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Title: K
Author: Rinehart, Mary Roberts
Language: English
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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 "K" ***

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K

By Mary Roberts Rinehart



CHAPTER I


The Street stretched away north and south in two lines of ancient
houses that seemed to meet in the distance. The man found it infinitely
inviting. It had the well-worn look of an old coat, shabby but
comfortable. The thought of coming there to live pleased him. Surely
here would be peace--long evenings in which to read, quiet nights in
which to sleep and forget. It was an impression of home, really, that
it gave. The man did not know that, or care particularly. He had been
wandering about a long time--not in years, for he was less than thirty.
But it seemed a very long time.

At the little house no one had seemed to think about references. He
could have given one or two, of a sort. He had gone to considerable
trouble to get them; and now, not to have them asked for--

There was a house across and a little way down the Street, with a card
in the window that said: “Meals, twenty-five cents.” Evidently the
midday meal was over; men who looked like clerks and small shopkeepers
were hurrying away. The Nottingham curtains were pinned back, and just
inside the window a throaty barytone was singing:

     “Home is the hunter, home from the hill:
      And the sailor, home from sea.”

Across the Street, the man smiled grimly--Home!

For perhaps an hour Joe Drummond had been wandering up and down the
Street. His straw hat was set on the back of his head, for the evening
was warm; his slender shoulders, squared and resolute at eight, by nine
had taken on a disconsolate droop. Under a street lamp he consulted his
watch, but even without that he knew what the hour was. Prayer meeting
at the corner church was over; boys of his own age were ranging
themselves along the curb, waiting for the girl of the moment. When she
came, a youth would appear miraculously beside her, and the world-old
pairing off would have taken place.

The Street emptied. The boy wiped the warm band of his hat and slapped
it on his head again. She was always treating him like this--keeping him
hanging about, and then coming out, perfectly calm and certain that
he would still be waiting. By George, he’d fool her, for once: he’d go
away, and let her worry. She WOULD worry. She hated to hurt anyone. Ah!

Across the Street, under an old ailanthus tree, was the house he
watched, a small brick, with shallow wooden steps and--curious
architecture of Middle West sixties--a wooden cellar door beside the
steps.

In some curious way it preserved an air of distinction among its more
pretentious neighbors, much as a very old lady may now and then lend
tone to a smart gathering. On either side of it, the taller houses had
an appearance of protection rather than of patronage. It was a matter
of self-respect, perhaps. No windows on the Street were so spotlessly
curtained, no doormat so accurately placed, no “yard” in the rear so
tidy with morning-glory vines over the whitewashed fence.

The June moon had risen, sending broken shafts of white light through
the ailanthus to the house door. When the girl came at last, she stepped
out into a world of soft lights and wavering shadows, fragrant with tree
blossoms not yet overpowering, hushed of its daylight sounds of playing
children and moving traffic.

The house had been warm. Her brown hair lay moist on her forehead, her
thin white dress was turned in at the throat. She stood on the steps,
the door closed behind her, and threw out her arms in a swift gesture to
the cool air. The moonlight clothed her as with a garment. From across
the Street the boy watched her with adoring, humble eyes. All his
courage was for those hours when he was not with her.

“Hello, Joe.”

“Hello, Sidney.”

He crossed over, emerging out of the shadows into her enveloping
radiance. His ardent young eyes worshiped her as he stood on the
pavement.

“I’m late. I was taking out bastings for mother.”

“Oh, that’s all right.”

Sidney sat down on the doorstep, and the boy dropped at her feet.

“I thought of going to prayer meeting, but mother was tired. Was
Christine there?”

“Yes; Palmer Howe took her home.”

He was at his ease now. He had discarded his hat, and lay back on his
elbows, ostensibly to look at the moon. Actually his brown eyes rested
on the face of the girl above him. He was very happy. “He’s crazy about
Chris. She’s good-looking, but she’s not my sort.”

“Pray, what IS your sort?”

“You.”

She laughed softly. “You’re a goose, Joe!”

She settled herself more comfortably on the doorstep and drew along
breath.

“How tired I am! Oh--I haven’t told you. We’ve taken a roomer!”

“A what?”

“A roomer.” She was half apologetic. The Street did not approve of
roomers. “It will help with the rent. It’s my doing, really. Mother is
scandalized.”

“A woman?”

“A man.”

“What sort of man?”

“How do I know? He is coming tonight. I’ll tell you in a week.”

Joe was sitting bolt upright now, a little white.

“Is he young?”

“He’s a good bit older than you, but that’s not saying he’s old.”

Joe was twenty-one, and sensitive of his youth.

“He’ll be crazy about you in two days.”

She broke into delighted laughter.

“I’ll not fall in love with him--you can be certain of that. He is tall
and very solemn. His hair is quite gray over his ears.”

Joe cheered.

“What’s his name?”

“K. Le Moyne.”

“K.?”

“That’s what he said.”

Interest in the roomer died away. The boy fell into the ecstasy of
content that always came with Sidney’s presence. His inarticulate young
soul was swelling with thoughts that he did not know how to put into
words. It was easy enough to plan conversations with Sidney when he was
away from her. But, at her feet, with her soft skirts touching him as
she moved, her eager face turned to him, he was miserably speechless.

Unexpectedly, Sidney yawned. He was outraged.

“If you’re sleepy--”

“Don’t be silly. I love having you. I sat up late last night, reading.
I wonder what you think of this: one of the characters in the book I was
reading says that every man who--who cares for a woman leaves his mark
on her! I suppose she tries to become what he thinks she is, for the
time anyhow, and is never just her old self again.”

She said “cares for” instead of “loves.” It is one of the traditions of
youth to avoid the direct issue in life’s greatest game. Perhaps
“love” is left to the fervent vocabulary of the lover. Certainly, as if
treading on dangerous ground, Sidney avoided it.

“Every man! How many men are supposed to care for a woman, anyhow?”

“Well, there’s the boy who--likes her when they’re both young.”

A bit of innocent mischief this, but Joe straightened.

“Then they both outgrow that foolishness. After that there are usually
two rivals, and she marries one of them--that’s three. And--”

“Why do they always outgrow that foolishness?” His voice was unsteady.

“Oh, I don’t know. One’s ideas change. Anyhow, I’m only telling you what
the book said.”

“It’s a silly book.”

“I don’t believe it’s true,” she confessed. “When I got started I just
read on. I was curious.”

More eager than curious, had she only known. She was fairly vibrant with
the zest of living. Sitting on the steps of the little brick house,
her busy mind was carrying her on to where, beyond the Street, with its
dingy lamps and blossoming ailanthus, lay the world that was some day to
lie to her hand. Not ambition called her, but life.

The boy was different. Where her future lay visualized before her,
heroic deeds, great ambitions, wide charity, he planned years with her,
selfish, contented years. As different as smug, satisfied summer from
visionary, palpitating spring, he was for her--but she was for all the
world.

By shifting his position his lips came close to her bare young arm. It
tempted him.

“Don’t read that nonsense,” he said, his eyes on the arm. “And--I’ll
never outgrow my foolishness about you, Sidney.”

Then, because he could not help it, he bent over and kissed her arm.

She was just eighteen, and Joe’s devotion was very pleasant. She
thrilled to the touch of his lips on her flesh; but she drew her arm
away.

“Please--I don’t like that sort of thing.”

“Why not?” His voice was husky.

“It isn’t right. Besides, the neighbors are always looking out the
windows.”

The drop from her high standard of right and wrong to the neighbors’
curiosity appealed suddenly to her sense of humor. She threw back her
head and laughed. He joined her, after an uncomfortable moment. But he
was very much in earnest. He sat, bent forward, turning his new straw
hat in his hands.

“I guess you know how I feel. Some of the fellows have crushes on girls
and get over them. I’m not like that. Since the first day I saw you I’ve
never looked at another girl. Books can say what they like: there are
people like that, and I’m one of them.”

There was a touch of dogged pathos in his voice. He was that sort, and
Sidney knew it. Fidelity and tenderness--those would be hers if she
married him. He would always be there when she wanted him, looking at
her with loving eyes, a trifle wistful sometimes because of his lack of
those very qualities he so admired in her--her wit, her resourcefulness,
her humor. But he would be there, not strong, perhaps, but always loyal.

“I thought, perhaps,” said Joe, growing red and white, and talking to
the hat, “that some day, when we’re older, you--you might be willing to
marry me, Sid. I’d be awfully good to you.”

It hurt her to say no. Indeed, she could not bring herself to say it.
In all her short life she had never willfully inflicted a wound.
And because she was young, and did not realize that there is a short
cruelty, like the surgeon’s, that is mercy in the end, she temporized.

“There is such a lot of time before we need think of such things! Can’t
we just go on the way we are?”

“I’m not very happy the way we are.”

“Why, Joe!”

“Well, I’m not”--doggedly. “You’re pretty and attractive. When I see a
fellow staring at you, and I’d like to smash his face for him, I haven’t
the right.”

“And a precious good thing for you that you haven’t!” cried Sidney,
rather shocked.

There was silence for a moment between them. Sidney, to tell the truth,
was obsessed by a vision of Joe, young and hot-eyed, being haled to the
police station by virtue of his betrothal responsibilities. The boy was
vacillating between relief at having spoken and a heaviness of spirit
that came from Sidney’s lack of enthusiastic response.

“Well, what do you think about it?”

“If you are asking me to give you permission to waylay and assault every
man who dares to look at me--”

“I guess this is all a joke to you.”

She leaned over and put a tender hand on his arm.

“I don’t want to hurt you; but, Joe, I don’t want to be engaged yet.
I don’t want to think about marrying. There’s such a lot to do in the
world first. There’s such a lot to see and be.”

“Where?” he demanded bitterly. “Here on this Street? Do you want
more time to pull bastings for your mother? Or to slave for your Aunt
Harriet? Or to run up and down stairs, carrying towels to roomers? Marry
me and let me take care of you.”

Once again her dangerous sense of humor threatened her. He looked
so boyish, sitting there with the moonlight on his bright hair, so
inadequate to carry out his magnificent offer. Two or three of the
star blossoms from the tree had fallen all his head. She lifted them
carefully away.

“Let me take care of myself for a while. I’ve never lived my own life.
You know what I mean. I’m not unhappy; but I want to do something.
And some day I shall,--not anything big; I know. I can’t do that,--but
something useful. Then, after years and years, if you still want me,
I’ll come back to you.”

“How soon?”

“How can I know that now? But it will be a long time.”

He drew a long breath and got up. All the joy had gone out of the summer
night for him, poor lad. He glanced down the Street, where Palmer Howe
had gone home happily with Sidney’s friend Christine. Palmer would
always know how he stood with Christine. She would never talk about
doing things, or being things. Either she would marry Palmer or she
would not. But Sidney was not like that. A fellow did not even caress
her easily. When he had only kissed her arm--He trembled a little at the
memory.

“I shall always want you,” he said. “Only--you will never come back.”

It had not occurred to either of them that this coming back, so
tragically considered, was dependent on an entirely problematical going
away. Nothing, that early summer night, seemed more unlikely than that
Sidney would ever be free to live her own life. The Street, stretching
away to the north and to the south in two lines of houses that seemed
to meet in the distance, hemmed her in. She had been born in the little
brick house, and, as she was of it, so it was of her. Her hands had
smoothed and painted the pine floors; her hands had put up the twine on
which the morning-glories in the yard covered the fences; had, indeed,
with what agonies of slacking lime and adding blueing, whitewashed the
fence itself!

“She’s capable,” Aunt Harriet had grumblingly admitted, watching from
her sewing-machine Sidney’s strong young arms at this humble spring
task.

“She’s wonderful!” her mother had said, as she bent over her hand work.
She was not strong enough to run the sewing-machine.

So Joe Drummond stood on the pavement and saw his dream of taking Sidney
in his arms fade into an indefinite futurity.

“I’m not going to give you up,” he said doggedly. “When you come back,
I’ll be waiting.”

The shock being over, and things only postponed, he dramatized his grief
a trifle, thrust his hands savagely into his pockets, and scowled down
the Street. In the line of his vision, his quick eye caught a tiny
moving shadow, lost it, found it again.

“Great Scott! There goes Reginald!” he cried, and ran after the shadow.
“Watch for the McKees’ cat!”

Sidney was running by that time; they were gaining. Their quarry, a
four-inch chipmunk, hesitated, gave a protesting squeak, and was caught
in Sidney’s hand.

“You wretch!” she cried. “You miserable little beast--with cats
everywhere, and not a nut for miles!”

“That reminds me,”--Joe put a hand into his pocket,--“I brought some
chestnuts for him, and forgot them. Here.”

Reginald’s escape had rather knocked the tragedy out of the evening.
True, Sidney would not marry him for years, but she had practically
promised to sometime. And when one is twenty-one, and it is a summer
night, and life stretches eternities ahead, what are a few years more or
less?

Sidney was holding the tiny squirrel in warm, protecting hands. She
smiled up at the boy.

“Good-night, Joe.”

“Good-night. I say, Sidney, it’s more than half an engagement. Won’t you
kiss me good-night?”

She hesitated, flushed and palpitating. Kisses were rare in the staid
little household to which she belonged.

“I--I think not.”

“Please! I’m not very happy, and it will be something to remember.”

Perhaps, after all, Sidney’s first kiss would have gone without her
heart,--which was a thing she had determined would never happen,--gone
out of sheer pity. But a tall figure loomed out of the shadows and
approached with quick strides.

“The roomer!” cried Sidney, and backed away.

“Damn the roomer!”

Poor Joe, with the summer evening quite spoiled, with no caress to
remember, and with a potential rival who possessed both the years and
the inches he lacked, coming up the Street!

The roomer advanced steadily. When he reached the doorstep, Sidney
was demurely seated and quite alone. The roomer, who had walked
fast, stopped and took off his hat. He looked very warm. He carried
a suitcase, which was as it should be. The men of the Street always
carried their own luggage, except the younger Wilson across the way. His
tastes were known to be luxurious.

“Hot, isn’t it?” Sidney inquired, after a formal greeting. She indicated
the place on the step just vacated by Joe. “You’d better cool off out
here. The house is like an oven. I think I should have warned you of
that before you took the room. These little houses with low roofs are
fearfully hot.”

The new roomer hesitated. The steps were very low, and he was tall.
Besides, he did not care to establish any relations with the people
in the house. Long evenings in which to read, quiet nights in which to
sleep and forget--these were the things he had come for.

But Sidney had moved over and was smiling up at him. He folded up
awkwardly on the low step. He seemed much too big for the house. Sidney
had a panicky thought of the little room upstairs.

“I don’t mind heat. I--I suppose I don’t think about it,” said the
roomer, rather surprised at himself.

Reginald, having finished his chestnut, squeaked for another. The roomer
started.

“Just Reginald--my ground-squirrel.” Sidney was skinning a nut with her
strong white teeth. “That’s another thing I should have told you. I’m
afraid you’ll be sorry you took the room.”

The roomer smiled in the shadow.

“I’m beginning to think that YOU are sorry.”

She was all anxiety to reassure him:--

“It’s because of Reginald. He lives under my--under your bureau. He’s
really not troublesome; but he’s building a nest under the bureau,
and if you don’t know about him, it’s rather unsettling to see a paper
pattern from the sewing-room, or a piece of cloth, moving across the
floor.”

Mr. Le Moyne thought it might be very interesting. “Although, if there’s
nest-building going on, isn’t it--er--possible that Reginald is a lady
ground-squirrel?”

Sidney was rather distressed, and, seeing this, he hastened to add that,
for all he knew, all ground-squirrels built nests, regardless of sex.
As a matter of fact, it developed that he knew nothing whatever of
ground-squirrels. Sidney was relieved. She chatted gayly of the tiny
creature--of his rescue in the woods from a crowd of little boys, of his
restoration to health and spirits, and of her expectation, when he was
quite strong, of taking him to the woods and freeing him.

Le Moyne, listening attentively, began to be interested. His quick mind
had grasped the fact that it was the girl’s bedroom he had taken. Other
things he had gathered that afternoon from the humming sewing-machine,
from Sidney’s businesslike way of renting the little room, from the
glimpse of a woman in a sunny window, bent over a needle. Genteel
poverty was what it meant, and more--the constant drain of disheartened,
middle-aged women on the youth and courage of the girl beside him.

K. Le Moyne, who was living his own tragedy those days, what with
poverty and other things, sat on the doorstep while Sidney talked, and
swore a quiet oath to be no further weight on the girl’s buoyant spirit.
And, since determining on a virtue is halfway to gaining it, his voice
lost its perfunctory note. He had no intention of letting the Street
encroach on him. He had built up a wall between himself and the rest of
the world, and he would not scale it. But he held no grudge against it.
Let others get what they could out of living.

Sidney, suddenly practical, broke in on his thoughts:--

“Where are you going to get your meals?”

“I hadn’t thought about it. I can stop in somewhere on my way downtown.
I work in the gas office--I don’t believe I told you. It’s rather
haphazard--not the gas office, but the eating. However, it’s
convenient.”

“It’s very bad for you,” said Sidney, with decision. “It leads to
slovenly habits, such as going without when you’re in a hurry, and that
sort of thing. The only thing is to have some one expecting you at a
certain time.”

“It sounds like marriage.” He was lazily amused.

“It sounds like Mrs. McKee’s boarding-house at the corner. Twenty-one
meals for five dollars, and a ticket to punch. Tillie, the dining-room
girl, punches for every meal you get. If you miss any meals, your ticket
is good until it is punched. But Mrs. McKee doesn’t like it if you
miss.”

“Mrs. McKee for me,” said Le Moyne. “I daresay, if I know
that--er--Tillie is waiting with the punch, I’ll be fairly regular to my
meals.”

It was growing late. The Street, which mistrusted night air, even on a
hot summer evening, was closing its windows. Reginald, having eaten
his fill, had cuddled in the warm hollow of Sidney’s lap, and slept.
By shifting his position, the man was able to see the girl’s face. Very
lovely it was, he thought. Very pure, almost radiant--and young. From
the middle age of his almost thirty years, she was a child. There had
been a boy in the shadows when he came up the Street. Of course there
would be a boy--a nice, clear-eyed chap--

Sidney was looking at the moon. With that dreamer’s part of her that she
had inherited from her dead and gone father, she was quietly worshiping
the night. But her busy brain was working, too,--the practical brain
that she had got from her mother’s side.

“What about your washing?” she inquired unexpectedly.

K. Le Moyne, who had built a wall between himself and the world, had
already married her to the youth of the shadows, and was feeling an odd
sense of loss.

“Washing?”

“I suppose you’ve been sending things to the laundry, and--what do you
do about your stockings?”

“Buy cheap ones and throw ‘em away when they’re worn out.” There seemed
to be no reserve with this surprising young person.

“And buttons?”

“Use safety-pins. When they’re closed one can button over them as well
as--”

“I think,” said Sidney, “that it is quite time some one took a little
care of you. If you will give Katie, our maid, twenty-five cents a week,
she’ll do your washing and not tear your things to ribbons. And I’ll
mend them.”

Sheer stupefaction was K. Le Moyne’s. After a moment:--

“You’re really rather wonderful, Miss Page. Here am I, lodged, fed,
washed, ironed, and mended for seven dollars and seventy-five cents a
week!”

“I hope,” said Sidney severely, “that you’ll put what you save in the
bank.”

He was still somewhat dazed when he went up the narrow staircase to
his swept and garnished room. Never, in all of a life that had been
active,--until recently,--had he been so conscious of friendliness and
kindly interest. He expanded under it. Some of the tired lines left his
face. Under the gas chandelier, he straightened and threw out his arms.
Then he reached down into his coat pocket and drew out a wide-awake and
suspicious Reginald.

“Good-night, Reggie!” he said. “Good-night, old top!” He hardly
recognized his own voice. It was quite cheerful, although the little
room was hot, and although, when he stood, he had a perilous feeling
that the ceiling was close above. He deposited Reginald carefully on
the floor in front of the bureau, and the squirrel, after eyeing him,
retreated to its nest.

It was late when K. Le Moyne retired to bed. Wrapped in a paper and
securely tied for the morning’s disposal, was considerable masculine
underclothing, ragged and buttonless. Not for worlds would he have had
Sidney discover his threadbare inner condition. “New underwear for yours
tomorrow, K. Le Moyne,” he said to himself, as he unknotted his cravat.
“New underwear, and something besides K. for a first name.”

He pondered over that for a time, taking off his shoes slowly and
thinking hard. “Kenneth, King, Kerr--” None of them appealed to him.
And, after all, what did it matter? The old heaviness came over him.

He dropped a shoe, and Reginald, who had gained enough courage to emerge
and sit upright on the fender, fell over backward.

Sidney did not sleep much that night. She lay awake, gazing into the
scented darkness, her arms under her head. Love had come into her life
at last. A man--only Joe, of course, but it was not the boy himself, but
what he stood for, that thrilled her had asked her to be his wife.

In her little back room, with the sweetness of the tree blossoms
stealing through the open window, Sidney faced the great mystery of life
and love, and flung out warm young arms. Joe would be thinking of her
now, as she thought of him. Or would he have gone to sleep, secure in
her half promise? Did he really love her?

The desire to be loved! There was coming to Sidney a time when love
would mean, not receiving, but giving--the divine fire instead of the
pale flame of youth. At last she slept.

A night breeze came through the windows and spread coolness through
the little house. The ailanthus tree waved in the moonlight and sent
sprawling shadows over the wall of K. Le Moyne’s bedroom. In the yard
the leaves of the morning-glory vines quivered as if under the touch of
a friendly hand.

K. Le Moyne slept diagonally in his bed, being very long. In sleep the
lines were smoothed out of his face. He looked like a tired, overgrown
boy. And while he slept the ground-squirrel ravaged the pockets of his
shabby coat.



CHAPTER II


Sidney could not remember when her Aunt Harriet had not sat at the
table. It was one of her earliest disillusionments to learn that Aunt
Harriet lived with them, not because she wished to, but because Sidney’s
father had borrowed her small patrimony and she was “boarding it out.”
 Eighteen years she had “boarded it out.” Sidney had been born and grown
to girlhood; the dreamer father had gone to his grave, with valuable
patents lost for lack of money to renew them--gone with his faith in
himself destroyed, but with his faith in the world undiminished: for he
left his wife and daughter without a dollar of life insurance.

Harriet Kennedy had voiced her own view of the matter, the after the
funeral, to one of the neighbors:--

“He left no insurance. Why should he bother? He left me.”

To the little widow, her sister, she had been no less bitter, and more
explicit.

“It looks to me, Anna,” she said, “as if by borrowing everything I had
George had bought me, body and soul, for the rest of my natural life.
I’ll stay now until Sidney is able to take hold. Then I’m going to live
my own life. It will be a little late, but the Kennedys live a long
time.”

The day of Harriet’s leaving had seemed far away to Anna Page. Sidney
was still her baby, a pretty, rather leggy girl, in her first year
at the High School, prone to saunter home with three or four
knickerbockered boys in her train, reading “The Duchess” stealthily, and
begging for longer dresses. She had given up her dolls, but she still
made clothes for them out of scraps from Harriet’s sewing-room. In the
parlance of the Street, Harriet “sewed”--and sewed well.

She had taken Anna into business with her, but the burden of the
partnership had always been on Harriet. To give her credit, she had not
complained. She was past forty by that time, and her youth had slipped
by in that back room with its dingy wallpaper covered with paper
patterns.

On the day after the arrival of the roomer, Harriet Kennedy came down to
breakfast a little late. Katie, the general housework girl, had tied
a small white apron over her generous gingham one, and was serving
breakfast. From the kitchen came the dump of an iron, and cheerful
singing. Sidney was ironing napkins. Mrs. Page, who had taken advantage
of Harriet’s tardiness to read the obituary column in the morning paper,
dropped it.

But Harriet did not sit down. It was her custom to jerk her chair out
and drop into it, as if she grudged every hour spent on food. Sidney,
not hearing the jerk, paused with her iron in air.

“Sidney.”

“Yes, Aunt Harriet.”

“Will you come in, please?”

Katie took the iron from her.

“You go. She’s all dressed up, and she doesn’t want any coffee.”

So Sidney went in. It was to her that Harriet made her speech:--

“Sidney, when your father died, I promised to look after both you and
your mother until you were able to take care of yourself. That was five
years ago. Of course, even before that I had helped to support you.”

“If you would only have your coffee, Harriet!”

Mrs. Page sat with her hand on the handle of the old silver-plated
coffee-pot. Harriet ignored her.

“You are a young woman now. You have health and energy, and you have
youth, which I haven’t. I’m past forty. In the next twenty years, at the
outside, I’ve got not only to support myself, but to save something to
keep me after that, if I live. I’ll probably live to be ninety. I don’t
want to live forever, but I’ve always played in hard luck.”

Sidney returned her gaze steadily.

“I see. Well, Aunt Harriet, you’re quite right. You’ve been a saint to
us, but if you want to go away--”

“Harriet!” wailed Mrs. Page, “you’re not thinking--”

“Please, mother.”

Harriet’s eyes softened as she looked at the girl

“We can manage,” said Sidney quietly. “We’ll miss you, but it’s time we
learned to depend on ourselves.”

After that, in a torrent, came Harriet’s declaration of independence.
And, mixed in with its pathetic jumble of recriminations, hostility to
her sister’s dead husband, and resentment for her lost years, came
poor Harriet’s hopes and ambitions, the tragic plea of a woman who must
substitute for the optimism and energy of youth the grim determination
of middle age.

“I can do good work,” she finished. “I’m full of ideas, if I could get a
chance to work them out. But there’s no chance here. There isn’t a woman
on the Street who knows real clothes when she sees them. They don’t even
know how to wear their corsets. They send me bundles of hideous stuff,
with needles and shields and imitation silk for lining, and when I
turn out something worth while out of the mess they think the dress is
queer!”

Mrs. Page could not get back of Harriet’s revolt to its cause. To her,
Harriet was not an artist pleading for her art; she was a sister and a
bread-winner deserting her trust.

“I’m sure,” she said stiffly, “we paid you back every cent we borrowed.
If you stayed here after George died, it was because you offered to.”

Her chin worked. She fumbled for the handkerchief at her belt. But
Sidney went around the table and flung a young arm over her aunt’s
shoulders.

“Why didn’t you say all that a year ago? We’ve been selfish, but we’re
not as bad as you think. And if any one in this world is entitled to
success you are. Of course we’ll manage.”

Harriet’s iron repression almost gave way. She covered her emotion with
details:--

“Mrs. Lorenz is going to let me make Christine some things, and if
they’re all right I may make her trousseau.”

“Trousseau--for Christine!”

“She’s not engaged, but her mother says it’s only a matter of a short
time. I’m going to take two rooms in the business part of town, and put
a couch in the backroom to sleep on.”

Sidney’s mind flew to Christine and her bright future, to a trousseau
bought with the Lorenz money, to Christine settled down, a married
woman, with Palmer Howe. She came back with an effort. Harriet had two
triangular red spots in her sallow cheeks.

“I can get a few good models--that’s the only way to start. And if you
care to do hand work for me, Anna, I’ll send it to you, and pay you the
regular rates. There isn’t the call for it there used to be, but just a
touch gives dash.”

 All of Mrs. Page’s grievances had worked their way to the surface.  Sidney
and Harriet had made her world, such as it was, and her world was in
revolt. She flung out her hands.

“I suppose I must do something. With you leaving, and Sidney renting her
room and sleeping on a folding-bed in the sewing-room, everything seems
upside down. I never thought I should live to see strange men running in
and out of this house and carrying latch-keys.”

This in reference to Le Moyne, whose tall figure had made a hurried exit
some time before.

Nothing could have symbolized Harriet’s revolt more thoroughly than her
going upstairs after a hurried breakfast, and putting on her hat and
coat. She had heard of rooms, she said, and there was nothing urgent in
the work-room. Her eyes were brighter already as she went out. Sidney,
kissing her in the hall and wishing her luck, realized suddenly what
a burden she and her mother must have been for the last few years. She
threw her head up proudly. They would never be a burden again--never, as
long as she had strength and health!

By evening Mrs. Page had worked herself into a state bordering on
hysteria. Harriet was out most of the day. She came in at three o’clock,
and Katie gave her a cup of tea. At the news of her sister’s condition,
she merely shrugged her shoulders.

“She’ll not die, Katie,” she said calmly. “But see that Miss Sidney eats
something, and if she is worried tell her I said to get Dr. Ed.”

Very significant of Harriet’s altered outlook was this casual summoning
of the Street’s family doctor. She was already dealing in larger
figures. A sort of recklessness had come over her since the morning.
Already she was learning that peace of mind is essential to successful
endeavor. Somewhere Harriet had read a quotation from a Persian poet;
she could not remember it, but its sense had stayed with her: “What
though we spill a few grains of corn, or drops of oil from the cruse?
These be the price of peace.”

So Harriet, having spilled oil from her cruse in the shape of Dr. Ed,
departed blithely. The recklessness of pure adventure was in her blood.
She had taken rooms at a rental that she determinedly put out of her
mind, and she was on her way to buy furniture. No pirate, fitting out
a ship for the highways of the sea, ever experienced more guilty and
delightful excitement.

The afternoon dragged away. Dr. Ed was out “on a case” and might not be
in until evening. Sidney sat in the darkened room and waved a fan over
her mother’s rigid form.

At half after five, Johnny Rosenfeld from the alley, who worked for a
florist after school, brought a box of roses to Sidney, and departed
grinning impishly. He knew Joe, had seen him in the store. Soon the
alley knew that Sidney had received a dozen Killarney roses at three
dollars and a half, and was probably engaged to Joe Drummond.

“Dr. Ed,” said Sidney, as he followed her down the stairs, “can you
spare the time to talk to me a little while?”

Perhaps the elder Wilson had a quick vision of the crowded office
waiting across the Street; but his reply was prompt:

“Any amount of time.”

Sidney led the way into the small parlor, where Joe’s roses, refused by
the petulant invalid upstairs, bloomed alone.

“First of all,” said Sidney, “did you mean what you said upstairs?”

Dr. Ed thought quickly.

“Of course; but what?”

“You said I was a born nurse.”

The Street was very fond of Dr. Ed. It did not always approve of him.
It said--which was perfectly true--that he had sacrificed himself to his
brother’s career: that, for the sake of that brilliant young surgeon,
Dr. Ed had done without wife and children; that to send him abroad
he had saved and skimped; that he still went shabby and drove the old
buggy, while Max drove about in an automobile coupe. Sidney, not at
all of the stuff martyrs are made of, sat in the scented parlor and,
remembering all this, was ashamed of her rebellion.

“I’m going into a hospital,” said Sidney.

Dr. Ed waited. He liked to have all the symptoms before he made a
diagnosis or ventured an opinion. So Sidney, trying to be cheerful, and
quite unconscious of the anxiety in her voice, told her story.

“It’s fearfully hard work, of course,” he commented, when she had
finished.

“So is anything worth while. Look at the way you work!”

Dr. Ed rose and wandered around the room.

“You’re too young.”

“I’ll get older.”

“I don’t think I like the idea,” he said at last. “It’s splendid work
for an older woman. But it’s life, child--life in the raw. As we get
along in years we lose our illusions--some of them, not all, thank God.
But for you, at your age, to be brought face to face with things as
they are, and not as we want them to be--it seems such an unnecessary
sacrifice.”

“Don’t you think,” said Sidney bravely, “that you are a poor person to
talk of sacrifice? Haven’t you always, all your life--”

Dr. Ed colored to the roots of his straw-colored hair.

“Certainly not,” he said almost irritably. “Max had genius; I
had--ability. That’s different. One real success is better than two
halves. Not”--he smiled down at her--“not that I minimize my usefulness.
Somebody has to do the hack-work, and, if I do say it myself, I’m a
pretty good hack.”

“Very well,” said Sidney. “Then I shall be a hack, too. Of course, I had
thought of other things,--my father wanted me to go to college,--but I’m
strong and willing. And one thing I must make up my mind to, Dr. Ed; I
shall have to support my mother.”

Harriet passed the door on her way in to a belated supper. The man in
the parlor had a momentary glimpse of her slender, sagging shoulders,
her thin face, her undisguised middle age.

“Yes,” he said, when she was out of hearing. “It’s hard, but I dare say
it’s right enough, too. Your aunt ought to have her chance. Only--I wish
it didn’t have to be.”

Sidney, left alone, stood in the little parlor beside the roses. She
touched them tenderly, absently. Life, which the day before had called
her with the beckoning finger of dreams, now reached out grim insistent
hands. Life--in the raw.



CHAPTER III


K. Le Moyne had wakened early that first morning in his new quarters.
When he sat up and yawned, it was to see his worn cravat disappearing
with vigorous tugs under the bureau. He rescued it, gently but firmly.

“You and I, Reginald,” he apostrophized the bureau, “will have to come
to an understanding. What I leave on the floor you may have, but what
blows down is not to be touched.”

Because he was young and very strong, he wakened to a certain lightness
of spirit. The morning sun had always called him to a new day, and the
sun was shining. But he grew depressed as he prepared for the office.
He told himself savagely, as he put on his shabby clothing, that, having
sought for peace and now found it, he was an ass for resenting it. The
trouble was, of course, that he came of fighting stock: soldiers and
explorers, even a gentleman adventurer or two, had been his forefather.
He loathed peace with a deadly loathing.

Having given up everything else, K. Le Moyne had also given up the
love of woman. That, of course, is figurative. He had been too busy for
women; and now he was too idle. A small part of his brain added figures
in the office of a gas company daily, for the sum of two dollars and
fifty cents per eight-hour working day. But the real K. Le Moyne
that had dreamed dreams, had nothing to do with the figures, but sat
somewhere in his head and mocked him as he worked at his task.

“Time’s going by, and here you are!” mocked the real person--who was, of
course, not K. Le Moyne at all. “You’re the hell of a lot of use, aren’t
you? Two and two are four and three are seven--take off the discount.
That’s right. It’s a man’s work, isn’t it?”

“Somebody’s got to do this sort of thing,” protested the small part of
his brain that earned the two-fifty per working day. “And it’s a great
anaesthetic. He can’t think when he’s doing it. There’s something
practical about figures, and--rational.”

He dressed quickly, ascertaining that he had enough money to buy a
five-dollar ticket at Mrs. McKee’s; and, having given up the love of
woman with other things, he was careful not to look about for Sidney on
his way.

He breakfasted at Mrs. McKee’s, and was initiated into the mystery of
the ticket punch. The food was rather good, certainly plentiful;
and even his squeamish morning appetite could find no fault with the
self-respecting tidiness of the place. Tillie proved to be neat and
austere. He fancied it would not be pleasant to be very late for one’s
meals--in fact, Sidney had hinted as much. Some of the “mealers”--the
Street’s name for them--ventured on various small familiarities of
speech with Tillie. K. Le Moyne himself was scrupulously polite, but
reserved. He was determined not to let the Street encroach on his
wretchedness. Because he had come to live there was no reason why it
should adopt him. But he was very polite. When the deaf-and-dumb book
agent wrote something on a pencil pad and pushed it toward him, he
replied in kind.

“We are very glad to welcome you to the McKee family,” was what was
written on the pad.

