inscrutable ends.

"Where is Miss Carr? I must speak to Miss Carr, please," she said to one
of the shop girls who came up, eager to serve her. "Will you tell her
that Miss Spencer is waiting to speak to her?"

Responding to the girl's artless stare of admiration, she threw a
friendly glance at her before she turned away to try on a monstrous
white Leghorn hat decorated around the crown with a trellis of pink
roses. Unless she happened to be in a particularly bad humour--and this
was not often the case--Florrie was imperturbably amiable. She enjoyed
flattery as a cat enjoys the firelight on its back, and while she purred
happily in the pleasant warmth, she had something of the sleek and
glossy look of a pretty kitten.

"How does this look on me, mother?" she asked over her shoulder of Mrs.
Spencer, who was babbling cheerfully in her loud tones to Miss
Lancaster, the forewoman.

Though some of the best blood in Virginia, profusely diluted with some
of the worst, flowed comfortably in Mrs. Spencer's veins, it was
impossible even for her relatives to deny that she could be at times
decidedly vulgar. Having been a conspicuous belle and beauty of a bold
and dashing type in her youth, she now devoted her middle-age to the
enjoyment of those pleasures which she had formerly sacrificed to the
preservation of her figure and her complexion. Though she still dyed her
somewhat damaged hair, and strenuously pinched in her widening waist,
she had ceased, since her fiftieth birthday, to forego the lesser
comforts of the body. As she was a person of small imagination, and of
no sentiment, it is probable that she was happier now than she had been
in the days when she suffered the deprivations and enjoyed the triumphs
of beauty.

"What's that, Florrie?" she inquired shrilly. "No, I shouldn't get that
if I were you. It doesn't flare enough. I'm crazy about a flare."

"But I want a pink bandeau, mother," replied Florrie a little pettishly,
as she patted her golden-red fringe. "I wonder where Gabriella is? Isn't
she ever coming, Miss Lancaster?"

"I thought I saw her when I came in," observed Mrs. Spencer, craning her
handsome neck, which was running to fat, in the direction of the
trimming room. "Florrie, just turn your head after a minute and look at
the hat Patty Carrington is buying--pea green, and it makes her face
look like a walnut. She hasn't the faintest idea how to dress. Do you
think I ought to speak to her about it?"


"No, let her alone," replied Florrie impatiently. "Is this any better
than the Leghorn?"

"Well, I must say I don't think there is much style about it, though, of
course, with your hair, you can carry off anything. Isn't it odd how
exactly she inherited my hair, Miss Lancaster? I remember her father
used to say that he would have fallen in love with a gatepost if it had
had golden-red hair."

Miss Lancaster, a thin, erect woman of fifty, with impassive features,
and iron-gray hair that looked as if it were rolled over wood, glanced
resignedly from Mrs. Spencer's orange-coloured crimps to the imprisoned
sunlight in Florrie's hair.

"I'd know you were mother and daughter anywhere," she remarked in the
noncommittal manner she had acquired in thirty years of independence;
"and she is going to have your beautiful figure, too, Mrs. Spencer."

"Well, I reckon I'll lose my figure now that I've stopped dieting,"
remarked the lively lady, casting an appreciative glance in the mirror.
"Florrie tells me I wear my sleeves too large, but I think they make me
look smaller."

"They are wearing them very large in Paris," replied Miss Lancaster, as
if she were reciting a verse out of a catalogue. She had, as she
sometimes found occasion to remark, been "born tired," and this
temperamental weariness showed now in her handsome face, so wrinkled and
dark around her bravely smiling eyes. Where she came from, or how she
spent her time between the hour she left the shop and the hour she
returned to it, the two women knew as little as they knew the intimate
personal history of the Leghorn hat on the peg by the mirror. Beyond the
fact that she played the part of a sympathetic chorus, they were without
curiosity about her life. Their own personalities absorbed them, and for
the time at least appeared to absorb Miss Lancaster.

"I like the Leghorn hat," said Florrie decisively, as she tried it on
for the third time, "but I'll wait till I ask Gabriella's opinion."

"I hope she's getting on well here," said Mrs. Spencer, who found it
impossible to concentrate on Florrie's hat. "Don't you think it was very
brave of her to go to work, Miss Lancaster?"

"I understood that she was obliged to," rejoined Miss Lancaster, with
the weary amiability of her professional manner.

"She might have married, I happen to know that," returned Mrs. Spencer.
"Arthur Peyton has been in love with her ever since she was a child, and
there was a young man from New York last winter who seemed crazy about
her. Florrie, don't you think George Fowler was just crazy about
Gabriella?"

"I'm sure I don't know, mother. He paid her a great deal of attention,
but you never can tell about men."

"Julia Caperton told me, and, of course, she's very intimate with
George's sister, that he went back to New York because he heard that
Gabriella was engaged to Arthur. Florrie, do you suppose she is really
engaged to Arthur?"

Thus appealed to, Florrie removed the Leghorn hat from her head, and
answered abstractedly: "Jane thought so, but if she is engaged, I don't
see why she should have started to work. I know Arthur would hate it."

"But isn't he too poor to marry?" inquired Mrs. Spencer, whose curiosity
was as robust as her constitution. "Haven't you always understood that
the Peytons were poor, Miss Lancaster, in spite of the lovely house they
live in?"

Her large, good-humoured face, which had once been as delicate as a
flower, but was now growing puffed and mottled under a plentiful layer
of rice powder, became almost violently animated, while she adjusted her
belt with a single effective jerk of her waist. Though Bessie Spencer
was admitted to have one of the kindest hearts in the world, she was
chiefly remarkable for her unhappy faculty of saying the wrong thing at
the wrong time. An inveterate, though benevolent, gossip, she would
babble on for hours, reciting the private affairs of her relatives, her
friends, and her neighbours. Everybody feared her, and yet everybody was
assured that "she never meant any harm." The secrets of the town flowed
through her mind as grist flows through a mill, and though she was
entirely without malice, she contrived, in the most innocent manner, to
do an incalculable amount of injury. Possessing a singularly active
intelligence, and having reached middle-age without acquiring sufficient
concentration to enjoy books, she directed a vigorous, if casual,
understanding toward the human beings among whom she lived. She knew
everything that it was possible to know about the people who lived in
Franklin Street, and yet her mind was so constituted that she never by
any chance knew it correctly. Though she was not old, she had already
passed into a proverb. To receive any statement with the remark, "You
have heard that from Bessie Spencer," was to cast doubt upon it.

"You don't think I'm getting any stouter, do you, Miss Lancaster?" she
inquired dubiously, with her hands on her hips and her eyes measuring
the dimensions of her waist. "I'm making up my mind to try one of those
B. and T. corsets that Mrs. Murray is wearing. She told me it reduced
her waist at least three inches."

"Oh, you aren't like Mrs. Murray--she didn't measure a fraction under
thirty inches," replied Miss Lancaster, with her patient politeness.
Then, after a pause, which Mrs. Spencer's nimble wit filled with a story
about the amazing number of mint juleps Mrs. Murray was seen to drink at
the White Sulphur Springs last summer, Florrie exclaimed eagerly:

"Why, there is Gabriella! Won't you get her for us, Miss Lancaster?"

Near one of the long windows, beyond which large greenish flies were
buzzing around the branch of a mulberry tree in the alley, Gabriella was
trying a purple hat on a prim-looking lady who regarded herself in the
mirror with a furtive and deprecating air as if she were afraid of being
unjustly blamed for her appearance. "I'm not sure--but I don't think it
suits me exactly," she appeared to murmur in a strangled whisper, while
she twisted her mouth, which held a jet-headed hatpin, into a quivering
grimace.

"She's waiting on Matty French," said Mrs. Spencer, and she added
impulsively, "I wonder what it is that men see in Gabriella. You
wouldn't call her really pretty, would you, Miss Lancaster?"

"Well, not exactly pretty, but she has an interesting face. It is so
full of life."

"Can't you get her, mother?" asked Florrie; and Mrs. Spencer, always
eager to oblige, rustled across the room and pounced vivaciously upon
the prim lady and Gabriella.

"We've been looking for you everywhere, Gabriella," she began, nodding
agreeably to Miss French. "Florrie has tried on all the hats in the
room, and she wants you to tell her if that white Leghorn is becoming.
Good morning, Matty! That blue wing is so stylish. I think you are very
sensible to wear colours and not to stick to black as Susie Chamberlain
does. It makes her look as old as the hills, and I believe she does it
just to depress people. Life is too short, as I said when I left off
mourning, to be an ink blot wherever you go. And it doesn't mean that
she grieves a bit more for her husband than anybody else does. Everybody
knows they led a cat and dog's life together, and I've even heard,
though I can't remember who told me, that she was on the point of
getting a divorce when he died. Are you going? Well, I'm glad you
decided on that blue hat. I don't believe you'll ever regret it.
Good-bye. Be sure and come to see me soon. Gabriella, will you help
Florrie about her hat now? I declare, I thought Matty would never get
through with you. And, of course, we didn't want anybody but you to wait
on us. We were just saying that you had the most beautiful taste, and it
is so wise of you to go out to work and not sit down and sew at home in
order to support your position. A position that can't support itself
isn't much of a prop, my husband used to say. But I don't believe you'll
stay here long, you sly piece. You'll be married before the year is up,
mark my word. The men are all crazy about you, everybody knows that.
Why, Florrie met George Fowler in the street this morning, and when he
asked after you, his face turned as hot as fire, she said--"

Gabriella's face, above her starched collar with its neat red tie, was
slowly flooded with colour. Her brown eyes shone golden under her dark
lashes, and Mrs. Spencer told herself that the girl looked almost pretty
for a minute. "If she wasn't so sallow, she'd be really good looking."

Happily unaware that her face had betrayed her, Gabriella slid back a
glass door, took a hat out of the case, and answered indifferently,
while she adjusted the ribbon bow on one side of the crown:

"I didn't know Mr. Fowler had come back. I haven't seen him for ages."

From her small, smooth head to her slender feet she had acquired in
three months the composed efficiency of Miss Lancaster; and one might
have imagined, as Mrs. Spencer remarked to Florrie afterwards, that "she
had been born in a hat shop."

But instead of the weary patience of Miss Lancaster, she brought to her
work the brimming energy and the joyous self-confidence of youth. It was
impossible to watch her and not realize that she had given both ability
and the finer gift of personality to the selling of hats. Had she
started life as a funeral director instead of a milliner, it is probable
that she would have infused into the dreary business something of the
living quality of genius.

"Oh, Florrie hadn't seen him for ages either," chirped Mrs. Spencer,
with her restless eyes on the hat in Gabriella's hand. "I don't know
whether I ought to tell you or not, but you and Florrie are so intimate
I suppose I might as well--Julia Caperton told Florrie that George came
back because he heard in some way that you had broken your engagement to
Arthur. Of course, as I told Julia afterwards, you hadn't mentioned a
word of it to me, but I've got eyes and I can't help using them. I was
obliged to see that George was simply out of his mind about you. It
would be a splendid match, too, for they say his father has made quite a
large fortune since he went to New York--"

"Mother!" interrupted Florrie sternly, over her shoulder, "you know
Julia told you not to breathe a single word as coming from her. She is
the bosom friend of George's sister."

"But, Florrie, I haven't told a soul except Gabriella, and I know she
wouldn't repeat a thing that I said to her."

"Now, isn't that exactly like mother?" observed Florrie, with the casual
disapprobation of youth. "She was on the point of telling Miss Lancaster
all about it when I stopped her."

"Why, Florrie, I didn't say a word except that men were crazy about
Gabriella--you know I didn't. Of course, I talk a great deal," she
pursued in an aggrieved, explanatory tone to Gabriella, "but I never
repeat a word--not a single word that is told me in confidence. If Julia
had asked me not to tell Gabriella what she said, I shouldn't have
dreamed of doing so."

"Oh, it doesn't matter in the least, Mrs. Spencer," said Gabriella
hastily, "only there isn't a word of truth in it."

The becoming flush was still in her cheeks, and she poised a hat over
Florrie's head with a swift, flying grace which Mrs. Spencer had never
noticed in her before. "I wonder if Gabriella can really care about
George?" she thought quickly. "But if it is George she is in love with,
why on earth did she start to work in a shop?" Then suddenly, following
a flash of light, she reasoned it out to her complete satisfaction. "It
must have been that she didn't know that George cared--that is why she
is blushing so at this minute."

An hour or so later, when Florrie and her mother had fluttered volubly
downstairs, and the exhausted assistants were putting the hats away
before closing the cases, Gabriella went into the dressing-room, where
Miss Nash, a stout, pleasant-looking girl, was sitting in a broken
chair, with her shoes off, her blue serge skirt rolled back from her
knees, and her head bowed, over her crossed arms, on the window-sill.

At Gabriella's entrance she glanced up, and remarked cheerfully: "My
feet were killing me. I just had to take off my shoes."

"They do get dreadfully tired," assented Gabriella in the tone of
sympathetic intimacy she had caught from the other girls.

Her naturally friendly spirit had refused to "hold aloof" from her
companions, as her mother had begged her to do, and at the end of three
months she had learned things about most of them which interested her
profoundly. One supported an invalid father, another had a family of six
little brothers and sisters to care for, and still another had lost her
lover through a railroad accident only two days before her marriage.
Several of them were extravagantly loud, one or two were inclined to be
vulgar; but the others were quite as refined and gentle as the girls
with whom she had grown up, and what impressed her about them all was
their courageous and yet essentially light-hearted Southern spirit. To
her surprise, she found an utter absence of jealousy among them. The
elder women were invariably kind and helpful, and though she liked the
girls, she soon discovered in herself a growing feeling of respect for
these older women. They represented a different type, for the hardness
she noticed in some of the younger girls was entirely lacking in the
women of Miss Lancaster's generation. Many of them even her mother
would have called well born, and one and all, they were almost painfully
ladylike. With their thin, erect figures, their wan, colourless faces,
their graying hair, and their sweet Southern voices, they imparted a
delicate social air to the shop.

Usually Gabriella stopped to talk to the girls who crowded in from the
workroom, brushing shreds of silk or ribbon from their skirts, but
to-day her mind wandered while she answered Miss Nash, and when, a
minute later, Miss Lancaster spoke to her on her way out, and asked her
to match the flowers for Florrie's hat, she was obliged to make an
effort before she could recall her roving attention. She was thinking
not of Florrie's hat, but of Mrs. Spencer's words, "He has come back
because he heard that your engagement was broken." And at the first
insurgent rise of emotion, she ceased to be the business woman and
became merely an imaginative girl, dreaming of love.

"They aren't quite the right shade, are they?" she asked with an
uncertainty which was tactful rather than sincere, "or, perhaps, the
ribbon might be darker?"

Her eyes questioned Miss Lancaster, who moved a step nearer the window
as she held the bolt of ribbon toward the daylight.

"Well, we'd better look at it again in the morning. You are in a hurry,
Miss Carr?"

"Oh, no, I've all the time in the world," answered Gabriella, though she
longed to be out with the June scents and her dreams, "but I am sure the
ribbon ought to be a deeper blue to tone with the ragged robins."

"You've a wonderful eye for colour, that's why I ask your advice," said
the other, and a sudden friendliness shone in her tired eyes, for she
had liked Gabriella from the beginning. That the girl possessed a
genuine gift of taste, the elder woman had already discovered. For
herself, Miss Lancaster had always hated the sight of hats, and had
taken up the work merely because a place in Brandywine & Plummer's had
been offered her shortly after her father, a gallant fighter but a poor
worker, had gone to end his kindly anecdotal days in the Home for
Confederate Soldiers. She was a repressed, conscientious woman, who had
never been younger than she was now at fifty, and who regarded youth,
not with envy, but with admiring awe. For she, also, patient and
uncomplaining creature, belonged to that world of decay and inertia from
which Gabriella had revolted. It was a world where things happened
to-day just as they happened yesterday, where no miracles had occurred
since the miracles of Scripture, where people hated change, not because
they were satisfied, but because they were incapable of imagination.
Miss Lancaster, who had never wanted anything with passion, except to be
a perfect lady, was proud of the fact that she had been twenty years in
business without losing her "shrinking manner."

"Yes, you have an eye for colour," she repeated gently; "if you could
only learn to sew, you might command a most desirable position."

"I despise sewing," replied Gabriella, with serene good-humour, "and I
could never learn, even at school, anything that I despised. But I
suppose I can always tell somebody else how it ought to be done."

Then, because her work always interested her, she forgot the disturbing
words Mrs. Spencer had spoken--she forgot even her impatience to feel
the June air in her face. Her best gift, the power of mental control,
enabled her to bring the needed discipline to her emotion; and when the
moment of her release came, she found that the brief restlessness had
passed from her mind. "There's no use letting myself get impatient," she
thought; "I've got to stick to it, so it won't do a bit of good to begin
wriggling."

All the other girls had gone home before her, and on the sidewalk Miss
Meason, of the glove counter, stood talking about the spring sales to
Mr. Brandywine. As Gabriella passed them, in her white shirtwaist and
dark belted skirt, they looked thoughtfully after her until her sailor
hat, with the scarlet band, crossed Broad Street and disappeared on the
opposite side.

"She's a remarkable girl," observed Mr. Brandywine, with his paternal
manner. "I hope she is beginning to feel at home with us."

"I believe she'd feel at home anywhere," replied Miss Meason, "and she's
obliged to get on. There's no doubt of it."

"A pleasant face, too. Not exactly pretty, I suppose, but you would call
it a pleasant face."

"Oh, well, I'd call her pretty in her way," answered Miss Meason. "Her
eyes are lovely, and she has a singularly bright expression. I always
say that a bright expression makes up for anything."

"Her mother was a beauty in her day," said Mr. Brandywine reminiscently;
"she was the snow and roses sort, and her eldest daughter took after
her, though she is a wreck now, poor lady."

"That's Charley Gracey," remarked Miss Meason tartly, for she had the
self-supporting woman's contempt for the rake. "Yes, she was lovely as a
girl. I remember as well as if it were yesterday how happy she looked
when I sold her her wedding gloves. She is a beautiful character, too,
they say, but somehow Gabriella, even as a child, appealed to me more.
She has three times the sense of her sister."

Then they shook hands and parted, while Gabriella, tripping through the
Second Market, was saying to herself: "There's not the least bit of
sense in your thinking about him, Gabriella."

In Hill Street, maple and poplar trees were in full leaf, and little
flakes of sunshine, as soft as flowers, were scattered over the brick
pavement. Beyond the housetops the sky was golden, and at the corner the
rusty ironwork of an old balcony had turned to the colour of bronze. The
burning light of the sunset blinded her eyes, while an intense sweetness
came to her from the honeysuckle clambering over a low white porch; and
this light and this sweetness possessed an ineffable quality. Life,
which had been merely placid a few hours before, had become suddenly
poignant--every instant was pregnant with happiness, every detail was
piercingly vivid. Her whole being was flooded with a sensation of
richness and wonder, as if she had awakened with surprise to a different
world from the one she had closed her eyes on a minute before.

As she crossed the street she saw her mother's head above a box of clove
pinks in the window; and a little later the front door opened and Miss
Polly Hatch, a small, indomitable spinster who sewed out by the day,
walked rapidly between the iron urns and stopped under the creamy
blossoms of the old magnolia tree in the yard.

"It's too late for your ma to be workin', Gabriella. You'd better stop
her."

Pausing in the middle of the walk, she comfortably tucked under her arm
an unwieldy bundle she carried, and added, with the shrewdness which was
the result of a long and painful experience with human nature: "It's
funny--ain't it?--how downright mulish your ma can be when she wants
to?"

"I can't do a thing on earth with her," answered Gabriella in distress.
"You have more influence over her than I have, Miss Polly."

Miss Polly, who had the composed and efficient bearing of a machine,
shook her head discouragingly as she opened the gate and passed out.

"I reckon she's set for good and all," she remarked emphatically, and
went on her way.

"Mother, it's time to stop sewing and think about supper," called
Gabriella gaily, as she ran into the room and bent to kiss her mother,
who turned a flat, soft cheek in her direction, and remarked gloomily:
"Gabriella, you've had a visitor."

Not for worlds would Mrs. Carr have surrendered to the disarming
cheerfulness of her daughter's manner; for since Gabriella had gone to
work in a shop, her mother's countenance implied that she was piously
resigned to disgrace as well as to poverty. It was inconceivable to her
that any girl with Berkeley blood in her veins could be so utterly
devoid of proper pride as Gabriella had proved herself to be; and the
shock of this discovery had left a hurt look in her face. There were
days when she hardly spoke to the girl, when refusing food, she opened
her lips only to moisten her thread, when the slow tears seemed forever
welling between her reddened eyelids. As they had just passed through
one of these painful periods, Gabriella was surprised to find that, for
the moment at least, her mother appeared to have forgotten her righteous
resentment. Though it could hardly be said that Mrs. Carr spoke
cheerfully--since cheerfulness was foreign to her nature--at least she
had spoken. Of her own accord, unquestioned and unurged, she had
volunteered a remark to her daughter; and Gabriella felt that, for a
brief respite, the universe had ceased to be menacing.

"Gabriella, you have had a visitor," repeated Mrs. Carr, and it was
clear that her sorrow (she never yielded to passion) had been overcome
by a natural human eagerness to tell her news.

"Not Cousin Jimmy?" asked the girl lightly.

"No, you could never guess, if you guessed all night."

"Not Charley Gracey surely? I wouldn't speak to him for the world."

Though Jane had returned to Charley, and even Mrs. Carr, feeling in her
heart that her younger daughter had dealt her the hardest blow, had been
heard to say that she "pitied her son-in-law more than she censured
him," Gabriella had not softened in her implacable judgment.

"Of course it wasn't Charley. I shouldn't have mentioned it if it had
been, because you are so bitter against him. But it was somebody you
haven't seen for months. Do you remember Evelyn Randolph's son who paid
you so much attention last winter?"

"George Fowler! Has he been here?" asked Gabriella, and her voice
quivered like a harp.

"I told Marthy to say you were out. Of course I wasn't fit to see
company, but he caught sight of me on his way to the gate and came back
on the porch to speak to me. He remembered all about my having gone to
school with his mother, and it seems she had told him about the time she
was Queen of May and I maid of honour. I asked him how Evelyn stood
living in New York, but he said she likes it better than his father
does. Archie Fowler insists that he is coming back to Virginia to end
his days. They seem to have plenty of money. I expect Archie has made a
fortune up there or he wouldn't be satisfied to live out of Virginia."

"Did George ask when I'd be at home?" inquired Gabriella.

Though she knew that it was unwise to divert her mother's attention from
the main narrative, her whole body ached with the longing to hear what
George had said of her, and she felt that it was impossible to resist
the temptation to question.

"He said something about you as he was going away, but I can't remember
whether he asked when you would be in or not." In spite of the fact that
Mrs. Carr had the most tenacious memory for useless detail, she was
never able to recall the significant points of an interview.

"He didn't ask where I was?"

The question was indiscreet, for it jerked Mrs. Carr's mind back with
violence from its innocent ramble into the past, while it reminded her
of Gabriella's present unladylike occupation. She shut her lips with
soft but obstinate determination, and Gabriella, watching her closely,
told herself that "wild horses couldn't drag another word out of her
mother to-night." The girl longed to talk it over; but she might have
tried as successfully to gossip with the angel on a marble tombstone.
She wanted to hear what George had said, to ask how he was looking, and
to wonder aloud why he had come back. She wanted to throw herself into
her mother's arms and listen to all the little important things that
filled the world for her. If only the aloof virtue in Mrs. Carr's face
would relax into a human expression!

Taking off her hat, Gabriella went into the bedroom, and then, coming
back again after a short absence, remarked with forced gaiety: "I
suppose he didn't have anything interesting to tell you, did he?"

"No." Though the light had almost waned, Mrs. Carr broke off a fresh
piece of thread and leaned nearer the window, while she tried to find
the eye of the needle.

"Let me thread your needle, mother. It is too late to work, anyway. You
will ruin your eyesight."

"I have never considered my eyesight, Gabriella."

"I know you haven't, and that's why you ought to begin."

As it was really growing too dark to see, Mrs. Carr rolled the thread
back on the spool, stuck the needle into the last buttonhole, and
folding the infant's dress on which she was working, laid it away in her
straw work-basket.

"Will you light the gas, Gabriella?"

"Don't work any more to-night, mother. It is almost supper time."

Without replying, Mrs. Carr moved with her basket to a chair under the
chandelier. Once seated there, she unfolded the dress, took the needle
from the unfinished buttonhole, and tried again unsuccessfully to run
the thread through the eye. Then, while Gabriella rushed to her aid, she
removed her glasses and patiently polished them on a bit of chamois skin
she kept in her basket.

"Don't you feel as if you could eat a chop to-night, mother?"

"I haven't been able to swallow a morsel all day, Gabriella."

"I've saved you a little cream. Shall I make you a toddy?"

"I don't want it. Drink it yourself, dear."

After this there followed one of those pauses which fill not only the
room, but the universe with a fury of sound. There were times when
Gabriella felt that she could stand anything if only her mother would
fly into a rage--when she positively envied Florrie Spencer because her
plebeian parent scolded her at the top of her voice instead of
maintaining a calm and ladylike reticence. But Mrs. Carr was one of
those women who never, even in the most trying circumstances, cease to
be patient, who never lose for an instant so much as the palest or the
thinnest of the Christian virtues.

Going into the bedroom, Gabriella changed from her shirtwaist into a
gown of flowered muslin, with sleeves that looked small beside the
balloon ones of the season, and a skirt which was shrunken and pale from
many washings the summer before. She had worn the frock when she met
George, and though it was old, she knew it was becoming, and she told
herself joyfully that if she put it on to-night, "something must come of
it." As she smoothed her hair by the dim gas-jet over the mirror, she
saw again the face of George as it had first smiled down on her beneath
the boughs of a mimosa tree in Mrs. Spencer's front garden. At the
time, a year ago, she was engaged to Arthur--she had even called the
placid preference she felt for him "being in love"--but while she talked
to George she had found herself thinking, "I wonder how it would feel to
be engaged to a man like this instead of to Arthur?" Then, since all
Southern engagements of the period were secret, she had seen a good deal
of George during the summer; and in the autumn, while she was still
trying to make believe that it was merely a friendship, he had gone back
to New York without saying good-bye. She had tried her best to stop
thinking of him, and until this evening, she had never really let
herself confess that she cared. But if she didn't care why was she so
happy to-night? If she didn't care why was there such intoxicating
sweetness in the thought of his return? If she didn't care why had she
dressed herself so carefully in the flowered muslin he had once said
that he liked? Her face, smiling back at her from the mirror, was
suffused with a delicate glow--not pink, not white, but softly luminous
as if a lamp, shining behind it, enkindled its expression. She had never
seen herself so nearly pretty, and with this thought in her mind, she
went back to her mother, who was still working buttonholes under the
chandelier.

"Marthy has brought the lamp, mother. Why don't you move over to the
table?"

"I can see perfectly, thank you, Gabriella."

"I hate to see you working. Let me finish those buttonholes."

"I'd rather get through them myself, dear."

"Have you seen Jane to-day?"

"No."

"Has Cousin Pussy been here?"

"No."

"Did you get out for a walk?"

"No."

The appalling silence again filled the room like a fog, and Gabriella,
moving cautiously about in it, began straightening chairs and picking up
shreds of cambric from the carpet. She felt suddenly that she could not
endure the strain for another minute, and glancing at Mrs. Carr's bent
head, where the thin hair was wound into a tight knot and held in place
by a tortoise-shell comb with a carved top, she wondered how her mother
could possibly keep it up day after day as she did? But, if she had only
known it, this silence, which tried her nerves to the breaking point,
was positively soothing to her mother. Mrs. Carr could keep it up not
only for days and weeks, but, had it been necessary, she could have kept
it up with equal success for half a lifetime. While she sat there,
working buttonholes in a bad light, she thought quite as passionately as
Gabriella, though her mental processes were different. She thought
sadly, but firmly, with a pensive melancholy not untinged with pleasure,
that "life was becoming almost too much for her." It seemed incredible
to her that after all her struggles to keep up an appearance things
should have turned out as they had; it seemed incredible that after all
her sacrifices her children should not consider her more. "They have no
consideration for me," she reflected, while she took the finest stitch
possible to the needle she held. "If Jane had considered me she would
never have married Charley. If Gabriella had considered me, or anybody
but herself, she would not have gone to work in a store." No, they had
never considered her, they had never asked her advice before acting,
though she had brought them into the world and had worked like a slave
in order to keep them in that respected station of life in which they
had been born. Then, her sorrow getting the better of her resolution,
she turned her head and spoke:

"I know you never tell me anything on purpose, Gabriella, but I think I
have a right to know whether or not you have discarded Arthur for good."

"I told you all about it, mother. I told you I found I was mistaken."

"I suppose you never thought for a moment how much it would distress me?
Though Lydia Peyton is so much older than I am, she was always my best
friend--we often stayed in the room together when we were girls. I had
set my heart on your marrying her son."

"I know that, mother, and I am very sorry, but when it came to the point
I couldn't marry him. You can't make yourself care--"

"I should have thought that my wishes might influence you. I should
never wish you to do anything that wasn't for your good, Gabriella."

"Of course, mother, you've given up your life to us. I know that, and
Jane knows it as well as I do. That's why I want to earn money enough to
let you rest. I want you to stop work for good and be happy."

"There are worse things than work," replied Mrs. Carr in a tone which
implied that Gabriella had brought them upon her.

After a pause, in which her needle flew mournfully, she added: "I hope
for your own sake that you will marry some good man before you lose
your attractions. Poor Becky Bollingbroke proved to me how unfortunate
it is for a woman to remain unmarried."

For an instant Gabriella looked at her mother without replying. She felt
tempted--strongly tempted, she told herself--to say something cross.
Then the sight of the bent gray head, of the bowed shoulders, of the
knotted needle-pricked fingers, pierced her heart. Though she could not
always agree with her mother, she loved her devotedly, and the thought
that she must lose her some day had been the most terrible nightmare of
her childhood.

"Don't worry about me, mother, dear," she answered tenderly. "I can
always take care of myself. I can manage my life, you know that, don't
you?" Then she stopped quickly while her heart gave a single bound and
lay quiet. She had heard the click of the gate, and a minute later, as
Mrs. Carr gathered up her sewing, there was a ring at the bell.

"It can't be a visitor before supper, can it, Gabriella?"

"I think not, mother, but I shouldn't run away if I were you."

"I'd better go. I don't feel dressed. Wait a minute, Marthy, and let me
get out of the room before you open the door." She fled, clutching her
work-basket, while Gabriella, turning to lower the flaming wick of the
lamp, heard George's voice at the door and his footsteps crossing the
hall.

"I knew something would happen," she thought wildly, as she went forward
to meet him.

"I saw you pull down the shade as I was going by," he began rather
lamely; and she hardly heard his words because of the divine tumult in
her brain. Her heart sang; her pulses throbbed; every drop of her blood
seemed to become suddenly alive with ecstasy. Under the tarnished
garlands of the chandelier his face looked younger, gayer, more
intensely vivid than it had looked in her dreams. It was the face of her
dreams made real; but with what a difference! She saw his crisp brown
hair brushed smoothly back from its parting, his blue eyes, with their
gay and conquering look, the firm red brown of his cheek, and even the
bluish shadow encircling his shaven mouth. In his eyes, which said
enchanting things, she could not read the trivial and commonplace
quality of his soul--for he was not only a man, he was romance, he was
adventure, he was the radiant miracle of youth!

"Florrie told me this morning that you had come back," she answered
coldly, as she held out her hand.

Her words seemed to come to her from a distance--from the next room,
from the street outside, from the farthest star--but while she uttered
them, she knew that her words meant nothing. She shed her joy as if it
were fragrance; and her softness was like the magnolia-scented softness
of the June night. Even her mother would not have known her, so greatly
had she changed in a minute. Of the businesslike figure in the sailor
hat and trim shirtwaist--of the Gabriella who had said, "I can manage my
life"--there remained only an outline. The very feet of the capable
woman had changed into the shrinking and timid feet of a lovesick girl.
She was afraid to go forward, afraid to move, afraid to breathe lest she
break the wonderful spell of the magic. Not only her basic common sense,
but the very soul that shaped her body had become as light, as sweet,
as formless as liquid honey.

But of course, she knew nothing of this. She was innocent of deception;
she was innocent even of any definite purpose to allure. The thought in
her mind, if there were any thought, which is doubtful, was that she
must be composed, she must be indifferent if it killed her.

"I know I've come at an awkward hour, but I simply couldn't go by after
I saw you."

"Won't you stay?" she asked, trying in vain to shut out the ominous
sound of Marthy bringing their scant supper. She remembered, with
horror, that she had ordered only two chops, and a wave of rebellion
swept over her because life always spoiled its divine instants.

"No, I can't stay. I've an engagement for supper. I merely wanted to see
you. You've no idea how I've wanted to see you."

"Have you?" said Gabriella in so low a voice that he hardly heard her.
Then, lifting her glowing eyes, she added softly, "I am glad that you
wanted to."

"There were times when I simply couldn't get you out of my mind," he
responded, and went on almost joyously, with the romantic look which had
first enchanted her imagination. "You see I believed that you were going
to marry Arthur Peyton. Julia told me that your engagement was broken.
That was why I came back. Didn't you guess it?"

"Yes, I guessed it," she answered simply, and all the softness, the
sweetness, the beauty of her feeling passed into her voice.

Then, in the very midst of her happiness, there occurred one of those
sordid facts which appear to spring, like vultures, upon the ineffable
moments. She heard the bell--the awful supper bell which her mother
insisted upon having rung because her parents had had it rung for
generations before her. As the horrible sound reverberated through the
house, Gabriella felt that the noise passed through her ears, not into
her brain, but into the very depths of her suffering soul.

"There, I must go," said George, without embarrassment, for which she
blessed him. From his manner, the supper bell might have made a
delightful harmony instead of a hideous discord. "I'll see you
to-morrow, if I may. May I, Gabriella?"

He smiled charmingly as he went, and looking after him, a minute later,
over the clove pinks in the window-box, she saw him turn and gaze back
at her from the opposite pavement.



CHAPTER IV

MIRAGE


On a bright Sunday in October Mrs. Carr stopped on her way from church
to tell Mrs. Peyton of Gabriella's engagement. A crape veil, slightly
scented with camphor, hung from her bonnet, and in her gloved hands she
carried a bunch of yellow chrysanthemums, for she intended to go on to
Hollywood, where her husband was buried. The sermon had been unusually
inspiring, and there was a pensive exaltation in her look as she laid
her hand on the gate of the walled garden.

"If it couldn't be Arthur--and of course my heart was set on her
marrying Arthur--I suppose George is the one I should have chosen," she
said to Mrs. Peyton with tender melancholy as she turned her soft,
clammy cheek, which was never warm even in summer, to be kissed.

There was nothing against George that she could advance even to
Gabriella. He was well born, for his mother had been a Randolph; he was
comfortably rich (at least his father was); he was good-looking; he was
almost arrogantly healthy--yet because she was obliged to regret
something, she found herself clinging fondly to the memory of Arthur.
"If it could only have been Arthur," she repeated sadly, gazing through
the French window of the drawing-room to the garden where beds of
scarlet sage flaunted brilliantly in the sunshine.

"I hope and pray that dear Gabriella will be happy," replied Mrs.
Peyton, a beautiful old lady, with wonderful white hair under the
widow's ruching in her bonnet. The exquisite simplicity of her soul was
reflected in the rose-leaf delicacy of her skin, in her benignant and
innocent smile, in the serene and joyous glance of her eyes. Never in
her life had she thought evil of any one, and she did not mean to begin
on the verge of the grave, with the hope of a peaceful eternity before
her. If dear Gabriella had "discarded" dear Arthur, then she could only
hope and pray that dear Gabriella would not live to regret it.

"She will be married at once, I suppose?" she said, and beamed as
happily as if Gabriella had not disappointed the dearest hope of her
heart. "There is no need to wait, is there?"

"They have decided on the 17th of November. I wanted you to know it
first of all, Lydia, so I haven't mentioned it to a soul except to
Cousin Jimmy Wrenn."

"You will live with dear Jane, will you not? Poor child, what a blessing
you will be to her."

"No, I shall be with Jane only for a month or two until Gabriella and
George have taken a house in New York. She wouldn't consent to be
married so soon until I promised to live with them. But how on earth
shall I ever manage to go so far away, Lydia? To think of being so far
from Hollywood almost breaks my heart, and yet what can I do?"

Mrs. Peyton's loving gaze enfolded not only her visitor, but the house
and the dreamy garden where frost was already blighting the flowers.

"I understand your feeling, of course, Fanny," she said, "but you must
think of Gabriella. How different it will be for her if her mother is
with her. I shall miss you every minute, but for the sake of that
splendid child of yours, I must not allow myself to be sorry."

If Mrs. Carr's features could have lost the fixed impression of a
lifetime, they would have appeared almost cheerful while her old friend
held her hand and gazed benignly upon her; but so relaxed had the
muscles of her face become that, even when her spirits rose, her
countenance did not alter, and the flicker of light in her smile only
served to illumine its profound melancholy.

"I try to think of Gabriella," she answered, "but I oughtn't to forget
poor Jane. Whenever I remember her, I begin to reproach myself."

"Don't reproach yourself, Fanny. There is nothing on earth for which you
can justly be blamed. I am sure you have never considered your own
wishes for a minute in your life. If ever a mother gave up everything
for her children, you have done so, Fanny, and you needn't deny it. But
tell me about Gabriella. How thankful you ought to be that she has given
up that work in a store!"

"If it had been God's will, I suppose I must have borne it, Lydia, but I
felt as if it was killing me."

"The dear child has a strong character," observed Mrs. Peyton, and it
seemed to her, while she thought of Gabriella, that a strong character
was a beautiful and wonderful thing.

"You would hardly know Gabriella, she is so changed," replied Mrs. Carr.
"I declare I sometimes think that I never saw a girl so wildly in love
as she is. She positively worships George, and when I look at her, I
remember Becky Bollingbroke's saying that a smart woman in love is
worse than a silly one. She has that much more to get foolish with, poor
Becky used to say.

"How happy it must make you," murmured the other. "There is nothing in
life I'd rather see than my Arthur happily married."

"I always thought that he and Gabriella were made for each other, but
one never can tell--"

"That must be Gabriella now," said Mrs. Peyton as the bell rang. "Is she
coming for you?"

"Yes, Cousin Jimmy was to bring her, and then drive me out to Hollywood.
Isn't that Arthur's voice talking to her?"

"Poor boy," whispered Mrs. Peyton, and then she rustled forward and
enveloped Gabriella in a warm embrace. "My darling girl, your mother has
just told me," she said.

"And Gabriella has just told me," added Arthur at her elbow. Though
there was a hurt look in his eyes, his manner was perfect. Years
afterwards, whenever Gabriella thought of him, she remembered how
perfect his manner was on that morning.

"I wanted you to know first of all," said Gabriella.

As the old lady looked at her with loving eyes, it seemed to her that
the girl was softly glowing with happiness. She accepted joy as she
accepted sorrow, with quietness, but there was a look in her face which
made her appear, for the moment, transfigured. A radiance like that of a
veiled flame shone in her eyes; the cool tones of her voice had grown
richer and gentler; and at last, as Mrs. Peyton said to herself,
Gabriella, the sensible and practical Gabriella, was sweet with the
honeysuckle sweetness of Jane.

"She must be over head and ears in love," she thought; and the next
minute, "I wonder how it will end?"

The question brought a pang to her kind old heart, which longed to make
everybody, and particularly her boy Arthur, happy. Then, because her
eyes were filling, she stroked the girl's arm gently, and said:

"That's a pretty dress, my dear. I never saw you look better."

"She's really getting pretty," remarked Mrs. Carr. "Cousin Jimmy was
saying only yesterday that if Gabriella keeps it up, she'll be a better
looking old lady than Jane."

"Well, I think her a very pretty young one," replied Mrs. Peyton. "She
hasn't such small features as Jane has, but there is more in her face.
Now, I'm willing to wager that George thinks her a beauty."

Gabriella laughed happily. "He hasn't the faintest idea what I look
like, but he declares he won't be a bit disappointed if he finds out
some day that I am ugly."

The glow of youth, of hope, of love, gave to her expressive face an
almost unearthly brightness. She seemed to draw to her all that was
vital and alive in the dim old house, so filled with memories, and in
the October pageantry of the garden. It was the day of her miracle, and
against the splendour of the scarlet sage, she shone with an
unforgettable radiance.

When, a little later, Mrs. Carr, in Cousin Jimmy's buggy, with her bunch
of chrysanthemums held rigidly in her lap, drove off at an amble to
Hollywood, and Gabriella, turning to wave her hand, had vanished behind
the corner of the gray wall, Mrs. Peyton said gently:

"She looked very happy, dear boy. You and I must pray for her
happiness."

The beauty which all her life she had created through faith awoke in
Arthur's suffering heart while she spoke to him. She demanded nobility
of being, and it existed; she exacted generosity of nature, and it was
there. By her mere presence, by the overflowing love in her heart, she
not only banished jealousy and envy, but made the very idea of them
unthinkable.

"She is obliged to be happy. It is her nature," answered Arthur, for his
disposition was hardly less perfect than his manner.

Crossing Broad Street, which wore its look of Sabbath sleepiness,
Gabriella hurried on to Hill Street, and saw George waiting for her
between the two green-painted urns filled with the summer's fading bloom
of portulaca.

He was staring straight upward at one of the poplar trees, where a gray
squirrel was playing among the branches, and for several minutes before
he was aware of her presence, she watched him with her impassioned, yet
not wholly uncritical, gaze. The sunlight sparkled in his eyes, which
shone brightly blue against the red brown of his flesh; and between his
smiling lips, which were thick and somewhat loosely moulded, she saw the
gleaming whiteness of his teeth. She could not explain--she had never
even tried to understand--why this face, which was not in the least a
remarkable one, should so profoundly appeal to her. When George was
absent, his look haunted her with the intensity of an hallucination;
when at last she saw it again, she felt that nothing else in the world
mattered to her, so supreme was the contentment that swept over her.
Though she was more intelligent than Jane, not even Jane herself had
surrendered so unconditionally to the primal force. At least Jane had
made exactions, but so complete was the subjugation of Gabriella that
she exacted nothing, not even a return of her love. To give was all she
asked, and in the giving she bloomed into a beauty and fullness of
nature which Jane's small, closed soul could never attain.

"George!" she called, and went swiftly toward him.

He turned, threw away the cigar in his hand, and held open the gate
while she entered.

"There's a jolly little beggar up in the poplar," he said; "I've been
watching him for ten minutes."

Then, as she passed before him into the parlour, he shut the door, and
catching her in his arms, kissed the back of her neck.

"Oh, George!" she murmured, and her voice was like music. Even to his
short-sighted vision there was pathos at the heart of her happiness--the
pathos of ignorance, Of innocence, of the reckless generosity of soul
that spends its best for the pure joy of spending. With the instinctive
miserliness of the man who realizes that passion to last must be
hoarded, not scattered, he had drawn back almost unconsciously from the
simple abandonment of her love. He wanted her because the deep
discomfort of his nature could not be satisfied without her; but in
possessing her he did not mean to give up anything else. Never for an
instant had he deluded himself with the mystic ecstasies of Gabriella.
The passion which had changed her whole being as if by a miracle, had
altered neither his fundamental egoism nor his superficial philosophy.
He loved her, he knew, as much as it was possible for him to love any
woman; but he was still able to take a profound and healthy interest in
his physical comfort. In one thing, however, they were passionately
agreed, and that was that the aim and end of their marriage was to make
George perfectly happy.

"You are sweet enough to eat this morning," he said as he kissed her.

"I told Mrs. Peyton that you didn't know whether I was pretty or ugly,"
she answered merrily.

"It isn't beauty that takes a man, though women think so," he rejoined
lightly, and yet as if he were imparting one of the basic facts of
experience. "I don't know what it is--but it's something else, and
you've got it, Gabriella."

She looked at him with luminous eyes.

"I've got you," she answered in a whisper; "that's all--nothing else on
earth matters. I want nothing but love."

"But you let me go away for six months. I could never understand that."

"I had to, George. I couldn't be mean even for you, could I?"

"Well, I don't know." His gaze dwelt on her moodily. "Sometimes I wonder
if you haven't too much conscience in your body?"

Careless as were his words, they brought stinging tears to her eyes. Her
throat ached with the longing to pour out her love; but it seemed to her
suddenly that a wall of personality had risen between them, and that she
could only beat blindly against the impenetrable mass that divided them.
She knew now that he could never understand, and yet the knowledge of
this intensified rather than diminished her love. The mere physical
attraction, which she had glorified into passion, was invested with the
beauty and the mystery of an unattainable ideal.

"I believe you are going to cry, darling. Don't be so serious," he said,
laughing.

"But you know--tell me you know that I love you."

"Of course I know it. Am I blind or a fool?"

Then before the glowing worship in her face, he caught her in his arms,
while he said over and over, "I love you! I love you!"

He held her close, thrilling at her touch, seeking her warm lips with an
eagerness which comforted her because she was too inexperienced to
understand how ephemeral was its nature and its sweetness.

"Promise to love me always, George, as you do now," she said,
passionately trying to make the fugitive joy immortal.

"If you'll tell me how to help it, I shall be grateful," he retorted as
gaily as if her eyes had not filled with tears.

"Swear it!"

"I swear it. Now, are you satisfied?"

"I don't believe it. I'll never believe that you love me as much as I
love you. Nobody could."

In his heart he agreed with her. That Gabriella loved him more than he
loved her was a fact to which he was easily reconciled. He loved her
quite as much as he could love anybody except himself and be
comfortable, and if she demanded more, she merely proved herself to be
an unreasonable person. Women did love more than men, he supposed, but
what else were they here for? During the six months when he had thought
that she belonged to another, she had, he told himself, almost driven
him out of his mind; but possession once assured, he had speedily
recovered his health and his sanity. Her worship flattered him, and in
this flattery she had, perhaps, her strongest hold on his heart. Nothing
in his engagement had pleased him more than the readiness with which she
had given up her work at his request. He abhorred independence in a
wife; and Gabriella's immediate and unresisting acquiescence in his
desire appeared to him to establish the fact of her essential and
inherent femininity. Had not all laws, as well as all religions,
proclaimed that woman should be content to lay down not only her life
but her very identity for love; and that Gabriella was womanly to the
core of her nature, in spite of her work in Brandywine's millinery
department, it was impossible to doubt while he kissed her. There were
times, indeed, when the exaltation of Gabriella's womanliness seemed to
have left her without a will of her own; when, in a divine submission to
love, she appeared to exist only for the laudable purpose of making her
lover happy.

"I'd do anything on earth for you, Gabriella," said George suddenly. "I
wonder if you would make a sacrifice for me if I asked it?" From his
face as he looked down on her it was evident that he was not speaking
from impulse, but that he had seized an opportune moment.

"You know I would, George. I'd give up the whole world for you. I'd beg
my bread with you by the roadside."

"Well, it isn't so bad as that, darling--it's only about your mother
coming to us so soon. I've had a letter from home, and it seems that
father has had losses and can't help me out as he intended to do. He's
always either losing or making piles of money, so don't bother your
precious head about that. In six months he'll probably be making piles
again, but, in the meantime, mother suggests that we should postpone
taking a house, and come and live with her for a few months."

"I'd rather live on your income, George, no matter how small it is. I'm
an awfully good manager, and you'd be surprised to see how far I can
make a little money go. Why can't we take an apartment somewhere in an
inexpensive neighbourhood--one just big enough for mother and you and
me?"

"We couldn't live half so well in the first place, and, besides, I'd
hate like the devil to see you working yourself to death and losing your
looks. That's just exactly what Patty is doing. She was the family's
greatest investment, you know. Everything we had for years was spent on
her because she was such a ripping beauty, and mother set her heart on
her marrying nothing less than a duke. So we sent her abroad to be
educated and squandered a fortune on her clothes, and then, just as
mother was gloating over her triumphs, the very day after the Duke of
Toxbridge proposed to her, Patty walked out one morning and married
Billy King at the Little Church Around the Corner. Billy, of course,
hasn't a cent to his name except what he makes painting blue pictures,
and that's precious little. They're up on the West Side now, living in
four rooms with neighbours who fry onions at nine o'clock in the morning
next door to them, and half the time Patty hasn't even a maid, I
believe, and has to do her work with the help of a charwoman."

"And is she happy?" There was eagerness in Gabriella's voice, for she
was sure that she should love Patty.

"Oh, yes, Patty is happy, but mother isn't. It's rough on mother."

"I think she ought to have told your mother before she married."

"Well, Patty thought she could stand the fuss better after she'd done it
than she could before. She said she needed the support of knowing they
couldn't stop it. Cheeky, wasn't it?"

"And is she really so beautiful?"

"Ripping," said George; "simply ripping."

"I know I shall love her. Is she dark or fair?"

"I never thought about it, but she's a towering beauty--something
between dark and fair, I suppose. She has golden hair, you know."

His arm was around her, and lifting her earnest face to his, Gabriella
began in her softest voice: "I shouldn't mind a bit living like that,
George--honestly I shouldn't."

"Yes, you would. It would be rotten."

"I wish you would tell me just how much we shall have to live on, dear.
Even if it is very, very little, it would be so much better not to
expect anything from your father. If the worst comes to the worst, I can
always go back to work, you know, and I feel as if I ought to help
because you are so generous about wanting mother to live with us."

He frowned slightly, while a dark flush rose to his forehead. Already
Gabriella was learning how dangerously easy it was to irritate George.
Serious discussions always appeared to disturb him, and at the first
allusion to the responsibilities he had assumed, she could see the look
of bored restlessness creep into his face. It was evidently abhorrent to
him to hear her talk about business; but with her practical nature and
her fundamental common sense it was impossible that she should be
content to remain in a fool's paradise of financial mysteries. She had
only the vaguest idea how he earned a living, and a still vaguer one of
what that living represented. There was an impression in her mind that
he worked in his father's office somewhere in Wall Street--he had once
given her the number--and that he went "downtown" every morning after
breakfast and did not get home to luncheon. Cousin Jimmy had once told
her that George's father was a stockbroker, but this information
conveyed little to her mind. The men she knew in Richmond were lawyers,
doctors, clergymen, or engaged, like Cousin Jimmy, in the "tobacco
business," and she supposed that "a stockbroker" must necessarily belong
to a profession which was restricted to New York. The whole matter was
hazy in her thoughts, but she hoped in time, by intelligent and tactful
application, to overcome her ignorance as well as George's deeply rooted
objection to her enlightenment.

"Well, you see, my income is uncertain, Gabriella. It depends a good
deal upon the stock market and the sort of stuff we've been buying. Look
here, darling, don't, for heaven sake, get the business bee in your
bonnet. A mannish woman is worse than poison, and the less you know
about stocks the more attractive you will be. Mother has lived for
thirty years with father, and she doesn't know any more how he makes his
money than you do at this minute."

This was as lucid, she suspected, as George was ever likely to be on
the subject, and, since he was becoming visibly annoyed, she abandoned
her fruitless search for information. After she was married there would
be time and opportunity to find out all that she wanted to know; and
even if he never told her anything more--well, she was quite accustomed
to the masculine habit of never telling women anything more. Her mother
and Jane were as ignorant of finance as they had been in their cradles;
Cousin Pussy spoke of the "tobacco business" as if it were a sacred
mystery superior to the delicate feminine faculties; and while Gabriella
was engaged to Arthur, he had fallen into the habit of gently reminding
her that she "knew nothing of law."

"Very well, dearest, I shan't bother you," she said cheerfully, "only,
of course, I couldn't possibly leave mother with Jane and Charley. She
doesn't realize it, but she would be perfectly miserable."

"She told me that leaving Richmond was like death to her."

"That's only because she knows she's going," answered Gabriella, but her
endeavour to explain her mother's habit of mind appeared to her to be so
hopeless that she added unconvincingly: "You can't imagine how dependent
she is on me. Jane doesn't know how to manage her at all, though they
are so much alike."

"Well, of course, if we live at home--"

"But you promised me we'd be to ourselves, George; you can't have
forgotten it. We talked it over, every bit of it, and I told you in the
beginning I couldn't leave mother."

"If you loved me enough to marry me, I should think you'd be willing to
give up your family for me." He spoke doggedly; it was his way to speak
doggedly when he was driving a point.

"It isn't that, dear, you know it isn't that."

Taking a letter from his pocket, he drew a sheet of blue note paper,
closely interlined, from the envelope, and handed it to her.

"You can see for yourself how it is," he said in an aggrieved voice. By
his tone he had managed to put her in the wrong as utterly as if she,
not he, were trying to break her word. Yet she had told him in the very
beginning that she could not leave her mother; she had refused to engage
herself to him until he had offered Mrs. Carr a home with them. It had
all been carefully arranged at the start, and now, within a month of
their marriage, he had apparently forgotten that the matter was settled.

Leaning forward until the light fell on the paper, she read with
trembling lips:

     My Dear Son:

     Your letter was a blow to me because you had said nothing of
     Gabriella's plan to bring her mother to New York to live with her,
     and, of course, this makes it out of the question that you should
     come straight to us. Now that Patty has gone--poor child, I am
     afraid she will live to repent her rashness--your father and I had
     quite looked forward to having you young people in the house; but
     we haven't room, even if I could bring myself to face the prospect
     of a rival mother-in-law under the same roof with me--and frankly I
     can't. And your father has simply put his foot down on the idea. As
     you know he hasn't been very well of late--the doctor says he is
     threatened with diabetes--so my one thought is to spare him every
     useless anxiety. He sleeps very badly and doesn't seem able, even
     at night, to detach his mind from his business worries. If he
     hadn't had such a bad summer, he might have been able to help you
     start housekeeping, but there have been a great many failures in
     the last few months, and he says he is obliged to cut down all his
     expenses in order to tide over the depression in the market. We are
     trying to retrench in every possible way, and, for this reason, I
     fear we shall hardly be able to go down to your wedding. This is a
     terrible disappointment to us both, and your father is particularly
     distressed because he will not be able to add to your income this
     year. Of course, if you should change your mind and decide to come
     to us, we can get Patty's old room ready for you at once, and turn
     yours into a sitting-room. Think this over and let me know as soon
     as you possibly can.

     I see Patty occasionally. She is in high spirits, but looking a
     little thinner, I think. Billy has painted a portrait of Mrs.
     Pletheridge, but it isn't a bit flattering, and he wouldn't let her
     wear her pearls, so I'm afraid she won't buy it. I don't believe he
     will ever make anything of himself. What a waste when Patty might
     have been Duchess of Toxbridge. Though I am not a bit worldly, I
     can't help regretting all that she has lost.

     Your loving mother,

     EVELYN FOWLER.

When she had folded the letter and given it back to him, Gabriella
dropped her hands in her lap and sat gazing thoughtfully at the square
of sunlight by the window.

"If you cared as much as I do, you'd be willing to give up your family,"
he said suddenly, encouraged not only by her manner, which appeared
yielding, but by his secret ineradicable conviction that her love was
greater than his. Across the romantic screen of his features there
flashed a swift change of expression, like the flicker of light on a
coloured mask. If she could only have looked through the charming
vacancy of his face, she would have been surprised to discover the
directness and simplicity of his mental processes. He wanted his way,
and he meant, provided it was humanly possible, to have whatever he
wanted.

"It isn't that, George. Love has nothing to do with it. It is a question
of right."

For a minute he surveyed her moodily; then, rising from her side on the
sofa, he took two steps to the window and looked up at the boughs of the
poplar tree. The gray squirrel was still there, and he watched it
attentively while he pondered his answer. Yes, the whole trouble with
Gabriella was too much conscience. This conscience of hers had got in
his way before now, and he had suddenly an uneasy feeling, as if he had
struck against the vein of iron which lay beneath the rich bloom of her
passion. The thought of her opposition, of her secret hardness, bitterly
angered him. He wanted her--no other woman could satisfy him--but he
wanted her utterly different from what she was. He was seized with an
indomitable desire to make her over, to change her entirely from that
Gabriella with whom he had fallen in love. Of course, she was right as
far as the mere facts of the case were concerned. He had promised that
her mother should live with them; but he felt indignantly that it was an
act of disloyalty for her to be right at his expense. She ought to have
given in, and she ought to have given in gracefully, there was no
question of that. When a woman loved a man as much as she loved him, it
was unreasonable of her to let these innumerable little points of fact
come between them; it was ungenerous of her to cling so stubbornly to
her advantage. Her very quietness--that look of gentle obstinacy which
refused either to fight back or to surrender--irritated him almost to
desperation. His temper, always inflammable, suddenly burst out, and he
felt that he wanted to shake her. He wanted, indeed, to do anything in
the world except the sensible thing of walking out of the house and
leaving her to reflection.

"I should think your first duty would be to your husband," he said,
while the streak of cruelty which was at the heart of his love showed
like a livid mark on the surface of his nature. His mind was conscious
of but a single thought while he stood there in the wind which fluttered
the curtains and filled the room with the roving scents of October, and
this was the bitter longing to make Gabriella over into the girl that he
wanted her to become. Though it cost him her love, he felt that he must
punish her for being herself.

"Do you mean always to put your mother before me?" he asked
passionately, after a minute.

Still she did not answer, and in the deep, earnest eyes that she turned
on him he saw not anger, not sorrow even, but wonder. As he stretched
out his hand, it fell on Mrs. Carr's window box, where a rose geranium
remained bright green in the midst of the withered stems of the clove
pinks, and the scent of the leaves, as he crushed them between his
fingers, evoked a swift memory of Gabriella in one of her soft moods,
saying over and over, "I love you! Oh, I do love you!" At the image his
temper changed as if by magic, and crossing the room, he bent down and
kissed her with a fierceness that bruised her lips.

"I adore you, Gabriella," he said.

Though she had seen these sudden changes in him before, she had never
grown wholly used to them. Her deeper nature, with its tranquil
brightness, untroubled by passing storms, was unprepared for the shallow
violence which swept over him, leaving no visible trace of its passage.
No, she could not understand him--she could only hope that after they
were married the blindness would pass from her love, and she would
attain that completer knowledge for which she was striving so patiently.
The transforming miracle of marriage, she trusted, would reveal this
mystery, with so many others.

"How can you hurt me so, George?" she asked with reproachful tenderness.

"It's because you are so stubborn, darling. If you weren't so stubborn I
shouldn't do it. Do you know you get almost mulish at times," he added,
laughing, while she moved nearer and rubbed her cheek softly against his
sleeve.

"You frighten me," she whispered. "I was just beginning to believe that
you really meant it."

"Oh, lovers always quarrel. There's nothing in that."

"But I hate to see you angry. It would almost kill me if it lasted
longer than a minute. Never let it last, will you, George?"

"Of course not, Goosey. It never has lasted, has it?"

"Goosey" was one of his favourite names for her. He liked it because it
gave him a merry feeling of superiority when he said it, and Gabriella
liked it for perhaps the same reason. In the first ardour of her
self-surrender she caught eagerly at any straw that she might cast on
the flame of her passion.

"And I'm not really stubborn, dear. Tell me that I'm not really
stubborn."

"You darling! I was only teasing you."

"I'll do anything on earth for you that I can, George."

"I know you will, dearest, and you don't honestly care more for your
family, do you?"

"I love you better than all the rest of the world put together. There
are times when I think it must be wrong to love any man as much as I
love you. My grandmother used to say that when you loved like that you
'tempted Providence.' Isn't it dreadful to believe that you could tempt
Providence by loving?"

He kissed her throat where a loosened strand of dark hair had fallen
against the whiteness.

"Will you do what I ask, Gabriella?"

So it was all to begin over again! He had not really given in, he had
not really yielded even while he was kissing her. She closed her eyes,
leaning her head on his shoulder. For a moment she felt as if a physical
pain were pressing into her forehead.

"Will you do it, Gabriella?" It was as if he put his soul into his
voice, wooing her tenderly away from her better judgment. He was testing
his power to dominate her; and never had she felt it so vividly, never
had her will been so incapable of resisting him as at that instant.
Moving slightly in his arms she looked at the clear red brown of his
throat, at his sensitive mouth, with the faint dent in the lower lip, at
his bright blue eyes, which had grown soft while he pleaded. His
physical power over her was complete, and he knew it. Her flesh had
become as soft as flowers in his arms, while her eyes, like dark flames,
trembled and fell away from his look.

"It isn't only the thing itself, darling, but I don't like you to refuse
me. It hurts me that you won't do what I ask of you."

"If it were anything else, George."

"But it isn't anything else. It is just that I want you to myself--all
to myself, after we are married."

"Don't ask me, dearest. If you only knew how it makes me suffer."

Her voice was a caress when she answered, but, as he told himself
passionately, she had not yielded an inch. Once again he had run against
the iron hidden under the bloom.

"Then you refuse absolutely?" he asked, and though his voice quivered
still, it was no longer from tenderness. He hated stubbornness, and,
most of all, he hated it in the woman who was going to be his wife. A
life of continual contradiction, he felt, would be intolerable. A strong
will, which he had always admired in himself, became a positive failing
in Gabriella. A woman's strength lay, after all, not in force of
character, but in sweetness of nature. And yet how lovely she was! How
soft, how sweet she looked as she gazed up at him with her radiant eyes.
There was a fascination for him in her tall slenderness, in the graceful
curve of her head, which drooped slightly like a dark flower on its
stem. Everything about her charmed him, and yet he had never called her
beautiful in his thoughts.

"I told you how it was, dear, when you first asked me to marry you," she
said, with infinite patience. "I told you that it wasn't fair to ask you
to take mother, but that I couldn't possibly leave her alone in her old
age. Jane's home is wretchedly unhappy--she can never tell when Charley
is to be counted on--and it would kill mother to be dependent on Charley
even if he were willing. I see your side, George, indeed, indeed, I do,
but I can't--I simply can't act differently. I have always known it was
my duty to look after mother--nothing can change that, not even love.
She worked for us while we were little, and it is trouble that has made
her what she is to-day. You must see that I am right, George; you can't
possibly help it."

But he couldn't see it. If the truth had been twice as evident, if
Gabriella had been twice as reasonable, he could still have seen only
his wishes.

"I am only asking you to do what is best for us both, Gabriella."

"But how can it be best for me to become an ungrateful child, George?"

Neither of them wanted to quarrel, yet in a minute the barbed words were
flying between them; in a minute they faced each other as coldly as if
they had been strangers instead of adoring lovers. At the last, he
looked at her an instant in silence while she sat perfectly motionless
with her deep eyes changing to gold in the sunlight; then, turning on
his heel, without a word, he left the house, and walked rapidly over the
coloured leaves on the pavement. As he passed under the poplar tree the
gray squirrel darted gaily along a bough over his head, but he did not
look up, and a minute later Gabriella saw him cross the street and
vanish beyond the pointed yew tree in the yard at the corner.

"I wonder if this is the end?" she thought bitterly, and she knew that
even if it were the end, that even if she died of it, she could never
give way. Something stronger than herself--that vein of iron in her
soul--would not bend, would not break though every fibre of her being
struggled against it. All the happiness of her life vanished with George
as he passed beyond the yew tree at the corner, yet she sat there with
her hands still folded, her lips still firm, watching the tree long
after its pointed dusk had hidden her lover's figure. Had she followed
her desire as lightly as George followed his, she would have run after
him as he disappeared, and bringing him back to the room he had left,
dissolved in tears on his breast. She longed to do this, but the vein of
iron held her firm in spite of herself. She could not move toward him,
she could not even have put out her hand had he entered.

The bell rang, and her blood drummed in her ears; but it was only Cousin
Jimmy bringing Mrs. Carr back from the cemetery. Hearty, deep-chested,
meticulously brushed and groomed, he wore his Sunday frock with an
unnatural stiffness, as if he were still hearing Pussy's parting warning
to be "careful about his clothes." His dark hair, trained for twenty
years from a side parting, shone with the lustre of satin, and his
shining eyes, so like the eyes of adventurous youth, wore their
accustomed Sabbath look of veiled and ashamed sleepiness.

"So you're going to take the old lady to New York with you, Gabriella?"

"I can't bear to think of it, Cousin Jimmy," remarked Mrs. Carr, while
she adjusted her crape veil over the back of her chair. "I don't see how
I can stand living in the North."

"Well, what about our friend Charley? Do you think you could get on any
better with Charley for a son-in-law?"

"You oughtn't to joke about it, Cousin Jimmy. It is too serious for
joking."

"I beg your pardon, Cousin Fanny--but where is George, Gabriella? I
thought he was to meet you here."

"He had to go just before you came. Don't you think mother is looking
well?"

"As well as I ever saw her. I was telling her so as we drove back from
Hollywood. All she needs is to leave off moping for a while and she'd
lose ten years of her age. Why, I tell you if it were I, I'd jump at the
chance to go to New York for a few years. If there wasn't a single thing
there except the theatres, I'd jump at it. You can go to a different
show every night of your life, Cousin Fanny."

"I have never been inside of a theatre in my life. You ought to know me
better than to think it," replied Mrs. Carr, while the corners of her
mouth drooped. She had laid her bag of grosgrain silk on the table at
her elbow, and untying the strings of her bonnet, she neatly rolled them
into two tight little wads which she fastened with jet-headed pins.

"You make her go, honey, when you get hold of her," said Jimmy to
Gabriella in a sympathetic aside "What she needs is bracing up--I was
saying so to Pussy only this morning. 'If you could just brace up Cousin
Fanny, she'd be as well as you or I,' was what I said to her Now I don't
believe there's a better place on earth to brace a body up than old New
York. I remember I took my poor old father there just a month or two
before his last illness, when he was getting over a spell of lumbago,
and it worked on him like magic. We stayed at the Fifth Avenue
Hotel--you must be sure to get a dinner at the Fifth Avenue Hotel,
Cousin Fanny--and went to a show every blessed night for a week. It made
the old man young again, upon my word it did, and he was still talking
about it when he came down with his last illness. Well, I must be going
home to Pussy now. The boys and I went out squirrel hunting yesterday,
and Pussy promised me Brunswick stew for dinner. Now, don't you forget
to brace up, Cousin Fanny. That's all on earth you need. The world ain't
such a bad place, after all, when you sit down and think right hard
about it."

He went out gaily, followed by Mrs. Carr's accusing eyes to the hatrack,
where he stopped to take his glossy silk hat from a peg. Turning in the
buggy as he drove off, he waved merrily back at them with the whip
before he touched the fat flanks of his gray.

"Cousin Jimmy means well, but he has a most unfortunate manner at
times," observed Mrs. Carr.

"What is the matter, Gabriella? Have you a headache?"

"Oh, no, but the sunshine is so strong."

"Then you'd better lower the shade. Why, what in the world has happened
to my rose geranium? I was just going to pot it for the winter."

"I'm sure it isn't hurt, mother. George broke the leaves when he was
looking out of the window."

"I thought he was going to stay for dinner. Did you make the jelly and
syllabub?"

"I made it, but he wouldn't stay."

"Well, we'll send some upstairs to Miss Jemima. Do you know she had to
have the doctor this morning? I met him as I was going out, and he said
he was sorry to hear I was going to leave Richmond. I can't imagine
where on earth he could have heard it, for I haven't mentioned it to a
soul except Lydia Peyton. Yes, I believe I did speak of it to Bessie
Spencer at the meeting of the Ladies' Aid Society the other day. Where
are you going, Gabriella? Would you mind putting my bonnet in the
bandbox?"

No, Gabriella wouldn't mind, and taking the folds of crape in her arms,
she went to get the green paper bandbox out of the closet. Though she
had sacrificed her happiness for her mother, she felt that it would be
impossible for her to listen with a smiling face to her innocent
prattle.

In the afternoon, when Mrs. Carr, with a small and inconspicuous basket
in her hand, had set out on her Sunday visit to the Old Ladies' Home,
and Marthy, attired in an apron with an embroidered bib, had taken the
jelly and syllabub upstairs to Miss Jemima, Gabriella sat down in her
mother's rocking-chair by the window, and tried desperately to be
philosophical. The sound of the old maids from the floor above
descending on their way to a funeral disturbed her for a minute, and she
thought with an extraordinary clearness, "That is what my life will be
if George never comes back. That is what it means to be old." And there
was a morbid pleasure in pressing this thought, like a pointed weapon,
into her heart. "That is all there will be for me--that will be my
life," she went on after an instant of throbbing anguish. "I had no
right to think of marriage with mother dependent on me, and the best
thing for me to do is to start again with Mr. Brandywine. George was
right in a way. Yes, it is hard on him, and I was wrong ever to think of
it--ever to let him fall in love with me." The mere thought that George
was right in a way gave her singular comfort, and while she dwelt on it,
the discovery seemed to throw a vivid light on the cause of the quarrel.
Of course, she had expected too much of him. It was natural that he
should not want to be burdened with her family. What she had looked upon
as selfishness was only the natural instinct of a man in love with a
woman. He had said that he wanted her to himself, and to want her to
himself appeared now to be the most reasonable desire in the world.

Yes, she had acquitted George; but, in acquitting him, it was
characteristic of her that she should not have yielded an inch of her
ground. She drew comfort from declaring him innocent, but it was the
tragic comfort of one who blesses while she renounces. George's
blamelessness did not alter in the least her determination to cling to
her mother.

The afternoon wore on; the soft golden light on the pavement was dappled
with shadows; and the wind, blowing over the iron urns in the yard,
scattered the withered leaves of portulaca over the grass. Though the
summer still lingered, and flowers were blooming behind the fences along
the street, the faint violet haze of autumn was creeping slowly over the
sunshine. Now and then an acquaintance, returning from afternoon
service, looked up to bow to her, and while the daylight was still
strong, Marthy, resplendent in Sunday raiment, came out of the little
green gate at the side of the yard and passed, mincing, in the direction
of the negro church. Then the door opened slowly, and the two old maids
came in and stopped for a minute at the parlour door to see if Gabriella
"had company."

"Such a lovely evening, my dear"--they never used the word
afternoon--"we went all the way to the cemetery. She was buried in her
grandfather's lot, you know, in the old part up on the hill. It was a
beautiful drive, but Amelia and I couldn't help thinking of the poor
young thing all the time."

It was Miss Jemima who had spoken, and her kind, plain face, all puffs
and pleasant wrinkles, had not yet relaxed from the unnatural solemnity
it had worn at the funeral. She was seldom grave, and never despondent,
though to Gabriella she appeared to lead an unendurable life. Unlike
Miss Amelia, she had not even a happy youth and a lover to look back
upon; she had nothing, indeed, except her unfailing goodness and
patience to support her.

"I don't like to see you alone, honey," she said, untying the strings of
her black silk bonnet, which fitted her cheerful features like a frame.
"If the doctor hadn't told me to go to bed as soon as I came in, we'd
sit a while with you for company."

She felt that it was morbid and unnatural in Gabriella to sit alone in a
dim room when there were so many young people out in the streets. "You
mark my words, there's some reason back of Gabriella's moping all by
herself," she remarked to Miss Amelia as she took off her "things" a few
minutes later. "It wouldn't surprise me a bit to hear that she'd had a
fuss with her sweetheart."

"I declare, sister Jemima, you are too sentimental to live," observed
Miss Amelia as she filled the tea kettle on the fender "Anybody would
think to hear you talk that there was nothing in life except making
love."

"Well, there isn't anything else so interesting when you're young. You
used to think so yourself, sister Amelia."

Standing gaunt and black, with the tea kettle held out stiffly before
her, Miss Amelia turned her tragic face on her sister.

"Well, I reckon you don't know much about it," she responded with the
unconscious cruelty of age. Having been once the victim of a great
passion, she had developed at last into an uncompromising realist,
wholly devoid of sentimentality, while Miss Jemima, lacking experience,
had enveloped the unknown in a rosy veil of illusion.

"You don't have to know a thing to think about it, sister Amelia,"
replied the invalid timidly as she put on her flannel wrapper and
fastened it with a safety pin at the throat.

"Well, I reckon it's all right for a girl like Gabriella," said Miss
Amelia crushingly, "but when you look back on it from my age, you'll
know it isn't worth a row of pins in a life."

And beside the window downstairs Gabriella was thinking passionately:
"Shall I ever grow old? Is it possible that I shall ever grow old like
that?"

With the bare question, terror seized her--the terror of growing old
without George, the terror of dying before she had known the full beauty
of life. Looking ahead of her at the years empty of love, she saw them
like a gray road, leaf strewn, wind swept, deserted, and herself
creeping through them, as bent, as wrinkled, as disillusioned, as Miss
Amelia. The very image of a life without love was intolerable to her
since she had known George--for love meant George, and only George, in
her thoughts. That she could ever be happy again, ever take a natural
pleasure in life if she lost him, was unimaginable to her at the
instant. She loved him, she had loved him from the first moment she saw
him, she would never, though she lived a million years, love any one
else. It was as absurd to think that she could love again as that a
flower could bloom afresh when its petals were withered. No, without
George there was only loveless old age--there was only the future of
Miss Amelia before her. And she clung to this idea with a horror which
Miss Amelia, who seldom reflected that she was loveless and by no means
considered herself an object of pity, would have despised.

"I have no right to marry George, and yet if I don't marry him I shall
be miserable all my life," she told herself with a sensation of panic.
It would be so long, the rest of her life, and without George it was as
desolate as the gray road of her vision. All the beauties of the
universe, all the miracles of hope, of youth, of spring; her health, her
intellect, her capacity for work and for taking pleasure in little
things--all these were as nothing to her if she lost George out of her
life. "I oughtn't to marry him," she repeated, "but if I don't marry him
I shall be miserable every minute until I die."

Then a terror more awful than any she had yet suffered clutched at her
heart. Suppose he should never come back! Suppose he had really meant to
leave her for good! Suppose he had ceased to love her since he went out
of the house! The possibility was so agonizing that she rose blindly
from her chair and turned from the window as if the quiet street, filled
with the dreamy sunshine of October, had offered an appalling, an
unbelievable sight to her eyes. If he had ceased to love her, she was
helpless; and this sense of helplessness awoke a feeling of rage in her
heart. If he did not come back, she could never go after him. She could
only sit and wait until she grew as old and as ugly as Miss Amelia.
While the minutes, which seemed hours, dragged away, she wept the
bitterest tears of her life--tears not of wounded love, but of anger
because she could do nothing but wait.

While she wept the bell rang. When she did not answer it, it rang again,
and after an interminable pause the footsteps of Miss Amelia were heard
descending the stairs. Then the door opened and shut, the footsteps
began their slow ascent of the stairs, and after an eternity of silence,
she knew that George had entered the room.

Wiping her eyes on the ruffle of the sofa pillow, she sat up and faced
him, while her pride hardened again.

"Gabriella, I have come back."

"I see you have," she answered coldly, and choked over a sob.

"What are you crying about, Gabriella?"

"I--I have a headache."

"Have you thought about me at all to-day?"

"A little."

He laughed softly, the laugh of a conqueror.

"I'm glad at least that I didn't give you the headache."

"You didn't. I had it anyway."

He was radiant, he was as fresh as the wind. Never in his life had he
looked so gay, so handsome, so kind. His blue eyes were brimming with
light. The mere fact of being alive appeared to fill him with ecstasy.
And she loved him for his gaiety, for his lightness, for the ease with
which he took for granted her unchangeable love. She longed with all her
soul and body to prove this love by a surrender more complete than any
she had made in the past. She longed to say: "I am yours to do with as
you please, and nothing in the universe matters but you and my love for
you." The very core of her nature longed to say this to him; but her
indomitable pride, which even passion could not overcome, kept her
sitting there in silence while she felt that her heart was bursting with
happiness.

"Have you thought it over, Gabriella?"

She nodded. To save her life, she felt, she could not utter a word
without sobbing.

"And you have absolutely and finally decided to have your way?"

This time she shook her head, but the tears fell on her cheeks and she
did not brush them away. From his voice she knew that she had triumphed,
but there was no delight in the knowledge. She did not want to triumph;
she wanted only to yield to him and to make him happy by yielding.

"O George!" she cried suddenly, and held out her arms to him.

As he looked down at her his expression changed suddenly to one of
intense sadness. From his face, which had grown pale, he might have been
contemplating the Eternal Verities, though, in reality, he was
considering nothing more exalted than the dreary prospect of a lifetime
spent in the society of Mrs. Carr.

Then, as Gabriella enfolded him, he laughed softly. He had given in, but
he knew in the very instant of his defeat that he should some day turn
it to victory.



CHAPTER V

THE NEW WORLD


Gabriella stood in front of the station, ecstatically watching George
while he struggled for a cab. In the pale beams of the early sunshine
her face looked young, flushed, and expectant, as if she had just
awakened from sleep, and her eyes, following her husband, were the happy
eyes of a bride. She wore a new dress of blue broadcloth, passionately
overtrimmed by Miss Polly Hatch; on her head a blue velvet toque from
Brandywine's millinery department rested as lightly as a benediction;
and her hands clasped Arthur's wedding present, a bag of alligator skin
bearing her initials in gold. One blissful month ago she and George had
been married, and now, on the reluctant return from a camp in the
Adirondacks, they were confronting the disillusioning actuality of the
New York streets at eight o'clock in the morning. While Gabriella
waited, shivering a a little, for the air was sharp and her broadcloth
dress was not warm, she amused herself planning a future which appeared
to consist of inexhaustible happiness. And mingling with her dreams
there were divine memories of the last month and of her marriage. After
that one quarrel George, she told herself, had been "simply perfect."
His manner to her mother had been beautiful; he had been as eager as
Gabriella to obliterate all memory of the difference between them,
though, of course, after his yielding that supreme point she had felt
that she must give up everything else--and the giving up had been
rapture. He had shown not the faintest disposition to crow over her when
at last, after consulting Mrs. Carr, she had told him that her mother
really preferred to stay with Jane until summer, though he had remarked
with evident relief: "Then we'll put off looking for an apartment. It's
easier to find one in the summer anyway, and in the meantime you can
talk it over with mother."

After this everything had gone so smoothly, so exquisitely, that it was
more like a dream than like actual life when she looked back on it. She
saw herself in the floating lace veil of her grandmother, holding white
roses in her hand, and she saw George's face--the face of her dreams
come true--looking at her out of a starry mist, while in the shining
wilderness that surrounded them she heard an organ playing softly "The
Voice That Breathed O'er Eden." Then the going away! The good-byes at
the station in Richmond; her mother's face, pathetic and drawn against
the folds of her crape veil; Cousin Jimmy, crimson and jovial; Florrie's
violent waving as the train moved away; Miss Jemima, with her smiling,
pain-tortured eyes, flinging a handful of rice; the last glimpse of
them; the slowly vanishing streets, where the few pedestrians stopped to
look after the cars; the park where she had played as a child; the
brilliant flower-beds filled with an autumnal bloom of scarlet cannas;
the white-aproned negro nurses and the gaily decorated perambulators;
the clustering church spires against a sky of pure azure; the negro
hovels, with frost-blighted sunflowers dropping brown seeds over the
paling fences; the rosy haze of it all; and her heart saying over and
over, "There is nothing but love in the world! There is nothing but love
in the world!"

"I've got a cab--the last one," said George, pushing his way through the
crowd, and laying his hand on her arm with a possessive and
authoritative touch. "Let me put you in, and then I'll speak to the
driver."

As he gave the address she watched him, still fascinated with the
delicious strangeness of it all. It was like an adventure to have George
whisk her so peremptorily into a cab, and then stand with his foot on
the step while he curtly directed the driver. Nothing could surpass the
romance--the supreme exciting romance of life. Every minute was an
event; every act of George's was as thrilling as a moment in melodrama.
And as they drove through the streets, over the pale bands of sunshine,
she had a sense of lightness and wonder, as if she were driving in a
world of magic toward ineffable happiness.

"Isn't it strange to be here together, George?" she said. "I can hardly
believe it." But in her heart she was thinking: "I shall never want
anything but love in my life. If I have George I shall never want
anything else." The bedraggled, slatternly figures of the women sweeping
the pavements in the cross-street through which they were driving filled
her with a fugitive sadness, so faint, so pale that it hardly dimmed the
serene brightness of her mood. "I wish they were all as happy as I am,"
she thought; "and they might be if they only knew the secret of
happiness. If they only knew that nothing in the world matters when one
has love in one's heart."

"You'll believe it soon enough when we turn into Fifth Avenue," replied
George, glancing with disgust out of the window. A month of intimacy had
increased the power of his smile over her senses, and when he turned to
her again after a minute, she felt something of the faint delicious
tremor of their first meeting. Already she was beginning to discover
that beyond his expressive eyes he had really very little of importance
to express, that his prolonged silences covered poverty of ideas rather
than abundance of feeling, that his limited vocabulary was due less to
reticence than to the simple inarticulateness of the primitive mind.
Through the golden glamour of her honeymoon there had loomed suddenly
the discovery that George was not clever--but cleverness mattered so
little, she told herself, as long as he loved her.

"I hope your mother will like me," she said nervously after a minute.

"I'll be sorry for her if she doesn't."

"Do I look nice?"

"Of course you do. I never saw you when you didn't."

"I feel so dreadfully untidy. I never tried to dress in a sleeping-car
before."

"It did rock, didn't it?"

"I'll never travel again at night if I can help it. There's a cinder in
your eye; let me get it out for you." It thrilled her pleasantly to
remove the cinder with the corner of her handkerchief, and to order him
to sit still whenever the cab jolted. It was incredibly young,
incredibly foolish, but it was all a part of the wonderful enchantment
in which she moved. The cinder had made an agreeable episode, but when
it had been removed there was nothing more for them to talk about. In
four weeks of daily and hourly companionship they had said very easily,
Gabriella had found, everything they had longed so passionately to say
to each other. It was strange--it was positively astounding how soon
they had talked themselves empty of ideas and fallen back upon
repetition and ejaculation. Before her marriage she had thought that a
lifetime would be too short to hold the full richness of their
confidences; and yet now, after a month, though they still made love,
they had ceased, almost with relief, to make conversation.

After turning into Fifth Avenue they drove for ages between depressing
examples in brownstone of an architecture which, like George, was trying
rather vaguely to express nothing; and then rolling heavily into
Fifty-seventh Street stopped presently before one of the solemn houses
which stood, in the dignity of utter ugliness, midway of a long block.
"They are all so alike I don't see how I shall ever know where I live,"
thought Gabriella. Then, as George helped her out of the cab, the door
opened as if by magic, and beyond the solemn manservant she saw the
short, stout figure of a lady in a tightly fitting morning gown of black
silk. Hurrying up the steps, she was pressed against a large smooth
bosom which yielded as little as if it had been upholstered in leather.

"My dear daughter! my dear Gabriella!" exclaimed the lady in a charming
voice; and looking down after the first kiss, Gabriella saw a handsome,
slightly florid face, with the vivacious smile of a girl and a beautiful
forehead under a stiffly crimped arch of gray hair which looked as hard
and bright as silver.

"I've been up since seven o'clock waiting for you. You must be
famished. Come straight in to breakfast. Your father is already at the
table, George. Poor man, he has to start downtown so dreadfully early."

Bright, effusive, vivacious, and as emphatically Southern as if she had
never left Franklin Street, Mrs. Fowler took off Gabriella's hat and
coat, kissed her several times while she was doing so, and at last,
still talking animatedly, led them into the dining-room.

"Archibald, here they are," she said in a tone of unaffected delight,
while a thin, serious-looking man, with anxious eyes, pale, aristocratic
features, and skin that had a curious parchment-like texture, put down
the _Times_, and came forward to meet them. Though he did not speak as
he kissed her, Gabriella felt that there was sincere, if detached,
friendliness in his little pat on her shoulder. He led her almost
tenderly to her chair; and as soon as she was comfortably seated and
supplied with rolls and bacon, resigned her contentedly to his wife and
the butler. His manner of gentle abstraction, which Gabriella attributed
first to something he had just read in the newspaper, she presently
discovered to be his habitual attitude toward all the world except Wall
Street. He ate his breakfast as if his attention were somewhere else; he
spoke to his son and his daughter-in-law kindly, but as if he were not
thinking about them; he treated his wife, whom he adored, as if he had
not clearly perceived her. In the profound abstraction in which he lived
every impression appeared to have become blurred except the tremendous
impression of whirling forces; every detail seemed to have been obscured
except the gigantic details of "Business." His manner was perfectly
well-bred, but it was the manner of a man who moves through life
rehearsing a part of which he barely remembers the words. From the
first minute it was evident to Gabriella that her father-in-law adored
his wife as an ideal, though he seemed scarcely aware of her as a
person. He had given her his love, but his interests, his energies, his
attention were elsewhere.

"Is that the way George will treat me--as if I were only a dream woman?"
thought Gabriella while she watched her father-in-law over the open
sheet of the _Times_. Then, with her eyes on her husband, she realized
that he was of his mother's blood, not his father's. Business could
never absorb him. His restlessness, his instability, his love of
pleasure, would prevent the sapping of his nature by one supreme
interest.

The table, like everything else in the room, was solid, heavy, and
expensive. On the floor a heavy and expensive carpet, with a pattern in
squares, stretched to the heavy and expensive moulding which bordered a
heavy and expensive paper. Mrs. Fowler's taste, like Jimmy's (he was her
third cousin), leaned apparently toward embossment, for behind a massive
repoussé silver service she sat, as handsome and substantial as the
room, with her face flushing in splotches from the heat of her coffee.

Some twenty-odd years before the house had been furnished at great cost,
according to the opulent taste of the early 'seventies, and, unchanged
by severer and more frugal fashions, it remained a solid monument to the
first great financial deal of Archibald Fowler. It was at the golden
age, when, still young and energetic, luck had come to him in a day,
that he had bought the brownstone house in Fifty-seventh Street, and his
wife, also young and energetic, had gone out "to get whatever she
liked." Trained in a simple school during the war, and brought up in the
formal purity of high-ceiled rooms furnished in Chippendale and
Sheraton, her natural tastes were, nevertheless, as ornate as the
interiors of the New York shops. Though the blood of colonial heroes ran
in her veins, she was still the child of her age, and her age prided
itself upon being entirely modern in all things from religion to
furniture.

As she sat there behind the mammoth coffee urn, from which a spiral of
steam floated, her handsome face irradiated the spirit of kindness.
Because of her rather short figure, she appeared at her best when she
was sitting, and now, with her large, tightly laced hips hidden beneath
the table and her firm, jet-plastered bosom appearing above it, she
presented a picture of calm and matronly beauty. Not once did she seem
to think of herself or her own breakfast. Even while she buttered her
toast and drank her steaming coffee, her bright blue eyes travelled
unceasingly over the table, first to her husband's plate, then to
Gabriella's, then to her son's. It was easy to see that she was the
dominant and vital force in the household. She ruled Archibald, less
indirectly perhaps, but quite as consistently as Cousin Pussy ruled
Cousin Jimmy.

"My dear, you must eat your breakfast," she said urgently to her
daughter-in-law. "Archibald, let me give you your second cup of coffee.
Remember what a trying day you have before you, and make a good
breakfast. It is so hard to get him to eat," she explained to Gabriella;
"I have to coax him to drink his two cups of coffee, for if he doesn't
he is sure to come home with a headache."

"Well, give me a cup, Evelyn," replied Mr. Fowler, in his gentle voice,
yielding apparently to please her. In his youth he must have been very
handsome, Gabriella thought; but now, though he still retained a certain
distinction, he had the look of a man who has been drained of his
vitality. What surprised her--for she had heard him described as "a hard
man in business"--was the suggestion of the scholar in his appearance.
With his narrow, carefully brushed head, his dreamy and rather wistful
blue eyes behind gold-rimmed glasses, his stooping, slender shoulders,
and his long, delicate hands covered with prominent veins, he ought to
have been either a poet or a philosopher.

"You must be happy with us, my dear," he had said to Gabriella, showing
a minute later such gentle eagerness to return to a part of the
newspaper which Gabriella had never read and did not understand, that
his wife remarked pityingly: "Read your paper, Archibald, and don't let
our chatter disturb you. There are a thousand things I want to say to
the children."

"Well, it's time for me to be going, Evelyn," Mr. Fowler responded,
reluctantly folding the pages; "I'll look into this on the way down."

"Remember, dear, that Judge Crowborough is coming to dinner."

"I'll remember. Is there any one else?"

"Mrs. Crowborough, of course, and Colonel Buffington, and one or two
others. Nobody that you will care for except the judge and Patty and
Billy."

"I shan't forget, but I may be a little late getting home. Good-bye, my
dear, until evening."

Bending over her chair, he kissed her flushed cheek, while George
remarked carelessly: "I'll see you later, father, when I've had a bath
and a shave."

After the gentle tones of Mr. Fowler, the vitality of George's voice
sounded almost brutal, and he added just as carelessly when the front
door had shut softly: "The old man looks seedy, doesn't he, mother?"

A worried look brought out three startling lines in Mrs. Fowler's
forehead, and Gabriella observed suddenly that there were tiny crow's
feet around her blue eyes where the whites were flecked ever so faintly
with yellow. Though she was well into the mid-fifties, her carefully
preserved skin had kept the firmness and the texture of youth, and she
still flushed easily and unbecomingly as she had done as a girl.

"He hasn't been a bit well, George. I am very anxious about him. You
know when he worries over his business, he doesn't eat his meals, and as
soon as he stops eating he begins to have nervous dyspepsia. He has just
had a bad attack; that's why he looks so run down and haggard."

"Can't the doctor do anything for him?"

"He gave him some drops, but it is so hard to get your father to take
medicine. Rest is what he needs, and, of course, that is out of the
question while things are so unsettled. You must help him all you can,
my boy, and Gabriella and I will manage with each other's company."

Her bright smile was still on her lips, but Gabriella noticed that she
pushed her buttered roll away as if she were choking.

In the early afternoon, when George had gone to join his father in the
office, and Gabriella, seated at a little white and gold desk in the
room which had been Patty's, was just finishing a letter to her mother,
Mrs. Fowler came in, and pushing a chintz-covered chair close to the
desk, sank into it and laid her small nervous hand on the arm of her
daughter-in-law. She was wearing a velvet bonnet, with strings, and a
street gown of black broadcloth, which fitted her like a glove and
accentuated, after the fashion of the 'nineties, her small, compact
waist and the deep substantial curves of her bosom and hips. Her eyes,
behind the little veil of spotted tulle which reached to the tip of her
nose, were bright and wistful, and though her colour was too high, a
smile of troubled sweetness lent it a peculiar charm of expression.

"How nice you look, my dear," she said, with her pleasant manner, which
no anxiety, hardly any grief, could dispel. "Are you very busy, or may I
talk to you a little while?"

Drawing closer to her, Gabriella raised the plump little hand to her
lips. Beneath the surface pleasantness of Mrs. Fowler's life--that
pleasantness which wrapped her like a religion--she was beginning to
discern a deep disquietude.

"I want to talk to you, mamma," she said, and her manner was a caress.

"You love George very much, dear?" asked Mrs. Fowler so suddenly that
Gabriella looked at her startled.

For a minute the girl could not speak. "Oh, yes; oh, yes," she answered
presently, and choked over the words.

"We wanted so much to go to your wedding--we were afraid you would think
it strange that we stayed away, but Archibald had his attack just then,
and on top of it he was terribly worried about his affairs. We have had
a very hard year, and we feel so sorry, both of us, that we can't do
more for your pleasure. As it is, we are cutting down our expenses in
every way, and I have even decided to give up my carriage the first of
next year.

"I know, I know," said Gabriella, who had never had a carriage, and to
whom the giving up of one seemed the smallest imaginable sacrifice. "We
mustn't add to your cares," she went on after a minute. "Wouldn't it be
better, really better, if we were to take an apartment at once instead
of waiting until June?"

"Until June?" repeated Mrs. Fowler vaguely, and she added quickly: "It
is the greatest pleasure to have you here. Since Patty went I get so
terribly lonely, and I don't think it would be at all wise for you to go
to yourselves. George has hardly anything except what his father is able
to give him, you know. The poor boy hasn't the least head for business."

"But we shouldn't need much. I am sure I could manage just with what
George makes--no matter how little it is."

For an instant Mrs. Fowler looked at her thoughtfully.

"You could, but George couldn't," she answered.

"You mean he is extravagant?"

"He has never had the slightest idea of the value of money--that is one
of the things you must teach him. He is a dear boy, but he has never
made a success of anything he has undertaken, and his father thinks he
is too unpractical ever to do so. But you must try to get him to live
within your means, my dear, or you will both be miserable. Try to keep
him from borrowing."

"But he refuses to talk to me about his work. It bores him," said
Gabriella; and her simple soul, trained to regard debt as a deeper
disgrace than poverty, grew suddenly troubled. In her childhood they had
gone without food rather than borrow, she remembered.

"The matter with dear George," pursued Mrs. Fowler--and from the
sweetness of her manner she might have been paying him a compliment--"is
that he has never been steady. He doesn't stick at anything long enough
to make it a success. If he were left to himself he would speculate
wildly, and this is why his father is obliged to overlook all that he
does in the office. It is just here that you can be of such wonderful
help to him, Gabriella, by your influence. This is why I am telling
you."

But had she any influence over him? In spite of his passion for her had
she ever turned him by so much as a hair's breadth from the direction of
his impetuous desires? Once only she had withstood him--once only she
had triumphed, and for that triumph she had paid by a complete
surrender! She had been too glad to yield, too fearful of bringing a
cloud over the sunny blue of his eyes.

"I want to help him--I want you to tell me how I can help him," she said
earnestly. "While we are with you this winter, you must teach me how to
do it. Before we begin housekeeping in the summer, I want to learn all I
possibly can about George's affairs. He won't talk to me about practical
matters, so you must do it."

"But where are you going, Gabriella? I thought you had decided to live
with us?"

"But didn't George tell you? Surely he must have told you. We are to
take an apartment in June so my mother can come to us. I felt, of
course, that I couldn't leave mother, and George understands. He was
perfectly lovely about it."

"I see, I see," murmured Mrs. Fowler, as if she were thinking of
something else. "Well, that will all come right, dear, I hope."

Rising abruptly, she began to draw on her gloves. "If you only knew how
I long to make you happy," she said softly; "as happy as I have been
with George's father."

"They are so unlike," answered Gabriella, and the next day when she
remembered the admission, she wondered how it had slipped from her.

"Yes, they are unlike," agreed Mrs. Fowler. "George takes after me, and
I am a frivolous person. But there doesn't live a better man than my
husband," she added, glowing. "I've been his wife for thirty years, and
in all that time I don't believe he has ever thought first of himself.
Yes, it was thirty years ago that I drove through the streets with my
bridal veil on, and felt so sorry for all the girls I saw who were not
going to be married. To-day I feel exactly the same way--sorry for all
the women who couldn't have Archibald for a husband. I've lived with him
thirty years, I've borne him children, and I'm still sorry for all the
other women--even for you, Gabriella."

"He seems so kind," said Gabriella; "I felt that about him, and it's the
best thing, after all, isn't it?" It was the best thing, and yet she
knew that George was not kind--that he was not even good-tempered.

"Yes, it's the best thing, after all, in marriage," answered the older
woman; "it's the thing that wears."

"I have always wanted the best of life," rejoined Gabriella
thoughtfully; and she went on gravely after a moment: "I couldn't love
George any more than I do, but I wish that in some ways he would grow
like his father."

"The boy has a very sweet nature," replied George's mother, "and I hope
marriage will steady him." It was a warning, Gabriella knew, and she
wondered afterwards if her silent acquiescence in Mrs. Fowler's judgment
had not been furtive disloyalty to George.

"A great deal will depend on you, dear, for he is very much in love,"
resumed Mrs. Fowler when Gabriella did not speak, and she repeated very
solemnly, "I hope marriage will steady him."

In her heart Gabriella was hoping so, too, but all she said was, "I
promise you that I will do all I can." She had given her word, and,
looking into her eyes, Mrs. Fowler understood that her daughter-in-law
was not one to give her word lightly. Gabriella would keep her promise.
She would do her best, whatever happened.

The older woman, with her life's history behind her, watched the girl
for a minute in silence. There was so much that she longed to say, so
much that could never be spoken even between women. She herself was an
optimist, but her optimism had been wrung from the bitter core of
experience. Her faith was firm, though it held few illusions, for, if
she was an optimist, she was also a realist. She believed in life, not
because it had satisfied her, but because she had had the wisdom to
understand that the supreme failure had been, not life's, but her own.
If she could only have lived it again and lived it differently from the
beginning! If she could only have used her deeper wisdom not to regret
the past, but to create the future! Much as she had loved her husband,
she knew now that she had sacrificed him to the world. Much as she had
loved her children, she would have sacrificed them, also, had it been
possible. To the tin gods she had offered her soul--to the things that
did not matter she had yielded up the only things that mattered at all.
And she knew now that, in spite of her clearness of vision, the
worldliness which had ruined her life was still bound up in all that was
essential and endurable in her nature. She still wanted the illusions as
passionately as if she believed in their reality; she still winced as
sharply at the thought of Patty's marriage and of all that Patty had
given up. In the case of George, she admitted that it was her
fault--that she had spoiled him--but how could she have helped it? She
remembered how he had looked as a child, with his round flushed face,
his chestnut curls, and his eager, questioning eyes. He had been a
beautiful child, more beautiful even than Patty, and because of his
beauty she had been able to refuse him nothing. Then she thought of his
boyhood, of his reckless extravagance at college; of the tales of his
wildness to which she had shut her ears; of his debts, and still of his
debts, which she had paid out of the housekeeping money because she was
afraid to let his father know of them. Yes, George, in spite of his
sweet nature, had given them a great deal of trouble, so much trouble
that she had been quite reconciled to his marriage with any respectable
girl. The memory of a chorus girl with whom he had once entangled
himself still gave her a shiver at the heart when she recalled it.
Money, always more money, had gone into that; and at last, just as she
had grown hopeless of saving him, he had met this fine, sensible
Gabriella, who looked so strong, so competent, and there had come an end
to the disturbing stories which reached her at intervals. Surely it was
proof of her son's inborn fineness that from the pink perfection of
girlhood he should have chosen the capable Gabriella! At first she had
regretted his choice, hoping, as the worldly and the unworldly alike
hope for their sons, that the object of George's disinterested affection
would prove to be wealthy. Then at the sight of Gabriella she had
surrendered completely. The girl was fine all through, this she could
see as soon as she looked at her. She liked her noble though not
beautiful face, with the broad clear forehead from which the soft dark
hair was brushed back so simply, and, most of all, she liked the charm
and sympathy in her voice. George had chosen well, and if she could
trust his choice, why could she not trust him to be true to it?

"I wonder if you would like to put on your hat and come with me?" she
asked, obeying an impulse. "I'm going to drive up to Patty's with some
curtains for her bedroom."

"Oh, I'd love to," replied Gabriella with eagerness, for she hated
inaction, and it was impossible to spend a whole afternoon merely
thinking about one's happiness. "It won't take me a minute to get
ready."

While she put on her hat and coat, Mrs. Fowler watched her thoughtfully,
saying once: "It is quite cool, you'd better bring your furs, dear."

When Gabriella answered frankly, "I haven't any, I never had any furs in
my life," a tender expression crept into the rather hard blue eyes of
her mother-in-law, and she said quickly: "Well, I've a set of white fox
that I am too old to wear, and you shall have it."

"But what of Patty?" asked Gabriella, for she had grown up thinking of
other people and she couldn't break the habit of twenty years in a
minute.

"Oh, Patty has all the furs she'll need for years. We spent every penny
we had on Patty before she married," answered Mrs. Fowler, but she was
saying to herself: "Yes, the girl is the right wife for him. I am sure
she is the right wife for him."

The Park was brilliant with falling leaves, and as they drove beneath a
perfect sky beside a lake which sparkled like sapphire, Gabriella,
lifting her chin above the white furs, said rapturously, "Oh, I am so
happy! Life is so beautiful!"

A shadow stole into the eyes with which Mrs. Fowler was watching the
passing carriages, and the fixed sweetness about her mouth melted into
an expression of yearning. Tears veiled the faces of the women who spoke
to her in passing, for she was thinking of her first drive in the Park
with her husband, and though her marriage had been a happy one, she felt
a strange longing as if she wanted to weep.

"I never saw such wonderful horses," said Gabriella. "Cousin Jimmy would
be wild about them;" and she added impetuously, "But the hats aren't in
the least like the one I am wearing." A misgiving seized her as she
realized that her dresses, copied by Miss Polly with ardent fidelity
from a Paris fashion book, were all hopelessly wrong. She wondered if
her green silk gown with the black velvet sleeves was different in style
from the gowns the other women were wearing under their furs? Had
sleeves of a different colour from the bodice, which Miss Polly
considered the last touch of elegance, really gone out of fashion?

The carriage passed out of the Park, and turning into one of the streets
on the upper West Side stopped presently before a small dingy apartment
house, where a dozen ragged children were playing leapfrog on the
pavement.

"Patty has the top floor--there's a studio." Drawing her skirts away
from the children, for her generation feared contact with the lower
classes, Mrs. Fowler walked briskly to the low brown steps, on which an
ash can stood waiting for removal. Inside, where the hall smelled
uninvitingly of stale cooking, they rang for the elevator under a dim
yellow light which revealed a hundred secret lines in their faces.

"I can't imagine how Patty puts up with the place," remarked Patty's
mother dejectedly. "You wouldn't believe the trouble we went to to start
her well. She was the acknowledged beauty of her winter--everybody was
crazy about her looks--and the very week before she ran off with Billy
she had a proposal from the Duke of Toxbridge. Of course, if I'd ever
dreamed she had a fancy for Billy, I'd have kept him out of her sight
instead of allowing him to paint her portrait whenever she had any time
she could spare. But who on earth would have suspected it? Billy King,
whom she had known all her life, as poor as a church mouse, and the kind
of painter whose work will never 'take' if he lives to be a thousand!
His portraits may be good art--I don't pretend to know anything about
that--but I do know pictures of pretty women when I see them, and his
women are frights, every last one of them. If you're thin, he paints
your skeleton, and if you're fat, he makes you as square as a house,
and, thin or fat, he always gives you a blue and yellow complexion. He
wouldn't even make Patty white, though I implored him to do it--and he
made her look exactly ten years older than her age."

"I've never seen any portraits of living people--only of ancestors,"
said Gabriella, "and I am so much interested."

"Well, you mustn't judge them by Billy's, my dear, even if he did get
all those prizes in Paris. But I always said the French were queer, and
if they hadn't been, they would never have raved so over the things
Billy painted. Now, Augustus Featherfield's are really charming. One can
tell to look at his portraits that he paints only ladies, and he gives
them all the most perfectly lovely hair, whether they have it or not.
Some day I'll take you to his studio and let you see for yourself."

The elevator descended, creaking beneath the weight of a negro youth who
seemed half asleep, and a little later, creaking more loudly, it bore
them slowly upward to the top of the house.

"I feel as if I were taking my life in my hands whenever I come here,"
observed Mrs. Fowler, in the tone of dispassionate resignation with
which she always discussed Patty and the surroundings amid which Patty
lived. Marching resolutely, though disapprovingly, down a long hall, she
pressed a small bell at the side of a door, and stood, holding tightly
to the bundle of curtains, while her expression of unnatural
pleasantness grew almost painful in its determination. Here, also, they
waited some time, and when at last the door was opened by an agitated
maid, without an apron, and they were led into a long, queerly furnished
studio, with a balcony from which they had a distant cloudless view of
the river, Gabriella felt for a minute that she must have fallen into a
dream. Long afterwards she learned that Billy's studio was charming,
with its blurred Italian tapestries, which had faded to an exquisite
tone, with its broken torsos of old marble, warming to deep ivory in the
sunlight, with its ecstatic haloed saints praying against dim Tuscan
landscapes, with its odd and unexpected seats of carved stone on which
the cushions made strange splotches and pools of colour. At the time,
seen through provincial eyes, it seemed merely "queer" to her; and
queerer still appeared the undraped figures of women, all lean lines and
violet shadows, which, unframed and unhung, filled the dusty corners.

"The river is lovely, but it is so far away," she said, turning her
abashed eyes from the nude figures, and thinking how terribly they would
have shocked the innocence of Cousin Jimmy.

"I always look at the river when I come here," responded Mrs. Fowler,
and her tone implied that the river at least was perfectly proper. "A
month ago the colours were wonderful."

In the drive, which they could see from a corner view, a few old men,
forgotten by time, warmed themselves in the sunlight. Far below, the
river reflected the changeable blue of the sky, while the autumnal
pageantry on the horizon was fading slowly, like a burned-out fire, to
the colour of ashes.

"Mother, dear, I'm so glad," said a gay voice in the doorway, and
turning quickly, Gabriella stared with wide eyes at the vision of
Patty--of Patty in some soft tea-gown, which borrowed its tone from the
old tapestries on the wall, with her honey-coloured hair hanging over
her shoulders, and her eyes as fresh as blue flowers in the ivory pallor
of her face.

"And this is Gabriella," she added, holding out her arms. "What a
darling you are to come so soon, Gabriella."

She was a tall girl, so tall that she stooped to kiss Gabriella, whose
height measured exactly five feet and seven inches, and she was
beautiful with the faultless beauty which is seen only once or twice in
a generation, but which, seen once, is never forgotten. For Patty's
beauty, as a poet once wrote of a dead woman, was the beauty of destiny,
the beauty that changes history and turns men into angels or into
beasts. Though Gabriella had seen lovely skins on Southern
women--rose-leaf skins, magnolia skins, peach-blossom skins--she had
seen nothing that resembled the exquisite colour and texture of Patty's
face.

"The curtains were finished, so I brought them," said Mrs. Fowler,
pointing to the bundle. "I wanted Gabriella to see the Park. You are
coming to-night without fail, aren't you, Patty?"

"Without fail, even if we have to walk," answered Patty. "You can't
imagine how much it costs to get about when one lives so far uptown.
That's one reason we are anxious to move. Billy has been looking for a
studio for weeks, and, do you know, he has really found one at last.
Harry Allen is moving out of the Rubens Building, and we are going to
take his studio on the top floor. We're awfully lucky, too, to get it,
for it is the first vacancy there for years."

"But it's over a stable, isn't it?" asked Mrs. Fowler. "How could you
possibly live there? And the East Side way down there is just as bad as
up here"

"I believe there is a stable, but it won't bother us--we're too high,"
replied Patty.

"Well, we can't stop; Gabriella hasn't unpacked her trunks," returned
Mrs. Fowler; "but be sure to come early, Patty. I want your father to
see you."

"I wish there wasn't going to be anybody else. I want to talk to my
sister. Isn't it lovely to have a sister, and mamma was too selfish to
give me one. Do you call her 'mamma,' too, Gabriella?"

"Of course she calls me 'mamma,'" answered Mrs. Fowler before Gabriella
could speak, "and she is a much better daughter already than you ever
were."

"And a much better son, too, than George ever was?" asked Patty slyly.

"We aren't talking about George. George has settled down," said Mrs.
Fowler quickly, too quickly it occurred to Gabriella, who was eager to
hear all that the daring Patty would say. "Don't you think those white
furs look well on Gabriella?"

"She looks like the snow queen in them. Does it matter what I wear
to-night? Who is coming?"

"Nobody you will care about--only Judge and Mrs. Crowborough and Colonel
Buffington."

"That old bore of a colonel! And why do you have to ask the judge again
so soon? He looks like a turkey gobbler, Gabriella, and he has so much
money that it is impossible to judge him by the standards of other
people, everybody says that--even Billy."

"Hush, Patty. You mustn't corrupt Gabriella."

"If the judge doesn't, I shan't, mamma."

"Well, your father has the greatest respect for him, and as for asking
him often to dinner, it isn't by any means so easy to get him as you
think. I don't suppose there's another man in New York who is invited
out so often and goes out so little."

"Papa is a sweet innocent," observed Patty maliciously, "but if you can
stand the judge, mamma, dear, I am sure I can, especially as I shan't
have to sit by him. That honour will be reserved for poor Gabriella. I
wish you didn't have to go, but you really must, I suppose?"

"Yes, we must go. Come, Gabriella, or you won't have time to get into
your trunks before dinner."

On the drive home Mrs. Fowler was grimly silent, while the sweetness
about her mouth ebbed slowly away, leaving the faintest quiver of the
muscles. For the first time Gabriella saw George's mother look as she
must look in her sleep, when the artificial cheerfulness of her
expression faded into the profound unconsciousness which drowns not only
happiness, but the very pretence of happiness. So here, also, was
insincerity, here, also, was the striving, not for realities, but for
appearances! In a different form she saw her mother's struggle
again--that struggle, without beginning and without end, which moved
always in a circle and led nowhere. Was there no sincerity, no reality
even in love? Was George, too, only a shadow? And the visible sadness of
the November afternoon, with its faint haze like the haze of a dream
landscape, seemed a part of this invisible sadness which had sprung from
nothing and which would change and pass away in a breath. "If things
would only last," she thought, looking with wistful eyes on the gold and
purple around her. "If things would only last, how wonderful life would
be!"

"To think that all Patty's beauty should have been thrown away," said
Mrs. Fowler suddenly.

Though Gabriella had never seen Billy, she was inclined at the moment,
in her mood of dissatisfaction with the universe, to sympathize with
Mrs. Fowler's view of the matter. To her frugal mind, trained to economy
of material, it seemed that Patty was altogether too much for a poor
man--even though he could paint her in lean lines and violet shadows.

Upstairs she found her trunks in her bedroom, and after she had unpacked
her wedding-gown of white satin, removed the tissue paper stuffing from
the sleeves, and shaken out the creases with gentle hands, she sat down
and pondered deeply the problem of dressing for dinner. By removing the
lace yoke, she might make the gown sufficiently indecorous for the
fashion of the period, and her only evening dress, the white muslin she
had worn to dances in Richmond, she reflected gloomily, would appear
absurd in New York.

"I wish I didn't look such a fright," she said aloud, as she ripped and
sewed. Then, in a flash, her mind wandered from herself, and she
thought: "I wonder why George didn't tell his mother that we are going
to take an apartment? I wonder why he didn't tell her that mother is
coming in June? When he comes I must ask him."

Looking at the clock, she saw that it was after seven, and hurriedly
taking the last few stitches, she laid the gown on the bed, bathed her
face in cold water, and then, sitting down before her dressing-table,
drew the pins from her hair. In some obscure way she felt herself a
different person from the bride who had watched George so ecstatically
at the station that morning. She could not tell how she had altered, and
yet she felt perfectly conscious that an alteration had taken place in
her soul--that she was not the same Gabriella--that life could never be
again exactly as it had been before. Nothing and yet everything seemed
to have happened to her in a day. Her face, gazing gravely back at her
from the mirror, looked young and wistful, the face of one who, like a
bird flying suddenly out of darkness against a lamp, is bewildered by
the first shock of the light.

When her hair was arranged in the simple way she had always worn it, she
slipped her dress over her bare shoulders, and fastened it slowly--for
Miss Polly had no patience with "back fastenings"--while she told
herself again that George would not be satisfied. She knew that her gown
was provincial, knew that she lacked the "dash" he admired in women; and
from the first she had been mystified by a love which could, while still
passionately desiring her, wish her different in so many ways. "I'd like
him to be proud of me, but I suppose he never will be," she thought
dejectedly, "and yet he fell in love with me just as I was, and he did
not fall in love with any of the dashing women he knows," she added
quickly, consoled by the reflection. "And of course in a few things I
wish him different, too. I wish he wasn't so careless. He is so careless
that I shall have to be twice as careful, I shall have to look after him
all the time. Even to-night he has forgotten about the dinner, and he'll
be obliged to dress in a hurry, which he hates."

Glancing at the clock again, she saw that it was a quarter of eight, and
still George had not come.



CHAPTER VI

THE OLD SERPENT


At five minutes of eight o'clock he came in, with a lighted cigar in his
mouth. For the first few days after her marriage there had been a
pleasant excitement in the scent of George's cigars in her bedroom. Now,
however, habit had dulled the excitement, and the smell of tobacco gave
her a headache.

"Oh, George, you are late!" she exclaimed, sinking the lesser into the
greater offence after the habit of wives. As if he had all night instead
of five minutes before him in which to dress, he stood in the centre of
the room, blandly looking her over.

"You're all right," he said after a pause. "I met a fellow at the club I
hadn't seen for a year. He had been hunting big game in Africa, and he
was telling me about it. By Jove, that is life!"