“Very happy, indeed, to be with you,” wrote back Le Moyne--and realized
with a sort of shock that he meant it.

The kindly greeting had touched him. The greeting and the breakfast
cheered him; also, he had evidently made some headway with Tillie.

“Don’t you want a toothpick?” she asked, as he went out.

In K.’s previous walk of life there had been no toothpicks; or, if there
were any, they were kept, along with the family scandals, in a closet.
But nearly a year of buffeting about had taught him many things. He took
one, and placed it nonchalantly in his waistcoat pocket, as he had seen
the others do.

Tillie, her rush hour over, wandered back into the kitchen and poured
herself a cup of coffee. Mrs. McKee was reweighing the meat order.

“Kind of a nice fellow,” Tillie said, cup to lips--“the new man.”

“Week or meal?”

“Week. He’d be handsome if he wasn’t so grouchy-looking. Lit up some
when Mr. Wagner sent him one of his love letters. Rooms over at the
Pages’.”

Mrs. McKee drew a long breath and entered the lam stew in a book.

“When I think of Anna Page taking a roomer, it just about knocks me
over, Tillie. And where they’ll put him, in that little house--he
looked thin, what I saw of him. Seven pounds and a quarter.” This last
referred, not to K. Le Moyne, of course, but to the lamb stew.

“Thin as a fiddle-string.”

“Just keep an eye on him, that he gets enough.” Then, rather ashamed of
her unbusinesslike methods: “A thin mealer’s a poor advertisement. Do
you suppose this is the dog meat or the soup scraps?”

Tillie was a niece of Mrs. Rosenfeld. In such manner was most of the
Street and its environs connected; in such wise did its small gossip
start at one end and pursue its course down one side and up the other.

“Sidney Page is engaged to Joe Drummond,” announced Tillie. “He sent her
a lot of pink roses yesterday.”

There was no malice in her flat statement, no envy. Sidney and she,
living in the world of the Street, occupied different spheres. But the
very lifelessness in her voice told how remotely such things touched
her, and thus was tragic. “Mealers” came and went--small clerks, petty
tradesmen, husbands living alone in darkened houses during the summer
hegira of wives. Various and catholic was Tillie’s male acquaintance,
but compounded of good fellowship only. Once, years before, romance had
paraded itself before her in the garb of a traveling nurseryman--had
walked by and not come back.

“And Miss Harriet’s going into business for herself. She’s taken rooms
downtown; she’s going to be Madame Something or other.”

Now, at last, was Mrs. McKee’s attention caught riveted.

“For the love of mercy! At her age! It’s downright selfish. If she
raises her prices she can’t make my new foulard.”

Tillie sat at the table, her faded blue eyes fixed on the back yard,
where her aunt, Mrs. Rosenfeld, was hanging out the week’s wash of table
linen.

“I don’t know as it’s so selfish,” she reflected. “We’ve only got one
life. I guess a body’s got the right to live it.”

Mrs. McKee eyed her suspiciously, but Tillie’s face showed no emotion.

“You don’t ever hear of Schwitter, do you?”

“No; I guess she’s still living.”

Schwitter, the nurseryman, had proved to have a wife in an insane
asylum. That was why Tillie’s romance had only paraded itself before her
and had gone by.

“You got out of that lucky.”

Tillie rose and tied a gingham apron over her white one.

“I guess so. Only sometimes--”

“I don’t know as it would have been so wrong. He ain’t young, and I
ain’t. And we’re not getting any younger. He had nice manners; he’d have
been good to me.”

Mrs. McKee’s voice failed her. For a moment she gasped like a fish.
Then:

“And him a married man!”

“Well, I’m not going to do it,” Tillie soothed her. “I get to thinking
about it sometimes; that’s all. This new fellow made me think of him.
He’s got the same nice way about him.”

Aye, the new man had made her think of him, and June, and the lovers
who lounged along the Street in the moonlit avenues toward the park and
love; even Sidney’s pink roses. Change was in the very air of the Street
that June morning. It was in Tillie, making a last clutch at youth, and
finding, in this pale flare of dying passion, courage to remember what
she had schooled herself to forget; in Harriet asserting her right to
live her life; in Sidney, planning with eager eyes a life of service
which did not include Joe; in K. Le Moyne, who had built up a wall
between himself and the world, and was seeing it demolished by a
deaf-and-dumb book agent whose weapon was a pencil pad!

And yet, for a week nothing happened: Joe came in the evenings and sat
on the steps with Sidney, his honest heart, in his eyes. She could not
bring herself at first to tell him about the hospital. She put it off
from day to day. Anna, no longer sulky, accepted wit the childlike faith
Sidney’s statement that “they’d get along; she had a splendid scheme,”
 and took to helping Harriet in her preparations for leaving. Tillie,
afraid of her rebellious spirit, went to prayer meeting. And K. Le
Moyne, finding his little room hot in the evenings and not wishing to
intrude on the two on the doorstep, took to reading his paper in the
park, and after twilight to long, rapid walks out into the country. The
walks satisfied the craving of his active body for exercise, and tired
him so he could sleep. On one such occasion he met Mr. Wagner, and they
carried on an animated conversation until it was too dark to see the
pad. Even then, it developed that Wagner could write in the dark; and
he secured the last word in a long argument by doing this and striking a
match for K. to read by.

When K. was sure that the boy had gone, he would turn back toward the
Street. Some of the heaviness of his spirit always left him at sight of
the little house. Its kindly atmosphere seemed to reach out and envelop
him. Within was order and quiet, the fresh-down bed, the tidiness of
his ordered garments. There was even affection--Reginald, waiting on
the fender for his supper, and regarding him with wary and bright-eyed
friendliness.

Life, that had seemed so simple, had grown very complicated for Sidney.
There was her mother to break the news to, and Joe. Harriet would
approve, she felt; but these others! To assure Anna that she must
manage alone for three years, in order to be happy and comfortable
afterward--that was hard enough to tell Joe she was planning a future
without him, to destroy the light in his blue eyes--that hurt.

After all, Sidney told K. first. One Friday evening, coming home late,
as usual, he found her on the doorstep, and Joe gone. She moved over
hospitably. The moon had waxed and waned, and the Street was dark. Even
the ailanthus blossoms had ceased their snow-like dropping. The colored
man who drove Dr. Ed in the old buggy on his daily rounds had brought
out the hose and sprinkled the street. Within this zone of freshness, of
wet asphalt and dripping gutters, Sidney sat, cool and silent.

“Please sit down. It is cool now. My idea of luxury is to have the
Street sprinkled on a hot night.”

K. disposed of his long legs on the steps. He was trying to fit his own
ideas of luxury to a garden hose and a city street.

“I’m afraid you’re working too hard.”

“I? I do a minimum of labor for a minimum of wage.

“But you work at night, don’t you?”

K. was natively honest. He hesitated. Then:

“No, Miss Page.”

“But You go out every evening!” Suddenly the truth burst on her.

“Oh, dear!” she said. “I do believe--why, how silly of you!”

K. was most uncomfortable.

“Really, I like it,” he protested. “I hang over a desk all day, and in
the evening I want to walk. I ramble around the park and see lovers on
benches--it’s rather thrilling. They sit on the same benches evening
after evening. I know a lot of them by sight, and if they’re not there
I wonder if they have quarreled, or if they have finally got married and
ended the romance. You can see how exciting it is.”

Quite suddenly Sidney laughed.

“How very nice you are!” she said--“and how absurd! Why should their
getting married end the romance? And don’t you know that, if you insist
on walking the streets and parks at night because Joe Drummond is here,
I shall have to tell him not to come?”

This did not follow, to K.’s mind. They had rather a heated argument
over it, and became much better acquainted.

“If I were engaged to him,” Sidney ended, her cheeks very pink, “I--I
might understand. But, as I am not--”

“Ah!” said K., a trifle unsteadily. “So you are not?”

Only a week--and love was one of the things she had had to give up, with
others. Not, of course, that he was in love with Sidney then. But he had
been desperately lonely, and, for all her practical clearheadedness,
she was softly and appealingly feminine. By way of keeping his head, he
talked suddenly and earnestly of Mrs. McKee, and food, and Tillie, and
of Mr. Wagner and the pencil pad.

“It’s like a game,” he said. “We disagree on everything, especially
Mexico. If you ever tried to spell those Mexican names--”

“Why did you think I was engaged?” she insisted.

Now, in K.’s walk of life--that walk of life where there are no
toothpicks, and no one would have believed that twenty-one meals could
have been secured for five dollars with a ticket punch thrown in--young
girls did not receive the attention of one young man to the exclusion of
others unless they were engaged. But he could hardly say that.

“Oh, I don’t know. Those things get in the air. I am quite certain, for
instance, that Reginald suspects it.”

“It’s Johnny Rosenfeld,” said Sidney, with decision. “It’s horrible, the
way things get about. Because Joe sent me a box of roses--As a matter
of fact, I’m not engaged, or going to be, Mr. Le Moyne. I’m going into a
hospital to be a nurse.”

Le Moyne said nothing. For just a moment he closed his eyes. A man is in
a rather a bad way when, every time he closes his eyes, he sees the
same thing, especially if it is rather terrible. When it gets to a point
where he lies awake at night and reads, for fear of closing them--

“You’re too young, aren’t you?”

“Dr. Ed--one of the Wilsons across the Street--is going to help me about
that. His brother Max is a big surgeon there. I expect you’ve heard of
him. We’re very proud of him in the Street.”

Lucky for K. Le Moyne that the moon no longer shone on the low gray
doorstep, that Sidney’s mind had traveled far away to shining floors
and rows of white beds. “Life--in the raw,” Dr. Ed had said that other
afternoon. Closer to her than the hospital was life in the raw that
night.

So, even here, on this quiet street in this distant city, there was
to be no peace. Max Wilson just across the way! It--it was ironic. Was
there no place where a man could lose himself? He would have to move on
again, of course.

But that, it seemed, was just what he could not do. For:

“I want to ask you to do something, and I hope you’ll be quite frank,”
 said Sidney.

“Anything that I can do--”

“It’s this. If you are comfortable, and--and like the room and all that,
I wish you’d stay.” She hurried on: “If I could feel that mother had a
dependable person like you in the house, it would all be easier.”

Dependable! That stung.

“But--forgive my asking; I’m really interested--can your mother manage?
You’ll get practically no money during your training.”

“I’ve thought of that. A friend of mine, Christine Lorenz, is going to
be married. Her people are wealthy, but she’ll have nothing but what
Palmer makes. She’d like to have the parlor and the sitting room
behind. They wouldn’t interfere with you at all,” she added hastily.
“Christine’s father would build a little balcony at the side for them, a
sort of porch, and they’d sit there in the evenings.”

Behind Sidney’s carefully practical tone the man read appeal. Never
before had he realized how narrow the girl’s world had been. The Street,
with but one dimension, bounded it! In her perplexity, she was appealing
to him who was practically a stranger.

And he knew then that he must do the thing she asked. He, who had fled
so long, could roam no more. Here on the Street, with its menace just
across, he must live, that she might work. In his world, men had worked
that women might live in certain places, certain ways. This girl was
going out to earn her living, and he would stay to make it possible. But
no hint of all this was in his voice.

“I shall stay, of course,” he said gravely. “I--this is the nearest
thing to home that I’ve known for a long time. I want you to know that.”

So they moved their puppets about, Anna and Harriet, Christine and
her husband-to-be, Dr. Ed, even Tillie and the Rosenfelds; shifted and
placed them, and, planning, obeyed inevitable law.

“Christine shall come, then,” said Sidney forsooth, “and we will throw
out a balcony.”

So they planned, calmly ignorant that poor Christine’s story and
Tillie’s and Johnny Rosenfeld’s and all the others’ were already written
among the things that are, and the things that shall be hereafter.

“You are very good to me,” said Sidney.

When she rose, K. Le Moyne sprang to his feet.

Anna had noticed that he always rose when she entered his room,--with
fresh towels on Katie’s day out, for instance,--and she liked him for
it. Years ago, the men she had known had shown this courtesy to their
women; but the Street regarded such things as affectation.

“I wonder if you would do me another favor? I’m afraid you’ll take to
avoiding me, if I keep on.”

“I don’t think you need fear that.”

“This stupid story about Joe Drummond--I’m not saying I’ll never marry
him, but I’m certainly not engaged. Now and then, when you are taking
your evening walks, if you would ask me to walk with you--”

K. looked rather dazed.

“I can’t imagine anything pleasanter; but I wish you’d explain just
how--”

Sidney smiled at him. As he stood on the lowest step, their eyes were
almost level.

“If I walk with you, they’ll know I’m not engaged to Joe,” she said,
with engaging directness.

The house was quiet. He waited in the lower hall until she had reached
the top of the staircase. For some curious reason, in the time to come,
that was the way Sidney always remembered K. Le Moyne--standing in the
little hall, one hand upstretched to shut off the gas overhead, and his
eyes on hers above.

“Good-night,” said K. Le Moyne. And all the things he had put out of his
life were in his voice.



CHAPTER IV


On the morning after Sidney had invited K. Le Moyne to take her to walk,
Max Wilson came down to breakfast rather late. Dr. Ed had breakfasted an
hour before, and had already attended, with much profanity on the part
of the patient, to a boil on the back of Mr. Rosenfeld’s neck.

“Better change your laundry,” cheerfully advised Dr. Ed, cutting a strip
of adhesive plaster. “Your neck’s irritated from your white collars.”

Rosenfeld eyed him suspiciously, but, possessing a sense of humor also,
he grinned.

“It ain’t my everyday things that bother me,” he replied. “It’s my
blankety-blank dress suit. But if a man wants to be tony--”

“Tony” was not of the Street, but of its environs. Harriet was “tony”
 because she walked with her elbows in and her head up. Dr. Max was
“tony” because he breakfasted late, and had a man come once a week and
take away his clothes to be pressed. He was “tony,” too, because he had
brought back from Europe narrow-shouldered English-cut clothes, when the
Street was still padding its shoulders. Even K. would have been classed
with these others, for the stick that he carried on his walks, for the
fact that his shabby gray coat was as unmistakably foreign in cut as Dr.
Max’s, had the neighborhood so much as known him by sight. But K., so
far, had remained in humble obscurity, and, outside of Mrs. McKee’s, was
known only as the Pages’ roomer.

Mr. Rosenfeld buttoned up the blue flannel shirt which, with a pair of
Dr. Ed’s cast-off trousers, was his only wear; and fished in his pocket.

“How much, Doc?”

“Two dollars,” said Dr. Ed briskly.

“Holy cats! For one jab of a knife! My old woman works a day and a half
for two dollars.”

“I guess it’s worth two dollars to you to be able to sleep on your
back.” He was imperturbably straightening his small glass table. He knew
Rosenfeld. “If you don’t like my price, I’ll lend you the knife the next
time, and you can let your wife attend to you.”

Rosenfeld drew out a silver dollar, and followed it reluctantly with a
limp and dejected dollar bill.

“There are times,” he said, “when, if you’d put me and the missus and a
knife in the same room, you wouldn’t have much left but the knife.”

Dr. Ed waited until he had made his stiff-necked exit. Then he took the
two dollars, and, putting the money into an envelope, indorsed it in his
illegible hand. He heard his brother’s step on the stairs, and Dr. Ed
made haste to put away the last vestiges of his little operation.

Ed’s lapses from surgical cleanliness were a sore trial to the younger
man, fresh from the clinics of Europe. In his downtown office, to which
he would presently make his leisurely progress, he wore a white coat,
and sterilized things of which Dr. Ed did not even know the names.

So, as he came down the stairs, Dr. Ed, who had wiped his tiny
knife with a bit of cotton,--he hated sterilizing it; it spoiled the
edge,--thrust it hastily into his pocket. He had cut boils without
boiling anything for a good many years, and no trouble. But he was wise
with the wisdom of the serpent and the general practitioner, and there
was no use raising a discussion.

Max’s morning mood was always a cheerful one. Now and then the way of
the transgressor is disgustingly pleasant. Max, who sat up until all
hours of the night, drinking beer or whiskey-and-soda, and playing
bridge, wakened to a clean tongue and a tendency to have a cigarette
between shoes, so to speak. Ed, whose wildest dissipation had perhaps
been to bring into the world one of the neighborhood’s babies, wakened
customarily to the dark hour of his day, when he dubbed himself failure
and loathed the Street with a deadly loathing.

So now Max brought his handsome self down the staircase and paused at
the office door.

“At it, already,” he said. “Or have you been to bed?”

“It’s after nine,” protested Ed mildly. “If I don’t start early, I never
get through.”

Max yawned.

“Better come with me,” he said. “If things go on as they’ve been doing,
I’ll have to have an assistant. I’d rather have you than anybody, of
course.” He put his lithe surgeon’s hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“Where would I be if it hadn’t been for you? All the fellows know what
you’ve done.”

In spite of himself, Ed winced. It was one thing to work hard that there
might be one success instead of two half successes. It was a different
thing to advertise one’s mediocrity to the world. His sphere of the
Street and the neighborhood was his own. To give it all up and become
his younger brother’s assistant--even if it meant, as it would, better
hours and more money--would be to submerge his identity. He could not
bring himself to it.

“I guess I’ll stay where I am,” he said. “They know me around here, and
I know them. By the way, will you leave this envelope at Mrs. McKee’s?
Maggie Rosenfeld is ironing there to-day. It’s for her.”

Max took the envelope absently.

“You’ll go on here to the end of your days, working for a pittance,”
 he objected. “Inside of ten years there’ll be no general practitioners;
then where will you be?”

“I’ll manage somehow,” said his brother placidly. “I guess there will
always be a few that can pay my prices better than what you specialists
ask.”

Max laughed with genuine amusement.

“I dare say, if this is the way you let them pay your prices.”

He held out the envelope, and the older man colored.

Very proud of Dr. Max was his brother, unselfishly proud, of his skill,
of his handsome person, of his easy good manners; very humble, too, of
his own knowledge and experience. If he ever suspected any lack of
finer fiber in Max, he put the thought away. Probably he was too rigid
himself. Max was young, a hard worker. He had a right to play hard.

He prepared his black bag for the day’s calls--stethoscope, thermometer,
eye-cup, bandages, case of small vials, a lump of absorbent cotton in
a not over-fresh towel; in the bottom, a heterogeneous collection of
instruments, a roll of adhesive plaster, a bottle or two of sugar-milk
tablets for the children, a dog collar that had belonged to a dead
collie, and had put in the bag in some curious fashion and there
remained.

He prepared the bag a little nervously, while Max ate. He felt that
modern methods and the best usage might not have approved of the bag. On
his way out he paused at the dining-room door.

“Are you going to the hospital?”

“Operating at four--wish you could come in.”

“I’m afraid not, Max. I’ve promised Sidney Page to speak about her to
you. She wants to enter the training-school.”

“Too young,” said Max briefly. “Why, she can’t be over sixteen.”

“She’s eighteen.”

“Well, even eighteen. Do you think any girl of that age is responsible
enough to have life and death put in her hands? Besides, although I
haven’t noticed her lately, she used to be a pretty little thing. There
is no use filling up the wards with a lot of ornaments; it keeps the
internes all stewed up.”

“Since when,” asked Dr. Ed mildly, “have you found good looks in a girl
a handicap?”

In the end they compromised. Max would see Sidney at his office. It
would be better than having her run across the Street--would put things
on the right footing. For, if he did have her admitted, she would have
to learn at once that he was no longer “Dr. Max”; that, as a matter of
fact, he was now staff, and entitled to much dignity, to speech without
contradiction or argument, to clean towels, and a deferential interne at
his elbow.

Having given his promise, Max promptly forgot about it. The Street did
not interest him. Christine and Sidney had been children when he went to
Vienna, and since his return he had hardly noticed them. Society, always
kind to single men of good appearance and easy good manners, had taken
him up. He wore dinner or evening clothes five nights out of seven, and
was supposed by his conservative old neighbors to be going the pace. The
rumor had been fed by Mrs. Rosenfeld, who, starting out for her day’s
washing at six o’clock one morning, had found Dr. Max’s car, lamps
lighted, and engine going, drawn up before the house door, with its
owner asleep at the wheel. The story traveled the length of the Street
that day.

“Him,” said Mrs. Rosenfeld, who was occasionally flowery, “sittin’ up
as straight as this washboard, and his silk hat shinin’ in the sun; but
exceptin’ the car, which was workin’ hard and gettin’ nowhere, the whole
outfit in the arms of Morpheus.”

Mrs. Lorenz, whose day it was to have Mrs. Rosenfeld, and who was
unfamiliar with mythology, gasped at the last word.

“Mercy!” she said. “Do you mean to say he’s got that awful drug habit!”

Down the clean steps went Dr. Max that morning, a big man, almost as
tall as K. Le Moyne, eager of life, strong and a bit reckless, not fine,
perhaps, but not evil. He had the same zest of living as Sidney, but
with this difference--the girl stood ready to give herself to life: he
knew that life would come to him. All-dominating male was Dr. Max, that
morning, as he drew on his gloves before stepping into his car. It was
after nine o’clock. K. Le Moyne had been an hour at his desk. The McKee
napkins lay ironed in orderly piles.

Nevertheless, Dr. Max was suffering under a sense of defeat as he rode
downtown. The night before, he had proposed to a girl and had been
rejected. He was not in love with the girl,--she would have been a
suitable wife, and a surgeon ought to be married; it gives people
confidence,--but his pride was hurt. He recalled the exact words of the
rejection.

“You’re too good-looking, Max,” she had said, “and that’s the truth. Now
that operations are as popular as fancy dancing, and much less bother,
half the women I know are crazy about their surgeons. I’m too fond of my
peace of mind.”

“But, good Heavens! haven’t you any confidence in me?” he had demanded.

“None whatever, Max dear.” She had looked at him with level,
understanding eyes.

He put the disagreeable recollection out of his mind as he parked his
car and made his way to his office. Here would be people who believed
in him, from the middle-aged nurse in her prim uniform to the row of
patients sitting stiffly around the walls of the waiting-room. Dr. Max,
pausing in the hall outside the door of his private office, drew a long
breath. This was the real thing--work and plenty of it, a chance to show
the other men what he could do, a battle to win! No humanitarian was he,
but a fighter: each day he came to his office with the same battle lust.

The office nurse had her back to him. When she turned, he faced an
agreeable surprise. Instead of Miss Simpson, he faced a young and
attractive girl, faintly familiar.

“We tried to get you by telephone,” she explained. “I am from the
hospital. Miss Simpson’s father died this morning, and she knew you
would have to have some one. I was just starting for my vacation, so
they sent me.”

“Rather a poor substitute for a vacation,” he commented.

She was a very pretty girl. He had seen her before in the hospital, but
he had never really noticed how attractive she was. Rather stunning
she was, he thought. The combination of yellow hair and dark eyes
was unusual. He remembered, just in time, to express regret at Miss
Simpson’s bereavement.

“I am Miss Harrison,” explained the substitute, and held out his long
white coat. The ceremony, purely perfunctory with Miss Simpson on duty,
proved interesting, Miss Harrison, in spite of her high heels, being
small and the young surgeon tall. When he was finally in the coat, she
was rather flushed and palpitating.

“But I KNEW your name, of course,” lied Dr. Max. “And--I’m sorry about
the vacation.”

After that came work. Miss Harrison was nimble and alert, but the
surgeon worked quickly and with few words, was impatient when she could
not find the things he called for, even broke into restrained profanity
now and then. She went a little pale over her mistakes, but preserved
her dignity and her wits. Now and then he found her dark eyes fixed
on him, with something inscrutable but pleasing in their depths. The
situation was: rather piquant. Consciously he was thinking only of what
he was doing. Subconsciously his busy ego was finding solace after last
night’s rebuff.

Once, during the cleaning up between cases, he dropped to a personality.
He was drying his hands, while she placed freshly sterilized instruments
on a glass table.

“You are almost a foreign type, Miss Harrison. Last year, in a London
ballet, I saw a blonde Spanish girl who looked like you.”

“My mother was a Spaniard.” She did not look up.

Where Miss Simpson was in the habit of clumping through the morning in
flat, heavy shoes, Miss Harrison’s small heels beat a busy tattoo on
the tiled floor. With the rustling of her starched dress, the sound was
essentially feminine, almost insistent. When he had time to notice it,
it amused him that he did not find it annoying.

Once, as she passed him a bistoury, he deliberately placed his fine
hand over her fingers and smiled into her eyes. It was play for him; it
lightened the day’s work.

Sidney was in the waiting-room. There had been no tedium in the
morning’s waiting. Like all imaginative people, she had the gift of
dramatizing herself. She was seeing herself in white from head to
foot, like this efficient young woman who came now and then to the
waiting-room door; she was healing the sick and closing tired eyes; she
was even imagining herself proposed to by an aged widower with grown
children and quantities of money, one of her patients.

She sat very demurely in the waiting-room with a magazine in her lap,
and told her aged patient that she admired and respected him, but that
she had given herself to the suffering poor.

“Everything in the world that you want,” begged the elderly gentleman.
“You should see the world, child, and I will see it again through your
eyes. To Paris first for clothes and the opera, and then--”

“But I do not love you,” Sidney replied, mentally but steadily. “In all
the world I love only one man. He is--”

She hesitated here. It certainly was not Joe, or K. Le Moyne of the
gas office. It seem to her suddenly very sad that there was no one
she loved. So many people went into hospitals because they had been
disappointed in love.

“Dr. Wilson will see you now.”

She followed Miss Harrison into the consulting room. Dr. Max--not the
gloved and hatted Dr. Max of the Street, but a new person, one she had
never known--stood in his white office, tall, dark-eyed, dark-haired,
competent, holding out his long, immaculate surgeon’s hand, and smiling
down at her.

Men, like jewels, require a setting. A clerk on a high stool, poring
over a ledger, is not unimpressive, or a cook over her stove. But place
the cook on the stool, poring over the ledger! Dr. Max, who had lived
all his life on the edge of Sidney’s horizon, now, by the simple
changing of her point of view, loomed large and magnificent. Perhaps
he knew it. Certainly he stood very erect. Certainly, too, there was
considerable manner in the way in which he asked Miss Harrison to go out
and close the door behind her.

Sidney’s heart, considering what was happening to it, behaved very well.

“For goodness’ sake, Sidney,” said Dr. Max, “here you are a young lady
and I’ve never noticed it!”

This, of course, was not what he had intended to say, being staff and
all that. But Sidney, visibly palpitant, was very pretty, much prettier
than the Harrison girl, beating a tattoo with her heels in the next
room.

Dr. Max, belonging to the class of man who settles his tie every time he
sees an attractive woman, thrust his hands into the pockets of his long
white coat and surveyed her quizzically.

“Did Dr. Ed tell you?”

“Sit down. He said something about the hospital. How’s your mother and
Aunt Harriet?”

“Very well--that is, mother’s never quite well.” She was sitting forward
on her chair, her wide young eyes on him. “Is that--is your nurse from
the hospital here?”

“Yes. But she’s not my nurse. She’s a substitute.”

“The uniform is so pretty.” Poor Sidney! with all the things she had
meant to say about a life of service, and that, although she was young,
she was terribly in earnest.

“It takes a lot of plugging before one gets the uniform. Look here,
Sidney; if you are going to the hospital because of the uniform, and
with any idea of soothing fevered brows and all that nonsense--”

She interrupted him, deeply flushed. Indeed, no. She wanted to work.
She was young and strong, and surely a pair of willing hands--that was
absurd about the uniform. She had no silly ideas. There was so much to
do in the world, and she wanted to help. Some people could give money,
but she couldn’t. She could only offer service. And, partly through
earnestness and partly through excitement, she ended in a sort of
nervous sob, and, going to the window, stood with her back to him.

He followed her, and, because they were old neighbors, she did not
resent it when he put his hand on her shoulder.

“I don’t know--of course, if you feel like that about it,” he said,
“we’ll see what can be done. It’s hard work, and a good many times it
seems futile. They die, you know, in spite of all we can do. And there
are many things that are worse than death--”

His voice trailed off. When he had started out in his profession, he
had had some such ideal of service as this girl beside him. For just
a moment, as he stood there close to her, he saw things again with the
eyes of his young faith: to relieve pain, to straighten the crooked,
to hurt that he might heal,--not to show the other men what he could
do,--that had been his early creed. He sighed a little as he turned
away.

“I’ll speak to the superintendent about you,” he said. “Perhaps you’d
like me to show you around a little.”

“When? To-day?”

He had meant in a month, or a year. It was quite a minute before he
replied:--

“Yes, to-day, if you say. I’m operating at four. How about three
o’clock?”

She held out both hands, and he took them, smiling.

“You are the kindest person I ever met.”

“And--perhaps you’d better not say you are applying until we find out if
there is a vacancy.”

“May I tell one person?”

“Mother?”

“No. We--we have a roomer now. He is very much interested. I should like
to tell him.”

He dropped her hands and looked at her in mock severity.

“Much interested! Is he in love with you?”

“Mercy, no!”

“I don’t believe it. I’m jealous. You know, I’ve always been more than
half in love with you myself!”

Play for him--the same victorious instinct that had made him touch Miss
Harrison’s fingers as she gave him the instrument. And Sidney knew how
it was meant; she smiled into his eyes and drew down her veil briskly.

“Then we’ll say at three,” she said calmly, and took an orderly and
unflurried departure.

But the little seed of tenderness had taken root. Sidney, passing in the
last week or two from girlhood to womanhood,--outgrowing Joe, had she
only known it, as she had outgrown the Street,--had come that day into
her first contact with a man of the world. True, there was K. Le Moyne.
But K. was now of the Street, of that small world of one dimension that
she was leaving behind her.

She sent him a note at noon, with word to Tillie at Mrs. McKee’s to put
it under his plate:--

DEAR MR. LE MOYNE,--I am so excited I can hardly write. Dr. Wilson, the
surgeon, is going to take me through the hospital this afternoon. Wish
me luck. SIDNEY PAGE.

K. read it, and, perhaps because the day was hot and his butter soft
and the other “mealers” irritable with the heat, he ate little or no
luncheon. Before he went out into the sun, he read the note again.
To his jealous eyes came a vision of that excursion to the hospital.
Sidney, all vibrant eagerness, luminous of eye, quick of bosom; and
Wilson, sardonically smiling, amused and interested in spite of himself.
He drew a long breath, and thrust the note in his pocket.

The little house across the way sat square in the sun. The shades of his
windows had been lowered against the heat. K. Le Moyne made an impulsive
movement toward it and checked himself.

As he went down the Street, Wilson’s car came around the corner. Le
Moyne moved quietly into the shadow of the church and watched the car go
by.



CHAPTER V

Sidney and K. Le Moyne sat under a tree and talked. In Sidney’s lap
lay a small pasteboard box, punched with many holes. It was the day of
releasing Reginald, but she had not yet been able to bring herself to
the point of separation. Now and then a furry nose protruded from one of
the apertures and sniffed the welcome scent of pine and buttonball, red
and white clover, the thousand spicy odors of field and woodland.

“And so,” said K. Le Moyne, “you liked it all? It didn’t startle you?”

“Well, in one way, of course--you see, I didn’t know it was quite like
that: all order and peace and quiet, and white beds and whispers, on
top,--you know what I mean,--and the misery there just the same. Have
you ever gone through a hospital?”

K. Le Moyne was stretched out on the grass, his arms under his head. For
this excursion to the end of the street-car line he had donned a pair
of white flannel trousers and a belted Norfolk coat. Sidney had been
divided between pride in his appearance and fear that the Street would
deem him overdressed.

At her question he closed his eyes, shutting out the peaceful arch and
the bit of blue heaven overhead. He did not reply at once.

“Good gracious, I believe he’s asleep!” said Sidney to the pasteboard
box.

But he opened his eyes and smiled at her.

“I’ve been around hospitals a little. I suppose now there is no question
about your going?”

“The superintendent said I was young, but that any protegee of Dr.
Wilson’s would certainly be given a chance.”

“It is hard work, night and day.”

“Do you think I am afraid of work?”

“And--Joe?”

Sidney colored vigorously and sat erect.

“He is very silly. He’s taken all sorts of idiotic notions in his head.”

“Such as--”

“Well, he HATES the hospital, of course. As if, even if I meant to marry
him, it wouldn’t be years before he can be ready.”

“Do you think you are quite fair to Joe?”

“I haven’t promised to marry him.”

“But he thinks you mean to. If you have quite made up your mind not to,
better tell him, don’t you think? What--what are these idiotic notions?”

Sidney considered, poking a slim finger into the little holes in the
box.

“You can see how stupid he is, and--and young. For one thing, he’s
jealous of you!”

“I see. Of course that is silly, although your attitude toward his
suspicion is hardly flattering to me.”

He smiled up at her.

“I told him that I had asked you to bring me here to-day. He was
furious. And that wasn’t all.”

“No?”

“He said I was flirting desperately with Dr. Wilson. You see, the day
we went through the hospital, it was hot, and we went to Henderson’s for
soda-water. And, of course, Joe was there. It was really dramatic.”

K. Le Moyne was daily gaining the ability to see things from the angle
of the Street. A month ago he could have seen no situation in two
people, a man and a girl, drinking soda-water together, even with a boy
lover on the next stool. Now he could view things through Joe’s tragic
eyes. And there as more than that. All day he had noticed how inevitably
the conversation turned to the young surgeon. Did they start with
Reginald, with the condition of the morning-glory vines, with the
proposition of taking up the quaint paving-stones and macadamizing the
Street, they ended with the younger Wilson.

Sidney’s active young brain, turned inward for the first time in her
life, was still on herself.

“Mother is plaintively resigned--and Aunt Harriet has been a trump.
She’s going to keep her room. It’s really up to you.”

“To me?”

“To your staying on. Mother trusts you absolutely. I hope you noticed
that you got one of the apostle spoons with the custard she sent up
to you the other night. And she didn’t object to this trip to-day. Of
course, as she said herself, it isn’t as if you were young, or at all
wild.”

In spite of himself, K. was rather startled. He felt old enough, God
knew, but he had always thought of it as an age of the spirit. How old
did this child think he was?

“I have promised to stay on, in the capacity of watch-dog,
burglar-alarm, and occasional recipient of an apostle spoon in a dish of
custard. Lightning-conductor, too--your mother says she isn’t afraid of
storms if there is a man in the house. I’ll stay, of course.”

The thought of his age weighed on him. He rose to his feet and threw
back his fine shoulders.

“Aunt Harriet and your mother and Christine and her husband-to-be,
whatever his name is--we’ll be a happy family. But, I warn you, if I
ever hear of Christine’s husband getting an apostle spoon--”

She smiled up at him. “You are looking very grand to-day. But you have
grass stains on your white trousers. Perhaps Katie can take them out.”

Quite suddenly K. felt that she thought him too old for such frivolity
of dress. It put him on his mettle.

“How old do you think I am, Miss Sidney?”

She considered, giving him, after her kindly way, the benefit of the
doubt.

“Not over forty, I’m sure.”

“I’m almost thirty. It is middle age, of course, but it is not
senility.”

She was genuinely surprised, almost disturbed.

“Perhaps we’d better not tell mother,” she said. “You don’t mind being
thought older?”

“Not at all.”