They had been married but a month; it was their first day at home, and
he could linger at the club to talk of big game while she waited for
him. Flushed, excited, he stood there on the white bearskin rug midway
between the bed and the wood-fire, while she felt his charm stealing
like a drug over her senses. Though she had begun to realize the
thinness of his mental qualities, she was still as completely in the
power of his physical charm as she had been on the day of her wedding.
In the flickering light of the fire he appeared to diffuse the glamour
of romance, of adventure; and she felt that this single day in New York
had left a vital impression upon him. It was as if he had become
suddenly more alive, more inexplicable in his simplicity; and, though
she had grasped vaguely the fact that his personality was composed of
innumerable reactions, she had never really understood before how
entirely he was the creature of his environment. It was as if the very
essence of his soul floated there, a variable and fluid quantity,
forever changing form and colour beneath the shallow ripples of his
personality. She had seen him in many moods, but never in this one. Did
he possess a deeper subtlety than she had imagined or was it the
sincerity of his nature that defied analysis?

"Did you enjoy yourself?" she asked cheerfully. Tell me about it."

"Oh, it was rather jolly," he replied, and she knew that this was as
much as she should ever get out of him. Beyond a few stock phrases,
words hardly existed for him at all, or existed only in foreign
languages, for, having been educated abroad, he spoke French and German
fluently, if without felicity. Already his inarticulateness was like an
encumbering veil between them--a veil in which she struggled as
helplessly as a moth in a net. And only a month ago she had believed
that the very immensity of his nature rendered him dumb.

"Then you had better hurry, dear. Dinner is at eight, and you have only
a minute."

"You go down and tell them not to wait. I was detained downtown, but it
won't take me a second to dress."

As he passed under the electric light by the mirror, she saw his face
with exaggerated distinctness, as if it were held under a microscope,
and a heaviness, which she had never noticed before, marred the edge of
his profile. If he hadn't been George, would she have said that he
looked stupid at the moment? For a flashing instant of illumination she
saw him with a vision that was not her own, but a stranger's, with a
pitiless clearness unsoftened by any passion. Then the clearness faded
rapidly before an impulse of tenderness, and she told herself that he
was merely handsome, gay, and careless, as he had been on their
honeymoon. If he would only talk to her, she felt that he would be
perfect.

"Yes, I'm going. Come as soon as you can," she said; and catching up her
satin train, she descended the oak staircase to the drawing-room, where
a fire was burning and the lights were shaded in crimson.

Twenty minutes later, seated at the round table, which was bright with
chrysanthemums in tall silver vases, she looked with a feeling of
resentment at George's empty place. Why was he so careless? Time had for
him, she realized, as little meaning as words had. Then, in the midst of
her disquietude, she caught the serene blue eyes of George's mother
fixed upon her. With her young face, her red lips, and her superb
shoulders rising out of the rich black lace of her gown, Mrs. Fowler
looked almost beautiful. Had Patty not been present, with her loveliness
like a summer's day, her mother would have seemed hardly more than a
girl; but who could shine while Patty, beside that long, lean man with
the gray imperial, smiled with lips that were like a scarlet flower in
her face?

There were only four guests, but these four, as Mrs. Fowler had said,
"counted for something." The long, lean man beside Patty was one Colonel
Buffington, a Virginia lawyer, who had wandered North in search of food
in the barren years after the war. As his mind was active in a patient
accumulative fashion, he had become in time a musty storehouse of war
anecdotes, and achieving but moderate success in his law practice, his
chief distinction, perhaps, was as a professional Southerner. Combining
a genial charm of manner with as sterile an intellect as it is possible
to attain, he was generally regarded as a perfect example of "the old
school," and this picturesque reputation made him desirable as a guest
at club dinners as well as at the larger gatherings of the various
Southern societies. His conversation, which was entirely anecdotal,
consisted of an elaborate endless chain of more or less historical
"stories." Social movements and the development of civilization
interested him as little as did art or science--for which he entertained
a chronic suspicion due to the indiscretions of Darwin. Change of any
kind was repugnant to his deeper instincts, and of all changes the ones
relating to the habits of women appeared to him to interfere most
unwarrantably with the Creator's original plan. For the rest he had the
heart of a child, would strip the clothes from his back to give to a
friend, or even to an enemy, and possessed an infallible gift for making
a dinner successful.

On Colonel Buffington's right sat Mrs. Hamilton, a very pretty, very
sprightly widow, with her hair coiled into the fashionable Psyche knot,
and the short puffs of her sleeves emphasizing the hour-glass perfection
of her figure. Next to Mrs. Hamilton there was Billy King, who wore a
white flower in his buttonhole and looked like a soldier out of
uniform, and beyond Billy sat Mrs. Crowborough, whom he was trying
despairingly to entertain. She, renowned and estimable woman, was
planning in her mind what she should say at a board meeting of one of
her pet charities on the morrow, a charity which, like all of her
favourite ones, concerned itself with the management and spiritual
elevation of girl orphans. Tall, raw-boned, strung with jet, Mrs.
Crowborough, who had been married for her money, looked as sympathetic
as a moral principle or an organized charity. Unfortunately, for she was
rather heavy in company, Judge Crowborough was obliged by custom to
bring her to dinner; and she came willingly, inspired less by
sociability than by the virtuous instinct which animated her being. Mr.
Fowler had taken her in to dinner, and while she lent an inert attention
to Billy's jests, he talked across Gabriella to Judge Crowborough, who
was eating his soup with the complete absorption of a man to whom the
smallest of his appetities is sacred. It was a grievance of Mrs.
Fowler's that her husband would never, as she said, "pay any attention
to women," and in order to feel assured of even so much as a cheerful
noise at his end of the table, she was obliged to place within hearing
distance of him somebody who could talk fluently, if not eloquently, of
the stock market.

To Gabriella's surprise, her father-in-law, who had appeared inert and
listless at breakfast, became, in the stimulating presence of the judge,
not only awake, but mildly animated. She had felt before the charm in
his scholarly face, with its look of detached spirituality so strangely
out of keeping with the calling he pursued; and she recognized now the
quality of controlled force which had enabled him to hold his own in
the financial whirlpool of his country. Had the girl known more of life,
she would have understood that in the American business world there were
hundreds of such men winning their way and leaving their mark at that
moment of history--men whose natures were redeemed from grossness by the
peculiar idealism they infused into their material battles. Of
Scotch-Irish inheritance, the direct descendant of one Gregory
Truesdale, who had died a martyr for Presbyterianism, Archibald Fowler
was inspired by something of the austere devotion which had fortified
his religious ancestor. Since his college days his private life had been
irreproachable. Though he was a stronger character than his wife, he
regarded her with almost superstitious reverence, and made no decision
above Wall Street without consulting her. His heart, and as much of his
time as he could spare from business, were hers, and she made the most
of them. Women, as women, did not attract him, and he avoided them
except at his own table, where custom constrained him to be polite.
After a few courteous words to Mrs. Crowborough, he had turned with
relief to her husband.

"You've got a bright chap in your office, Stanley," he said; "that
fellow Latham. I was talking to him this morning. He's from Colorado,
isn't he?"

"Oh, yes, they're all from the West now," responded the judge--he had
sat on the bench in his youth. "Ten years ago the bright ones were from
the South, but you Southerners are outstripped to-day, and it's the men
from the West who are doing it. There's a fundamental reason there, I
suppose, if you go deep enough," he added, fingering the ends of his
short gray moustache while he kept an eye on his champagne glass.
"We've done with mere classifying and imitation, and we're waiting for a
fresh explosion of raw energy. Now for pure constructive imagination the
North and South don't hold a candle--they simply don't hold a candle--to
the West. Mark my words, in twenty-five years there'll hardly be a big
railroad man in the country who wasn't born in sight of the Rockies."
Unlike Mr. Fowler, whose mind ran in a groove leading directly to
business, the judge had a natural bent toward generalization, and when
dining, preferred to discuss impersonal topics. He was a tall, florid
man with an immense paunch flattened by artificial devices, and a
vitality so excessive that it overflowed in numberless directions--in
his hearty animal appetites, in his love of sports, in his delight in
the theatre and literature, particularly in novels of the sentimental
and romantic school, in his fondness for the lighter operas, and in his
irrepressible admiration for pretty women. His face, large, ruddy, with
a hooked nose, where the red was thickly veined with purple, and
protruding lips over square yellow teeth that gripped like the teeth of
a bulldog, aroused in Gabriella a quick repulsion which only the genial
humour of his smile overcame. That he should have married his wife for
her money was less amazing to the girl than that his wife should have
married him for any reason whatsoever. Only a moral principle or a
charitable institution, she felt, could have endured him and survived.
But in spite of his repulsiveness he had evidently experienced the
natural activities of humanity. He had taken a wife; he had begotten
children; he had judged other men; he had dug into the bowels of the
earth for mines, and had built railroads on its surface; he had made
grass grow in deserts and had turned waste places into populous cities;
he had read romances and heard music; he had attained a social position
securely founded upon millions of dollars--and all these things he had
achieved through his unconquerable colossal vitality. "I wonder why they
put him by me," thought Gabriella. "I shall never get on with him."

Then he turned to her and said bluntly, between two mouthfuls of
lobster: "So you're George's wife! Handsome chap George, but he hasn't
much head for business. He lacks the grip of the old man. Where's he
to-night?"

"He got home so late that he wasn't ready for dinner. He'll be down in a
minute."

"It's a bad habit. He oughtn't to be late. Now, I haven't been late for
dinner for twenty years."

"I'm afraid he doesn't pay much attention to time. I'll try to change
him."

"You won't. No woman alive ever changed a man's habits. All you can do
is to hide them."

That his blunt manner was an affectation, she was quick to discern.
While he talked to her, he looked at her knowingly with his light fishy
eyes, and by his look and his tone he seemed to establish an immediate
intimacy between them--as if he and she were speaking a language which
was foreign to the rest of the table. He appeared to be kind, she
thought, and on his side he was thinking that she was a nice girl, with
an attractive face and remarkable eyes. On the whole, he preferred brown
eyes, though his wife's were the colour of slate. "Why the deuce did she
marry that fool?" he questioned impatiently.

Across the table Billy King was working hopelessly but valiantly to
engage Mrs. Crowborough's attention. What a splendid figure he had, and
how clean and fine was the modelling of his features! He was just the
man a girl like Patty would fall in love with, and Gabriella no longer
felt that. Patty's beauty was wasted. Once or twice she caught fleeting
glances passing between them, and these glances, so winged with
happiness, spoke unutterable and ecstatic things.

A hush dropped suddenly on the table, and in this hush she heard the
voice of Colonel Buffington telling a story in dialect. It was an
immemorial anecdote of Cousin Jimmy's--she had heard him tell it a dozen
times--and while she listened, it made her feel comfortably at home.

"'Uncle Amos,' I said to him, 'we've been together thirty years, but
we've got to part. You're a drunkard and a thief and a worthless darky
all round, and you've lived on my place ever since the war without doing
a lick of work for your keep. I've stood it as long as I can, but
there's an end to human endurance. Yes, Amos, the time has come for us
to part.'

"Hi! Marse Beverly,' said the old rascal, 'whar you gwine?"

"Capital!" ejaculated the judge softly. "Capital!" And he added for
Gabriella's ear: "Buffington tells the best negro stories of any man I
know. Ought to have heard him at the club the other night."

Gabriella did not answer; Cousin Jimmy's story had made her think of
Cousin Jimmy, with his soft heart and his dark shining eyes like the
eyes of a good and gentle dog. Then she thought of her mother, and
reminded herself that she must ask George when they were to begin the
hunt for an apartment. He had said they were very hard to find when you
wanted them.

Another hush fell, and Colonel Buffington was just beginning a second
story--one of Uncle Meriweather's this time--when George came in from
the drawing-room, and after a murmured apology, took his seat between
Patty and Mrs. Hamilton.

"That's a handsome boy," said the judge in a husky whisper to Gabriella,
"but he hasn't much to say for himself, has he?"

His manner of playful intimacy conveyed the impression that the secret
understanding between them did not include Gabriella's husband. George
was an outsider, but this hideous old man, with his curious repelling
suggestion of over-ripeness, as of fruit that is beginning to rot at the
core, was the dominant personality in her mind at the moment. She
wondered if he knew how repulsive he was, and while she wondered, the
judge, unaware of his tragic plight, went on eating lobster with
unimpaired relish. His importance, founded upon a more substantial basis
than mere personal attraction, had risen superior not only to morality,
but to the outward failings of the flesh. Had he been twice as
repulsive, she realized that his millions would have commanded a respect
denied to both beauty and virtue.

"I wonder how any woman can stand him," mused Gabriella. Then, glancing
across the table at Mrs. Crowborough, she realized something of the
amazing insensibility of the more ethereal sex. No man, not even in the
last extremity, could have loved a woman as ugly as Judge Crowborough
was. The roughest man would have had sufficient esthetic sense to have
been shocked into revolt; yet a woman, a refined and intelligent woman,
had married the judge and survived it. She appeared now, not only
expressionless and unrevolted, but filled with a healthy zest for social
reforms and the spiritual welfare of girl orphans.

"Well, I've learned something of life to-night," thought Gabriella while
she watched her.

Later in the evening, when she passed into the drawing-room, with Mrs.
Crowborough, bleak, unbending, and trailing her chains of jet, she
comforted herself again with the reflection that what she was "seeing"
might not be particularly exciting, "but it was life."

On a short, hard sofa near the fire, beside Fatty, who bloomed like a
white rose under the red-shaded light, she listened to Mrs. Fowler's
unflagging efforts to "get on" with the judge's wife. Never had the
dauntless little woman revealed more surprising resourcefulness, never
had she talked so vivaciously, never had she appeared so relentlessly
pleasant. It was as if she said in the face of Mrs. Crowborough's
insensibility, which was the insensibility not of mind, but of inanimate
matter, "Whatever you do, you can't keep me from being sweet." And in
this strained sweetness there was something touching, something wistful,
a hint of inner weariness which showed now and then beneath the restless
vivacity.

"Isn't it funny," said Patty suddenly, "how much mamma cares about
things that don't matter at all? You wouldn't believe it to look at her,
but she is in her heart the most worldly one of the family. Father
wouldn't give a tallow candle for anything that isn't real."

A log broke in the centre, and fell, scattering a shower of golden
embers over the hearth. Rising quickly, with one of her sprightly
movements, Mrs. Fowler reached for a pair of small brass tongs and
pushed the broken log back on the andirons. Then she threw some fresh
wood on the flames, and resumed her seat with an animated gesture as if
the incident had enlivened her.

"Now they are talking about the everlasting Pletheridges," whispered
Patty. "I never understand how mother can take so much interest in those
people just because they are rich."

But to Gabriella it was more inconceivable still that her mother-in-law,
with the bluest blood of Virginia in her veins, should regard with such
artless reverence the social activities of the granddaughter of a
tavern-keeper. In her native State an impoverished branch of Mrs.
Fowler's family still lived on land which, tradition said, had been
granted one of her ancestors by Charles the Second in recognition of
distinguished services to that dubious monarch; yet she could long
enviously for a closer acquaintance with the plutocratic descendant of
an Irish tavern-keeper--an honest man, doubtless, who had laid the
foundations of his fortune in a string of halfway houses stretching from
New York to Chicago.

"Yes, I dined with Mrs. Pletheridge once," she was saying in the tone in
which her royalist ancestor might have acknowledged a command from his
King.

"It always makes me angry, I can't help it," pursued Patty. "If dear
mamma had only some other weakness--cards or wine or clothes or anything
else. It's queer, with all her pride, how little social backbone she
has. Now to hear her talk, you would imagine that that vulgar snob,
whose father kept hotels and married one of his chambermaids, had
conferred an honour by inviting her to dinner. And the funniest part is
that, for all her good breeding, and her family portraits, and her
titled ancestors, mother hasn't half so much respect for the genuine New
Yorkers--I mean the New Yorkers whose names really mean something--as
she has for these mushroom plutocrats. She had set her heart on George
marrying one of them, you know, but it's a jolly good thing he didn't."

"That's the girl he told me about," said Gabriella. "Was he ever
interested in her?"

"Not for a minute. We're awfully contrary about our love affairs. We
will marry for love--even mother did though she may have forgotten it.
We never marry the people--" She clipped off the sentence, but Gabriella
caught it up with a laugh:

"I know," she said gaily, "you never marry the people your family pick
out for you."

"Well, of course, Billy went dreadfully hard with them--at least with
mother. She wanted the Duke of Somewhere so very badly. But it was Billy
or nobody for me. I'd have married Billy," she added while her beautiful
face grew stern, "if I'd had to walk all the way across the world to
him."

"He looks as if he were worth it," admitted Gabriella.

"He is, but that probably wasn't my reason for marrying him. One never
knows why one marries, I suppose, unless one marries for money and then
it is so beautifully simple. Now, you and George don't seem a bit alike,
but it all happened on the spur of the moment, didn't it?"

"It always seems that way when one looks back, doesn't it?" asked
Gabriella. "But what I can't understand"--she brought it out with a
frown--"is why marriage doesn't change one. I used to think I'd be
different, but I'm not. And even love seems to leave people wanting
everything else just as badly. Your mother has had a perfect love--she
told me so--and yet it hasn't kept her from wanting all the other things
in life, has it? I wish I could work it out," she finished, a little
sadly, for she was thinking of her mother's cry on the night of Jane's
attack: "I am tempted to hope Gabriella will never marry. The Carrs all
marry so badly!" Why had those words come back to her to-night? She had
not remembered them for months, she had even forgotten that she had
heard them, and now they floated to her as clearly as if they had been
spoken aloud.

In a little while Billy came in, and when, after a few moments of
spasmodic affability, Mrs. Crowborough rose and pleaded an early board
meeting on the morrow, Gabriella watched Patty wrap her honey-coloured
head in a white scarf and then stand, waiting for a cab, in the doorway.
Happiness, with so many people an invisible attribute, encircled Patty
like a garment of light. It crowned her white brow under the glory of
her hair; it shone in her eyes; it rippled in her smile; it lingered in
a beam of sunshine on her lips. With her arm in Billy's she looked back
laughing from the steps, and it seemed to Gabriella that all the
brightness of life was going with them into the darkness. Beside the
curbstone an old cab horse, dazzled by the light from the door, turned
his head slowly toward them; and the look in his eyes, wistful,
questioning, expectant, seemed to say, "This is not life, but a
miracle." And from his box the red-cheeked, wheezy Irish driver gazed
down on Patty with the same wistfulness, the same questioning, the same
expectancy.

"I never see Patty go off in a cab that I don't feel she has thrown
herself away," observed Mrs. Fowler, yawning, while she turned to the
staircase. "Archibald, I hope you had a really good time with the judge.
I must say it is like ploughing to talk to his wife."

Upstairs in her room a little later Gabriella said to George: "Patty was
telling me about the girl your mother wanted you to marry."

He was pouring out a glass of water, and, absorbed in the act, he merely
grunted for answer. It was his disagreeable habit to grunt when grunting
saved effort.

"I wish you'd talk to me, George. It is so annoying to be grunted at."

"Well, what do you want?" he replied amiably enough. "Patty is a regular
sieve, you know. Never tell her a secret."

"Did you ever like that girl--really?"

"The girl mother had in mind?" Having emptied the glass, he returned it
to the tray and came over to her. "Yes, but if you want the truth, I
preferred the girl in the chorus--the one the old lady got in a blue
funk about, you know. She's still there, the last but one from the end,
in the Golden Slipper. I'll take you to see it some night."

"Men are strange," observed Gabriella, with philosophic detachment. "Now
I couldn't feel the slightest interest in a man in comic opera. Did she
really attract you?"

"Um--humph," he was grunting again.

"Wasn't she terribly common?"

"Um--humph."

"Wasn't she vulgar?"

"Rather. They all are."

"And fast?"

"Regular streak of lightning."

Then it was that Gabriella arrived at an understanding of masculine
nature. "You never can tell what men will like," she concluded.

While she spoke he winked at her from the mirror into which he was
looking--mirrors always fascinated George and he could never keep away
from them--and there was in his face the whimsical and appealing
naughtiness of a child. Suddenly Gabriella felt that as far as character
and experience counted, she was immeasurably older than George. Her
superior common sense made her feel almost middle-aged when he was in
one of his boyish moods. At the age of nine she had not been so utterly
irresponsible as George was at twenty-six; as an infant in arms she had
probably regarded the universe with a profounder philosophy. Though of
course George was charming, he was without any sense of the deeper
purpose of life. Like a child he must have what he wanted, and like a
child he sulked when he was thwarted and grew angelic when his wishes
were gratified. A single day had taught her that his father could not
depend on him in business, that his mother could not trust him even to
remember a dinner engagement. Gabriella loved him, she had chosen him,
she told herself now, and she meant to abide by her choice; but she was
not blind, she was not a fool, and she was deficient in the kind of
loyalty which obliges one to lie even in the sanctity of one's own mind.
She would be true to him, but she would be true with her eyes open, not
shut.

"George," she said presently, while she loosened her hair, "your father
told me you didn't stay more than an hour in the office." The question,
"What were you doing?" rose to her lips, but she strangled the words
before they escaped her. Her mind was quick to grasp facts, and she had
learned already something of a man's instinctive dislike to being made
to give an account of himself.

"You've been hearing too much gossip to-night," he rejoined gaily. "Take
care what you listen to."

"Don't joke, dear. I wish you would tell me things."

"There isn't anything to tell, is there?"

"Is your father very rich?"

"Not very. Did you think you were marrying a millionaire?"

"I never thought about it, but everybody at home thinks he has a great
deal of money, and yet your mother talks as if she were poor."

"Well, he made a pile of money in a big deal about ten years ago, and
the papers had a lot about it. After that he lost it, or most of it, and
the papers didn't tell. The fact is, he's always either making or
losing, and now he's losing. That's why they wanted me to put off our
marriage."

"They wanted you to put it off?"

"Mother did--the old man never interferes. She had got into her head,
you see, that the only way for me to make a living was to marry one, so
it was a little while before she could get used to the idea that I was
going to marry because I wanted to, not because my family wanted me to.
She was a brick though when she found out I was in earnest. Mother is
true blue when you know how to take her."

"But you never told me."

"You bet I didn't. If I had, as likely as not, you would be Gabriella
Mary Carr at this minute."

Drawing gently out of his grasp, which had grown possessive, she stood
looking at him with a smile in which tenderness and irony mingled; and
the tenderness was her own, while the irony seemed to belong to the
vision of an impersonal spectator of life. The smile fascinated him. He
could not withdraw his gaze from it, and yet it had the disturbing
effect of placing her at an emotional distance.

"Your mother is very good to me," she said, "but I feel somehow as if I
had taken an unfair advantage of her. And you hadn't even told her," she
added, "that we are going to take an apartment in June."

"Oh, that's all right--there's plenty of time," he responded irritably.
"Only you mustn't make mountains out of molehills."

Then, because she dreaded his anger, she gave up her point as she had
given up many before. He was irresponsible, but he was hers and she
loved him.

"I am so sleepy," she said, stifling a yawn, "that I feel as if I could
cry."

Marriage, at the end of a month, had already disciplined the fearless
directness of Gabriella. She had learned not to answer back when she
knew she was right; she had learned to appear sweet when her inner
spirit demanded a severe exterior; she had learned to hold her tongue
when a veritable torrent of words rose to her lips. And these lessons,
which George's temper and her own reason had taught her, remained with
her in the future, long after she had forgotten George and the severity
of her schooling.

There were many things for her to learn, and the lessons of that first
day and night stretched through the winter and well into the beginning
of spring. Accompanying Mrs. Fowler on her busy rounds, she discovered
that here also, as in the house in Hill Street, the chief end of life
was to keep up an appearance; here also the supreme effort, the best
energies, were devoted to a sham--to a thing which had no actual
existence. Though Mrs. Fowler was rich beside Mrs. Carr, Gabriella soon
found out that she was not nearly so rich as her neighbours were, not
nearly so rich as her position in society exacted that she should be.
She was still not rich enough to be spared the sordid, nerve-racking
effort to make two ends meet without a visible break. Her small
economies, to Gabriella's surprise, were as rigid as Mrs. Carr's; and
though she lived in surroundings which appeared luxurious to the girl,
there was almost as little ready money to spend as there had been in
Mrs. Carr's household. Bills were made recklessly, and dinner parties
were given at regular intervals; for Mrs. Fowler, who denied herself a
hundred small comforts of living, who gave up cream in her coffee and
bought her butter from a grocer below Washington Square, took quite as a
matter of course the fact that she must, as she put it, "pay off social
scores." Though they ate the simplest food in the market for six days of
the week, on the seventh, hothouse flowers bloomed profusely in the
lower rooms and champagne flowed abundantly into the delicate Venetian
glasses on the round table. To be sure, Mrs. Fowler's gown may have been
two seasons old, but it was covered with rare laces, which she had
picked up during her summers abroad; and her pearls--the string was
short, but really good, for she had matched it in Paris--shone, rich
and costly, around her still beautiful neck. After one of these dinners
the family lived on scraps and looked at fading flowers for days, while
Mrs. Fowler, with the air of one who has done her duty, sat upstairs
before the little French writing-desk in her room, and patiently added
accounts from morning till night. A strained look would come into her
plump, firm face, three little wrinkles would appear between her
eyebrows, and her blue eyes, circled by faint shadows, would grow dark
and anxious. Then, when at last the accounts were finished and the
unpaid bills laid away in a pigeonhole, she would remark with animation:

"I don't see how on earth I am ever to pay all these bills," and, after
changing her dress, set out to bring her butcher or her grocer to
reason. On one of these days she took Gabriella (they went in the stage
because she had given up her carriage) on a hunt for bargains in
underwear, and, to the girl's astonishment, her mother-in-law, who
presented so opulent an appearance on the surface, purchased for herself
a supply of cheap and badly made chemises and nightgowns. As she grew to
know Mrs. Fowler better, she found that the expenditures of that
redoubtable woman, in spite of her naturally delicate tastes, were
governed by one of the most elementary principles of economy. Through
long habit she had acquired a perception as unerring as instinct, and
this perception enabled her to tell exactly where extravagance was
useful and where it failed in its effect. She had learned to perfection
never to spend money on things that did not show a result. An appearance
was what she strove for, and one's chemises and nightgowns, however
exquisite in themselves, could not very well contribute to one's
external appearance. "Of course I like good underclothes," she remarked
cheerfully to her daughter-in-law, "but, after all, nobody sees them."

This was so different from the poverty-stricken point of view of
Gabriella's childhood, that the girl puzzled over it afterwards when she
sat in her corner of the stage. Mrs. Carr had kept up an appearance,
too, she reflected, but, like the old maids on the floor above, she had
kept it up even to herself. Perhaps the difference lay in the immense
gulf which divided the appearance of Hill Street from the appearance of
the East Fifties. Mrs. Fowler was obliged by the public opinion she
obeyed to appear affluent, while Mrs. Carr was merely constrained not to
appear destitute. On the whole Gabriella felt that she preferred the
safe middle distance between the two exacting standards of living.

But, though she might disapprove of her mother-in-law's philosophy,
there was no question about her fervent admiration for her disposition.
It was Mrs. Fowler's habit to appear "sweet," and never once did
Gabriella see her lose her temper, never once, no matter how hard the
day or how exasperating the accounts, did she show so much as a passing
hint of irritability. Her temper was so angelic that it was the more
surprising George should not have inherited a trace of it.

If George had not inherited his mother's nature, he revealed, as time
went on, even less resemblance to the perfect reasonableness of his
father's temperament. Ever since her first day in the house, Gabriella
had been drawn to her father-in-law with an affection which his wife,
for all her preoccupied kindness, had not inspired. She respected him
for his calm strength, against which the boisterous moods of George
reacted as harmlessly as the whims of a child, and she liked him for his
unfailing courtesy, for his patience, for his gentleness, which made her
feel that he was, in spite of the material nature of his occupation, the
only member of the household who possessed even a glimmer of
spirituality. All day long, and the greater part of the night, he
thought about money, and yet he had escaped the spiritual corruption
which the ceaseless pursuit of wealth had produced in the other rich men
whom Gabriella met in his house. It was as if some subtle alchemy in his
soul had transmuted the baser qualities into the pure gold of character;
and sometimes the girl wondered if the fact that he worked not for
himself but for others had preserved him from the grosser contamination
of money. For he seemed to think of himself so little, that after three
months in his house, Gabriella was still ignorant of his interests apart
from his work, except, of course, his absorbing interest in the morning
papers. From the time he got up at seven o'clock until he went to bed
punctually on the stroke of ten, he appeared to order his life with the
single purpose of giving as little trouble as was compatible with living
at all. His tastes were the simplest; he drank only boiled water; he ate
two eggs and a roll with his coffee at breakfast; he spent hardly a
third as much on his clothes as George spent; and beyond an occasional
visit to his club in the evening, he seemed to have absolutely no
recreation. His life was in the stock market, and it was a life of
almost monastic simplicity and self-sacrifice. If he had any pleasure,
except the pleasure of providing his wife with the money for her dinner
parties, which bored him excruciatingly, Gabriella had never discovered
it. "He asks so little for himself that it is pathetic," she remarked
to George one night, when Mr. Fowler had gone upstairs, carrying the
evening papers to bed with him.

"Oh, well, he gets what he asks for," retorted George indifferently,
"and that's more than the rest of us can say."

George was in a bad humour; he had been in a bad humour for weeks; and
for this reason Gabriella had put off from day to day telling him that
she expected a child in the autumn. All her efforts to soothe had merely
exasperated him; and there were days when her presence worked him into a
fit of nervous irritability. After four months of marriage prolonged
boredom had replaced the passionate tenderness of their honeymoon. Why
this should be so she was too well-balanced emotionally to understand.
She saw only the outward evidences of change, of gradual
disillusionment; and though at first she wept a little while she
wondered, she ended by drying her tears and attributing his casual
indifference and his explosive violence alike to some obscure disturbing
condition of health. Every evening, except when there were guests, he
spent at his club; he came to bed late, and his waking hour was filled
with complaint about the number and the size of his bills. He treated
these bills as if they had been gratuitous insults, as if they had
leaped, without reason for being, out of a malign world to assail him.
As yet Gabriella had bought nothing; and she dreaded the time when her
clothes would wear out beyond the hope of repairing, and she should be
obliged to add another bill to the growing pile under the silver paper
weight on the little white and gold desk.

But in the last few weeks even this anxiety had faded from her mind,
for the miracle of life which stirred in her body had diffused its
golden halo around every trivial incident of her existence. After days
of physical wretchedness, which she had hidden from George, she sat one
evening, utterly at peace, in front of the fire in the room which had
been Patty's before her marriage. It was past midnight, and she was
waiting for George to come home because she felt that she could not
sleep until she had told him. In the morning he had been unusually
gentle, and as he left the house, she had said to herself a little
sternly that he must know about the child before the day was over. A
secret consultation with her mother-in-law had strengthened her
resolution. "Don't keep it from him another day, Gabriella," Mrs. Fowler
had urged. "It will make such a difference. I shall never forget
Archibald's joy when I told him George was coming. Men are like that
about children, you know."

"Yes, I'll tell him to-night," Gabriella had answered; and sitting now
in the rocking-chair by the fire, she began to wonder if George would be
exactly like other men about children.

The house was very still, but even in its stillness it exhaled the
nervous apprehension which she felt to be its living character--as if
George's parents, sleeping two doors away, had dropped their guard for
the night, and allowed their anxious thoughts the freedom of the halls
until daybreak. And these thoughts, which had become like invisible
presences to the girl, wandered up and down the dim staircase, where the
lowered lights awaited George's return, invaded the drawing-room, filled
with stuffy red velvet chairs, so like crouching human beings in the
darkness, and even thronged about her threshold, ready to spring inside
at the instant when George should open the door. While her fire burned
brightly on the andirons, and rosy shadows danced on the white rug
beside her bed, on the lace coverlet turned back for the night, on the
deep pillows with their azure lining showing through the delicate linen
of the slips, on her simple nightdress, in which the buttonholes were so
beautifully worked by her mother,--while she looked at these things it
was easy for her to shut out the apprehensions of yesterday. But these
apprehensions would come with George and they would not go until George
left her again. The house with its heavy late-Victorian furniture, its
velvet carpets which muffled footsteps, its thick curtains which hid
doorways, its red walls, its bevelled mirrors, its substantial and
costly ornaments, its solid paintings in solid frames--the house and all
that it contained diffused for Gabriella an inescapable atmosphere, and
this atmosphere was like the one in which she had waited expectantly in
her childhood for the roof to be sold over her head. Now, as then, she
waited for something to happen, and this something was a fact of dread,
a shape of terror, which must be ignored as long as its impending
presence was not directly before one's eyes. But with the look she was
familiar, for she had seen it in her mother's face as far back as she
could remember. It was associated in her mind with the need of money,
with scant food, with scant fires, with a brooding and sinister hush in
the house. With the knowledge of these things in her mind how could she
hope that George would be glad of the child that was coming to them in
the autumn?

And yet to Mrs. Fowler the news had appeared to bring no additional
anxiety. She had seemed pleased rather than otherwise, mildly
interested, animatedly sympathetic.

"I am afraid it will be very expensive," Gabriella had reminded her a
little timidly, feeling frankly apologetic when she thought of all the
trouble she must bring to the harassed and over-burdened little woman.

But into Mrs. Fowler's face there had come the look with which she was
accustomed to receive the suggestion that her dinner parties were an
extravagance. That economy which she practised so rigidly, which was so
elastic to cover little pleasures and the minor comforts of life, broke
like a cobweb when she tried to stretch it over larger needs and
desires. The severity of her self-denial was directed entirely against
the trivial and the unessential. With regard to the indispensable
materials for happiness, she seemed to feel that she possessed an
unquestionable right to enjoy them at any cost; and she had reassured
Gabriella with an optimism which appeared perfectly genuine. After
talking to her the girl had felt that she might allow herself to be
happy if only George would change back into his old way.

Four months ago, at the beginning of her marriage, she had told herself
that she needed only the daily intimacy of life to make her understand
him. Now, after living with him, she felt that she was growing to
understand him less every hour--that the relation which ought to have
brought them spiritually closer, had ended by thrusting them to an
incalculable distance from each other. Of the nervous reactions which he
had suffered she knew nothing. All she saw clearly was that the widening
breach between them would soon become impassable unless it could be
filled by their new love for the child. The power to hold him must slip
from her hands to the child's, and she was more than ready, she was even
eager, to relinquish it. In the last few months her feeling for George
had altered, and, though she was hardly conscious of the change in
herself, her love for him had become less passionate and more maternal.
The tenderness was there, but the yearning, the delight in his mere
physical presence was gone. Like every other emotion that she had felt
in the past, her love for her husband had become absorbed in the
passion, the longing, the delight with which she enfolded the thought of
her child.

"I wonder if mother felt like this about me," she would say to herself,
and the wonder was like a cord drawing her back to her mother and to her
own babyhood. Then George would become strangely vague, strangely remote
in her thoughts; and her mother would seem nearer to her than everything
except the child under her heart.

But since her talk with Mrs. Fowler, who had shown her photographs of
George as a baby, some in long clothes, some in his first short frock,
with a woolly lamb in his hands, some in a velvet suit, with his
lustrous curls falling over a lace collar, Gabriella had felt that she
possessed a new understanding of her husband and of the imperative needs
of his nature. The child quality in him, the eternal boy that he
betrayed sometimes by accident, appeared to her now to be the salient
attribute of his character. After all, because of this quality, which
was at once his charm and his weakness, she could not judge him as
harshly as she might judge another man, she could not demand of him the
gravity and the restraint of his father, who had never been young.

"I ought not to have kept it from him. His mother is right. She
understands him better than I do," she thought, as she looked at the
clock. "If I had told him sooner he might be with me now."

Through the muffled stillness of the house the sound of the opening
front door stole up to her, and she heard George come in and stop for a
minute to take off his hat and coat in the lower hail. Then she heard
his footsteps move to the staircase; and while she listened she had a
curious intuitive sense that it was not George at all, but a stranger
who was coming to her, and that this stranger walked like a very old
man. She heard him reach the bend in the stairs, and without stopping to
put out the light, pass on to her door, which was the first on the
landing. As he reached the top of the stairs, he stumbled once; then she
heard his hand on the knob and a fumbling sound as if the knob would not
turn. The door seemed to take an eternity to open, and while she sprang
up with the clutch of terror at her heart, she felt again the sharp,
agonizing premonition that a stranger was approaching her.

"George!" she called in a strangled voice, and waited, standing, for him
to enter.



CHAPTER VII

MOTHERHOOD


At noon the next day Mrs. Fowler came into Gabriella's room and found
her sewing beside the window which looked on a gray expanse of sky and
street, where a few snowflakes were falling.

"Did you tell him, dear?" she asked, arranging a handful of red roses in
a little alabaster vase on the desk.

No, Gabriella had not told him. She felt now that she should never be
able to tell him, but all she said was:

"I didn't get a chance. How lovely those roses are."

Mrs. Fowler set the vase where the gray light fell on it, and then
turning with empty hands from the desk, asked gently:

"Aren't you making a mistake, dear?" Her movements were like those of a
character in a play who is made to fill in an awkward pause with some
mechanical action.

"I couldn't tell him last night," replied Gabriella; "he was sick all
night."

She was very pale, even her lips had lost their rich colour, and her
eyes had a drawn and heavy look as if she had not slept. Without looking
at her mother-in-law, she went on with her sewing, working buttonholes
of exquisite fineness in a small white garment. In her lap there was a
little wicker basket filled with spools of thread and odd bits of lace
and cambric; and every now and then she stopped her work and gazed
thoughtfully down on it as if she were trying to decide how she might
use the jumble of scraps that it contained.

"Gabriella," said Mrs. Fowler suddenly, after she had watched her a
moment, "did anything happen last night?"

"Happen? No, what could have happened?"

"At what time did George come in?"

"About one o'clock. I sat up for him."

"Was--was anything the matter with him? Was he in any way different?"

"He was sick. He was sick all night." A look of disgust crossed her face
while she stopped to wipe away a drop of blood from her finger. "I don't
remember pricking my finger since I was a child," she remarked.

"You are keeping something from me," said Mrs. Fowler; and sitting down
in the small chair by the desk, she leaned her elbow, in her full sleeve
of violet cashmere, on the edge of the blotting-pad. She was wearing a
morning gown made, as all her house gowns were made, after the princess
style, and Gabriella could see the tight expanse of her bosom rising and
falling under a garniture of purple and silver passementerie. Her hair,
fresh from the crimping pins, rose in stiff ridges from her forehead,
and her bright red lips were so badly chapped from cold that they
cracked a little when she smiled. She looked as hard as granite though
in reality her heart was breaking with pity.

"I want to help you," she said, "and I can't if you keep things back."

"I told you George was sick. I was up all night with him." Again a look
of disgust, which she could not control, flickered and died in her face.

"But you oughtn't to have let him keep you awake. You need all the sleep
you can get. When he comes in late he must sleep in the spare room
across the hall."

"His things are all in here and he would come in to get them; that would
wake me."

For a moment Mrs. Fowler hesitated while the struggling breath grew more
irregular under the passementerie on her bosom. The ripe colour faded
from her cheeks and her lips looked blue in the harsh light from the
window.

"I think I'd better speak to George," she said. "He is spoiled and he
always thinks first of his own comfort. I suppose it's the way we
brought him up--but when he understands, he will be more considerate."

For the first time Gabriella laid down her sewing and, leaning forward
in her chair, fixed her eyes, with their look of deep stillness, of
wistful expectancy, on the face of her mother-in-law.

"Would you mind telling me if George was ever--ever wild about women?"
she asked, and though her voice was very low and quiet, her words seemed
to echo loudly through the hushed suspense in her brain. It was as if
every piece of furniture, every vacant wall, every picture, and every
pane of glass, repeated the sound.

The pleasant smile on Mrs. Fowler's lips became suddenly painful. As if
she were suffering a physical hurt, she put her handkerchief to her
mouth while she answered:

"He was once--but that was before he fell in love with you. We hoped
that you would be able to steady him--that marriage would make him
settle down."

"Did he drink then?"

"A little--not enough to make him show it. I never saw him really show
it but once, and then he was dreadfully sick. Was--was he like that last
night?"

For a long minute, while she looked out of the window at the falling
snowflakes, Gabriella did not reply. Then she spoke in a voice that was
sternly accusing.

"You ought to have told me. I ought to have known." Her own wild passion
for George was forgotten. She felt only a sense of outrage, of wounded
and stunned resentment, They had treated her as if she were a child or a
fool. That she had been a fool she was not prepared to admit at the
instant--and yet it was less than a year ago, that June night when she
had watched George over the clove pinks while her heart melted with
happiness. She had had her way, and she was already regretting her
madness. "Is this what love comes to?" she asked herself bitterly as she
watched the white flakes whirling out of the gray sky. "Is this what it
all comes to in the end, or am I different from other women?"

Moistening her dry lips with the tip of her tongue, Mrs. Fowler smiled
bravely, though there were tears in her eyes. "Archibald wanted to, but
I wouldn't let him," she replied; "I hoped that you would make
everything different. He was so much in love with you. I thought you
could do anything with him."

Though her reasoning failed to convince Gabriella, it was sufficiently
forcible to justify her in her own judgment, and with an easier
conscience, she settled comfortably behind the impregnable defences of
the maternal instinct. After all, she had only done what she believed
to be best for her boy. She had not been selfish, she had not even been
thoughtless, she had been merely a mother.

"I wish you would tell me what really happened last night, Gabriella,"
she said, and her tone showed that she had recovered her shaken
confidence in the righteousness of her cause.

"I can't tell you," answered Gabriella. "What good would it do? George
was disgusting, that was all." She spoke sternly, for no lingering
tenderness softened the judgment of her youth and her injured pride. How
could she possibly have tenderness for a man who had tired of her in
four months, who had become so lost to common decency that he could let
her see him revoltingly drunk? And she had held her head so high, she
had so despised Jane for her weakness and folly! At the moment she knew
that she was helpless, but deep down within her she felt that this
helplessness would not last--that the wings of her soul were still
strong, still free, still untouched by the shame her body had suffered.
With a single effort she could break the net of passion, and escape into
the wonderful world which surrounded her. Like Jane, she had been a
fool, but, unlike Jane, she would not stay a fool always.

"You seem so hard, Gabriella," said Mrs. Fowler. "Is it because you are
young? Young people never make allowances."

The taste of bitterness rose to Gabriella's lips.

"I suppose I am hard," she answered, "and I am going to stay so. There
is safety in hardness."

Remembering Jane, remembering the hereditary weakness of the Carrs, who
had all married badly, she told herself that in hardness lay her
solitary refuge from despair. After all, it was better to be hard than
to break.

"You can't judge George quite as you would other men," began George's
mother, and she was aware after a minute that the maternal instinct had
in this instance led her to defeat.

"I am not judging other men," replied George's wife coldly; "I am
judging George." Against men as men she had never even thought of
cherishing a grievance. All her life she had looked to some man as to
the saviour of the family fortunes, and her vision was still true enough
to perceive that, as a human being, Archibald Fowler was finer and
bigger than his wife, that Billy was finer and bigger than Patty. She
had found men less the servants of mere instinct than she had found
women, less the passive and unresisting vehicles of the elemental
impulses. Then, too, they were so seldom the victims of life, and there
was in her nature a fierce contempt for a victim. She despised people
who submitted to circumstances, who resigned themselves to necessity, as
if resignation were a virtue instead of a vice.

"Well, you must try not to worry, dear; worry is so bad for you. I am so
sorry it happened. You won't mind my speaking to George, will you?"

Gabriella shook her head. "I don't care what you say to him."

"Do you feel able to come down to lunch?"

"Oh, yes, perfectly. I am simply dying for a cup of tea, and afterwards
I think I'll go out for a walk. One gets so stuffy and dull when one
stays in the house."

Her manner had changed as if by magic. In putting the thought of George
out of her mind she seemed to have put aside her resentment and
despondency.

In the evening George came home, looking a little yellow, with a box of
gardenias in his hand; but the scent of the flowers sickened Gabriella,
and she put them out of the room while she dressed for dinner. The
attention, instead of pleasing her, brought an ironic twist to her lips,
though she thanked George quite as courteously as if he had been a
stranger to her. At dinner when Mr. Fowler abruptly asked his son why he
had not been to the office, she kept her eyes fixed on her plate, in
which she seemed to see palely reflected the anxious pleasantness of her
mother-in-law's smile. It hardly occurred to her to wonder where George
had spent his day, though, when she met Mr. Fowler's kind and tired
look, a pang shot through her heart. She was sorrier for George's father
than she was for herself. He looked so lonely, yet so patient. He so
obviously needed help, and no one appeared to notice it, not even his
wife, who began planning a dinner party in the futile effort to come to
George's assistance. It was by coming to George's assistance in every
difficulty, Gabriella surmised, that his mother had made George what he
was; and the girl saw in imagination an endless line of subterfuges, of
pitiful excuses and feeble justifications, all hidden in the tortuous
labyrinthine windings of the maternal instinct. She saw, with the
relentless vision of a Hebrew prophet, the inevitable ruin of the love
that does not submit to wisdom as its law.

More than seven months afterwards, when she lay in her room with her
child in the crook of her arm, she prayed passionately that some supreme
Power would grant her the strength not of emotion, but of reason. All
her life she had suffered from an unrestrained indulgence of the
virtues--from love running to waste through excess, from the
self-sacrifice that is capable of everything but self-discipline, from
the intemperate devotion to duty that is as morbid as sin. Balance,
moderation, restraint--these seemed to her, lying there with her child
on her arm, to be the things most worth striving for. She saw her
mother, worn to a shadow by the unnecessary deaths she had died, by the
useless crucifixions she had endured; she saw Jane, haggard, wan, with
her sweetness turning to bitterness because it was wasted; and again she
found herself asking for balance, moderation, restraint. The child, a
little girl, with George's eyes and hair like gauze, had liberated
Gabriella from the last illusions of her girlhood.

And yet, though Gabriella prayed for moderation, she found after a few
months that motherhood was absorbing the full strength of her nature.
George hardly existed for her; he came and went like the passing of a
shadow, and she began gradually to sink her life into the life of her
child. Not until the winter was she brought back to a sharp realization
of her neglected duty to her mother; and this came with a letter from
Mrs. Carr during the last week in January. Mrs. Carr was still living
with Jane, and though she had accepted mildly Gabriella's reasons for
postponing her coming to New York, she was beginning somewhat
plaintively to question. She had made little effort to hide her
disappointment at not being with her daughter when her grandchild was
born, for, in spite of the fact that she had tragically assisted at the
entrance of Jane's six children into the world, she still possessed an
insatiable appetite for the perpetually recurring scenes of birth and
death. Then only did her natural bent of mind appear to be justified by
universal phenomena.

And now on this morning in January, when Frances Evelyn, the baby, lay
good and quiet in her crib, Gabriella read over again the disturbing
letter she had just received from her mother.

     MY DEAR DAUGHTER:

     Jane wrote you that I had had a slight attack of pneumonia, so you
     understood why I was obliged to let so long a time go by without
     sending you a letter. Though I have been out of bed now for more
     than a fortnight, I still feel so weak and good for nothing that I
     am hardly equal to the exertion of writing. Then, too, I have had
     some trouble with my wrist--the right one--and this has made it
     really painful for me to hold a pen or even a fork. The doctor
     thinks it is a nervous affection and that it will pass away as soon
     as I get back my strength, and I am sure I hope and pray that it
     will. But sometimes I feel as if I should never get any stronger,
     and of course while my wrist is crippled I am unable to do any
     sewing. This has depressed me very much, for poor Jane has so many
     worries of her own that I dread being dependent on her, and Charley
     has not been at all well this winter, though kinder and more
     considerate than I have ever known him to be. He has his faults,
     but I have always felt that he was not entirely responsible and
     that we ought to pity rather than blame him. Women can never be too
     thankful that they are spared by a merciful Providence the
     temptations which seem to beset men. When we consider how much more
     sheltered our lives are, we ought to be lenient in our judgment,
     and I cannot help feeling that God meant us to be so when he gave
     us more spiritual natures than those of men. Dr. Preston gave a
     very instructive and impressive talk on that subject before the
     Ladies' Aid Society of our church the week before I was taken sick.
     Indeed, I am afraid I caught the cold that led to pneumonia sitting
     in Charley's pew, which gets a bad draught from the door of the
     Sunday-school room.

     I must apologize for this dull letter, as I haven't been able to
     get out even to market. Before I was taken ill I used to do all of
     Jane's marketing, and you know what a place the market is for
     meeting people and hearing all the latest news. There are, however,
     two things to tell you, and you'll never be able to guess them.
     First, poor Miss Amelia Peterborough is dead. She was stricken with
     paralysis a week ago when she was all alone in the house--Miss
     Jemima was at a funeral--and she never regained consciousness until
     the end, which came at three o'clock Sunday night. Poor Miss
     Jemima, I feel so sorry for her. She keeps up beautifully and is
     very pious and resigned. They say she will go into the Old Ladies'
     Home as soon as the arrangements can be made.

     The other piece of news is more cheerful, though, for my part, life
     seems so short and so uncertain that I can't see much cheerfulness
     anywhere. So many people are dying that you can't help wondering
     who will be next, and as Dr. Preston said when he called on me
     during my illness, our only substantial hope is in a blessed
     hereafter. My one regret will be leaving my children and
     grandchildren, and especially my precious little Frances Evelyn,
     whom I have never seen. I have no doubt that Mrs. Fowler was far
     more useful than I could have been at the time of your trial, but
     it was a great disappointment to me not to be able to receive the
     little darling into the world.

     But I had entirely forgotten that I started to tell you about
     Florrie Spencer's marriage to Algernon Caperton. Of course I
     couldn't go, but Jane says the wedding was lovely and that Florrie
     looked really beautiful. Bessie had on rose-coloured brocade. Did
     you ever hear of such a thing at her age? She was just as gay and
     flirtatious as a girl, Charley said, and she sent me some of the
     cake and a bottle of champagne, which, of course, I didn't touch.
     It is a pity she is so loud, for there isn't a kinder heart in the
     world. Florrie and Algernon are going to New York on their wedding
     trip. Isn't it exactly like Florrie to want to go to all the
     theatres? They send you word, by the way, that they are certainly
     coming to see you and the baby.

     And now that I have told all my news, I must write a little about
     myself, though I am afraid you will be upset by what I am obliged
     to tell you. I put it off as long as I could--for I do hate to
     worry you--but the doctor has just been to see me and he says I
     must go to Florida immediately to stay until the bad weather is
     over. I told him I couldn't possibly afford it--the trip would take
     a great deal of money--but he insisted that I should write and tell
     you exactly what he said. He said my lungs were very weak and that
     he ordered the change--you know they never seem to consider
     expense--and when he was leaving, he stopped in the hall to speak
     to Jane about it. Poor Jane, she is so worried that she has almost
     gone deranged over my health, but as far as I am concerned I feel
     that I would rather pass away than cause so much trouble and upset
     everybody. Jane, as you know, hasn't a cent to her name, and it is
     out of the question her asking Charley, because he has had a very
     bad winter financially. Even Cousin Jimmy stopped sending me the
     rent of the house since I moved to Jane's, and as for Uncle
     Meriweather, he has been obliged to give up his business and go to
     live with his niece in the country. So, much as I hate to ask you,
     my dear child, I feel that you would rather I did so--and that I
     ought to be perfectly frank about the situation, particularly since
     poor Jane feels so deeply her inability to help me. I am afraid I
     should need about four hundred dollars, as I have bought nothing to
     wear for years. Bessie Spencer has told me of a very reasonable
     place where I could board, and it is just possible that she will be
     going herself by the time I am ready. If for any reason you are
     unable to let me have the money, just destroy this letter and don't
     think about it again. I wouldn't cause you a moment's worry for
     anything in the world.

     With love to George and a dozen kisses for my precious little
     grandchild,

     Your devoted mother,
     FANNY CARR.

     Did I remember to tell you that Miss Polly Hatch has gone to New
     York to look after her nephew's children? He lost his wife a few
     months ago, and was left with four little children, the youngest
     only a year old.

So her punishment had come! As Gabriella dropped the letter into her
lap, and looked at little Frances, so good and happy in her crib, she
felt that she was punished not only for her reckless marriage, but for
all the subterfuge, all the deceit which had followed it. She had not
told her mother the truth, for she, also, had been chiefly concerned
with "keeping up an appearance." For the purpose of shielding George,
who was blandly indifferent to her shielding, she had lied to her
mother, if not in words, yet in an evasion of the truth, and the result
was that her lies and her evasions had recoiled not on George's head,
but on her own. For George wouldn't care. So little value did he place
upon Mrs. Carr's good opinion, that he would not care even if Gabriella
were to tell her the truth. And if she had only been honest! If she had
only refused to lie because custom exacted that a wife should be willing
to lie in defense of her husband. Some obscure strain of dogmatic piety
struggled in the convulsed depths of her being, as if she had been
suddenly brought up against the vein of iron in her soul--against the
moral law, stripped bare of clustering delusions, which her ancestors
had known and fought for as "the Berkeley conscience." The Berkeley
conscience, bred for centuries on a militant faith, told her now that
she was punished because she had lied to her mother.

Then, as if this reversion to primitive theology had been merely an
automatic reaction of certain nerve cells, she saw and condemned the
childlike superstition. No, she was not punished so quickly; but she had
been a fool, and she was paying the price of her incredible folly. How
little, how pitifully little she knew of the world, after all! A year
ago, on that horrible night, she had thought that her lesson was
finished, but it was only beginning. Her immense, confiding ignorance
would lead her into other abysses. And again, as on the morning after
that night of revelation, she resolved passionately that she would not
stay a fool always--that she would not become a victim of life.

The empty bottle had slipped to one side of the crib, and little Frances
lay smiling at the friendly universe, with her wet mouth wide open and
her blue eyes, so like George's, sparkling with laughter. The down on
her head, as fine and soft as spun silk, made tiny rings over her pink
skull, which was as clear and delicate as an eggshell; and these golden
rings filled Gabriella with a tenderness so poignant that it brought
tears to her eyes. Whatever her mother may have thought about the world,
it was perfectly obvious that Frances Evelyn considered her part in it
remarkably jolly. To be a well baby in an amiable universe was her ideal
of felicity.

When George came up to luncheon, which he did sometimes now, he went
straight to the nursery for a glimpse of his daughter. Ever since
little Frances had lost her first hair and gained her golden down, he
had taken an interest in the rapid stages of her development; and,
though he never "wasted time," as he said, in the nursery, he liked to
look in once a day and see whether or not she had changed in the night.
On her side the baby treated her father as if he were an inexhaustible
family joke, to be enjoyed not too seriously, but with a polite
recognition of its humorous points. If she were sucking her bottle when
he entered, she immediately stopped and laughed at him while the rubber
nipple dropped from her toothless gums; if she awoke and discovered him
at the side of her crib, she greeted him with subdued but inappeasable
merriment; if he lifted her in his arms, her crocheted shoes could
barely contain the kicks of her ecstatic feet. And because she was a
jolly little beggar, George grew, after a time, to cherish a certain
fondness for her. There was some use in a laughing baby, but he hated
anything, child, woman, or animal, that cried.

On this particular day the baby happened to be asleep when he entered,
so, without stopping, he went into Gabriella's bedroom, where the
perfume of roses mingled with the scent of the burning logs on the
andirons.

"That's a good fire," he observed, stopping on the hearth-rug. "I don't
wonder you hate to go out."

"Yes, the room was a little chilly, so I lit the fire for the baby's
bath. I don't usually have one," replied Gabriella, explaining her
apparent extravagance.

"Has she been well?"

"She is always well. I haven't had a day's anxiety about her since she
was born."

"But she isn't very old yet." Already little Frances was supplying
conversational material to her parents.

"I wish you would sit down, George," said Gabriella, with a change of
tone. "I want to read you a part of a letter from mother."

"Can't you tell me instead?"

"If you'd rather. You know I never told mother why we couldn't have her
to live with us. I never told her anything. I simply made excuses."

"That was all right, wasn't it?" He was plainly nervous.

"At the time I thought I couldn't do differently, but now--"

She gave him the letter, and while he unfolded it awkwardly, she watched
him anxiously and yet without interrupting his reading. Beyond the
simple facts, she had told him nothing, and it was characteristic of her
that she did not embellish these facts with picturesque phrases. She
herself was so insensible to the appeal of rhetoric that she hardly
thought of it as likely to influence anybody. Then, too, in moments of
intense feeling she had always a sensation of dumbness.