Clearly the subject of his years did not interest her vitally, for she
harked back to the grass stains.

“I’m afraid you’re not saving, as you promised. Those are new clothes,
aren’t they?”

“No, indeed. Bought years ago in England--the coat in London, the
trousers in Bath, on a motor tour. Cost something like twelve shillings.
Awfully cheap. They wear them for cricket.”

That was a wrong move, of course. Sidney must hear about England; and
she marveled politely, in view of his poverty, about his being there.
Poor Le Moyne floundered in a sea of mendacity, rose to a truth here and
there, clutched at luncheon, and achieved safety at last.

“To think,” said Sidney, “that you have really been across the ocean! I
never knew but one person who had been abroad. It is Dr. Max Wilson.”

Back again to Dr. Max! Le Moyne, unpacking sandwiches from a basket, was
aroused by a sheer resentment to an indiscretion.

“You like this Wilson chap pretty well, don’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You talk about him rather a lot.”

This was sheer recklessness, of course. He expected fury, annihilation.
He did not look up, but busied himself with the luncheon. When the
silence grew oppressive, he ventured to glance toward her. She was
leaning forward, her chin cupped in her palms, staring out over the
valley that stretched at their feet.

“Don’t speak to me for a minute or two,” she said. “I’m thinking over
what you have just said.”

Manlike, having raised the issue, K. would have given much to evade it.
Not that he had owned himself in love with Sidney. Love was not for
him. But into his loneliness and despair the girl had came like a ray of
light. She typified that youth and hope that he had felt slipping away
from him. Through her clear eyes he was beginning to see a new world.
Lose her he must, and that he knew; but not this way.

Down through the valley ran a shallow river, making noisy pretensions to
both depth and fury. He remembered just such a river in the Tyrol, with
this same Wilson on a rock, holding the hand of a pretty Austrian girl,
while he snapped the shutter of a camera. He had that picture somewhere
now; but the girl was dead, and, of the three, Wilson was the only one
who had met life and vanquished it.

“I’ve known him all my life,” Sidney said at last. “You’re perfectly
right about one thing: I talk about him and I think about him. I’m being
candid, because what’s the use of being friends if we’re not frank?
I admire him--you’d have to see him in the hospital, with every one
deferring to him and all that, to understand. And when you think of
a manlike that, who holds life and death in his hands, of course you
rather thrill. I--I honestly believe that’s all there is to it.”

“If that’s the whole thing, that’s hardly a mad passion.” He tried to
smile; succeeded faintly.

“Well, of course, there’s this, too. I know he’ll never look at me.
I’ll be one of forty nurses; indeed, for three months I’ll be only a
probationer. He’ll probably never even remember I’m in the hospital at
all.”

“I see. Then, if you thought he was in love with you, things would be
different?”

“If I thought Dr. Max Wilson was in love with me,” said Sidney solemnly,
“I’d go out of my head with joy.”

One of the new qualities that K. Le Moyne was cultivating was of living
each day for itself. Having no past and no future, each day was worth
exactly what it brought. He was to look back to this day with mingled
feelings: sheer gladness at being out in the open with Sidney; the
memory of the shock with which he realized that she was, unknown to
herself, already in the throes of a romantic attachment for Wilson; and,
long, long after, when he had gone down to the depths with her and
saved her by his steady hand, with something of mirth for the untoward
happening that closed the day.

Sidney fell into the river.

They had released Reginald, released him with the tribute of a
shamefaced tear on Sidney’s part, and a handful of chestnuts from K. The
little squirrel had squeaked his gladness, and, tail erect, had darted
into the grass.

“Ungrateful little beast!” said Sidney, and dried her eyes. “Do you
suppose he’ll ever think of the nuts again, or find them?”

“He’ll be all right,” K. replied. “The little beggar can take care of
himself, if only--”

“If only what?”

“If only he isn’t too friendly. He’s apt to crawl into the pockets of
any one who happens around.”

She was alarmed at that. To make up for his indiscretion, K. suggested a
descent to the river. She accepted eagerly, and he helped her down. That
was another memory that outlasted the day--her small warm hand in his;
the time she slipped and he caught her; the pain in her eyes at one of
his thoughtless remarks.

“I’m going to be pretty lonely,” he said, when she had paused in the
descent and was taking a stone out of her low shoe. “Reginald gone, and
you going! I shall hate to come home at night.” And then, seeing her
wince: “I’ve been whining all day. For Heaven’s sake, don’t look like
that. If there’s one sort of man I detest more than another, it’s a man
who is sorry for himself. Do you suppose your mother would object if
we stayed, out here at the hotel for supper? I’ve ordered a moon,
orange-yellow and extra size.”

“I should hate to have anything ordered and wasted.”

“Then we’ll stay.”

“It’s fearfully extravagant.”

“I’ll be thrifty as to moons while you are in the hospital.”

So it was settled. And, as it happened, Sidney had to stay, anyhow. For,
having perched herself out in the river on a sugar-loaf rock, she slid,
slowly but with a dreadful inevitability, into the water. K. happened
to be looking in another direction. So it occurred that at one moment,
Sidney sat on a rock, fluffy white from head to feet, entrancingly
pretty, and knowing it, and the next she was standing neck deep in
water, much too startled to scream, and trying to be dignified under the
rather trying circumstances. K. had not looked around. The splash had
been a gentle one.

“If you will be good enough,” said Sidney, with her chin well up, “to
give me your hand or a pole or something--because if the river rises an
inch I shall drown.”

To his undying credit, K. Le Moyne did not laugh when he turned and saw
her. He went out on the sugar-loaf rock, and lifted her bodily up its
slippery sides. He had prodigious strength, in spite of his leanness.

“Well!” said Sidney, when they were both on the rock, carefully
balanced.

“Are you cold?”

“Not a bit. But horribly unhappy. I must look a sight.” Then,
remembering her manners, as the Street had it, she said primly:--

“Thank you for saving me.”

“There wasn’t any danger, really, unless--unless the river had risen.”

And then, suddenly, he burst into delighted laughter, the first,
perhaps, for months. He shook with it, struggled at the sight of her
injured face to restrain it, achieved finally a degree of sobriety by
fixing his eyes on the river-bank.

“When you have quite finished,” said Sidney severely, “perhaps you will
take me to the hotel. I dare say I shall have to be washed and ironed.”

He drew her cautiously to her feet. Her wet skirts clung to her; her
shoes were sodden and heavy. She clung to him frantically, her eyes on
the river below. With the touch of her hands the man’s mirth died.
He held her very carefully, very tenderly, as one holds something
infinitely precious.



CHAPTER VI


The same day Dr. Max operated at the hospital. It was a Wilson day, the
young surgeon having six cases. One of the innovations Dr. Max had
made was to change the hour for major operations from early morning to
mid-afternoon. He could do as well later in the day,--his nerves were
steady, and uncounted numbers of cigarettes did not make his hand
shake,--and he hated to get up early.

The staff had fallen into the way of attending Wilson’s operations. His
technique was good; but technique alone never gets a surgeon anywhere.
Wilson was getting results. Even the most jealous of that most jealous
of professions, surgery, had to admit that he got results.

Operations were over for the afternoon. The last case had been
wheeled out of the elevator. The pit of the operating-room was
in disorder--towels everywhere, tables of instruments, steaming
sterilizers. Orderlies were going about, carrying out linens, emptying
pans. At a table two nurses were cleaning instruments and putting
them away in their glass cases. Irrigators were being emptied, sponges
recounted and checked off on written lists.

In the midst of the confusion, Wilson stood giving last orders to the
interne at his elbow. As he talked he scoured his hands and arms with a
small brush; bits of lather flew off on to the tiled floor. His speech
was incisive, vigorous. At the hospital they said his nerves were iron;
there was no let-down after the day’s work. The internes worshiped and
feared him. He was just, but without mercy. To be able to work like
that, so certainly, with so sure a touch, and to look like a Greek god!
Wilson’s only rival, a gynecologist named O’Hara, got results, too; but
he sweated and swore through his operations, was not too careful as to
asepsis, and looked like a gorilla.

The day had been a hard one. The operating room nurses were fagged. Two
or three probationers had been sent to help cleanup, and a senior nurse.
Wilson’s eyes caught the nurse’s eyes as she passed him.

“Here, too, Miss Harrison!” he said gayly. “Have they set you on my
trail?”

With the eyes of the room on her, the girl answered primly:--

“I’m to be in your office in the mornings, Dr. Wilson, and anywhere I am
needed in the afternoons.”

“And your vacation?”

“I shall take it when Miss Simpson comes back.”

Although he went on at once with his conversation with the interne, he
still heard the click of her heels about the room. He had not lost the
fact that she had flushed when he spoke to her. The mischief that was
latent in him came to the surface. When he had rinsed his hands, he
followed her, carrying the towel to where she stood talking to the
superintendent of the training school.

“Thanks very much, Miss Gregg,” he said. “Everything went off nicely.”

“I was sorry about that catgut. We have no trouble with what we prepare
ourselves. But with so many operations--”

He was in a magnanimous mood. He smiled’ at Miss Gregg, who was elderly
and gray, but visibly his creature.

“That’s all right. It’s the first time, and of course it will be the
last.”

“The sponge list, doctor.”

He glanced over it, noting accurately sponges prepared, used, turned in.
But he missed no gesture of the girl who stood beside Miss Gregg.

“All right.” He returned the list. “That was a mighty pretty probationer
I brought you yesterday.”

Two small frowning lines appeared between Miss Harrison’s dark brows.
He caught them, caught her somber eyes too, and was amused and rather
stimulated.

“She is very young.”

“Prefer ‘em young,” said Dr. Max. “Willing to learn at that age. You’ll
have to watch her, though. You’ll have all the internes buzzing around,
neglecting business.”

Miss Gregg rather fluttered. She was divided between her disapproval
of internes at all times and of young probationers generally, and her
allegiance to the brilliant surgeon whose word was rapidly becoming law
in the hospital. When an emergency of the cleaning up called her away,
doubt still in her eyes, Wilson was left alone with Miss Harrison.

“Tired?” He adopted the gentle, almost tender tone that made most women
his slaves.

“A little. It is warm.”

“What are you going to do this evening? Any lectures?”

“Lectures are over for the summer. I shall go to prayers, and after that
to the roof for air.”

There was a note of bitterness in her voice. Under the eyes of the other
nurses, she was carefully contained. They might have been outlining the
morning’s work at his office.

“The hand lotion, please.”

She brought it obediently and poured it into his cupped hands. The
solutions of the operating-room played havoc with the skin: the
surgeons, and especially Wilson, soaked their hands plentifully with a
healing lotion.

Over the bottle their eyes met again, and this time the girl smiled
faintly.

“Can’t you take a little ride to-night and cool off? I’ll have the car
wherever you say. A ride and some supper--how does it sound? You could
get away at seven--”

“Miss Gregg is coming!”

With an impassive face, the girl took the bottle away. The workers
of the operating-room surged between them. An interne presented an
order-book; moppers had come in and waited to clean the tiled floor.
There seemed no chance for Wilson to speak to Miss Harrison again.

But he was clever with the guile of the pursuing male. Eyes of all on
him, he turned at the door of the wardrobe-room, where he would exchange
his white garments for street clothing, and spoke to her over the heads
of a dozen nurses.

“That patient’s address that I had forgotten, Miss Harrison, is the
corner of the Park and Ellington Avenue.”

“Thank you.”

She played the game well, was quite calm. He admired her coolness.
Certainly she was pretty, and certainly, too, she was interested in
him. The hurt to his pride of a few nights before was healed. He went
whistling into the wardrobe-room. As he turned he caught the interne’s
eye, and there passed between them a glance of complete comprehension.
The interne grinned.

The room was not empty. His brother was there, listening to the comments
of O’Hara, his friendly rival.

“Good work, boy!” said O’Hara, and clapped a hairy hand on his shoulder.
“That last case was a wonder. I’m proud of you, and your brother here is
indecently exalted. It was the Edwardes method, wasn’t it? I saw it done
at his clinic in New York.”

“Glad you liked it. Yes. Edwardes was a pal at mine in Berlin. A great
surgeon, too, poor old chap!”

“There aren’t three men in the country with the nerve and the hand for
it.”

O’Hara went out, glowing with his own magnanimity. Deep in his heart
was a gnawing of envy--not for himself, but for his work. These young
fellows with no family ties, who could run over to Europe and bring back
anything new that was worth while, they had it all over the older men.
Not that he would have changed things. God forbid!

Dr. Ed stood by and waited while his brother got into his street
clothes. He was rather silent. There were many times when he wished that
their mother could have lived to see how he had carried out his promise
to “make a man of Max.” This was one of them. Not that he took any
credit for Max’s brilliant career--but he would have liked her to know
that things were going well. He had a picture of her over his office
desk. Sometimes he wondered what she would think of his own untidy
methods compared with Max’s extravagant order--of the bag, for instance,
with the dog’s collar in it, and other things. On these occasions he
always determined to clear out the bag.

“I guess I’ll be getting along,” he said. “Will you be home to dinner?”

“I think not. I’ll--I’m going to run out of town, and eat where it’s
cool.”

The Street was notoriously hot in summer. When Dr. Max was newly home
from Europe, and Dr. Ed was selling a painfully acquired bond or two
to furnish the new offices downtown, the brothers had occasionally gone
together, by way of the trolley, to the White Springs Hotel for supper.
Those had been gala days for the older man. To hear names that he had
read with awe, and mispronounced, most of his life, roll off Max’s
tongue--“Old Steinmetz” and “that ass of a Heydenreich”; to hear the
medical and surgical gossip of the Continent, new drugs, new technique,
the small heart-burnings of the clinics, student scandal--had brought
into his drab days a touch of color. But that was over now. Max had new
friends, new social obligations; his time was taken up. And pride would
not allow the older brother to show how he missed the early days.

Forty-two he was, and; what with sleepless nights and twenty years of
hurried food, he looked fifty. Fifty, then, to Max’s thirty.

“There’s a roast of beef. It’s a pity to cook a roast for one.”

Wasteful, too, this cooking of food for two and only one to eat it. A
roast of beef meant a visit, in Dr. Ed’s modest-paying clientele. He
still paid the expenses of the house on the Street.

“Sorry, old man; I’ve made another arrangement.”

They left the hospital together. Everywhere the younger man received the
homage of success. The elevator-man bowed and flung the doors open,
with a smile; the pharmacy clerk, the doorkeeper, even the convalescent
patient who was polishing the great brass doorplate, tendered their
tribute. Dr. Ed looked neither to right nor left.

At the machine they separated. But Dr. Ed stood for a moment with his
hand on the car.

“I was thinking, up there this afternoon,” he said slowly, “that I’m not
sure I want Sidney Page to become a nurse.”

“Why?”

“There’s a good deal in life that a girl need not know--not, at least,
until her husband tells her. Sidney’s been guarded, and it’s bound to be
a shock.”

“It’s her own choice.”

“Exactly. A child reaches out for the fire.”

The motor had started. For the moment, at least, the younger Wilson had
no interest in Sidney Page.

“She’ll manage all right. Plenty of other girls have taken the training
and come through without spoiling their zest for life.”

Already, as the car moved off, his mind was on his appointment for the
evening.

Sidney, after her involuntary bath in the river, had gone into temporary
eclipse at the White Springs Hotel. In the oven of the kitchen stove sat
her two small white shoes, stuffed with paper so that they might dry
in shape. Back in a detached laundry, a sympathetic maid was ironing
various soft white garments, and singing as she worked.

Sidney sat in a rocking-chair in a hot bedroom. She was carefully
swathed in a sheet from neck to toes, except for her arms, and she was
being as philosophic as possible. After all, it was a good chance to
think things over. She had very little time to think, generally.

She meant to give up Joe Drummond. She didn’t want to hurt him. Well,
there was that to think over and a matter of probation dresses to be
talked over later with her Aunt Harriet. Also, there was a great deal of
advice to K. Le Moyne, who was ridiculously extravagant, before trusting
the house to him. She folded her white arms and prepared to think over
all these things. As a matter of fact, she went mentally, like an arrow
to its mark, to the younger Wilson--to his straight figure in its white
coat, to his dark eyes and heavy hair, to the cleft in his chin when he
smiled.

“You know, I have always been more than half in love with you myself...”

Some one tapped lightly at the door. She was back again in the stuffy
hotel room, clutching the sheet about her.

“Yes?”

“It’s Le Moyne. Are you all right?”

“Perfectly. How stupid it must be for you!”

“I’m doing very well. The maid will soon be ready. What shall I order
for supper?”

“Anything. I’m starving.”

Whatever visions K. Le Moyne may have had of a chill or of a feverish
cold were dispelled by that.

“The moon has arrived, as per specifications. Shall we eat on the
terrace?”

“I have never eaten on a terrace in my life. I’d love it.”

“I think your shoes have shrunk.”

“Flatterer!” She laughed. “Go away and order supper. And I can see fresh
lettuce. Shall we have a salad?”

K. Le Moyne assured her through the door that he would order a salad,
and prepared to descend.

But he stood for a moment in front of the closed door, for the mere
sound of her moving, beyond it. Things had gone very far with the Pages’
roomer that day in the country; not so far as they were to go, but far
enough to let him see on the brink of what misery he stood.

He could not go away. He had promised her to stay: he was needed. He
thought he could have endured seeing her marry Joe, had she cared for
the boy. That way, at least, lay safety for her. The boy had fidelity
and devotion written large over him. But this new complication--her
romantic interest in Wilson, the surgeon’s reciprocal interest in her,
with what he knew of the man--made him quail.

From the top of the narrow staircase to the foot, and he had lived
a year’s torment! At the foot, however, he was startled out of his
reverie. Joe Drummond stood there waiting for him, his blue eyes
recklessly alight.

“You--you dog!” said Joe.

There were people in the hotel parlor. Le Moyne took the frenzied boy by
the elbow and led him past the door to the empty porch.

“Now,” he said, “if you will keep your voice down, I’ll listen to what
you have to say.”

“You know what I’ve got to say.”

This failing to draw from K. Le Moyne anything but his steady glance,
Joe jerked his arm free, and clenched his fist.

“What did you bring her out here for?”

“I do not know that I owe you any explanation, but I am willing to
give you one. I brought her out here for a trolley ride and a picnic
luncheon. Incidentally we brought the ground squirrel out and set him
free.”

He was sorry for the boy. Life not having been all beer and skittles to
him, he knew that Joe was suffering, and was marvelously patient with
him.

“Where is she now?”

“She had the misfortune to fall in the river. She is upstairs.” And,
seeing the light of unbelief in Joe’s eyes: “If you care to make a tour
of investigation, you will find that I am entirely truthful. In the
laundry a maid--”

“She is engaged to me”--doggedly. “Everybody in the neighborhood knows
it; and yet you bring her out here for a picnic! It’s--it’s damned
rotten treatment.”

His fist had unclenched. Before K. Le Moyne’s eyes his own fell. He felt
suddenly young and futile; his just rage turned to blustering in his
ears.

“Now, be honest with yourself. Is there really an engagement?”

“Yes,” doggedly.

“Even in that case, isn’t it rather arrogant to say that--that the young
lady in question can accept no ordinary friendly attentions from another
man?”

Utter astonishment left Joe almost speechless. The Street, of course,
regarded an engagement as a setting aside of the affianced couple, an
isolation of two, than which marriage itself was not more a solitude a
deux. After a moment:--

“I don’t know where you came from,” he said, “but around here decent men
cut out when a girl’s engaged.”

“I see!”

“What’s more, what do we know about you? Who are you, anyhow? I’ve
looked you up. Even at your office they don’t know anything. You may be
all right, but how do I know it? And, even if you are, renting a room in
the Page house doesn’t entitle you to interfere with the family. You get
her into trouble and I’ll kill you!”

It took courage, that speech, with K. Le Moyne towering five inches
above him and growing a little white about the lips.

“Are you going to say all these things to Sidney?”

“Does she allow you to call her Sidney?”

“Are you?”

“I am. And I am going to find out why you were upstairs just now.”

Perhaps never in his twenty-two years had young Drummond been so near a
thrashing. Fury that he was ashamed of shook Le Moyne. For very fear of
himself, he thrust his hands in the pockets of his Norfolk coat.

“Very well,” he said. “You go to her with just one of these ugly
insinuations, and I’ll take mighty good care that you are sorry for it.
I don’t care to threaten. You’re younger than I am, and lighter. But
if you are going to behave like a bad child, you deserve a licking, and
I’ll give it to you.”

An overflow from the parlor poured out on the porch. Le Moyne had got
himself in hand somewhat. He was still angry, but the look in Joe’s eyes
startled him. He put a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“You’re wrong, old man,” he said. “You’re insulting the girl you care
for by the things you are thinking. And, if it’s any comfort to you, I
have no intention of interfering in any way. You can count me out. It’s
between you and her.” Joe picked his straw hat from a chair and stood
turning it in his hands.

“Even if you don’t care for her, how do I know she isn’t crazy about
you?”

“My word of honor, she isn’t.”

“She sends you notes to McKees’.”

“Just to clear the air, I’ll show it to you. It’s no breach of
confidence. It’s about the hospital.”

Into the breast pocket of his coat he dived and brought up a wallet.
The wallet had had a name on it in gilt letters that had been carefully
scraped off. But Joe did not wait to see the note.

“Oh, damn the hospital!” he said--and went swiftly down the steps and
into the gathering twilight of the June night.

It was only when he reached the street-car, and sat huddled in a corner,
that he remembered something.

Only about the hospital--but Le Moyne had kept the note, treasured it!
Joe was not subtle, not even clever; but he was a lover, and he knew the
ways of love. The Pages’ roomer was in love with Sidney whether he knew
it or not.



CHAPTER VII


Carlotta Harrison pleaded a headache, and was excused from the
operating-room and from prayers.

“I’m sorry about the vacation,” Miss Gregg said kindly, “but in a day or
two I can let you off. Go out now and get a little air.”

The girl managed to dissemble the triumph in her eyes.

“Thank you,” she said languidly, and turned away. Then: “About the
vacation, I am not in a hurry. If Miss Simpson needs a few days to
straighten things out, I can stay on with Dr. Wilson.”

Young women on the eve of a vacation were not usually so reasonable.
Miss Gregg was grateful.

“She will probably need a week. Thank you. I wish more of the girls
were as thoughtful, with the house full and operations all day and every
day.”

Outside the door of the anaesthetizing-room Miss Harrison’s languor
vanished. She sped along corridors and up the stairs, not waiting for
the deliberate elevator. Inside of her room, she closed and bolted the
door, and, standing before her mirror, gazed long at her dark eyes and
bright hair. Then she proceeded briskly with her dressing.

Carlotta Harrison was not a child. Though she was only three years older
than Sidney, her experience of life was as of three to Sidney’s one.
The product of a curious marriage,--when Tommy Harrison of Harrison’s
Minstrels, touring Spain with his troupe, had met the pretty daughter of
a Spanish shopkeeper and eloped with her,--she had certain qualities of
both, a Yankee shrewdness and capacity that made her a capable nurse,
complicated by occasional outcroppings of southern Europe, furious
bursts of temper, slow and smouldering vindictiveness. A passionate
creature, in reality, smothered under hereditary Massachusetts caution.

She was well aware of the risks of the evening’s adventure. The only
dread she had was of the discovery of her escapade by the hospital
authorities. Lines were sharply drawn. Nurses were forbidden more than
the exchange of professional conversation with the staff. In that
world of her choosing, of hard work and little play, of service and
self-denial and vigorous rules of conduct, discovery meant dismissal.

She put on a soft black dress, open at the throat, and with a wide white
collar and cuffs of some sheer material. Her yellow hair was drawn high
under her low black hat. From her Spanish mother she had learned to
please the man, not herself. She guessed that Dr. Max would wish her to
be inconspicuous, and she dressed accordingly. Then, being a cautious
person, she disarranged her bed slightly and thumped a hollow into
her pillow. The nurses’ rooms were subject to inspection, and she had
pleaded a headache.

She was exactly on time. Dr. Max, driving up to the corner five minutes
late, found her there, quite matter-of-fact but exceedingly handsome,
and acknowledged the evening’s adventure much to his taste.

“A little air first, and then supper--how’s that?”

“Air first, please. I’m very tired.”

He turned the car toward the suburbs, and then, bending toward her,
smiled into her eyes.

“Well, this is life!”

“I’m cool for the first time to-day.”

After that they spoke very little. Even Wilson’s superb nerves had
felt the strain of the afternoon, and under the girl’s dark eyes were
purplish shadows. She leaned back, weary but luxuriously content.

“Not uneasy, are you?”

“Not particularly. I’m too comfortable. But I hope we’re not seen.”

“Even if we are, why not? You are going with me to a case. I’ve driven
Miss Simpson about a lot.”

It was almost eight when he turned the car into the drive of the White
Springs Hotel. The six-to-eight supper was almost over. One or two motor
parties were preparing for the moonlight drive back to the city. All
around was virgin country, sweet with early summer odors of new-cut
grass, of blossoming trees and warm earth. On the grass terrace over the
valley, where ran Sidney’s unlucky river, was a magnolia full of creamy
blossoms among waxed leaves. Its silhouette against the sky was quaintly
heart-shaped.

Under her mask of languor, Carlotta’s heart was beating wildly. What an
adventure! What a night! Let him lose his head a little; she could keep
hers. If she were skillful and played things right, who could tell? To
marry him, to leave behind the drudgery of the hospital, to feel safe as
she had not felt for years, that was a stroke to play for!

The magnolia was just beside her. She reached up and, breaking off one
of the heavy-scented flowers, placed it in the bosom of her black dress.

Sidney and K. Le Moyne were dining together. The novelty of the
experience had made her eyes shine like stars. She saw only the magnolia
tree shaped like a heart, the terrace edged with low shrubbery, and
beyond the faint gleam that was the river. For her the dish-washing
clatter of the kitchen was stilled, the noises from the bar were lost in
the ripple of the river; the scent of the grass killed the odor of stale
beer that wafted out through the open windows. The unshaded glare of the
lights behind her in the house was eclipsed by the crescent edge of the
rising moon. Dinner was over. Sidney was experiencing the rare treat of
after-dinner coffee.

Le Moyne, grave and contained, sat across from her. To give so much
pleasure, and so easily! How young she was, and radiant! No wonder the
boy was mad about her. She fairly held out her arms to life.

Ah, that was too bad! Another table was being brought; they were not to
be alone. But, what roused him in violent resentment only appealed to
Sidney’s curiosity. “Two places!” she commented. “Lovers, of course. Or
perhaps honeymooners.”

K. tried to fall into her mood.

“A box of candy against a good cigar, they are a stolid married couple.”

“How shall we know?”

“That’s easy. If they loll back and watch the kitchen door, I win. If
they lean forward, elbows on the table, and talk, you get the candy.”

Sidney, who had been leaning forward, talking eagerly over the table,
suddenly straightened and flushed.

Carlotta Harrison came out alone. Although the tapping of her heels was
dulled by the grass, although she had exchanged her cap for the black
hat, Sidney knew her at once. A sort of thrill ran over her. It was the
pretty nurse from Dr. Wilson’s office. Was it possible--but of
course not! The book of rules stated explicitly that such things were
forbidden.

“Don’t turn around,” she said swiftly. “It is the Miss Harrison I told
you about. She is looking at us.”

Carlotta’s eyes were blinded for a moment by the glare of the house
lights. She dropped into her chair, with a flash of resentment at the
proximity of the other table. She languidly surveyed its two occupants.
Then she sat up, her eyes on Le Moyne’s grave profile turned toward the
valley.

Lucky for her that Wilson had stopped in the bar, that Sidney’s
instinctive good manners forbade her staring, that only the edge of the
summer moon shone through the trees. She went white and clutched the
edge of the table, with her eyes closed. That gave her quick brain a
chance. It was madness, June madness. She was always seeing him even in
her dreams. This man was older, much older. She looked again.

She had not been mistaken. Here, and after all these months! K. Le
Moyne, quite unconscious of her presence, looked down into the valley.

Wilson appeared on the wooden porch above the terrace, and stood, his
eyes searching the half light for her. If he came down to her, the man
at the next table might turn, would see her--

She rose and went swiftly back toward the hotel. All the gayety was
gone out of the evening for her, but she forced a lightness she did not
feel:--

“It is so dark and depressing out there--it makes me sad.”

“Surely you do not want to dine in the house?”

“Do you mind?”

“Just as you wish. This is your evening.”

But he was not pleased. The prospect of the glaring lights and soiled
linen of the dining-room jarred on his aesthetic sense. He wanted a
setting for himself, for the girl. Environment was vital to him. But
when, in the full light of the moon, he saw the purplish shadows under
her eyes, he forgot his resentment. She had had a hard day. She was
tired. His easy sympathies were roused. He leaned over and ran his and
caressingly along her bare forearm.

“Your wish is my law--to-night,” he said softly.

After all, the evening was a disappointment to him. The spontaneity had
gone out of it, for some reason. The girl who had thrilled to his glance
those two mornings in his office, whose somber eyes had met his fire for
fire, across the operating-room, was not playing up. She sat back in her
chair, eating little, starting at every step. Her eyes, which by every
rule of the game should have been gazing into his, were fixed on the
oilcloth-covered passage outside the door.

“I think, after all, you are frightened!”

“Terribly.”

“A little danger adds to the zest of things. You know what Nietzsche
says about that.”

“I am not fond of Nietzsche.” Then, with an effort: “What does he say?”

“Two things are wanted by the true man--danger and play. Therefore he
seeketh woman as the most dangerous of toys.”

“Women are dangerous only when you think of them as toys. When a man
finds that a woman can reason,--do anything but feel,--he regards her
as a menace. But the reasoning woman is really less dangerous than the
other sort.”

This was more like the real thing. To talk careful abstractions like
this, with beneath each abstraction its concealed personal application,
to talk of woman and look in her eyes, to discuss new philosophies with
their freedoms, to discard old creeds and old moralities--that was
his game. Wilson became content, interested again. The girl was
nimble-minded. She challenged his philosophy and gave him a chance to
defend it. With the conviction, as their meal went on, that Le Moyne and
his companion must surely have gone, she gained ease.

It was only by wild driving that she got back to the hospital by ten
o’clock.

Wilson left her at the corner, well content with himself. He had had the
rest he needed in congenial company. The girl stimulated his interest.
She was mental, but not too mental. And he approved of his own attitude.
He had been discreet. Even if she talked, there was nothing to tell. But
he felt confident that she would not talk.

As he drove up the Street, he glanced across at the Page house. Sidney
was there on the doorstep, talking to a tall man who stood below and
looked up at her. Wilson settled his tie, in the darkness. Sidney was a
mighty pretty girl. The June night was in his blood. He was sorry he had
not kissed Carlotta good-night. He rather thought, now he looked back,
she had expected it.

As he got out of his car at the curb, a young man who had been standing
in the shadow of the tree-box moved quickly away.

Wilson smiled after him in the darkness.

“That you, Joe?” he called.

But the boy went on.



CHAPTER VIII


Sidney entered the hospital as a probationer early in August. Christine
was to be married in September to Palmer Howe, and, with Harriet and K.
in the house, she felt that she could safely leave her mother.

The balcony outside the parlor was already under way. On the night
before she went away, Sidney took chairs out there and sat with her
mother until the dew drove Anna to the lamp in the sewing-room and her
“Daily Thoughts” reading.

Sidney sat alone and viewed her world from this new and pleasant
angle. She could see the garden and the whitewashed fence with its
morning-glories, and at the same time, by turning her head, view the
Wilson house across the Street. She looked mostly at the Wilson house.

K. Le Moyne was upstairs in his room. She could hear him tramping up and
down, and catch, occasionally, the bitter-sweet odor of his old brier
pipe.

All the small loose ends of her life were gathered up--except Joe. She
would have liked to get that clear, too. She wanted him to know how she
felt about it all: that she liked him as much as ever, that she did not
want to hurt him. But she wanted to make it clear, too, that she knew
now that she would never marry him. She thought she would never marry;
but, if she did, it would be a man doing a man’s work in the world. Her
eyes turned wistfully to the house across the Street.

K.’s lamp still burned overhead, but his restless tramping about had
ceased. He must be reading--he read a great deal. She really ought to go
to bed. A neighborhood cat came stealthily across the Street, and stared
up at the little balcony with green-glowing eyes.

“Come on, Bill Taft,” she said. “Reginald is gone, so you are welcome.
Come on.”

Joe Drummond, passing the house for the fourth time that evening, heard
her voice, and hesitated uncertainly on the pavement.

“That you, Sid?” he called softly.

“Joe! Come in.”

“It’s late; I’d better get home.”

The misery in his voice hurt her.

“I’ll not keep you long. I want to talk to you.”

He came slowly toward her.

“Well?” he said hoarsely.

“You’re not very kind to me, Joe.”

“My God!” said poor Joe. “Kind to you! Isn’t the kindest thing I can do
to keep out of your way?”

“Not if you are hating me all the time.”

“I don’t hate you.”

“Then why haven’t you been to see me? If I have done anything--” Her
voice was a-tingle with virtue and outraged friendship.

“You haven’t done anything but--show me where I get off.”

He sat down on the edge of the balcony and stared out blankly.

“If that’s the way you feel about it--”

“I’m not blaming you. I was a fool to think you’d ever care about me. I
don’t know that I feel so bad--about the thing. I’ve been around seeing
some other girls, and I notice they’re glad to see me, and treat me
right, too.” There was boyish bravado in his voice. “But what makes me
sick is to have everyone saying you’ve jilted me.”

“Good gracious! Why, Joe, I never promised.”

“Well, we look at it in different ways; that’s all. I took it for a
promise.”

Then suddenly all his carefully conserved indifference fled. He bent
forward quickly and, catching her hand, held it against his lips.

“I’m crazy about you, Sidney. That’s the truth. I wish I could die!”

The cat, finding no active antagonism, sprang up on the balcony and
rubbed against the boy’s quivering shoulders; a breath of air stroked
the morning-glory vine like the touch of a friendly hand. Sidney,
facing for the first time the enigma of love and despair sat, rather
frightened, in her chair.

“You don’t mean that!”

“I mean it, all right. If it wasn’t for the folks, I’d jump in the
river. I lied when I said I’d been to see other girls. What do I want
with other girls? I want you!”

“I’m not worth all that.”

“No girl’s worth what I’ve been going through,” he retorted bitterly.
“But that doesn’t help any. I don’t eat; I don’t sleep--I’m afraid
sometimes of the way I feel. When I saw you at the White Springs with
that roomer chap--”

“Ah! You were there!”

“If I’d had a gun I’d have killed him. I thought--” So far, out of sheer
pity, she had left her hand in his. Now she drew it away.

“This is wild, silly talk. You’ll be sorry to-morrow.”

“It’s the truth,” doggedly.

But he made a clutch at his self-respect. He was acting like a crazy
boy, and he was a man, all of twenty-two!

“When are you going to the hospital?”

“To-morrow.”

“Is that Wilson’s hospital?”

“Yes.”

Alas for his resolve! The red haze of jealousy came again. “You’ll be
seeing him every day, I suppose.”

“I dare say. I shall also be seeing twenty or thirty other doctors, and
a hundred or so men patients, not to mention visitors. Joe, you’re not
rational.”

“No,” he said heavily, “I’m not. If it’s got to be someone, Sidney, I’d
rather have it the roomer upstairs than Wilson. There’s a lot of talk
about Wilson.”

“It isn’t necessary to malign my friends.” He rose.

“I thought perhaps, since you are going away, you would let me keep
Reginald. He’d be something to remember you by.”

“One would think I was about to die! I set Reginald free that day in the
country. I’m sorry, Joe. You’ll come to see me now and then, won’t you?”

“If I do, do you think you may change your mind?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“I’ve got to fight this out alone, and the less I see of you the
better.” But his next words belied his intention. “And Wilson had better
lookout. I’ll be watching. If I see him playing any of his tricks around
you--well, he’d better look out!”

That, as it turned out, was Joe’s farewell. He had reached the
breaking-point. He gave her a long look, blinked, and walked rapidly out
to the Street. Some of the dignity of his retreat was lost by the fact
that the cat followed him, close at his heels.

Sidney was hurt, greatly troubled. If this was love, she did not want
it--this strange compound of suspicion and despair, injured pride and
threats. Lovers in fiction were of two classes--the accepted ones, who
loved and trusted, and the rejected ones, who took themselves away in
despair, but at least took themselves away. The thought of a future
with Joe always around a corner, watching her, obsessed her. She felt
aggrieved, insulted. She even shed a tear or two, very surreptitiously;
and then, being human and much upset, and the cat startling her by its
sudden return and selfish advances, she shooed it off the veranda and
set an imaginary dog after it. Whereupon, feeling somewhat better, she
went in and locked the balcony window and proceeded upstairs.

Le Moyne’s light was still going. The rest of the household slept. She
paused outside the door.

“Are you sleepy?”--very softly.

There was a movement inside, the sound of a book put down. Then: “No,
indeed.”

“I may not see you in the morning. I leave to-morrow.”

“Just a minute.”

From the sounds, she judged that he was putting on his shabby gray
coat. The next moment he had opened the door and stepped out into the
corridor.

“I believe you had forgotten!”

“I? Certainly not. I started downstairs a while ago, but you had a
visitor.”

“Only Joe Drummond.”

He gazed down at her quizzically.

“And--is Joe more reasonable?”

“He will be. He knows now that I--that I shall not marry him.”

“Poor chap! He’ll buck up, of course. But it’s a little hard just now.”

“I believe you think I should have married him.”

“I am only putting myself in his place and realizing--When do you
leave?”

“Just after breakfast.”

“I am going very early. Perhaps--”

He hesitated. Then, hurriedly:--

“I got a little present for you--nothing much, but your mother was quite
willing. In fact, we bought it together.”

He went back into his room, and returned with a small box.

“With all sorts of good luck,” he said, and placed it in her hands.

“How dear of you! And may I look now?”

“I wish you would. Because, if you would rather have something else--”

She opened the box with excited fingers. Ticking away on its satin bed
was a small gold watch.

“You’ll need it, you see,” he explained nervously, “It wasn’t
extravagant under the circumstances. Your mother’s watch, which you had
intended to take, had no second-hand. You’ll need a second-hand to take
pulses, you know.”

“A watch,” said Sidney, eyes on it. “A dear little watch, to pin on and
not put in a pocket. Why, you’re the best person!”

“I was afraid you might think it presumptuous,” he said. “I haven’t any
right, of course. I thought of flowers--but they fade and what have you?
You said that, you know, about Joe’s roses. And then, your mother said
you wouldn’t be offended--”

“Don’t apologize for making me so happy!” she cried. “It’s wonderful,
really. And the little hand is for pulses! How many queer things you
know!”

After that she must pin it on, and slip in to stand before his mirror
and inspect the result. It gave Le Moyne a queer thrill to see her there
in the room among his books and his pipes. It make him a little sick,
too, in view of to-morrow and the thousand-odd to-morrows when she would
not be there.

“I’ve kept you up shamefully,’” she said at last, “and you get up so
early. I shall write you a note from the hospital, delivering a little
lecture on extravagance--because how can I now, with this joy shining on
me? And about how to keep Katie in order about your socks, and all sorts
of things. And--and now, good-night.”

She had moved to the door, and he followed her, stooping a little to
pass under the low chandelier.

“Good-night,” said Sidney.

“Good-bye--and God bless you.”

She went out, and he closed the door softly behind her.



CHAPTER IX


Sidney never forgot her early impressions of the hospital, although they
were chaotic enough at first. There were uniformed young women
coming and going, efficient, cool-eyed, low of voice. There were
medicine-closets with orderly rows of labeled bottles, linen-rooms with
great stacks of sheets and towels, long vistas of shining floors and
lines of beds. There were brisk internes with duck clothes and brass
buttons, who eyed her with friendly, patronizing glances. There were
bandages and dressings, and great white screens behind which were played
little or big dramas, baths or deaths, as the case might be. And over
all brooded the mysterious authority of the superintendent of the
training-school, dubbed the Head, for short.

Twelve hours a day, from seven to seven, with the off-duty intermission,
Sidney labored at tasks which revolted her soul. She swept and
dusted the wards, cleaned closets, folded sheets and towels, rolled
bandages--did everything but nurse the sick, which was what she had come
to do.

At night she did not go home. She sat on the edge of her narrow white
bed and soaked her aching feet in hot water and witch hazel, and
practiced taking pulses on her own slender wrist, with K.’s little
watch.

Out of all the long, hot days, two periods stood out clearly, to be
waited for and cherished. One was when, early in the afternoon, with
the ward in spotless order, the shades drawn against the August sun, the
tables covered with their red covers, and the only sound the drone of
the bandage-machine as Sidney steadily turned it, Dr. Max passed the
door on his way to the surgical ward beyond, and gave her a cheery
greeting. At these times Sidney’s heart beat almost in time with the
ticking of the little watch.

The other hour was at twilight, when, work over for the day, the night
nurse, with her rubber-soled shoes and tired eyes and jangling keys,
having reported and received the night orders, the nurses gathered in
their small parlor for prayers. It was months before Sidney got over the
exaltation of that twilight hour, and never did it cease to bring her
healing and peace. In a way, it crystallized for her what the day’s work
meant: charity and its sister, service, the promise of rest and peace.
Into the little parlor filed the nurses, and knelt, folding their tired
hands.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” read the Head out of her worn Bible; “I shall
not want.”

And the nurses: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth
me beside the still waters.”

And so on through the psalm to the assurance at the end, “And I will
dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Now and then there was a death
behind one of the white screens. It caused little change in the routine
of the ward. A nurse stayed behind the screen, and her work was done by
the others. When everything was over, the time was recorded exactly on
the record, and the body was taken away.

At first it seemed to Sidney that she could not stand this nearness to
death. She thought the nurses hard because they took it quietly. Then
she found that it was only stoicism, resignation, that they had learned.
These things must be, and the work must go on. Their philosophy made
them no less tender. Some such patient detachment must be that of the
angels who keep the Great Record.

On her first Sunday half-holiday she was free in the morning, and went
to church with her mother, going back to the hospital after the service.
So it was two weeks before she saw Le Moyne again. Even then, it was
only for a short time. Christine and Palmer Howe came in to see her, and
to inspect the balcony, now finished.

But Sidney and Le Moyne had a few words together first.

There was a change in Sidney. Le Moyne was quick to see it. She was
a trifle subdued, with a puzzled look in her blue eyes. Her mouth was
tender, as always, but he thought it drooped. There was a new atmosphere
of wistfulness about the girl that made his heart ache.

They were alone in the little parlor with its brown lamp and blue silk
shade, and its small nude Eve--which Anna kept because it had been a
gift from her husband, but retired behind a photograph of the minister,
so that only the head and a bare arm holding the apple appeared above
the reverend gentleman.

K. never smoked in the parlor, but by sheer force of habit he held the
pipe in his teeth.

“And how have things been going?” asked Sidney practically.

“Your steward has little to report. Aunt Harriet, who left you her love,
has had the complete order for the Lorenz trousseau. She and I have
picked out a stunning design for the wedding dress. I thought I’d ask
you about the veil. We’re rather in a quandary. Do you like this new
fashion of draping the veil from behind the coiffure in the back--”

Sidney had been sitting on the edge of her chair, staring.

“There,” she said--“I knew it! This house is fatal! They’re making an
old woman of you already.” Her tone was tragic.

“Miss Lorenz likes the new method, but my personal preference is for the
old way, with the bride’s face covered.”

He sucked calmly at his dead pipe.

“Katie has a new prescription--recipe--for bread. It has more bread and
fewer air-holes. One cake of yeast--”

Sidney sprang to her feet.

“It’s perfectly terrible!” she cried. “Because you rent a room in
this house is no reason why you should give up your personality and
your--intelligence. Not but that it’s good for you. But Katie has
made bread without masculine assistance for a good many years, and if
Christine can’t decide about her own veil she’d better not get married.
Mother says you water the flowers every evening, and lock up the house
before you go to bed. I--I never meant you to adopt the family!”

K. removed his pipe and gazed earnestly into the bowl.

“Bill Taft has had kittens under the porch,” he said. “And the
groceryman has been sending short weight. We’ve bought scales now, and
weigh everything.”

“You are evading the question.”

“Dear child, I am doing these things because I like to do them. For--for
some time I’ve been floating, and now I’ve got a home. Every time I
lock up the windows at night, or cut a picture out of a magazine as a
suggestion to your Aunt Harriet, it’s an anchor to windward.”

Sidney gazed helplessly at his imperturbable face. He seemed older than
she had recalled him: the hair over his ears was almost white. And yet,
he was just thirty. That was Palmer Howe’s age, and Palmer seemed like a
boy. But he held himself more erect than he had in the first days of his
occupancy of the second-floor front.

“And now,” he said cheerfully, “what about yourself? You’ve lost a lot
of illusions, of course, but perhaps you’ve gained ideals. That’s a
step.”

“Life,” observed Sidney, with the wisdom of two weeks out in the world,
“life is a terrible thing, K. We think we’ve got it, and--it’s got us.”

“Undoubtedly.”

“When I think of how simple I used to think it all was! One grew up and
got married, and--and perhaps had children. And when one got very
old, one died. Lately, I’ve been seeing that life really consists of
exceptions--children who don’t grow up, and grown-ups who die before
they are old. And”--this took an effort, but she looked at him
squarely--“and people who have children, but are not married. It all
rather hurts.”

“All knowledge that is worth while hurts in the getting.”

Sidney got up and wandered around the room, touching its little familiar
objects with tender hands. K. watched her. There was this curious
element in his love for her, that when he was with her it took on the
guise of friendship and deceived even himself. It was only in the lonely
hours that it took on truth, became a hopeless yearning for the touch of
her hand or a glance from her clear eyes.

Sidney, having picked up the minister’s picture, replaced it absently,
so that Eve stood revealed in all her pre-apple innocence.

“There is something else,” she said absently. “I cannot talk it over
with mother. There is a girl in the ward--”

“A patient?”

“Yes. She is quite pretty. She has had typhoid, but she is a little
better. She’s--not a good person.”

“I see.”

“At first I couldn’t bear to go near her. I shivered when I had to
straighten her bed. I--I’m being very frank, but I’ve got to talk this
out with someone. I worried a lot about it, because, although at first I
hated her, now I don’t. I rather like her.”

She looked at K. defiantly, but there was no disapproval in his eyes.

“Yes.”

“Well, this is the question. She’s getting better. She’ll be able to
go out soon. Don’t you think something ought to be done to keep her
from--going back?”

There was a shadow in K.’s eyes now. She was so young to face all this;
and yet, since face it she must, how much better to have her do it
squarely.

“Does she want to change her mode of life?”

“I don’t know, of course. There are some things one doesn’t discuss. She
cares a great deal for some man. The other day I propped her up in bed
and gave her a newspaper, and after a while I found the paper on the
floor, and she was crying. The other patients avoid her, and it was
some time before I noticed it. The next day she told me that the man
was going to marry some one else. ‘He wouldn’t marry me, of course,’ she
said; ‘but he might have told me.’”

Le Moyne did his best, that afternoon in the little parlor, to provide
Sidney with a philosophy to carry her through her training. He told her
that certain responsibilities were hers, but that she could not reform
the world. Broad charity, tenderness, and healing were her province.

“Help them all you can,” he finished, feeling inadequate and hopelessly
didactic. “Cure them; send them out with a smile; and--leave the rest to
the Almighty.”

Sidney was resigned, but not content. Newly facing the evil of the
world, she was a rampant reformer at once. Only the arrival of Christine
and her fiance saved his philosophy from complete rout. He had time for
a question between the ring of the bell and Katie’s deliberate progress
from the kitchen to the front door.

“How about the surgeon, young Wilson? Do you ever see him?” His tone was
carefully casual.

“Almost every day. He stops at the door of the ward and speaks to me. It
makes me quite distinguished, for a probationer. Usually, you know, the
staff never even see the probationers.”

“And--the glamour persists?” He smiled down at her.

“I think he is very wonderful,” said Sidney valiantly.

Christine Lorenz, while not large, seemed to fill the little room. Her
voice, which was frequent and penetrating, her smile, which was wide
and showed very white teeth that were a trifle large for beauty, her
all-embracing good nature, dominated the entire lower floor. K., who had
met her before, retired into silence and a corner. Young Howe smoked a
cigarette in the hall.

“You poor thing!” said Christine, and put her cheek against Sidney’s.
“Why, you’re positively thin! Palmer gives you a month to tire of it
all; but I said--”

“I take that back,” Palmer spoke indolently from the corridor. “There
is the look of willing martyrdom in her face. Where is Reginald? I’ve
brought some nuts for him.”

“Reginald is back in the woods again.”

“Now, look here,” he said solemnly. “When we arranged about these rooms,
there were certain properties that went with them--the lady next door
who plays Paderewski’s ‘Minuet’ six hours a day, and K. here, and
Reginald. If you must take something to the woods, why not the minuet
person?”

Howe was a good-looking man, thin, smooth-shaven, aggressively well
dressed. This Sunday afternoon, in a cutaway coat and high hat, with
an English malacca stick, he was just a little out of the picture. The
Street said that he was “wild,” and that to get into the Country Club
set Christine was losing more than she was gaining.

Christine had stepped out on the balcony, and was speaking to K. just
inside.

“It’s rather a queer way to live, of course,” she said. “But Palmer is a
pauper, practically. We are going to take our meals at home for a while.
You see, certain things that we want we can’t have if we take a house--a
car, for instance. We’ll need one for running out to the Country Club to
dinner. Of course, unless father gives me one for a wedding present, it
will be a cheap one. And we’re getting the Rosenfeld boy to drive it.
He’s crazy about machinery, and he’ll come for practically nothing.”

K. had never known a married couple to take two rooms and go to the
bride’s mother’s for meals in order to keep a car. He looked faintly
dazed. Also, certain sophistries of his former world about a cheap
chauffeur being costly in the end rose in his mind and were carefully
suppressed.

“You’ll find a car a great comfort, I’m sure,” he said politely.

Christine considered K. rather distinguished. She liked his graying hair
and steady eyes, and insisted on considering his shabbiness a pose. She
was conscious that she made a pretty picture in the French window, and
preened herself like a bright bird.

“You’ll come out with us now and then, I hope.”

“Thank you.”

“Isn’t it odd to think that we are going to be practically one family!”

“Odd, but very pleasant.”

He caught the flash of Christine’s smile, and smiled back. Christine was
glad she had decided to take the rooms, glad that K. lived there. This
thing of marriage being the end of all things was absurd. A married
woman should have men friends; they kept her up. She would take him to
the Country Club. The women would be mad to know him. How clean-cut his
profile was!

Across the Street, the Rosenfeld boy had stopped by Dr. Wilson’s car,
and was eyeing it with the cool, appraising glance of the street
boy whose sole knowledge of machinery has been acquired from the
clothes-washer at home. Joe Drummond, eyes carefully ahead, went up the
Street. Tillie, at Mrs. McKee’s, stood in the doorway and fanned herself
with her apron. Max Wilson came out of the house and got into his car.
For a minute, perhaps, all the actors, save Carlotta and Dr. Ed, were on
the stage. It was that bete noir of the playwright, an ensemble; K. Le
Moyne and Sidney, Palmer Howe, Christine, Tillie, the younger Wilson,
Joe, even young Rosenfeld, all within speaking distance, almost touching
distance, gathered within and about the little house on a side street
which K. at first grimly and now tenderly called “home.”



CHAPTER X


On Monday morning, shortly after the McKee prolonged breakfast was over,
a small man of perhaps fifty, with iron-gray hair and a sparse goatee,
made his way along the Street. He moved with the air of one having a
definite destination but a by no means definite reception.

As he walked along he eyed with a professional glance the ailanthus and
maple trees which, with an occasional poplar, lined the Street. At the
door of Mrs. McKee’s boarding-house he stopped. Owing to a slight change
in the grade of the street, the McKee house had no stoop, but one flat
doorstep. Thus it was possible to ring the doorbell from the pavement,
and this the stranger did. It gave him a curious appearance of being
ready to cut and run if things were unfavorable.

For a moment things were indeed unfavorable. Mrs. McKee herself opened
the door. She recognized him at once, but no smile met the nervous one
that formed itself on the stranger’s face.

“Oh, it’s you, is it?”

“It’s me, Mrs. McKee.”

“Well?”

He made a conciliatory effort.

“I was thinking, as I came along,” he said, “that you and the neighbors
had better get after these here caterpillars. Look at them maples, now.”

“If you want to see Tillie, she’s busy.”

“I only want to say how-d ‘ye-do. I’m just on my way through town.”

“I’ll say it for you.”

A certain doggedness took the place of his tentative smile.

“I’ll say it to myself, I guess. I don’t want any unpleasantness, but
I’ve come a good ways to see her and I’ll hang around until I do.”

Mrs. McKee knew herself routed, and retreated to the kitchen.

“You’re wanted out front,” she said.

“Who is it?”

“Never mind. Only, my advice to you is, don’t be a fool.”

Tillie went suddenly pale. The hands with which she tied a white apron
over her gingham one were shaking.

Her visitor had accepted the open door as permission to enter and was
standing in the hall.

He went rather white himself when he saw Tillie coming toward him down
the hall. He knew that for Tillie this visit would mean that he was
free--and he was not free. Sheer terror of his errand filled him.

“Well, here I am, Tillie.”

“All dressed up and highly perfumed!” said poor Tillie, with the
question in her eyes. “You’re quite a stranger, Mr. Schwitter.”

“I was passing through, and I just thought I’d call around and tell
you--My God, Tillie, I’m glad to see you!”

She made no reply, but opened the door into the cool and, shaded little
parlor. He followed her in and closed the door behind him.

“I couldn’t help it. I know I promised.”

“Then she--?”

“She’s still living. Playing with paper dolls--that’s the latest.”

Tillie sat down suddenly on one of the stiff chairs. Her lips were as
white as her face.

“I thought, when I saw you--”

“I was afraid you’d think that.”

Neither spoke for a moment. Tillie’s hands twisted nervously in her lap.
Mr. Schwitter’s eyes were fixed on the window, which looked back on the
McKee yard.

“That spiraea back there’s not looking very good. If you’ll save the
cigar butts around here and put them in water, and spray it, you’ll kill
the lice.”

Tillie found speech at last.

“I don’t know why you come around bothering me,” she said dully. “I’ve
been getting along all right; now you come and upset everything.”

Mr. Schwitter rose and took a step toward her.

“Well, I’ll tell you why I came. Look at me. I ain’t getting any
younger, am I? Time’s going on, and I’m wanting you all the time.
And what am I getting? What’ve I got out of life, anyhow? I’m lonely,
Tillie!”

“What’s that got to do with me?”

“You’re lonely, too, ain’t you?”

“Me? I haven’t got time to be. And, anyhow, there’s always a crowd
here.”

“You can be lonely in a crowd, and I guess--is there any one around here
you like better than me?”

“Oh, what’s the use!” cried poor Tillie. “We can talk our heads off and
not get anywhere. You’ve got a wife living, and, unless you intend to do
away with her, I guess that’s all there is to it.”

“Is that all, Tillie? Haven’t you got a right to be happy?”

She was quick of wit, and she read his tone as well as his words.

“You get out of here--and get out quick!”

She had jumped to her feet; but he only looked at her with understanding
eyes.

“I know,” he said. “That’s the way I thought of it at first. Maybe I’ve
just got used to the idea, but it doesn’t seem so bad to me now. Here
are you, drudging for other people when you ought to have a place all
your own--and not gettin’ younger any more than I am. Here’s both of us
lonely. I’d be a good husband to you, Till--because, whatever it’d be in
law, I’d be your husband before God.”

Tillie cowered against the door, her eyes on his. Here before her,
embodied in this man, stood all that she had wanted and never had. He
meant a home, tenderness, children, perhaps. He turned away from the
look in her eyes and stared out of the front window.

“Them poplars out there ought to be taken away,” he said heavily.
“They’re hell on sewers.”

Tillie found her voice at last:--

“I couldn’t do it, Mr. Schwitter. I guess I’m a coward. Maybe I’ll be
sorry.”

“Perhaps, if you got used to the idea--”

“What’s that to do with the right and wrong of it?”

“Maybe I’m queer. It don’t seem like wrongdoing to me. It seems to
me that the Lord would make an exception of us if He knew the
circumstances. Perhaps, after you get used to the idea--What I thought
was like this. I’ve got a little farm about seven miles from the city
limits, and the tenant on it says that nearly every Sunday somebody
motors out from town and wants a chicken-and-waffle supper. There ain’t
much in the nursery business anymore. These landscape fellows buy their
stuff direct, and the middleman’s out. I’ve got a good orchard, and
there’s a spring, so I could put running water in the house. I’d be good
to you, Tillie,--I swear it. It’d be just the same as marriage. Nobody
need know it.”

“You’d know it. You wouldn’t respect me.”

“Don’t a man respect a woman that’s got courage enough to give up
everything for him?”

Tillie was crying softly into her apron. He put a work-hardened hand on
her head.

“It isn’t as if I’d run around after women,” he said. “You’re the only
one, since Maggie--” He drew a long breath. “I’ll give you time to think
it over. Suppose I stop in to-morrow morning. It doesn’t commit you to
anything to talk it over.”

There had been no passion in the interview, and there was none in
the touch of his hand. He was not young, and the tragic loneliness of
approaching old age confronted him. He was trying to solve his problem
and Tillie’s, and what he had found was no solution, but a compromise.

“To-morrow morning, then,” he said quietly, and went out the door.

All that hot August morning Tillie worked in a daze. Mrs. McKee watched
her and said nothing. She interpreted the girl’s white face and set lips
as the result of having had to dismiss Schwitter again, and looked for
time to bring peace, as it had done before.

Le Moyne came late to his midday meal. For once, the mental anaesthesia
of endless figures had failed him. On his way home he had drawn his
small savings from the bank, and mailed them, in cash and registered, to
a back street in the slums of a distant city. He had done this before,
and always with a feeling of exaltation, as if, for a time at least,
the burden he carried was lightened. But to-day he experienced no
compensatory relief. Life was dull and stale to him, effort ineffectual.
At thirty a man should look back with tenderness, forward with hope. K.
Le Moyne dared not look back, and had no desire to look ahead into empty
years.

Although he ate little, the dining-room was empty when he finished.
Usually he had some cheerful banter for Tillie, to which she responded
in kind. But, what with the heat and with heaviness of spirit, he did
not notice her depression until he rose.

“Why, you’re not sick, are you, Tillie?”

“Me? Oh, no. Low in my mind, I guess.”

“It’s the heat. It’s fearful. Look here. If I send you two tickets to a
roof garden where there’s a variety show, can’t you take a friend and go
to-night?”

“Thanks; I guess I’ll not go out.”

Then, unexpectedly, she bent her head against a chair-back and fell to
silent crying. K. let her cry for a moment. Then:--

“Now--tell me about it.”

“I’m just worried; that’s all.”

“Let’s see if we can’t fix up the worries. Come, now, out with them!”

“I’m a wicked woman, Mr. Le Moyne.”

“Then I’m the person to tell it to. I--I’m pretty much a lost soul
myself.”

He put an arm over her shoulders and drew her up, facing him.

“Suppose we go into the parlor and talk it out. I’ll bet things are not
as bad as you imagine.”

But when, in the parlor that had seen Mr. Schwitter’s strange proposal
of the morning, Tillie poured out her story, K.’s face grew grave.

“The wicked part is that I want to go with him,” she finished. “I keep
thinking about being out in the country, and him coming into supper, and
everything nice for him and me cleaned up and waiting--O my God! I’ve
always been a good woman until now.”

“I--I understand a great deal better than you think I do. You’re not
wicked. The only thing is--”

“Go on. Hit me with it.”

“You might go on and be very happy. And as for the--for his wife, it
won’t do her any harm. It’s only--if there are children.”

“I know. I’ve thought of that. But I’m so crazy for children!”

“Exactly. So you should be. But when they come, and you cannot give
them a name--don’t you see? I’m not preaching morality. God forbid that
I--But no happiness is built on a foundation of wrong. It’s been tried
before, Tillie, and it doesn’t pan out.”

He was conscious of a feeling of failure when he left her at last. She
had acquiesced in what he said, knew he was right, and even promised
to talk to him again before making a decision one way or the other. But
against his abstractions of conduct and morality there was pleading in
Tillie the hungry mother-heart; law and creed and early training were
fighting against the strongest instinct of the race. It was a losing
battle.



CHAPTER XI


The hot August days dragged on. Merciless sunlight beat in through the
slatted shutters of ward windows. At night, from the roof to which the
nurses retired after prayers for a breath of air, lower surrounding
roofs were seen to be covered with sleepers. Children dozed precariously
on the edge of eternity; men and women sprawled in the grotesque
postures of sleep.

There was a sort of feverish irritability in the air. Even the nurses,
stoically unmindful of bodily discomfort, spoke curtly or not at all.
Miss Dana, in Sidney’s ward, went down with a low fever, and for a day
or so Sidney and Miss Grange got along as best they could. Sidney worked
like two or more, performed marvels of bed-making, learned to give
alcohol baths for fever with the maximum of result and the minimum
of time, even made rounds with a member of the staff and came through
creditably.

Dr. Ed Wilson had sent a woman patient into the ward, and his visits
were the breath of life to the girl.

“How’re they treating you?” he asked her, one day, abruptly.

“Very well.”

“Look at me squarely. You’re pretty and you’re young. Some of them will
try to take it out of you. That’s human nature. Has anyone tried it
yet?”

Sidney looked distressed.

“Positively, no. It’s been hot, and of course it’s troublesome to tell
me everything. I--I think they’re all very kind.”

He reached out a square, competent hand, and put it over hers.

“We miss you in the Street,” he said. “It’s all sort of dead there since
you left. Joe Drummond doesn’t moon up and down any more, for one thing.
What was wrong between you and Joe, Sidney?”

“I didn’t want to marry him; that’s all.”

“That’s considerable. The boy’s taking it hard.”

Then, seeing her face:--

“But you’re right, of course. Don’t marry anyone unless you can’t live
without him. That’s been my motto, and here I am, still single.”

He went out and down the corridor. He had known Sidney all his life.
During the lonely times when Max was at college and in Europe, he had
watched her grow from a child to a young girl. He did not suspect for
a moment that in that secret heart of hers he sat newly enthroned, in
a glow of white light, as Max’s brother; that the mere thought that
he lived in Max’s house (it was, of course Max’s house to her), sat at
Max’s breakfast table, could see him whenever he wished, made the touch
of his hand on hers a benediction and a caress.

Sidney finished folding linen and went back to the ward. It was Friday
and a visiting day. Almost every bed had its visitor beside it; but
Sidney, running an eye over the ward, found the girl of whom she had
spoken to Le Moyne quite alone. She was propped up in bed, reading; but
at each new step in the corridor hope would spring into her eyes and die
again.

“Want anything, Grace?”

“Me? I’m all right. If these people would only get out and let me read
in peace--Say, sit down and talk to me, won’t you? It beats the mischief
the way your friends forget you when you’re laid up in a place like
this.”

“People can’t always come at visiting hours. Besides, it’s hot.”

“A girl I knew was sick here last year, and it wasn’t too hot for me to
trot in twice a week with a bunch of flowers for her. Do you think she’s
been here once? She hasn’t.”

Then, suddenly:--

“You know that man I told you about the other day?”

Sidney nodded. The girl’s anxious eyes were on her.

“It was a shock to me, that’s all. I didn’t want you to think I’d break
my heart over any fellow. All I meant was, I wished he’d let me know.”

Her eyes searched Sidney’s. They looked unnaturally large and somber in
her face. Her hair had been cut short, and her nightgown, open at the
neck, showed her thin throat and prominent clavicles.

“You’re from the city, aren’t you, Miss Page?”

“Yes.”

“You told me the street, but I’ve forgotten it.”

Sidney repeated the name of the Street, and slipped a fresh pillow under
the girl’s head.

“The evening paper says there’s a girl going to be married on your
street.”

“Really! Oh, I think I know. A friend of mine is going to be married.
Was the name Lorenz?”

“The girl’s name was Lorenz. I--I don’t remember the man’s name.”

“She is going to marry a Mr. Howe,” said Sidney briskly. “Now, how do
you feel? More comfy?”

“Fine! I suppose you’ll be going to that wedding?”

“If I ever get time to have a dress made, I’ll surely go.”

Toward six o’clock the next morning, the night nurse was making out her
reports. On one record, which said at the top, “Grace Irving, age 19,”
 and an address which, to the initiated, told all her story, the night
nurse wrote:--

“Did not sleep at all during night. Face set and eyes staring, but
complains of no pain. Refused milk at eleven and three.”

Carlotta Harrison, back from her vacation, reported for duty the next
morning, and was assigned to E ward, which was Sidney’s. She gave Sidney
a curt little nod, and proceeded to change the entire routine with the
thoroughness of a Central American revolutionary president. Sidney, who
had yet to learn that with some people authority can only assert itself
by change, found herself confused, at sea, half resentful.

Once she ventured a protest:--

“I’ve been taught to do it that way, Miss Harrison. If my method is
wrong, show me what you want, and I’ll do my best.”

“I am not responsible for what you have been taught. And you will not
speak back when you are spoken to.”

Small as the incident was, it marked a change in Sidney’s position
in the ward. She got the worst off-duty of the day, or none. Small
humiliations were hers: late meals, disagreeable duties, endless and
often unnecessary tasks. Even Miss Grange, now reduced to second place,
remonstrated with her senior.

“I think a certain amount of severity is good for a probationer,” she
said, “but you are brutal, Miss Harrison.”

“She’s stupid.”

“She’s not at all stupid. She’s going to be one of the best nurses in
the house.”

“Report me, then. Tell the Head I’m abusing Dr. Wilson’s pet
probationer, that I don’t always say ‘please’ when I ask her to change a
bed or take a temperature.”

Miss Grange was not lacking in keenness. She died not go to the Head,
which is unethical under any circumstances; but gradually there spread
through the training-school a story that Carlotta Harrison was jealous
of the new Page girl, Dr. Wilson’s protegee. Things were still highly
unpleasant in the ward, but they grew much better when Sidney was off
duty. She was asked to join a small class that was studying French at
night. As ignorant of the cause of her popularity as of the reason of
her persecution, she went steadily on her way.

And she was gaining every day. Her mind was forming. She was learning
to think for herself. For the first time, she was facing problems and
demanding an answer. Why must there be Grace Irvings in the world? Why
must the healthy babies of the obstetric ward go out to the slums and
come back, in months or years, crippled for the great fight by the
handicap of their environment, rickety, tuberculous, twisted? Why need
the huge mills feed the hospitals daily with injured men?

And there were other things that she thought of. Every night, on her
knees in the nurses’ parlor at prayers, she promised, if she were
accepted as a nurse, to try never to become calloused, never to regard
her patients as “cases,” never to allow the cleanliness and routine of
her ward to delay a cup of water to the thirsty, or her arms to a sick
child.

On the whole, the world was good, she found. And, of all the good things
in it, the best was service. True, there were hot days and restless
nights, weary feet, and now and then a heartache. There was Miss
Harrison, too. But to offset these there was the sound of Dr. Max’s step
in the corridor, and his smiling nod from the door; there was a “God
bless you” now and then for the comfort she gave; there were wonderful
nights on the roof under the stars, until K.’s little watch warned her
to bed.

While Sidney watched the stars from her hospital roof, while all around
her the slum children, on other roofs, fought for the very breath of
life, others who knew and loved her watched the stars, too. K. was
having his own troubles in those days. Late at night, when Anna and
Harriet had retired, he sat on the balcony and thought of many things.
Anna Page was not well. He had noticed that her lips were rather blue,
and had called in Dr. Ed. It was valvular heart disease. Anna was not to
be told, or Sidney. It was Harriet’s ruling.

“Sidney can’t help any,” said Harriet, “and for Heaven’s sake let her
have her chance. Anna may live for years. You know her as well as I do.
If you tell her anything at all, she’ll have Sidney here, waiting on her
hand and foot.”

And Le Moyne, fearful of urging too much because his own heart was
crying out to have the girl back, assented.

Then, K. was anxious about Joe. The boy did not seem to get over the
thing the way he should. Now and then Le Moyne, resuming his old habit
of wearying himself into sleep, would walk out into the country. On one
such night he had overtaken Joe, tramping along with his head down.

Joe had not wanted his company, had plainly sulked. But Le Moyne had
persisted.

“I’ll not talk,” he said; “but, since we’re going the same way, we might
as well walk together.”

But after a time Joe had talked, after all. It was not much at first--a
feverish complaint about the heat, and that if there was trouble in
Mexico he thought he’d go.

“Wait until fall, if you’re thinking of it,” K. advised. “This is tepid
compared with what you’ll get down there.”

“I’ve got to get away from here.”

K. nodded understandingly. Since the scene at the White Springs Hotel,
both knew that no explanation was necessary.

“It isn’t so much that I mind her turning me down,” Joe said, after a
silence. “A girl can’t marry all the men who want her. But I don’t
like this hospital idea. I don’t understand it. She didn’t have to go.
Sometimes”--he turned bloodshot eyes on Le Moyne--“I think she went
because she was crazy about somebody there.”

“She went because she wanted to be useful.”

“She could be useful at home.”

For almost twenty minutes they tramped on without speech. They had made
a circle, and the lights of the city were close again. K. stopped and
put a kindly hand on Joe’s shoulder.

“A man’s got to stand up under a thing like this, you know. I mean, it
mustn’t be a knockout. Keeping busy is a darned good method.”

Joe shook himself free, but without resentment. “I’ll tell you what’s
eating me up,” he exploded. “It’s Max Wilson. Don’t talk to me about her
going to the hospital to be useful. She’s crazy about him, and he’s as
crooked as a dog’s hind leg.”

“Perhaps. But it’s always up to the girl. You know that.”

He felt immeasurably old beside Joe’s boyish blustering--old and rather
helpless.

“I’m watching him. Some of these days I’ll get something on him. Then
she’ll know what to think of her hero!”

“That’s not quite square, is it?”

“He’s not square.”