"I'm awfully sorry about her illness," he said, "but when you think of
it, the best thing that could have happened to her was not to come to
New York. This climate would have been the end of her."

"Will you let me have the money, George? I will try to save in every way
that I can. I've made all the baby's clothes, as it is, and I can easily
make the few things I need, also. Since the baby came I have stopped
calling with your mother."

A flush rose to his face. "I know you've been a regular brick about
money, Gabriella. I never saw a woman buy as little as you do, and you
always manage to look well dressed."

She smiled with faint irony. Her clothes were dowdy, for she had turned
the broadcloth dress she had had at her marriage and was wearing it in
the street; but if he thought her well dressed, it seemed hardly fair to
undeceive him. Had she been any other woman, she reflected, he would
probably have looked at her long enough to discover that she had grown
decidedly shabby.

Since the baby's birth, as she told him, she had stopped calling with
her mother-in-law, and a black net dress, given her by Mrs. Fowler
because it had grown too small in the waist, was still presentable
enough for the family dinners. But she never worried about her
appearance, and it was a relief to find that George was quite as
indifferent on the subject as she was. In the days of their honeymoon he
had been so particular that she had spent hours each day before the
mirror.

"Will you let me have the money, George?" she asked again. The form of
the request had not changed, but there was a deeper note in her voice:
the irony, which had been at first only a glancing edge to her smile, a
subdued flash in her eyes, had passed now into her speech. George,
looking sideways at the slightly austere charm of her profile, thought
suddenly, "Gabriella is growing hard." He noticed, too, for the first
time, that she looked older since the birth of the baby, that her bosom
was fuller and that her figure, which had always been good, was now
lovely in its long flowing lines. She was handsomer than she had been
before her marriage, for her complexion had become clearer since she
had lived in the North, and though she was still pale, her skin was
losing its sallow tone.

Yet, though he thought her more attractive than she had been as a girl,
she had ceased to make the faintest appeal to his senses. There were
times even when he wondered how she had ever appealed to him, for she
had not been beautiful, and beauty had always seemed to him to be
essential in the women with whom one fell in love. But, however it had
happened, still it had happened, and she was now his wife and the mother
of the adorable Frances Evelyn.

"I'm awfully cut up about it, Gabriella," he said, "but honestly I am
out of the money. I couldn't lay my hands on it just now to save my
life."

His excuses convinced him while he uttered them, but he had barely
paused before Gabriella demolished them with a single blow of her
merciless logic.

"You were talking last night about buying a horse," she replied.

He frowned resentfully, and she immediately regretted her words. By
speaking the truth she had defeated her purpose.

"It isn't as if I were buying a horse for pleasure," he answered
doggedly; "I am dependent on exercise--you can see for yourself how I've
gone off in the last two or three months. Of course if the horse were
simply for enjoyment, like a carriage, it would be different. But mother
has given up her carriage," he concluded triumphantly.

He was a spendthrift, she realized, but he was a spendthrift with a
streak of stinginess in his nature. Though he enjoyed gratifying his own
desires, which were many, it pained him inexpressibly to witness
extravagance on the part of others, and by a curious twist of the
imagination, all money spent by Gabriella appeared to him to be an
extravagance. To be sure, he had just told her that she was a brick
about money, but that had been intended as a warning to virtue rather
than as an encouragement to weakness. There was, to be sure, a vague
understanding that she might make bills when they were unavoidable; but
so in want of spending money had she been since her marriage, that
several times she had been obliged to borrow car fare from her
mother-in-law. When she had asked George for an allowance, however
small, he had put her off with the permission to charge whatever she
bought in the shops. As the bills apparently never lessened, and her
conscience revolted from debt, she had gone without things she needed
rather than accept the barren generosity of his promises. At Christmas
her father-in-law had given her fifty dollars in gold, and with this she
had bought presents for her mother and Jane and the servants.

In the old days in Hill Street she had had little enough, but at least
that little had really belonged to her; and since her marriage she had
learned that when one is poor, it is better to live surrounded by want.
To be poor in the midst of wealth--to be obliged to support a fictitious
affluence on one's secret poverty--this was after all to know the
supreme mortification of spirit. There were days when she almost prayed
that the brooding suspense would assume a definite shape, that the blow
would fall, the crash come, and ruin envelop them all. Any visible fact
would be better than this impending horror of the imagination--this
silent dread so much worse than any reality of failure--which
encompassed them with the impalpable thickness and darkness of a cloud.

"Then I can't help my mother even if it's a matter of life and death?"
she asked.

"I don't believe it's as bad as that, Gabriella. Ten chances to one the
rest of the winter will be mild, and she would find Florida too
depressing. You never can tell about doctors, you know. It's their
business to make trouble. Now you mustn't let yourself worry--there's
anxiety enough without that, heaven knows. Why, just look at father! He
has lost almost all he ever had--he is simply staving off failure for I
don't know how long, and yet from mother's manner who on earth would
suspect that there is anything wrong? Now that's what I call pluck. By
Jove--"

Again her impetuous spirit--dangerous gift!--flashed out recklessly in
defence of the truth.

"Then why don't you try to help your father, George?" she asked. "He
tells me that you rarely go down to the office." Her voice vibrated, but
the stern lines of her mouth, which had lost its rich softness under the
stress of her anger, hardly quivered.

His frown darkened to a scowl. The calm disdain in her manner made him
feel that he hated her, and he told himself stubbornly that if she had
been gentler, if she had been more womanly, he would have done what she
asked of him, forgetting in his rage that, if she had been these things,
he would have found even less difficulty in refusing her.

"You know as well as I do that I can't stand office work when I'm not
fit," he returned sullenly. "It plays the devil with my nerves."

Her case was hopeless. If it had not been so in the beginning, she had
ruined it by her irrefutable arguments, and while he rambled on moodily,
making excuses for his neglect of business, she sat silently planning
ways by which she might get the money for her mother. To ask her
father-in-law was, of course, out of the question; and Mrs. Fowler,
beyond a miraculously extended credit, due probably to the shining
bubble of her husband's financial security, was as penniless as
Gabriella. Unless she could find something to sell there seemed little
likelihood of securing four hundred dollars in a day. It was imperative,
then, that she should find something to sell; and remembering her
mother's tragic visits to old Mr. Camberwell, she ran hastily over her
few personal possessions. As her wedding gifts had been entirely in the
form of clothes--the donors doubtless surmising that the wife of a rich
man's son would have other gifts in abundance--there remained only the
trinkets George and George's parents had given her. All through
luncheon, while Mrs. Fowler, with an assumed frivolity which Gabriella
found more than usually depressing, rippled on over the warmed-over
salmon, the girl mentally arranged and sorted in their cases a diamond
brooch, an amethyst necklace, a bracelet set with pearls, and a topaz
heart she occasionally wore on a gold chain, which she valued because it
had belonged to her grandmother. Once she stopped, and lifting her hand,
looked appraisingly at her engagement ring for an instant, while Mrs.
Fowler, observing her long gaze, remarked caressingly:

"I always thought it an unusually pretty stone, my dear. George knows a
good deal about stones." Then, as if inspired by an impulse, she added
quickly:

"Wasn't George upstairs before lunch? I thought I heard his voice."

"Yes, but he said he had an engagement at the club."

"I wonder if he knows I have asked the Capertons to dinner to-night? You
know I got Florrie's card the other day. She is here on her wedding
journey, but even then she doesn't like to be quiet, for she is her
mother all over again. I used to know Bessie very well. Kind hearted,
but a little vulgar."

"I didn't tell George. Perhaps you had better telephone him."

"Oh, well, he usually comes up to dinner because of the baby. I've asked
one or two people to meet Florrie, for I remember that Bessie's one idea
of enjoyment was to be in a crowd. The Crowboroughs are coming and the
Thorntons and the Blantons."

"I'll be dressed in time," responded Gabriella, but she was thinking
rapidly, "I can sell the diamond brooch and the bracelet and, if it is
necessary, the amethyst necklace. The brooch must have cost at least
three hundred dollars."

The meal was finished in silence, for even Mrs. Fowler's cheerfulness
would flag now and then without a spur; and Gabriella made no effort to
keep up the strained conversation. As soon as they had risen from the
table, she ran upstairs to dress for the street, and then, before going
out, she sat down at her desk, and wrapped up the brooch and the
bracelet in tissue paper. For a minute she gazed, undecided, at the
amethyst necklace. Mr. Fowler had given it to her, and she hated to part
with it. George's gifts meant nothing to her now, but she felt a
singular fondness for the amethyst necklace.

"I'd better take it with me," she thought; and wrapping it with the
others, she put the package into her little bag, and went out of the
room. It was her habit to stop for a last look at little Frances before
she left the house, but to-day she hurried past the nursery, and ran
downstairs and out of doors, where Mrs. Fowler was getting into a hansom
with the assistance of Burrows, the English butler.

"May I drop you somewhere, Gabriella?" inquired Mrs. Fowler, while
Burrows arranged the parcels on the seat of the hansom. In the strong
sunshine all the little lines which were imperceptible in the shadow of
the house--lines of sleeplessness, of anxiety, of prolonged aching
suspense--appeared to start out as if by magic in her face. And over
this underlying network of anxious thoughts there dropped suddenly, like
a veil, that look of artificial pleasantness. She would have died sooner
than lift it before one of the servants.

"No, thank you. I need the walk," answered Gabriella, stopping beside
the hansom. "You will be tired if you do all those errands. May I help
you?"

"No, no, dear, take your walk. I am so glad the storm is over. It will
be a lovely afternoon."

Then the hansom drove off; Burrows, after a longing glance at the blue
sky, slowly ascended the brownstone steps; and Gabriella, closing her
furs at the throat, for the wind was high, hurried in the direction of
Fifth Avenue.

The streets were still white after the storm; piles of new-fallen snow
lay in the gutters; and when Gabriella crossed Madison Avenue, the wind
was so strong that it almost lifted her from the ground. Above the
shining whiteness of the streets there was a sky of spring; and spring
was blossoming in the little cart of a flower vendor, which had stopped
to let the traffic pass at the corner. There were few people out of
doors, and these few appeared remote and strangely unreal between the
wintry earth and the April sky. Beside the gutters, where the street
cleaners were already at work, wagons drawn by large, heavy horses moved
slowly from crossing to crossing. At Forty-second Street the traffic was
blocked by one of these wagons; and from the windows of the stage, which
had stopped by the sidewalk, the eyes of the passengers stared with
moody resignation at the hurrying pedestrians. And it seemed to
Gabriella that these faces wore, one and all, the look of secret
anxiety, the faint network of lines which she had seen in the face of
her mother-in-law. "I wonder if I have it, too," she thought, pausing
before a shop window. But her reflection flashed back at her from the
glass, smooth, stern, unsmiling, as if her features had been sculptured
in marble.

Below Fortieth Street there was the shop of a jeweller she sometimes
went to with Mrs. Fowler in that lady's despairing quest for suitable
wedding presents at moderate prices; and something in the kindly,
sympathetic face of the clerk who waited on them made Gabriella decide
suddenly to trust him. As she unwrapped the tissue paper rather
nervously, and keeping back the necklace, laid the brooch and the
bracelet on the square of purple velvet he spread out on the counter,
she raised her eyes to his with a look that was childlike in its appeal.
Again she thought of the morning on which they had surreptitiously taken
her silver mug, hidden in Mrs. Carr's gray and black shawl, to the shop
of old Mr. Camberwell.

"How much might I get for these? I have worn them only a few times. They
do not suit me," she said.

For a minute the clerk looked at her reflectively, but without
curiosity; then lifting the trinkets from the square of velvet, he
passed behind a green curtain into an adjoining room. After a short
absence, in which she nervously examined an assortment of travelling
clocks, he came back and told her that they would give her four hundred
and fifty dollars for the two pieces.

"The stones alone are worth that," he added, "and, of course, they will
have to be reset before we can sell them."

"May I have the check now?"

"Shall we send it to you by mail?"

"No, I must have it now. I want it this afternoon--immediately."

He yielded, still with his reflective but incurious manner; and when she
left the shop a quarter of an hour later the check was in her little bag
beside the amethyst necklace. "I am glad I didn't have to sell the
necklace," she thought. "Now I'll find a hotel and write to mother, and
it will all be settled. It will all be settled," she repeated in a
joyous tone; and this joyousness, overflowing her breast, showed in her
eyes, in the little quivering smile on her lips, and in her light and
buoyant step over the snow. A weight had been lifted from her heart, and
she felt at peace with the world, at peace with the shivering
passers-by, at peace even with George. The wind, hastening her walk,
stung her face till it flushed through its pallor, and sent the warm
blood bounding with happiness through her veins. Under the stainless
blue of the sky, it seemed to her that the winter's earth was suddenly
quickening with the seeds of the spring.

In the Waldorf she found a corner which was deserted, except for an
elderly man with a dried face and a girl in a green hat, who appeared to
be writing to her lover; and sitting down at a little desk behind a
lamp, she wrote to her mother without mentioning George, without
explaining anything, without even making excuses for her failure to keep
her promise. She knew now that George had never meant that her mother
should live with them, that he had never meant that they should take an
apartment, that he had lied to her, without compunction, from the
beginning. She knew this as surely as she knew that he was faithless and
selfish, as surely as she knew that he had ceased to love her and would
never love her again. And this knowledge, which had once caused her such
poignant agony, seemed now as detached and remote as any tragedy in
ancient history. She was barely twenty-two, and her love story had
already dwindled to an impersonal biographical interest in her mind.

When she had finished her letter, she placed the check inside of it, and
then sat for a minute pensively watching the girl in the green hat,
whose face paled and reddened while she wrote to her lover.

"It seems a hundred years ago since I felt like that," she thought, "and
now it is all over." Then because melancholy had no part in her nature,
and she was too practical to waste time in useless regrets, she rose
quickly from the desk, and went out, while the exhilaration of her mood
was still proof against the dangerous weakness of self-pity. "It's life
I'm living, not a fairy tale," she told herself sternly as she posted
the letter and left the hotel. "It's life I'm living, and life is hard,
however you take it." For a few blocks she walked on briskly, thinking
of the shop windows and of the brightness and gaiety of the crowd in
Fifth Avenue; but in spite of her efforts, her thoughts fluttered back
presently to herself and her own problems. "After all, you can't become
a victim unless you give in," she said grimly; "and I'll die rather than
become a victim."

Her walk kept her out until five o'clock, and when she entered the house
at that hour she found her mother-in-law in the front hall giving
directions to Burrows. At sight of Gabriella she paused breathlessly,
and said with undisguised nervousness:

"A very queer-looking person who says she was sent by your mother has
just come to see you, dear--a seamstress of some kind, I fancy. As she
looked quite clean, I let her go upstairs to the nursery to wait for
you. I hope you don't mind. She was so eager to see the baby."

"Oh, it's Miss Polly!" cried Gabriella; and without stopping to explain,
she ran upstairs and into the nursery, where little Frances was cooing
with delight in Miss Polly's arms.

The seamstress' small birdlike face, framed by the silk quilling of her
old lady's bonnet, broke into a hundred cheerful wrinkles at the sight
of Gabriella. Even the grotesqueness of her appearance--of her fantastic
mantle trimmed with bugles, made from her best wrap in the 'seventies,
of her full alpaca skirt, with its wide hem stiffened by buckram, of her
black cotton gloves, and her enormous black broadcloth bag--even these
things could not extinguish the pleasure Gabriella felt in the meeting.
If Miss Polly was ridiculous at home, she was twice as ridiculous in New
York, but somehow it did not seem to matter. The sight of her brought
happy tears to the girl's eyes, and in the attempt to hide them, she
buried her face in the warm, flower-scented neck of little Frances.

"She's the peartest baby I ever saw," remarked Miss Polly with pride.
"Wouldn't yo' ma dote on her?"

"Wouldn't she? But how did you leave mother and Jane and the children?
The baby must be a big boy now."

"He's runnin' around all the time, and never out of mischief. I never
saw such a child for mischief. I was tellin' yo' ma so last week.
There's another baby on the way with Jane, you know."

"How in the world will she take care of it? I suppose Charley is just
the same?"

"Well, if you ask me, Gabriella, I never was so dead set against Mr.
Charley as the rest of you. I helped raise Jane from the time she was no
higher than that--and I ain't sayin' nothin' against her except that Mr.
Charley ain't half as bad to my mind as she makes him out. Some men
respond to naggin' and some don't--that's what I said to her one day
when she broke down and cried on my shoulder--and you've got to be
mighty particular when you begin to nag that you're naggin' the right
sort. But she won't listen, not she. 'If I don't tell Charley of his
faults, who's goin' to?' she asks. You know Jane always did talk pretty
free to me ever since she was a little girl. Well, there are some people
that simply can't stand bein' told of their faults, and Mr. Charley is
one of 'em. It ain't the kind of treatment that agrees with him, and if
I'd been in Jane's place, I reckon I'd have found it out long ago. But
it ain't her way to learn anything--you know that as well as I do. She's
obliged to make the world over even if it drops to pieces in her hands."

"She doesn't seem to have done much with Charley."

"Well, you mark my words, Mr. Charley ain't bad, but he's full of
natur', and Jane, is the kind of woman that's never happy unless she's
gettin' the better of natur'. Whatever's natural is plum wrong, that's
the way she looks at it; but mind you, I ain't sayin' she's all in the
right. Naggin' ain't a virtue to my mind any mo' than drink is, but
Jane, she can't see it that way, and there ain't a bit of use tryin' to
make her. She's soft, but she's mulish, and the hardest thing on earth
to push is a mule that looks soft."

"It's such a pity, but I suppose nothing will change her. Tell me about
mother."

"Yo' ma looks downright po'ly. What with her sickness and her bother
about Jane and the bad weather, she ain't managin' to keep as spry as
I'd like to see her. From the stitch in her back she has most of the
time it wouldn't surprise me any day to hear that she'd come down with
kidney trouble, and she breathes so short that consumption has crossed
my mind mo' than once when I was talkin' to her."

Miss Polly, having, as she expressed it, "an eye for symptoms,"
possessed an artistic rather than a scientific interest in disease; and
the vivid realism of her descriptions had often, on her "sewing days" at
home, reduced Gabriella to faintness, though Mrs. Carr, with her more
delicate sensibilities, was able to listen with apparent enjoyment to
the ghastly recitals. Not only had Miss Polly achieved in her youth a
local fame as a "sick nurse," but, in the days when nursing was neither
sanitary nor professional, she was often summoned hastily from her
sewing machine to assist at a birth or a burial in one of the families
for whom she worked. And happy always, as befits one whose life,
stripped bare of ephemeral blessings, is centred upon the basic
realities, she was never happier than when she put down her sewing, took
off her spectacles, exchanged her apron for a mantle, and after
carefully tying her bonnet strings, departed for a triumphant encounter
with the Eternal Issues.

"I am so anxious about mother," said Gabriella. "Did she tell you she
was going to Florida?"

"She cert'ny did. She was real full of it, and she talked a lot about
you all up here--the baby and you and Mr. George. You know I ain't laid
my eyes on Mr. George mo' than three times in my life. Well, I reckon
I'd better be gettin' along back, or the children will miss me. I've got
four children to do for now, and one of 'em ain't any bigger than
Frances. It does seem funny--don't it, for an old maid to have her hands
full of children? But, you know, I always did dote on children. There
wouldn't be half so much fun in this world if it wan't for children and
men, and there ain't a mite of difference between them under their
skins. Yes, I can find my way back real easy. I always was good at
finding my way about, and all I've got to do is to set out and walk in
that direction till I come to a car over yonder by that high building,
and as soon as I get on I'll ask the conductor to put me off right at my
do'."

When she had gone, Gabriella went back into the nursery, and stood
looking down at little Frances, who had fallen asleep, with the smile of
an angel on her face. "I wonder if I can be the least bit like Jane?"
she said aloud while she watched the sleeping child.

George did not come home to dinner; and the wonder was still in
Gabriella's mind when she dressed herself in her black net gown, and
went downstairs to meet Florrie, who looked younger and more brilliant
than ever in a dress of white and silver brocade. Florrie's husband, a
dreamy, quiet man,--the safe kind of man, Gabriella reflected, who
inevitably marries a dangerous woman--regarded his noisy wife with a
guileless admiration which was triumphantly surviving a complete
submergence in the sparkling shallows of Florrie's personality. He was a
man of sense and of breeding. He possessed the ordinary culture of a
gentleman as well as the trained mind of a lawyer, yet he appeared
impervious alike to the cheapness of Florrie's wit and the vulgarity of
her taste. Her beauty had not only blinded him to her mental
deficiencies; it had actually deluded him into a belief in her
intelligence. He treated her slangy sallies as if they were an original
species of humour; he accepted the sweeping comment of her ignorance as
if it had been an inspired criticism of life. While she chattered,
parrotlike, to the judge, who was obviously impressed by her appearance,
Algernon listened to her ejaculatory conversation with a mixture of
admiration and awe.

"How do you think Florrie is looking?" he asked in a low tone of
Gabriella, while his wife's laugh, high, shrill, penetrating in its dry
soprano quality, fluted loudly on the opposite side of the table. Beside
Patty's patrician loveliness, as serene and flawless as that of a
marble goddess, Florrie appeared cheap, common, and merely pretty to
Gabriella. The hard brilliancy of her surface was like a shining polish
which would wear off with sleep and have to be replenished each morning;
and while she watched her, Gabriella saw, in imagination, a vaguely
ominous outline surrounding her which might have been the uncertain edge
of her mother's shadow. In twenty-five years Florrie would be the image
of her mother--protuberant hips, pinched waist, mottled complexion, and
hopelessly tarnished hair; yet, with this awful prospect before him,
Algernon could appear not only tolerant, but positively adoring. He had
seen Bessie--he had known her for years--and he could marry her
daughter!

"I never saw her look handsomer," said Gabriella, "that white and silver
gown is very becoming."

"That's what I told her, but she wouldn't believe me. She thought it was
too plain for her style. Your sister-in-law is something of Florrie's
type, isn't she? Not quite so striking a figure, perhaps, but the same
sort of colouring."

Was it possible that for the first time in his life the simple Algernon
was speaking in irony? Turning in her chair, she looked questioningly
into his kind, grave face, so empty of humour, into his serious gray
eyes, which followed each movement of his wife's with admiring
attention. No, he was not ironic; he was perfectly solemn. It was a
miracle--a miracle not of piety, but of passion--that she was
witnessing.

"Yes, Patty is lovely," she answered, thinking, as she reflected upon
the eccentricities of love, how much too good he was for his wife.

Across the table Florrie's voice was heard exclaiming: "Now, you don't
mean it! Well, I'm just as flattered as I can be!" and Gabriella
surmised that she was completing her conquest of the judge.

"It's wonderful how well she gets on with everybody," observed Algernon.
"She's never at a loss for a word, and I tell her if I had her ready
wit, I'd be the greatest lawyer in Virginia to-day. Have you noticed the
way she is managing Judge Crowborough?"

"She always gets on well with men," acquiesced Gabriella, though without
the enthusiasm of Algernon. "Do you remember what a belle she always was
at the germans?" Though she was willing to admit that love was the
ruling principle of life, it occurred to her that Algernon would be more
amusing if he were less abundantly supplied with that virtue.

They talked of nothing but Florrie until the women went into the
drawing-room; and there, from the safe haven of a window, Gabriella
listened to Florrie's ceaseless prattle about herself. She was as
egotistical, as effervescent, as she had been as a schoolgirl; and it
seemed to Gabriella that she was hardly a day older. Her eyes, of a
grayish blue, like pale periwinkles, were as bold, as careless, as
conquering in their glances; her hair was still as dazzling; her face,
with its curious resemblance in shape to the face of a pretty cat, was
still as frank, as naïve, as confiding in its innocence. If she had
changed at all, it was that, since her marriage to the silent Algernon,
she had become even more talkative than she had been in her girlhood.
Her vivacity was as disturbing as the incessant buzzing of a June
beetle.

"Well, you need never tell me again that you wouldn't rather live in New
York, Gabriella," she fluted at parting, "because I shan't believe a
single word of it. Why, we've been to the theatre every night for a
fortnight, and we haven't seen half the good plays that are going on.
Algy wanted to stay at Niagara Falls--you know we went to Niagara Falls
first--but it was so deadly quiet I couldn't stand it. 'I don't care if
I am married,' I said to Algy, 'what I want is the theatre.'"

After she had gone, adoringly wrapped up by Algernon, Patty turned to
her mother with a little malicious grimace:

"I know it's horrid to say she's dreadful, mamma, but she really is."

"Don't, Patty, it isn't kind, and, besides, she's a friend of
Gabriella's. What I can't understand," she added, "is how Bessie ever
came out of Virginia, yet there were always a few like her. You don't
remember Pussy Prime, do you? Of course you don't, she died long before
your day, but she was just that loud, boisterous kind, and all the men
were in love with her."

"Well, if I'm ever born again," remarked Gabriella, as she kissed Patty
good-night, "I hope I'll be born a fat blonde. They always get taken
care of."

She ascended the stairs wearily to her room. Yes, she was barely
twenty-two and love was over forever. "I couldn't hold a man six
months," she thought dejectedly, "and yet Florrie, who is a fool and
vulgar, will be adored all her life."



BOOK SECOND

THE AGE OF KNOWLEDGE



CHAPTER I

DISENCHANTMENT


In July Gabriella joined her mother in the mountains of Virginia, and
when she returned in the autumn, she found that the character of her
home had changed perceptibly during her absence. Brightness had followed
gloom; the fog of suspense had dissolved, and the hazy sunshine of an
ambiguous optimism flooded the house. What the change implied she could
not immediately discover; but before the first day was over she surmised
that the financial prospects of her father-in-law had improved since the
spring. If she had had any doubt of his rising fortunes, the sight of
the diminished pile of bills on Mrs. Fowler's desk would have quickly
dispelled it.

And even George had apparently altered for the better. His improved
finances had sweetened his temper and cast the shining gloss of
prosperity over his appearance; and, in a measure at least, time had
revived in him the ardent, if fluctuating, emotions of the lover. For
three months after her return, he evinced a fervent sentiment for
Gabriella, which she, who was staunchly paying the price of her folly,
received with an inner shrinking but an outward complaisance. Her
feeling for George was quite dead--so dead that it was impossible for
any artificial stimulus to revive it--but she had learned that marriage
is founded upon a more substantial basis than the romantic emotions of
either a wife or a husband. Though she had ceased to love George, she
could still be amiable to him; and it occurred to her at times that if
one had to choose between the two not necessarily inseparable qualities
of love and amiability, George was not losing greatly by the exchange.
When, however, at the end of three months, George's capricious symptoms
disappeared as suddenly as they had come, and his attentions lapsed into
casual expressions of a nonchalant kindness, she drew a breath of
relief, and devoted her happiest days to the nursery. There at least she
had found a stable refuge amid the turmoil of selfish human desires.

In the house, which like George, began presently to show the gloss of
prosperity, the winter brought a continuous flashing stream of gaiety,
in which Mrs. Fowler darted joyously about like some bright hungry
minnow beneath the iridescent ripples of a brook. There were new rugs,
new curtains, new gowns, new bonnets; and Gabriella was led compliantly
from dressmaker to milliner, until she lost in the process her look of
shabbiness and developed into the fashionable curving figure of the
period. She had always liked clothes; her taste was naturally good; and
as she followed eagerly from shop to shop, she recalled the three months
she had spent in Brandywine's millinery department, and the rudiments of
a trade she had learned there. "I'd rather design my next gown myself,"
she said one day to Mrs. Fowler, while they were looking at French
models in the establishment of Madame Dinard, who had been born an
O'Grady. "I know I can do better than these, and besides I shan't meet
duplicates of myself every time I go out." That night she dreamed of
hats and gowns, and the next morning she drew pictures of them in
coloured chalk. "It's the only talent I ever had," she remarked gaily to
her mother-in-law, "and it is running to waste."

Madame, who regarded the sketches with uncompromising disdain, showed
great interest in the practical application of Gabriella's ideas to the
dressing of Mrs. Fowler.

"Yes, you have undoubtedly ideas," she said, discarding in her
enthusiasm the accent she had spent twenty years in acquiring, "and
there is nothing so rare in any department--in any walk of life--as
ideas. You have style, too," she pursued admiringly, turning her eyes on
Gabriella's figure in one of her Parisian models. "It is very rare--such
chic. You wear your clothes with a grace."

"That, also, is a marketable asset in a dressmaker," laughed Gabriella.
"Do you know I ought to have been a dressmaker, Madame. Only I hate the
very sight of a needle."

"But I never sew! I haven't had a needle in my hand for twenty
years--no, not for thirty," protested Madame.

"Then I mustn't give up hope. If I ever have to earn my living, I'll
come to you, Madame."

Then Madame bowed and smiled and shrugged as if at a gracious jest, and
Mrs. Fowler observed in her crisp, matter-of-fact manner: "Yes, my
daughter has a genuine instinct for dress, and, as you say, that is very
rare. She carries her clothes well, doesn't she? It's such a blessing to
be tall--though my husband insists that the women who have ruled the
world have always been small ones. But I do love a fine figure, and she
looks so distinguished in that cherry-coloured cloth, doesn't she?"

To all of which Madame agreed, as she bowed them out, with her
ingratiating professional manner.

"It's so lovely to have clothes," said Gabriella, sinking back in the
victoria, "money is one of the best gifts of the gods, isn't it?"

"It's hard to do without it," replied Mrs. Fowler, brisk and perfectly
businesslike even in her generalizations. "I expect the worst suffering
in the world comes from poverty."

Then, after a thoughtful pause, she added with the practical air of one
who scorns to be abstract: "But do you know I sometimes think Archibald
and I'd both be happier if we had never made any money at all--I mean,
of course, except just enough to live simply somewhere in the South.
When once you begin, you can't stop, and I wish sometimes we had never
begun." Above the narrow black velvet strings of her bonnet, her round
florid face, from which the fine tracery of lines had vanished, assumed
the intent and preoccupied expression which Gabriella associated with
the pile of unpaid bills on the little French desk. "I believe Archibald
feels that way, too," she concluded after a minute, while her firm and
unemotional lips closed together over the words.

"But you enjoy it so much when you have it."

"That's just the trouble. You have to enjoy it as quickly as you can
because you never know when you are going to lose every bit of it
without warning. It's been that way ever since I married--rich one year,
poor the next, or poor for two years and then rich for three. Life has
been a seesaw with prosperity at one end of the plank and poverty at
the other. Of course I know," she pursued, with characteristic lucidity,
"that you think me dreadfully extravagant, but we'd just as well spend
it as lose it, and it's sure to be one thing or the other."

"But couldn't you save something? Couldn't you put by something for the
future?" Saving for the future was one of the habits of Gabriella's
frugal past which still clung to her.

"That would go, too. If we ever come to ruin--and heaven knows we've
been on the brink of it before this--Archibald would not keep back a
penny. That's his way, and that's one of the reasons I spend all we
have--up to the very margin of his income."

The logic of this was so confusing that Gabriella was obliged to stop
and puzzle it out. At the end she could only admit that Mrs. Fowler's
reasoning processes, which were by nature singularly lucid and exact,
showed at times a remarkable subtlety--as if some extraneous hybrid
faculty had been grafted on the simple parent stock of her mind.

"I can't help feeling, though," resumed the practical little lady before
Gabriella had reached the end of her analysis, "that I'd be a great deal
happier at this minute if we'd been poor all our lives."

"It wouldn't have suited George," observed George's wife with an
inflection of irony.

"He mightn't have liked it, but I believe it would have been a great
deal better for him," replied Mrs. Fowler, while she bowed gravely to a
woman in a passing victoria. "There are many things George can't be
blamed for, and the way he was brought up is one of them. Of course,
he's no good whatever as a business man--his father hardly ever sees
him in the office--but it's useless to scold him about it, for it only
exasperates him. But he might have been a sensible, steady boy, if he
had been brought up in some small place in the South where there was
nothing to tempt him."

That there was any place in the South small enough not to afford
temptation to George seemed improbable to Gabriella; but she felt that
Mrs. Fowler's earnest belief, supported as it was by the unshakable prop
of maternal feeling, hardly justified the effort she must make to dispel
it; and she had still no answer ready when the carriage turned into
Fifty-seventh Street, and stopped beside the pavement where little
Frances--they had already begun to call her Fanny--sat in a
perambulator. Flushed and smiling, with her red mouth gurgling
delightedly, and a white wool lamb clasped in her arms, the adorable
child was certainly worth any seesaw of destiny, any disillusioning
experience of marriage.

Before the beginning of the next winter Gabriella's second child was
born--a brown, sturdy boy, who came into the world with a frowning
forehead and crying lustily from rage (so the nurse said) not from
fright. He was named Archibald after his grandfather, who developed
immediately a passionate fondness for him. His eyes were brown like the
eyes of the Carrs, though by the time he was two years old, he was
discovered to be painfully near-sighted, a weakness which Mrs. Carr,
when she heard of it, insisted he must have inherited from his father's
side of the family. He was not nearly so beautiful a baby as little
Fanny had been; but he was from the very beginning a child of much
character, strong, mutinous, utterly uncompromising in his attitude
toward life. When he was first put into shoes he fought with
desperation, and surrendered at last, neither to persuasion nor to
punishment, but to an exhaustion so profound that he slept for hours
with his small protesting feet doubled under him and sobs of fury still
bursting from his swollen lips. The next day the struggle began again,
and Mrs. Fowler remarked sympathetically:

"You'll never be able to break his will, Gabriella. He is unmanageable."

"I don't want to break his will, mamma," replied Gabriella, for she
belonged to a less Scriptural generation, "but he must be disciplined,
if it kills me." Pale, gentle, resolute, she waited for Archibald to
surrender. In the end she carried her point and won the adoring
obedience of Archibald. There was a magnanimous strain in him even at
that age, Gabriella used to say, and though he fought to the bitter end,
he bore no malice after he was once soundly defeated.

Long afterwards, when Gabriella looked back on the next few years of her
life, she could remember nothing of them except the tremendous
difference that the children had made. All the rest was blotted out, a
drab blur of what Mrs. Fowler described with dignity as "social duties,"
moving always against the variable atmosphere of the house, which was
gay or sombre, light or gloomy, according to the fluctuating financial
conditions in Wall Street. There were extravagant winters and frugal
winters; winters of large entertainments and winters of "women's
luncheons"; but always the summers shimmered green and peaceful against
the blue background of the Virginia mountains. The summers she loved
even in memory; but of the winters she could recall but one glowing
vision, and that was of Patty. Though she had lost George, she had
gained Patty, and it was impossible to deny that Patty might be
compensation for almost any lack.

For the rest she made few friends, partly from reserve, partly from the
shyness she always felt in the presence of strangers. It was difficult
to establish fundamental relations at dinners or even at women's
luncheons; social reforms were scarcely beginning to be fashionable; and
apart from the reading which she did in order, as she said, "to keep her
mind open," her life narrowed down gradually to a single vivid centre of
activity. She lived in her children and in the few books she obtained
from the library--(since the purchase of books, even in extravagant
years, represented gross prodigality to Mrs. Fowler)--in Patty's
friendship, and in the weekly gossiping letters she received from her
mother.

Mrs. Carr had long ago given up her plan to live with Gabriella and
George; and a failure of circumstances, which fitted so perfectly into
the general scheme of her philosophy, had done much to fortify the
natural melancholy of her soul. Since even so gentle a pessimist was not
devoid of a saving trace of spiritual arrogance, she found consoling
balm in the thought that she had refrained from reminding Gabriella how
very badly the Carrs had all married. There was, for example, poor
Gabriel's brother Tom, whose wife had "gone deranged" six months after
her wedding, and poor Gabriel's sister Johanna, who had died (it was
common gossip) of a broken heart; and besides these instances, nobody
could possibly maintain that Jane had not made a disastrous choice when
she had persisted, against the urgent advice of her mother, in marrying
Charley. Yes, the Carrs had all married badly, reflected Mrs. Carr, with
the grief of a mother and the pride of a philosopher whose favourite
theory has been substantially verified--every one of them, with, of
course, the solitary exception of poor Gabriel himself.

Her weekly letters, pious, gossipy, flowing, reached Gabriella regularly
every Monday morning, and were read at breakfast while Mr. Fowler
studied the financial columns of the newspaper, and his wife opened her
invitations in the intervals between pouring out cups of coffee and
inquiring solicitously if any one wanted cream and sugar.

"What's the news?" George would sometimes ask carelessly; and Gabriella
would glance down the pages covered with the formless characters of Mrs.
Carr's fine Italian handwriting (the ladylike hand of the 'sixties), and
read out carefully selected bits of provincial gossip, to which a
cosmopolitan dash was usually contributed by the adventures, matrimonial
or merely amorous, of Florrie Caperton. Hard, dashing, brilliant on the
surface at least, a frank hedonist by inclination, if not by philosophy,
Florrie had triumphantly smashed her way through the conventions and the
traditions of centuries.

"It's really dreadfully sad about Florrie," wrote Mrs. Carr. "I am so
sorry for poor Bessie, who must feel it more than she lets any one see.
While Algernon was alive we always hoped he would keep Florrie straight
(you remember how everybody used to talk about her when she was a girl),
but now he has been, dead only a year and a half, and she has already
married again and gotten a divorce from her second husband. You know
she ran away with a man named Tom Westcott--nobody ever heard of him,
but she met him at the White Sulphur Springs, where he had something to
do with the horses, I believe--and the marriage turned out very badly,
though for my part I don't believe he was the least bit to blame.
Florrie is so reckless that she would make any man unhappy, and two
weeks after the wedding she was separated from him and was back here
with Bessie, looking as well and pretty as I ever saw her. You know
black was so becoming to her that she didn't take it off even when she
eloped, and now after her divorce she always wears it, just as if she
were still in mourning for poor Algernon. Nobody would believe, unless
they had seen her in it, how very loud black can be. I used to think
widows ought to wear it because it kept them from being noticed, but on
Florrie it is the most conspicuous thing you ever imagined--as Cousin
Jimmy says it simply makes her blaze, and you know how striking she
always was anyway. I am sure I should think it would be embarrassing for
her to go in the street in New York where nobody knows that she is
really a lady--or at least that she was born a lady on her father's
side--and this reminds me--(I declare I ramble on so I can never
remember what I started to say)--but this reminds me that she has just
been in to tell Jane that she is going to New York to take an apartment
somewhere downtown; she told me the street and the number, but I have
forgotten both of them. Jane says she looks more beautiful than ever
after her last tragic experience (though she doesn't seem to think it
tragic at all), but I was brought up to believe that a divorced woman,
even if she is in the right, ought to live in a retired way and show
that she feels her position. Now, I saw Florrie for a minute as she was
going out and she ran on like a girl of sixteen--you would think from
her talk that she is not a bit sensitive about the unfortunate situation
she is in. She had on a huge bunch of violets, and Cousin Pussy tells me
another man is paying her the most devoted attention. Please don't
mention this to a soul--I hate so to spread gossip--but I felt that you
ought to be prepared, for Florrie will certainly come to see you, and
you must be kind and polite to her, though I do not think you ought ever
to be intimate again. It is not as if she were merely unfortunate--many
divorced women are that, and we sympathize with them because they show
that they realize their position--but I cannot believe that Florrie is
unfortunate if she allows another man to pay her such marked attention,
and even accepts handsome presents from him. So do be careful, my child,
and if you find yourself in an embarrassing situation, consult Mrs.
Fowler and be guided by her advice."

"Florrie Spencer is coming to New York," said Gabriella on the morning
she received Mrs. Carr's letter. "You know she has just been divorced
from her second husband--somebody she met at the White Sulphur Springs."

George looked up interested, from his breakfast.

"Florrie coming, is she?" he remarked. "Well, she's great fun. I wonder
if she has her eye on anybody now?"

"Not on you, I hope," observed his father, who joked mildly on the
mornings when the news was good; "but she's a beautiful woman, and
she'll doubtless be able to get whatever she has set either her heart or
her eye on."

"She'll marry again within six months," prophesied Mrs. Fowler, with an
anxious glance in the direction of her husband's coffee cup. "Poor Algy,
I always thought he was a hundred times too good for her," she added,
while she abstractedly buttered her toast. It was one of their
extravagant years, and the butter was delicious.

"He adored her," said Gabriella. "I shall never forget the evening they
spent here. He couldn't keep his eyes away from her. If she had been the
most admirable character on earth he couldn't have loved her better."

"As if a man ever loved a woman because of her character!" remarked Mrs.
Fowler, from the security of her experience.

Several months later Florrie arrived, gay, brilliant, and beautiful,
with her waxlike complexion as unlined by care as if it had been on the
face of a doll. Though she had lightened her mourning since Mrs. Carr
had described her to Gabriella, she still wore black, and her flaring
skirt, her inflexible collar, and her lace sleeves, narrow at the
shoulder and full at the wrists, resembled a fashion plate. Perched at a
daring angle above her wheaten-red pompadour, with its exaggerated
Marcel wave, she wore a curiously distorted hat of black velvet,
lavishly overtrimmed with ostrich feathers; and before this miracle of
style, Gabriella became at once oppressively aware of her own lack of
the quality which Florrie would have described as "dash." Already
Florrie's figure was becoming slightly too protuberant for the style of
the new century, and after kissing Gabriella effusively, she stood for a
minute struggling for breath, in the attitude of her mother, with her
hands pressed to the palpitating sides of her waist.

"I told mother I was certainly coming to see you right straight," began
Florrie, while, with her recovered breath, her figure curved as suddenly
as if it were moved by a spring into the fashionable bend of the period.
"I've been perfectly crazy to come, but between dressmakers and theatres
and I don't know what else, I simply haven't had a minute in which I
could sit down and breathe. Mother says I ought to be downright ashamed
of myself for being so frivolous when I've just got out of such a
scrape--did you ever hear before of anybody getting married for two
weeks, Gabriella? But I know you never did--you needn't trouble to tell
me so. Well, mother says I oughtn't to look so pleased, and I tell her
there might be some sense in that if I'd stayed in the scrape, but if I
haven't a right to look pleased at getting out, I'd like to know who
has. It was all too funny for words, now, wasn't it? Of course, I
shouldn't dream of talking to everybody like this--even if I am a big
talker, I reckon I know when to hold my tongue and when not to--but I've
always told you everything, Gabriella, and I don't mind the least bit in
the world telling you about this. It always relieves my mind to talk to
somebody I can trust, and I know I can trust you. Don't you remember the
way I used to run in on rainy afternoons when you lived way over in Hill
Street, and tell you all about Fred Dudley and Barbour Willis? And then
I used to come and talk about poor Algy by the hour. Wasn't it too
distressing about poor Algy? I don't believe I'll ever get over it if I
live to be a hundred, and even if I do run on like this, it doesn't mean
that my heart isn't broken--simply broken--because it is. Mother used
to say, after father died, that you couldn't measure a widow's grief by
the length of her veil; and that's just exactly the way I feel about
Algy. I know you'll understand, Gabriella, because you always understand
everything--"

"He was so deeply in love with you," observed Gabriella sympathetically,
while Florrie, diving amid the foam of her laces, brought out a tiny
handkerchief, and delicately pecked at the corner of her eye, not near
enough to redden the lid and not far enough away to disturb the rice
powder on the side of her nose.

"He was crazy about me to the very last, you never saw anything like it.
Of course we weren't a bit alike, I don't mind telling you so,
Gabriella, because I know you'll never repeat it. We weren't really
congenial, for Algy was just wrapped up in his law books, and there were
whole days together when he wouldn't open his mouth, but that didn't
seem to make any difference because, as he used to say, one of us had to
listen sometimes. But, you know, mother says a pair of opposites makes
the happiest marriage, and after being married to Algy, I feel how true
that is. I got into the habit of talking so much when I used to run on
about nothing to cheer him up--he was always so grave and glum even as a
boy, you remember--and during his last illness--you know he died of
Bright's disease, poor darling, and it came on just like that!--he used
to make me talk to him for hours and hours just to keep him from
thinking. Well, well, that's all over now, and I don't care what anybody
says, my heart's buried with Algy. I don't believe you were ever in love
but once either, were you, Gabriella?" she inquired cheerfully.

"Well, what about Mr. Westcott? Is that his name?" asked Gabriella,
without malice. As a study Florrie had always interested her, for she
regarded her less as an individual than as an awful example of the utter
futility of moral maxims. Florrie was without intelligence, without
feeling, without imagination, virtue, breeding, or good taste, yet
possessing none of these qualities, she had by sheer beauty and "dash"
achieved all the ends for which these qualities usually strive. Good
humour she had as long as one did not get in her way; but, beyond this
single redeeming grace, she was as empty of substance as a tinted shell
filled with sea foam. If power and efficiency are the two supreme
attributes of success, then by all the laws and principles of logic,
Florrie ought to have been a failure. But she was not a failure. She was
a fool whose incomparable foolishness had conferred not only prosperity,
but happiness upon her. She shone, she scintillated, she diffused the
glow of success. Though she was undeserving of admiration, she had been
surfeited on it from her childhood; though she was devoid of the moral
excellence which should command love, by a flashing glance or a waving
curl, she could bring the most exalted love down from the heavens. There
was no question that Algernon had really loved her to distraction, and
Algernon was a man of sense, of breeding, of distinction. As for
Florrie, she had, of course, as little capacity for loving as she had
for thinking.

"Tom Westcott! I declare, Gabriella, I am almost ashamed to tell you
about him. You've never been to a Virginia summer resort, so you
couldn't understand that there is something about a Virginia summer
resort that just seems to make any man better than none at all. You get
so bored, you know, that you'd flirt with a lamp-post if there wasn't
anything human around; and when you haven't laid eyes on a real sure
enough man for several months, it's surprising how easy it is to take up
with the imitation ones. Of course, I don't mean that Tom wasn't all
right as far as family and all that goes; but he was simply no earthly
account--he was just mean all through, and as soon as I found it out, I
packed right straight up and left him. After Algy I couldn't have stood
one of that sort, and there was no sense in my trying to. Life is too
short, I always say, for experiments. There's no use sticking to a bad
job when you can get away from it. That's the trouble with so many
women, you know; they try and try to stand the wrong man when they know
all the time that it isn't a particle of use, and that they are just
bringing wrinkles into their faces; and then by the time they give up,
they're all worn out and it's too late to look about for another chance.
Now, I've seen too much of that kind of thing, and so I thought two
weeks weren't long enough to bring wrinkles in my face, but they were
plenty long for me to find out whether or not I could stand any man on
earth. So here I am in little old New York instead of being stuck away
in some God-forsaken Virginia town, where there isn't even a theatre,
darning stockings for a family of children. But there's no use talking
about that--" And Florrie, who had been born a lady on her father's
side, adjusted her pompadour under the high bandeau of her hat, and rose
with a dashing air from the sofa.

"I'd love to see the babies, darling," she said; "I'm just crazy about
babies."

"They are out in the Park. I'm so sorry. Perhaps they are coming in now,
I hear the door-bell."

But it was George instead of the children; and he entered presently with
a moody look, which vanished quickly before the brilliant vision of
Florrie.

"I thought I heard you," he observed with the casual intimacy of an old
playmate, "so I came in. Have you got fixed yet? What about the
apartment? You'd better let me help you hunt for it?"

"Oh, I'm not sure about the apartment. I may take a house--a teeny weeny
one, you know," said Florrie, as she bent softly toward him, scented and
blooming. If one didn't know there wasn't really a bit of harm in her,
one would be puzzled just what to think of her, Gabriella reflected.
Amid the perfect order of Gabriella's inner life, the controlled
emotion, the serene efficiency, the balanced power, Florrie's noisy
beauty produced a disturbing effect. She liked her because she had known
her from childhood, and it was impossible to think any harm of a girl
one had played with at school; but she could not deny that Florrie was
vulgar. As a matter of fact, Florrie's mother had been vulgar before
her, and the thin strain of refinement inherited from her father's stock
had obviously been overborne by the torrential vulgarity of the maternal
blood.

"A house? Well, that's even better," replied George. "I've no use for
apartments, have I, Gabriella?"

His effrontery was incredible! That he should joke about his broken
promise before Florrie amazed Gabriella even after her disillusioning
experience with him.

"Then I'll get you to help me. Will you lend him to me, darling?"
trilled Florrie piercingly from the door, where she stood in a striking
pose which revealed her "fine figure" to the best advantage. The request
was directed to Gabriella, but her blue eyes mocked a challenge to
George while she spoke.

"Oh, I'll give him," answered Gabriella pleasantly. There was no harm in
it, she told herself innocently again; but it was a pity that Florrie,
with her remarkable beauty, should be quite so ill bred.

Five minutes later when George came back from putting Florrie into her
hansom, he remarked carelessly:

"She's got a figure all right."

"Yes, she looks beautiful in black. No wonder she won't leave it off."

"By Jove, to think it's little Florrie! Why, I don't believe there's a
finer figure in New York. When she passed by the club yesterday the men
were breaking their necks to look out of the window." Then, as if struck
by a sudden suspicion, he added quickly: "Where did she get her money
from? I thought Algy died rather hard up."

"I never heard much about it. Mrs. Spencer must give her something."

"I don't believe the old lady has a penny over three thousand a year,
and that won't do in New York. This Westcott didn't have anything, did
he?"

"It never occurred to me to ask," replied Gabriella indifferently. What
did it matter to George where Florrie got her money? But, then, George
was always like that, and though he never made a penny himself, he was
possessed of an insatiable curiosity about the amount and the sources of
other people's incomes.

"Well, it looks queer," he observed with intense interest after a
prolonged pause. "That short pearl necklace she had on couldn't have
cost a cent under ten thousand dollars."

"It was lovely. I noticed how well the pearls matched," replied his
wife. She was not in the least excited about the methods by which
Florrie had obtained the necklace--all that was a part of the miraculous
way she got everything she wanted in life--but she liked the pearls and
she had envied Florrie while she looked at them.

A deep furrow had appeared between George's eyebrows, and his mouth
sagged suddenly at the corners, giving his face the ugly look Gabriella
distrusted and dreaded. While she watched him she recalled vaguely that
she had once thought the latent brutality in his face an expression of
power. How young she had been when she married him! How inconceivably
ignorant! Yet at twenty years she had imagined herself wise enough to
judge a man. She had deluded herself with the sanctified fallacy that
mere instinct would guide her aright--that her marriage would be
protected from disaster by the infallible impulse which she had mistaken
for love.

"I wonder," said George with a suddenness that startled her out of her
musing--"I wonder if it can be Winston Camp!"

And Gabriella, who had forgotten Florrie, looked up to remark
absentmindedly: "Winston Camp? You mean the man who dined here last
winter and couldn't eat anything but nuts?"

In the months that followed George did not mention Florrie again, and if
he pursued his investigations into the obscure sources of her
livelihood, his researches did not lead him back in the direction of
Gabriella. But, from the day of Florrie's visit, it seemed to Gabriella,
when she thought of it afterwards, his casual indifference began to
develop into brutal neglect. Not that she regretted his affection, or
even his politeness, not that she cared in the least what his manner
was--this she made quite plain to herself--but her passion to see life
clearly, to test experience, to weigh events, brought her almost
breathlessly round again to the question, "What does it mean? Is there
something hidden? Am I still the poor abject fool that Jane was or am I
beginning really to be myself?"

"You aren't looking well, Gabriella," said Mrs. Fowler at breakfast one
morning when George, as she confided afterwards to Patty, had behaved
unspeakably to his wife before his father came down. "I want you to go
about with me more, as you used to do before the children took up all
your time."

Gabriella had just crossed George's will about something--a mere trifle,
something about calling on Florrie--and he had turned to her with a look
of hatred in his eyes, a kind of nervous, excitable hatred which she had
never seen until then. "Why does he look at me like that?" she had
thought quite coldly; "and why should he have begun all of a sudden to
hate me? Why should my words, my voice, my gestures even, exasperate him
so profoundly? Of course he has stopped loving me, but why should that
make him hate me? I stopped loving him, too, long ago, yet there is only
indifference, not hate, in my heart."

"You must go about with me more, dear," repeated Mrs. Fowler, in
obedience to a vague but amiable instinct, which prompted her to shield
George, to deceive Gabriella, to deny the truth of facts, to do anything
on earth except acknowledge the actual situation in which she found
herself. "Don't you think she ought to go about more, George?"

"I don't care what she does," returned George brutally, while his blue
eyes squinted in the old charming way from which all charm had departed.
"I don't care--I don't care--" He checked himself, snapping his words in
two with a virulent outburst of temper, and then, rising hurriedly, as
his father entered the room, he left the table with his breakfast
uneaten.

"He's so nervous. I can't imagine what's the matter. I hope Burrows
wasn't in the pantry. Did you say anything to hurt his feelings before
you came down, Gabriella?" asked Mrs. Fowler, distractedly, with one eye
on her daughter-in-law and the other on the pantry door, through which
the discreet Burrows had disappeared at the opportune instant.

"No, I haven't said anything that I can remember," answered Gabriella
with calmness. It occurred to her that George's behaviour was hardly
that of a man whose "feelings" had been wounded, but she made no audible
record of her reflection; "and of course I'll go out with you if you
want me to," she added, for she felt sincerely sorry for her
mother-in-law, even though she had ruined George in his infancy. "I am
going to the library to return a book, and we might pay some calls
afterwards."

"That's just what I was thinking," responded Mrs. Fowler, embarrassed,
bewildered. Was it possible, she asked herself, that Gabriella had not
noticed George's outrageous behaviour?

But Gabriella did not "go about" with her mother-in-law that season, for
a higher will than Mrs. Fowler's frustrated that lady's benevolent
intentions. To a casual glance it would have seemed the merest accident
which disturbed these felicitous plans, but such accidents, when
Gabriella looked back on them afterwards, appeared to her to be woven
into the very web and pattern of life. It was plainly incredible that
her whole existence should be changed merely because Archibald was
naughty, as incredible as the idea that Destiny should have used so
small a medium for the accomplishment of its tragic designs.

But Archibald had hardly reached the Park before he was brought home,
resisting with all his strength, because he had given his shoes and
stockings away; and the next ten minutes, while Gabriella gently
reasoned with him on the pavement, were pregnant with consequences.

"He's fierce, that's what he is," declared the nurse, who was Irish and
militant. "He kicked me so I'm black and blue, ma'am, all over the
shins, and every bit because I wouldn't let him pull off his shoes and
socks and give 'em to a barefooted boy in the Park. You tell her,
darlin'"--to Frances, who stood, bright-eyed and indignant, in her white
fur coat and little fur cap which she wore drawn down tight over her
curls--"you tell your mamma, darlin', you tell her how fierce and bold
he was, and how he kicked me about the shins because I wouldn't let him
take off his shoes and socks."

"The poor boy wanted 'em! I won't wear 'em! I will give 'em to the poor
boy!" screamed Archibald, furious, scowling, struggling in the
restraining hold of his nurse. He was a robust, thick-set child of four
years, with a thatch of dark-brown hair, and strange near-sighted brown
eyes, behind spectacles which he had worn from the time he could walk.

"What is it, Archibald? Tell me about it. Tell mother," pleaded
Gabriella while he struggled desperately to escape from her tender
grasp. "Who was the poor boy and where did you see him?"

"He oughtn't to have been in the Park, ought he, mamma?" inquired
Frances, who was guiltless of democratic tendencies. "Ragged people have
no right to be in the Park, have they?"

"Hush, darling, I want to hear what Archibald has to say. Tell me about
him, Archibald. Shall you and I go out to look for him?"

"If you do, he'll pull his shoes and socks right off again," insisted
Frances emphatically. "He had got one quite off and had given it to the
boy before we saw him, and Nanny was obliged to go and take it back, and
I had to hold Archibald while she put it on him. He screamed very loud
and everybody stopped to ask what was the matter, and one old gentleman
with a long beard, like Moses in the Bible, gave Archibald a little box
of candy--he took it out of his pocket--but Archibald threw it away, and
kept on hollerin' louder than ever--"

"That's right, darlin', you tell her," urged nurse, a stout woman with a
red face and three gold teeth in the front of her mouth.

"I understand now. Don't tell any more, Fanny," said Gabriella. "Now,
Archibald dear, will you stop crying and be good?"