Joe had left him then, wheeling abruptly off into the shadows. K. had
gone home alone, rather uneasy. There seemed to be mischief in the very
air.



CHAPTER XII


Tillie was gone.

Oddly enough, the last person to see her before she left was Harriet
Kennedy. On the third day after Mr. Schwitter’s visit, Harriet’s colored
maid had announced a visitor.

Harriet’s business instinct had been good. She had taken expensive rooms
in a good location, and furnished them with the assistance of a decor
store. Then she arranged with a New York house to sell her models on
commission.

Her short excursion to New York had marked for Harriet the beginning of
a new heaven and a new earth. Here, at last, she found people speaking
her own language. She ventured a suggestion to a manufacturer, and found
it greeted, not, after the manner of the Street, with scorn, but with
approval and some surprise.

“About once in ten years,” said Mr. Arthurs, “we have a woman from out
of town bring us a suggestion that is both novel and practical. When we
find people like that, we watch them. They climb, madame,--climb.”

Harriet’s climbing was not so rapid as to make her dizzy; but business
was coming. The first time she made a price of seventy-five dollars
for an evening gown, she went out immediately after and took a drink of
water. Her throat was parched.

She began to learn little quips of the feminine mind: that a woman who
can pay seventy-five will pay double that sum; that it is not considered
good form to show surprise at a dressmaker’s prices, no matter how high
they may be; that long mirrors and artificial light help sales--no woman
over thirty but was grateful for her pink-and-gray room with its soft
lights. And Harriet herself conformed to the picture. She took a lesson
from the New York modistes, and wore trailing black gowns. She strapped
her thin figure into the best corset she could get, and had her black
hair marcelled and dressed high. And, because she was a lady by birth
and instinct, the result was not incongruous, but refined and rather
impressive.

She took her business home with her at night, lay awake scheming, and
wakened at dawn to find fresh color combinations in the early sky. She
wakened early because she kept her head tied up in a towel, so that her
hair need be done only three times a week. That and the corset were the
penalties she paid. Her high-heeled shoes were a torment, too; but in
the work-room she kicked them off.

To this new Harriet, then, came Tillie in her distress. Tillie was
rather overwhelmed at first. The Street had always considered Harriet
“proud.” But Tillie’s urgency was great, her methods direct.

“Why, Tillie!” said Harriet.

“Yes’m.”

“Will you sit down?”

Tillie sat. She was not daunted now. While she worked at the fingers of
her silk gloves, what Harriet took for nervousness was pure abstraction.

“It’s very nice of you to come to see me. Do you like my rooms?”

Tillie surveyed the rooms, and Harriet caught her first full view of her
face.

“Is there anything wrong? Have you left Mrs. McKee?”

“I think so. I came to talk to you about it.”

It was Harriet’s turn to be overwhelmed.

“She’s very fond of you. If you have had any words--”

“It’s not that. I’m just leaving. I’d like to talk to you, if you don’t
mind.”

“Certainly.”

Tillie hitched her chair closer.

“I’m up against something, and I can’t seem to make up my mind. Last
night I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to talk to some woman who’s not
married, like me, and not as young as she used to be. There’s no use
going to Mrs. McKee: she’s a widow, and wouldn’t understand.’”

Harriet’s voice was a trifle sharp as she replied. She never lied about
her age, but she preferred to forget it.

“I wish you’d tell me what you’re getting at.”

“It ain’t the sort of thing to come to too sudden. But it’s like this.
You and I can pretend all we like, Miss Harriet; but we’re not getting
all out of life that the Lord meant us to have. You’ve got them wax
figures instead of children, and I have mealers.”

A little spot of color came into Harriet’s cheek. But she was
interested. Regardless of the corset, she bent forward.

“Maybe that’s true. Go on.”

“I’m almost forty. Ten years more at the most, and I’m through. I’m
slowing up. Can’t get around the tables as I used to. Why, yesterday I
put sugar into Mr. Le Moyne’s coffee--well, never mind about that. Now
I’ve got a chance to get a home, with a good man to look after me--I
like him pretty well, and he thinks a lot of me.”

“Mercy sake, Tillie! You are going to get married?”

“No’m,” said Tillie; “that’s it.” And sat silent for a moment.

The gray curtains with their pink cording swung gently in the open
windows. From the work-room came the distant hum of a sewing-machine and
the sound of voices. Harriet sat with her hands in her lap and listened
while Tillie poured out her story. The gates were down now. She told it
all, consistently and with unconscious pathos: her little room under the
roof at Mrs. McKee’s, and the house in the country; her loneliness,
and the loneliness of the man; even the faint stirrings of potential
motherhood, her empty arms, her advancing age--all this she knit into
the fabric of her story and laid at Harriet’s feet, as the ancients put
their questions to their gods.

Harriet was deeply moved. Too much that Tillie poured out to her found
an echo in her own breast. What was this thing she was striving for but
a substitute for the real things of life--love and tenderness, children,
a home of her own? Quite suddenly she loathed the gray carpet on the
floor, the pink chairs, the shaded lamps. Tillie was no longer the
waitress at a cheap boarding-house. She loomed large, potential,
courageous, a woman who held life in her hands.

“Why don’t you go to Mrs. Rosenfeld? She’s your aunt, isn’t she?”

“She thinks any woman’s a fool to take up with a man.”

“You’re giving me a terrible responsibility, Tillie, if you’re asking my
advice.”

“No’m. I’m asking what you’d do if it happened to you. Suppose you had
no people that cared anything about you, nobody to disgrace, and all
your life nobody had really cared anything about you. And then a chance
like this came along. What would you do?”

“I don’t know,” said poor Harriet. “It seems to me--I’m afraid I’d be
tempted. It does seem as if a woman had the right to be happy, even
if--”

Her own words frightened her. It was as if some hidden self, and not
she, had spoken. She hastened to point out the other side of the matter,
the insecurity of it, the disgrace. Like K., she insisted that no right
can be built out of a wrong. Tillie sat and smoothed her gloves. At
last, when Harriet paused in sheer panic, the girl rose.

“I know how you feel, and I don’t want you to take the responsibility of
advising me,” she said quietly. “I guess my mind was made up anyhow. But
before I did it I just wanted to be sure that a decent woman would think
the way I do about it.”

And so, for a time, Tillie went out of the life of the Street as she
went out of Harriet’s handsome rooms, quietly, unobtrusively, with calm
purpose in her eyes.

There were other changes in the Street. The Lorenz house was being
painted for Christine’s wedding. Johnny Rosenfeld, not perhaps of the
Street itself, but certainly pertaining to it, was learning to drive
Palmer Howe’s new car, in mingled agony and bliss. He walked along the
Street, not “right foot, left foot,” but “brake foot, clutch foot,” and
took to calling off the vintage of passing cars. “So-and-So 1910,”
 he would say, with contempt in his voice. He spent more than he could
afford on a large streamer, meant to be fastened across the rear of the
automobile, which said, “Excuse our dust,” and was inconsolable when
Palmer refused to let him use it.

K. had yielded to Anna’s insistence, and was boarding as well as
rooming at the Page house. The Street, rather snobbish to its occasional
floating population, was accepting and liking him. It found him tender,
infinitely human. And in return he found that this seemingly empty eddy
into which he had drifted was teeming with life. He busied himself with
small things, and found his outlook gradually less tinged with despair.
When he found himself inclined to rail, he organized a baseball
club, and sent down to everlasting defeat the Linburgs, consisting of
cash-boys from Linden and Hofburg’s department store.

The Rosenfelds adored him, with the single exception of the head of
the family. The elder Rosenfeld having been “sent up,” it was K. who
discovered that by having him consigned to the workhouse his family
would receive from the county some sixty-five cents a day for his labor.
As this was exactly sixty-five cents a day more than he was worth to
them free, Mrs. Rosenfeld voiced the pious hope that he be kept there
forever.

K. made no further attempt to avoid Max Wilson. Some day they would meet
face to face. He hoped, when it happened, they two might be alone; that
was all. Even had he not been bound by his promise to Sidney, flight
would have been foolish. The world was a small place, and, one way and
another, he had known many people. Wherever he went, there would be the
same chance.

And he did not deceive himself. Other things being equal,--the eddy
and all that it meant--, he would not willingly take himself out of his
small share of Sidney’s life.

She was never to know what she meant to him, of course. He had scourged
his heart until it no longer shone in his eyes when he looked at her.
But he was very human--not at all meek. There were plenty of days when
his philosophy lay in the dust and savage dogs of jealousy tore at it;
more than one evening when he threw himself face downward on the bed
and lay without moving for hours. And of these periods of despair he was
always heartily ashamed the next day.

The meeting with Max Wilson took place early in September, and under
better circumstances than he could have hoped for.

Sidney had come home for her weekly visit, and her mother’s condition
had alarmed her for the first time. When Le Moyne came home at six
o’clock, he found her waiting for him in the hall.

“I am just a little frightened, K.,” she said. “Do you think mother is
looking quite well?”

“She has felt the heat, of course. The summer--I often think--”

“Her lips are blue!”

“It’s probably nothing serious.”

“She says you’ve had Dr. Ed over to see her.”

She put her hands on his arm and looked up at him with appeal and
something of terror in her face.

Thus cornered, he had to acknowledge that Anna had been out of sorts.

“I shall come home, of course. It’s tragic and absurd that I should be
caring for other people, when my own mother--”

She dropped her head on his arm, and he saw that she was crying. If he
made a gesture to draw her to him, she never knew it. After a moment she
looked up.

“I’m much braver than this in the hospital. But when it’s one’s own!”

K. was sorely tempted to tell her the truth and bring her back to the
little house: to their old evenings together, to seeing the younger
Wilson, not as the white god of the operating-room and the hospital, but
as the dandy of the Street and the neighbor of her childhood--back even
to Joe.

But, with Anna’s precarious health and Harriet’s increasing engrossment
in her business, he felt it more and more necessary that Sidney go on
with her training. A profession was a safeguard. And there was another
point: it had been decided that Anna was not to know her condition. If
she was not worried she might live for years. There was no surer way to
make her suspect it than by bringing Sidney home.

Sidney sent Katie to ask Dr. Ed to come over after dinner. With the
sunset Anna seemed better. She insisted on coming downstairs, and
even sat with them on the balcony until the stars came out, talking
of Christine’s trousseau, and, rather fretfully, of what she would do
without the parlors.

“You shall have your own boudoir upstairs,” said Sidney valiantly.
“Katie can carry your tray up there. We are going to make the
sewing-room into your private sitting-room, and I shall nail the
machine-top down.”

This pleased her. When K. insisted on carrying her upstairs, she went in
a flutter.

“He is so strong, Sidney!” she said, when he had placed her on her bed.
“How can a clerk, bending over a ledger, be so muscular? When I have
callers, will it be all right for Katie to show them upstairs?”

She dropped asleep before the doctor came; and when, at something after
eight, the door of the Wilson house slammed and a figure crossed the
street, it was not Ed at all, but the surgeon.

Sidney had been talking rather more frankly than usual. Lately there
had been a reserve about her. K., listening intently that night, read
between words a story of small persecutions and jealousies. But the girl
minimized them, after her way.

“It’s always hard for probationers,” she said. “I often think Miss
Harrison is trying my mettle.”

“Harrison!”

“Carlotta Harrison. And now that Miss Gregg has said she will accept
me, it’s really all over. The other nurses are wonderful--so kind and so
helpful. I hope I shall look well in my cap.”

Carlotta Harrison was in Sidney’s hospital! A thousand contingencies
flashed through his mind. Sidney might grow to like her and bring her to
the house. Sidney might insist on the thing she always spoke of--that he
visit the hospital; and he would meet her, face to face. He could have
depended on a man to keep his secret. This girl with her somber eyes and
her threat to pay him out for what had happened to her--she meant danger
of a sort that no man could fight.

“Soon,” said Sidney, through the warm darkness, “I shall have a cap,
and be always forgetting it and putting my hat on over it--the new ones
always do. One of the girls slept in hers the other night! They are
tulle, you know, and quite stiff, and it was the most erratic-looking
thing the next day!”

It was then that the door across the street closed. Sidney did not
hear it, but K. bent forward. There was a part of his brain always
automatically on watch.

“I shall get my operating-room training, too,” she went on. “That is
the real romance of the hospital. A--a surgeon is a sort of hero in
a hospital. You wouldn’t think that, would you? There was a lot of
excitement to-day. Even the probationers’ table was talking about it.
Dr. Max Wilson did the Edwardes operation.”

The figure across the Street was lighting a cigarette. Perhaps, after
all--

“Something tremendously difficult--I don’t know what. It’s going into
the medical journals. A Dr. Edwardes invented it, or whatever they
call it. They took a picture of the operating-room for the article.
The photographer had to put on operating clothes and wrap the camera in
sterilized towels. It was the most thrilling thing, they say--”

Her voice died away as her eyes followed K.’s. Max, cigarette in
hand, was coming across, under the ailanthus tree. He hesitated on the
pavement, his eyes searching the shadowy balcony.

“Sidney?”

“Here! Right back here!”

There was vibrant gladness in her tone. He came slowly toward them.

“My brother is not at home, so I came over. How select you are, with
your balcony!”

“Can you see the step?”

“Coming, with bells on.”

K. had risen and pushed back his chair. His mind was working quickly.
Here in the darkness he could hold the situation for a moment. If he
could get Sidney into the house, the rest would not matter. Luckily, the
balcony was very dark.

“Is any one ill?”

“Mother is not well. This is Mr. Le Moyne, and he knows who you are very
well, indeed.”

The two men shook hands.

“I’ve heard a lot of Mr. Le Moyne. Didn’t the Street beat the Linburgs
the other day? And I believe the Rosenfelds are in receipt of sixty-five
cents a day and considerable peace and quiet through you, Mr. Le Moyne.
You’re the most popular man on the Street.”

“I’ve always heard that about YOU. Sidney, if Dr. Wilson is here to see
your mother--”

“Going,” said Sidney. “And Dr. Wilson is a very great person, K., so be
polite to him.”

Max had roused at the sound of Le Moyne’s voice, not to suspicion,
of course, but to memory. Without any apparent reason, he was back in
Berlin, tramping the country roads, and beside him--

“Wonderful night!”

“Great,” he replied. “The mind’s a curious thing, isn’t it. In the
instant since Miss Page went through that window I’ve been to Berlin and
back! Will you have a cigarette?”

“Thanks; I have my pipe here.”

K. struck a match with his steady hands. Now that the thing had come, he
was glad to face it. In the flare, his quiet profile glowed against the
night. Then he flung the match over the rail.

“Perhaps my voice took you back to Berlin.”

Max stared; then he rose. Blackness had descended on them again, except
for the dull glow of K.’s old pipe.

“For God’s sake!”

“Sh! The neighbors next door have a bad habit of sitting just inside the
curtains.”

“But--you!”

“Sit down. Sidney will be back in a moment. I’ll talk to you, if you’ll
sit still. Can you hear me plainly?”

After a moment--“Yes.”

“I’ve been here--in the city, I mean--for a year. Name’s Le Moyne. Don’t
forget it--Le Moyne. I’ve got a position in the gas office, clerical. I
get fifteen dollars a week. I have reason to think I’m going to be moved
up. That will be twenty, maybe twenty-two.”

Wilson stirred, but he found no adequate words. Only a part of what K.
said got to him. For a moment he was back in a famous clinic, and this
man across from him--it was not believable!

“It’s not hard work, and it’s safe. If I make a mistake there’s no life
hanging on it. Once I made a blunder, a month or two ago. It was a big
one. It cost me three dollars out of my own pocket. But--that’s all it
cost.”

Wilson’s voice showed that he was more than incredulous; he was
profoundly moved.

“We thought you were dead. There were all sorts of stories. When a year
went by--the Titanic had gone down, and nobody knew but what you were on
it--we gave up. I--in June we put up a tablet for you at the college. I
went down for the--for the services.”

“Let it stay,” said K. quietly. “I’m dead as far as the college goes,
anyhow. I’ll never go back. I’m Le Moyne now. And, for Heaven’s sake,
don’t be sorry for me. I’m more contented than I’ve been for a long
time.”

The wonder in Wilson’s voice was giving way to irritation.

“But--when you had everything! Why, good Heavens, man, I did your
operation to-day, and I’ve been blowing about it ever since.”

“I had everything for a while. Then I lost the essential. When that
happened I gave up. All a man in our profession has is a certain method,
knowledge--call it what you like,--and faith in himself. I lost my
self-confidence; that’s all. Certain things happened; kept on happening.
So I gave it up. That’s all. It’s not dramatic. For about a year I was
damned sorry for myself. I’ve stopped whining now.”

“If every surgeon gave up because he lost cases--I’ve just told you I
did your operation to-day. There was just a chance for the man, and I
took my courage in my hands and tried it. The poor devil’s dead.”

K. rose rather wearily and emptied his pipe over the balcony rail.

“That’s not the same. That’s the chance he and you took. What happened
to me was--different.”

Pipe in hand, he stood staring out at the ailanthus tree with its crown
of stars. Instead of the Street with its quiet houses, he saw the men
he had known and worked with and taught, his friends who spoke his
language, who had loved him, many of them, gathered about a bronze
tablet set in a wall of the old college; he saw their earnest faces and
grave eyes. He heard--

He heard the soft rustle of Sidney’s dress as she came into the little
room behind them.



CHAPTER XIII


A few days after Wilson’s recognition of K., two most exciting things
happened to Sidney. One was that Christine asked her to be maid of honor
at her wedding. The other was more wonderful. She was accepted, and
given her cap.

Because she could not get home that night, and because the little house
had no telephone, she wrote the news to her mother and sent a note to Le
Moyne:

DEAR K.,--I am accepted, and IT is on my head at this minute. I am as
conscious of it as if it were a halo, and as if I had done something to
deserve it, instead of just hoping that someday I shall. I am writing
this on the bureau, so that when I lift my eyes I may see It. I am
afraid just now I am thinking more of the cap than of what it means. It
IS becoming!

Very soon I shall slip down and show it to the ward. I have promised.
I shall go to the door when the night nurse is busy somewhere, and
turn all around and let them see it, without saying a word. They love a
little excitement like that.

You have been very good to me, dear K. It is you who have made possible
this happiness of mine to-night. I am promising myself to be very good,
and not so vain, and to love my enemies--, although I have none now.
Miss Harrison has just congratulated me most kindly, and I am sure poor
Joe has both forgiven and forgotten.

Off to my first lecture!

SIDNEY.

K. found the note on the hall table when he got home that night, and
carried it upstairs to read. Whatever faint hope he might have had that
her youth would prevent her acceptance he knew now was over. With the
letter in his hand, he sat by his table and looked ahead into the empty
years. Not quite empty, of course. She would be coming home.

But more and more the life of the hospital would engross her. He
surmised, too, very shrewdly, that, had he ever had a hope that she
might come to care for him, his very presence in the little house
militated against him. There was none of the illusion of separation;
he was always there, like Katie. When she opened the door, she called
“Mother” from the hall. If Anna did not answer, she called him, in much
the same voice.

He had built a wall of philosophy that had withstood even Wilson’s
recognition and protest. But enduring philosophy comes only with time;
and he was young. Now and then all his defenses crumbled before a
passion that, when he dared to face it, shook him by its very strength.
And that day all his stoicism went down before Sidney’s letter. Its very
frankness and affection hurt--not that he did not want her affection;
but he craved so much more. He threw himself face down on the bed, with
the paper crushed in his hand.

Sidney’s letter was not the only one he received that day. When, in
response to Katie’s summons, he rose heavily and prepared for dinner, he
found an unopened envelope on the table. It was from Max Wilson:--

DEAR LE MOYNE,--I have been going around in a sort of haze all day. The
fact that I only heard your voice and scarcely saw you last night has
made the whole thing even more unreal.

I have a feeling of delicacy about trying to see you again so soon. I’m
bound to respect your seclusion. But there are some things that have got
to be discussed.

You said last night that things were “different” with you. I know about
that. You’d had one or two unlucky accidents. Do you know any man in our
profession who has not? And, for fear you think I do not know what I am
talking about, the thing was threshed out at the State Society when the
question of the tablet came up. Old Barnes got up and said: “Gentlemen,
all of us live more or less in glass houses. Let him who is without
guilt among us throw the first stone!” By George! You should have heard
them!

I didn’t sleep last night. I took my little car and drove around the
country roads, and the farther I went the more outrageous your position
became. I’m not going to write any rot about the world needing men like
you, although it’s true enough. But our profession does. You working in
a gas office, while old O’Hara bungles and hacks, and I struggle along
on what I learned from you!

It takes courage to step down from the pinnacle you stood on. So it’s
not cowardice that has set you down here. It’s wrong conception. And
I’ve thought of two things. The first, and best, is for you to go back.
No one has taken your place, because no one could do the work. But if
that’s out of the question,--and only you know that, for only you know
the facts,--the next best thing is this, and in all humility I make the
suggestion.

Take the State exams under your present name, and when you’ve got your
certificate, come in with me. This isn’t magnanimity. I’ll be getting a
damn sight more than I give.

Think it over, old man.

M.W.

It is a curious fact that a man who is absolutely untrustworthy about
women is often the soul of honor to other men. The younger Wilson,
taking his pleasures lightly and not too discriminatingly, was making an
offer that meant his ultimate eclipse, and doing it cheerfully, with his
eyes open.

K. was moved. It was like Max to make such an offer, like him to make it
as if he were asking a favor and not conferring one. But the offer left
him untempted. He had weighed himself in the balance, and found himself
wanting. No tablet on the college wall could change that. And when,
late that night, Wilson found him on the balcony and added appeal to
argument, the situation remained unchanged. He realized its hopelessness
when K. lapsed into whimsical humor.

“I’m not absolutely useless where I am, you know, Max,” he said. “I’ve
raised three tomato plants and a family of kittens this summer, helped
to plan a trousseau, assisted in selecting wall-paper for the room just
inside,--did you notice it?--and developed a boy pitcher with a ball
that twists around the bat like a Colles fracture around a splint!”

“If you’re going to be humorous--”

“My dear fellow,” said K. quietly, “if I had no sense of humor, I should
go upstairs to-night, turn on the gas, and make a stertorous entrance
into eternity. By the way, that’s something I forgot!”

“Eternity?” “No. Among my other activities, I wired the parlor for
electric light. The bride-to-be expects some electroliers as wedding
gifts, and--”

Wilson rose and flung his cigarette into the grass.

“I wish to God I understood you!” he said irritably.

K. rose with him, and all the suppressed feeling of the interview was
crowded into his last few words.

“I’m not as ungrateful as you think, Max,” he said. “I--you’ve helped
a lot. Don’t worry about me. I’m as well off as I deserve to be, and
better. Good-night.”

“Good-night.”

Wilson’s unexpected magnanimity put K. in a curious position--left him,
as it were, with a divided allegiance. Sidney’s frank infatuation for
the young surgeon was growing. He was quick to see it. And where before
he might have felt justified in going to the length of warning her, now
his hands were tied.

Max was interested in her. K. could see that, too. More than once he had
taken Sidney back to the hospital in his car. Le Moyne, handicapped at
every turn, found himself facing two alternatives, one but little better
than the other. The affair might run a legitimate course, ending in
marriage--a year of happiness for her, and then what marriage with
Max, as he knew him, would inevitably mean: wanderings away, remorseful
returns to her, infidelities, misery. Or, it might be less serious but
almost equally unhappy for her. Max might throw caution to the winds,
pursue her for a time,--K. had seen him do this,--and then, growing
tired, change to some new attraction. In either case, he could only wait
and watch, eating his heart out during the long evenings when Anna read
her “Daily Thoughts” upstairs and he sat alone with his pipe on the
balcony.

Sidney went on night duty shortly after her acceptance. All of her
orderly young life had been divided into two parts: day, when one
played or worked, and night, when one slept. Now she was compelled to
a readjustment: one worked in the night and slept in the day. Things
seemed unnatural, chaotic. At the end of her first night report Sidney
added what she could remember of a little verse of Stevenson’s. She
added it to the end of her general report, which was to the effect that
everything had been quiet during the night except the neighborhood.

     “And does it not seem hard to you,
      When all the sky is clear and blue,
      And I should like so much to play,
      To have to go to bed by day?”

The day assistant happened on the report, and was quite scandalized.

“If the night nurses are to spend their time making up poetry,” she
said crossly, “we’d better change this hospital into a young ladies’
seminary. If she wants to complain about the noise in the street, she
should do so in proper form.”

“I don’t think she made it up,” said the Head, trying not to smile.
“I’ve heard something like it somewhere, and, what with the heat and the
noise of traffic, I don’t see how any of them get any sleep.”

But, because discipline must be observed, she wrote on the slip the
assistant carried around: “Please submit night reports in prose.”

Sidney did not sleep much. She tumbled into her low bed at nine o’clock
in the morning, those days, with her splendid hair neatly braided down
her back and her prayers said, and immediately her active young mind
filled with images--Christine’s wedding, Dr. Max passing the door of her
old ward and she not there, Joe--even Tillie, whose story was now the
sensation of the Street. A few months before she would not have cared
to think of Tillie. She would have retired her into the land of
things-one-must-forget. But the Street’s conventions were not holding
Sidney’s thoughts now. She puzzled over Tillie a great deal, and over
Grace and her kind.

On her first night on duty, a girl had been brought in from the Avenue.
She had taken a poison--nobody knew just what. When the internes had
tried to find out, she had only said: “What’s the use?”

And she had died.

Sidney kept asking herself, “Why?” those mornings when she could not get
to sleep. People were kind--men were kind, really,--and yet, for some
reason or other, those things had to be. Why?

After a time Sidney would doze fitfully. But by three o’clock she was
always up and dressing. After a time the strain told on her. Lack of
sleep wrote hollows around her eyes and killed some of her bright color.
Between three and four o’clock in the morning she was overwhelmed on
duty by a perfect madness of sleep. There was a penalty for sleeping on
duty. The old night watchman had a way of slipping up on one nodding.
The night nurses wished they might fasten a bell on him!

Luckily, at four came early-morning temperatures; that roused her. And
after that came the clatter of early milk-wagons and the rose hues of
dawn over the roofs. Twice in the night, once at supper and again toward
dawn, she drank strong black coffee. But after a week or two her nerves
were stretched taut as a string.

Her station was in a small room close to her three wards. But she sat
very little, as a matter of fact. Her responsibility was heavy on her;
she made frequent rounds. The late summer nights were fitful, feverish;
the darkened wards stretched away like caverns from the dim light near
the door. And from out of these caverns came petulant voices, uneasy
movements, the banging of a cup on a bedside, which was the signal of
thirst.

The older nurses saved themselves when they could. To them, perhaps just
a little weary with time and much service, the banging cup meant not so
much thirst as annoyance. They visited Sidney sometimes and cautioned
her.

“Don’t jump like that, child; they’re not parched, you know.”

“But if you have a fever and are thirsty--”

“Thirsty nothing! They get lonely. All they want is to see somebody.”

“Then,” Sidney would say, rising resolutely, “they are going to see me.”

Gradually the older girls saw that she would not save herself. They
liked her very much, and they, too, had started in with willing feet
and tender hands; but the thousand and one demands of their service
had drained them dry. They were efficient, cool-headed, quick-thinking
machines, doing their best, of course, but differing from Sidney in that
their service was of the mind, while hers was of the heart. To them,
pain was a thing to be recorded on a report; to Sidney, it was written
on the tablets of her soul.

Carlotta Harrison went on night duty at the same time--her last night
service, as it was Sidney’s first. She accepted it stoically. She had
charge of the three wards on the floor just below Sidney, and of the
ward into which all emergency cases were taken. It was a difficult
service, perhaps the most difficult in the house. Scarcely a night went
by without its patrol or ambulance case. Ordinarily, the emergency ward
had its own night nurse. But the house was full to overflowing. Belated
vacations and illness had depleted the training-school. Carlotta, given
double duty, merely shrugged her shoulders.

“I’ve always had things pretty hard here,” she commented briefly.
“When I go out, I’ll either be competent enough to run a whole hospital
singlehanded, or I’ll be carried out feet first.”

Sidney was glad to have her so near. She knew her better than she knew
the other nurses. Small emergencies were constantly arising and finding
her at a loss. Once at least every night, Miss Harrison would hear a
soft hiss from the back staircase that connected the two floors, and,
going out, would see Sidney’s flushed face and slightly crooked cap
bending over the stair-rail.

“I’m dreadfully sorry to bother you,” she would say, “but So-and-So
won’t have a fever bath”; or, “I’ve a woman here who refuses her
medicine.” Then would follow rapid questions and equally rapid answers.
Much as Carlotta disliked and feared the girl overhead, it never
occurred to her to refuse her assistance. Perhaps the angels who keep
the great record will put that to her credit.

Sidney saw her first death shortly after she went on night duty. It was
the most terrible experience of all her life; and yet, as death goes, it
was quiet enough. So gradual was it that Sidney, with K.’s little watch
in hand, was not sure exactly when it happened. The light was very dim
behind the little screen. One moment the sheet was quivering slightly
under the struggle for breath, the next it was still. That was all. But
to the girl it was catastrophe. That life, so potential, so tremendous a
thing, could end so ignominiously, that the long battle should terminate
always in this capitulation--it seemed to her that she could not stand
it. Added to all her other new problems of living was this one of dying.

She made mistakes, of course, which the kindly nurses forgot to
report--basins left about, errors on her records. She rinsed her
thermometer in hot water one night, and startled an interne by sending
him word that Mary McGuire’s temperature was a hundred and ten degrees.
She let a delirious patient escape from the ward another night and go
airily down the fire-escape before she discovered what had happened!
Then she distinguished herself by flying down the iron staircase and
bringing the runaway back single-handed.

For Christine’s wedding the Street threw off its drab attire and assumed
a wedding garment. In the beginning it was incredulous about some of the
details.

“An awning from the house door to the curbstone, and a policeman!”
 reported Mrs. Rosenfeld, who was finding steady employment at the Lorenz
house. “And another awning at the church, with a red carpet!”

Mr. Rosenfeld had arrived home and was making up arrears of rest and
recreation.

“Huh!” he said. “Suppose it don’t rain. What then?” His Jewish father
spoke in him.

“And another policeman at the church!” said Mrs. Rosenfeld triumphantly.

“Why do they ask ‘em if they don’t trust ‘em?”

But the mention of the policemen had been unfortunate. It recalled to
him many things that were better forgotten. He rose and scowled at his
wife.

“You tell Johnny something for me,” he snarled. “You tell him when he
sees his father walking down street, and he sittin’ up there alone on
that automobile, I want him to stop and pick me up when I hail him. Me
walking, while my son swells around in a car! And another thing.” He
turned savagely at the door. “You let me hear of him road-housin’, and
I’ll kill him!”

The wedding was to be at five o’clock. This, in itself, defied all
traditions of the Street, which was either married in the very early
morning at the Catholic church or at eight o’clock in the evening at
the Presbyterian. There was something reckless about five o’clock. The
Street felt the dash of it. It had a queer feeling that perhaps such a
marriage was not quite legal.

The question of what to wear became, for the men, an earnest one. Dr. Ed
resurrected an old black frock-coat and had a “V” of black cambric set
in the vest. Mr. Jenkins, the grocer, rented a cutaway, and bought a
new Panama to wear with it. The deaf-and-dumb book agent who boarded at
McKees’, and who, by reason of his affliction, was calmly ignorant of
the excitement around him, wore a borrowed dress-suit, and considered
himself to the end of his days the only properly attired man in the
church.

The younger Wilson was to be one of the ushers. When the newspapers came
out with the published list and this was discovered, as well as that
Sidney was the maid of honor, there was a distinct quiver through the
hospital training-school. A probationer was authorized to find out
particulars. It was the day of the wedding then, and Sidney, who had
not been to bed at all, was sitting in a sunny window in the Dormitory
Annex, drying her hair.

The probationer was distinctly uneasy.

“I--I just wonder,” she said, “if you would let some of the girls come
in to see you when you’re dressed?”

“Why, of course I will.”

“It’s awfully thrilling, isn’t it? And--isn’t Dr. Wilson going to be an
usher?”

Sidney colored. “I believe so.”

“Are you going to walk down the aisle with him?”

“I don’t know. They had a rehearsal last night, but of course I was not
there. I--I think I walk alone.”

The probationer had been instructed to find out other things; so she set
to work with a fan at Sidney’s hair.

“You’ve known Dr. Wilson a long time, haven’t you?”

“Ages.”

“He’s awfully good-looking, isn’t he?”

Sidney considered. She was not ignorant of the methods of the school. If
this girl was pumping her--

“I’ll have to think that over,” she said, with a glint of mischief in
her eyes. “When you know a person terribly well, you hardly know whether
he’s good-looking or not.”

“I suppose,” said the probationer, running the long strands of Sidney’s
hair through her fingers, “that when you are at home you see him often.”

Sidney got off the window-sill, and, taking the probationer smilingly by
the shoulders, faced her toward the door.

“You go back to the girls,” she said, “and tell them to come in and see
me when I am dressed, and tell them this: I don’t know whether I am to
walk down the aisle with Dr. Wilson, but I hope I am. I see him very
often. I like him very much. I hope he likes me. And I think he’s
handsome.”

She shoved the probationer out into the hall and locked the door behind
her.

That message in its entirety reached Carlotta Harrison. Her smouldering
eyes flamed. The audacity of it startled her. Sidney must be very sure
of herself.

She, too, had not slept during the day. When the probationer who
had brought her the report had gone out, she lay in her long white
night-gown, hands clasped under her head, and stared at the vault-like
ceiling of her little room.

She saw there Sidney in her white dress going down the aisle of the
church; she saw the group around the altar; and, as surely as she lay
there, she knew that Max Wilson’s eyes would be, not on the bride, but
on the girl who stood beside her.

The curious thing was that Carlotta felt that she could stop the wedding
if she wanted to. She’d happened on a bit of information--many a wedding
had been stopped for less. It rather obsessed her to think of stopping
the wedding, so that Sidney and Max would not walk down the aisle
together.

There came, at last, an hour before the wedding, a lull in the feverish
activities of the previous month. Everything was ready. In the Lorenz
kitchen, piles of plates, negro waiters, ice-cream freezers, and Mrs.
Rosenfeld stood in orderly array. In the attic, in the center of a
sheet, before a toilet-table which had been carried upstairs for her
benefit, sat, on this her day of days, the bride. All the second story
had been prepared for guests and presents.

Florists were still busy in the room below. Bridesmaids were clustered
on the little staircase, bending over at each new ring of the bell and
calling reports to Christine through the closed door:--

“Another wooden box, Christine. It looks like more plates. What will you
ever do with them all?”

“Good Heavens! Here’s another of the neighbors who wants to see how you
look. Do say you can’t have any visitors now.”

Christine sat alone in the center of her sheet. The bridesmaids had been
sternly forbidden to come into her room.

“I haven’t had a chance to think for a month,” she said. “And I’ve got
some things I’ve got to think out.”

But, when Sidney came, she sent for her. Sidney found her sitting on a
stiff chair, in her wedding gown, with her veil spread out on a small
stand.

“Close the door,” said Christine. And, after Sidney had kissed her:--

“I’ve a good mind not to do it.”

“You’re tired and nervous, that’s all.”

“I am, of course. But that isn’t what’s wrong with me. Throw that veil
some place and sit down.”

Christine was undoubtedly rouged, a very delicate touch. Sidney thought
brides should be rather pale. But under her eyes were lines that Sidney
had never seen there before.

“I’m not going to be foolish, Sidney. I’ll go through with it, of
course. It would put mamma in her grave if I made a scene now.”

She suddenly turned on Sidney.

“Palmer gave his bachelor dinner at the Country Club last night. They
all drank more than they should. Somebody called father up to-day and
said that Palmer had emptied a bottle of wine into the piano. He hasn’t
been here to-day.”

“He’ll be along. And as for the other--perhaps it wasn’t Palmer who did
it.”

“That’s not it, Sidney. I’m frightened.”

Three months before, perhaps, Sidney could not have comforted her; but
three months had made a change in Sidney. The complacent sophistries
of her girlhood no longer answered for truth. She put her arms around
Christine’s shoulders.

“A man who drinks is a broken reed,” said Christine. “That’s what I’m
going to marry and lean on the rest of my life--a broken reed. And that
isn’t all!”

She got up quickly, and, trailing her long satin train across the floor,
bolted the door. Then from inside her corsage she brought out and held
to Sidney a letter. “Special delivery. Read it.”

It was very short; Sidney read it at a glance:--

Ask your future husband if he knows a girl at 213 ---- Avenue.

Three months before, the Avenue would have meant nothing to Sidney. Now
she knew. Christine, more sophisticated, had always known.

“You see,” she said. “That’s what I’m up against.”

Quite suddenly Sidney knew who the girl at 213 ---- Avenue was. The
paper she held in her hand was hospital paper with the heading torn off.
The whole sordid story lay before her: Grace Irving, with her thin face
and cropped hair, and the newspaper on the floor of the ward beside her!

One of the bridesmaids thumped violently on the door outside.

“Another electric lamp,” she called excitedly through the door. “And
Palmer is downstairs.”

“You see,” Christine said drearily. “I have received another electric
lamp, and Palmer is downstairs! I’ve got to go through with it, I
suppose. The only difference between me and other brides is that I know
what I’m getting. Most of them do not.”

“You’re going on with it?”

“It’s too late to do anything else. I am not going to give this
neighborhood anything to talk about.”

She picked up her veil and set the coronet on her head. Sidney stood
with the letter in her hands. One of K.’s answers to her hot question
had been this:--

“There is no sense in looking back unless it helps us to look ahead.
What your little girl of the ward has been is not so important as what
she is going to be.”

“Even granting this to be true,” she said to Christine slowly,--“and it
may only be malicious after all, Christine,--it’s surely over and done
with. It’s not Palmer’s past that concerns you now; it’s his future with
you, isn’t it?”

Christine had finally adjusted her veil. A band of duchesse lace rose
like a coronet from her soft hair, and from it, sweeping to the end of
her train, fell fold after fold of soft tulle. She arranged the coronet
carefully with small pearl-topped pins. Then she rose and put her hands
on Sidney’s shoulders.

“The simple truth is,” she said quietly, “that I might hold Palmer if
I cared--terribly. I don’t. And I’m afraid he knows it. It’s my pride
that’s hurt, nothing else.”

And thus did Christine Lorenz go down to her wedding.

Sidney stood for a moment, her eyes on the letter she held. Already, in
her new philosophy, she had learned many strange things. One of them was
this: that women like Grace Irving did not betray their lovers; that the
code of the underworld was “death to the squealer”; that one played the
game, and won or lost, and if he lost, took his medicine. If not Grace,
then who? Somebody else in the hospital who knew her story, of course.
But who? And again--why?

Before going downstairs, Sidney placed the letter in a saucer and set
fire to it with a match. Some of the radiance had died out of her eyes.

The Street voted the wedding a great success. The alley, however, was
rather confused by certain things. For instance, it regarded the awning
as essentially for the carriage guests, and showed a tendency to duck
in under the side when no one was looking. Mrs. Rosenfeld absolutely
refused to take the usher’s arm which was offered her, and said she
guessed she was able to walk up alone.

Johnny Rosenfeld came, as befitted his position, in a complete
chauffeur’s outfit of leather cap and leggings, with the shield that was
his State license pinned over his heart.

The Street came decorously, albeit with a degree of uncertainty as to
supper. Should they put something on the stove before they left, in case
only ice cream and cake were served at the house? Or was it just as well
to trust to luck, and, if the Lorenz supper proved inadequate, to sit
down to a cold snack when they got home?

To K., sitting in the back of the church between Harriet and Anna, the
wedding was Sidney--Sidney only. He watched her first steps down the
aisle, saw her chin go up as she gained poise and confidence, watched
the swinging of her young figure in its gauzy white as she passed him
and went forward past the long rows of craning necks. Afterward he could
not remember the wedding party at all. The service for him was Sidney,
rather awed and very serious, beside the altar. It was Sidney who came
down the aisle to the triumphant strains of the wedding march, Sidney
with Max beside her!

On his right sat Harriet, having reached the first pinnacle of her
new career. The wedding gowns were successful. They were more than
that--they were triumphant. Sitting there, she cast comprehensive eyes
over the church, filled with potential brides.

To Harriet, then, that October afternoon was a future of endless lace
and chiffon, the joy of creation, triumph eclipsing triumph. But to
Anna, watching the ceremony with blurred eyes and ineffectual bluish
lips, was coming her hour. Sitting back in the pew, with her hands
folded over her prayer-book, she said a little prayer for her straight
young daughter, facing out from the altar with clear, unafraid eyes.

As Sidney and Max drew near the door, Joe Drummond, who had been
standing at the back of the church, turned quickly and went out. He
stumbled, rather, as if he could not see.



CHAPTER XIV


The supper at the White Springs Hotel had not been the last supper
Carlotta Harrison and Max Wilson had taken together. Carlotta had
selected for her vacation a small town within easy motoring distance of
the city, and two or three times during her two weeks off duty Wilson
had gone out to see her. He liked being with her. She stimulated him.
For once that he could see Sidney, he saw Carlotta twice.

She had kept the affair well in hand. She was playing for high stakes.
She knew quite well the kind of man with whom she was dealing--that he
would pay as little as possible. But she knew, too, that, let him want a
thing enough, he would pay any price for it, even marriage.

She was very skillful. The very ardor in her face was in her favor.
Behind her hot eyes lurked cold calculation. She would put the thing
through, and show those puling nurses, with their pious eyes and evening
prayers, a thing or two.

During that entire vacation he never saw her in anything more elaborate
than the simplest of white dresses modestly open at the throat, sleeves
rolled up to show her satiny arms. There were no other boarders at the
little farmhouse. She sat for hours in the summer evenings in the square
yard filled with apple trees that bordered the highway, carefully
posed over a book, but with her keen eyes always on the road. She read
Browning, Emerson, Swinburne. Once he found her with a book that she
hastily concealed. He insisted on seeing it, and secured it. It was a
book on brain surgery. Confronted with it, she blushed and dropped her
eyes.

His delighted vanity found in it the most insidious of compliments, as
she had intended.

“I feel such an idiot when I am with you,” she said. “I wanted to know a
little more about the things you do.”

That put their relationship on a new and advanced basis. Thereafter
he occasionally talked surgery instead of sentiment. He found her
responsive, intelligent. His work, a sealed book to his women before,
lay open to her.

Now and then their professional discussions ended in something
different. The two lines of their interest converged.

“Gad!” he said one day. “I look forward to these evenings. I can talk
shop with you without either shocking or nauseating you. You are the
most intelligent woman I know--and one of the prettiest.”

He had stopped the machine on the crest of a hill for the ostensible
purpose of admiring the view.

“As long as you talk shop,” she said, “I feel that there is nothing
wrong in our being together; but when you say the other thing--”

“Is it wrong to tell a pretty woman you admire her?”

“Under our circumstances, yes.”

He twisted himself around in the seat and sat looking at her.

“The loveliest mouth in the world!” he said, and kissed her suddenly.

She had expected it for at least a week, but her surprise was well done.
Well done also was her silence during the homeward ride.

No, she was not angry, she said. It was only that he had set her
thinking. When she got out of the car, she bade him good-night and
good-bye. He only laughed.

“Don’t you trust me?” he said, leaning out to her.

She raised her dark eyes.

“It is not that. I do not trust myself.”

After that nothing could have kept him away, and she knew it.

“Man demands both danger and play; therefore he selects woman as the
most dangerous of toys.” A spice of danger had entered into their
relationship. It had become infinitely piquant.

He motored out to the farm the next day, to be told that Miss Harrison
had gone for a long walk and had not said when she would be back. That
pleased him. Evidently she was frightened. Every man likes to think that
he is a bit of a devil. Dr. Max settled his tie, and, leaving his
car outside the whitewashed fence, departed blithely on foot in the
direction Carlotta had taken.

She knew her man, of course. He found her, face down, under a tree,
looking pale and worn and bearing all the evidence of a severe mental
struggle. She rose in confusion when she heard his step, and retreated a
foot or two, with her hands out before her.

“How dare you?” she cried. “How dare you follow me! I--I have got to
have a little time alone. I have got to think things out.”

He knew it was play-acting, but rather liked it; and, because he was
quite as skillful as she was, he struck a match on the trunk of the tree
and lighted a cigarette before he answered.

“I was afraid of this,” he said, playing up. “You take it entirely too
hard. I am not really a villain, Carlotta.”

It was the first time he had used her name.

“Sit down and let us talk things over.”

She sat down at a safe distance, and looked across the little clearing
to him with the somber eyes that were her great asset.

“You can afford to be very calm,” she said, “because this is only play
to you; I know it. I’ve known it all along. I’m a good listener and
not--unattractive. But what is play for you is not necessarily play for
me. I am going away from here.”

For the first time, he found himself believing in her sincerity. Why,
the girl was white. He didn’t want to hurt her. If she cried--he was at
the mercy of any woman who cried.

“Give up your training?”

“What else can I do? This sort of thing cannot go on, Dr. Max.”

She did cry then--real tears; and he went over beside her and took her
in his arms.

“Don’t do that,” he said. “Please don’t do that. You make me feel like
a scoundrel, and I’ve only been taking a little bit of happiness. That’s
all. I swear it.”

She lifted her head from his shoulder.

“You mean you are happy with me?”

“Very, very happy,” said Dr. Max, and kissed her again on the lips.


The one element Carlotta had left out of her calculations was herself.
She had known the man, had taken the situation at its proper value. But
she had left out this important factor in the equation,--that factor
which in every relationship between man and woman determines the
equation,--the woman.

Into her calculating ambition had come a new and destroying element. She
who, like K. in his little room on the Street, had put aside love and
the things thereof, found that it would not be put aside. By the end of
her short vacation Carlotta Harrison was wildly in love with the younger
Wilson.

They continued to meet, not as often as before, but once a week,
perhaps. The meetings were full of danger now; and if for the girl they
lost by this quality, they gained attraction for the man. She was shrewd
enough to realize her own situation. The thing had gone wrong. She
cared, and he did not. It was all a game now, not hers.

All women are intuitive; women in love are dangerously so. As well as
she knew that his passion for her was not the real thing, so also she
realized that there was growing up in his heart something akin to the
real thing for Sidney Page. Suspicion became certainty after a talk
they had over the supper table at a country road-house the day after
Christine’s wedding.

“How was the wedding--tiresome?” she asked.

“Thrilling! There’s always something thrilling to me in a man tying
himself up for life to one woman. It’s--it’s so reckless.”

Her eyes narrowed. “That’s not exactly the Law and the Prophets, is it?”

“It’s the truth. To think of selecting out of all the world one woman,
and electing to spend the rest of one’s days with her! Although--”

His eyes looked past Carlotta into distance.

“Sidney Page was one of the bridesmaids,” he said irrelevantly. “She was
lovelier than the bride.”

“Pretty, but stupid,” said Carlotta. “I like her. I’ve really tried to
teach her things, but--you know--” She shrugged her shoulders.

Dr. Max was learning wisdom. If there was a twinkle in his eye, he
veiled it discreetly. But, once again in the machine, he bent over and
put his cheek against hers.

“You little cat! You’re jealous,” he said exultantly.

Nevertheless, although he might smile, the image of Sidney lay very
close to his heart those autumn days. And Carlotta knew it.

Sidney came off night duty the middle of November. The night duty had
been a time of comparative peace to Carlotta. There were no evenings
when Dr. Max could bring Sidney back to the hospital in his car.

Sidney’s half-days at home were occasions for agonies of jealousy on
Carlotta’s part. On such an occasion, a month after the wedding, she
could not contain herself. She pleaded her old excuse of headache, and
took the trolley to a point near the end of the Street. After twilight
fell, she slowly walked the length of the Street. Christine and Palmer
had not returned from their wedding journey. The November evening was
not cold, and on the little balcony sat Sidney and Dr. Max. K. was
there, too, had she only known it, sitting back in the shadow and saying
little, his steady eyes on Sidney’s profile.

But this Carlotta did not know. She went on down the Street in a frenzy
of jealous anger.

After that two ideas ran concurrent in Carlotta’s mind: one was to get
Sidney out of the way, the other was to make Wilson propose to her. In
her heart she knew that on the first depended the second.

A week later she made the same frantic excursion, but with a different
result. Sidney was not in sight, or Wilson. But standing on the wooden
doorstep of the little house was Le Moyne. The ailanthus trees were
bare at that time, throwing gaunt arms upward to the November sky. The
street-lamp, which in the summer left the doorstep in the shadow, now
shone through the branches and threw into strong relief Le Moyne’s tall
figure and set face. Carlotta saw him too late to retreat. But he
did not see her. She went on, startled, her busy brain scheming anew.
Another element had entered into her plotting. It was the first time
she had known that K. lived in the Page house. It gave her a sense of
uncertainty and deadly fear.

She made her first friendly overture of many days to Sidney the
following day. They met in the locker-room in the basement where the
street clothing for the ward patients was kept. Here, rolled in bundles
and ticketed, side by side lay the heterogeneous garments in which
the patients had met accident or illness. Rags and tidiness, filth and
cleanliness, lay almost touching.

Far away on the other side of the white-washed basement, men were
unloading gleaming cans of milk. Floods of sunlight came down the
cellar-way, touching their white coats and turning the cans to silver.
Everywhere was the religion of the hospital, which is order.

Sidney, harking back from recent slights to the staircase conversation
of her night duty, smiled at Carlotta cheerfully.

“A miracle is happening,” she said. “Grace Irving is going out to-day.
When one remembers how ill she was and how we thought she could not
live, it’s rather a triumph, isn’t it?”

“Are those her clothes?”

Sidney examined with some dismay the elaborate negligee garments in her
hand.

“She can’t go out in those; I shall have to lend her something.” A
little of the light died out of her face. “She’s had a hard fight, and
she has won,” she said. “But when I think of what she’s probably going
back to--”

Carlotta shrugged her shoulders.

“It’s all in the day’s work,” she observed indifferently. “You can take
them up into the kitchen and give them steady work paring potatoes, or
put them in the laundry ironing. In the end it’s the same thing. They
all go back.”

She drew a package from the locker and looked at it ruefully.

“Well, what do you know about this? Here’s a woman who came in in a
nightgown and pair of slippers. And now she wants to go out in half an
hour!”

She turned, on her way out of the locker-room, and shot a quick glance
at Sidney.

“I happened to be on your street the other night,” she said. “You live
across the street from Wilsons’, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“I thought so; I had heard you speak of the house. Your--your brother
was standing on the steps.”

Sidney laughed.

“I have no brother. That’s a roomer, a Mr. Le Moyne. It isn’t really
right to call him a roomer; he’s one of the family now.”

“Le Moyne!”

He had even taken another name. It had hit him hard, for sure.

K.’s name had struck an always responsive chord in Sidney. The two girls
went toward the elevator together. With a very little encouragement,
Sidney talked of K. She was pleased at Miss Harrison’s friendly tone,
glad that things were all right between them again. At her floor, she
put a timid hand on the girl’s arm.

“I was afraid I had offended you or displeased you,” she said. “I’m so
glad it isn’t so.”

Carlotta shivered under her hand.

Things were not going any too well with K. True, he had received his
promotion at the office, and with this present affluence of twenty-two
dollars a week he was able to do several things. Mrs. Rosenfeld now
washed and ironed one day a week at the little house, so that Katie
might have more time to look after Anna. He had increased also the
amount of money that he periodically sent East.

So far, well enough. The thing that rankled and filled him with a sense
of failure was Max Wilson’s attitude. It was not unfriendly; it was,
indeed, consistently respectful, almost reverential. But he clearly
considered Le Moyne’s position absurd.

There was no true comradeship between the two men; but there was
beginning to be constant association, and lately a certain amount of
friction. They thought differently about almost everything.

Wilson began to bring all his problems to Le Moyne. There were long
consultations in that small upper room. Perhaps more than one man or
woman who did not know of K.’s existence owed his life to him that fall.

Under K.’s direction, Max did marvels. Cases began to come in to him
from the surrounding towns. To his own daring was added a new and
remarkable technique. But Le Moyne, who had found resignation if not
content, was once again in touch with the work he loved. There were
times when, having thrashed a case out together and outlined the next
day’s work for Max, he would walk for hours into the night out over the
hills, fighting his battle. The longing was on him to be in the thick
of things again. The thought of the gas office and its deadly round
sickened him.

It was on one of his long walks that K. found Tillie.

It was December then, gray and raw, with a wet snow that changed to
rain as it fell. The country roads were ankle-deep with mud, the wayside
paths thick with sodden leaves. The dreariness of the countryside that
Saturday afternoon suited his mood. He had ridden to the end of the
street-car line, and started his walk from there. As was his custom, he
wore no overcoat, but a short sweater under his coat. Somewhere along
the road he had picked up a mongrel dog, and, as if in sheer desire for
human society, it trotted companionably at his heels.

Seven miles from the end of the car line he found a road-house, and
stopped in for a glass of Scotch. He was chilled through. The dog
went in with him, and stood looking up into his face. It was as if he
submitted, but wondered why this indoors, with the scents of the road
ahead and the trails of rabbits over the fields.

The house was set in a valley at the foot of two hills. Through the mist
of the December afternoon, it had loomed pleasantly before him. The door
was ajar, and he stepped into a little hall covered with ingrain carpet.
To the right was the dining-room, the table covered with a white cloth,
and in its exact center an uncompromising bunch of dried flowers. To the
left, the typical parlor of such places. It might have been the parlor
of the White Springs Hotel in duplicate, plush self-rocker and all. Over
everything was silence and a pervading smell of fresh varnish. The house
was aggressive with new paint--the sagging old floors shone with it, the
doors gleamed.

“Hello!” called K.

There were slow footsteps upstairs, the closing of a bureau drawer,
the rustle of a woman’s dress coming down the stairs. K., standing
uncertainly on a carpet oasis that was the center of the parlor varnish,
stripped off his sweater.

“Not very busy here this afternoon!” he said to the unseen female on the
staircase. Then he saw her. It was Tillie. She put a hand against the
doorframe to steady herself. Tillie surely, but a new Tillie! With her
hair loosened around her face, a fresh blue chintz dress open at the
throat, a black velvet bow on her breast, here was a Tillie fuller,
infinitely more attractive, than he had remembered her. But she did not
smile at him. There was something about her eyes not unlike the dog’s
expression, submissive, but questioning.

“Well, you’ve found me, Mr. Le Moyne.” And, when he held out his hand,
smiling: “I just had to do it, Mr. K.”

“And how’s everything going? You look mighty fine and--happy, Tillie.”

“I’m all right. Mr. Schwitter’s gone to the postoffice. He’ll be back at
five. Will you have a cup of tea, or will you have something else?”

The instinct of the Street was still strong in Tillie. The Street did
not approve of “something else.”

“Scotch-and-soda,” said Le Moyne. “And shall I buy a ticket for you to
punch?”

But she only smiled faintly. He was sorry he had made the blunder.
Evidently the Street and all that pertained was a sore subject.

So this was Tillie’s new home! It was for this that she had exchanged
the virginal integrity of her life at Mrs. McKee’s--for this wind-swept
little house, tidily ugly, infinitely lonely. There were two crayon
enlargements over the mantel. One was Schwitter, evidently. The
other was the paper-doll wife. K. wondered what curious instinct of
self-abnegation had caused Tillie to leave the wife there undisturbed.
Back of its position of honor he saw the girl’s realization of her own
situation. On a wooden shelf, exactly between the two pictures, was
another vase of dried flowers.

Tillie brought the Scotch, already mixed, in a tall glass. K. would
have preferred to mix it himself, but the Scotch was good. He felt a new
respect for Mr. Schwitter.

“You gave me a turn at first,” said Tillie. “But I am right glad to see
you, Mr. Le Moyne. Now that the roads are bad, nobody comes very much.
It’s lonely.”

Until now, K. and Tillie, when they met, had met conversationally on the
common ground of food. They no longer had that, and between them both
lay like a barrier their last conversation.

“Are you happy, Tillie?” said K. suddenly.

“I expected you’d ask me that. I’ve been thinking what to say.”

Her reply set him watching her face. More attractive it certainly was,
but happy? There was a wistfulness about Tillie’s mouth that set him
wondering.

“Is he good to you?”

“He’s about the best man on earth. He’s never said a cross word to
me--even at first, when I was panicky and scared at every sound.”

Le Moyne nodded understandingly.

“I burned a lot of victuals when I first came, running off and hiding
when I heard people around the place. It used to seem to me that what
I’d done was written on my face. But he never said a word.”

“That’s over now?”

“I don’t run. I am still frightened.”

“Then it has been worth while?”

Tillie glanced up at the two pictures over the mantel.

“Sometimes it is--when he comes in tired, and I’ve a chicken ready or
some fried ham and eggs for his supper, and I see him begin to look
rested. He lights his pipe, and many an evening he helps me with the
dishes. He’s happy; he’s getting fat.”

“But you?” Le Moyne persisted.

“I wouldn’t go back to where I was, but I am not happy, Mr. Le Moyne.
There’s no use pretending. I want a baby. All along I’ve wanted a baby.
He wants one. This place is his, and he’d like a boy to come into it
when he’s gone. But, my God! if I did have one; what would it be?”

K.’s eyes followed hers to the picture and the everlastings underneath.

“And she--there isn’t any prospect of her--?”

“No.”

There was no solution to Tillie’s problem. Le Moyne, standing on the
hearth and looking down at her, realized that, after all, Tillie must
work out her own salvation. He could offer her no comfort.

They talked far into the growing twilight of the afternoon. Tillie was
hungry for news of the Street: must know of Christine’s wedding, of
Harriet, of Sidney in her hospital. And when he had told her all, she
sat silent, rolling her handkerchief in her fingers. Then:--

“Take the four of us,” she said suddenly,--“Christine Lorenz and Sidney
Page and Miss Harriet and me,--and which one would you have picked to
go wrong like this? I guess, from the looks of things, most folks would
have thought it would be the Lorenz girl. They’d have picked Harriet
Kennedy for the hospital, and me for the dressmaking, and it would have
been Sidney Page that got married and had an automobile. Well, that’s
life.”

She looked up at K. shrewdly.

“There were some people out here lately. They didn’t know me, and I
heard them talking. They said Sidney Page was going to marry Dr. Max
Wilson.”

“Possibly. I believe there is no engagement yet.”

He had finished with his glass. Tillie rose to take it away. As she
stood before him she looked up into his face.

“If you like her as well as I think you do, Mr. Le Moyne, you won’t let
him get her.”

“I am afraid that’s not up to me, is it? What would I do with a wife,
Tillie?”

“You’d be faithful to her. That’s more than he would be. I guess, in the
long run, that would count more than money.”

That was what K. took home with him after his encounter with Tillie. He
pondered it on his way back to the street-car, as he struggled against
the wind. The weather had changed. Wagon-tracks along the road were
filled with water and had begun to freeze. The rain had turned to a
driving sleet that cut his face. Halfway to the trolley line, the dog
turned off into a by-road. K. did not miss him. The dog stared after
him, one foot raised. Once again his eyes were like Tillie’s, as she had
waved good-bye from the porch.

His head sunk on his breast, K. covered miles of road with his long,
swinging pace, and fought his battle. Was Tillie right, after all, and
had he been wrong? Why should he efface himself, if it meant Sidney’s
unhappiness? Why not accept Wilson’s offer and start over again? Then
if things went well--the temptation was strong that stormy afternoon. He
put it from him at last, because of the conviction that whatever he did
would make no change in Sidney’s ultimate decision. If she cared enough
for Wilson, she would marry him. He felt that she cared enough.



CHAPTER XV


Palmer and Christine returned from their wedding trip the day K.
discovered Tillie. Anna Page made much of the arrival, insisted on
dinner for them that night at the little house, must help Christine
unpack her trunks and arrange her wedding gifts about the apartment. She
was brighter than she had been for days, more interested. The wonders of
the trousseau filled her with admiration and a sort of jealous envy for
Sidney, who could have none of these things. In a pathetic sort of way,
she mothered Christine in lieu of her own daughter.

And it was her quick eye that discerned something wrong. Christine was
not quite happy. Under her excitement was an undercurrent of reserve.
Anna, rich in maternity if in nothing else, felt it, and in reply to
some speech of Christine’s that struck her as hard, not quite fitting,
she gave her a gentle admonishing.

“Married life takes a little adjusting, my dear,” she said. “After we
have lived to ourselves for a number of years, it is not easy to live
for some one else.”

Christine straightened from the tea-table she was arranging.

“That’s true, of course. But why should the woman do all the adjusting?”

“Men are more set,” said poor Anna, who had never been set in anything
in her life. “It is harder for them to give in. And, of course, Palmer
is older, and his habits--”

“The less said about Palmer’s habits the better,” flashed Christine. “I
appear to have married a bunch of habits.”

She gave over her unpacking, and sat down listlessly by the fire, while
Anna moved about, busy with the small activities that delighted her.

Six weeks of Palmer’s society in unlimited amounts had bored Christine
to distraction. She sat with folded hands and looked into a future that
seemed to include nothing but Palmer: Palmer asleep with his mouth open;
Palmer shaving before breakfast, and irritable until he had had his
coffee; Palmer yawning over the newspaper.

And there was a darker side to the picture than that. There was a vision
of Palmer slipping quietly into his room and falling into the heavy
sleep, not of drunkenness perhaps, but of drink. That had happened
twice. She knew now that it would happen again and again, as long as he
lived. Drinking leads to other things. The letter she had received on
her wedding day was burned into her brain. There would be that in the
future too, probably.

Christine was not without courage. She was making a brave clutch
at happiness. But that afternoon of the first day at home she was
terrified. She was glad when Anna went and left her alone by her fire.

But when she heard a step in the hall, she opened the door herself. She
had determined to meet Palmer with a smile. Tears brought nothing;
she had learned that already. Men liked smiling women and good cheer.
“Daughters of joy,” they called girls like the one on the Avenue. So she
opened the door smiling.

But it was K. in the hall. She waited while, with his back to her, he
shook himself like a great dog. When he turned, she was watching him.

“You!” said Le Moyne. “Why, welcome home.”

He smiled down at her, his kindly eyes lighting.

“It’s good to be home and to see you again. Won’t you come in to my
fire?”

“I’m wet.”

“All the more reason why you should come,” she cried gayly, and held the
door wide.

The little parlor was cheerful with fire and soft lamps, bright with
silver vases full of flowers. K. stepped inside and took a critical
survey of the room.

“Well!” he said. “Between us we have made a pretty good job of this, I
with the paper and the wiring, and you with your pretty furnishings and
your pretty self.”

He glanced at her appreciatively. Christine saw his approval, and was
happier than she had been for weeks. She put on the thousand little airs
and graces that were a part of her--held her chin high, looked up at
him with the little appealing glances that she had found were wasted on
Palmer. She lighted the spirit-lamp to make tea, drew out the best chair
for him, and patted a cushion with her well-cared-for hands.

“A big chair for a big man!” she said. “And see, here’s a footstool.”

“I am ridiculously fond of being babied,” said K., and quite basked in
his new atmosphere of well-being. This was better than his empty room
upstairs, than tramping along country roads, than his own thoughts.

“And now, how is everything?” asked Christine from across the fire. “Do
tell me all the scandal of the Street.”

“There has been no scandal since you went away,” said K. And, because
each was glad not to be left to his own thoughts, they laughed at this
bit of unconscious humor.

“Seriously,” said Le Moyne, “we have been very quiet. I have had my
salary raised and am now rejoicing in twenty-two dollars a week. I
am still not accustomed to it. Just when I had all my ideas fixed for
fifteen, I get twenty-two and have to reassemble them. I am disgustingly
rich.”

“It is very disagreeable when one’s income becomes a burden,” said
Christine gravely.

She was finding in Le Moyne something that she needed just then--a
solidity, a sort of dependability, that had nothing to do with
heaviness. She felt that here was a man she could trust, almost confide
in. She liked his long hands, his shabby but well-cut clothes, his fine
profile with its strong chin. She left off her little affectations,--a
tribute to his own lack of them,--and sat back in her chair, watching
the fire.

When K. chose, he could talk well. The Howes had been to Bermuda on
their wedding trip. He knew Bermuda; that gave them a common ground.
Christine relaxed under his steady voice. As for K., he frankly enjoyed
the little visit--drew himself at last with regret out of his chair.

“You’ve been very nice to ask me in, Mrs. Howe,” he said. “I hope you
will allow me to come again. But, of course, you are going to be very
gay.”

It seemed to Christine she would never be gay again. She did not
want him to go away. The sound of his deep voice gave her a sense of
security. She liked the clasp of the hand he held out to her, when at
last he made a move toward the door.

“Tell Mr. Howe I am sorry he missed our little party,” said Le Moyne.
“And--thank you.”

“Will you come again?” asked Christine rather wistfully.

“Just as often as you ask me.”

As he closed the door behind him, there was a new light in Christine’s
eyes. Things were not right, but, after all, they were not hopeless. One
might still have friends, big and strong, steady of eye and voice. When
Palmer came home, the smile she gave him was not forced.

The day’s exertion had been bad for Anna. Le Moyne found her on the
couch in the transformed sewing-room, and gave her a quick glance of
apprehension. She was propped up high with pillows, with a bottle of
aromatic ammonia beside her.

“Just--short of breath,” she panted. “I--I must get down. Sidney--is
coming home--to supper; and--the others--Palmer and--”

That was as far as she got. K., watch in hand, found her pulse thin,
stringy, irregular. He had been prepared for some such emergency, and he
hurried into his room for amyl-nitrate. When he came back she was almost
unconscious. There was no time even to call Katie. He broke the capsule
in a towel, and held it over her face. After a time the spasm relaxed,
but her condition remained alarming.

Harriet, who had come home by that time, sat by the couch and held her
sister’s hand. Only once in the next hour or so did she speak. They had
sent for Dr. Ed, but he had not come yet. Harriet was too wretched to
notice the professional manner in which K. set to work over Anna.

“I’ve been a very hard sister to her,” she said. “If you can pull her
through, I’ll try to make up for it.”

Christine sat on the stairs outside, frightened and helpless. They had
sent for Sidney; but the little house had no telephone, and the message
was slow in getting off.

At six o’clock Dr. Ed came panting up the stairs and into the room. K.
stood back.

“Well, this is sad, Harriet,” said Dr. Ed. “Why in the name of Heaven,
when I wasn’t around, didn’t you get another doctor. If she had had some
amyl-nitrate--”

“I gave her some nitrate of amyl,” said K. quietly. “There was really no
time to send for anybody. She almost went under at half-past five.”

Max had kept his word, and even Dr. Ed did not suspect K.’s secret. He
gave a quick glance at this tall young man who spoke so quietly of what
he had done for the sick woman, and went on with his work.

Sidney arrived a little after six, and from that moment the confusion in
the sick-room was at an end. She moved Christine from the stairs,
where Katie on her numerous errands must crawl over her; set Harriet to
warming her mother’s bed and getting it ready; opened windows, brought
order and quiet. And then, with death in her eyes, she took up her
position beside her mother. This was no time for weeping; that would
come later. Once she turned to K., standing watchfully beside her.

“I think you have known this for a long time,” she said. And, when he
did not answer: “Why did you let me stay away from her? It would have
been such a little time!”

“We were trying to do our best for both of you,” he replied.

Anna was unconscious and sinking fast. One thought obsessed Sidney.
She repeated it over and over. It came as a cry from the depths of the
girl’s new experience.

“She has had so little of life,” she said, over and over. “So little!
Just this Street. She never knew anything else.”

And finally K. took it up.

“After all, Sidney,” he said, “the Street IS life: the world is only
many streets. She had a great deal. She had love and content, and she
had you.”

Anna died a little after midnight, a quiet passing, so that only Sidney
and the two men knew when she went away. It was Harriet who collapsed.
During all that long evening she had sat looking back over years of
small unkindnesses. The thorn of Anna’s inefficiency had always rankled
in her flesh. She had been hard, uncompromising, thwarted. And now it
was forever too late.

K. had watched Sidney carefully. Once he thought she was fainting, and
went to her. But she shook her head.

“I am all right. Do you think you could get them all out of the room and
let me have her alone for just a few minutes?”

He cleared the room, and took up his vigil outside the door. And, as he
stood there, he thought of what he had said to Sidney about the Street.
It was a world of its own. Here in this very house were death and
separation; Harriet’s starved life; Christine and Palmer beginning a
long and doubtful future together; himself, a failure, and an impostor.

When he opened the door again, Sidney was standing by her mother’s bed.
He went to her, and she turned and put her head against his shoulder
like a tired child.

“Take me away, K.,” she said pitifully.

And, with his arm around her, he led her out of the room.

Outside of her small immediate circle Anna’s death was hardly felt.
The little house went on much as before. Harriet carried back to her
business a heaviness of spirit that made it difficult to bear with
the small irritations of her day. Perhaps Anna’s incapacity, which had
always annoyed her, had been physical. She must have had her trouble a
longtime. She remembered other women of the Street who had crept through
inefficient days, and had at last laid down their burdens and closed
their mild eyes, to the lasting astonishment of their families. What did
they think about, these women, as they pottered about? Did they resent
the impatience that met their lagging movements, the indifference
that would not see how they were failing? Hot tears fell on Harriet’s
fashion-book as it lay on her knee. Not only for Anna--for Anna’s
prototypes everywhere.

On Sidney--and in less measure, of course, on K.--fell the real brunt of
the disaster. Sidney kept up well until after the funeral, but went down
the next day with a low fever.

“Overwork and grief,” Dr. Ed said, and sternly forbade the hospital
again until Christmas. Morning and evening K. stopped at her door and
inquired for her, and morning and evening came Sidney’s reply:--

“Much better. I’ll surely be up to-morrow!”

But the days dragged on and she did not get about.

Downstairs, Christine and Palmer had entered on the round of midwinter
gayeties. Palmer’s “crowd” was a lively one. There were dinners
and dances, week-end excursions to country-houses. The Street grew
accustomed to seeing automobiles stop before the little house at all
hours of the night. Johnny Rosenfeld, driving Palmer’s car, took to
falling asleep at the wheel in broad daylight, and voiced his discontent
to his mother.