"Am," replied Archibald sullenly, twisting out of her hands.

"Am what, darling?"

"Am good."

"Well, will you stop crying?"

"Have."

"Then what do you want? Shall we go back and look for the poor boy?"

"Hadn't any shoes. Feet were red. Wanted to give him shoes, 'cause I had
plenty more at home. Nanny jerked him back. Hated Nanny. Hoped she would
die. Hoped bears would eat her. Hoped tigers would eat her. Hoped lions
would eat her. Hoped robins would cover her with leaves in the Park--"

While he sobbed out his accusations against nurse, Gabriella, holding
his hand tightly in hers, turned toward Fifth Avenue, and by the time he
was pacified, they had walked several blocks together, with nurse and
Fanny sedately bringing up the rear. Then, at last, having reasoned him
alike out of his temper and his generosity, Gabriella retraced her
steps, and entering the house with her latchkey, ran quickly up the
stairs to the closed door of Mrs. Fowler's room. As she raised her hand
to knock the sound of her own name reached her, and almost involuntarily
she hesitated for an instant.

"Yes, Gabriella is out. I saw her a minute ago on her way to the Park
with the children."

"Well, somebody ought to tell her, mother. I think it is perfectly
outrageous to keep her in ignorance. Everybody is talking about it."

"Oh, Patty, you couldn't! How on earth could you tell her a thing like
that?" wailed George's mother, and she went on with a plaintive sigh as
Gabriella opened the door: "George was always so mad about beauty, and
though Gabriella has a fine face, she isn't exactly--"

Then, at the startling apparition of Gabriella, with her face paling
slowly above her black furs and her large indignant eyes fixed on them
both, Mrs. Fowler wavered and broke off with a pathetic clutch at the
pleasantness which had entirely departed from her manner. "Why,
Gabriella, I didn't know you had come in! I was just saying to Patty--"
It was, as she said afterwards to her husband, exactly as if her mind
had become suddenly blank. She couldn't to save her life think of a
single word to add to her sentence, and all the time Gabriella was
standing there, as white as a ghost, with her accusing eyes turning
slowly from one to the other of them. "Somehow I just couldn't lie to
her when she looked like that, and the truth seemed too dreadful," Mrs.
Fowler added that night to Archibald. "Damn George!" was Mr. Fowler's
fervent retort. "And it took me so by surprise I almost fainted, for I'd
never in my life heard him swear before," his wife had commented later.
"But aren't men strange? To think he knew how all the time and kept it
to himself! I declare they are entirely too secretive for anything!"

"I heard what you were saying when I knocked," began Gabriella, with
perfect composure. "I don't quite know what it was about, but I think--I
think--"

"It was nothing, dear; Patty and I were gossiping," replied Mrs. Fowler,
with an eagerness that was almost violent. "Oh, Patty, you
wouldn't!"--for Patty had broken in, conquering and merciless, with the
declaration: "If you don't tell Gabriella, mamma, I'm going to. It's
outrageous, anyhow, I've always said so, the way people keep things from
women. Gabriella has a right to know what everybody is saying."

"Of course I've a right to know," rejoined Gabriella, with a firmness
before which Mrs. Fowler felt herself gradually dissolving--"melting
away" was the description she gave of her feeling. "If anybody has a
right to know, I suppose I have. Of course, it's about George. I know
that much, anyhow," she added quietly.

"I don't believe it's half so bad as they say," protested Mrs. Fowler
feverishly. "I don't believe he really keeps her. His father says he
couldn't possibly do it on the allowance he gives him, and, you know,
George doesn't make a cent himself--not a cent. He never supported
himself in his life--"

She paused breathlessly, with a bright and confident glance as if she
had made a point--a minor one perhaps, but still a point--in George's
favour. The jet fringe on her bosom, which had rattled furiously with
her excited palpitations, became gradually quiet, and as she pressed her
lips firmly with her handkerchief, which she had rolled into a ball, she
appeared to be pressing her customary smile back into place.

"It won't last, Gabriella," she began again very suddenly with renewed
assurance. "These things never last, and I think Patty is quite wrong to
insist upon telling you. Of course it is humiliating for a time,
but--but"--she hesitated, and then brought out triumphantly--"he married
very young, you know, and men aren't like women--there's no use
pretending they are. Now when a woman loves a man--"

"But, you see, I don't love George," answered Gabriella, and her awful
words seemed to reverberate through the horrified silence that
surrounded her.

"Not love him? O Gabriella! Of course, it's natural that you should feel
angry and wounded, and that your pride should resent what looks like an
affront to you; but you can't mean in your heart that you've got over
caring. Women don't change so easily. Why, you're his wife--poor foolish
boy that he is--and Florrie--"

"So it's Florrie?" observed Gabriella, with a strangely dispassionate
interest. It was queer, she reflected afterwards, that she had not felt
the faintest curiosity about the woman.

"I always suspected that there was something wrong about her," pursued
Mrs. Fowler, reassured by the knowledge that she was placing the blame
where it belonged according to all the laws of custom and tradition. "I
must say I never liked her manner and her way of dressing, and she made
eyes at every man she was introduced to--even at Archibald--"

"Well, I didn't believe there was any real harm in her," said Gabriella,
in a tone she might have used at one of her mother-in-law's luncheons.
She was still standing near the door, in the very spot where she had
paused at her entrance, with her head held high above the black fur at
her throat, and one gloved hand playing with a bit of cord on the end of
her muff. She could not possibly have taken it better. Bad as the
situation was, it might have been a hundred times worse except for
Gabriella's composure, thought Mrs. Fowler discreetly, adding with an
inexplicable regret, that in her youth women were different. Yes, they
had shown more feeling then, though they had behaved perhaps less well
in a crisis. In spite of her gratitude--and she was sincerely grateful
to her daughter-in-law for not making a scene--she became conscious
presently that she was beginning to cherish an emotion not unlike
resentment on George's account. That the discovery of George's
faithlessness should be received so coolly by George's wife appeared
almost an affront to him. Mrs. Fowler liked Gabriella, she was fond of
her--and nobody could look in the girl's face and not see that she was a
fine woman--but there were times, and this was one of them, when she
thought her a little hard. Had Gabriella wept, had she raged, had she
threatened Florrie's life or happiness, it might have been painful, but
at least it would have been human; and above all things Mrs. Fowler felt
that she liked women to be human.

"Nothing that anybody says or does can excuse George," said Patty
sternly. "He has behaved abominably, and if I were Gabriella, I'd simply
wash my hands of him. I don't care if he is my brother, that doesn't
make me blind, does it? If he were my husband," she concluded
passionately, "I'd feel just the same way about it."

"Oh, you mustn't! Oh, Patty, hush, it's wicked! It's sinful!" moaned
Mrs. Fowler, shutting her eyes, as if the sight of Patty's indignant
loveliness gave her a headache. "Don't try to harden Gabriella's heart
against him. Don't try to make her think she's really stopped loving
him."

Gabriella's answer to this outburst was a look which, as poor Mrs.
Fowler said afterwards, "cut her to the heart." Backing weakly to a
chair, the valiant little lady sat down suddenly, because she felt that
her legs were giving way beneath the weight of her body. And, though she
was unaware of its significance, her action was deeply symbolical of the
failure of the old order to withstand the devastating advance of the
new spirit. She felt vaguely that she wished women and things were both
what they used to be; but this, since she had little imagination, was as
far as she penetrated into the psychology of Gabriella's behaviour.

"But, you see, you're making the mistake of thinking that I love
George," said Gabriella, with a reasonableness which made Mrs. Fowler
feel that she wanted to scream, "and I don't love him--I don't love him
at all. I haven't loved him for a long time--not since the night I saw
him drunk. How could I love a man I've seen drunk--disgustingly drunk--a
man I couldn't respect? I'm not made that way, and I can't help it. Some
women may be like that, but I'm not. I couldn't, even if I wanted to,
love a man who has treated me as George has done. I don't see how any
woman could--any woman with a particle of pride and self-respect. Of
course I had to live with him after I married him," she finished
abruptly. "Marriage isn't made for love. I used to think it was--but it
isn't--"

"But, Gabriella, you don't mean--you can't--" Mrs. Fowler was really
pitiable, for, after all, George was her son, and the ties of blood
would not break so easily as the ties of marriage. In the depths of her
humiliation she had almost convinced herself that she had never
respected George, that she had never believed in him, forgetting the
pride and adoration of her young motherhood. Whatever George did she
could not change his relation to her--she could not shatter the one
indissoluble bond that holds mankind together.

"Gabriella, you don't--you can't--" she repeated wildly.

Then, as Gabriella turned quickly and left the room, a scene--she
became conscious presently that she was beginning to cherish an emotion
not unlike resentment on George's account. That the discovery of
George's faithlessness should be received so coolly by George's wife
appeared almost an affront to him. Mrs. Fowler liked Gabriella, she was
fond of her--and nobody could look in the girl's face and not see that
she was a fine woman--but there were times, and this was one of them,
when she thought her a little hard. Had Gabriella wept, had she raged,
had she threatened Florrie's life or happiness, it might have been
painful, but at least it would have been human; and above all things
Mrs. Fowler felt that she liked women to be human.

"Nothing that anybody says or does can excuse George," said Patty
sternly. "He has behaved abominably, and if I were Gabriella, I'd simply
wash my hands of him. I don't care if he is my brother, that doesn't
make me blind, does it? If he were my husband," she concluded
passionately, "I'd feel just the same way about it."

"Oh, you mustn't! Oh, Patty, hush, it's wicked! It's sinful!" moaned
Mrs. Fowler, shutting her eyes, as if the sight of Patty's indignant
loveliness gave her a headache. "Don't try to harden Gabriella's heart
against him. Don't try to make her think she's really stopped loving
him."

Gabriella's answer to this outburst was a look which, as poor Mrs.
Fowler said afterwards, "cut her to the heart." Backing weakly to a
chair, the valiant little lady sat down suddenly, because she felt that
her legs were giving way beneath the weight of her body. And, though she
was unaware of its significance, her action was deeply symbolical of the
failure of the old order to withstand the devastating advance of the
new spirit. She felt vaguely that she wished women and things were both
what they used to be; but this, since she had little imagination, was as
far as she penetrated into the psychology of Gabriella's behaviour.

"But, you see, you're making the mistake of thinking that I love
George," said Gabriella, with a reasonableness which made Mrs. Fowler
feel that she wanted to scream, "and I don't love him--I don't love him
at all. I haven't loved him for a long time--not since the night I saw
him drunk. How could I love a man I've seen drunk--disgustingly drunk--a
man I couldn't respect? I'm not made that way, and I can't help it. Some
women may be like that, but I'm not. I couldn't, even if I wanted to,
love a man who has treated me as George has done. I don't see how any
woman could--any woman with a particle of pride and self-respect. Of
course I had to live with him after I married him," she finished
abruptly. "Marriage isn't made for love. I used to think it was--but it
isn't--"

"But, Gabriella, you don't mean--you can't--" Mrs. Fowler was really
pitiable, for, after all, George was her son, and the ties of blood
would not break so easily as the ties of marriage. In the depths of her
humiliation she had almost convinced herself that she had never
respected George, that she had never believed in him, forgetting the
pride and adoration of her young motherhood. Whatever George did she
could not change his relation to her--she could not shatter the one
indissoluble bond that holds mankind together.

"Gabriella, you don't--you can't--" she repeated wildly.

Then, as Gabriella turned quickly and left the room, Mrs. Fowler rose
stoically to her feet, adjusted her belt with a tremulous movement of
her hands, and smiled bravely as she went to the mirror to put on her
hat. Heartbroken and distraught of mind though she was, she submitted
instinctively to the lifelong tyranny of appearances.



CHAPTER II

A SECOND START IN LIFE


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But Fanny is waiting for you."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Was she with George?" asked Gabriella indifferently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, Gabriella, have you been out?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER III

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.



CHAPTER IV

THE DREAM AND THE YEARS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a moment Gabriella considered this ruefully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What are you doing?"

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

"And in the evenings?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And you suffered?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Is there some one else?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER V

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_.

     DEAR CHILD:

     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.



CHAPTER VI

DISCOVERIES


"Who is Alice?" she wondered on her way home, "and for whom was she
waiting?" A shopgirl perhaps, and he was, probably--not a clerk in a
shop--he looked more like a mechanic--but hardly a gentleman. Not, at
any rate, what her mother or Jane would call a gentleman--not the kind
of gentleman that George was, or Charley Gracey, for instance. He was
doubtless devoid of those noble traditions by and through which, her
mother had always told her, a gentleman was made out of a man--the
traditions which had created Arthur and Cousin Jimmy as surely as they
had created George and Charley. "I wonder what tradition really amounts
to?" she thought, while she stood on the rear platform of a Harlem
train, grasping the handle of the door as the car swung round a curve.
"All my life, I have been getting farther away from it--a woman has to,
I suppose, when she works--and if I get away from it myself how can I
honestly hold to it for men, who, according to mother, can't be
gentlemen without it?" Then reverting to her first question, she resumed
musingly: "Who _is_ Alice? It would be rather amusing to be Alice for
one evening, and to find out what it means to be loved by a man like
that, even if he isn't a gentleman. He was, I think, the cleanest
creature I ever saw, and it wasn't just the cleanness of soap and
water--it went deeper than that. It was the cleanness of the winds and
the sea--as if his eyes had been washed by the sea. I wonder who Alice
is? A common little shopgirl probably from Sixth Avenue, with padded
hair and painted lips, and smelling of cheap powder. That's just the
kind of girl to fascinate a big, strong, simple creature like that Yes,
of course, Alice is cheap and tawdry and vulgar, with no substance to
her mind." She tried to think of Arthur, but her mental image of him had
become as thin and unsubstantial as a shadow.

When she reached the apartment, Fanny rushed into her arms, and inquired
breathlessly if she had taken the house?

"We went down again to look at it, mother, and we like it even better
than ever. It will be so lovely to live next door to Carlie. We can
tango every evening, and Carlie knows a lot of boys who come in to dance
because the floor is so good."

Her cheeks flushed while she talked, and, for the moment, she lost
entirely her resemblance to Jane, who was never animated, though she
made a perpetual murmurous sound. Unlike Jane, Fanny was vivacious,
pert, and, for her years, extraordinarily sophisticated. Already she
dressed with extreme smartness; already she was thinking of men as of
possible lovers; and already she was beginning, in her mother's phrase,
"to manage her life." Her trite little face, in its mist of golden hair,
which she took hours to arrange, still reminded one of the insipid angel
on a Christmas card; but in spite of the engaging innocence of her look,
she was prodigiously experienced in the beguiling arts of her sex.
Almost from the cradle she had had "a way" with men; and her "way" was
as far superior in finesse to the simple coquetry of Cousin Pussy as the
worldliness of Broadway was superior to the worldliness of Hill Street.
From her yellow hair, which she wore very low over her forehead and
ears, to her silk stockings of the gray called "London smoke," which
showed coquettishly below her "hobble" skirt, and above the flashing
silver buckles on her little pointed shoes of; patent leather, Fanny was
as uncompromisingly modern in her appearance as she was in her tastes or
her philosophy. Her mind, which was small and trite like her face, was
of a curiously speculative bent, though its speculations were directed
mainly toward the by-paths of knowledge which Gabriella, in her busy
life, had had neither the time nor the inclination to explore. For Fanny
was frankly interested in vice with the cool and dispassionate interest
of the inquiring spectator. She was perfectly aware of the social evil;
and unknown to Gabriella she had investigated, through the ample medium
of the theatre and fiction, every dramatic phase of the traffic in white
slaves. Her coolness never deserted her, for she was as temperamental as
a fish, and, for all the sunny white and gold of her surface, she had
the shallow restlessness of a meadow brook. At twelve years of age she
had devoted herself to music and had planned an operatic career; at
fourteen, she had turned to literature, and was writing a novel; and a
year later, encouraged by her practical mother, she had plunged into the
movement for woman suffrage, and had marched, in a white dress and
carrying a purple banner, through an admiring crowd in Fifth Avenue.
To-day, after a variable period, when she had dabbled in kindergarten,
wood engraving, the tango, and settlement work, she was studying for
the stage, and had fallen in love with a matinée idol. Gabriella, who
had welcomed the wood engraving and the kindergartening and had been
sympathetically, though impersonally, aware of the suffrage movement,
just as she had been aware many years before of the Spanish War, was
deeply disturbed by her daughter's recent effervescence of emotion.

"I suppose she'll get over it. She gets over everything," she had said
to Miss Polly, drawing painful comfort from the shallowness and
insincerity of Fanny's nature, "but something dreadful might happen
while she is in one of her moods."

"Not with Fanny," Miss Polly had replied reassuringly. "Fanny knows more
already than you and I put together, and she's got about as much red
blood as a lemon. She ain't the sort that things happen to, so don't you
begin to worry about her. She's got mighty little sense, that's the
gospel truth, but the little she's got has been sharpened down to a
p'int."

"I can't help feeling that she hasn't been well brought up. I did what I
could, but she needed more time and care than I could give her. It
wasn't, of course, as if I'd chosen to neglect her. I have been obliged
to work or she would have starved."

"Oh, well, I wouldn't bother about that. It's like wishing chickens back
in the shell after they're hatched--there ain't a particle of use in it.
If you ask me what I think--then, I'd say that Fanny would be just
exactly what she is if you'd raised her down yonder in Virginia. Her
father's in her as well as you, and it seems to me that she grows more
like him every day that she lives. Now, Archibald is your child,
anybody can tell that at a glance. It's queer, ain't it how the boys
almost always seem to take after the mother?"

"But Charley has a splendid daughter. Think of his Margaret."

"Of course, there ain't any rule that works out every time; but you
know, I'll always take up for Mr. Charley if it's with the last breath I
draw. It ain't always the woman that gets the worst of marriage, though
to hear some people talk you'd think it was nothin' but turkey and plum
puddin' for men. But it ain't, I don't care who says so, and if anybody
but a saint could have married Jane without takin' to drink, I'd like to
have seen him try it, that's all."

That was three weeks ago, and to-night, while Fanny rattled on about the
house in West Twenty-third Street, her mother watched her with a
tolerant affection in which there was neither admiration nor pride. She
was not deluded about Fanny's character, though the maternal mote in her
eye obscured her critical vision of her appearance. But, notwithstanding
the fact that she thought Fanny beautiful, she was clearly aware that
the girl had never been, since she left the cradle, anything but a
source of anxiety; and for the last week or two Gabriella had been more
than usually worried about her infatuation for the matinée idol. In
spite of Miss Polly's assurances that Fanny was too calculating for rash
adventures, Gabriella had spent several sleepless nights over the remote
possibility of an entanglement, and her anxiety was heightened by the
fact that the child told her nothing. They were so different that there
was little real sympathy between them, and confidences from daughter to
mother must spring, she knew, from fulness of sympathy. "I wonder if
she ever realizes how hard I have worked for her?" she thought. "How
completely I've given up my life?" And there rose in her thoughts the
wish that her children could have stayed children forever. "As long as
they were little, they filled my life, but as soon as they get big
enough for other things, they break away from me--even Archibald will
change when he goes away to school, next year, and I shall never have
him again as he is now." At the very time, she knew, when she needed
them most--when middle-age was approaching--her children were failing
her not only as companions, but as a supreme and vital reason for
living. If they could have stayed babies, she felt that she should have
been satisfied to go on forever with nothing else in her life; but in a
little while they would grow up and begin to lead their own intense
personal lives, while she, having outlived her usefulness, would be left
with only her work, with only dressmaking and millinery for a life
interest. "Something is wrong with me," she thought sternly; "the visit
to the judge must have upset me. I don't usually have such wretched
thoughts in the evening."

"Did you bring me your school report, darling?" she asked.

Yes, Fanny had brought it, and she drew it forth reluctantly from the
pages of a novel. It was impossible to make her study. She was as
incapable of application as a butterfly. "I thought you were going to do
better this month, Fanny," said Gabriella reproachfully.

"Oh, mother dear, I want to leave school. I hate it! Please let me begin
to study for the stage. You know you always said the study of
Shakespeare was improving."

They were in the midst of the argument when Archibald came in, and he
showed little sympathy with Fanny's dramatic ambition.

"The stage? Nonsense! What you want is to get safely married," he
remarked scornfully, and Gabriella agreed with him. There was no doubt
in her mind that for some women, and Fanny promised to be one of these,
marriage was the only safeguard. Then she looked at Archibald, strong,
sturdy, self-reliant, and clever; and she realized, with a pang, that
some day he also would marry--that she must lose him as well as Fanny.

"I've had a letter from Pelham Forest, dear," she said--Pelham Forest
was a school in Virginia--"and I am making up my mind to let you go
there next autumn."

"And then to the University of Virginia where Grandfather went?"

"Yes, and then to the University of Virginia."

Though she tried to speak lightly, the thought of the coming separation
brought a pang to her heart.

"Well, I'd rather work," said Archibald stoutly. "I don't want to go
away to school. I'd a long sight rather start in with a railroad or a
steamship company and make my way up."

"But, darling, I couldn't bear that. You must have an education. It's
what I've worked for from the beginning, and when you've finished at the
university, I want to send you abroad to study. If only Fanny would go
to college, too, I'd be so happy."

"Don't you waste any money on Fanny's education," retorted Archibald,
"because it isn't worth it. What we ought to do is to get to work and
let you take a rest. The first money I make, I'm going to spend on
giving you pretty clothes and a rest."

"I don't want to rest, dear," replied Gabriella, with a laugh. "I'm not
an old lady yet, you silly boy." How ridiculous it was that he always
spoke of her work as if it were a hardship--a burden from which she must
be released at the first opportunity. That was so like Cousin Jimmy, a
survival, she supposed, from the tradition of the South. Unlike Fanny,
whose horizon was bounded by her personal inclinations, Archibald seemed
never to think of himself, never to put either his comfort or his career
before his love for his mother. To attempt to shape Fanny's character
was like working in tissue paper, but there was stout substance in
Archibald. Gabriella had tried hard--she told herself over and over
again that she had tried as hard as she could--with both of her
children; and with one of them at least she felt that she had succeeded.
There was, she knew, the making of a splendid man in her son; and his
very ugliness, which had been so noticeable when he was a child, was
developing now into attractiveness. For it was the ugliness of strength,
not of weakness, and there was no trace in his nature of the
self-indulgence which had ruined his father.

"But I don't want to go to college, mother dear," protested Fanny, who
always addressed Gabriella as "dear" when she was about to become
intractable; "I want to go on the stage."

"You are not to see another play, except when I take you, for a whole
year. Remember what I tell you, Fanny!" replied Gabriella sternly. Not
Mrs. Carr herself, not Cousin Becky Bollingbroke, of sanctified memory,
could have regarded an actress's career with greater horror than did the
advanced and independent Gabriella. Any career, indeed, appeared to her
to be out of the question for Fanny (a girl who couldn't even get on a
street car without being spoken to), and of all careers the one the
stage afforded was certainly the last she would have selected for her
daughter.

"I'll remember," responded Fanny coolly, and Gabriella knew in her heart
that the girl would disobey her at the first opportunity. It was
impossible to chaperon her every minute, and Fanny, unchaperoned, was,
in the realistic phrase of her brother, "looking for trouble."

"I'll send her to boarding-school next year," Gabriella determined; and
she reflected gloomily that with Fanny and, Archibald both away, she
might as well be a bachelor woman.

"Well, children, you're both going away next winter," she said
positively. "I can't look after you, Fanny, and make your living at the
same time, so I shall send you to boarding-school. What do you say to
Miss Bradfordine's?"

"That's up on the Hudson, mother. I don't want to go out of New York."
Fanny was genuinely alarmed at last.

"The farther away from New York the better, my daughter."

"What will you do here all alone with Miss Polly?

"Oh, we'll do very well," answered Gabriella with cheerful promptness;
"you need not worry about me."

"If I'm good this summer, will you change your mind, mother?"

"Try being good, and see." Though Gabriella spoke sweetly, it was with
the obstinate sweetness of Mrs. Carr. One thing she had resolved firmly
in the last quarter of an hour: Fanny should go away to boarding-school
next September.

"Ain't you goin' to walk in the suffrage parade this year, Fanny?"
inquired Miss Polly, who always thought it necessary to interrupt an
argument between Gabriella and her daughter.

"I haven't anything to wear," replied Fanny pettishly. Her brief
interest in "votes for women" had evaporated with the entrance of the
matinée idol into her life.

"There's a lovely white gown just in from Paris I'll get for you," said
Gabriella pleasantly. She was tired, for she had had a trying day; but
long ago, when her children were babies, she had determined that she
would never permit herself to speak sharply to them. In Fanny's most
exasperating humours, Gabriella tried to remember her own youthful
mistakes, tried to be lenient to George's faults which she recognized in
the girl's character.

"As if anybody needed to be dressed up to march!" exclaimed Archibald
scornfully, and he added: "She's always acting, isn't she, mother?"

"Hush, dear, you mustn't tease your sister," Gabriella admonished the
boy, though her voice when she spoke to him was attuned to a deeper and
softer note.

"If you make me go to boarding-school next year, I don't care whether
you take the rooms in Twenty-third Street or not," said Fanny sullenly,
for, in spite of her fickle temperament, there was a remarkable tenacity
in her thwarted inclinations.

"Very well. I'll look at the house and decide to-morrow." As the servant
came in to lay the table, Gabriella dismissed the subject of Fanny's
school, and opened the book--it chanced to be a volume of
Browning--which she was reading aloud to the children.

"I am really worried about Fanny," she said to Miss Folly at midnight,
while she lingered in the living-room before going to bed. "I honestly
don't know what to make of her, and I feel, somehow, that she is one of
my failures."

"Well, you can't expect everything to go the way you want it. Did you
see the judge?"

"Yes, I saw him, but it was no use." Her visit to Judge Crowborough
appeared to her perturbed mind as a piece of headstrong and extravagant
folly, and she dismissed it from her thoughts as she had dismissed
heavier burdens in the past. "Men simply won't treat Women in business
as they treat men, and I don't see unless human nature changes, how it
is to be helped. But what about the house in Twenty-third Street? Do you
think I ought to look at it?"

"It was the most homelike place we saw, by a long way. There ain't many
places in New York where you can have a flower-bed in the front yard."

"Do you think Fanny will be happy there? A year before this stage mania
seized her, you know, she was wild to move to Park Avenue."

"Well, you know I've got a suspicion," Miss Folly dropped her voice to a
whisper. "Of course it ain't nothin' but a suspicion, for she never
opens her mouth about it to me, but I've got a right smart suspicion
that that young actor she is so crazy about lives somewhere down there
in that neighbourhood, and she thinks she could watch him go by in the
street. I don't believe, you know, that she's ever so much as spoken to
him in her life."

"It's impossible!" exclaimed Gabriella, for this revelation of Miss
Polly's discernment was astonishing to her; "but if that's the case,"
she added gravely, "I oughtn't to think of moving into the house."

"Oh, well, I don't know that he's anywhere very near, and Fanny's goin'
to be at boarding-school for a year or two and away with Jane at the
White Sulphur in the summers. She won't be there much anyhow, will she?"

"Not much, but how I shall miss her--and, of course, if I miss her, I'll
miss Archibald even more, because he gives me no anxiety. It's odd," she
finished abruptly, "but I've been depressed all day. I suppose my
birthday has something to do with it."

"You ain't often like that, Gabriella. I never saw anybody keep in
better spirits than you do."

"I'm happy, but the spring makes me restless. I feel as if I'd missed
something I ought to have had."

"All of us feel that way at times, I reckon, but it don't last, and we
settle down comfortably after a while to doin' without what we haven't
got. And you've been mighty successful, honey. You've succeeded in
everything you undertook except marriage."

"Yes, except my marriage."

"Well, I reckon things happen and you can't do 'em over again," observed
the little seamstress, with the natural fatalism of the "poor white" of
the South.

As she undressed and got into bed, Gabriella told herself cheerfully
that there was, indeed, no need to worry over things that you couldn't
change after they happened. From the open window a shaft of light fell
on her mirror, and while she watched it, she tried to convince her
rebellious imagination that she was perfectly satisfied, that life had
given her all that she had ever desired. "I have more than most women
anyhow," she insisted, weakening a little. "I've accomplished what I
undertook, and by the time I'm fifty, if things go well, I may become a
rich woman. I'll be able to give Fanny everything that she wants, and if
she hasn't married, we can go abroad every summer, and Archibald can
join us in Switzerland or the Tyrol. About Archibald, at least, I can
feel perfectly easy. He is the kind of boy to succeed. He is strong, he
hasn't a weakness, and I am sure there isn't a brighter boy in the
world." Around the shaft of light in the mirror a stream of sparks, like
tiny comets, began to form and quiver back and forth as if they were
flying. "It's a pity the judge can't help me, but it wouldn't do. I'd
never forget what happened to-day, and you can never tell when trouble
like that is coming. I'll either make Madame give me half the profits
for managing the business or I'll go to Blakeley & Grymn at a salary of
ten thousand a year. She won't let me go, of course, because she knows
I'd take two thirds of her customers with the. Then I'll invest all I
can save in the business until finally I am able to buy it entirely--"
An elevated train passed the corner, and while the rumble died slowly in
the distance, she found herself thinking of Arthur. "How different my
life might have been if I had only stayed true to him. That's the
happiest lot that could fall to a woman, to be loved by a man as
faithful and tender as Arthur." For a few minutes she lay, without
thought, watching the lights quiver and dance in the mirror, and
listening to the faint rumble of the elevated train far up the street.
Then, just as she was falling asleep, a question flashed out of the
flickering lights into her mind, and she started awake again. "I wonder
who Alice is?" she said aloud to the night.

Several weeks, later, at the end of a busy day, Gabriella stood in front
of the house in London Terrace, watching her furniture as it passed
across the pavement and up the flagged walk into the hail. The yard was
neglected and overgrown with dandelions and wire-grass; but an old
rose-bush by the steps was in full bloom, and already Miss Polly was
surveying the tangled weeds with the eye of a destroyer.

"I declare I'm just hungerin' for flowers," she said wistfully,
following the dining-room table as far as the foot of the steps where
Gabriella stood. "The very first thing in the morning before I get
breakfast, I'm goin' to sow some mignonette and nasturtium seeds in that
border along the wall, and fix some window boxes with clove pinks and
sweet alyssum in 'em like your ma used to have in summer. I reckon
that's why I was so set on this place from the first. It looks more like
Richmond in old times than it does like New York."

Beyond the grass and weeds, over which Gabriella was gazing, the street
was so quiet for the moment that it might have been one of those
forgotten squares in Richmond (she had never called them blocks) where
needy gentlewomen still practised "light housekeeping" in the social
twilight of the last century. Now and then a tired man or woman slouched
by from work; once a newsboy stopped at the gate to shout the name of
his paper in belligerent accents; and a few wagons or a clanging car
passed rapidly in the direction of Broadway. From the corner of Ninth
Avenue the elevated road, which seemed to her at times the only
permanent thing in her surroundings, still roared and rumbled its
disturbing undercurrent in her life.

"I think we shall be quite comfortable here," she said, watching the
last piece of furniture pass through the door. "Where are the children?"
The air had the rich softness of summer, and the roving fragrance from
the old garden rose-bush by the steps awakened a strange homesickness in
her heart--that mysterious homesickness which the spring gives us for
places we have never seen.

"The children are upstairs fixing their rooms," replied Miss. Polly,
stooping to pluck up a weed by the roots. "I reckon I'd better go and
tell Minnie to begin gettin' dinner, hadn't I?"

"Yes, I'll come in presently. I hate to leave the air and the roses."

"I wish we had the whole house, Gabriella."

"It would be ever so much nicer, because I'm afraid the man on the first
floor is dreadfully common. I don't like the look of that golden-oak
hatrack in the hail."

"Well, men never did have much taste. Think of the things your Cousin
Jimmy would admire if Miss Pussy didn't tell him not to. Do you
recollect that paper in your parlour at home? Now Mr. Jimmy thought that
paper downright handsome. I've heard him say so."

"It was dreadful, but, do you know, I designed a gown last winter in
peacock blue like that paper, and it was a tremendous success. Poor
mother, I wish she could have seen it--peacock blue with an embossed
border."

"You may laugh about it now, but I don't believe your mother minded it
much. People in old times didn't let things get on their nerves the way
they do to-day."

She went indoors to attend to the dinner table; and as Gabriella turned
back to the steps, she heard the gate slam and a man's voice exclaim
heartily: "I'll see you about it to-morrow." Then a figure came rapidly
up the walk--a large, free figure, with a buoyant swing, which awoke a
trivial and fleeting association in her memory. Without noticing her,
the man stooped for an instant beside the rose-bush, plucked a bud, and
held it to his nostrils as he turned to the steps. His voice, singing a
snatch of ragtime which she recognized without recalling the name of it,
rang out, gay and powerful, as he approached her.

"I've seen him somewhere. Who can he be?" she thought, and then swiftly,
as in a blaze of light, she remembered the May afternoon in West
Twenty-third Street, and "Alice," whom she had wondered about and
forgotten. She had again a vivid impression of bigness, of freshness,
and of gray eyes that, reminded her vaguely of the colour of a storm on
the sea.

"Good evening!" he remarked with impersonal friendliness as he passed
her; and from the quality of his voice she inferred, as she had done on
that May afternoon, that he was without culture, probably without
education.

He went inside; the door of his front room opened and shut, and after a
minute or two the snatch of ragtime floated merrily through his window.
If there was anything on earth she disliked, she reflected impatiently,
it was a comic song.

"He isn't a gentleman. I was right, he is common," she thought
disdainfully, as she went indoors and ascended the stairs. "And he may
make it very disagreeable for us if he insists on bringing common people
into the houses" There was a vague impression in her mind that the males
of the lower classes were invariably noisy.

"I saw the man on the first floor as I came up," she remarked to Miss
Folly. "I hope he isn't going to be an annoyance."

"Mrs. Squires says he's never in evenings. He gets all his meals out
except breakfast, and she fixes that for him. She told me he was hardly
ever here unless he was eatin' or sleepin', so I don't reckon he'll
bother us?"

"Well, I'm glad of that, because he isn't the kind of person I'd like
the children to see anything of. You can tell that he is quite common."

"What does he look like? Is he rough?"

"Oh, no, he is good looking enough--a fine animal. I suppose he's
handsome in a way, and he was dressed very carefully, but, of course, he
isn't a gentleman." For the second time this stranger had made her feel
that she had missed something in life, and she felt almost that she
hated him.

"Oh, well, I don't reckon it will hurt us to pass him in the hall,"
replied Miss Polly soothingly, "as long as he don't bring in any
diseases."

The next day they settled comfortably in the upper rooms and, as far as
sound or movement went, the floor below might have been tenanted by the
dead. When she went out Gabriella passed the dreadful hatrack of
golden-oak in the lower hail; and after a day or two she noticed that
it held a collection of soft felt hats, two overcoats of good cut and
material, and an assortment of gold-headed walking-sticks, which
appeared never to be used. Though she tried to ignore the presence of
the hatrack, there was an aggressive masculinity about it which revived
in her the almost forgotten feeling of having "a man in the house." The
mere existence of a man--of an unknown man--on the first floor, altered
the character not only of the lower hail, but of the entire house; it
was, she felt instinctively, a different place from a house occupied by
women alone. She had seen so little of men in the last ten years that
she had almost forgotten their distinguishing characteristics, and the
scent of tobacco stealing through the closed door of the front room
downstairs came as a fresh surprise when she passed Out in the morning.
"I suppose I'm getting old maidish," she thought. "That comes of leading
a one-sided life. Yes, I am getting into a groove." And she determined
that she would go out more in the evenings and try to take an interest
in the theatre and the new dances. But even while she was in the act of
resolving, she realized that when her hard day's work was over, and she
came home at six o'clock, she was too tired; too utterly worn out, for
anything except dinner and bed. There was still the cheerful hour with
the children (that she had kept up in the busiest seasons); but when the
question of going out was discussed at dinner, she usually ended by
sending the children to a lecture or a harmless play with Miss Polly.
"When you work as hard as I do, there isn't much else for you in life,"
she concluded regretfully, and there swept over her, as on that May
afternoon, a sense of failure, of dissatisfaction, of disappointment.
Youth was slipping, slipping, and she had missed something.

At such moments she thought sadly of her life, of its possibilities and
its significance. It ought in the nature of things, she felt, to mean so
much more than it had meant; it ought to have been so much more vital,
so much more satisfying and complete. As it was, she could remember of
it only scattered ends, frayed places, useless beginnings, and broken
promises. With how many beliefs had she started, and now not one of them
remained with her--well, hardly one of them! The dropping of illusion
after illusion--that was what the years had brought to her as they
passed; for she saw that she had always been growing farther and farther
away from tradition, from accepted opinions, from the dogmas and the
ideals of the ages. The experience and the wisdom of others had failed
her at the very beginning.

At the end of the week, when she and Miss Polly were watering seeds in
the yard one afternoon at sunset, the man from the first floor came
leisurely up the walk, and removing a big black cigar from his mouth,
wished them "good evening" as he passed.

"Good evening," responded Gabriella coolly. She had resolved that there
should be no interchange of unnecessary civilities between the first
floor and the upper storeys. "One can never tell how far men of that
class will presume," she thought sternly.

"Don't you think he's good lookin', honey?" inquired Miss Polly in a
whisper when O'Hara had entered the house with his latchkey and closed
the door after him.

"Is he? I didn't look at him."

"You wouldn't think he'd ever had a day's sickness in his life. I
reckon he's as big as your Cousin Micajah Berkeley was. You don't
recollect, him, do you?"

"He died before I was born. Are those wisps of gray green, in the
border, pinks, Miss Polly?"

"Clove pinks like your ma used to raise. It ain't the right time to set
'em out, but I sent all the way down to Richmond for 'em. I'm goin' to
get a microphylla rose, too, in the fall. Do you reckon it would grow up
North, Gabriella?"

"Well, we might try, anyhow. Where are the children?"

"Fanny's over at Carlie's, an' Archibald said he was goin' to the
gymnasium befo' dinner. He's just crazy about gettin' as strong as the
man on the first floor. He was punching a ball this mornin', and
Archibald saw him. I never knew the boy to take such a sudden fancy."

"When did he speak to him?" asked Gabriella, and her tone had a touch of
asperity so unusual that Miss Polly exclaimed in astonishment: "For
goodness sake, Gabriella, what has come over you? Do you feel any sort
of palpitations? Shall I run after the harts-horn?"

"No, I'm not ill, but I don't like Archibald to pick up acquaintances I
know nothing about."

"I reckon if you're goin' to sample all Archibald's acquaintances,
you'll have a job on your hands. You ain't gone an' taken a dislike to
Mr. O'Hara for nothin', have you?"

"Oh, no, but I have to be careful about the children. Suppose he should
begin speaking to Fanny?" She had been vividly aware of the man as he
passed, and the sensation had provoked her. "If it wasn't for Alice, I
shouldn't have given him another thought," she told herself savagely.
"Imagine me at my age blushing because a strange man spoke to me in the
street!"

"You needn't worry about his admirin' Fanny," replied Miss Polly, in her
matter-of-fact manner, while she lifted the green watering-pot. "He was
on the steps when she set out for school this mornin', an' he didn't
notice her any more than he did me. Fanny ain't the sort he takes notice
of, I could see that in a minute."

"Then he must be blind." There was a resentful sound in Gabriella's
voice. "It embarrasses me when I get on a street car with her because
the men stare so."

"Well, he didn't stare. But it's a mighty good thing that all men
haven't got the same kind of eyes, ain't it? What I could never make out
was why men ever marry women who haven't got curly hair, an' yet they do
it every day--they go right straight out an' do it with their wits about
'em."

The front door opened suddenly, and the man came out again, and,
descended the walk with the springy step Gabriella had noticed at their
first meeting. Notwithstanding his size, he moved with the lightness and
agility of a boy, and without looking at him she could see, as she bent
over the flower-bed, that he had the look of exuberant vitality which
accompanies perfect physical condition. Without meaning to, without
knowing why she did it, she glanced up quickly and met his eyes.

"So you are making a garden?" he remarked, and stopped beside the
freshly turned flower-bed. Against the gray twilight the red of his hair
was like a dark flame, and the vivid colour appeared to intensify the
sanguine glow in his face, the steady gaze of his eyes, and the
cheerful heartiness of his voice.

"He is cyclonic," she said to herself. "Yes, that is the word--he is
cyclonic--but he isn't a gentleman."

"It's a pity to let the yard run to waste," she responded, with an
imperiousness which took Miss Polly's breath away, though it left the
irrepressible O'Hara still buoyantly gay and kind.

"Now it takes a woman to think of that," he observed with an off-hand
geniality which she felt was directed less toward herself than toward an
impersonal universe. "I like to look at that old rose-bush when it is in
bloom, but the idea"--(he pronounced it idee)--"of planting anything
would never have occurred to me."

Gabriella's lips closed firmly, while she sprinkled the earth with an
air of patient finality which made Miss Polly think of Mrs. Carr on one
of her neuralgic days.

"What's that stringy looking grass over there?" pursued the man,
undismayed by her manner.

"Clove pinks." Nothing, she told herself indignantly, could persuade her
to encourage the acquaintance of a man who mispronounced his words so
outrageously.

"And here?" He pointed to the flower-bed she was watering.

"Mignonette and nasturtium seeds."

"When will they come up?"

"Very soon if they're watered."

"And they'll bloom about July, I guess?"

"They ought to bloom all summer. In the autumn, if we have room, we're
going to plant some dahlias, and a row of hollyhocks against the house.
By next summer the yard will look much better."

"By George!" he exclaimed abruptly, and after a minute or two: "Do you
know, I can remember the first time I ever saw a flower--or the first
time I took notice of one, anyway. It was red--a red geranium. There was
a whole cart of 'em, and that's why I noticed 'em, I expect. But a red
geranium is a Jim-dandy flower, ain't it?"

To this outburst Gabriella made no reply. Her will had hardened with the
determination not to be drawn into conversation, and while he waited
with his eager gray eyes--so like the alert, wistful eyes of a great
dog--on her profile, she began carelessly plucking up spears of grass
from the flower-bed.

For a minute he waited expectantly; then, as she did not look up, he
remarked, "So long!" in a voice of serene friendliness, and went on to
the gate. He had actually said "So long" to her, Gabriella, and he had
said it with a manner of established intimacy!

"Well, what do you think of that?" she demanded scornfully of Miss Polly
when he had disappeared up the street.

"I reckon he don't know any better, honey. You don't learn much about
manners in a mine, I 'spose, and when he ain't down in a mine, Mrs.
Squires says he's building railroads across deserts. She says he ain't
ever had anything, education or money, that he didn't pick up for
himself, and you oughtn't to judge him as you do some others you've
known. Anyway, she says he's made a big pile of money."

"I believe you're taking up for him, Miss Polly. Has he bewitched you?"

"I don't like to see you hard, Gabriella. You're almost always so
tolerant. It ain't like you to sit in judgment."

"I am not sitting in judgment, but I don't see why I'm obliged to be
friendly with a strange man who says 'idee.' It would be bad for the
children."

"Mrs. Squires has known him for thirty years--he's forty-five now--and
she says it's a miracle the way he's come up. He was born in a cellar."

"I dare say he has a great deal of force, but you must admit that blood
tells, Miss Polly."

"I never said it didn't, Gabriella--only that there's much more credit
to a man that comes up without it."

"Oh, I'll admire him all you please," retorted Gabriella, "if you'll
promise to keep him away from the children."

Though she spoke sharply, the sharpness was directed not to Miss Polly,
but to herself--to her own incomprehensible childishness. The man
interested her; already she had thought of him daily since she first
came to the house; already she had begun to wonder about him, and she
realized that she should wonder still more because of what Miss Polly
had told her. When he had approached her in the yard, she had been
vaguely disturbed, vaguely thrilled by the strangeness and the mystery
surrounding him; she had been subtly aware of his nearness before she
heard his step, and turning, found his eyes fixed upon her. Her own
weakness in not controlling her curiosity, in recurring, in spite of her
determined resolve to that first meeting, in allowing a coarse, rough
stranger--yes, a coarse, rough, uneducated stranger, she insisted
desperately--to hold her attention for a minute--the incredible weakness
of these things goaded her into a feeling of positive anger. For ten
years there had been no men in her life, and now at thirty-seven, when
she was almost middle-aged, she was beginning to feel curious about the
history of the first good-looking man she encountered--about a mere
robust, boisterous embodiment of masculinity. "What difference can it
make to me who Alice is?" she demanded indignantly. "What possible
difference?" She forced herself to think tenderly of Arthur; but during
the last few months the image of Arthur had receded an immeasurable
distance from her life. His remoteness and his unreality distressed her;
but try as she would, she could not recall him from the gauzy fabric of
dreams to the tangible substance of flesh.

"It isn't that I care for myself," she said to Miss Polly abruptly, as
if she were defending herself against an unspoken accusation.
"I am a working woman, and a working woman can't afford to be
snobbish--certainly a dressmaker can't--but I must look after my
children. That is an imperative duty. I must see that they form
friendships in their own class."

But life, as she had already discovered, has a sardonic manner of its
own in such crises. That night she planned carefully, lying awake in the
darkness, the subterfuges and excuses by which she would keep Archibald
away from O'Hara, and the very next afternoon when she came home from
work she found confusion in the street, a fire engine at the corner,
and, on the steps of her home, the boy clinging rapturously to the hand
of the man.

"You ought to have been here, mother," cried Archibald in tones of
ecstatic excitement. "We had a fire down the street in that apartment
house--and before the firemen came Mr. O'Hara went in and got out a
woman and some children who had been overcome by smoke. He had to lower
them from a fire-escape, and he got every one of them out before the
engine could get here. I saw it all. I was on the corner and saw it all.

"I hope Mr. O'Hara wasn't hurt," remarked Gabriella, but her voice was
not enthusiastic.

"To hear the kid run on," responded O'Hara, overpowered by
embarrassment, "you'd think I'd really done something, wouldn't you?
Well, it wasn't anything. It was as easy as--as eating. Now, I was
caught down in a mine once in Arizona--"

"Tell me about it. Mother, ask him to tell you about it," entreated
Archibald. The boy was obviously consumed with curiosity and delight.
Gabriella had never seen him so enthusiastic, so swept away by emotion.
Already, she suspected, he had fallen a victim to the passion of hero
worship, and O'Hara--the man who spoke of "idees"--was his hero! "I
shall have to be careful," she thought. "I shall have to be very careful
or Archibald will come under his influence."

"Well, I guess I must be going along," remarked O'Hara, a little
nervously, for he was evidently confused by her imperious manner. "A
fellow is expecting me to dinner over at the club."

"But I want to hear about the mine. Mother, make him tell us about the
mine!" cried Archibald insistently.

"I'll tell you another time, sonny. We'll get together some day when
your mother don't want you, and we'll start off on a regular bat. How
would you like that?"

"When?" demanded the boy eagerly. His fear of losing O'Hara showed in
the fervour with which he spoke, in the frantic grasp with which he
still clung to his hand. It occurred to Gabriella suddenly that she
ought to have thrown Archibald more in the companionship of men, that
she had kept him too much with women, that 'she had smothered him in her
love. This was the result of her selfish devotion--that he should turn
from her to the first male creature that came into his life!

Her heart was sore, but she said merely: "That is very kind of you, Mr.
O'Hara, but I'm afraid I mustn't let my boy go off on a regular bat
without me."

"Oh, yes, I may, mother. Say I may," interrupted Archibald with
rebellious determination.

"Well, we'll see about it when the time comes." She turned her head,
meeting O'Hara's gaze, and for an instant they looked unflinchingly into
each other's eyes. In her look there was surprise, indignation, and a
suspicion of fear--why should he, a stranger, come between her and her
son?--and in his steady gaze there was surprise, also, but it was
mingled, not with indignation and fear, but with careless and tolerant
amusement. She knew from his smile that he was perfectly indifferent to
her resentment, that he was even momentarily entertained by it, and the
knowledge enraged her. The glance he gave her was as impersonal as the
glance he gave Miss Polly or the rose-bush or the street with its casual
stream of pedestrians. It was the glance of a man who had lived deeply,
and to whom living meant action and achievement rather than criticism or
philosophy. He would not judge her, she understood, simply because his
mind was not in the habit of judging. His interest in her was merely a
part of his intense, zestful interest in life. She shared with Miss
Polly and Archibald, and any chance object that attracted his attention
for an instant, the redundant vitality of his inquiring spirit. "No
wonder he has worked his way up with all that energy," she reflected.
"No wonder he has made money." His face, with its clear ruddiness, was
the face of a man who has breathed strong winds and tasted the sharp
tang of sage and pine; and she noticed again that his deep gray eyes had
the unwavering look of eyes that have watched wide horizons of sea or
desert. There was no suggestion of the city about him, though his
clothes were well cut, and she was quick to observe, followed the latest
styles of Fifth Avenue. "Yes, he is good looking," she admitted
reluctantly. "There is no question about that, and he has personality,
too--of a kind." His hat was in his hand--a soft hat of greenish-gray
felt--and her eye rested for a moment on his uncovered head with its
thick waves of red hair, a little disordered as if a high wind had
roughened them. "If he only had breeding or education, he might be
really worth while," she added, almost approvingly.

When he spoke again O'Hara ignored Gabriella, and turned his alert
questioning glance on the little seamstress. Fanny had sauntered up the
walk to join the group--Fanny in all the glory of her yellow curls, and
her "debutante slouch "--and he bowed gravely to her without the
faintest change of expression. If he admired Fanny's beauty and pitied
Miss Polly's plainness, there was no hint of it in the indifferent look
he turned from the girl to the old woman.

"The next time you're planting things," he said earnestly, "I wish you'd
set out a red geranium. I saw a cart of 'em go by in the street this
morning and I had half a mind to buy a pot or two for the yard. If I
get some, will you put 'em out?"

"Why, of course, I will. I'll be real glad to," responded Miss Polly,
agreeably flattered by his request. "Is there any special place you want
me to plant them?"

"Anywhere I can see 'em from the window. I'd like to look at 'em while I
eat my breakfast. And while we are about it, wouldn't it be just as well
to set out a whole bed of 'em?" he asked with a munificent gesture which
included in one comprehensive sweep the weeds, the walk, the elm tree,
the blossoming rose-bush, and the freshly turned flower-borders. The
large free movement of his arm expressed a splendid scorn of small
things, of little makeshifts, of subterfuges and evasions.

"Don't you think it would cut up the yard too much to make another bed?"
asked Gabriella, inspired by the whimsical demon of opposition. It was
true that she had no particular fondness for red geraniums; but if Miss
Polly had expressed, on her own account, a desire to plant the street
with them, she would never have thought of objecting.

"Well, the yard ain't much to brag of anyhow," replied Miss Polly with
that careful penetration which never sees below the surface of things.
"To tell the truth I've always had a sort of leanin' toward geraniums
myself--especially rose geraniums. I don't know why on earth," she
concluded with animated wonder, "I never thought of putting rose
geraniums in that window box along with the sweet alyssum. They would
have been the very things and they don't take so much watering."

"That's a bargain, then," said O'Hara, with his ringing laugh which made
Gabriella smile in spite of herself. Then, after shaking hands with each
one of the group, he went down the walk and passed with his vigorous
stride in the direction of Broadway.

When the gate had closed, and his large figure had vanished in the
distance, Gabriella said sternly: "Archibald, you must not lose your
head over strangers. We know nothing on earth about Mr. O'Hara except
that he lives in this house."

"Oh, but, mother, he was splendid at the fire! You ought to have seen
him holding a girl by one arm out of the window. He was as brave as a
fireman, everybody said so, didn't they, Miss Polly?"

"Men of that sort always have courage," observed Gabriella
contemptuously, and despised herself for the remark. What was the matter
with her this afternoon? Why did this man arouse in her the instinct of
combativeness, the fever of opposition? Was it all because she suspected
him of a vulgar intrigue with a shopgirl? And why had she decided so
positively that Alice was vulgar? Certainly, she, a dressmaker, should
be the last to condemn shopgirls as vulgar.

"I declare, I can't begin to make you out, Gabriella," said Miss Polly
uneasily. "I never heard you talk about folks bein' common before. It
don't sound like you."

"Well, he is common, you know," protested Gabriella, with a strange,
almost tearful violence. "Why did he have to shake hands with us
all--with each one of us, even Fanny, when he went away? We'd hardly
spoken to him."

"I don't know what's come over you," observed the seamstress gloomily.
"I reckon I'm common, too, so I don't notice it. But I must say I like
the way he spoke about geraniums. He showed a real nice feelin'."

The words were hardly out of her mouth before Gabriella had caught her
in her arms. "I know I'm horrid, dear Miss Polly," she said penitently,
"but I don't like Mr. O'Hara."

"Then I shouldn't see any more of him than I was obliged to, honey, and
there ain't a bit of use in Archibald's goin' with him if you don't want
him to."

"I don't like to forbid him. Of course, I know nothing against the
man--it is only a feeling."

"Well, feelin's are mighty queer things sometimes," remarked Miss Polly,
scoring a triumph which left the indignant Gabriella at her mercy; "and
when I come to think of it; I don't recollect that yours have always
been such good judges of folks."

The geraniums arrived in a small cart the next morning, but O'Hara did
not appear, and for several weeks, though Gabriella glanced suspiciously
at the hatrack each morning when she passed through the hail, there was
no sign of life in his rooms. Then one afternoon he reappeared as
suddenly as he had vanished, and she found Archibald with him in the
yard when she came home at six o'clock. That the boy would be her
difficulty, she knew by instinct, for he had been seized by one of those
unaccountable romantic fancies to which the young of the race are
disposed. Though the sentiment was certainly far less dangerous than
Fanny's passion for the, matinée idol, since it revealed itself
principally as a robust and wholly masculine ambition to follow in the
footsteps of adventure, Gabriella fought it almost as fiercely as she
had fought Fanny's incipient love affair.

"He is making Archibald rough," she said to Miss Polly, after a
fortnight of unavailing opposition to the new influence in Archibald's
life. "Until we came here," she added despondently, "Archibald loved me
better than anything in the world, and now he seems to think of nothing
but this man."

"It looks to me as if it was mighty good for the child, honey. You can't
keep a boy tied to your apron-strings all the time. Archibald needs a
father the same as other boys, and if he hasn't got one, he's either
goin' to break loose or he's goin' to become a mollycoddle. You don't
want to make a mollycoddle of him, do you?"

"Of course not," answered Gabriella honestly, for, in spite of her
strange fits of unreasonableness, she was still sensible enough in
theory. "I've tried hard to keep him manly--not to spoil him, you know
that as well as I do. And it isn't that I object to his making friends.
I'd give anything in the world if he could know Arthur. If it had been
Arthur," she went on gently, "I should have been glad to have him come
first. I shouldn't have cared a bit if he had loved Arthur better than
me."

"You oughtn't to talk like that, Gabriella, for you know just as well as
can be that Archibald don't love anybody better than he loves you. As
far as I can make out though, Mr. O'Hara sets him a real good example. I
don't see that he's doin' the child a particle of harm, and I don't
believe you see it either. To be sure you don't think much of football,
but it's a long ways better than loafin' round with nothin' to do, and
this boy scout business that Archibald talks so much about sounds all
right to me. Now, he never would have thought a thing about that except
for Mr. O'Hara."

"Yes, that's all right. I approve of that, but I can't help hating to
see a stranger get so strong an influence over my son. It isn't fair of
him."

"Then why don't you tell him to stop it. I believe he'd be sensible
about it, and if I was you, I'd have it every bit out with him."

"If it doesn't stop, I'll find some way of showing him that I object to
the friendship. But, after all, it may be only a fancy of Archibald's.
Anyhow, I'll wait a while before I take any step."

At the beginning of August Gabriella sent the children to the country
with Miss Polly, and sailed, on a fast boat, for a brief visit to the
great dress designers of Paris. Ever since Madame's age and infirmities
had forced her to relinquish this annual trip, Gabriella had taken her
place, and all through the year she looked forward to it as to the last
of her youthful adventures. On her last visit, Billy and Patty had been
in Switzerland; but this summer they met her at Cherbourg; and she spent
several brilliant days with them before they flitted off again, and left
her to the doubtful consideration of dressmakers and milliners. Patty,
who appeared to grow younger and lovelier with each passing year, came
to her room the evening before they parted, and asked her in a whisper
if she had heard of George or Florrie in the ten years since their
elopement?