“You never know where you are with them guys,” he said briefly. “We
start out for half an hour’s run in the evening, and get home with the
milk-wagons. And the more some of them have had to drink, the more they
want to drive the machine. If I get a chance, I’m going to beat it while
the wind’s my way.”

But, talk as he might, in Johnny Rosenfeld’s loyal heart there was no
thought of desertion. Palmer had given him a man’s job, and he would
stick by it, no matter what came.

There were some things that Johnny Rosenfeld did not tell his mother.
There were evenings when the Howe car was filled, not with Christine
and her friends, but with women of a different world; evenings when the
destination was not a country estate, but a road-house; evenings when
Johnny Rosenfeld, ousted from the driver’s seat by some drunken youth,
would hold tight to the swinging car and say such fragments of prayers
as he could remember. Johnny Rosenfeld, who had started life with few
illusions, was in danger of losing such as he had.

One such night Christine put in, lying wakefully in her bed, while the
clock on the mantel tolled hour after hour into the night. Palmer did
not come home at all. He sent a note from the office in the morning:

“I hope you are not worried, darling. The car broke down near the
Country Club last night, and there was nothing to do but to spend the
night there. I would have sent you word, but I did not want to rouse
you. What do you say to the theater to-night and supper afterward?”

Christine was learning. She telephoned the Country Club that morning,
and found that Palmer had not been there. But, although she knew now
that he was deceiving her, as he always had deceived her, as probably
he always would, she hesitated to confront him with what she knew. She
shrank, as many a woman has shrunk before, from confronting him with his
lie.

But the second time it happened, she was roused. It was almost Christmas
then, and Sidney was well on the way to recovery, thinner and very
white, but going slowly up and down the staircase on K.’s arm, and
sitting with Harriet and K. at the dinner table. She was begging to be
back on duty for Christmas, and K. felt that he would have to give her
up soon.

At three o’clock one morning Sidney roused from a light sleep to hear a
rapping on her door.

“Is that you, Aunt Harriet?” she called.

“It’s Christine. May I come in?”

Sidney unlocked her door. Christine slipped into the room. She carried a
candle, and before she spoke she looked at Sidney’s watch on the bedside
table.

“I hoped my clock was wrong,” she said. “I am sorry to waken you,
Sidney, but I don’t know what to do.”

“Are you ill?”

“No. Palmer has not come home.”

“What time is it?”

“After three o’clock.”

Sidney had lighted the gas and was throwing on her dressing-gown.

“When he went out did he say--”

“He said nothing. We had been quarreling. Sidney, I am going home in the
morning.”

“You don’t mean that, do you?”

“Don’t I look as if I mean it? How much of this sort of thing is a woman
supposed to endure?”

“Perhaps he has been delayed. These things always seem terrible in the
middle of the night, but by morning--”

Christine whirled on her.

“This isn’t the first time. You remember the letter I got on my wedding
day?”

“Yes.”

“He’s gone back to her.”

“Christine! Oh, I am sure you’re wrong. He’s devoted to you. I don’t
believe it!”

“Believe it or not,” said Christine doggedly, “that’s exactly what has
happened. I got something out of that little rat of a Rosenfeld boy, and
the rest I know because I know Palmer. He’s out with her to-night.”

The hospital had taught Sidney one thing: that it took many people to
make a world, and that out of these some were inevitably vicious. But
vice had remained for her a clear abstraction. There were such people,
and because one was in the world for service one cared for them. Even
the Saviour had been kind to the woman of the streets.

But here abruptly Sidney found the great injustice of the world--that
because of this vice the good suffer more than the wicked. Her young
spirit rose in hot rebellion.

“It isn’t fair!” she cried. “It makes me hate all the men in the world.
Palmer cares for you, and yet he can do a thing like this!”

Christine was pacing nervously up and down the room. Mere companionship
had soothed her. She was now, on the surface at least, less excited than
Sidney.

“They are not all like Palmer, thank Heaven,” she said. “There are
decent men. My father is one, and your K., here in the house, is
another.”

At four o’clock in the morning Palmer Howe came home. Christine met
him in the lower hall. He was rather pale, but entirely sober. She
confronted him in her straight white gown and waited for him to speak.

“I am sorry to be so late, Chris,” he said. “The fact is, I am all in. I
was driving the car out Seven Mile Run. We blew out a tire and the thing
turned over.”

Christine noticed then that his right arm was hanging inert by his side.



CHAPTER XVI


Young Howe had been firmly resolved to give up all his bachelor habits
with his wedding day. In his indolent, rather selfish way, he was much
in love with his wife.

But with the inevitable misunderstandings of the first months of
marriage had come a desire to be appreciated once again at his face
value. Grace had taken him, not for what he was, but for what he seemed
to be. With Christine the veil was rent. She knew him now--all his small
indolences, his affectations, his weaknesses. Later on, like other
women since the world began, she would learn to dissemble, to affect to
believe him what he was not.

Grace had learned this lesson long ago. It was the ABC of her knowledge.
And so, back to Grace six weeks after his wedding day came Palmer
Howe, not with a suggestion to renew the old relationship, but for
comradeship.

Christine sulked--he wanted good cheer; Christine was intolerant--he
wanted tolerance; she disapproved of him and showed her disapproval--he
wanted approval. He wanted life to be comfortable and cheerful, without
recriminations, a little work and much play, a drink when one was
thirsty. Distorted though it was, and founded on a wrong basis, perhaps,
deep in his heart Palmer’s only longing was for happiness; but this
happiness must be of an active sort--not content, which is passive, but
enjoyment.

“Come on out,” he said. “I’ve got a car now. No taxi working its head
off for us. Just a little run over the country roads, eh?”

It was the afternoon of the day before Christine’s night visit to
Sidney. The office had been closed, owing to a death, and Palmer was in
possession of a holiday.

“Come on,” he coaxed. “We’ll go out to the Climbing Rose and have
supper.”

“I don’t want to go.”

“That’s not true, Grace, and you know it.”

“You and I are through.”

“It’s your doing, not mine. The roads are frozen hard; an hour’s run
into the country will bring your color back.”

“Much you care about that. Go and ride with your wife,” said the girl,
and flung away from him.

The last few weeks had filled out her thin figure, but she still bore
traces of her illness. Her short hair was curled over her head. She
looked curiously boyish, almost sexless.

Because she saw him wince when she mentioned Christine, her ill temper
increased. She showed her teeth.

“You get out of here,” she said suddenly. “I didn’t ask you to come
back. I don’t want you.”

“Good Heavens, Grace! You always knew I would have to marry some day.”

“I was sick; I nearly died. I didn’t hear any reports of you hanging
around the hospital to learn how I was getting along.”

He laughed rather sheepishly.

“I had to be careful. You know that as well as I do. I know half the
staff there. Besides, one of--” He hesitated over his wife’s name. “A
girl I know very well was in the training-school. There would have been
the devil to pay if I’d as much as called up.”

“You never told me you were going to get married.”

Cornered, he slipped an arm around her. But she shook him off.

“I meant to tell you, honey; but you got sick. Anyhow, I--I hated to
tell you, honey.”

He had furnished the flat for her. There was a comfortable feeling of
coming home about going there again. And, now that the worst minute of
their meeting was over, he was visibly happier. But Grace continued to
stand eyeing him somberly.

“I’ve got something to tell you,” she said. “Don’t have a fit, and don’t
laugh. If you do, I’ll--I’ll jump out of the window. I’ve got a place in
a store. I’m going to be straight, Palmer.”

“Good for you!”

He meant it. She was a nice girl and he was fond of her. The other was
a dog’s life. And he was not unselfish about it. She could not belong to
him. He did not want her to belong to any one else.

“One of the nurses in the hospital, a Miss Page, has got me something to
do at Lipton and Homburg’s. I am going on for the January white sale. If
I make good they will keep me.”

He had put her aside without a qualm; and now he met her announcement
with approval. He meant to let her alone. They would have a holiday
together, and then they would say good-bye. And she had not fooled him.
She still cared. He was getting off well, all things considered. She
might have raised a row.

“Good work!” he said. “You’ll be a lot happier. But that isn’t any
reason why we shouldn’t be friends, is it? Just friends; I mean that.
I would like to feel that I can stop in now and then and say how do you
do.”

“I promised Miss Page.”

“Never mind Miss Page.”

The mention of Sidney’s name brought up in his mind Christine as he had
left her that morning. He scowled. Things were not going well at home.
There was something wrong with Christine. She used to be a good sport,
but she had never been the same since the day of the wedding. He thought
her attitude toward him was one of suspicion. It made him uncomfortable.
But any attempt on his part to fathom it only met with cold silence.
That had been her attitude that morning.

“I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” he said. “We won’t go to any of the old
places. I’ve found a new roadhouse in the country that’s respectable
enough to suit anybody. We’ll go out to Schwitter’s and get some dinner.
I’ll promise to get you back early. How’s that?”

In the end she gave in. And on the way out he lived up to the letter of
their agreement. The situation exhilarated him: Grace with her new air
of virtue, her new aloofness; his comfortable car; Johnny Rosenfeld’s
discreet back and alert ears.

The adventure had all the thrill of a new conquest in it. He treated the
girl with deference, did not insist when she refused a cigarette, felt
glowingly virtuous and exultant at the same time.

When the car drew up before the Schwitter place, he slipped a
five-dollar bill into Johnny Rosenfeld’s not over-clean hand.

“I don’t mind the ears,” he said. “Just watch your tongue, lad.” And
Johnny stalled his engine in sheer surprise.

“There’s just enough of the Jew in me,” said Johnny, “to know how to
talk a lot and say nothing, Mr. Howe.”

He crawled stiffly out of the car and prepared to crank it.

“I’ll just give her the ‘once over’ now and then,” he said. “She’ll
freeze solid if I let her stand.”

Grace had gone up the narrow path to the house. She had the gift of
looking well in her clothes, and her small hat with its long quill
and her motor-coat were chic and becoming. She never overdressed, as
Christine was inclined to do.

Fortunately for Palmer, Tillie did not see him. A heavy German maid
waited at the table in the dining-room, while Tillie baked waffles in
the kitchen.

Johnny Rosenfeld, going around the side path to the kitchen door with
visions of hot coffee and a country supper for his frozen stomach, saw
her through the window bending flushed over the stove, and hesitated.
Then, without a word, he tiptoed back to the car again, and, crawling
into the tonneau, covered himself with rugs. In his untutored mind were
certain great qualities, and loyalty to his employer was one. The five
dollars in his pocket had nothing whatever to do with it.

At eighteen he had developed a philosophy of four words. It took the
place of the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, and the Catechism. It
was: “Mind your own business.”

The discovery of Tillie’s hiding-place interested but did not thrill
him. Tillie was his cousin. If she wanted to do the sort of thing she
was doing, that was her affair. Tillie and her middle-aged lover, Palmer
Howe and Grace--the alley was not unfamiliar with such relationships. It
viewed them with tolerance until they were found out, when it raised its
hands.

True to his promise, Palmer wakened the sleeping boy before nine
o’clock. Grace had eaten little and drunk nothing; but Howe was slightly
stimulated.

“Give her the ‘once over,’” he told Johnny, “and then go back and crawl
into the rugs again. I’ll drive in.”

Grace sat beside him. Their progress was slow and rough over the
country roads, but when they reached the State road Howe threw open the
throttle. He drove well. The liquor was in his blood. He took chances
and got away with them, laughing at the girl’s gasps of dismay.

“Wait until I get beyond Simkinsville,” he said, “and I’ll let her out.
You’re going to travel tonight, honey.”

The girl sat beside him with her eyes fixed ahead. He had been drinking,
and the warmth of the liquor was in his voice. She was determined on one
thing. She was going to make him live up to the letter of his promise to
go away at the house door; and more and more she realized that it would
be difficult. His mood was reckless, masterful. Instead of laughing when
she drew back from a proffered caress, he turned surly. Obstinate lines
that she remembered appeared from his nostrils to the corners of his
mouth. She was uneasy.

Finally she hit on a plan to make him stop somewhere in her neighborhood
and let her get out of the car. She would not come back after that.

There was another car going toward the city. Now it passed them, and as
often they passed it. It became a contest of wits. Palmer’s car lost on
the hills, but gained on the long level stretches, which gleamed with a
coating of thin ice.

“I wish you’d let them get ahead, Palmer. It’s silly and it’s reckless.”

“I told you we’d travel to-night.”

He turned a little glance at her. What the deuce was the matter with
women, anyhow? Were none of them cheerful any more? Here was Grace as
sober as Christine. He felt outraged, defrauded.

His light car skidded and struck the big car heavily. On a smooth road
perhaps nothing more serious than broken mudguards would have been the
result. But on the ice the small car slewed around and slid over the
edge of the bank. At the bottom of the declivity it turned over.

Grace was flung clear of the wreckage. Howe freed himself and stood
erect, with one arm hanging at his side. There was no sound at all from
the boy under the tonneau.

The big car had stopped. Down the bank plunged a heavy, gorilla-like
figure, long arms pushing aside the frozen branches of trees. When he
reached the car, O’Hara found Grace sitting unhurt on the ground. In the
wreck of the car the lamps had not been extinguished, and by their light
he made out Howe, swaying dizzily.

“Anybody underneath?”

“The chauffeur. He’s dead, I think. He doesn’t answer.”

The other members of O’Hara’s party had crawled down the bank by that
time. With the aid of a jack, they got the car up. Johnny Rosenfeld lay
doubled on his face underneath. When he came to and opened his eyes,
Grace almost shrieked with relief.

“I’m all right,” said Johnny Rosenfeld. And, when they offered him
whiskey: “Away with the fire-water. I am no drinker. I--I--” A spasm of
pain twisted his face. “I guess I’ll get up.” With his arms he lifted
himself to a sitting position, and fell back again.

“God!” he said. “I can’t move my legs.”



CHAPTER XVII


By Christmas Day Sidney was back in the hospital, a little wan, but
valiantly determined to keep her life to its mark of service. She had a
talk with K. the night before she left.

Katie was out, and Sidney had put the dining-room in order. K. sat by
the table and watched her as she moved about the room.

The past few weeks had been very wonderful to him: to help her up and
down the stairs, to read to her in the evenings as she lay on the couch
in the sewing-room; later, as she improved, to bring small dainties home
for her tray, and, having stood over Katie while she cooked them, to
bear them in triumph to that upper room--he had not been so happy in
years.

And now it was over. He drew a long breath.

“I hope you don’t feel as if you must stay on,” she said anxiously. “Not
that we don’t want you--you know better than that.”

“There is no place else in the whole world that I want to go to,” he
said simply.

“I seem to be always relying on somebody’s kindness to--to keep things
together. First, for years and years, it was Aunt Harriet; now it is
you.”

“Don’t you realize that, instead of your being grateful to me, it is
I who am undeniably grateful to you? This is home now. I have lived
around--in different places and in different ways. I would rather be
here than anywhere else in the world.”

But he did not look at her. There was so much that was hopeless in his
eyes that he did not want her to see. She would be quite capable, he
told himself savagely, of marrying him out of sheer pity if she ever
guessed. And he was afraid--afraid, since he wanted her so much--that he
would be fool and weakling enough to take her even on those terms. So he
looked away.

Everything was ready for her return to the hospital. She had been out
that day to put flowers on the quiet grave where Anna lay with folded
hands; she had made her round of little visits on the Street; and now
her suit-case, packed, was in the hall.

“In one way, it will be a little better for you than if Christine and
Palmer were not in the house. You like Christine, don’t you?”

“Very much.”

“She likes you, K. She depends on you, too, especially since that night
when you took care of Palmer’s arm before we got Dr. Max. I often think,
K., what a good doctor you would have been. You knew so well what to do
for mother.”

She broke off. She still could not trust her voice about her mother.

“Palmer’s arm is going to be quite straight. Dr. Ed is so proud of Max
over it. It was a bad fracture.”

He had been waiting for that. Once at least, whenever they were
together, she brought Max into the conversation. She was quite
unconscious of it.

“You and Max are great friends. I knew you would like him. He is
interesting, don’t you think?”

“Very,” said K.

To save his life, he could not put any warmth into his voice. He would
be fair. It was not in human nature to expect more of him.

“Those long talks you have, shut in your room--what in the world do you
talk about? Politics?”

“Occasionally.”

She was a little jealous of those evenings, when she sat alone, or
when Harriet, sitting with her, made sketches under the lamp to the
accompaniment of a steady hum of masculine voices from across the hall.
Not that she was ignored, of course. Max came in always, before he went,
and, leaning over the back of a chair, would inform her of the absolute
blankness of life in the hospital without her.

“I go every day because I must,” he would assure her gayly; “but, I tell
you, the snap is gone out of it. When there was a chance that every cap
was YOUR cap, the mere progress along a corridor became thrilling.” He
had a foreign trick of throwing out his hands, with a little shrug of
the shoulders. “Cui bono?” he said--which, being translated, means:
“What the devil’s the use!”

And K. would stand in the doorway, quietly smoking, or go back to his
room and lock away in his trunk the great German books on surgery with
which he and Max had been working out a case.

So K. sat by the dining-room table and listened to her talk of Max that
last evening together.

“I told Mrs. Rosenfeld to-day not to be too much discouraged about
Johnny. I had seen Dr. Max do such wonderful things. Now that you are
such friends,”--she eyed him wistfully,--“perhaps some day you will come
to one of his operations. Even if you didn’t understand exactly, I know
it would thrill you. And--I’d like you to see me in my uniform, K. You
never have.”

She grew a little sad as the evening went on. She was going to miss K.
very much. While she was ill she had watched the clock for the time to
listen for him. She knew the way he slammed the front door. Palmer never
slammed the door. She knew too that, just after a bang that threatened
the very glass in the transom, K. would come to the foot of the stairs
and call:--

“Ahoy, there!”

“Aye, aye,” she would answer--which was, he assured her, the proper
response.

Whether he came up the stairs at once or took his way back to Katie had
depended on whether his tribute for the day was fruit or sweetbreads.

Now that was all over. They were such good friends. He would miss her,
too; but he would have Harriet and Christine and--Max. Back in a circle
to Max, of course.

She insisted, that last evening, on sitting up with him until midnight
ushered in Christmas Day. Christine and Palmer were out; Harriet, having
presented Sidney with a blouse that had been left over in the shop from
the autumn’s business, had yawned herself to bed.

When the bells announced midnight, Sidney roused with a start. She
realized that neither of them had spoken, and that K.’s eyes were
fixed on her. The little clock on the shelf took up the burden of the
churches, and struck the hour in quick staccato notes.

Sidney rose and went over to K., her black dress in soft folds about
her.

“He is born, K.”

“He is born, dear.”

She stooped and kissed his cheek lightly.

Christmas Day dawned thick and white. Sidney left the little house at
six, with the street light still burning through a mist of falling snow.

The hospital wards and corridors were still lighted when she went on
duty at seven o’clock. She had been assigned to the men’s surgical ward,
and went there at once. She had not seen Carlotta Harrison since her
mother’s death; but she found her on duty in the surgical ward. For the
second time in four months, the two girls were working side by side.

Sidney’s recollection of her previous service under Carlotta made her
nervous. But the older girl greeted her pleasantly.

“We were all sorry to hear of your trouble,” she said. “I hope we shall
get on nicely.”

Sidney surveyed the ward, full to overflowing. At the far end two cots
had been placed.

“The ward is heavy, isn’t it?”

“Very. I’ve been almost mad at dressing hour. There are three of
us--you, myself, and a probationer.”

The first light of the Christmas morning was coming through the windows.
Carlotta put out the lights and turned in a business-like way to her
records.

“The probationer’s name is Wardwell,” she said. “Perhaps you’d better
help her with the breakfasts. If there’s any way to make a mistake, she
makes it.”

It was after eight when Sidney found Johnny Rosenfeld.

“You here in the ward, Johnny!” she said.

Suffering had refined the boy’s features. His dark, heavily fringed eyes
looked at her from a pale face. But he smiled up at her cheerfully.

“I was in a private room; but it cost thirty plunks a week, so I moved.
Why pay rent?”

Sidney had not seen him since his accident. She had wished to go, but K.
had urged against it. She was not strong, and she had already suffered
much. And now the work of the ward pressed hard. She had only a moment.
She stood beside him and stroked his hand.

“I’m sorry, Johnny.”

He pretended to think that her sympathy was for his fall from the estate
of a private patient to the free ward.

“Oh, I’m all right, Miss Sidney,” he said. “Mr. Howe is paying six
dollars a week for me. The difference between me and the other fellows
around here is that I get a napkin on my tray and they don’t.”

Before his determined cheerfulness Sidney choked.

“Six dollars a week for a napkin is going some. I wish you’d tell Mr.
Howe to give ma the six dollars. She’ll be needing it. I’m no bloated
aristocrat; I don’t have to have a napkin.”

“Have they told you what the trouble is?”

“Back’s broke. But don’t let that worry you. Dr. Max Wilson is going to
operate on me. I’ll be doing the tango yet.”

Sidney’s eyes shone. Of course, Max could do it. What a thing it was
to be able to take this life-in-death of Johnny Rosenfeld’s and make it
life again!

All sorts of men made up Sidney’s world: the derelicts who wandered
through the ward in flapping slippers, listlessly carrying trays; the
unshaven men in the beds, looking forward to another day of boredom, if
not of pain; Palmer Howe with his broken arm; K., tender and strong, but
filling no especial place in the world. Towering over them all was the
younger Wilson. He meant for her, that Christmas morning, all that the
other men were not--to their weakness strength, courage, daring, power.

Johnny Rosenfeld lay back on the pillows and watched her face.

“When I was a kid,” he said, “and ran along the Street, calling Dr. Max
a dude, I never thought I’d lie here watching that door to see him come
in. You have had trouble, too. Ain’t it the hell of a world, anyhow? It
ain’t much of a Christmas to you, either.”

Sidney fed him his morning beef tea, and, because her eyes filled up
with tears now and then at his helplessness, she was not so skillful as
she might have been. When one spoonful had gone down his neck, he smiled
up at her whimsically.

“Run for your life. The dam’s burst!” he said.

As much as was possible, the hospital rested on that Christmas Day. The
internes went about in fresh white ducks with sprays of mistletoe in
their buttonholes, doing few dressings. Over the upper floors, where the
kitchens were located, spread toward noon the insidious odor of roasting
turkeys. Every ward had its vase of holly. In the afternoon, services
were held in the chapel downstairs.

Wheel-chairs made their slow progress along corridors and down
elevators. Convalescents who were able to walk flapped along in carpet
slippers.

Gradually the chapel filled up. Outside the wide doors of the corridor
the wheel-chairs were arranged in a semicircle. Behind them, dressed for
the occasion, were the elevator-men, the orderlies, and Big John, who
drove the ambulance.

On one side of the aisle, near the front, sat the nurses in rows, in
crisp caps and fresh uniforms. On the other side had been reserved a
place for the staff. The internes stood back against the wall, ready to
run out between rejoicings, as it were--for a cigarette or an ambulance
call, as the case might be.

Over everything brooded the after-dinner peace of Christmas afternoon.

The nurses sang, and Sidney sang with them, her fresh young voice rising
above the rest. Yellow winter sunlight came through the stained-glass
windows and shone on her lovely flushed face, her smooth kerchief, her
cap, always just a little awry.

Dr. Max, lounging against the wall, across the chapel, found his eyes
straying toward her constantly. How she stood out from the others! What
a zest for living and for happiness she had!

The Episcopal clergyman read the Epistle:

“Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even
thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.”

That was Sidney. She was good, and she had been anointed with the oil of
gladness. And he--

His brother was singing. His deep bass voice, not always true, boomed
out above the sound of the small organ. Ed had been a good brother to
him; he had been a good son.

Max’s vagrant mind wandered away from the service to the picture of his
mother over his brother’s littered desk, to the Street, to K., to the
girl who had refused to marry him because she did not trust him, to
Carlotta last of all. He turned a little and ran his eyes along the line
of nurses.

Ah, there she was. As if she were conscious of his scrutiny, she lifted
her head and glanced toward him. Swift color flooded her face.

The nurses sang:--

     “O holy Child of Bethlehem!
      Descend to us, we pray;
      Cast out our sin, and enter in,
      Be born in us to-day.”

The wheel-chairs and convalescents quavered the familiar words. Dr. Ed’s
heavy throat shook with earnestness.

The Head, sitting a little apart with her hands folded in her lap and
weary with the suffering of the world, closed her eyes and listened.

The Christmas morning had brought Sidney half a dozen gifts. K. sent her
a silver thermometer case with her monogram, Christine a toilet mirror.
But the gift of gifts, over which Sidney’s eyes had glowed, was a
great box of roses marked in Dr. Max’s copper-plate writing, “From a
neighbor.”

Tucked in the soft folds of her kerchief was one of the roses that
afternoon.

Services over, the nurses filed out. Max was waiting for Sidney in the
corridor.

“Merry Christmas!” he said, and held out his hand.

“Merry Christmas!” she said. “You see!”--she glanced down to the rose
she wore. “The others make the most splendid bit of color in the ward.”

“But they were for you!”

“They are not any the less mine because I am letting other people have a
chance to enjoy them.”

Under all his gayety he was curiously diffident with her. All the pretty
speeches he would have made to Carlotta under the circumstances died
before her frank glance.

There were many things he wanted to say to her. He wanted to tell her
that he was sorry her mother had died; that the Street was empty without
her; that he looked forward to these daily meetings with her as a holy
man to his hour before his saint. What he really said was to inquire
politely whether she had had her Christmas dinner.

Sidney eyed him, half amused, half hurt.

“What have I done, Max? Is it bad for discipline for us to be good
friends?”

“Damn discipline!” said the pride of the staff.

Carlotta was watching them from the chapel. Something in her eyes roused
the devil of mischief that always slumbered in him.

“My car’s been stalled in a snowdrift downtown since early this morning,
and I have Ed’s Peggy in a sleigh. Put on your things and come for a
ride.”

He hoped Carlotta could hear what he said; to be certain of it, he
maliciously raised his voice a trifle.

“Just a little run,” he urged. “Put on your warmest things.”

Sidney protested. She was to be free that afternoon until six o’clock;
but she had promised to go home.

“K. is alone.”

“K. can sit with Christine. Ten to one, he’s with her now.”

The temptation was very strong. She had been working hard all day. The
heavy odor of the hospital, mingled with the scent of pine and evergreen
in the chapel; made her dizzy. The fresh outdoors called her. And,
besides, if K. were with Christine--

“It’s forbidden, isn’t it?”

“I believe it is.” He smiled at her.

“And yet, you continue to tempt me and expect me to yield!”

“One of the most delightful things about temptation is yielding now and
then.”

After all, the situation seemed absurd. Here was her old friend and
neighbor asking to take her out for a daylight ride. The swift rebellion
of youth against authority surged up in Sidney.

“Very well; I’ll go.”

Carlotta had gone by that time--gone with hate in her heart and black
despair. She knew very well what the issue would be. Sidney would drive
with him, and he would tell her how lovely she looked with the air on
her face and the snow about her. The jerky motion of the little sleigh
would throw them close together. How well she knew it all! He would
touch Sidney’s hand daringly and smile in her eyes. That was his method:
to play at love-making like an audacious boy, until quite suddenly the
cloak dropped and the danger was there.

The Christmas excitement had not died out in the ward when Carlotta went
back to it. On each bedside table was an orange, and beside it a pair
of woolen gloves and a folded white handkerchief. There were sprays of
holly scattered about, too, and the after-dinner content of roast turkey
and ice-cream.

The lame girl who played the violin limped down the corridor into the
ward. She was greeted with silence, that truest tribute, and with the
instant composing of the restless ward to peace.

She was pretty in a young, pathetic way, and because to her Christmas
was a festival and meant hope and the promise of the young Lord, she
played cheerful things.

The ward sat up, remembered that it was not the Sabbath, smiled across
from bed to bed.

The probationer, whose name was Wardwell, was a tall, lean girl with a
long, pointed nose. She kept up a running accompaniment of small talk to
the music.

“Last Christmas,” she said plaintively, “we went out into the country
in a hay-wagon and had a real time. I don’t know what I am here for,
anyhow. I am a fool.”

“Undoubtedly,” said Carlotta.

“Turkey and goose, mince pie and pumpkin pie, four kinds of cake; that’s
the sort of spread we have up in our part of the world. When I think of
what I sat down to to-day--!”

She had a profound respect for Carlotta, and her motto in the hospital
differed from Sidney’s in that it was to placate her superiors, while
Sidney’s had been to care for her patients.

Seeing Carlotta bored, she ventured a little gossip. She had idly
glued the label of a medicine bottle on the back of her hand, and was
scratching a skull and cross-bones on it.

“I wonder if you have noticed something,” she said, eyes on the label.

“I have noticed that the three-o’clock medicines are not given,” said
Carlotta sharply; and Miss Wardwell, still labeled and adorned, made the
rounds of the ward.

When she came back she was sulky.

“I’m no gossip,” she said, putting the tray on the table. “If you won’t
see, you won’t. That Rosenfeld boy is crying.”

As it was not required that tears be recorded on the record, Carlotta
paid no attention to this.

“What won’t I see?”

It required a little urging now. Miss Wardwell swelled with importance
and let her superior ask her twice. Then:--

“Dr. Wilson’s crazy about Miss Page.”

A hand seemed to catch Carlotta’s heart and hold it.

“They’re old friends.”

“Piffle! Being an old friend doesn’t make you look at a girl as if you
wanted to take a bite out of her. Mark my word, Miss Harrison, she’ll
never finish her training; she’ll marry him. I wish,” concluded the
probationer plaintively, “that some good-looking fellow like that would
take a fancy to me. I’d do him credit. I am as ugly as a mud fence, but
I’ve got style.”

She was right, probably. She was long and sinuous, but she wore her
lanky, ill-fitting clothes with a certain distinction. Harriet Kennedy
would have dressed her in jade green to match her eyes, and with long
jade earrings, and made her a fashion.

Carlotta’s lips were dry. The violinist had seen the tears on Johnny
Rosenfeld’s white cheeks, and had rushed into rollicking, joyous music.
The ward echoed with it. “I’m twenty-one and she’s eighteen,” hummed the
ward under its breath. Miss Wardwell’s thin body swayed.

“Lord, how I’d like to dance! If I ever get out of this charnel-house!”

The medicine-tray lay at Carlotta’s elbow; beside it the box of labels.
This crude girl was right--right. Carlotta knew it down to the depths of
her tortured brain. As inevitably as the night followed the day, she was
losing her game. She had lost already, unless--

If she could get Sidney out of the hospital, it would simplify things.
She surmised shrewdly that on the Street their interests were wide
apart. It was here that they met on common ground.

The lame violin-player limped out of the ward; the shadows of the
early winter twilight settled down. At five o’clock Carlotta sent Miss
Wardwell to first supper, to the surprise of that seldom surprised
person. The ward lay still or shuffled abut quietly. Christmas was over,
and there were no evening papers to look forward to.

Carlotta gave the five-o’clock medicines. Then she sat down at the table
near the door, with the tray in front of her. There are certain thoughts
that are at first functions of the brain; after a long time the spinal
cord takes them up and converts them into acts almost automatically.
Perhaps because for the last month she had done the thing so often in
her mind, its actual performance was almost without conscious thought.

Carlotta took a bottle from her medicine cupboard, and, writing a new
label for it, pasted it over the old one. Then she exchanged it for one
of the same size on the medicine tray.

In the dining-room, at the probationers’ table, Miss Wardwell was
talking.

“Believe me,” she said, “me for the country and the simple life after
this. They think I’m only a probationer and don’t see anything, but I’ve
got eyes in my head. Harrison is stark crazy over Dr. Wilson, and she
thinks I don’t see it. But never mind; I paid, her up to-day for a few
of the jolts she has given me.”

Throughout the dining-room busy and competent young women came and ate,
hastily or leisurely as their opportunity was, and went on their way
again. In their hands they held the keys, not always of life and death
perhaps, but of ease from pain, of tenderness, of smooth pillows, and
cups of water to thirsty lips. In their eyes, as in Sidney’s, burned the
light of service.

But here and there one found women, like Carlotta and Miss Wardwell,
who had mistaken their vocation, who railed against the monotony of the
life, its limitations, its endless sacrifices. They showed it in their
eyes.

Fifty or so against two--fifty who looked out on the world with the
fearless glance of those who have seen life to its depths, and, with the
broad understanding of actual contact, still found it good. Fifty who
were learning or had learned not to draw aside their clean starched
skirts from the drab of the streets. And the fifty, who found the very
scum of the gutters not too filthy for tenderness and care, let Carlotta
and, in lesser measure, the new probationer alone. They could not have
voiced their reasons.

The supper-room was filled with their soft voices, the rustle of their
skirts, the gleam of their stiff white caps.

When Carlotta came in, she greeted none of them. They did not like her,
and she knew it.

Before her, instead of the tidy supper-table, she was seeing the
medicine-tray as she had left it.

“I guess I’ve fixed her,” she said to herself.

Her very soul was sick with fear of what she had done.



CHAPTER XVIII


K. saw Sidney for only a moment on Christmas Day. This was when the gay
little sleigh had stopped in front of the house.

Sidney had hurried radiantly in for a moment. Christine’s parlor was
gay with firelight and noisy with chatter and with the clatter of her
tea-cups.

K., lounging indolently in front of the fire, had turned to see Sidney
in the doorway, and leaped to his feet.

“I can’t come in,” she cried. “I am only here for a moment. I am out
sleigh-riding with Dr. Wilson. It’s perfectly delightful.”

“Ask him in for a cup of tea,” Christine called out. “Here’s Aunt
Harriet and mother and even Palmer!”

Christine had aged during the last weeks, but she was putting up a brave
front.

“I’ll ask him.”

Sidney ran to the front door and called: “Will you come in for a cup of
tea?”

“Tea! Good Heavens, no. Hurry.”

As Sidney turned back into the house, she met Palmer. He had come out
in the hall, and had closed the door into the parlor behind him. His arm
was still in splints, and swung suspended in a gay silk sling.

The sound of laughter came through the door faintly.

“How is he to-day?” He meant Johnny, of course. The boy’s face was
always with him.

“Better in some ways, but of course--”

“When are they going to operate?”

“When he is a little stronger. Why don’t you come into see him?”

“I can’t. That’s the truth. I can’t face the poor youngster.”

“He doesn’t seem to blame you; he says it’s all in the game.”

“Sidney, does Christine know that I was not alone that night?”

“If she guesses, it is not because of anything the boy has said. He has
told nothing.”

Out of the firelight, away from the chatter and the laughter, Palmer’s
face showed worn and haggard. He put his free hand on Sidney’s shoulder.

“I was thinking that perhaps if I went away--”

“That would be cowardly, wouldn’t it?”

“If Christine would only say something and get it over with! She doesn’t
sulk; I think she’s really trying to be kind. But she hates me, Sidney.
She turns pale every time I touch her hand.”