"Not a word--not a single word, darling. I haven't heard his name
mentioned since I got my divorce."

"You didn't know, then, that Florrie left him six months after they ran
away?"

"No, I didn't know. Does he ever write to you?"

"Not to me, but mother hears from him every now and then when he wants
money badly. Of course she doesn't have much to send him, but she gives
him every penny she can spare. A year ago she had a letter from some
doctor in New Jersey telling her that he was treating George for the
drink habit, and that he needed to be kept somewhere for treatment for
several months. We sent her the money she needed, Billy and I, but in
her next letter she said that George had escaped from the hospital and
that she hadn't heard of him since. That must have been about six months
ago."

"It's dreadful for his mother," observed Gabriella, with vague
compassion, for she felt as if Patty were speaking of a stranger whose
face she was incapable of visualizing in her memory. In the last ten
years she had not only forgotten George, but she had forgotten as
completely the Gabriella who had once loved him. Though it was still
possible for her to revoke the hollow images of the past, she could not
restore to these images even the remotest semblance of reality and
passion. It was as if some nerve--the sentimental nerve--had atrophied.
She could remember George as she remembered the house in Fifty-seventh
Street or her wedding-gown which Miss Polly had made; she could say to
herself, "I loved him when I married him," or, "It was in such a year
that he left me"; but the empty phrases awoke no responsive echoes in
her heart; and it would have been impossible to imagine a woman less
crushed or permanently saddened by the wreck of her happiness. "I
suppose it's hard work that keeps me from thinking about the past," she
reflected while she watched Patty's beautiful face framed by the pale
gold of her hair. "I suppose it's work that has driven everything else
out of my thoughts."

"Have you any idea what became of Florrie?" she asked, moved by a
passing curiosity.

"She left George for a very rich man she met in London. I believe he had
a wife already, but things like that never stood in Florrie's way."

"It's queer, isn't it, because she really has a kind heart."

"Yes, she is kind-hearted when you don't get in her way, but she was
born without any morality just as some people are born without any sense
of smell or hearing. I know several women over here who are like
that--American women, too--and, do you know, they are all surprisingly
successful. Nobody seems to suspect their infirmity, least of all the
men who become their victims."

"I sometimes think," observed Gabriella cynically, "that men like women
to be without feeling. It saves them so much trouble."

The next day Patty fluttered off like a brilliant butterfly, and
Gabriella began to suffer acute homesickness for the house in
Twenty-third Street and her children. Not once during her stay in Paris
did the thought of O'Hara enter her mind; and so completely had she
ceased to worry about his friendship for Archibald that it was almost a
shock to her when, after landing one September afternoon, she drove up
to the gate and found the man and the boy standing together beside a
flourishing border of red geraniums, which appeared almost to cover the
yard.

"Oh, look, Ben, there's mother!" cried Archibald; and turning quickly,
the two came to meet her.

"My darling, I thought you were still in the country," said Gabriella,
kissing her son.

"We've been here almost a week.. The place closed, so we decided to come
back to town. It's much nicer here," replied Archibald eagerly. He
looked sunburned and vigorous, and it seemed to Gabriella that he had
grown prodigiously in six weeks.

"Why, you look so much taller, Archibald!" she exclaimed, laughing with
happiness, "or, perhaps, I've been thinking of you as a little boy."
Then, while her manner grew formal, she held out her hand to O'Hara.
"How do you do, Mr. O'Hara?"

He was standing bareheaded in the faint sunshine, and while her eyes
rested on his dark red hair, still moist and burnished from brushing,
his tanned and glowing face, and on the tiny flecks of black in the
clear gray of his eyes, she was startled by a sensation of strangeness
and unreality as if she were looking into his face for the first time.

"Oh, we're well. I've been playing with Archibald. Did you have a good
crossing?"

"It was smooth enough, but I got so impatient. I wanted to be with the
children."

"Well, I went once, and I was jolly glad to get back again. There was
nothing to do over there but loaf and lie around."

There would be nothing else for him, of course, she reflected; and she
wondered vaguely if he had ever entered a picture gallery? What would
Europe offer to a person possessing neither culture nor a passion for
clothes?

The driver had placed her bags inside the gate; and O'Hara took charge
of them as if it were the most natural thing in the world to carry for
a fellow tenant. Upstairs in the sitting-room he put his burden down,
unfastened the straps, and commented upon the leather of a bag she had
bought in Paris.

"I'd like to have a grip like that myself. Is there anything else I can
help about?"

"No, thank you." She was embracing Fanny, and she did not glance at him
as she responded: "You are very kind, but my trunks are arranged for."

At this he went without a word, and Gabriella began a joyous account of
her trip to the children.

"Year after next, if you work hard with your French, you may both go
with me. Then you'll be big enough to look after each other while I am
with the dressmakers."

"Oh, tell me about the dressmakers, mother. What did you bring me?"
urged Fanny, prettily excited by the thought of her gifts. "I need
dreadfully some dancing frocks. Carlie has a lovely one her mother has
just bought for her."

"I have all your autumn dresses, darling; everything you can possibly
need at Miss Bradfordine's."

Fanny's eager face grew suddenly fretful. "Am I really to go away to
school, mother?"

"Really, precious, both you and Archibald. Think of your poor lonely
mother." Breaking off with a start she glanced inquiringly about the
room, and turned a hurt look on Miss Polly. "Why, where is Archibald? I
thought he was in the room."

"I reckon he must have gone down after Mr. O'Hara. They had just got
back from a ball game, and I 'spose they felt like talking about it.
He'll be up again in a minute, because Mr. O'Hara goes out at six
o'clock."

"But I've just come home." Her lip trembled. "I should think Archibald
would rather be with me."

"Oh, he won't stay, and you'll have him all the evening. Archibald is
just crazy about gettin' you back."

Taking off her hat, a jaunty twist of black velvet from Paris, Gabriella
went into her bedroom and changed to a gown of clear blue crape, which
she took out of the new bag. When she came out again, with her arms
filled with Fanny's gifts, there was a flush in her usually pale face,
and her eyes were bright with determination.

"I put these in my bag, Fanny, so you wouldn't have to wait for the
trunks. Try on this little white silk."

"Oh, mother, you look so sweet in that blue gown!"

"I got it for almost nothing, dear, but the colour is lovely." Turning
restlessly away, she walked to the window and stood looking over Miss
Polly's window box down on the brilliant border of red geraniums.

"Has Archibald come upstairs yet, Miss Polly?"

"Not yet, but he'll be up directly. Don't you worry."

For an instant Gabriella hesitated; then crossing the room with a
resolute step, she turned, with her hand on the knob, and looked back at
the startled face of the little seamstress, who was fastening Fanny's
white gown.

"Well, I'm going after him," she said sternly; "I am going straight
downstairs to find him."



CHAPTER VII

READJUSTMENTS


For a minute Gabriella stood outside the door of what had once been the
drawing-room of the house, while she listened attentively to the sound
of animated voices within. Then suddenly Archibald's breezy laugh rang
out into the hail, and raising her hand from the knob, she knocked
softly on the white-painted panel of the door.

"Come in!" called O'Hara's voice carelessly; and Gabriell entered and
imperatively held out her hand to her son, who was standing by the
window.

"Come, Archibald, I want you," she said gravely. "You went off without
seeing your gifts." She had invaded the sitting-room of a strange man,
but her purpose was a righteous one, and there was no embarrassment in
her manner.

"Oh, mother, are they upstairs? I'll run up and see them!" cried,
Archibald delightedly. "I thought they were all in the trunks."

Darting past her in a flash, he bounded up the staircase, while
Gabriella stood facing O'Hara, who had risen and thrown away his cigar
at her entrance. The room was still fragrant with tobacco; there was a
light cloud of smoke over the mignonette in the window box, and beyond
it, she could see the dim foliage of the elm tree waving over the
flagged walk to the gate. With an eye trained to recognize the value of
details, she saw that the sitting-room was furnished with the same
deplorable taste which had selected the golden-oak hatrack and the
assortment of ornamental walking-sticks. The woodwork had been stained
to match the oak of the barbarous writing-table, which held a distorted
bronze lamp, with the base composed of a heavily draped feminine figure,
a massive desk set, also of bronze, a pile of newspapers, a dictionary,
and several dull-looking books with worn covers and dog's eared pages.
She noticed that the chairs were all large and solid, with deep arms and
backs upholstered in red leather, which looked as if it would never wear
out, that the rug was good, and that, except for a few meretricious oil
paintings on the greenish walls, the room was agreeably bare of
decoration. After her first hesitating glance, she surmised that a
certain expensive comfort was the end sought for and achieved, and that
in the furnishing beauty had evidently been estimated in figures.

"Mr. O'Hara," she began firmly, "I wish you would not take my son away
from me."

He did not lower his gaze, and she saw, after an instant in which he
appeared merely surprised, a look of amusement creep into his expressive
eyes. Within four walls, in his light summer clothes, with the gauzy
drift of tobacco smoke over his head, he looked larger and more
irrepressibly energetic than he had done out of doors.

"I am sorry you feel that way," he returned very slowly after a pause.
Already she had discovered that he had great difficulty with his words
except when he was stirred by excitement into self-forgetfulness. At
other times he seemed curiously inarticulate, and she saw now that,
while she waited for his answer, he was groping about in his mind for a
suitable phrase in which to repel her accusation.

"I appreciate your interest in him," she resumed smoothly, "but he is
with you too much. I do not know you. I know nothing in the world about
you."

"Well--" Again he hesitated as if over an impediment in his speech.
Then, finding with an effort the words he needed, he went on more
easily: "If there's anything you'd like to know, I guess you can ask
me."

She frowned slightly, and leaving the door moved resolutely to the
writing-table, where she stopped with her hand on the pile of
newspapers. Against the indeterminate colour of the walls her head, with
its dark, silver-powdered hair, worn smooth and close after the Parisian
fashion, showed as clear and fine as an etching. In her blue summer gown
she looked almost girlish in spite of the imperious dignity of her
carriage; and from her delicate head to her slender feet, she diffused
an air of fashion which perplexed and embarrassed him, though he was
unaware of the conscious art which produced it.

"The only thing I'd like to know about you," she answered, "is why you
have taken so sudden a fancy to my son?"

At this he laughed outright, with a boyish zest which dispelled the
oppressive formality of her manner. He was completely at his ease again,
and while he ran his hand impatiently through his hair, he answered
frankly:

"Well, you see, when it comes to that, I didn't take any sudden fancy,
as you call it--I didn't take any fancy at all--it was the other way
about. The boy is a nice boy--a bully good boy, anybody can see
that--and I like boys, that's all. When he began trotting round after
me, we got to be chums in a way, but it would have been the same with
any other boy who had come to the house--especially," he added with a
clean blow given straight from the shoulder, "if he'd been a decent chap
that a parcel of women were making into a muff."

For a minute anger, righteous anger, kept her silent; then she responded
with stateliness: "I suppose I have a right to decide how my son shall
be brought up?"

He met her stern gaze with a smile; and in the midst of her resentment
she was distinctly aware of the impeccable honesty of his judgment. The
peculiar breeziness she had always thought of as "Western" sounded in
his voice as he answered:

"By George, I'm not so sure that you have!"

Before his earnestness she felt her anger melt slowly away. The basic
reasonableness of her character--her passion to investigate experience,
to examine facts, to search for truth--this temperamental attitude
survived the superficial wave of indignation which had swept over her.

"So you think I am making a mistake with Archibald?" she asked quietly;
and growing tired of standing, she sank instinctively into one of the
capacious leather-covered chairs by the table. "But the question is--are
you able to judge?"

"Well, I'm a man, and I hate to see a boy coddled. It's going to be
devilish hard on the kid when he grows up."

"Perhaps you're right"--her manner had grown softer--"and because I've
thought of this, I am going to send him away to school this autumn--in a
few weeks. Much as it will hurt me to part with them, I am going to send
both of my children away from me. I have made the arrangements."

Insensibly the note of triumph had crept into her voice. By the simple
statement of her purpose she had vindicated her motherhood to this man.
She stood clear now of his aspersions on her wisdom and her devotion.

"I don't know much about girls," he replied, seating himself on the
opposite side of the table, where the green light from the shaded lamp
fell directly on his features. "I can't remember ever noticing one until
I grew up, and then I was afraid to death of them, particularly when
they were young--but I've been a boy, and I know all about boys. There
isn't a blooming thing you could tell me about boys!" he concluded with
animation.

"And you think that all boys are alike?"

"More or less under the skin. Of course some are washed and some are
dirty--I was dirty--but they're all boys, every last one of them, and
all boys are just kids. With the first money I made out West, I started
a lodging-house for them--the dirty ones--down in the Bowery," he added.
"They can get a wash and a supper and a night's lodging in a bed with
real sheets any night in the year."

She was suddenly interested. "Do you care for boys just because you were
a boy yourself?" she asked.

"Because I was such a God-forsaken little chap, I guess. You were never
down in a cellar, I suppose, the kind of cellar people live in? Well, I
was born in one, and my father had killed himself the week before
because he was ill with consumption, and couldn't get work. He'd been a
teamster, and he lost his job when he came down with pneumonia, and
after they let him out of the hospital, he looked such a scarehead that
nobody would employ him. After he died, my mother struggled on somehow,
taking in washing or scrubbing floors--God knows how she managed
it!--and by the time I was five, and precious big for my age, I was in
the street selling papers. I used to say I was seven when anybody asked
me, but I wasn't more than five; and I remember as plain as if it was
yesterday, the way mother used to take me to a corner of Broadway, and
put a bundle of papers in my arms, and how I used to hang on to the
coppers when the bigger boys tried to get 'em away from me. Sometimes
I'd get an extra dime or nickel, and then we'd have Irish stew or fried
onions for supper. After my mother died, when I was about eight, I still
kept on selling papers because I didn't know what else to do, but I
didn't have any place to sleep then so I used to crawl into machine
shops or areas (he said 'aries') or warehouses, when the watchmen
weren't looking. In summer I'd sometimes hide under a bush in the park,
and the policeman would never see me until I slipped by him in the
morning. There was one policeman I hated like the devil, and I used to
swear that I'd get even with him if it took me all the rest of my life."
For a moment he paused, brooding complacently. "I did get even with him,
too," he added, "and it didn't take me more than twenty years."

"You never forget anything?"

"Forget?" he laughed shortly. "When you find a thing I forget, it'll be
so small you'll have to put on spectacles to recognize it!"

She nodded comprehendingly. "And after that?"

"After that they caught me and sent me to school, and I learned to read
and write and do sums--I always had a wonderful head for figures--but
after school I went on selling papers so I'd have something to eat---"

The door burst open, and Archibald rushed in to show the evening clothes
Gabriella had brought him from Paris.

"They are jolly, mother! May I keep them on?"

"If you like, dear, but they'll have to be altered a little. The coat
doesn't quite fit across the shoulders."

"You're a dandy, kid, a regular dandy," observed O'Hara, with humorous
gravity.

After a few moments Archibald rushed off again, and Gabriella made an
uncertain movement to follow him. "I must go," she said, without rising,
and added abruptly: "So you got on in spite of everything?"

"Right you are!" He leaned back in his chair and regarded her with
benevolent optimism. "You can always get on if the stuff is in you. I
meant to get on, and a steam engine couldn't have kept me back. It's the
gospel truth that I believe I came into the world meaning to get out of
that cellar, and it was the same thing with areas and ash-bins. I knew
all the time I wasn't going to keep grubbing a living out of an ash-bin.
I was always growing, shooting up like one of those mullein stalks out
there, and eating? Great Scott! I used to eat so much when I was a kid
that mother starved herself near to death so as to give me a square
meal. By the time I was twelve I had grown so fast that I got a job at
cleaning the streets--my first job from the city. But I never went
hungry. As far as I recollect I never went hungry except the time I beat
my way out to Chicago--"

Without moving, without lowering her eyes from his face, Gabriella
listened, while she clasped and unclasped the hands in her lap. There is
a personality that compels attention, and she realized for the first
time that O'Hara possessed it. A new vision of life had opened suddenly
before her, and she felt, with the illuminating intensity of a religious
conversion, that the world she had been living in was merely a fiction.
In spite of her experience she had really known nothing of life.

"Yes, a lot of 'em went hungry, but I never did," he resumed in a tone
of frank congratulation. "Sometimes, of course, I'd go without supper or
breakfast, but that was nothing--that was not being really hungry, you
know. I always managed, even when I was at school, to make enough to
keep satisfied. What I minded most," he added musingly, "was not having
a regular place to go home to at night, and that's why I started that
lodging-house. When you've slept in holes and on benches, and under
freight cars, and hidden away in machine shops, you know there's nothing
on God's earth--not a blessed thing--that can take the place of a real
sure enough bed with real sure enough sheets and pillow cases on it."

"But how did you come out of it? How did you succeed? For you have
succeeded beyond your dreams, haven't you?"

"Beyond my dreams?" He threw back his big, bright head, laughing
happily. "Did any man alive ever succeed beyond his dreams? Why, I used
to dream of being President, and I guess I shan't be President this
side of the Great Divide, shall I? But I made money, if that's what you
mean. Why, I have a million to-day to every dollar I had when I was
twenty. Do you mind my smoking? I can't talk unless I've got hold of a
cigar."

While he struck a match, she noticed with surprise how very neat and
orderly he was about the ashes of his cigars, which lay in an exact gray
heap in the massive bronze ash-tray. What a pity, she thought, moved by
a feeling of compassion, that he had had no advantages!

"I'll tell you how I got on," he pursued after a minute, leaning forward
with the cigar in his hand--it was a good cigar, she knew from the smell
of it. "Do you see this room?"--he glanced proudly about him--"do you
know why I keep this place even when I am in the West?" She shook her
head, and he went on with a kind of half-ashamed, whimsical tenderness:
"Well, a man lived here once you never heard of--a common Irishman--just
a common Irish politician--the Tammany sort, just the sort the
newspapers are so down on. I guess he wasn't strong on civic morality as
they call it, and the social conscience and all the other new-fashion
catchwords, but he found me out there in the snow one night selling
newspapers without any overcoat, and he brought me in and gave me one of
his. He was a little fellow--not big as the Irish usually grow--and I
could wear his clothes, though I wasn't thirteen at the time. The coat
wasn't an old one, either," he explained with retrospective complacency;
"no, sirree, he had just bought it, and he made me take it off after I'd
tried it on and sit down at the table in that back room there--it's all
just as he left it--and eat supper with him--the best supper I ever had
in my life before or since, you may take my word for it. Then when I'd
finished he gave me a dollar and told me to go out and rent a bed--" He
broke off, glanced about the room with the pride of ownership, and added
softly: "Who'd ever have thought on that night that this place would one
day belong to me?"

"Did you see him again?"

"After that he never lost sight of me. He got me a room, he sent me to
school--not that he thought much of education, the more's the pity--and
when I was through with school he got me into the Mechanics' Institute,
and gave me a job at engineering. But the job was too small for me, and
so was New York--there ain't room enough here to get on without stepping
on somebody's toes--and when I was twenty I set out to beat my way to
Chicago, and went clean out to Arizona. That's a long story--I'll tell
you that some day, for I've been everything on earth you can be in order
to keep alive, and done pretty much everything you can do with two hands
that will earn you a square meal. I've cut corn and ploughed fields, and
greased wheels, and chopped wood, and mended machinery, and cleaned the
snow away, and once out in some little town in Arizona, I even dug a
grave because the sexton was down with pneumonia. I've been brakesman,
and freightman, and, after that, freight agent. That was just before I
struck it rich in Colorado. I was one of the first men at Bonanza City,
and when I went there with the railroad--I was on the very first train
that ever ran there--the whole town was just a row of miners' shacks
near the foot of old Bonanza. It's the richest mineral streak in the
State, and yet twenty-five years ago, before the C.A. & F.W. tapped it,
there wasn't even a saloon out there at Bonanza. City. When you wanted a
drink--and that didn't worry me, for I haven't tasted anything but water
since I was twenty-five--you had to go all the way to Olympia to get it;
and what was worse, all the ore had to go to Olympia, too, on a little
no account branch road to be shipped over the main line. Well, as soon
as I discovered Bonanza City I said that had to change, and it did
change. I guess I did as much to make that town as any man out there,
and to-day I own about two thirds of it. I've got a house on Phoenix
Avenue, and I gave the town a church and a theatre and the ground for a
library. We've got one of the handsomest churches in the State," he
proclaimed with his unconquerable optimism, "and we've just begun
growing. Why, in ten years more Bonanza City will be in the race with
Denver."

"And what about your friend?" she asked, finding it difficult to become
enthusiastic over the most progressive town in Colorado, a State which
she always pictured imaginatively as a kind of rocky desert, inhabited
by tribes of gregarious invalids, which one visited for the sake of the
scenery or the climate, when one had exhausted the civilized excitements
of Europe.

"I am coming back to him," he responded with a manner of genial
remonstrance. "You just give me time. But I'd honestly like you to see
Bonanza City. Why, it would take your breath away if I told you it
hadn't even begun to grow twenty years ago. You people in New York don't
know what progress means. Why, out there in Bonanza City we do things
while you're thinking about doing them. But to come back to
Barney--that was his name, Barney McGoldrick--after I made my pile out
of Bonanza, I used to strike here once in a while to see how he was
getting along, and when he died I took these rooms just as he left 'em.
There wasn't a chick or a child to come after him, but he had a string
of pensioners as long as the C.A. & F.W. His money--it must have been
half a million--all went to charity, but I kept on in the rooms."

"What kind of man was he?" she asked, sincerely interested.

"What kind?" He pondered the question with deep puffs of his cigar.
"Well, do you know, I don't believe, to save my life, I could tell you.
The more you know of men, and of women, too, for they're all alike, the
more you understand, somehow, that you can't judge unless you've been
right in the other man's place--unless you know exactly what they've had
to pull up against and how hard they have pulled. Now, if I was drawing
my last breath, and you asked me what I thought of Barney McGoldrick,
I'd be obliged to answer that he was the best man I ever knew, though
there are others in this town, I guess, and the newspapers among 'em,
who would tell you that he was--" He broke off abruptly, and she waited
without speaking, until he solaced himself with his cigar, and went on
less boisterously: "It's a downright shame, isn't it, that the same man
can't manage to corner all the virtues. I can't explain how it is, but
I've noticed that the virtues don't seem able to work along peaceably in
one another's company, for if they did, I guess we'd have pure saints or
pure sinners instead of the mixed lot we've got to make a world out of.
I've seen a man who wouldn't have lied or stolen to save his wife from
starving, and who was the first in the pew at church every Sunday, grind
the flesh and blood out of his factory girls until they were driven into
the streets, or crush the very life out of the little children he put to
work in his mills. Yes, and I've seen a tombstone over him with 'I know
that my Redeemer liveth' carved an inch deep in the marble. Well, Barney
wasn't like that, but he had his weaknesses, and they were the kind
people don't raise marble tombstones over. I never had a taste for
politics myself, but it seems to be like any other weakness, and to drag
a man a little lower down if it once gets too strong a hold on him. It's
all right, of course, if you keep it in moderation, but there's precious
few chaps, particularly if it's in their blood, and they're Irish, who
can keep the taste under control. Barney was the most decent man to
women I ever knew. He wouldn't have hurt one for a million dollars, in a
factory or out of it, and he was faithful to his old wife up to the day
of her death and long after. He grieved for her till he died, and I
don't believe any woman ever asked his help without getting it. His
private life was absolutely clean, but his public morality--well, I
guess that wasn't exactly spotless. At any rate, they had an
investigation--there was a committee of citizens appointed to sit in
judgment on his record. The chairman was a pillar of the church and a
public benefactor; he had led every political reform for a generation;
and I happened to know that he kept two mistresses up somewhere in the
Bronx, and his wife, who was old and ugly, wore herself to a shadow
because he neglected her. Mark you, I'm not upholding Barney, but, good
Lord! ain't it queer how easy men get off when they just sin against
women and not against men or against the State?"

"It's all queer." She rose from the leather chair, and held out her
hand. "I'm glad I came in, Mr. O'Hara. Some day you must tell me the
rest."

"The rest?" His embarrassment had descended upon him, and he was
awkwardly stammering for words, with her cool hand in his grasp. As long
as his enthusiasm had lasted he had talked fluently and naturally, swept
away from his self-consciousness; but with the return of the formal
amenities he became as ill at ease and shy as a boy. "There ain't
anything more except that we're building a railroad out there, and I'm
going back to finish it next spring if I'm alive."

The September breeze entered from the dim stretch of yard, under the
waving elm boughs, and in an instant the room was filled with the
fragrance of mignonette.

"But you won't be if you never get your dinner," she retorted, as she
smiled brilliantly. Then, turning quickly, she crossed the threshold,
and went down the hall to the staircase.

She was tremendously excited, and while she mounted the stairs she felt
that she had not been so alive, so filled with energy since her girlhood
in Richmond. It was as if a closed door into the world had been suddenly
flung open, and she knew that she had passed beyond the narrow paths of
convention into the sunny roads and broad fields of vision. In a moment
of enlightenment she saw deeper and farther than she had ever dreamed
of seeing before. "It teaches one not to judge," she thought, with a
stab of self-reproach, "it teaches one not to judge others until one
really knows." Twice before to-night, on the day when she resolved for
the sake of Jane's children to go to work, and again on the June evening
when George returned to her, she had felt this sudden quickening of
life, this magical sense of the unexplored mystery and beauty of the
world that surrounded her. But she had been very young then, and on that
June evening she had been deeply in love. To-night, she assured herself,
there was no touch of personal romance. In some inexplicable way the
talk with O'Hara had renewed her broken connection with her Dream, and
she felt closer in sympathy to Arthur than she had been able to feel for
months. No, this awakening was utterly different from the awakening of
love, for it shed its illumination not on a single person, but on the
whole of humanity. O'Hara had moved her, not as a man, but as a force--a
force as impersonal as the wind or the sea, which had swept her
intellect away from its anchorage in the deeps of tradition. She had
thought herself free, but she understood now that she had never really
broken away--that in spite of her struggles to escape, the past had
still held her. To-night it was more than an awakening, it was a
conversion through which she was passing, and she knew she could never
again believe as she had believed a few hours ago, that she could never
judge again as unintelligently as she had judged yesterday. "So that is
a man's world," and then with a rush of impulse: "What a mean little
life I have been living--what a mean little life!" For she really knew
nothing of life except dressmaking; she was familiar with no part of it
except the way to Dinard's. She had been living a little life, with
little standards, little creeds, little compromises. And yet, though the
personality of O'Hara had enlarged her vision of the world, it had not
altered her superficial view of the man. She still saw him outwardly at
least without the glamour of romance--she still thought of him as
boisterous, uneducated, slangy--but she was beginning almost
unconsciously to distinguish between the faults of manner and the faults
of character; she was beginning to be tolerant.

From Fanny's open door a humming voice floated out to her, and going
inside, she found the girl, in a new frock, practising a dance step
before the mirror. "This is the lame duck, mother, but it's different
from the one we danced last year."

"Yes, dear, it's very pretty." Stopping before the dressing-table,
Gabriella frowned on the photograph of a young man in a silver frame--a
young man with a fascinating smile and inane features.

"Fanny, where did you get this?"

"Oh, mother, I didn't mean you to see it. I meant to put it away."

"Where did you get it?"

"He sent it to me. I wrote and asked him for it, and it has his
autograph. Isn't he handsome? That's just the way he looked in 'Stolen
Sweets' last winter."

"Well, he looks like a calf, I think," returned Gabriella severely. "I
suppose you may keep it out until you get tired of it, but please try to
be sensible, Fanny." Though she spoke jestingly, she was secretly
disturbed by the discovery of the photograph. "If she were not pretty,
it wouldn't matter," she thought, "but she is so pretty that almost any
man might be tempted to begin a flirtation. Thank Heaven, she didn't
take a fancy to Mr. O'Hara. That would have been a calamity." For, in
spite of the fact that she had become personally reconciled to O'Hara,
she was as firmly resolved as ever to keep Fanny out of his sight. "You
know so many nice boys, dear," she resumed after a minute, "that I think
you might be content to let actors alone."

"But boys are so stupid, mother." Fanny's tone was withering in its
disdain. "They are wrapped up in sports, and I despise sports."

"Then you oughtn't to tease them as you do. You're too young to have
fancies."

"I am sixteen."

"Well, that is much too young for anything of that sort. I like you to
have boy friends, but I don't like you to be foolish. What has become of
that attractive boy, Carlie's brother? He doesn't come here any more,
and I'm afraid you've hurt his feelings."

"Oh, mother," hummed Fanny to the music of the lame duck as she
practised before the mirror, "how can you really hurt a man?"

The next morning when Gabriella, in a Parisian gown of black taffeta and
one of the absurdly small hats of the autumn, started for Dinard's, she
found herself thinking, not of Fanny's flirtation, but of her long talk
with O'Hara. She cast a friendly glance on the golden-oak hatrack as she
passed--for O'Hara had risen in her regard since she had discovered that
he had not selected the furniture on the first floor--and then stopping
for a few moments on the front steps, she closed her eyes, and inhaled
the fragrance of the mignonette in the window box. The yard was
brilliant in the early sunshine; and at the gate she saw the wife of the
caretaker, who had looked after the flowers in her absence. Detaining
the woman by a gesture, she joined her in the street, and the two
started together to walk the long blocks that stretched to Fifth Avenue.

"You are going home early to-day, Mrs. Squires."

"Yes, ma'am; it's Johnny's birthday and I promised to take him up to the
Bronx. Mr. O'Hara had his breakfast at seven, and I got through earlier
than usual. He is so tidy that there ain't much to do except to dust
around a little."

She was a neat, red-faced woman, in rusty mourning for a child she had
lost in the early summer, and while she talked, Gabriella felt an
irresistible impulse to question her about O'Hara. "She has known him
for thirty years, and I can find out more from her than I could discover
for myself in six months," she thought; but she only said indifferently:

"You've worked at this house a long time, haven't you?"

"For thirty years--ever since I came here at eighteen as housemaid to
Mr. McGoldrick. My husband was coachman for Mr. McGoldrick, you know--he
drove the prettiest pair of bays in New York--and that was how I met
him. When we married, Mr. McGoldrick set us up, and John drove his
carriage for him as long as he lived. I often wonder what the old
gentleman would think of everybody having automobiles. They were just
beginning to come into fashion when he died."

"You knew Mr. O'Hara then?"

"Oh, yes, he was a great deal with Mr. McGoldrick. After he went West we
didn't see much of him for a time--that was while he was making his
money. Then he came back and brought his wife to a place here to be
treated--"

"His wife?"

"Didn't you know? She died a few years ago, but before that he used to
keep her with some doctor over on Long Island, and he went regularly to
see her every Sunday afternoon as long as she lived."

"What was the matter?"

"Drugs. Drugs and drink, too, they said, though I never knew for certain
about that. But they couldn't do anything with her. They tried all the
cures anybody ever heard of, and she went back every time. No sooner
would one thing fail, however, than Mr. O'Hara would hear of something
or other over in Europe, and make them begin trying it. Finally for the
last ten or twelve years she was quite out of her mind--clean crazy they
said, and didn't know anybody. But he still went to see her every Sunday
when he was staying in town, and he still made the doctors go on trying
new things. He never gave up till the very last. Mr. McGoldrick used to
say of him that he was the sort that would go on hoping in hell."

"Who was she? Where did he meet her?"

"God only knows. He never would say much about her even to Mr.
McGoldrick, but John always stuck it out that she was never the right
sort in the beginning, and that Mr. O'Hara got tangled up with her
somewhere in a mining town out West, and couldn't get out. I've heard
she was a chambermaid or a barmaid or something in a miners' hotel, but
I don't know, and nobody else knows, for Mr. O'Hara never opened his
mouth about her. All we know positive is that she must have been a drug
fiend long before he ever married her, and that he stuck to her for
better or for worse until she died and was buried. Some men are like
that, you know, a few of 'em. When a thing once belongs to 'em, no
matter what it is or how little it's worth, they'll go through fire and
water for the sake of it--and it makes no difference whether it's a
woman or a railroad or a dog or a mine. They've got the sense of
responsibility like a disease. You see, Mr. O'Hara is that sort, and you
might as well try to turn a steam roller as to start to reason him out
of a notion. It would have been as easy as talking for him to have got a
divorce. Time and again Mr. McGoldrick used to go after him about it,
and talk himself hoarse; but it didn't do any good, not a particle.
Instead of getting free out there in the West where it was easy, he kept
on lugging that crazy woman back and forth, trying to cure her long
after everybody else had given up hope and was wishing that she was
dead."

"Well, I suppose he loved her."

"No, ma'am, that's the funny part, but it didn't look like love to
me--not like what men call love, anyway. If it had been love, it would
have worn itself out long ago. Who on earth could love a crazy, yellow,
shrieking, cursing creature like that? I saw her sometimes when he'd
send me to take things down to her, and I tell you it wasn't love--not
man's love, anyhow--that made him do what he did."

"Then it must have been something finer even than love," Gabriella
acquiesced after a moment. "It's strange, when we come to think of it,
how often we find spirituality in places where we'd never expect it to
be."

"I don't know that I'd call Mr. O'Hara spiritual exactly," replied Mrs.
Squires thoughtfully. "I don't believe he ever puts his foot inside a
church, and I've heard him swear when he got ready till you'd expect the
roof to drop in on you, but when you come to think of it," she
concluded, "I guess there's a good deal of religion floating around
outside of walls."

At the next corner they parted, and as the caretaker stopped to shake
hands with Gabriella and thank her for a birthday present for Johnny,
she added nervously: "I hope I haven't said anything that I oughtn't to
have said, Mrs. Carr. Mr. O'Hara has been as good as gold to me, and I
shouldn't like him to hear I'd been talking about him."

"He shan't hear, I promise you"; and while Mrs. Squires hurried,
reassured, to her home in Sixth Avenue, Gabriella walked briskly with
the crowd which was streaming along Twenty-third Street into Broadway.

A week ago she would scarcely have noticed the people about her. For ten
years she had gone every morning to her work through the streets, and
she had felt herself to be as aloof from the masses as the soaring
skyscraper at the corner of Broadway. The psychology of the crowd had
not touched her; even when she walked with it, when she made a part of
it, she had felt herself to be detached from its purposes.

To-day, however, a change had come over her, and she was happy with a
large and impersonal happiness which seemed to belong less to herself
than to the throng which surged about her and gathered her in. Her
little standards, her little creeds, had become a part of the larger
standards and creeds of humanity. In Broadway, moving onward with the
other workers who were returning to the day's work, she was aware of an
invisible current of joy which flowed from the crowd into her thoughts
and through her thoughts back again into the crowd. For the first time
she was feeling and thinking in unison with the multitude.

That night, when she sat alone with Miss Polly, she said to her
suddenly:

"I believe I was wrong to wish Archibald not to see anything of Mr.
O'Hara. Yesterday we had a long talk, and I think he must have some very
fine traits."

"Maybe," replied Miss Polly, a little snappishly. "I never could see
what set you so against him, Gabriella."

"Oh, he is dreadfully slangy, and, of course, he isn't educated. I
suppose if I mentioned Hamlet to him, he'd think I was talking about
some town in Oklahoma."

"Well, I reckon he's been his own Hamlet," retorted Miss Polly; "and
knowing about Hamlet don't make a man, anyhow. George knew all about
Hamlet, but it didn't make him easy to live with."

"Yes, that's just it. What did George's advantages do for him? I used to
think it was love that mattered most," she said musingly after a pause,
"and then, when love failed, I began to think it was culture. But I see
now that it is something else. Do you ever wonder what the essential
thing really is, Miss Polly?"

"No, I never wonder," responded Miss Polly tartly, "but when you stew it
down to the bones, I reckon it's just plain character."

"Yes, if you can't have both culture and character, of course character
is the more important. But think how much that man might have made of
the university training that was wasted on George." While she spoke
there came back to her in snatches a conversation she had had with an
Englishman on the boat last summer, and she remembered that he had
alluded to Judge Crowborough as "a man of the broadest culture." Surely
the "broadest culture" must include character, and yet she could feel
even now the casual and business-like clasp of the judge, she could see
again the admiring gleam in his small, fishy eyes. "After all, I suppose
it is a kind of spiritual consciousness that makes character," she said
aloud, "and you can't train that into a man if he isn't born with it."

"It seems to me that Mr. O'Hara has done mighty well, all things
considered," pursued Miss Polly, and she inquired suspiciously: "Did
Mrs. Squires ever tell you anything about his marriage?"

"I met her this morning on my way to work, and she told me about it."

"Well, what do you make of it? Don't it beat anything you ever heard?"

"It does. There's not the slightest doubt of it. And, do you know,"
Gabriella went on hurriedly, "that story made a remarkable impression on
me--I've been thinking about it ever since. It made me see everything
differently, and I've even asked myself if I had enough patience with
George. If I wasn't too hard and intolerant with him in the beginning?"

"I shouldn't worry about that, honey, because I don't believe it would
have made any difference if you'd been gentler. It's the stuff in a man,
I reckon, that counts more than the way a woman handles him. You
couldn't have saved George any more than that other woman could ruin the
man downstairs."

"Perhaps not." Rising from her chair, Gabriella drew the pins from the
smooth, close coil of her hair. "But I see things so differently since I
had that talk with Mr. O'Hara. I am glad to have him for a friend," she
added generously, "but of course I still feel the same about Fanny. I
hope he won't begin to notice Fanny."

"Well, he won't. He ain't thinkin' about it. I declare, Gabriella," the
little woman went on with a change of tone, "your head don't look much
bigger than a pincushion with your hair fixed that way. It makes you
seem mighty young, but there ain't many women that could stand it."

"It's the fashion in Paris. I have to be smart. Do you suppose many
people guess that I wear extreme styles," she added laughingly, "because
they are so hard to sell?"

"You certainly do look well in 'em. I never saw anybody with more
natural style. Why, you can put on those slouchy things without a piece
of corset and look as if you'd just stepped out of a fashion plate."

"When you aren't pretty, you're obliged to be smart."

"Well, of course you never had the small features and pink and white
colouring that Jane had; but you always had a way of your own even as a
girl, and you're handsomer now than you ever were in your life. If you
were to ask Mr. O'Hara, I bet you he'd say you were a heap better
lookin' than Fanny."

A gasp broke from Gabriella, and she turned from the mirror to stare
blankly at the seamstress. "Mr. O'Hara! Why, what in the world made you
think of him?"

But Miss Polly had grown suddenly impenetrable. "Oh, nothin'," she
responded evasively; "I've just seen him look at you both when you were
together."

Gabriella laughed brightly. "Oh, he looks at everything. I never saw
such eyes."

There was the note of accomplishment, of success, in her voice, and she
brushed her fine, soft hair with long, vigorous strokes which had in
them something of this same quality of unwavering confidence. To look at
her as she sat, relaxed yet dominant, before the glass, was to recognize
that she was a woman who had achieved the purpose of her life, who had
succeeded in whatever she had undertaken. Not a great purpose,
perhaps--there were hours when her purpose seemed to her to be
particularly trivial--but still, great or small, she had accomplished
it. She was not only directing Dinard's now--she _was_ Dinard's. Without
her the business would collapse like a house of cards, and it was
because she knew this, because Madame also knew this, that she had been
able to perfect the arrangements she had planned that May afternoon
after her depressing visit to Judge Crowborough. For she managed the
house of Dinard's now by an arrangement which gave her one third of the
profits; and in the last six months, since this scheme had gone into
effect, the business had grown tremendously in certain directions. The
millinery department, for instance, which Madame had once treated with
such supercilious disdain, had become to-day the most fashionable hat
shop in Fifth Avenue. The work was hard, but the returns were wonderful;
and with a strange gloating, she told herself that she was making
money--always more money for the children. "When Fanny finishes school
year after next, we'll take a large apartment in Park Avenue, and spend
every summer in Europe," she concluded.

In the morning she rather expected to see O'Hara, but a month passed
before she met him one evening in October, when she came home late from
work. The autumn rains had come and gone, destroying the fugitive bloom
of Miss Polly's flower-beds, and scattering the leaves of the elm tree
in a moist, delicately tinted carpet over the grass. An hour ago the sun
had set in a purple cloud, and beneath the electric lights, which shone
through the fog with a wan and spectral glimmer, the dark outlines of
the city assumed an ominous vagueness. There was no light in the house;
and the deserted yard, silvered from frost and strewn with dead leaves,
which lay in wind-drifts along the flagged walk, had the haunted aspect
of a place where youth and happiness have passed so recently that the
fragrance of them still lingers.

"Archibald went off to school without telling you good-bye," she said in
a friendly voice. "He was much disappointed."

Stopping in the walk, he looked at her with unaffected surprise.

"Why, I thought that was what you wanted!"

She met this quite honestly. "Not after I talked to you."

"What in thunder did I say to change your opinion of me?" The strong
west wind blowing around him and lifting the roughened red hair from his
forehead, appeared to lessen by contrast the breezy animation of his
manner.

"It wasn't anything you said," she answered simply. "I found out you
were different from what I thought, that is all."

"Then you must have thought something!" he laughed aloud.

"I was afraid at first that you might have a bad influence over
Archibald."

"Oh, the kid!" His mirth was as irrepressible as his energy.

"You see I have to be very careful," she went on gently. "I want to do
my best by him."

At this he turned on her with sudden earnestness. "You can't do your
best by being too careful--take my word for it. If you want him to be a
man, don't begin by making a mollycoddle of him. Let him rough it a bit,
or it will be twice as hard for him when he grows up."

"But I do--I do. I am sending him away from me. Isn't that right?"

"You bet it is. Let him learn his own strength. I've lived among men
ever since I was born, and I tell you, nine times out of ten, the boy
who is tied to his mother's apron-strings, loses his grip when he is
turned out into the world. At the first knock-down he goes under."

Instinctively she flinched. If only he wouldn't!

"After he leaves school of course he will go to the university," she
said.

"That's right," he agreed emphatically, and pursued a little wistfully:
"Now, that's what I was cheated out of, and there've been times when I'd
have given my right arm to have been through college instead of having
to keep my mouth shut and then run home and look up the meaning of
things in an encyclopædia. It's a handicap, not knowing things. Nobody
who hasn't had to get along in spite of, it knows what a darned handicap
it is!"

"But you read, don't you?"

"Not much. Never had time to form the habit. But I've read
Shakespeare--at least I've read Julius Cæsar six times," he explained.
"I had it in the desert once where there wasn't a newspaper for two
months. And I've read the Kings, too--most of 'em."

"But not Hamlet?" She was smiling as she looked from him into the
street.

He shook his head with a laugh. "Too much meandering in that. I don't
like talk unless it is straight."

Though he was upon the most distant terms of acquaintance with the
English language, it occurred to her that he probably possessed a
knowledge of men and things which no university training could have
given him.

"It is wonderful," she remarked, touched to sympathy by his confession,
"that you should have succeeded."

"Oh, any man could have done it--any man, that is, who loved a fight as
much as I do. It was half luck and half bulldog grip, I suppose. When I
once get my grip on a thing, I'll hold on no matter what happens. There
ain't the power this side of Kingdom Come that could make me let go if I
don't want to."

She thought of his wife, of his losing fight against the craving for
morphine, and she replied very gently: "If you hadn't been a good
fighter, I suppose you would have been beaten long ago."

"So long ago," he retorted with jovial humour, "that you wouldn't have
known me."

An impulse of curiosity urged her to an utterly irrelevant response. "I
wonder if you have known many women?" She felt that she should like to
hear his story from him, there in the deserted yard; but when he
answered her, he revealed a personal reticence worthy of the
aristocratic traditions of Mrs. Carr. "Oh, I haven't had time for them,"
he replied indifferently.

"Perhaps there aren't so many in Bonanza City?"

"Oh, there're plenty," he rejoined gaily, "if you take the trouble to
look for them."

"And you didn't?" They had entered the house, and she spoke merrily as
she crossed to the staircase.

"Well, the sort I found didn't take my fancy, you see!" he tossed back
playfully from his door.

Her foot was on the lowest step, when, hesitating with a birdlike
movement, she looked at him over her right shoulder.

"Well, that's a pity. A woman could have told you a good many things,"
she observed.

"For instance?" He was still jesting.

Poised for flight, she gazed back at him, challenging his eyes.

"Oh, not to collect gold-headed walking-sticks, not to believe in
golden-oak, and not to be so extravagantly--slangy."

As she ran up the staircase, a burst of laughter followed her in the
midst of which she distinguished the retort: "Well, I own to the slang,
but I inherited the oak, and the sticks were all given me--by women."

The temptation to fling back, "of a sort?" came to her; but she
conquered it as she passed demurely into the sitting-room, where Miss
Polly was reading the afternoon paper before an open fire. "I mustn't
get too friendly," she told herself, reprovingly. "It is better to keep
up a certain formality." And she determined that at the next meeting she
would be dignified and aloof.

But the next meeting did not occur until January, for O'Hara went West
the following day, and for more than two months Miss Polly and Gabriella
were alone in the house. Though she was working doubly hard at Dinard's,
the loneliness of the winter evenings after the Christmas holidays were
over became almost intolerable to Gabriella; and the bleak month of
January stretched ahead of her in an interminable prospect of cold and
gloom. For the past ten years the children had absorbed her life, after
her working hours, so entirely that the parting from them had been an
unbearable wrench, and had left her with an aching feeling as if an arm
had been cut away. She had had little time to make friends; the streets
of the city isolated her as completely as if they had been spaces of
uninhabited wilderness; and, except for her casual remarks to Miss
Polly, she had lived from day to day without speaking a word that was
not directly concerned with the management or the sales of Dinard's.
Since her divorce, obeying perhaps some inherited tradition, she had
avoided men almost instinctively; and even if she had cared to make
friends among them, her life was so narrow that it would have been
almost impossible for her to do so. When she was not too tired, she
still read as widely as she could; but at thirty-seven books had become
but a poor substitute for the more robust human activities. As the
theatres and the lecture rooms offered the only opportunities of
relaxation and amusement, she went twice a week, accompanied by the
little seamstress, who appeared to thrive on self-sacrifice, to see a
play that was noticed in the papers, or to listen to explanatory
descriptions of the scenery of South America or the grievances of the
oppressed natives of Asia.

"You mustn't let yourself mope, honey," urged Miss Polly, one snowy
morning in January, when Gabriella was putting on a fur coat, cut in the
latest fashion, which had been left on her hands after the mid-winter
sales. "The children had to go sooner or later, and it's just as well it
happened while you are young enough to get over it. A boy never stays at
home anyway, and you know I always told you Fanny was the sort to marry
before she is out of her teens."

"Oh, I'm not moping, but of course I can't help missing them. The house
seems so empty."

"It's obliged to be empty with only us two women in it. I declare I got
such a creepy feelin' about burglars last night that I kept wishin' Mr.
O'Hara would hurry up and come home. Mrs. Squires says she was expectin'
him all last week, but he didn't turn up, so she is kind of lookin' for
him to-day."

"Is she?" Gabriella's voice was charged with sincere thankfulness.
Merely to know that there was a man on the first floor afforded a sense
of security; and an occasional meeting with him would make, she was
aware, a trivial diversion from the monotony of her existence. The
loneliness of the winter had driven her like a storm-swept bird back to
the enduring refuge of her Dream; but, after all, the flesh and blood
presence of O'Hara could not seriously interfere with the tender and
pensive visions her memory spun of the past. Every morning, standing
beside her window and gazing on the bleak street and the bare elm
boughs, she thought of Arthur and of her first love, with a pious and
reverent mind--for they occupied in her day the hour and mood which her
mother, belonging to a more orthodox generation, piously dedicated to
"Daily Strength for Daily Need." But never for an instant would it have
occurred to the granddaughter of that sanctified snob, Bartholomew
Berkeley, who despised the lower orders and fraternized with the Deity
in his pulpit every Sabbath, that the red-blooded and boisterous
O'Hara--the man of force and slang--could by any accident usurp the
sacred shrine where the consecrated relics of her first love reposed.
Before the whirlwind of O'Hara's energy, she would congratulate herself
that her Arthur, with the milder fluid of the Peytons in his veins,
would never allow himself to be carried away by his impulses.

"Well, I'm glad he's coming back, if it's only to protect us," she said,
while she fastened her fur coat. "I wonder what he has been doing out
West all this time?"

"Makin' money, I reckon. They say he makes so much he don't know what to
do with it."

"We could teach him, couldn't we? But he ought to marry and let his wife
spend it for him. Only," she concluded carelessly, "I suppose he'd
select some dizzy chorus girl who would bring him to ruin. Men of his
kind always pick out chorus girls, don't they?"

"I thought 'twas the other sort that did that," observed Miss Polly,
fresh from the perusal of the Sunday newspapers; "Dukes and society men
and the sons of millionaires."

"Perhaps. Maybe they're all alike," and taking up her umbrella,
Gabriella started bravely out into the storm.

At six o'clock, when she struggled back along Twenty-third Street, the
wind had changed, and the storm driving furiously down the long blocks
caught her in a whirl of blinding snowflakes. In the swirling whiteness
of the distance, the black outlines of the city appeared remote and
shadowy, while the waning lights, which shone like dim moons at the
crossing, revealed the ghostly figures of a few struggling pedestrians.

The gate was open, and she had almost reached it, when the lurching form
of a man, emerging suddenly from the storm, was flung against her with
such violence that she fell back for support on the icy railing of the
yard. Then, as the obscure figure, drawing away from her with a
staggering motion, began fumbling blindly at the gate, she caught sight
of a ghastly face, which looked as if it had been stricken by an
incurable illness. The man wore no overcoat; a knitted muffler was
wrapped tightly about his neck; and she saw that the hands fumbling at
the gate were red and trembling from cold.

Steadying herself against the fence, she drew her purse from her muff,
and she had already taken out a piece of silver, when she heard her name
called in a voice which sounded vaguely familiar, though it awoke no
immediate associations in her mind.

"Gabriella! My God! I was looking for you, Gabriella!"

With the money still in her hand, she stooped to look into his face.

"You don't know me. I'm George," he said in an angry voice as if he were
about to burst into tears. "I'm George, but you don't know me."

The storm drove him against her, and he clung weakly to her arm, crying
softly in a terrified whimper like a child that is awaking from a
horrible nightmare. Though she did not realize that he was dying, not of
disease, but of drink, the thought shot through her mind: "So this is
George. So this is what George has come to--George who took everything
that he wanted!"

"Where are you going?" she asked, for the shock had restored him to some
poor semblance of sanity.

"I was looking for you. I heard you lived down here, and I knew you'd
take me in. I've been ill--I'm ill enough to die, and they turned me out
of the hotel. There was a woman who stole everything I had. She stole it
and ran off in the night, damn her!"

He shivered violently while he spoke, and she saw a glassy look creep
into his eyes and over his face, as if his features had been frozen in
an instant of terror. Panic seized her lest he should die there in the
street, and she grasped his arm almost roughly as if she would shake him
back into life. As she supported him his teeth began to rattle, not as
the teeth of the living chatter from fear, but as the teeth of a dead
man might rattle when he is jolted in his coffin. For a minute she felt
the madness of her panic pass from her pulses to her brain, and her
terror of him turned her as cold as the sleet-covered iron railing
against which she leaned. A cowardly impulse tempted her to desert him
and run for her life, to seek shelter behind bolted doors, to leave him
there alone to freeze to death at her gate.

"Gabriella, I'm afraid," he whined, clinging to her arm. "I'm afraid,
Gabriella. You can't let go of me!"

An unspeakable loathing swept over her; his very touch seemed
contamination; and while she turned toward the gate, she knew that
every fibre of her flesh, every quiver of her nerves, revolted against
the thing she was doing. But something stronger than her flesh or her
nerves--the vein of iron in her soul--decided the issue.

"Come in with me, and I'll take care of you," she said. "There is the
step. Don't stumble. Here, steady yourself with the umbrella. We are
almost there now." Her voice was cold and hard; but the words were those
she might have used to Archibald had she been leading him in out of the
storm.

Still whimpering and stumbling, George clung to her with his desperate
clutch, while she dragged him up the short walk, which was deep in snow,
to the six steps, which appeared to her to reach upward into eternity.
As she approached the house, a light shone out suddenly in one of the
windows and a sense of safety, of perfect security descended upon her,
for she knew that it was the red glimmer of O'Hara's fire. With the
sensation, she heard again her mother's voice speaking above the storm:
"Gabriella, we'll send immediately for your Cousin Jimmy Wrenn!" So, in
the old days of her childhood, Cousin Jimmy had brought her this feeling
of relief in the midst of distress.

Opening the door with her latchkey, she dragged George into the hall,
where her thankful eyes fell on O'Hara's overcoat, from which the water
was, still dripping. For an instant she was tempted to call to him; then
checking the impulse, she went on to the staircase, which she ascended
with difficulty because George's legs seemed to give way when he tried
to lift them to a step. At last, after what she felt to be an eternity,
they reached the upper floor, and she pushed her burden into
Archibald's room, where he fell like a log on the hearthrug. The sound
of his fall shook the house, and when Miss Polly came running in, with a
cry of alarm, Gabriella almost expected to see O'Hara behind her. But
O'Hara did not come, and before the seamstress could recover from the
palpitations the shock had produced, George was on his feet again, and
was staring blankly, as if fascinated, at the reflection of the electric
light in the mirror.

"It's George," Gabriella explained in a harsh voice. "I found him in the
street. He was looking for me, and I couldn't leave him to freeze. I
think he's either drunk or ill. I don't know which it is, but it sounds
like pneumonia."

"God have mercy!" exclaimed Miss Polly, which was quite as lucid as she
ever became in a crisis. Her face had turned blue, she was trembling
with terror, and the violence of her palpitations almost exceeded the
painful sounds in George's chest. "If there was only a man we could send
for," she wailed hysterically. "Oh, Gabriella, if there was only a man!"

"Well, there's the doctor," replied Gabriella shortly. "You'd better
telephone for him at once. Get the nearest one. I think his name is
McFarland."

"And a nurse? You'll want a nurse, won't you?"

"I'll want anything I can get, and I'll want it quickly. There, hurry,
while I find a bathrobe of Archibald's. He's wet through--soaking wet.
He must have been out all day in the storm."

Miss Polly vanished into the dimness of the hall, and after a few
minutes Gabriella heard her fluttering voice demanding a telephone
number as if she were still supplicating the Deity.

"Take off your wet clothes while I get you a drink and some hot
blankets!" said Gabriella when she had found one of Archibald's
bathrobes in the closet. It occurred to her that George was really
incapable of undressing himself, but she felt that she would rather die
than touch him again. The loathing which had overpowered her outside in
the storm became stronger in the close air of the house. "I can't touch
him. I don't care what happens I can't touch him," she told herself,
while she placed the flannel robe on the rug, and hurried back to the
kitchen. Her whole body was benumbed and chilled, not from cold, but
from disgust, yet her mind was almost unnaturally active, and she found
herself thinking over and over again: "So this is the man I loved, this
is the man I married instead of Arthur!"

When she came back with a cup of broth and some hot blankets, she found
George in the flannel gown of Archibald's, with his wet clothes on the
floor at his feet, from which he had forgotten to remove his shoes. He
drank the soup greedily, while Miss Polly lighted the wood-fire she had
laid in the open grate.

"The heat's comin' up all right in the radiator," she said, "but I
thought a blaze might make him more comfortable."

"Yes, it's better," replied Gabriella sternly, while she stooped to
unlace George's boots. There was no compassion in her heart, and it
seemed to her, while she struggled with the wet lacing, that the fumes
of whiskey spread contagion and disease over the room. She was not only
hard and bitter--she felt that she loathed him with unspeakable
loathing.

"I declare, Gabriella, I believe he has gone deranged!" Miss Polly
cried out sharply, dropping the poker and starting to her feet in an
erratic impulse of flight.

With the flannel gown clutched tightly to his chest, where the dull
rattling sounds went on unceasingly, George was staring in fascinated
intensity at the reflection of the electric light in the mirror. Then
suddenly, with a scream of terror, he lifted the poker Miss Polly had
dropped, and flung it over Gabriella's head in the direction of the
dressing-table. At the noise of breaking glass, Gabriella rose from her
knees, and said in the hard, quiet voice she had used ever since the
first shock of the meeting:

"If you are afraid, lock yourself in your room, Miss Polly. I am going
downstairs for Mr. O'Hara."

Without waiting for a response, she ran out into the hall and down the
staircase, while her eyes clung to the comforting glimmer of light under
the drawing-room door. As her feet touched the lowest step, the door
opened quickly, and O'Hara stood on the threshold.



CHAPTER VIII

THE TEST


"I knew something was wrong," he said, emerging, big and efficient, from
the firelight, "and I was just coming up." Before she could answer she
felt his warm grasp on her hands, and it seemed to her suddenly that it
was not only her hands he enfolded, but her agonized and suffering mind.

"There's a man up there--" she faltered helplessly. "I was once married
to him long ago--oh, long ago. Just now I found him in the street and he
seems to be out of his mind. We are frightened."

But he seemed not to hear her, not to demand an explanation, not even to
wait to discover what she wanted. Already his long stride was
outstripping her on the staircase, and while she followed more slowly,
pausing now and then to take breath, she realized thankfully that the
situation had passed completely away from her power of command. As Miss
Polly's strength to hers, so was her strength to O'Hara's.

Faint, despairing moans issued from Archibald's room as she reached the
landing; and going inside, she saw George wrestling feebly with O'Hara,
who held him with one hand while with the other he waved authoritative
directions to Miss Polly.

"Get the bed ready for him, with plenty of hot blankets. He's about at
the end of his rope now. It's a jag, but it's more than a jag, too. If
I'm not mistaken he's in for a case of pneumonia."

Miss Polly, hovering timidly at a safe distance, held out the blankets
and the hot water bottles, while O'Hara carried George across the room
to the bed, and then covered him warmly. When he turned to glance about
his gaze fell on Gabriella, and he remarked bluntly: "You'd better get
out. You aren't wanted."

"But I am obliged to be here. It is my business, not yours," she
replied, while a sensation of sickness passed over her.

For a moment he regarded her stubbornly, "Well, I don't know whose
business it was a minute ago," he rejoined, "but it's mine now. I am
boss of this particular hell, and you're going to keep out of it. I
guess I know more about D.T. than you and Miss Polly put together would
know in a thousand years."

She was very humble. In the sweetness of her relief, of her security,
she would have submitted cheerfully not only to slang, but to downright
profanity. It was one of those unforgettable instants when character,
she understood, was more effective than culture. Even Arthur would have
appeared at a disadvantage beside O'Hara at that moment.

"I think I ought to help you," she insisted.

"Well, I think you oughtn't. Out you go! I guess I know what I'm up
against."

Before she could protest, before she could even resist, he had pushed
her out into the hail, and while she still hesitated there at the head
of the staircase, the door opened far enough to allow the huddled figure
of Miss Polly to creep through the crack. Then the key turned in the
lock; and O'Hara's voice was heard pacifying George as he might have
pacified a child or a lunatic. After a few minutes the shrieks stopped
suddenly; the door was unlocked again for a minute, and there floated
out the reassuring words:

"Don't stand out there any longer. It's as right as right. I've got him
buffaloed!"

"What does he mean?" inquired Gabriella helplessly of the seamstress.

"I don't know, but I reckon it's all right," responded Miss Polly. "He
seems to know just what to do, and anyhow the doctor'll be here in a
minute. It seems funny to give him whiskey, don't it, but that was the
first thing Mr. O'Hara thought of."

"I suppose his heart was weak. He looked as if he were dying," answered
Gabriella. "He asked for more whiskey, didn't he?"

"Yes; I'm goin' right straight to get it. Oh, Gabriella, ain't a man a
real solid comfort sometimes?"

Without replying to this ejaculation, Gabriella went after the whiskey,
and when she came back with the bottle in her hand, she found the doctor
on the landing outside the locked door. He was a stranger to her, and
she had scarcely begun her explanation when O'Hara called him into the
room.

"The sooner you take a look at him the better." Everything was taken out
of her hands--everything, even her explanation of George's presence in
her apartment.

As there was nothing more for her to do, she went back to the
sitting-room, where a fire burned brightly, and began to talk to Miss
Polly.

"I don't know what I should have done if he hadn't been here," she
said.

"Who? Mr. O'Hara? Well, it certainly was providential, honey, when you
come to think of it."

The door of Archibald's room opened and shut, and the doctor came down
the hall to the telephone. They heard him order medicines from a chemist
near-by; and then, after a minute, he took up the receiver, and spoke to
a nurse at the hospital. At first he gave merely the ordinary
directions, but at the end of the conversation he said sharply in answer
to a question: "No, there's no need of a restraining sheet. He's too far
gone to be violent. It is only a matter of hours."

His voice stopped, and Gabriella went out to him. "Will you tell me what
you think, Doctor?" she asked.

"Is he your husband?" He had a blank, secretive face, with light eyes,
and a hard mouth--so different, she thought from the poetic face of Dr.
French.

"I divorced him ten years ago."

He looked at her searchingly. "Well, he may last until morning, but it
is doubtful. His heart has given out."

"Is there anything I can do?"

"No. Morphine is the only thing. We are going to try camphorated oil,
but there is hardly a chance--not a chance." He turned to go back into
the room, then stopped, and added in the same tone of professional
stoicism: "The nurse will be here in half an hour, and I shall wait till
she comes."

When Gabriella went back to the sitting-room, Miss Polly was weeping. "I
followed you and heard what he said. Oh, Gabriella, ain't life too
awful!"

"I'll be glad when the nurse comes," answered Gabriella with impatience.
Emotionally she felt as if she had turned to stone, and she had little
inclination to explore the trite and tangled paths of Miss Polly's
philosophy.

The nurse, a stout, blond woman in spectacles, arrived on the stroke of
the half-hour, and after talking with her a few minutes, the doctor took
up his bag and came to tell Gabriella that he would return about
daybreak. "I've given instructions to the nurse, and Mr. O'Hara will sit
up in case he is needed, but there is nothing to do except keep the
patient perfectly quiet and give the hypodermics. It is too late to try
anything else."

"May I go in there?"

"Well, you can't do any good, but you may go in if you'd rather."

Then he went, as if glad of his release, and after Gabriella had
prevailed upon Miss Folly to go to bed, she changed her street dress for
a tea-gown, and threw herself on a couch before the fire in the
sitting-room. An overpowering fatigue weighed her down; the yellow
firelight had become an anodyne to her nerves; and after a few minutes
in which she thought confusedly of O'Hara and Cousin Jimmy, she let
herself fall asleep.

When she awoke a man was replenishing the fire, and as she struggled
drowsily back into consciousness, she realized that he was not Cousin
Jimmy, but O'Hara, and that he was placing the lumps of coal very softly
in the fear of awaking her.

"Hallo, there!" he exclaimed when he turned with the scuttle still in
his hand; "so you're awake, are you?"

She started up. "I've been asleep!" she exclaimed in surprise.

"You looked like a kid when I came in," he responded cheerfully, and she
reflected that even the presence of death could not shadow his jubilant
spirit. "I went back to the kitchen to make some coffee for the nurse
and myself, and I thought you might like a cup. It's first-rate coffee,
if I do say it. Two lumps and a little cream, I guess that's the way. I
rummaged in the icebox, and found a bottle of cream hidden away at the
back. That was right, wasn't it?"

A strange, an almost uncanny feeling of reminiscence, of vague yet
profound familiarity, was stealing over her. It all seemed to have
happened before, somewhere, somehow--the slow awakening to the large
dark form in the yellow firelight, O'Hara's sudden turning to look at
her, his exuberance, his sanguine magnetism, and even the cup of coffee
he made and brought to her side. She felt that it was the most natural
thing in the world to awake and find him there and to drink his coffee.

"It's good," she answered; "I had no dinner, and I am very hungry."

"I thought you'd be. That's why I brought a snack with it." He was
cutting a chicken sandwich on the tray he had placed under the green
shaded light, and after a minute he brought it to her and held the cup
while she ate. A nurse could not have been gentler about the little
things she needed; yet she knew that he was rough, off-hand,
careless--she could imagine that he might become almost brutal if he
were crossed in his purpose. She had believed him to be so simple; but
he was in reality, she saw, a mass of complexities, of actions and
reactions, of intricacies and involutions of character.

"I don't know what I should have done if you hadn't been here," she said
gratefully while she ate the sandwich and he sat beside her holding her
cup. "But I'm so unused to being taken care of," she added with a
trembling little laugh, "that I don't quite know how to behave."

"Oh, you would have got on all right," he rejoined carelessly; "but I'm
glad all the same that I was here."

She motioned toward the hall. "Has there been any change?"

"No, there won't be until morning. He'll last that long, I think. We're
giving him a hypodermic every four hours, but it really ain't any good,
you know. It is merely professional." For a minute he was silent,
watching her gravely; then recovering his casual manner, he added: "I
shouldn't let it upset me if I were you. Things happen that way, and
we've got to take them standing."

She shook her head. "I'm not upset. I'm not feeling it in the least.
Somehow, I can't even realize that I ever knew him. If you told me it
was all a dream, I should believe you."

"Well, you're a plucky sort. I could tell that the first minute I saw
you."

"It's not pluck. I don't feel things, that's all. I suppose I'm hard,
but I can't help it."

"Hard things come useful sometimes; they don't break."

"Yes, I suppose if I'd been soft, I should have broken long ago," she
replied almost bitterly.

After putting the plate and cup aside, he sat down by the table, and
gazed at her attentively for a long moment. "Well, you look as soft as a
white rose anyhow," he remarked with a curiously impersonal air of
criticism.

A rosy glow flooded her face. It was so long since any man had commented
upon her appearance that she felt painfully shy and displeased.

"All the same I've had a hard life," she returned with passionate
earnestness. "I married when I was twenty, and seven years later my
husband left me for another woman."

"The one in there?"

She shuddered, "Yes, the one in there."

"The darn fool!" he exclaimed briefly.

"There was a divorce, and then I had my two children to support and
educate. Because I had a natural talent for dressmaking, I turned to
that, and in the end I succeeded. But for ten years I never heard a word
of the man I married--until--I met him downstairs--in the street."

"And you brought him in?"

"What else could I do? He was dying."

"Do you know what he was doing out there?"

"He was looking for me, I think. He thought. I would take him in."

"Well, it's strange how things work out," was his comment after a pause.
"There's something in it somewhere that we can't see. It's impossible to
reason it out or explain it, but life has a way of jerking you up at
times and making you stand still and think. I know I'm putting it badly,
but I can't talk--I never could. Words, don't mean much to me, and yet I
know--I know--" He hesitated, and she watched his thought struggle
obscurely for expression. "I know you can't slip away from things and be
a quitter, no matter how hard you try. Life pulls you back again and
again till you've learned to play the game squarely."

He was gazing into the fire with a look that was strangely spiritual on
his face, which was half in shadow, half in the transfiguring glow of
the flames. For the second time she became acutely aware of the hidden
subtleties beneath his apparent simplicity.

"I've felt that myself often enough," he resumed presently in a low
voice. "I've been pulled up by something inside of me when I was
plunging ahead with the bit in my teeth, and it's been just exactly as
if this something said: 'Go steady or you'll run amuck and bu'st up the
whole blooming show.' You can't talk about it. It sounds like plain
foolishness when you put it into words, but when it comes to you, no
matter where you are, you have to stand still and listen."

"And is it only when you are running amuck that you hear it?" she asked.

"No, there've been other times--a few of them. Once or twice I've had it
come to me up in the Rockies when there didn't seem more than a few feet
between me and the sky, and then there was a time out on the prairie
when I was lost and thought I'd never get to the end of those darned
miles of blankness. Well, I've had a funny road to travel when I look
back at it."

"Tell me about some of the women you knew in the West." An insatiable
curiosity to hear the truth about his marriage seized her; but no sooner
had she yielded to it than she felt an impulsive regret. What right had
she to pry into the hidden sanctities of his past?

A frown contracted his forehead, but he said merely: "Oh, there wasn't
much about that," and she felt curiously baffled and resentful. "I think
I'll go and take a look in there," he added, rising and walking softly
in the direction of the room at the end of the hall.

He was gone so long that Gabriella, crushing down the revolt of her
nerves, went to the door, and opening it very gently, looked cautiously
into the room. The window was wide open to the night, where the snow was
still falling, and beside the candlestand at the head of the bed the
nurse was filling a hypodermic syringe from a teaspoon. By the open
window O'Hara stood inhaling the frosty air; and Gabriella crossed the
floor so silently that he did not notice her presence until he turned to
watch the nurse give the injection.

Then he said in a whisper: "You'd better go out. You can't do any good."
But she made an impatient gesture of dissent, and stopping between the
bed and the wall, waited while the nurse bared George's arm and inserted
the point of the needle. He was lying so motionless that she thought at
first that he was already dead; but presently he stirred faintly, a
shiver ran through the thin arm on the sheet, and a low, half-strangled
moan escaped from his lips. Had she come upon him in a hospital ward,
she knew that she should not have recognized him. He was not the man she
had once loved; he was not the father of her children; he was only a
stranger who was dying in her house. She could feel nothing while she
looked down at him. When she tried to remember her young love she could
recall but a shadow. That, too, was dead; that, too, had not left even a
memory.

As she bent there above him she made an effort to remember what he had
once been, to recall his face as she had first seen it, to revive the
burning radiance of that summer when they had been lovers. But a gray
veil of forgetfulness wrapped the past; and her mind, when she tried to
bring back the emotions of seventeen years ago, became vacant. For so
long she had stoically put the thought of that past out of her life,
that when she returned to it now, she found that only ashes remained.
Then a swift stab of pity pierced her heart like a blade, and she saw
again, not George her lover, not George her husband, but the photograph
Mrs. Fowler had shown her of the boy in velvet clothes with the wealth
of curls over his lace collar. So it was that boy who lay dying like a
stranger in the bed of his son!

She turned hurriedly and went out without speaking, without looking back
when she opened the door.

"If one could only understand it," she said aloud as she entered the
sitting-room; and then, with a start of surprise, she realized that
O'Hara had followed her. "You walked so softly I didn't hear you," she
explained.

"The rugs are thick, and I have on slippers. My boots were soaking when
I came in, and I'd just taken them off when you called."

They sat down again in front of the fire; and while she stared silently
at the flames, with her chin on her hand and her elbow on the arm of the
chair, he burst out so unexpectedly that she caught her breath in a
gasp:

"You didn't know that I was married, too, did you?" His words, and even
more than his words, his voice, filled with suppressed emotion, awoke
her from her reverie in which she had been dreaming of Arthur.

She smiled evasively, remembering her promise to Mrs. Squires.

He hesitated again, and then spoke with an effort. "Well, it was hell!"
he said grimly.

"I know"--she was very gentle, full of understanding and sympathy--"but
you went through it bravely."

"I stuck to her." His hand clenched while he answered. Then, after a
pause in which she watched him struggle against some savage instinct for
secrecy, he added quietly: "If she were alive to-day, I'd be sticking to
her still."

"You must have loved her." It was all she could think of to say, and yet
the words sounded trite and canting as soon as she had uttered them.

Lifting his head quickly, he made a contemptuous gesture of dissent.
"No, it wasn't that. I never loved her, except, perhaps, just at the
first. But there's something that comes before love, I guess. I don't
know what it is, but there's something. It may be just plain doggedness,
but after I married her there wasn't anything on top this earth that
could have made me give up and let go. As soon as I found what I was up
against--it was morphine--I knew I'd either got to fight it out or be a
quitter, and I've never been a quitter. Until she got so bad she had to
be shut up I kept a home for her out there in Colorado, and I lived with
her in hell as long as she wasn't too bad to be out of a hospital. Then
I brought her on here and we found a private place down on Long Island
where she stayed till she died--"

"And you still saw her?"

"Except when I was out West, and that's where I was most of the time,
you know. My work was out there, and there's nothing like hell behind
you to keep you running. I made piles of money those years. That's all
I ever cared for about money--just making it. I'd fight the devil to get
it, but after I've once got it, I'll give it to the first fool who comes
begging. But the getting of it is great."

"How long did it last?"

"My marriage? Going on eighteen years. She was down on Long Island for
the last ten of them."

"Then you lived with her eight. Was she always--always-"

"Took it before I ever married her, and I found it out in a month. She
wasn't so much to blame as you might think," he pursued thoughtfully.
"You see she had a tough time of it, and she was little and weak, and
everything was against her. She came out West first to teach school, and
then she got mixed up with some skunk of a man who pretended to marry
her when he had a wife living in Chicago, and after that I guess she
went on taking a dope just to keep up her spirits and ease the pain of
some spinal trouble she'd had since she was a child. There was nothing
bad in her--she was just weak--and I began to feel sorry for her, and so
I did it. If I had it to do over again, I'm not so sure I'd act
differently. She was a poor little creature that didn't have any man to
look after her, and I was just muddling along anyway, thinking about
money. Heaven knows what would have become of her if I hadn't happened
along when I did."

He had lifted his head toward the light, while he ran his hand through
his hair, and again she saw the look, so like spiritual exaltation,
transfigure his face. Before this man, who had sprung from poverty and
dirt, who had struggled up by his own force, overcoming and triumphing,
fighting and winning, fighting and holding, fighting and losing, but
always fighting--before this man, who had been born in a cellar, she
felt suddenly humbled. Without friends, without knowledge, except the
bitter knowledge of the streets, he had fought his fight, and had kept
untarnished a certain hardy standard of honour. Beside this tremendous
achievement she weighed his roughness, his ignorance of books and of the
superficial conventions, and she realized how little these things really
mattered--how little any outside things mattered in the final judgment
of life. She thought of George, dying a drunkard's death in the room at
the end of the hail--of George whose way had been smoothed for him from
birth, who had taken everything that he had wanted.

"I wish there was something I could do for you--something to help you,"
she said impetuously. "But I never saw any one who seemed to need help
so little."

His face brightened, and she saw that her words had brought a touching
wistfulness into his eyes.

"Well, if you'd let me come and talk to you sometimes" he answered
shyly. "There're a lot of things I'd like to talk to you about--things I
don't know, things I do know, and things I half know."

From the brilliant look she turned on him, he understood that he must
have given her pleasure, and she saw the smile return to his face.

"I'll tell you everything I know and welcome," she replied readily; "but
that isn't much. Better than that, I'll read to you."

"If you don't mind, I think I'd rather you'd just talk." Then he rose
with one of his abrupt movements, "I'd better look in again now. The
nurse might want something."

"I feel that you oughtn't to stay up," urged Gabriella, rising as he
turned away from her. "You have done all you can."

His only response was an impatient negative gesture, and without looking
at her, he crossed the room quickly and went out into the hall. Hardly a
minute had passed, and she was still standing where he had left her,
when he returned and said in a whisper:

"He is going now--very quietly. Will you come?"

She shook her head, crying out sharply: "No! no!" Then before something
in his face her opposition melted swiftly away, and she added: "Yes,
I'll come. He might like to have some one by him who knew him as he used
to be."

"After all, he got the worst of it, poor devil!" he answered gently as
he opened the door.

By a miracle of memory her resentment was swept out of her thoughts, and
she was conscious of an infinite pity. In George's face, while she
watched it, there flickered back for an instant the glory of that
enchanted spring when she had first loved him. Of his brilliant promise,
his ardent youth, there remained only this fading glimmer in the face of
a man who was dying. And it seemed to her suddenly that she saw embodied
in this wreck of youth and love all the inscrutable mystery not of
death, but of life. Her tears fell quickly, and while they fell O'Hara's
grasp enfolded her hand.

"It's over now. The best thing that could happen to him has happened,"
he said, and the touch of his hand was like the touch of life itself,
consoling, strengthening, restoring.

In the days that followed it was as if the helpful spirit of Cousin
Jimmy had returned to her in the unfamiliar character of O'Hara. The
ghastly details of George's burial were not only taken out of her hands,
she was hardly permitted to know even that they were necessary. All
explanations were made, not by her, but by O'Hara; and when they
returned together from the cemetery, Gabriella brought with her a
feeling that she had been watching something that belonged to O'Hara
laid in the earth. But when she tried to thank him, she found that he
was apparently unaware that he had done anything deserving of gratitude.

"Oh, that's nothing. Anybody would have done it," he remarked, and
dismissed the subject forever.

For a week after this she did not see him again; and then one Saturday
afternoon, when she was leaving Dinard's, they met by chance and walked
home together. It was the first time she had been in the street with
him, and she was conscious of feeling absurdly young and girlish--she,
the mother of a daughter old enough to have love affairs! A soft
flush--the flush of youth--tinted her pale cheek; her step, which so
often dragged wearily after the day's work, was as buoyant as Fanny's;
and her low, beautiful laugh was as gay as if she were not burdened by
innumerable anxieties. As they passed a shop window, her reflection
flashed back at her, and she thought happily: "Yes, it is true, you are
better looking at thirty-seven, Gabriella, than you were at twenty."

"Shall we walk down?" asked O'Hara, and added: "So that was your shop? I
am glad that I saw it. But what do you do there all day?"

She laughed merrily. "Put in pins and take them out again. Design,
direct, scold, and flatter. We are getting in the spring models now,
and it's very exciting."

He glanced down at her figure, noting, as if for the first time, the
narrowness at the feet, the large loose waist, and the bunchiness around
the hips.

"Did you make that?" he inquired.

"This coat? Oh, no; it came from Paris. It was left on my hands," she
explained, "or I shouldn't be wearing it. I wear only what people won't
buy, you know."

"No, I didn't know," he returned abstractedly, and she observed
humorously after a minute that he was not thinking of her because he was
thinking so profoundly about her clothes. It was his way, she had
discovered, to concentrate his mind intensely upon the object before
him, no matter how trivial or insignificant it might appear. He seemed
never to have learned how to divide either his interest or his
attention.

"If you could make what you wanted," he remarked, "I should think you'd
make them more comfortable. Are you going to wear those hobble skirts
this spring?"

"They'll be narrow at the feet but very bunchy at the top--doesn't that
sound delightful? I am making a white taffeta for Fanny that has five or
six yards of perfectly good material puffed out in the most ridiculous
way at the back over a petticoat of silver lace."

Her spirits felt so light, so effervescent, that she wanted to jest, to
laugh, to talk nonsense interminably; and after his first moments of
bewilderment, when he appeared still unable to detach his mind from his
business, he entered gaily and heartily into her mood. His perplexities
once disposed of, he gave himself entirely to the enjoyment of the walk
with her, and she noticed for the first time his boyish delight in the
simplest details of life. With the simplicity of a man to whom large
pleasures are unknown, he threw himself whole-heartedly into the
momentary diversion of small ones. Every person in the crowd, she
discovered, excited his interest, and his humour bubbled over at the
most insignificant things--at the grimace of a newsboy who offered him a
paper, at the absurd hat worn by a woman in a motor car, at the
expression of disgusted solemnity on the face of a servant in livery, at
the giggles of an over-dressed girl who hung on the arm of an anemic and
exhausted admirer. Never before had she encountered such vitality, such
careless, pure, and uncalculating joy of life. There was a tonic quality
in his physical presence, and while she walked at his side down Fifth
Avenue she felt as if she were swept onward by one of the health-giving,
pine-scented winds of Colorado. And she told herself reassuringly that
only a man who had lived decently could have kept himself so
extraordinarily young and exuberant at forty-five.

The shop windows, particularly those displaying men's shirtings,
enchanted him; and he stopped a moment before each one, while she
yielded as obligingly as she might have yielded to a fancy of
Archibald's, though she was aware that her son would have scorned to
look into a window.

"It's so seldom I get out on the Avenue, that's why I like it, I
suppose," he remarked while they were surveying a festive arrangement of
pink madras.

She smiled up at him, and her smile, gay as it was, held a touch of
maternal solicitude. Notwithstanding his bigness and his success and his
forty-five years, there was something appealingly boyish about him.

"It would be so easy to get out, wouldn't it?" she asked as they walked
on again.

"Well, there ain't much fun when you are by yourself."

"But you know plenty of people."

"Oh, yes, I know people enough in a business way, but that don't mean
having friends, does it? Of course, I've men friends scattered
everywhere," he added. "The West is full of 'em, but it's funny when you
come to think of it--" He broke off, hesitated an instant, and then went
on again: "It's funny, but I don't believe. I ever had a woman friend in
my life--I mean a friend who wasn't just the wife of some man I knew in
business."

The confession touched her, and she answered impulsively: "Well, that's
just what I want to be to you--a good friend."

He laughed, but his eyes shone as he looked down on her. "If you'd only
take the trouble."

"It won't be any trouble--not a bit of it. After your goodness to me,
how could I help being your friend?"

Lifting her eyes she would have met his squarely while she spoke, but he
was not looking at her--he appeared, indeed, to be looking almost
obstinately away from her.

"There wasn't anything in what I did," he responded in a barely audible
voice, and she understood that he was embarrassed by her gratitude.

"But there was something in it--there was a great deal in it," she
insisted. It was so easy to be natural with a man, so easy to be candid
and sincere when there was no question of sentiment, and, she thought
almost gratefully of the elusive and mysterious Alice. The faintest
suggestion of romance would have spoiled things in the beginning; but
thanks to the hidden Alice, she might be as kind and frank as she
pleased. Besides, she was nearly thirty-eight, and a woman of
thirty-eight might certainly be trusted to make a friend of a man of
forty-five.

With this thought, over which the memory of Arthur brooded benevolently,
in her mind, she said warmly: "It will make so much difference to me,
too, having a real friend in New York."

He turned to her with a start. "Do you mean that I could make a
difference to you?"

"The greatest difference, of course," she rejoined brightly, eager to
convince him of his importance in her life. "I can't tell you--you would
never understand how lonely I get at times, and now with the children
away it is worse than ever--the loneliness, I mean, and the feeling that
there isn't anybody one could turn to in trouble."

For a minute he appeared to ponder this deeply. "Well, you could always
come to me if you needed anything," he answered at last, and she felt
intuitively that for some reason he was distrustful either of himself or
of her. "I am not here very much of my time, but whenever I am, I am
entirely at your service."

"But that's only half of it." She was determined to reassure him. "A
friendship can't be one-sided, can it? And it isn't fair when you give
everything, that I should give nothing."

His scruples surrendered immediately to her argument. "You give
everything--you give happiness," he said--a strange speech certainly
from the twilight lover of Alice. However, as she reasoned clearly
after her first perplexity, men were often strange when one least
expected or desired strangeness. At thirty-seven, whatever else life had
denied her, she felt that it had granted her a complete understanding of
men; and it was out of this complete understanding that she observed
brightly after a minute:

"Well, if you feel that way, we are obliged to be friends." At least she
would prove by her frankness that she was not one of those foolish women
who are always taking things seriously.

"Yes, you give happiness. You scatter it, all over the place," he went
on, groping an instant after the right words.

"Cousin Jimmy used to say," she laughed back, "that I had a sunny
temper."

"That's it--that's what I meant," he replied eagerly; and she was
impressed again by his utter inability to make light conversation. When
he was once started, when he had lost himself in his subject, she knew
that he could speak both fluently and convincingly; but she realized
that he simply couldn't talk unless he had something to say. In order to
put him at his ease again, she remarked with pleasant firmness: "Do you
know there is something about you that reminds me of my Cousin Jimmy. It
gives me almost a cousinly feeling for you."

She had the air of expecting him to be interested, but he met it with
the rather vague interrogation: "Cousin Jimmy?"

"The cousin who always came to our help when we were in trouble. We used
to say that if the bread didn't rise, mother sent for Cousin Jimmy."

Though he laughed readily enough, she could see that his attention was
still wandering. "I never had a cousin," he returned after a pause, "or
a relation of any sort, for that matter."

His voice was curiously distant, and she was conscious of a slight
shock, as if she had run against one of the hard places in his
character. "Well, I've done my best," she thought impatiently. "If he
doesn't want to be friends he needn't be." Then, with a change of
manner, she observed flippantly: "Sometimes one's relatives are useful
and sometimes they're not." Really, he was impossibly heavy except in a
crisis; and one could scarcely be expected to produce crises in order to
put him thoroughly at his ease.

As he made no response to her trite remark, she, also, fell silent,
while they turned into Twenty-third Street, and began the long walk to
Ninth Avenue. Once or twice, glancing inquiringly into his face, which
wore a preoccupied look, she wondered if he were thinking of Alice.
Then, as the silence became suddenly oppressive, she ventured warily in
the effort to dispel it: "I hope you are not disturbed about anything?"

"Disturbed?" He turned to her with a start. "No, I was only wondering if
you knew how much your friendship would mean to me."

It was out at last, and confirmed once more in her knowledge of men, she
retorted gaily: "How can I know if you won't take the trouble to tell
me?" After all, she reflected cheerfully, the education she had derived
from George and Judge Crowborough, though lacking in the higher
branches, was fundamentally sound. All men were alike in one thing at
least--they invariably disappointed one's expectations.

"I've been trying to tell you for a quarter of an hour," he answered,
"and I didn't know how to put it."

"But at last you didn't have to put it at all," she said laughingly; "it
simply put itself, didn't it?"

"I am still wondering," he persisted gravely.

"Wondering if I know?" She spoke in the sweetly practical tone of one
who is firmly resolved not to permit any nonsense. "Yes, I do know--that
is, I know there are ways in which I might be useful to you."

"For instance?"

"Well, there are some little--some very little things I might tell you
if we were friends--real friends," she made this plain, "just as two men
might be."

"But the very last things two men would tell each other," he was
laughing now, "are the little things--the things about slang and
walking-sticks and oak furniture."

So he hadn't forgotten! The recollection of her impertinence confused
her, and she hastened to make light of it by protesting gaily: "I was
only joking. Of course, you didn't take that seriously."

"I don't know how much more seriously," he replied emphatically, "I
could have taken it."

"But you haven't thought of it since?"

"What would you say if I told you I hadn't thought of anything else?"

"Then I wish I hadn't said it." She was obviously worried by his
admission. "It was horrid of me--perfectly horrid. I ought to have been
ashamed of myself. I had no right to criticise you, and you have been so
heavenly kind."

"After that"--he appeared to be hammering the idea into her mind--"I
was so grateful I'd have done almost anything. Do you know," he burst
out with evident emotion, "that was the first criticism--I mean
downright honest criticism--I've ever had in my life. Nobody--that is
nobody who knew--ever thought enough of me before to tell me where I was
wrong."

It was all a pathetic mistake, she saw, but she saw also that it was
impossible for her to explain it away. She could not tell him the ugly
truth that she had been merely laughing at him when he had believed, in
his beautiful simplicity, that she was speaking as a friend. Though she
felt ashamed, humbled, remorseful, there was nothing that she could say
now which would not hurt him more than the original misunderstanding had
done.

In her desire to atone as far as possible, she remarked recklessly: "I
only wish I could be of some real help to you."

"You can," he answered frankly. "You can let me come to see you
sometimes before I go West again."

"You are going back in the spring?"

He laughed happily, drawing himself erect with a large, free movement as
if he needed to stretch his limbs. "I can't stand more than six months
of the East, and I've been here a year now, off and on. After a time I
begin to want air. I want to breathe."

"Yet you lived here once."

"A sort of life, yes, but that don't count."

"What does count with you, I wonder?" She was smiling up at him, and as
they passed under a street light her eyes shone with a misty brightness
through her veil of dotted net.

For a minute he thought over her question. "I guess fighting does," he
answered at last. "Getting on in spite of hard knocks, and smashing
things that stand in your way. I like the feeling that comes after
you've put through a big deal or got the better of the desert or the
mountains. I got joy in Arizona out of my first silver mine; but I
didn't get the joy exactly out of the silver. I don't suppose you
understand."

"Oh, yes, I do. I understand perfectly. It's the pure spirit of
adventure. Whenever we do a thing for the sake of the struggle, not for
the thing itself, it's pure adventure, isn't it?"

"Well, I like money," he said with the air of being entirely honest.
"I'm not a romantic chap, don't think that about me. I care a lot about
money, only after I've made it, somehow, I never know what to do with
it. All I want for myself is a place to sleep and a bite to eat--I'm not
over-particular what it is--and clothes to wear, good clothes, too--but
I don't give a hang for motor cars except to go long distances in when
there are no trains running."

It was the commonplace problem, worked out in intricate detail, of the
newly rich, of the uncultivated rich, of the rich whose strenuously
active processes of enrichment had permanently closed all other highways
to experience. Seventeen years ago the Gabriella of Hill Street would
have had only disdain for the newly rich and their problems; but life,
which had softened her judgment and modified her convictions, had
completely reversed her inherited opinion of such a case as O'Hara's.
Though he was as raw as unbaked brick, she was penetrating enough to
discern that he was also as genuine; and, so radically had events
altered her point of view, that at thirty-seven she found genuine
rawness more appealing than superficial refinement. George had wearied
her of the sham and the superficial, of gloss without depth, of manner
without substance, of charm without character.

"But there is so much that you might do to help," she said presently.
"After all, money is power, isn't it?"

"Misused power too often," he answered. "Of course, you can always build
lodging-houses and tenements and hospitals; but when you come squarely
down to facts, I've never in my life tried to help a man by giving him
money that I haven't regretted it. Why, I've ruined men by helping to
make their way too easy at the start."

"Perhaps you're right," she admitted; "I don't know much about it, I
confess; but I should have been spared a great deal of suffering if I
had had something to start with when I was obliged to make my living."

"That's different." His voice had grown gentle in an instant. "I can't
think of your ever having had a hard time. You seem so strong, so
successful, so happy."

If she had answered straight from her heart, Gabriella would have
retorted frankly: "A good deal of that is in the shape of my face and
the way I dress," but instead of speaking sincerely, she remarked with
impersonal cheerfulness: "Oh, well, happiness, like everything else, is
mainly a habit, isn't it? I cultivated the habit of happiness at the
most miserable time of my life, and I've never quite lost it."

"But I don't like to think of your ever having worried," he protested.

Of her ever having worried! Was he becoming dangerously sentimental or
was it merely a random spark of his unquenchable Western chivalry?

Though she told herself emphatically again that she was not falling in
love with O'Hara, though she was perfectly faithful in her heart to the
memory of Arthur, still she was vividly aware with every drop of her
blood, with every beat of her pulses, of the man at her side. And
through her magnetic sense of his nearness there flowed to her presently
a deeper and clearer perception of the multitudinous movements of life
which surrounded her--of the variable darkness out of which lights
flashed and gigantic spectacular outlines loomed against a dim
background of sky, of the vague shapes stirring, swarming, creating
there in the darkness, and always of the pitiless, insatiable hunger
from which the city had sprung. For the first time, flowing like a
current from the mind of the man beside her, there came to her an
understanding of her own share in the common progress of life--for the
first time she felt herself to be not merely a woman who lived in a
city, but an integral part of that city, one cell among closely packed
millions of cells. Something of the responsibility she felt for her own
children seemed to spread out and cover the city lying there in its
dimness and mystery.

"But I don't like to think of your ever having worried," he repeated.

"Oh, it's over now," she returned, severely matter-of-fact. "It took me
years to make my way, but I've made it at last, and I may settle down to
a comfortable middle-age without the dread of the poorhouse to spur me
into activity. My business is doing very well; our custom has doubled in
the last two or three years."

"But wasn't it a tough pull at one time?"

"It was hard; but what isn't? Of course, when I was obliged to work from
nine till six and then come home to cook the children's dinner and teach
them their lessons, I used to be tired out by the end of the day--but
that lasted only a few years: five or six at the most--and now I can
afford to let Fanny wear imported gowns when she goes out to parties."

Though she spoke gaily, making a jest of her struggle, she saw the
gravity of his face deepen until his features looked almost wooden.

"And through it all you kept something that so many other women seem to
lose when they work for a living," he said. "You've kept your--your
charm."

Again she found herself on the point of exclaiming frankly: "heaven
knows I've tried to!"--and again, checking herself, she proceeded
cautiously: "I've never understood why charm should be merely a hothouse
flower."

"I suppose it does depend a good deal upon a sunny temper," he rejoined
in his blindness.

They had reached the gate, and stopping him when he would have entered,
she said with the directness of a man: "So we're friends, and you're
coming to see me?"

"Yes, I'm coming," he replied gravely. Then, standing beside the gate,
he watched her while she went up the walk and opened the door with her
key.

Upstairs, with her knitting on her lap and her feet on the fender, Miss
Polly looked up to observe: "You're late, Gabriella. You must have
walked all the way."

"Yes, I walked all the way. Mr. O'Hara joined me."

"Where did you run across him?"

"Just as I left the shop. He was walking down Fifth Avenue."

"Do you reckon he was waitin' outside?"

"Oh, no, he said he had been up to Fifty-ninth Street on business."

"Well, the walk certainly did you good. You are bloomin' like a rose."

"The air was delicious, and I really like talking to Mr. O'Hara. He is
quite interesting after you get over the first impression, and he isn't
nearly so ignorant about things as I imagined. He has thought a great
deal even if he hasn't read very much. It's wonderful, isn't it, what
the West can do with a man? Now, if he'd stayed in New York he would
have been merely impossible, but because he has lived out of doors he
has achieved a certain distinction. I can understand a woman falling in
love with him just because of his force and his bigness. They are the
qualities a woman likes most, I think."

"He must have made a great deal of money."

"Yes, he's rich, and that's a good thing. I like money tremendously,
though I used to think that I didn't. I wonder if he had been poor if I
should have liked him quite so much?" she asked herself honestly.

"I don't 'spose you could ever--ever bring yourself to think of him,
honey? It would be a mighty good thing in some ways."

Gabriella, being in a candid mood, pondered the question without
subterfuge or evasion. "Of course I've passed the sentimental age," she
answered. "If Mr. O'Hara had been poor, I suppose I should never have
thought of him; but his money does make a difference. It stands for
success, achievement, and ability, and I like all those qualities. Then
he is rough in many ways, but he isn't a bit vulgar. He has genuine
character. There is absolutely no pretence about him."

"You could catch him in a minute," replied Miss Polly hopefully,
animated by the inveterate match-making instinct of her class.

Gabriella laughed merrily. "Oh, yes, I might capture him if I went
questing for him. I am not a child. But put that out of your head
forever, Miss Polly. I have given him clearly to understand that there
must be no nonsense, though, for the matter of that, I doubt if he
needed the warning. There is an Alice."

"I reckon it would take more than an Alice to stand in the way if you
wanted him," insisted the little seamstress, possessed by an obstinate
conviction that fate could provide no happiness apart from marriage.

"Perhaps. But you see I don't want him." Gabriella had become perfectly
serious, and to Miss Polly's amazement a hint of petulance showed in her
manner. "Everything of that kind was over for me long ago. I never think
of love now, and if I did there wouldn't be but one--but one--"

"I know, honey," agreed Miss Polly, suddenly softened, "and I'd give
anything on earth if you and Arthur could come together again."

"It wouldn't be any use. I made my choice, and I have had to abide by
it. He could never forgive me--". She stopped as if she were choking,
and Miss Polly said sympathetically:

"Well, I wish he had a chance to, that's all. Why don't you run down to
Richmond for a few days this spring to see your folks? Your ma and all
would be so glad to see you, and it ain't as if you had the children to
keep you back. The thing that worries me," she added with feeling, "is
the thought of your spendin' the summer here without the children. If
Archibald goes to camp from school and Fanny joins Jane at the White
Sulphur Springs as soon as her school is out, you won't have them at
all, will you?"

"No, but they will be happy; that is the only thing that matters."

"It seems all wrong to me. What do you get out of life, honey?"

"What do any of us get out of it, dear little Miss Polly, except the joy
of triumphing? It's overcoming that really matters, nothing else, and it
is the same thing to you and to me that it is to the man downstairs. I
am happy because in my little way I stood the test of struggle, and so
are you, and so is Mr. O'Hara."

"But you're young yet, and it ain't natural for you to live as you're
doin'. Lots of women marry when they're older than you are."

"Oh, yes, if they want to--"

For a minute the little seamstress rattled her newspaper while she
looked at her without replying. Then, after folding the paper, and
removing her spectacles, she asked grimly: "Can you look me in the eyes,
Gabriella, and tell me that you ain't still hankerin' after Arthur?"

The blush of a girl made the business-like Gabriella appear as young and
as piquantly feminine as her daughter.

"No, Miss Polly, I cannot," she answered with incomparable directness;
"I have loved Arthur all my life."

"That's just what I thought all along, and yet you went off and married
somebody else." Excited by the unexpected confession, Miss Polly was
quivering with sympathy.

In that supreme instant of self-revelation Gabriella answered this
accusation as if it had been uttered by her remorseful conscience. "But
that wasn't love," she said slowly; "it was my youth craving experience;
it was my youth reaching after the unknown, the untried, the
undiscovered. We all go questing for adventure one way or another, I
suppose, but it was not the reality."

"I wonder what is," said Miss Polly in a whisper; "I wonder what is,
Gabriella?"

"That," replied Gabriella softly, "is what I am still trying to
discover."



CHAPTER IX

THE PAST


It was the morning of Gabriella's thirty-eighth birthday, and she was
standing, with her hat on, before the window of her sitting-room, gazing
with dreaming eyes at the young leaves on the elm tree. The day's work
was ahead of her, but for a little while, standing there by the open
window, she gave herself, with a sense of pleasure, of abandonment, to
the rare luxury of regret. Out of her whole year it was the one day
when, for a few hours, she permitted herself to think sadly of the past
and the future, when she cherished in her heart something of the gentle
melancholy of her mother's retrospective philosophy.

In the street, beyond the narrow yard, where the grass lay like a veil,
there was a curious deadening of sounds, as if the traffic had become
suddenly muffled in the languorous softness of spring. Out of this
imaginary stillness floated the sharp twittering of sparrows and the
bright laugh of a child at play in one of the neighbouring yards. Above
the grim outlines of the city the sky shone divinely clear and blue,
flecked by a single cloud, soft as an eagle's feather, which drifted in
a mist of light above the horizon. The city, beneath that azure sky,
borrowed the transparent brightness of an object that is imprisoned in
crystal. White magic had transformed it for an hour, and the street,
the houses, the shining elm tree, and the distant frowning brows of the
skyscrapers, all seemed as unreal as the vivid yet impalpable images in
a dream. And into this world of crystal there drifted, like the essence
of spring, the dreamy fragrance from the window box filled with white
hyacinths.

While she stood there Gabriella thought pensively of many things. She
thought of the day's work before her, of the gown she was designing for
Mrs. Pletheridge, of Fanny's latest lover, the brother of a schoolmate,
of the clothes she should send the child to the White Sulphur Springs,
of her mother, and of Jane's eldest daughter, Margaret; and then very
slowly, with the scent of the hyacinths drowning all merely prosaic
memories, she began to think hopelessly and tenderly of Arthur Peyton.
She thought of him as he had looked on the day when she had told him of
her engagement of the sympathetic expression in his eyes, and of his
beautiful manner, which she had felt at the time she could never forget.
Well, after eighteen years she had not forgotten it. Compared with
Arthur, all other men seemed to her as unreal as shadows. "How could
Miss Polly imagine that I'd think of Ben O'Hara after a love like that?"
she reflected indignantly.

And then, perhaps because for a shadow he was so solidly substantial,
she became aware that O'Hara's image was trespassing upon the hallowed
soil of her reverie. To be sure, she had seen a great deal of him since
George's death, when he had been so wonderfully considerate and helpful.
Scarcely a day had passed since then that he had not brightened by some
reminder of his friendship. They had spent long evenings together; and
occasionally, accompanied by the delighted Miss Polly, they had gone to
dinner at a restaurant and later to a concert or a play. That he had
been almost too kind it was impossible for her to deny; but she had
tried her best to repay him--she had, when one came to the point, done
as much as she could to remedy the defects of his education. At first
she had given zest, sympathy, eagerness, to her self-appointed task of
making him over; then, as the months went by, a sense of doubt, of
discouragement, of approaching failure, had tempered her enthusiasm, and
at last she had realized that her work, except in the merest details,
had been ineffectual and futile. The differences, which she had regarded
as superficial, were, in reality, fundamental. It was impossible to make
him over because he was so completely himself. He stood quite definitely
for certain tendencies in democracy, and by no ingenious manipulation
could she twist him about until he presented the sham appearance of
moving in the opposite direction. For the logic of her failure was
perfectly simple--he couldn't see, however hard he tried, the things she
wanted him to look at. The difficulty was far deeper than a mere matter
of finish, or even of education--for it was, after all, not one of
manner, but of material. Day by day she had realized more clearly that
the problem confronting them was one which involved their different
standards of living and their individual philosophies. The things which
she regarded as essential were to him only the accidental variations of
life. He had lived so long in touch with the basic realities--with vast
spaces and the stark aspect of desert horizons, with droughts, and
winds, and the unquenchable pangs of thirst and hunger, with the vital
issues of birth and death in their most primitive forms--he had lived so
long in touch with the simplest and most elemental forces of Nature,
that his spirit, as well as his vision, had adjusted itself to a
trackless and limitless field of view. No, what he was now he must
remain, since to change him, except in trivial details, was out of her
power.

And of course he had his virtues--she would have been the last to deny
him his virtues. Whenever she applied the touchstone of character, she
realized how little alloy there was in the pure gold of his nature. He
was truthful, he was generous, he was brave, kind, and tolerant; but his
virtues, like his personality, were large, flamboyant, and without
gradations of colour. Custom had not pruned their natural luxuriance,
nor had tradition toned down the violence of their contrasts. They were
experimental, not established virtues, as obviously the expression of
the man himself as was his uncultivated preference for red geraniums.
For he possessed, she admitted, a sincerity such as she had not believed
compatible with human designs--certainly not with human achievement.
According to the code of the sheltered half of her sex--according to the
inflexible code of her mother and Jane--he was not a gentleman. He
lacked breeding, he lacked taste, he lacked the necessary education of
schools; but in other ways, in ways peculiarly his own, she was
beginning dimly to realize that he possessed qualities immeasurably
larger than any superficial lack in his nature. In balance, moderation,
restraint--in all the gracious attributes with which Arthur was endowed
in her memory, in all the attributes she had particularly esteemed in
the past--she understood that O'Hara would undoubtedly fall below her
inherited standards. But, failing in these things, he had been able to
command her respect by the sheer force of his character. Though he had,
as he had confessed to her, gone down into hell, she could not talk to
him for an hour without recognizing that he had never lost a natural
chivalry of mind beside which the cultivated chivalry of manner appeared
as exotic as an orchid in a hothouse. Even Arthur, she was aware, would
have lied to her for her own good; but she would have trusted O'Hara to
speak the truth to her at any cost. In this, as well as in his practical
efficiency, and his crude yet vital optimism, he embodied, she felt, the
triumphs and the failures of American democracy--this democracy of ugly
fact and of fine ideals, of crooked deeds and of straight feeling, of
little codes and of large adventures, of puny lives and of heroic
deaths--this democracy of the smoky present and the clear future. "If
this is our raw material to-day," she thought hopefully, "what will the
finished and signed product of to-morrow be?"

"Gabriella, ain't these lovely?"

Whirling out of the sunshine, she saw Miss Polly holding a rustic basket
of primroses and cowslips. "Mr. O'Hara wants to know if he may speak to
you for a minute before you go out?"

"Oh, yes, I'm not in a hurry this morning." Then Miss Polly disappeared
and an instant later the vacant space in the doorway was filled
exuberantly by O'Hara.

"I wanted to be the first to wish you a happy birthday," he began, a
little shyly, a little awkwardly, though his face was flushing with
pleasure.

"The flowers are wonderful!" For a minute, while she answered him, he
seemed to be a part of the unreal intense brightness of the world
outside--of that magic world where the elm tree and the grass and the
sunny street were all imprisoned in crystal. He diffused a glowing
consciousness of success, a sanguine faith in the inherent goodness of
experience. For, as she had discovered long ago, O'Hara was one of those
who stood not for the elimination of struggle, but for the complete
acceptance of life. He had sprung out of ugliness, he had lived
intimately with evil; and yet more than any one she had ever known, he
seemed to her to radiate the simple, uncalculating joy of living. He was
the strongest person she knew, as well as the happiest. He had never
evaded facts, never feared a risk, never shirked an issue, never lacked
the hardy, adventurous courage of battle. In his own words, life had
never "found him a quitter."

He stood in front of her now, fresh, smiling, robust, with his look of
suddenly arrested energy, and the dark red of his hair, which was still
moist from his bath, striking a vivid note against the cool grays and
blues of the background. The sunshine, falling through the open window,
warmed the ruddy tan of his face, and made his eyes like pools of clear
light in which the jubilant spirit of the spring was reflected. "After
all, it isn't what one does, it is what one is, that matters," she
thought while she looked at him. "At the end, as Miss Polly said, it is
character, not circumstances, that counts."

"I've been all over New York this morning looking for that basket," he
said. Though he had been so eager to make light of his services to her
in her trouble, she was amused from time to time by a childlike vanity
which prompted him to impress her with the value of small attentions;
and this she was swift to recognize as the opposite of Arthur's
delicacy. It was the only littleness she had observed in O'Hara so
far--this reluctance to hide his smaller lights under a bushel--and in
its place, it was amusing. Here was an obvious instance where nature
unassisted by training appeared to fall short.

"They couldn't be lovelier if you'd gone all over the world," she
responded sincerely.

Before answering her he hesitated a moment, and she watched pityingly
the struggle he was making toward an impossible self-expression. The
thing he wanted to say, the thing struggling so pathetically in the
inarticulateness of his feeling, would not, she knew, be uttered in
words.

"You are the first woman I ever wanted to send flowers to," he said
presently; and added with abject infelicity: "It's strange, isn't it?"

"Yes, it's strange," she assented pleasantly. Though his words were
ineffectual, she was aware suddenly of a force before which she felt a
vague impulse of flight. Now, if ever, she understood that she must keep
their relations as superficial as she had always meant them to be--that
she must cling with all her strength to the comfortable surface of
appearances. "But you haven't had many women friends, have you?"

"I've wanted to give other things," he went on hurriedly; "but not
flowers. I never thought of flowers until I met you."

"That's nice for me." She was growing nervous, and in her nervousness
she precipitated the explosion by venturing rashly: "But there's Alice,
too, isn't there, to like them?" Her voice was firm and friendly. Once
for all she intended him to understand how aloof she stood from any
sentimental advances.

"Alice?" For an instant his response hung fire, enveloped in a fog of
perplexity. Then, with an air of dispelling the cloud, he made a
vigorous gesture of denial, and moved nearer to her with the swiftness
and directness of a natural force. "Why, Alice was you! You were Alice
all the time!" he exclaimed energetically.

"You mean--" She checked herself in alarm, paralyzed the next instant by
the tremendous, unexpected blow of her discovery.

"So you thought there was somebody else!" The delight in his face kept
her silent, amazed, incapable of explanation. His arm was still
outstretched, as if he were brushing aside the last flimsy barrier
between them, and his voice, with its unrestrained and radiant joy,
stirred some faintly quivering echoes in the secret depths of her being.
It was as if the jubilant spirit of spring had flowered suddenly in his
look.

"There wasn't anybody else." He came still nearer, and she stood there,
startled, incredulous, powerless either to retreat or to prevent the
inevitable instant that was approaching. "At least, there wasn't anybody
I ever knew named Alice except a school teacher when I was a kid. She
was good and she was pretty like you, and I used to dream about her
after school, and every evening at dusk I would go out of my way to
speak to her in Sixth Avenue. Once she told me that she'd wait for me to
grow up and get rich so I could marry her, and after I went out to
Arizona I used to think about her a lot. When I came on you suddenly,
standing there in the dusk with your hands full of lilacs, it all came
back to me because you, looked like her, with your dark hair and your
tall slenderness. Then before I knew what I was, doing I called you by
her name. I oughtn't to have done it," he finished ecstatically, "but
I'm jolly glad now that I did."

So he also, the man of action and of enterprise, he, the worker and the
adventurer, so he also cultivated his garden of dreams!

"I didn't know--I didn't know--" she found herself murmuring faintly in
protest.

"But you know now!" His voice rang out exultantly, and, though she felt
that the thing she feared and dreaded was coming upon her, she still
stood there without moving a step, without lifting a hand, mesmerized,
enchanted, by the force of the man. "You know now," he repeated. "You
know now, Gabriella, and you knew all along."

It was true. In spite of her surprise, in spite of her shrinking, in
spite of her evasion, she confessed it in her heart. She had known all
the time. Something deep down in her, something secret and profound and
clairvoyant, had discerned the truth from the beginning.

"No! no!" she cried out sharply, for, mistaking her silence, he had
stooped to her with the directness which impelled all his movements,
which so easily brushed aside and discarded intervening encumbrances,
and had kissed her on the lips.

For an instant, in the merciless tenderness of his arms, her resistance
melted from her. Beneath the crash of the storm she did not think, she
did not struggle, she did not murmur. Her consciousness seemed
suspended, and with her consciousness, her memory, her judgment, even
her passionate unshaken loyalty to the love of her youth. Then, after
the moment of weakness, of passive submission, it was as if her soul and
body caught fire at a flash, and a quiver of anger ran through her,
enkindling her glance and nerving her spirit.

"But I do not love you! I never meant that I loved you!" she cried.

At her words his arms dropped to his sides, and he stood as if turned to
stone, with only his questioning eyes and the vivid red of his hair
seeming alive. There was no need now for her to struggle. At her first
movement to escape he had released her and drawn to a distance.

"You don't love me?" he stammered. "Why, I saw it. I've seen it for
weeks. I see it now in your face."

"You see nothing--nothing." She denied it bitterly. "I liked you as a
friend. I did not think of this. I never suspected it. I don't love you.
I don't love you in the least."

He was very still. The jubilant spirit of the spring had ebbed away from
his look, and even in the height of her anger she was struck by the
change in his face.

"I don't believe you," he said gravely after a minute. "I don't believe
you."

"You must believe me. I don't love you. I have never thought of you
except as a friend. I have loved another man all my life."

Her voice rose accusingly, triumphantly, and so fervent was her look
that she might have been repeating a creed. It was as if she hoped by
convincing him to persuade her own rebellious heart of the truth she
proclaimed.

Now at last he understood. She had been lucid enough even for the
crystalline lucidity of his thought.

"I am sorry. I made a mistake," he said quietly, and after the exultant
note of a few moments ago there was a dull level of flatness in his
voice. "I am sorry. There don't seem to be anything else that I can say
or do, but--but it wouldn't have happened if I had understood--" He
paused, looked at her closely for a minute, and then added stubbornly,
with an echo of the old confidence in his tone: "I still don't believe
it."

"It is true, nevertheless." She was trembling with indignation, and this
indignation, in spite of her natural fairness, was not directed against
herself, against her own blindness and folly. Though she knew that she
was to blame, she was furious, not with herself, but with O'Hara. He had
insulted her, and she resolved bitterly that she would never forgive
him. Even now, whenever she was silent, she could still feel his kiss on
her mouth, and the vividness of the sensation stung her into passionate
anger. She was no longer the reasonable and competent Gabriella, who had
so successfully "managed her life"; she was primitive woman in the grip
of primitive anger; and balance, moderation, restraint, had flown from
her soul. The very mystery of her feeling, its complexity, its
suddenness, its remorselessness--these emotions worked together to
deepen the sense of insult, of injury, with which she burned.

"It is true, and you have no right to doubt it. You have no right." She
caught her breath sharply, and then went on with inexcusable harshness:
"Even if there hadn't been any one else, I should never--I could never
in the world--"

Her loss of self-control gave him an advantage, which he was either too
generous or too stupid to perceive. "Well, forget all about it. I am
going now," he answered quietly.

While she watched him moving away from her, she was conscious of an
inexplicable longing to stab him again more deeply before she lost him
forever. It was intolerable to her that he should leave her while she
was still indignant, that he should evade her just resentment by the
natural cowardice of flight.

"I can't forget it," she said; "how can you expect me to?"

For an instant he seemed on the point of smiling. Then, turning, at the
door, he walked back to where she was standing, and said gravely: "When
I came in here it was to ask you to marry me, and, if it's the last word
I ever speak, I thought you understood--that you knew how I felt. I was
even fool enough to think you would be willing to marry me. That's all I
can say. I haven't any other excuses."

For the second time he went to the door, opened it, and then turning
quickly, came back again. "I am not the sort to change, and I shan't
change about this. You are a free woman, and if you ever feel that you
made a mistake, if you ever want me or need me, you can just come to me.
I shan't stop caring for you, and if you choose to come, I'll be
waiting. I believed you were meant for me when I first saw you--and I
believe it now. In spite of all you say, I am going to keep on believing
it--"

He went out, closing the door softly, and five minutes later, feeling
extraordinarily young, she watched him pass through the gate, and walk
as buoyantly as ever in the direction of Broadway. While she looked
after him she wondered suddenly why novelists always dropped their
heroines as soon as they passed twenty-seven? "If I'd been in a play,
they'd have put me in the background, dressed in lavender, and made me
look on and do fancywork," she thought humorously, "but this is real
life, and I've just had a real love scene on my thirty-eighth birthday.
He couldn't have been more romantic if I'd been Fanny," she mused with
an agreeable complacency. "It's only in books and plays that people stop
falling in love when they pass the twenties. I don't believe they ever
stop in real life. I believe it goes on forever." And glancing at the
glass, she added truthfully: "I want love more to-day than I wanted it
when I was twenty--and so does Ben O'Hara."

A sensation of stifling, as if her throat were closing together,
oppressed her suddenly, and picking up her hand-bag, she ran downstairs
and out of the house.

By the time she reached Broadway her anger had ebbed, but the
oppression, the feeling that she was being slowly smothered, was still
in her throat and bosom. After all, seen in the sober light of reason,
why had she been so indignant? There had been a misapprehension; he had
thought that she was in love with him, and thinking so, he had kissed
her. That was the case plainly stated; and what was there in this to
send a burning, rush of anger to her heart? What was there in this that
had made her turn and insult him? For the first time in her life she had
lost her temper without cause, and had raged, she told herself sternly,
like a fury. And beneath her rage she had been conscious always of some
vague, incomprehensible disloyalty to Arthur--of a feeling of,
humiliation, of self-reproach, which appeared ridiculous when she
remembered that she had been kissed against her will and without
warning. But, in spite of this, she knew intuitively, with a knowledge
deeper than reason, that the glory of her Dream had paled in the moment
when she lay in O'Hara's arms.

A subtle change had come over the spirit of spring since she had left
the elm tree and the emerald veil of the grass. It was no longer
jubilant, but languorous, wistful, haunting, as if it eternally pursued,
through the fugitive seasons, an immortal and ineffable beauty. The
enchanted crystal had been shattered in an instant, and she saw life
now, not imprisoned in magical sunshine, but gray, sordid, monotonous,
as utterly hopeless as the faces thronging in Broadway. Yet not many
months ago she had seen in these, same faces the inward hope, the joy in
sadness, the gaiety in disappointment, which had brightened the world
for her. Then she had been aware of an invisible current flowing from
the crowd to herself; but to-day this shining current was broken or
turned aside, and she felt detached, adrift, and distrustful of the
future. That mental correspondence with the mood of the crowd, with the
life of the city, which had come to her first on the brilliant morning
in September, and then again when she walked home with O'Hara in the
winter's dusk--which had released a new faculty in her soul, and had
given her a fresh perception of human responsibilities--this had
deserted her so utterly that she could barely remember its miraculous
visitation. Then her personal life had seemed to become a part of the
life of the street, of the sky, of the mysterious city outlined against
the gray background of dusk. To-day she walked alone and without
sympathy through the crowd. Her feet dragged, and she felt dully that
she had lost her share in both the street and the sky. The very faces of
the men and women around her--those lethargic foreign faces which
crowded out the finer American type--awoke in her the sensation of
hopeless revolt which one feels before the impending destruction of
higher forms by masses of inert and conscienceless matter. She thought
gloomily: "I have lost the vision--there is no hope either for me or for
America except in the clear vision of the future." And while she spoke
there passed over her the vague feeling of loss, of something missing,
as if a precious possession had slipped from her grasp.

Her morning's work was unusually trying, and at one o'clock, when she
put on her hat before going out to lunch, she asked herself dejectedly:
"What can be the matter with me? Before I go home I'll take a taxicab
and drive up Riverside for an hour. If only the children were here, I
should not feel so depressed." She remembered regretfully that Archibald
and Fanny would be away all summer; and then from thinking of her
children, she passed by almost insensible degrees of despondency to
meditating pensively about Arthur Peyton. What a wreck, what an
inconceivably stupid wreck she had made of her happiness!

As she entered the outer showroom on her way to the street, she heard
the voice of Miss Murphy attuned to a cooing pitch, and glancing around
a little, painted cabinet, filled with useless ornaments, which stood in
the centre of the floor, she beheld a dazzling head of reddish gold
before one of the elaborately decorated French mirrors. While she
advanced the red-gold waves, worn with extreme flatness over a forehead
of pearly whiteness, were submerged for a minute in the smallest and
roundest hat in the shop, and from a fashionable figure, reminding her
vaguely of an ambulatory dressmaker's model, there issued a high,
fluting note of delighted ejaculation.

"This is just exactly what I've been looking all over New York for! Now,
isn't it too funny for anything that I should have found it right here
the very minute I came in?" As Gabriella's face flashed back from the
mirror the fashionable figure sprang suddenly to life, and the voice,
still fluting delightedly, exclaimed:

"Why, Gabriella! Where on earth did you come from?"

For a minute sheer amazement kept Gabriella clinging helplessly to the
ridiculous cabinet, from the top of which an artificial rose-bush seemed
to shower artificial pink petals down on her head. Then, recovering
herself, with a sharp effort of will, she went forward a few steps
beyond the shelter of the cabinet, and said composedly:

"How do you do, Florrie? I did not recognize you at first."

For it was Florrie herself, Florrie in the flesh, Florrie, glowing,
sparkling, prosperous, victorious. Her figure, conforming to the latest
mode, had lost its pinched protuberances, and was long, slender, sinuous
in its perfection of line. Beneath the small round hat, her hair, glossy
with brilliantine, was like melted gold in the large loose waves which
revealed the rosy tips of her ears. She was thirty-nine, and she looked
scarcely a day over twenty-five. The peach-blossom texture of her skin
was as unlined by care or pain as if she had spent the last ten years
immured in a convent; for in this case, at least, Gabriella realized
while she looked at her, the retribution which awaits upon sinners had
been tardy in its fulfilment.

As she moved toward her, without noticing the friendly hand that Florrie
held out, Gabriella was conscious of an ironical inclination to laugh.
Though she felt no bitter personal resentment against Florrie--for,
after all, Florrie had not been able to hurt her--there struggled in her
bosom an indignation more profound, more moving, than any merely
personal emotion could be. Her resentment was directed not against
Florrie, but against some abstract destiny which had permitted Florrie
to have her way without paying the price. For on the pinnacle of a
destructive career, unsinged by the conflagration she had so carelessly
started, Florrie was poised securely, crowned, triumphant, rejoicing. On
her dazzling height, successful and happy, she was as far removed as one
could imaginably be from the repentant Magdalen of tradition. The memory
of George's face as it looked in death, floated before the austere
mental vision of Gabriella, and she reflected grimly that tradition was
not always the mirror of life. For in this one case at least, the man,
not the woman, had been the victim of natural law, and Florrie, fool
though she was, had shown herself at the hour of requital to be stronger
than fate. By that instinctive wisdom, which is so much older, so much
truer than civilization, she had triumphed over the ordination of life.
In refusing to suffer she had blunted every weapon with which Nature
might have punished her in the end. Not by virtue, since she had none,
but by pure insensibility, she had escaped the wages of sin. She was a
sensualist whose sensuality, hard, metallic, glittering, encased her
like armour.

At Gabriella's approach Miss Murphy fluttered off cooingly in the
direction of a fresh customer, and only the festively garlanded French
mirror witnessed the meeting of the two who had been schoolgirls
together. Swift as an arrow there shot through Gabriella's mind, "I
wonder what Ben O'Hara would think of her?" Then she checked the
dangerous flight of her fancy, for she remembered that O'Hara's thoughts
about anything no longer concerned her.

"Are you buying a hat?" inquired Florrie curiously.

"No, I belong here. I am Madame Dinard."

"You don't mean it! I never should have believed it! The idea of your
being a dressmaker. That's why you look so smart, I suppose. You're the
smartest thing I've seen anywhere, but you look older, Gabriella."

"Well, you don't." It was perfectly true. Except for the gaudy
decorations and the twanging accents of the arrogant young women,
Gabriella might have imagined herself in the last century atmosphere of
Broad Street in the middle 'nineties.

"I must tell you about the things I use." Florrie was always generous.
"But, I declare if I'd known this place was yours, I'd have got my hats
here ages ago. Of course I knew it was dreadfully swell, but I thought
the prices were beyond anything."

"They are," responded Gabriella with business-like brevity, while she
glanced about for the flitting Miss Murphy.

"Look here, Gabriella, I hope you don't bear me any malice," Florrie
burst out solicitously, for her frankness, like her sensuality, was
elemental in its audacity. "You oughtn't to if you know what I saved you
from," she proceeded convincingly. "Anyway, we were chums long before
either of us ever thought about a man, and I didn't really do you a bit
of harm. It wasn't as if you cared about George, was it?"

"No, it wasn't as if I'd cared about him." Gabriella was answering the
appeal as truthfully as if Florrie had been the most excellent of her
sex. "You didn't harm me in any way--not in any way," she repeated with
firmness.

"That's just the way I told mother you'd look at it. I knew you were
always so broad-minded even as a girl. Then there isn't any reason we
shouldn't be friends just as we used to be."

Gabriella shook her head, polite but implacable in her refusal. "It
isn't what you did to me, Florrie," she answered gently, "it's what you
are that I can't forgive. I can imagine that a good woman might do
almost anything--might even run off with another woman's husband, but
you aren't good. You wouldn't be good if you'd spent your life in a
convent."

A quick flush--the flush of temper--stained the pearly whiteness of
Florrie's skin. "Oh, of course, if you don't want to," she retorted, a
little shrilly, though she tried to subdue her rebellious voice to the
pitch of Fifth Avenue. "I only thought that being a working woman, you
wouldn't have so very many friends, and you might get lonely. I had
seats at the opera every night last winter, and time and again I'd have
been glad to have given them to you. Then, too, I might have been able
to bring you some custom. I know any number of rich women who don't
think anything of paying a thousand dollars for a dress--"

Her insolence was so evidently the result of anger that Gabriella,
without interrupting the flow, waited courteously until she paused.

"No, you cannot do anything for me, Florrie." Though Gabriella's voice
was crisp and firm, her face looked suddenly older, and little lines,
stamped by weariness and regret, appeared at the corners of her still
brilliant eyes. "I don't wish you any harm," she went on more softly.
"If you were in trouble I'd do what I could for you, but somehow I don't
seem able to forgive you for being what you are. Would you like to look
at anything else?" she inquired in her professional tone. "Miss Murphy
is waiting to show you some hats."

Her cheeks were burning when she passed out of the ivory and gold door,
saluted deferentially by the attendant in livery. "The effrontery!" she
thought, "the barefaced effrontery!" and then, as her eyes fell on
Florrie's trim little electric coupé beside the curb, she exclaimed
mentally, recalling George's animated perplexity about the pearl
necklace, "I wonder how in the world she does it?"

The meeting with Florrie appeared to her, as she walked home that
afternoon, to be the last touch needed to push her into a state of utter
despondency. The oppressive languor of the day had exhausted her
strength, and when she left Dinard's she felt too indifferent, too
spiritless even for the drive in the Park. It was still light when she
got out of the stage at Twenty-third Street, and while she strolled
listlessly down the blocks on the West Side, she had again that curious
sensation of smothering which had come to her after her talk with
O'Hara.

At the corner of Sixth Avenue a young Italian, with the face of a poet,
was roasting peanuts in a little kerosene stove beside a flickering
torch which enkindled the romantic youth in his eyes. Farther away some
ragged children were dancing to the music of a hand-organ, which ground
out a melancholy waltz; and from a tiny flower stall behind the stand of
a bootblack there drifted the intense sweetness of hyacinths. An old
negro, carrying a basket of clothes, passed her in the middle of the
block, and she thought: "That might have been in Richmond--that and the
hand-organ and the perfume of hyacinths." A vision of Hill Street
floated before her--the long straight street, with the sudden drop of
ragged hill at the end; the old houses, with crumbling porches and
countless signs: "Boarders Wanted" in the windows between the patched
curtains; the irregular rows of tulip poplar, elm, or sycamore trees
throwing their crooked shadows over the cobblestones; the blades of
grass sprouting along the edges of the brick pavement--the vision of
Hill Street as she remembered it twenty years ago in her girlhood; and
then the image of her mother's face gazing out beneath the creamy
blossoms and the dark shining leaves of the old magnolia tree.
"Everything must have changed, I'd hardly recognize it," she thought.
"Nobody we know lives on that side now, mother says. Yes, it has been a
long time." She sighed, and then a little laugh broke from her lips, as
she remembered that Charley, who had recently been West on a business
trip, had brought home the good news that Richmond was as progressive as
Denver. "At least it seems so to Charley," Mrs. Carr had hastened to
add, "but you know how proud Charley is of all our newness. He says
there is not a street in the West that looks fresher or more beautiful
than Monument Avenue, and I am sure that is a great comfort. Cousin
Jimmy says it shows what the South can do when it tries."

"I'd like to go back," mused Gabriella, walking more and more slowly. "I
haven't been home for eighteen years, and I am thirty-eight to-day."
With the fugitive sweetness of the hyacinths there rushed over her again
the feeling that life was slipping, slipping, and that she was missing
something infinitely precious, something infinitely desirable. It was
the panic of fleeting youth, of youth unsatisfied, denied, and still
insatiable.

As she entered the gate she saw that O'Hara's windows were dark, and
while a sigh of relief escaped her, she felt a swift contraction of her
throat as if she had become suddenly paralyzed and was unable to
swallow. "I hope he has gone," she said to herself in a whisper. "If he
has gone, everything will be so much easier." But even to herself she
could not explain what it was that would be made easier. Her relief was
so vague that when she endeavoured to put it into words it seemed to
dissolve and evaporate.

Miss Polly was watering the flowers in the window box, and turning, with
the green watering-pot in her hand, she stared at Gabriella in silence
for a minute before she exclaimed anxiously: "Mercy on us, Gabriella,
what on earth, is the matter?"

"Nothing. I've had a hard day, and I'm tired."

"Well, you lie right straight down as soon as you take off your hat. I
declare you look ten years older than you did this morning."

"I have seen Florrie for a minute."

"I reckon that was enough to upset anybody. Did she say she was sorry?"

"Sorry! She looked as if she had never been sorry for anything in her
life. She was handsomer than ever--don't you remember how much you
always admired her figure?--and she didn't look a day over twenty-five.
I don't believe she has ever known what it is to feel a regret."

"Well, you just wait, honey," responded Miss Polly consolingly, "you
just wait. She'll be punished yet as sure as you're born."

"Oh, I'm not waiting for that. I don't wish her to be punished. Why
should I? She is what she is."

"Do you s'pose she knows about George?"

"I doubt it. She didn't speak of his death. She is quite capable of
forgetting that she ever knew him, and if she does, think of him, it is
probably as a man who betrayed her innocence. You may be sure she has
twisted it all about until every shred of the blame rests on somebody
else. Florrie isn't the only woman who is made like that, but I
believe," she reasoned it out coolly, "that it is her way of keeping her
youth."

Miss Polly had put down the watering-pot, and she came presently with a
bottle of camphor to the sofa where Gabriella was lying. "Are you sure
you wouldn't like me to rub your head?" she inquired. "Dinner will be
ready in a minute, but I shouldn't change my dress if I were you."

Gabriella rose slowly to a sitting position, and then stood up while she
pushed the camphor away. "I hate the smell of it," she answered; "it
makes me think of one of Jane's attacks. And, besides, I don't need it.
There is nothing in the world the matter with me." A moment later, to
Miss Polly's unspeakable amazement, she sank down again, flung her arms
over the back of the sofa, and burst into tears.

"Well, I never!" ejaculated Miss Polly, rooted to the spot. "Well, I
never!" In the ten years she had lived with Gabriella she had never seen
her cry--not even after George's flight--and she felt as if the solid
ground on which she stood had crumbled without warning, and left her
insecurely balanced in space. "Something certainly must be wrong, for it
ain't like you to give way. Are you real sure you ain't got a pain
somewhere?"

Shaking her head, and swallowing her sobs with an effort, Gabriella rose
to her feet. "I'm just tired out, that's all," she said, strangely
humble and deprecating.

"You must have been working too hard. It ain't right." For a minute or
two the little seamstress brooded anxiously; then guided by an
infallible instinct, she added decisively: "It's been a long time since
you've seen your ma, and she's gettin' right smart along. Why don't you
run down home for a few days while the flowers are blooming?"

A change passed over Gabriella's face, and drying her eyes, she looked
down on Miss Polly with a lovely enigmatical smile.

"I wonder if I might?" she said doubtfully.

"There ain't any earthly reason why you shouldn't. To-morrow's Friday,
and they can get along without you at Dinard's perfectly well till the
first of the week."

"Oh, yes, they can get along. I was only wondering"--a faint breeze
stole in through the window, wafting toward her the scent of wet
flowers--"I was only wondering"--her eyes grew suddenly radiant, and
lifting her arms, she made a gesture as of one escaping from bondage--"I
was only wondering if I might go to-morrow," she said.



CHAPTER X

THE DREAM AND THE REALITY


At the upper station a little group stood awaiting her, and as the train
pulled slowly to the platform, Gabriella distinguished her mother's
pallid face framed in the hanging crape of her veil; Jane, thin,
anxious, anæmic, with her look of pinched sweetness; Chancy, florid,
portly, and virtuously middle-aged, and their eldest daughter Margaret,
a blooming, beautiful girl. Alighting, Gabriella was embraced by Mrs.
Carr, who shed a few gentle tears on her shoulders.

"Gabriella, my child, I thought you would never come back to us," she
lamented; "and now everything is so changed that you will hardly
recognize it as home."

"Well, if she can find a change that isn't for the better, I hope she'll
point it out and let me make a note of it," boasted Charley, with
hilarity. "I tell you what, Gabriella, my dear, we're becoming a number
one city. Everything's new. We haven't left so much as an old brick
lying around if we could help it. If you were to go back there to Hill
Street, you'd scarcely know it for the hospitals and schools we've got
there, and as for this part of the town--well, I reckon the apartment
houses will fairly take your breath away. Apartment houses! Well, that's
what I call progress--apartment houses and skyscrapers, and we've got
them, too, down on Main Street. I'll show them to you to-morrow. Yes,
by George, we're progressing so fast you can hardly see how we grow.
Why, there wasn't a skyscraper or an apartment house in the city when
you left here, and precious few hospitals. But now--well, I'll show you!
We're the hospital city of the South, and more than that, we're becoming
a metropolis. Yes, that's the word--we're becoming a metropolis. If you
don't believe me, just watch as we go up Franklin Street to Monument
Avenue. I suppose you thought of us still as a poor folksy little
Southern city, with a lot of ground going to waste in gardens and green
stuff. Well, you just wait till you see Monument Avenue. It's the
handsomest boulevard south of Washington. It's all new, every brick of
it. There's not a house the whole way up that isn't as fresh as paint,
and the avenue is just as straight as if you'd drawn it with a ruler--"

But the change in the city, Gabriella reflected while she embraced Jane,
was as nothing compared to the incredible change in Charley himself.
Middle-age had passed over him like some fattening and solidifying
process. He was healthy, he was corpulent, he was prosperous,
conventional, and commonplace. If Gabriella had been seeking, with
Hogarthian humour, to portray the evils of torpid and self-satisfied
respectability, she could scarcely have found a better picture of the
condition than Charley presented. And the more Charley expanded, the
more bloodless and wan Jane appeared at his side. Her small, flat face
with its yellowish and unhealthy tinge, its light melancholy eyes, and
its look of lifeless and inhuman sanctification, exhaled the dried
fragrance of a pressed flower. So disheartening was her appearance to
Gabriella that it was a relief to turn from her to the freshness of
Margaret, handsome, athletic, with cheeks like roses and the natural
grace of a young animal.

"Oh, Aunt Gabriella, I hadn't any idea you were like this!" cried the
girl with naïve enthusiasm.

"You thought of me as gray-haired and wearing a bonnet and mantle?"

"No, not that, but I didn't dream you were so handsome. I thought mother
was the beauty of the family. But what a wonderful dress you have on!
Are they wearing all those flounces around the hips?"

"There is no doubt about it, you are getting a lot better looking as you
grow older," observed Charley, with genial pleasantry.

"She keeps herself up. There is a great deal in that," remarked Jane,
and the speech was so characteristic of her that Gabriella tossed back
gaily:

"Well, I'm not old, you know. I am only thirty-eight."

"She married so young," said Mrs. Carr mournfully. "I hope none of your
girls will marry young, Jane. Gabriella must be a warning to them and to
clear little Fanny."

"But you married young, mother, and so did I," replied Jane, a trifle
tartly.

For some incommunicable reason Jane's sweetness had become decidedly
prickly. Charley's reformation had left her with the hurt and
incredulous air of a missionary whose heathen have been converted under
his eyes by a rival denomination: and obeying an entirely natural
impulse, she appeared ever so slightly, and in the most refined manner
possible to revenge herself on the other members of her family. Though
she had of late devoted her attention to the Associated Charities and
the Confederate Museum, neither of these worthy objects provided so
agreeable an opportunity for the exercise of her benevolent instincts as
did the presence of a wayward husband in the household. For there could
be no question of the thoroughness of Charley's redemption. The very cut
of his clothes, the very colour of his necktie, proclaimed a triumph,
for the prohibition party.

At last they were packed tightly in the touring car, and Charley, after
imparting directions with the manner of a man who regards himself as the
fount of wisdom, began expounding the noisy gospel of progress to
Gabriella. Mrs. Carr, who had never been active, and was now over
seventy, was visibly excited by the suddenness with which she had been
whisked from the platform, and while they shot away from the station,
she clutched her crape veil despairingly to the sides of her face, and
fixed her blank and terrified stare on her son-in-law. After a whispered
conference with Jane, Gabriella discovered that her mother was less
afraid of an accident than she was of fresh air. "She's afraid of
neuralgia," whispered Jane, "but the doctor says the air can't possibly
do her any harm."

In Franklin Street the trees were in full leaf, and the charming vista
through which Gabriella looked at the sunset, softened mercifully the
impending symbols of the ironic Spirit of Progress. It was modern; it
was progressive; yet there was the ancient lassitude of spring in the
faint sunshine; and the women passing under the vivid green of the elms
and maples moved with a flowing walk which one did not see in Fifth
Avenue. On the porches, too, groups were assembled in chairs after the
Southern fashion, while children, in white frocks and gay sashes,
accompanied by negro nurses wheeling perambulators, made a spring
pageant in the parks. Though the gardens had either disappeared or
dwindled to mere emerald patches of grass, a few climbing roses, of
modern varieties, lent brightness and fragrance to the solid, if
undistinguished, architecture of the houses.

"That's the finest apartment house in the city!" exclaimed Charley, with
enthusiasm. "Looks pretty tall, doesn't it? But it's nothing to the
height of some of the buildings downtown. As for changes--well, I hope
Jane will take you on Broad Street to-morrow, and then you'll see what
we're doing. Why, there's not a shop left there now where you used to
deal. Brandywine's--you recollect old Brandywine & Plummer's, don't
you?--isn't there any longer. Got a new department store, with a
restaurant and a basement in the very spot where it used to be. Look
sharp now, we're coming to a hospital. That belongs to Dr. Browning. You
don't remember Dr. Browning. After your day, I reckon. He's a young
chap, but he's got his hospital like all the rest, and every bed
filled--he told me so yesterday. But they've all got their hospitals.
Darrow--you recollect Darrow who used to be old Dr. Walker's
assistant--well, he's got his, too, just around the corner on the next
street. They say he cuts up more people than any man in the South except
Spendlow--".

"I miss the old-fashioned flowers," said Gabriella to her mother in one
of Charley's plethoric pauses. "The microphylla roses and snowballs."

"Everybody is planting crimson ramblers and hydrangeas now," responded
Mrs. Carr, with something of her son-in-law's pride in the onward
movement of her surroundings.

"Here are the monuments!" cried Charley, who had treated each apartment
house or hospital as if it were a bright, inestimable jewel in the
city's crown. "You don't see many streets finer than this in New York,
do you?"

"It looks very pretty and attractive," answered Gabriella, as they swung
dangerously round a statue, and then started in a race up the avenue,
"but I miss the shrubs and the flowers."

"Oh, there are flowers enough. You just wait till you get on a bit.
We've got some urns filled with hydrangeas, that queer new sort between
blue and pink. But what do you want with shrubs? All they're good for is
to get in your way whenever you want to look out into the street. Mrs.
Madison was telling me only yesterday that she cut down the lilac bushes
in her front yard because they kept her from recognizing the people in
motor cars. Look at that house now, that's one of the finest, in the
city. Rushington built it--he made his money in fertilizers, and the one
next with the green tiles belongs to Hanly, the tobacco trust fellow,
you know, and this whopper on the next square is where Albertson lives.
He made his pile out of railroad stocks--he's one of the banking firm of
Albertson, Jacobstein, Moss & Company. Awfully clever fellows, but too
tricky for me, I give them a wide berth when I go out to do business--"

"But where are the old people--the people I used to know?"

"Oh, they're scattered about everywhere, but they haven't got most of
the money. A lot of 'em live up here, and a lot are down in Franklin
Street in the same old houses."

"Tell me about Cousin Jimmy."

"He's up here, too. Pussy planned that red brick house with the green
shutters next door to us. I reckon Jimmy is about as prosperous as is
good for him, but he's getting on. He must be over seventy now. He has a
son who is a chip of the old block, and his youngest daughter was the
prettiest girl who ever came out here. Margaret will tell you about
her."

"And the Peytons?" Her voice trembled, and she looked hastily away from
the keen eyes of Margaret.

"They are still in the old home--at least Arthur lives there with his
Cousin Nelly. You know Mrs Peyton died about nine or ten years ago?"

"Yes, I heard it."

"She was getting on, but it was a great loss to Arthur. Somehow, I could
never make up my mind about Arthur. He was bright enough as a young
chap, and we used to think he would have a brilliant future; but when
the time came, he never seemed to catch on. He wasn't progressive, and
he has never amounted to much more than he did when he left college.
What I say about him is that he had the wrong ideas--Yes, Jane, I mean
exactly what I say, he had the wrong ideas. He doesn't know what he is
driving at. No progress, no push, no punch in him."

"Why, Charley," murmured Mrs. Carr reproachfully, while Jane, recovering
her nagging manner with an accession of spirit, remonstrated feelingly:
"Charley, you really must be more careful what you say."

"Oh, fudge!" retorted Charley, with playful rudeness. "You see she's at
it still, Gabriella," he pursued, winking audaciously. "If it isn't one
thing, it's another, but she wouldn't be satisfied with perfection.
Well, here we are. There are the hydrangeas. I hope you're pleased."

"I declare, those waste papers have blown right back again on the grass,
and I had them picked up the last thing before I left," said Jane in a
tone of annoyance.

"Never mind the papers; Gabriella isn't looking for papers," returned
Charley, while he helped Mrs. Carr out of the motor and up the steps.
"So here you are, mother, and the air didn't kill you."

"I may have neuralgia to-morrow. You never can tell," replied Mrs. Carr.
"I shouldn't worry about the papers, Jane. Nobody can help the way they
blow about. I want Gabriella to see the children the first thing."

As they entered the house Jane's children, a flock of five girls and two
boys, fluttered up to be introduced, and among them Gabriella discovered
the composed baby of Jane's tragic flight. It seemed an age ago, and she
felt not thirty-eight, but a thousand.

After dinner Charley, who had eaten immoderately, unfolded the evening
paper under the electric lamp in the library, and dozed torpidly while
the girls plied their aunt with innumerable questions about New York and
the spring fashions. "It will be lovely to have Fanny with us at the
White Sulphur. I know her clothes will be wonderful," they chirped
happily, clustering eagerly about the sofa on which Gabriella was
sitting. Jane's children, deriving from some hardy stock of an earlier
generation, were handsome, vigorous, optimistic in blood and fibre, and
so uncompromisingly modern that Gabriella wondered how Mrs. Carr, with
her spiritual neuralgia and her perpetual mourning, had survived the
unceasing currents of fresh air with which they surrounded her.

"Yes, things have changed. It is the age," thought Gabriella; and
presently, when Cousin Jimmy and Cousin Pussy came in to welcome her,
she repeated: "Yes, it is the age. There is no escaping it."

"Why, my dear child, you are looking splendidly," trilled Cousin Pussy,
with her old delightful manner and her flattering vision so different
from Florrie's. She was still trim, plump, and rosy, though her hair was
now snow white and her pretty face was covered with cheerful wrinkles.
"You're handsomer than you ever were in your life, and the dash of gray
on your temples doesn't make you look, a day older--not a day. Some
people turn gray so very young. I remember Cousin Becky Bollingbroke's
hair was almost white by the time she was thirty-five. It runs like that
in some families. But you look just as girlish as ever. It's wonderful,
isn't it, Cousin Fanny, the way the women of this generation stay girls
until they are fifty? I don't believe you'll ever look any older,
Gabriella, than you do now. Of course, I suppose your business has
something to do with it, but if I met you for the first time, it would
never cross my mind that you were a day over twenty-five."

"Well, well, so little Gabriella went to New York and became a
dressmaker," observed Jimmy, who was seldom original, "and she's the
same Gabriella, too. I always said, you know, that she was the sort you
could count on."

Age, though it had not entirely passed him by, had, on the whole,
treated him with great gentleness. He was a remarkably handsome old man,
with a distinguished and courtly presence, a head of wonderful white
hair, which looked as if it had been powdered, a ruddy unwrinkled face,
and the dark shining eyes of the adventurous youth he had never lost.

"Of course, she couldn't have been a dressmaker here where everybody
knows her," purred Cousin Pussy, with her arm about Gabriella, "but in
New York it is different, and they tell me that even titled women are
dressmakers in London."

"Well, she has pluck," declared Cousin Jimmy, as he had declared
eighteen years ago at the family council. "There's nothing like pluck
when it comes to getting along in the world."

Then they sat down in Jane's library, which, contained most of the
things Gabriella associated with the old parlour in Hill Street, and
Cousin Pussy asked if Gabriella had found many changes.

"A great many. Everything, looks new to me except this room. The only
thing I miss here is the horsehair sofa."

"I keep that in the back hall," said Jane. "The town does look different
up here, but the Peytons' house is just as you remember it--even the
scarlet sage is in the garden. Miss Nelly plants it still every summer."

A lovely light shone in Gabriella's eyes, and Cousin Pussy watched it
tenderly, while a smile hovered about the corners of her shrewd though
still pretty mouth.

"It has been such a disappointment that Arthur hasn't done more in his
profession," she said presently, "but, as I was saying to Mr. Wrenn only
the other day, I have always felt that dear Gabriella was to blame for
it."

"The trouble with Arthur," observed Charley, awaking truculently from
his doze, "is that he's got the wrong ideas. When a man has the wrong
ideas in these days, he might as well go out and hang himself."

"Well, I don't know that I'd call his ideas wrong exactly," reasoned
Cousin Jimmy, with the judicial manner befitting the best judge of
tobacco in Virginia; "I shouldn't call them wrong, but they're out of
date. They belong to the last century."

"I always say that dear Arthur is a perfect gentleman of the old
school," remonstrated Mrs. Carr, meekly obstinate. "There aren't many of
them left now, so I tell myself regretfully whenever I see him."

"And there'll be fewer than ever by the time you Suffragists get your
rights," remarked Charley, with bitterness, while Mrs. Carr, incensed by
the word, which she associated with various indelicacies, stared at him
with an indignant expression.

"Charley, be careful what you say," nagged Jane acridly from her corner.
"Now that so many of our relatives have gone in for suffrage, you
mustn't be intolerant."

"I cannot help it, Jane. I shall never knowingly bow to one even if she
is related to me," announced Mrs. Carr more assertively than Gabriella
would have believed possible.

"Well, for my part, Cousin Fanny, I can't feel that it hurts me to bow
to anybody," said Pussy, with her unfailing kindness of heart. "Why, I
even bowed to Florrie Spencer last winter. I wanted to cut her, but I
just couldn't bring myself to do it when I met her face to face. I hope
you don't mind, dear," she whispered to Gabriella. "I suppose I oughtn't
to have mentioned her, but I forgot."

"Oh, it doesn't matter in the least," responded Gabriella cheerfully. "I
bowed to her myself the day before I left New York."

Though she tried to be independent, to be advanced and resolute, she
felt the last eighteen years receding slowly from her consciousness. The
family point of view, the family soul, had enveloped her again, and, in
spite of her experience and her success, she seemed inwardly as young
and ignorant as on the evening when she broke her engagement to Arthur.
The spirit of the place had defeated her individual endeavour. Except
for the wall paper of pale gray, and the Persian rugs on the floor,
Jane's library might have been the old front parlour in Hill Street, and
it was as if the French mirror, the crystal candelabra, the rosewood
bookcases, with their diamond-shaped panes lined with fluted magenta
silk, the family portraits, the speckled engravings of the Burial of
Latané and of the groups of amiable children feeding chickens and
fish--it was as if these inanimate objects exuded a spiritual anodyne
which enfeebled the will. Across the hall, in the modern pink and gray
drawing-room, the five girls were playing bridge with several young men
whom Gabriella remembered as babies, and the sounds of their voices
floated to her now and then as thinly as if they had come out of a
phonograph. "There is nothing better than peace, after all," she
thought, while her, eyes rested tenderly on the simple, affectionate
face of Cousin Jimmy. "Goodness and peace, these things are really worth
while."

Then the telephone rang gently, and after a minute Margaret, who had
gone to answer it, came in with a roguish smile on her lips. "Aunt
Gabriella, Mr. Peyton wishes to come to-morrow at five," she said; and
the roguish smile flitted from her lips to the lips of Cousin Pussy, and
from Cousin Pussy to each sympathetic and watchful face in the group.

"You may say what you please," argued Charley, still truculent, "the
whole trouble with Arthur is that he has got the wrong ideas."

       *       *       *       *       *

At five o'clock the next day the family crowded into the touring car for
an excursion, and left Gabriella in a deserted house to receive the
lover of her girlhood. Before going Mrs. Carr had embraced her
sentimentally; Charley had dropped one of his broad jokes on the subject
of the reunion; Jane had murmured sweetly that there was no man on earth
she admired as much as she did Arthur; and the girls had effusively
complimented Gabriella on her appearance. Even Willy, the baby of
eighteen years ago, had prophesied with hilarity that "Old Arthur Peyton
wasn't coming for nothing." One and all they appeared to take her part
in the romance for granted; and while she waited in the drawing-room,
gazing through the interstices of Jane's new lace curtains into the
avenue, where beyond the flying motor cars the grassy strip in the
middle of the street was dappled with shadows, she wondered if she also
were taking Arthur's devotion for granted. She had not seen him for
eighteen years, and yet she was awaiting him as expectantly as if he
were still her lover. Would his presence really quiet this strange new
restlessness in her heart--this restlessness which had come to her so
suddenly after her meeting with Florrie? Was it true that her youth was
slipping from her before she had grasped all the happiness that life
offered? Or was it only the stirring of the spring winds, of the young
green against the blue sky, of the mating birds, of the roving,
provocative scents of flowers, of the checkered light and shade on the
grassy strip under the maples? Was it all these things, or was it none
of them, that awoke this longing, so vague and yet so unquenchable, in
her heart?

A car stopped in the street outside, the bell rang, and she watched the
figure of a trim mulatto maid flit through the hall to the door. An
instant later Arthur's name was announced, and Gabriella, with her hands
in his clasp, stood looking into his face. It had been eighteen years
since they parted, and in those eighteen years she had carried his image
like some sacred talisman in her breast.

"How little you've changed, Gabriella," he said after a moment of
silence in which she told herself that he was far better looking, far
more distinguished than she had remembered him. "You are larger than you
used to be, but your face is as girlish as ever."

"And I have two children nearly grown," she replied with a trembling
little laugh; "a daughter who is already thinking of the White Sulphur."

They sat down in the pink chairs on the gray carpet, and leaned forward,
looking into each other's faces as tenderly as they had done when they
were lovers.

"It's hard to believe it," he answered a little stiffly, in his dry and
gentle voice, which held a curious note of finality, of failure. For the
first time, while he spoke, she let her eyes rest frankly upon him, and
there came to her, as she did so, a vivid realization of the emptiness
and aimlessness of his life. He looked handsomer than ever; he looked
stately and formal and impressive; but he looked old--though he was only
forty-five--he looked old and ineffectual and acquiescent. The fighting
strength, such as it was, had gone out of him, and the stamp of failure
was on him, from his high, pale, intellectual forehead, where the fine
brown hair had retreated to the crown of his head, to his narrow
features, and his relaxed slender limbs, with their slow and indolent
movements. He was one of those, she felt intuitively, who had stood
aloof from the rewards as well as from the strains of the struggle, who
had withered to the core, not from age, but from an inherent distrust of
all effort, of all endeavour. For his immobility went deeper than any
physical habit: it attacked, like an incurable malady, the very fibre
and substance of his nature. With his intellect, his training, his
traditions, she discerned, with a flash of insight, that he had failed
because he lacked the essential faith in the future. He had lost, not
because he had risked, but because he had hesitated, not because he had
loved ease, but because he had feared effort. For fear of a misstep, he
had not dared to go forward; from dread of pain, he had refused the
opportunity of happiness. She knew now why he had never come to her, why
he had let her slip from his grasp. All that was a part of his failure,
of his distrust of life, of his profound negation of spirit.

"Yes, it is hard," she assented; and there came over her like a sudden
sense of discomfort, of physical hardship, the knowledge that, in the
very beginning, she was trying to make conversation. Meeting his
sympathetic smile--the smile that still delighted the impressionable
hearts of old ladies--she told herself obstinately, with desperate
determination, that she was not disappointed, that he was just as she
had remembered him, dear and lovable and kind and conventional. When she
recalled what he had been at twenty-seven, it appeared inevitable to her
that at forty-five he should have settled a little more firmly into the
mould of the past, that his opinions should have crystallized and
imprisoned his mind immovably in the centre of them.

She told him what she could about Archibald and Fanny--about her choice
of schools, her maternal pride in Archibald's intellect and Fanny's
appearance, her hopeful plans for the future--and he listened
attentively, with his manner of slightly pompous consideration, while he
passed one of his long narrow hands over his forehead. When she had
finished her vivacious recital, he began to talk slowly and gravely
about himself, with the tolerant and impersonal detachment of one who
has reduced life to a gesture, a manner. "I wonder if he has ever really
cared about anything--even about me?" she questioned, after a minute;
but while the thought was still in her mind, he mentioned his mother's
name, and it was impossible to doubt the sincerity of his sorrow and his
tenderness. "I have seemed only half alive since I lost her," he said;
and the words were like a searchlight which flashed over his character
and illumined its obscurities. Did his whole attitude of immobility and
negation result from the depth and the intensity of his feeling, from
the exquisite reticence and sensitiveness of his soul?

"I know, I know," she murmured in a voice of sympathy. After all, she
was not disappointed in him. He was as tender, as chivalrous, as noble
as she had believed him to be. The Dream was true; and yet in spite of
its truthfulness, it seemed to evaporate slowly while she sat there in
Jane's pink satin chair and looked out at the sunlight. Only the
restlessness, the inappeasable longing in her heart had not changed.
Looking across the hall into the library she could see the old French
mirror reflecting the bronze candelabra, with crystal pendants, and the
thought flitted into her brain: "It is all real. I am here, talking to
Arthur. It is every bit true." But her words failed to convince her, and
she had a curious sensation of vagueness and thinness, as if their low,
gentle voices were issuing from shadows.

"I should like to show you some of our improvements," he said presently,
with a faintly perceptible ripple of animation. "I wonder if you would
care to come out in my car? We might go up Monument Avenue into the
country."

The idea was delightful, she told him with convincing enthusiasm; and
while she ran upstairs to put on her hat, he went out to the car, which
was standing in front of the house. So preoccupied was he with his
reflections, that when Gabriella appeared, he started almost as if he
had forgotten that he was waiting for her.

The air was as soft and fragrant as summer; the grassy strip under the
young maples was diapered with sunlight, and an edge of rosy gold was
tinting the far horizon. As they sped up the avenue Arthur pointed out
the houses to her as possessively as Charley had done the afternoon
before, and in the pride with which he told her the cost of them she
recognized an admirable freedom from envy or bitterness. If, he had not
achieved things, his attitude seemed to say, it was because he had never
been in the race, because he had preferred to stand aside and enjoy the
reposeful entertainment of the spectator.

The avenue, which swept on indefinitely after the houses had stopped,
dwindled at last to two straight and narrow walks binding the town to
the country with bands of concrete. The pines had fallen in blackened
ruins, and where Gabriella remembered thickets of wildflowers there were
masses of red clay furrowed by cart wheels.

"You see, we're developing all this property now," observed Arthur, in a
gratified tone as they whirled past an old field intersected by a
concrete walk which informed the curious that it was "Arlington Avenue."
"Honeysuckle Lane has gone, too, and we're grading a street there now in
front of the old Berkeley place."

"The growth has been wonderful," said Gabriella, a little pensively;
"but do you remember how lovely Honeysuckle Lane used to be? That's
where we went for wild honeysuckle in the spring."

"Oh, we'll find plenty of honeysuckle farther out. I gathered a big
bunch of it for Cousin Nelly yesterday."

For a while they sped on in silence. Arthur was intent on the wheel, and
Gabriella could think of nothing to say to him that she had not said in
Jane's drawing-room. When at last they left the desolation of
improvement, and came out into the natural country, the sun was already
low, and the forest of pines along the glowing, horizon was like an
impending storm. Once Arthur stopped, and they got out to gather wild
honeysuckle by the roadside; then with the sticky, heavily scented
blossoms in her lap, they went on again toward the sunset, still silent,
still separated by an impalpable barrier. "He is just what I thought he
would be," she thought sadly. "He is just where I left him eighteen
years ago, and yet it is different. In some inexplicable way it is
different from what I expected." And she told herself that the fault was
her own--that she had changed, hardened, and become hopelessly
matter-of-fact--that she had lost her youth and her sentiment.

Suddenly, as if the action had been forced upon him by the steady
pressure of some deep conviction, some inner necessity, Arthur turned
his face toward her, and asked gently: "Gabriella, do you ever think of
the past?"

Facing the rosy sunset, his features looked wan and colourless, and she
noticed again that he seemed to have dried through and through, like
some rare fruit that has lain wrapped in tissue paper too long.

She looked at him with wistful and sombre eyes. Now that the desired
moment had come, she felt only that she would have given her whole
future to escape before it overtook her, to avoid the inevitable,
crowning hour of her destiny.

"I think of it very often," she answered truthfully, while she buried
her face in the intoxicating bloom of the honeysuckle.

"Do you remember my telling you once that I'd never give you up--that
I'd never stop caring?"

"Yes, I remember--but, oh, Arthur, you mustn't--" She sat up with a
start, gazing straight ahead into the rose and gold of the afterglow.
From the deserted road, winding flat and dun-coloured in the soft
light, she heard another voice--the strong and buoyant voice of
O'Hara--saying: "I'm not the sort to change--" and then over again, "I'm
not the sort to change--"

"I suppose it's too late," Arthur went on, with his patient tenderness.
"Things usually come too late for me or else I miss them altogether.
That's been the way always--and now--" With his left hand he made a
large, slow, commemorative gesture.

"You're the best--the kindest--" An urgent desire moved her to stop him
before he put into words the feeling she could see in his face. Though
she knew that it was but the ghost of a feeling, the habit of a desire,
which had become interwoven with his orderly and unchangeable custom of
life, she realized nevertheless that its imaginary vividness might cause
him great suffering. A vision of what might have been eighteen years
ago--of their possible marriage--rose before her while she struggled for
words. How could her energetic nature have borne with his philosophy of
hesitation, her imperative affirmation of life with his denial of
effort, her unconquered optimism with his deeply rooted mistrust of
happiness?

There was beauty in his face, in his ascetic and over-refined features,
in his sympathetic smile and his cultured voice; but it was the beauty
of resignation, of defeat nobly borne, of a spirit confirmed in the
bitter sweetness of renouncement. "It would make an old woman of me to
marry him," she thought, "an old, patient, resigned woman."

"Most things have slipped by me," he resumed presently, while they raced
down a long hill toward the black pines and the fading red of the
afterglow. In a marshy pond near the roadside frogs were croaking,
while from the darkening fields, encircled with webs of mist, there
floated the mingled scents of freshly mown grass, of dewy flowers, of
trodden weeds, of ploughed earth, of ancient mould--all the fugitive and
immemorially suggestive odours of the country at twilight. And at the
touch of these scents, some unforgotten longing seemed to stir in her
brain as if it had slept there, covered by clustering memories, from
another lifetime. She wanted something with an unbearable intensity; the
vague and elusive yearning for happiness had become suddenly poignant
and definite. In that instant she knew unerringly that she was in love
not with a dream, but with a fact, that she was in love not with Arthur,
but with O'Hara. For days, weeks, months, she had been blindly groping
toward the knowledge; and now, in a flash of intuition, it had come to
her like one of those discoveries of science, which baffle investigators
for years, and then miraculously reveal themselves in a moment of
insight. Her first antagonism, her injustice, her unreasonable
resentments and suspicions, she recognized now, in the piercing light of
this discovery, as the inexplicable disguises of love. And she was not
old--she was not even middle-aged--she was as young as Fanny, as young
as the eternal, ageless spirit of romance, of adventure. This was life
in her pulses, in her brain, in her heart--life, not pale, not bitter
sweet, but sparkling, glowing, bubbling like wine.

At the foot of the long hill Arthur turned the car, and they flew back
between the dim fields where the croaking of frogs sounded louder in the
darkness. Ahead of them the lights of the car flitted like golden moths
over the dust of the road, and in the sky, beyond the thin veil of mist,
the stars were shining over the city. Spring, which possessed the earth,
bloomed in Gabriella's heart with a wonderful colour, a wonderful
fragrance. She was young again with the imperishable youth of magic, of
enchantment. To love, to hope, to strive, this was both romance and
adventure.

"Is it too late, then, Gabriella?" asked Arthur, after a long silence,
and in his voice there was the sound of suffering acquiescence.

"I'm afraid it is, dear Arthur," she answered softly, and they did not
speak again until the lights blazed over them, and they ran into
Monument Avenue. After all, it was too late. What could she have added
to the answer she had given him?

When they reached the house, he did not come in with her, and tears
stained her face while she went slowly up the steps, and stood beside
Jane's hydrangeas with her hand on the bell. Then, as the door opened
quickly, she saw her mother waiting, with an eager, expectant look, at
the door of the library, and heard her excited voice murmur: "Well,
dear?"

"We had a lovely drive, mother. Arthur is just as I remembered him,
except that he has grown so much older."

A disappointed expression crossed Mrs. Carr's face. "Is that all?" she
asked regretfully.

Gabriella laughed happily. "That is all--only I found out exactly what I
wanted to know."

For the rest of the week she devoted herself to her mother with a
solicitude which aroused in the brain of that melancholy lady serious
apprehensions of a hastening decline; and when her visit was over, she
packed her trunks, with girlish, delicious thrills of happiness, and
started back to New York.

"Do you really think I am failing so rapidly, Gabriella?" Mrs. Carr
inquired anxiously while they waited for the train on the platform of
the upper station.

"Failing? Why, no, mother. You look splendidly," Gabriella assured her,
a little surprised, a little startled. "Why should you ask me such a
thing?"

"Oh, nothing, dear. I had a fancy," murmured Mrs. Carr meekly; and then
as the train rushed into view, she kissed her daughter reproachfully,
and stood gazing after her until the last coach and the last white
jacket of the dining-car attendants vanished in the smoky sunshine of
the distance.

Through the long day, lying back in her chair, with her eyes on the
flying green landscape, Gabriella thought of the discovery she had made
while she was driving with Arthur. The restlessness, the uncertainty,
the vague yet poignant longing for an indefinite good, had passed out of
her happy and exultant heart. In obedience to the law of her nature,
which decreed that she should move swiftly and directly toward the end
of her destiny, she was returning to O'Hara as resolutely, as
unswervingly, as she had fled from him.

"It's strange how little I've ever understood, how little I've ever
known myself," she thought, staring vacantly at a severe spinster, with
crimped hair and a soured expression, who sat before the opposite
window. "I've gone on in the dark, making mistakes and discoveries from
the very beginning, undoing and doing over again, creating illusions and
then destroying them--always moving, always changing, always growing in
new directions. A year ago I'd have laughed at the idea that I could
love any man but Arthur--that of all men I could love Ben O'Hara; and
to-day I know that he is the future for me--that he is the beginning
again of my youth. A year ago I thought only how I might change him, how
I might make him over, and now I realize that I shall never change him,
that I shall never make him over, and that it doesn't really matter. It
isn't the vital thing. The vital thing is character, and I wouldn't
change that if I could. For the rest, I shall probably always wish him
different in some ways, just as I wish myself different. I'd like to
have him more like Arthur on the surface, just as I'd like to have
myself more like Fanny. I'd like to give him Arthur's manner just as I'd
like to give myself Fanny's complexion. But it isn't possible. He will
always be what he is now, and, after all, it is what he is--it is not
something else that I want--"

With a glimmer of the clairvoyant insight which had come to her on the
country road, she understood that O'Hara was for her an embodied symbol
of life--that she must either take him or leave him completely and
without reserve or evasion. He was not an ideal. In the love she felt
for him there was none of the sentimental glamour of her passion for
George. She saw his imperfections, but she saw that the man was bigger
than any attributes, that his faults were as nothing compared to the
abundance of his virtues, and that, perfect or imperfect, the tremendous
fact remained that she loved him.

In the opposite chair, the severe spinster had taken a strip of knitted
silk out of her bag, and was working industriously on a man's necktie of
blue and gray. From her intent and preoccupied look, from the nervous
twitching of her thin lips, the close peering of her near-sighted eyes,
through rimless glasses which she wore attached by a gold chain to her
hair, she might have found in the act of knitting a supreme consolation
for the inexorable denials of destiny. "I wonder if it satisfies her,
just knitting?" thought Gabriella. "Has she submitted like Arthur to
chance, to the way things happen when one no longer resists? Is she
really contented merely to knit, or is she knitting as a condemned
prisoner might knit while he is waiting for the scaffold?" And while she
watched the patient fingers, she added: "One must either conquer or be
conquered, and I will never be conquered."

It was eight o'clock when she reached New York, and as she drove the
short distance to West Twenty-third Street she began to wonder when she
should see O'Hara, and what she should say to him. In the end she
decided that she would wait for a chance meeting, that she would let it
happen when it would without moving a step or lifting a hand. Before
many days they would be obliged to meet in the yard or the hall, and
some obscure, consecrated tradition of sex, some secret strain of her
mother's ineradicable feminine instinct, opposed the direct and sensible
way. "As soon as I meet him--and in the end I shall surely meet
him--everything will be right," she thought, with her eyes on the
streets where the spring multitude of children were swarming. And from
this multitude of children, of young, ardent, and adventurous life,
there seemed to emanate a colossal and irresistible will--the will to
be, to live, to love, to create, and to conquer.

The taxicab turned swiftly into Twenty-third Street, and while it
stopped beside the pavement, she saw that Mrs. Squires was standing,
with her arms on the gate, staring into the street. As Gabriella
alighted, the woman came forward and said, with suppressed emotion,
while she wiped her eyes on the back of her hand: "You came just a
minute too late to say good-bye to Mr. O'Hara."

"Good-bye? But where has he gone?"

"He has gone to Washington to-night. To-morrow he is starting to the
West."

"When is he coming back? Did he tell you?"

At this Mrs. Squires broke down. "He ain't ever coming back, that's what
I'm crying for. He's given up his rooms, and his furniture all went to
the auction yesterday. He says he's going to live out in Colorado or
Wyoming for the rest of his life, and he didn't even tell me where I
could write to him. It's a great loss to me, Mrs. Carr. I'd got used to
him and his ways, and when you've once got used to a man, it ain't easy
to give him up."

She sobbed audibly as she finished; and it seemed to Gabriella that a
lifetime of experience passed in the instant while she stood there, with
her pulses drumming in her ears, her throat contracting until she
struggled for breath, and the lights of the city swimming in a nebulous
blur before her eyes. Yet in that instant, as in every crisis of her
life, she turned instinctively to action, to movement, to exertion,
however futile. While she walked across the pavement to the waiting cab,
for the crowning and ultimate choice of her life, she abandoned forever
the authority and guide of tradition. Tradition, she knew, bade her sit
and wait on destiny until she withered, like Arthur, to the vital core
of her nature; but something mightier than tradition, something which
she shared with the swarming multitude of children in the streets--the
will to live, to strive, and to conquer--this had risen superior to the
empty rules of the past. With her hand on the door of the taxicab, she
spoke rapidly to the driver: "Drive back to the station as fast as you
can, there is not a minute to lose."

When the cab started, she leaned forward, with her hands clasped on her
knees, and her eyes on the street, where the children were playing.
Because of the children, they drove very slowly, and once, when the
traffic held them up for a few minutes, she felt an impulse to scream.
Suppose she missed him, after all! Suppose she lost him in the station!
Suppose she never saw him again! And beside this possibly it seemed to
her that all the other suffering of her life--George's desertion, her
humiliation, her struggle to make a living for her children, the
loneliness of the long summers, her poverty and hunger and
self-denial--that all these things were merely superficial annoyances.
"If we don't go on, I shall die," she said aloud suddenly; "if we don't
go on, I shall die," and when at last the cab started again, she heard
the words like an undercurrent beneath the innumerable noises of the
street, "If we don't go on, I shall die."

The taxicab stopped; a porter ran forward to take her bag, and while she
thrust the money into the driver's hand, she heard her voice coolly and
calmly giving directions.

"I must catch the next train to Washington."

"Have you got your ticket, Miss?"

She stared back at him blankly. Though she saw his lips moving, it was
impossible for her to distinguish the words because she was still
hearing in a muffled undercurrent the roar of the streets.

"Have you got your ticket?" They were passing through the station now,
and he explained hurriedly: "You can't go through the gate without a
ticket."

She drew out her purse, and panic seized her afresh while she waited
before the window behind a bald-headed man who counted his change twice
before he would move aside, and let her step into his place. Then, when
the ticket was given to her, she turned and ran after the porter through
the gate and down the steps to the platform. As she ran, her eyes
wavered to the long platform, and the little groups gathered beside the
waiting train, which seemed to shake like a moving black and white
picture.

"Suppose I miss him, after all! Suppose I never see him again!" she
thought, and all that was young in her, all that was vital and alive,
strained forward as her feet touched the platform. Except for several
coloured porters and a woman holding a child by the hand, the place was
deserted. Then a man stepped quickly out of one of the last coaches, and
by his bigness and the red of his hair, she knew that it was O'Hara. At
the first sight of him the panic died suddenly in her heart, and the old
peace, the old sense of security and protection swept over her. Her
face, which had been lowered, was lifted like a flower that revives, and
her feet, which had stumbled, became the swift, flying feet of a girl.
It was as if both her spirit and her body sprang toward him.

At the sound of his name, he turned and stood motionless, as if hardly
believing his vision.

"I came back because I couldn't help it," she said.

But he was always hard to convince, and he waited now, still transfixed,
still incredulous.

"I came back because I wanted you more than anything else," she added.

"You came back to me?" he asked, slowly, as if doubting her.

"I came back to you. I wanted you," she repeated, and her voice did not
quaver, her eyes did not drop from his questioning gaze. It was all so
simple at last; it was all as natural as the joyous beating of her
heart.

"And you'll marry me now--to-night?"

It was the ultimate test, she knew, the test not only of her love for
O'Hara, but of her strength, her firmness, her courage, and of her
belief in life. The choice was hers that comes to all men and women
sooner or later--the choice between action and inaction, between
endeavour and relinquishment, between affirmation and denial, between
adventure and deliberation, between youth and age. One thought only made
her hesitate, and she almost whispered the words:

"But the children?"

He laughed softly. "Oh, the children are always there. We're not
quitters," and in a graver tone, he asked for the second time: "Will you
come with me now--to-night, Gabriella?"

At the repeated question she stretched out her hands, while she watched
the light break on his face.

"I'll come with you now--anywhere--toward the future," she answered.



THE END





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