All the light had died out of Sidney’s face. Life was terrible, after
all--overwhelming. One did wrong things, and other people suffered; or
one was good, as her mother had been, and was left lonely, a widow, or
like Aunt Harriet. Life was a sham, too. Things were so different from
what they seemed to be: Christine beyond the door, pouring tea and
laughing with her heart in ashes; Palmer beside her, faultlessly dressed
and wretched. The only one she thought really contented was K. He seemed
to move so calmly in his little orbit. He was always so steady, so
balanced. If life held no heights for him, at least it held no depths.

So Sidney thought, in her ignorance!

“There’s only one thing, Palmer,” she said gravely. “Johnny Rosenfeld
is going to have his chance. If anybody in the world can save him, Max
Wilson can.”

The light of that speech was in her eyes when she went out to the sleigh
again. K. followed her out and tucked the robes in carefully about her.

“Warm enough?”

“All right, thank you.”

“Don’t go too far. Is there any chance of having you home for supper?”

“I think not. I am to go on duty at six again.”

If there was a shadow in K.’s eyes, she did not see it. He waved them
off smilingly from the pavement, and went rather heavily back into the
house.

“Just how many men are in love with you, Sidney?” asked Max, as Peggy
started up the Street.

“No one that I know of, unless--”

“Exactly. Unless--”

“What I meant,” she said with dignity, “is that unless one counts very
young men, and that isn’t really love.”

“We’ll leave out Joe Drummond and myself--for, of course, I am very
young. Who is in love with you besides Le Moyne? Any of the internes at
the hospital?”

“Me! Le Moyne is not in love with me.”

There was such sincerity in her voice that Wilson was relieved.

K., older than himself and more grave, had always had an odd attraction
for women. He had been frankly bored by them, but the fact had remained.
And Max more than suspected that now, at last, he had been caught.

“Don’t you really mean that you are in love with Le Moyne?”

“Please don’t be absurd. I am not in love with anybody; I haven’t time
to be in love. I have my profession now.”

“Bah! A woman’s real profession is love.”

Sidney differed from this hotly. So warm did the argument become that
they passed without seeing a middle-aged gentleman, short and rather
heavy set, struggling through a snowdrift on foot, and carrying in his
hand a dilapidated leather bag.

Dr. Ed hailed them. But the cutter slipped by and left him knee-deep,
looking ruefully after them.

“The young scamp!” he said. “So that’s where Peggy is!”

Nevertheless, there was no anger in Dr. Ed’s mind, only a vague and
inarticulate regret. These things that came so easily to Max, the
affection of women, gay little irresponsibilities like the stealing
of Peggy and the sleigh, had never been his. If there was any faint
resentment, it was at himself. He had raised the boy wrong--he had
taught him to be selfish. Holding the bag high out of the drifts, he
made his slow progress up the Street.

At something after two o’clock that night, K. put down his pipe
and listened. He had not been able to sleep since midnight. In his
dressing-gown he had sat by the small fire, thinking. The content of his
first few months on the Street was rapidly giving way to unrest. He
who had meant to cut himself off from life found himself again in close
touch with it; his eddy was deep with it.

For the first time, he had begun to question the wisdom of what he had
done. Had it been cowardice, after all? It had taken courage, God knew,
to give up everything and come away. In a way, it would have taken more
courage to have stayed. Had he been right or wrong?

And there was a new element. He had thought, at first, that he could
fight down this love for Sidney. But it was increasingly hard. The
innocent touch of her hand on his arm, the moment when he had held her
in his arms after her mother’s death, the thousand small contacts of her
returns to the little house--all these set his blood on fire. And it was
fighting blood.

Under his quiet exterior K. fought many conflicts those winter
days--over his desk and ledger at the office, in his room alone,
with Harriet planning fresh triumphs beyond the partition, even by
Christine’s fire, with Christine just across, sitting in silence and
watching his grave profile and steady eyes.

He had a little picture of Sidney--a snap-shot that he had taken
himself. It showed Sidney minus a hand, which had been out of range when
the camera had been snapped, and standing on a steep declivity
which would have been quite a level had he held the camera straight.
Nevertheless it was Sidney, her hair blowing about her, eyes looking
out, tender lips smiling. When she was not at home, it sat on K.’s
dresser, propped against his collar-box. When she was in the house, it
lay under the pin-cushion.

Two o’clock in the morning, then, and K. in his dressing-gown, with the
picture propped, not against the collar-box, but against his lamp, where
he could see it.

He sat forward in his chair, his hands folded around his knee, and
looked at it. He was trying to picture the Sidney of the photograph
in his old life--trying to find a place for her. But it was difficult.
There had been few women in his old life. His mother had died many years
before. There had been women who had cared for him, but he put them
impatiently out of his mind.

Then the bell rang.

Christine was moving about below. He could hear her quick steps. Almost
before he had heaved his long legs out of the chair, she was tapping at
his door outside.

“It’s Mrs. Rosenfeld. She says she wants to see you.”

He went down the stairs. Mrs. Rosenfeld was standing in the lower hall,
a shawl about her shoulders. Her face was white and drawn above it.

“I’ve had word to go to the hospital,” she said. “I thought maybe you’d
go with me. It seems as if I can’t stand it alone. Oh, Johnny, Johnny!”

“Where’s Palmer?” K. demanded of Christine.

“He’s not in yet.”

“Are you afraid to stay in the house alone?”

“No; please go.”

He ran up the staircase to his room and flung on some clothing. In the
lower hall, Mrs. Rosenfeld’s sobs had become low moans; Christine stood
helplessly over her.

“I am terribly sorry,” she said--“terribly sorry! When I think whose
fault all this is!”

Mrs. Rosenfeld put out a work-hardened hand and caught Christine’s
fingers.

“Never mind that,” she said. “You didn’t do it. I guess you and I
understand each other. Only pray God you never have a child.”

K. never forgot the scene in the small emergency ward to which Johnny
had been taken. Under the white lights his boyish figure looked
strangely long. There was a group around the bed--Max Wilson, two or
three internes, the night nurse on duty, and the Head.

Sitting just inside the door on a straight chair was Sidney--such a
Sidney as he never had seen before, her face colorless, her eyes wide
and unseeing, her hands clenched in her lap. When he stood beside her,
she did not move or look up. The group around the bed had parted to
admit Mrs. Rosenfeld, and closed again. Only Sidney and K. remained by
the door, isolated, alone.

“You must not take it like that, dear. It’s sad, of course. But, after
all, in that condition--”

It was her first knowledge that he was there. But she did not turn.

“They say I poisoned him.” Her voice was dreary, inflectionless.

“You--what?”

“They say I gave him the wrong medicine; that he’s dying; that I
murdered him.” She shivered.

K. touched her hands. They were ice-cold.

“Tell me about it.”

“There is nothing to tell. I came on duty at six o’clock and gave the
medicines. When the night nurse came on at seven, everything was all
right. The medicine-tray was just as it should be. Johnny was asleep. I
went to say good-night to him and he--he was asleep. I didn’t give him
anything but what was on the tray,” she finished piteously. “I looked at
the label; I always look.”

By a shifting of the group around the bed, K.’s eyes looked for a moment
directly into Carlotta’s. Just for a moment; then the crowd closed up
again. It was well for Carlotta that it did. She looked as if she had
seen a ghost--closed her eyes, even reeled.

“Miss Harrison is worn out,” Dr. Wilson said brusquely. “Get some one to
take her place.”

But Carlotta rallied. After all, the presence of this man in this room
at such a time meant nothing. He was Sidney’s friend, that was all.

But her nerve was shaken. The thing had gone beyond her. She had not
meant to kill. It was the boy’s weakened condition that was turning her
revenge into tragedy.

“I am all right,” she pleaded across the bed to the Head. “Let me stay,
please. He’s from my ward. I--I am responsible.”

Wilson was at his wits’ end. He had done everything he knew without
result. The boy, rousing for an instant, would lapse again into stupor.
With a healthy man they could have tried more vigorous measures--could
have forced him to his feet and walked him about, could have beaten him
with knotted towels dipped in ice-water. But the wrecked body on the bed
could stand no such heroic treatment.

It was Le Moyne, after all, who saved Johnny Rosenfeld’s life. For, when
staff and nurses had exhausted all their resources, he stepped forward
with a quiet word that brought the internes to their feet astonished.

There was a new treatment for such cases--it had been tried abroad. He
looked at Max.

Max had never heard of it. He threw out his hands.

“Try it, for Heaven’s sake,” he said. “I’m all in.”

The apparatus was not in the house--must be extemporized, indeed, at
last, of odds and ends from the operating-room. K. did the work, his
long fingers deft and skillful--while Mrs. Rosenfeld knelt by the bed
with her face buried; while Sidney sat, dazed and bewildered, on her
little chair inside the door; while night nurses tiptoed along the
corridor, and the night watchman stared incredulous from outside the
door.

When the two great rectangles that were the emergency ward windows
had turned from mirrors reflecting the room to gray rectangles in the
morning light; Johnny Rosenfeld opened his eyes and spoke the first
words that marked his return from the dark valley.

“Gee, this is the life!” he said, and smiled into K.’s watchful face.

When it was clear that the boy would live, K. rose stiffly from the
bedside and went over to Sidney’s chair.

“He’s all right now,” he said--“as all right as he can be, poor lad!”

“You did it--you! How strange that you should know such a thing. How am
I to thank you?”

The internes, talking among themselves, had wandered down to their
dining-room for early coffee. Wilson was giving a few last instructions
as to the boy’s care. Quite unexpectedly, Sidney caught K.’s hand and
held it to her lips. The iron repression of the night, of months indeed,
fell away before her simple caress.

“My dear, my dear,” he said huskily. “Anything that I can do--for
you--at any time--”

It was after Sidney had crept like a broken thing to her room that
Carlotta Harrison and K. came face to face. Johnny was quite conscious
by that time, a little blue around the lips, but valiantly cheerful.

“More things can happen to a fellow than I ever knew there was!” he
said to his mother, and submitted rather sheepishly to her tears and
caresses.

“You were always a good boy, Johnny,” she said. “Just you get well
enough to come home. I’ll take care of you the rest of my life. We will
get you a wheel-chair when you can be about, and I can take you out in
the park when I come from work.”

“I’ll be passenger and you’ll be chauffeur, ma.”

“Mr. Le Moyne is going to get your father sent up again. With sixty-five
cents a day and what I make, we’ll get along.”

“You bet we will!”

“Oh, Johnny, if I could see you coming in the door again and yelling
‘mother’ and ‘supper’ in one breath!”

The meeting between Carlotta and Le Moyne was very quiet. She had been
making a sort of subconscious impression on the retina of his mind
during all the night. It would be difficult to tell when he actually
knew her.

When the preparations for moving Johnny back to the big ward had been
made, the other nurses left the room, and Carlotta and the boy were
together. K. stopped her on her way to the door.

“Miss Harrison!”

“Yes, Dr. Edwardes.”

“I am not Dr. Edwardes here; my name is Le Moyne.”

“Ah!”

“I have not seen you since you left St. John’s.”

“No; I--I rested for a few months.”

“I suppose they do not know that you were--that you have had any
previous hospital experience.”

“No. Are you going to tell them?”

“I shall not tell them, of course.”

And thus, by simple mutual consent, it was arranged that each should
respect the other’s confidence.

Carlotta staggered to her room. There had been a time, just before dawn,
when she had had one of those swift revelations that sometimes come at
the end of a long night. She had seen herself as she was. The boy was
very low, hardly breathing. Her past stretched behind her, a series of
small revenges and passionate outbursts, swift yieldings, slow remorse.
She dared not look ahead. She would have given every hope she had in the
world, just then, for Sidney’s stainless past.

She hated herself with that deadliest loathing that comes of complete
self-revelation.

And she carried to her room the knowledge that the night’s struggle had
been in vain--that, although Johnny Rosenfeld would live, she had gained
nothing by what he had suffered. The whole night had shown her the
hopelessness of any stratagem to win Wilson from his new allegiance. She
had surprised him in the hallway, watching Sidney’s slender figure
as she made her way up the stairs to her room. Never, in all his past
overtures to her, had she seen that look in his eyes.



CHAPTER XIX


To Harriet Kennedy, Sidney’s sentence of thirty days’ suspension came
as a blow. K. broke the news to her that evening before the time for
Sidney’s arrival.

The little household was sharing in Harriet’s prosperity. Katie had
a helper now, a little Austrian girl named Mimi. And Harriet had
established on the Street the innovation of after-dinner coffee. It was
over the after-dinner coffee that K. made his announcement.

“What do you mean by saying she is coming home for thirty days? Is the
child ill?”

“Not ill, although she is not quite well. The fact is, Harriet,”--for
it was “Harriet” and “K.” by this time,--“there has been a sort of
semi-accident up at the hospital. It hasn’t resulted seriously, but--”

Harriet put down the apostle-spoon in her hand and stared across at him.

“Then she has been suspended? What did she do? I don’t believe she did
anything!”

“There was a mistake about the medicine, and she was blamed; that’s
all.”

“She’d better come home and stay home,” said Harriet shortly. “I hope it
doesn’t get in the papers. This dressmaking business is a funny sort of
thing. One word against you or any of your family, and the crowd’s off
somewhere else.”

“There’s nothing against Sidney,” K. reminded her. “Nothing in the
world. I saw the superintendent myself this afternoon. It seems it’s a
mere matter of discipline. Somebody made a mistake, and they cannot let
such a thing go by. But he believes, as I do, that it was not Sidney.”

However Harriet had hardened herself against the girl’s arrival, all she
had meant to say fled when she saw Sidney’s circled eyes and pathetic
mouth.

“You child!” she said. “You poor little girl!” And took her corseted
bosom.

For the time at least, Sidney’s world had gone to pieces about her. All
her brave vaunt of service faded before her disgrace.

When Christine would have seen her, she kept her door locked and asked
for just that one evening alone. But after Harriet had retired, and
Mimi, the Austrian, had crept out to the corner to mail a letter back to
Gratz, Sidney unbolted her door and listened in the little upper hall.
Harriet, her head in a towel, her face carefully cold-creamed, had gone
to bed; but K.’s light, as usual, was shining over the transom. Sidney
tiptoed to the door.

“K.!”

Almost immediately he opened the door.

“May I come in and talk to you?”

He turned and took a quick survey of the room. The picture was against
the collar-box. But he took the risk and held the door wide.

Sidney came in and sat down by the fire. By being adroit he managed to
slip the little picture over and under the box before she saw it. It is
doubtful if she would have realized its significance, had she seen it.

“I’ve been thinking things over,” she said. “It seems to me I’d better
not go back.”

He had left the door carefully open. Men are always more conventional
than women.

“That would be foolish, wouldn’t it, when you have done so well? And,
besides, since you are not guilty, Sidney--”

“I didn’t do it!” she cried passionately. “I know I didn’t. But I’ve
lost faith in myself. I can’t keep on; that’s all there is to it. All
last night, in the emergency ward, I felt it going. I clutched at it. I
kept saying to myself: ‘You didn’t do it, you didn’t do it’; and all the
time something inside of me was saying, ‘Not now, perhaps; but sometime
you may.’”

Poor K., who had reasoned all this out for himself and had come to the
same impasse!

“To go on like this, feeling that one has life and death in one’s hand,
and then perhaps some day to make a mistake like that!” She looked up at
him forlornly. “I am just not brave enough, K.”

“Wouldn’t it be braver to keep on? Aren’t you giving up very easily?”

Her world was in pieces about her, and she felt alone in a wide and
empty place. And, because her nerves were drawn taut until they were
ready to snap, Sidney turned on him shrewishly.

“I think you are all afraid I will come back to stay. Nobody really
wants me anywhere--in all the world! Not at the hospital, not here, not
anyplace. I am no use.”

“When you say that nobody wants you,” said K., not very steadily, “I--I
think you are making a mistake.”

“Who?” she demanded. “Christine? Aunt Harriet? Katie? The only person
who ever really wanted me was my mother, and I went away and left her!”

She scanned his face closely, and, reading there something she did not
understand, she colored suddenly.

“I believe you mean Joe Drummond.”

“No; I do not mean Joe Drummond.”

If he had found any encouragement in her face, he would have gone on
recklessly; but her blank eyes warned him.

“If you mean Max Wilson,” said Sidney, “you are entirely wrong. He’s not
in love with me--not, that is, any more than he is in love with a
dozen girls. He likes to be with me--oh, I know that; but that doesn’t
mean--anything else. Anyhow, after this disgrace--”

“There is no disgrace, child.”

“He’ll think me careless, at the least. And his ideals are so high, K.”

“You say he likes to be with you. What about you?”

Sidney had been sitting in a low chair by the fire. She rose with a
sudden passionate movement. In the informality of the household, she,
had visited K. in her dressing-gown and slippers; and now she stood
before him, a tragic young figure, clutching the folds of her gown
across her breast.

“I worship him, K.,” she said tragically. “When I see him coming, I want
to get down and let him walk on me. I know his step in the hall. I
know the very way he rings for the elevator. When I see him in the
operating-room, cool and calm while every one else is flustered and
excited, he--he looks like a god.”

Then, half ashamed of her outburst, she turned her back to him and stood
gazing at the small coal fire. It was as well for K. that she did not
see his face. For that one moment the despair that was in him shone in
his eyes. He glanced around the shabby little room, at the sagging bed,
the collar-box, the pincushion, the old marble-topped bureau under which
Reginald had formerly made his nest, at his untidy table, littered with
pipes and books, at the image in the mirror of his own tall figure,
stooped and weary.

“It’s real, all this?” he asked after a pause. “You’re sure it’s not
just--glamour, Sidney?”

“It’s real--terribly real.” Her voice was muffled, and he knew then that
she was crying.

She was mightily ashamed of it. Tears, of course, except in the privacy
of one’s closet, were not ethical on the Street.

“Perhaps he cares very much, too.”

“Give me a handkerchief,” said Sidney in a muffled tone, and the little
scene was broken into while K. searched through a bureau drawer. Then:

“It’s all over, anyhow, since this. If he’d really cared he’d have come
over to-night. When one is in trouble one needs friends.”

Back in a circle she came inevitably to her suspension. She would never
go back, she said passionately. She was innocent, had been falsely
accused. If they could think such a thing about her, she didn’t want to
be in their old hospital.

K. questioned her, alternately soothing and probing.

“You are positive about it?”

“Absolutely. I have given him his medicines dozens of times.”

“You looked at the label?”

“I swear I did, K.”

“Who else had access to the medicine closet?”

“Carlotta Harrison carried the keys, of course. I was off duty from four
to six. When Carlotta left the ward, the probationer would have them.”

“Have you reason to think that either one of these girls would wish you
harm?”

“None whatever,” began Sidney vehemently; and then, checking
herself,--“unless--but that’s rather ridiculous.”

“What is ridiculous?”

“I’ve sometimes thought that Carlotta--but I am sure she is perfectly
fair with me. Even if she--if she--”

“Yes?”

“Even if she likes Dr. Wilson, I don’t believe--Why, K., she wouldn’t!
It would be murder.”

“Murder, of course,” said K., “in intention, anyhow. Of course she
didn’t do it. I’m only trying to find out whose mistake it was.”

Soon after that she said good-night and went out. She turned in the
doorway and smiled tremulously back at him.

“You have done me a lot of good. You almost make me believe in myself.”

“That’s because I believe in you.”

With a quick movement that was one of her charms, Sidney suddenly closed
the door and slipped back into the room. K., hearing the door close,
thought she had gone, and dropped heavily into a chair.

“My best friend in all the world!” said Sidney suddenly from behind him,
and, bending over, she kissed him on the cheek.

The next instant the door had closed behind her, and K. was left alone
to such wretchedness and bliss as the evening had brought him.

On toward morning, Harriet, who slept but restlessly in her towel,
wakened to the glare of his light over the transom.

“K.!” she called pettishly from her door. “I wish you wouldn’t go to
sleep and let your light burn!”

K., surmising the towel and cold cream, had the tact not to open his
door.

“I am not asleep, Harriet, and I am sorry about the light. It’s going
out now.”

Before he extinguished the light, he walked over to the old dresser and
surveyed himself in the glass. Two nights without sleep and much anxiety
had told on him. He looked old, haggard; infinitely tired. Mentally he
compared himself with Wilson, flushed with success, erect, triumphant,
almost insolent. Nothing had more certainly told him the hopelessness
of his love for Sidney than her good-night kiss. He was her brother, her
friend. He would never be her lover. He drew a long breath and proceeded
to undress in the dark.

Joe Drummond came to see Sidney the next day. She would have avoided
him if she could, but Mimi had ushered him up to the sewing-room boudoir
before she had time to escape. She had not seen the boy for two months,
and the change in him startled her. He was thinner, rather hectic,
scrupulously well dressed.

“Why, Joe!” she said, and then: “Won’t you sit down?”

He was still rather theatrical. He dramatized himself, as he had that
night the June before when he had asked Sidney to marry him. He stood
just inside the doorway. He offered no conventional greeting whatever;
but, after surveying her briefly, her black gown, the lines around her
eyes:--

“You’re not going back to that place, of course?”

“I--I haven’t decided.”

“Then somebody’s got to decide for you. The thing for you to do is to
stay right here, Sidney. People know you on the Street. Nobody here
would ever accuse you of trying to murder anybody.”

In spite of herself, Sidney smiled a little.

“Nobody thinks I tried to murder him. It was a mistake about the
medicines. I didn’t do it, Joe.”

His love was purely selfish, for he brushed aside her protest as if she
had not spoken.

“You give me the word and I’ll go and get your things; I’ve got a car of
my own now.”

“But, Joe, they have only done what they thought was right. Whoever made
it, there was a mistake.”

He stared at her incredulously.

“You don’t mean that you are going to stand for this sort of thing?
Every time some fool makes a mistake, are they going to blame it on
you?”

“Please don’t be theatrical. Come in and sit down. I can’t talk to you
if you explode like a rocket all the time.”

Her matter-of-fact tone had its effect. He advanced into the room, but
he still scorned a chair.

“I guess you’ve been wondering why you haven’t heard from me,” he said.
“I’ve seen you more than you’ve seen me.”

Sidney looked uneasy. The idea of espionage is always repugnant, and
to have a rejected lover always in the offing, as it were, was
disconcerting.

“I wish you would be just a little bit sensible, Joe. It’s so silly of
you, really. It’s not because you care for me; it’s really because you
care for yourself.”

“You can’t look at me and say that, Sid.”

He ran his finger around his collar--an old gesture; but the collar was
very loose. He was thin; his neck showed it.

“I’m just eating my heart out for you, and that’s the truth. And it
isn’t only that. Everywhere I go, people say, ‘There’s the fellow Sidney
Page turned down when she went to the hospital.’ I’ve got so I keep off
the Street as much as I can.”

Sidney was half alarmed, half irritated. This wild, excited boy was not
the doggedly faithful youth she had always known. It seemed to her
that he was hardly sane--that underneath his quiet manner and carefully
repressed voice there lurked something irrational, something she could
not cope with. She looked up at him helplessly.

“But what do you want me to do? You--you almost frighten me. If you’d
only sit down--”

“I want you to come home. I’m not asking anything else now. I just want
you to come back, so that things will be the way they used to be. Now
that they have turned you out--”

“They’ve done nothing of the sort. I’ve told you that.”

“You’re going back?”

“Absolutely.”

“Because you love the hospital, or because you love somebody connected
with the hospital?”

Sidney was thoroughly angry by this time, angry and reckless. She had
come through so much that every nerve was crying in passionate protest.

“If it will make you understand things any better,” she cried, “I am
going back for both reasons!”

She was sorry the next moment. But her words seemed, surprisingly
enough, to steady him. For the first time, he sat down.

“Then, as far as I am concerned, it’s all over, is it?”

“Yes, Joe. I told you that long ago.”

He seemed hardly to be listening. His thoughts had ranged far ahead.
Suddenly:--

“You think Christine has her hands full with Palmer, don’t you? Well,
if you take Max Wilson, you’re going to have more trouble than Christine
ever dreamed of. I can tell you some things about him now that will make
you think twice.”

But Sidney had reached her limit. She went over and flung open the door.

“Every word that you say shows me how right I am in not marrying you,
Joe,” she said. “Real men do not say those things about each other under
any circumstances. You’re behaving like a bad boy. I don’t want you to
come back until you have grown up.”

He was very white, but he picked up his hat and went to the door.

“I guess I AM crazy,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to go away, but mother
raises such a fuss--I’ll not annoy you any more.”

He reached in his pocket and, pulling out a small box, held it toward
her. The lid was punched full of holes.

“Reginald,” he said solemnly. “I’ve had him all winter. Some boys caught
him in the park, and I brought him home.”

He left her standing there speechless with surprise, with the box in her
hand, and ran down the stairs and out into the Street. At the foot of
the steps he almost collided with Dr. Ed.

“Back to see Sidney?” said Dr. Ed genially. “That’s fine, Joe. I’m glad
you’ve made it up.”

The boy went blindly down the Street.



CHAPTER XX


Winter relaxed its clutch slowly that year. March was bitterly cold;
even April found the roads still frozen and the hedgerows clustered with
ice. But at mid-day there was spring in the air. In the courtyard of the
hospital, convalescents sat on the benches and watched for robins. The
fountain, which had frozen out, was being repaired. Here and there on
ward window-sills tulips opened their gaudy petals to the sun.

Harriet had gone abroad for a flying trip in March and came back laden
with new ideas, model gowns, and fresh enthusiasm. She carried out and
planted flowers on her sister’s grave, and went back to her work with a
feeling of duty done. A combination of crocuses and snow on the ground
had given her an inspiration for a gown. She drew it in pencil on an
envelope on her way back in the street car.

Grace Irving, having made good during the white sales, had been sent to
the spring cottons. She began to walk with her head higher. The day she
sold Sidney material for a simple white gown, she was very happy. Once
a customer brought her a bunch of primroses. All day she kept them under
the counter in a glass of water, and at evening she took them to Johnny
Rosenfeld, still lying prone in the hospital.

On Sidney, on K., and on Christine the winter had left its mark heavily.
Christine, readjusting her life to new conditions, was graver, more
thoughtful. She was alone most of the time now. Under K.’s guidance, she
had given up the “Duchess” and was reading real books. She was thinking
real thoughts, too, for the first time in her life.

Sidney, as tender as ever, had lost a little of the radiance from her
eyes; her voice had deepened. Where she had been a pretty girl, she
was now lovely. She was back in the hospital again, this time in the
children’s ward. K., going in one day to take Johnny Rosenfeld a basket
of fruit, saw her there with a child in her arms, and a light in her
eyes that he had never seen before. It hurt him, rather--things being as
they were with him. When he came out he looked straight ahead.

With the opening of spring the little house at Hillfoot took on fresh
activities. Tillie was house-cleaning with great thoroughness. She
scrubbed carpets, took down the clean curtains, and put them up again
freshly starched. It was as if she found in sheer activity and fatigue a
remedy for her uneasiness.

Business had not been very good. The impeccable character of the little
house had been against it. True, Mr. Schwitter had a little bar and
served the best liquors he could buy; but he discouraged rowdiness--had
been known to refuse to sell to boys under twenty-one and to men who had
already overindulged. The word went about that Schwitter’s was no place
for a good time. Even Tillie’s chicken and waffles failed against this
handicap.

By the middle of April the house-cleaning was done. One or two motor
parties had come out, dined sedately and wined moderately, and had gone
back to the city again. The next two weeks saw the weather clear. The
roads dried up, robins filled the trees with their noisy spring songs,
and still business continued dull.

By the first day of May, Tillie’s uneasiness had become certainty. On
that morning Mr. Schwitter, coming in from the early milking, found her
sitting in the kitchen, her face buried in her apron. He put down the
milk-pails and, going over to her, put a hand on her head.

“I guess there’s no mistake, then?”

“There’s no mistake,” said poor Tillie into her apron.

He bent down and kissed the back of her neck. Then, when she failed to
brighten, he tiptoed around the kitchen, poured the milk into pans,
and rinsed the buckets, working methodically in his heavy way. The
tea-kettle had boiled dry. He filled that, too. Then:--

“Do you want to see a doctor?”

“I’d better see somebody,” she said, without looking up. “And--don’t
think I’m blaming you. I guess I don’t really blame anybody. As far as
that goes, I’ve wanted a child right along. It isn’t the trouble I am
thinking of either.”

He nodded. Words were unnecessary between them. He made some tea
clumsily and browned her a piece of toast. When he had put them on one
end of the kitchen table, he went over to her again.

“I guess I’d ought to have thought of this before, but all I thought of
was trying to get a little happiness out of life. And,”--he stroked
her arm,--“as far as I am concerned, it’s been worth while, Tillie. No
matter what I’ve had to do, I’ve always looked forward to coming back
here to you in the evening. Maybe I don’t say it enough, but I guess you
know I feel it all right.”

Without looking up, she placed her hand over his.

“I guess we started wrong,” he went on. “You can’t build happiness on
what isn’t right. You and I can manage well enough; but now that there’s
going to be another, it looks different, somehow.”

After that morning Tillie took up her burden stoically. The hope of
motherhood alternated with black fits of depression. She sang at her
work, to burst out into sudden tears.

Other things were not going well. Schwitter had given up his nursery
business; but the motorists who came to Hillfoot did not come back.
When, at last, he took the horse and buggy and drove about the country
for orders, he was too late. Other nurserymen had been before him;
shrubberies and orchards were already being set out. The second payment
on his mortgage would be due in July. By the middle of May they were
frankly up against it. Schwitter at last dared to put the situation into
words.

“We’re not making good, Til,” he said. “And I guess you know the reason.
We are too decent; that’s what’s the matter with us.” There was no irony
in his words.

With all her sophistication, Tillie was vastly ignorant of life. He had
to explain.

“We’ll have to keep a sort of hotel,” he said lamely. “Sell to everybody
that comes along, and--if parties want to stay over-night--”

Tillie’s white face turned crimson.

He attempted a compromise. “If it’s bad weather, and they’re married--”

“How are we to know if they are married or not?”

He admired her very much for it. He had always respected her. But the
situation was not less acute. There were two or three unfurnished rooms
on the second floor. He began to make tentative suggestions as to their
furnishing. Once he got a catalogue from an installment house, and tried
to hide it from her. Tillie’s eyes blazed. She burned it in the kitchen
stove.

Schwitter himself was ashamed; but the idea obsessed him. Other people
fattened on the frailties of human nature. Two miles away, on the other
road, was a public house that had netted the owner ten thousand dollars
profit the year before. They bought their beer from the same concern.
He was not as young as he had been; there was the expense of keeping
his wife--he had never allowed her to go into the charity ward at the
asylum. Now that there was going to be a child, there would be three
people dependent upon him. He was past fifty, and not robust.

One night, after Tillie was asleep, he slipped noiselessly into his
clothes and out to the barn, where he hitched up the horse with nervous
fingers.

Tillie never learned of that midnight excursion to the “Climbing Rose,”
 two miles away. Lights blazed in every window; a dozen automobiles were
parked before the barn. Somebody was playing a piano. From the bar came
the jingle of glasses and loud, cheerful conversation.

When Schwitter turned the horse’s head back toward Hillfoot, his
mind was made up. He would furnish the upper rooms; he would bring a
barkeeper from town--these people wanted mixed drinks; he could get a
second-hand piano somewhere.

Tillie’s rebellion was instant and complete. When she found him
determined, she made the compromise that her condition necessitated. She
could not leave him, but she would not stay in the rehabilitated little
house. When, a week after Schwitter’s visit to the “Climbing Rose,” an
installment van arrived from town with the new furniture, Tillie
moved out to what had been the harness-room of the old barn and there
established herself.

“I am not leaving you,” she told him. “I don’t even know that I am
blaming you. But I am not going to have anything to do with it, and
that’s flat.”

So it happened that K., making a spring pilgrimage to see Tillie,
stopped astounded in the road. The weather was warm, and he carried
his Norfolk coat over his arm. The little house was bustling; a dozen
automobiles were parked in the barnyard. The bar was crowded, and a
barkeeper in a white coat was mixing drinks with the casual indifference
of his kind. There were tables under the trees on the lawn, and a new
sign on the gate.

Even Schwitter bore a new look of prosperity. Over his schooner of beer
K. gathered something of the story.

“I’m not proud of it, Mr. Le Moyne. I’ve come to do a good many things
the last year or so that I never thought I would do. But one thing leads
to another. First I took Tillie away from her good position, and after
that nothing went right. Then there were things coming on”--he looked at
K. anxiously--“that meant more expense. I would be glad if you wouldn’t
say anything about it at Mrs. McKee’s.”

“I’ll not speak of it, of course.”

It was then, when K. asked for Tillie, that Mr. Schwitter’s unhappiness
became more apparent.

“She wouldn’t stand for it,” he said. “She moved out the day I furnished
the rooms upstairs and got the piano.”

“Do you mean she has gone?”

“As far as the barn. She wouldn’t stay in the house. I--I’ll take you
out there, if you would like to see her.”

K. shrewdly surmised that Tillie would prefer to see him alone, under
the circumstances.

“I guess I can find her,” he said, and rose from the little table.

“If you--if you can say anything to help me out, sir, I’d appreciate it.
Of course, she understands how I am driven. But--especially if you would
tell her that the Street doesn’t know--”

“I’ll do all I can,” K. promised, and followed the path to the barn.

Tillie received him with a certain dignity. The little harness-room
was very comfortable. A white iron bed in a corner, a flat table with
a mirror above it, a rocking-chair, and a sewing-machine furnished the
room.

“I wouldn’t stand for it,” she said simply; “so here I am. Come in, Mr.
Le Moyne.”

There being but one chair, she sat on the bed. The room was littered
with small garments in the making. She made no attempt to conceal them;
rather, she pointed to them with pride.

“I am making them myself. I have a lot of time these days. He’s got a
hired girl at the house. It was hard enough to sew at first, with me
making two right sleeves almost every time.” Then, seeing his kindly eye
on her: “Well, it’s happened, Mr. Le Moyne. What am I going to do? What
am I going to be?”

“You’re going to be a very good mother, Tillie.”

She was manifestly in need of cheering. K., who also needed cheering
that spring day, found his consolation in seeing her brighten under the
small gossip of the Street. The deaf-and-dumb book agent had taken on
life insurance as a side issue, and was doing well; the grocery store at
the corner was going to be torn down, and over the new store there
were to be apartments; Reginald had been miraculously returned, and was
building a new nest under his bureau; Harriet Kennedy had been to Paris,
and had brought home six French words and a new figure.

Outside the open door the big barn loomed cool and shadowy, full of
empty spaces where later the hay would be stored; anxious mother hens
led their broods about; underneath in the horse stable the restless
horses pawed in their stalls. From where he sat, Le Moyne could see only
the round breasts of the two hills, the fresh green of the orchard the
cows in a meadow beyond.

Tillie followed his eyes.

“I like it here,” she confessed. “I’ve had more time to think since I
moved out than I ever had in my life before. Them hills help. When the
noise is worst down at the house, I look at the hills there and--”

There were great thoughts in her mind--that the hills meant God, and
that in His good time perhaps it would all come right. But she was
inarticulate. “The hills help a lot,” she repeated.

K. rose. Tillie’s work-basket lay near him. He picked up one of the
little garments. In his big hands it looked small, absurd.

“I--I want to tell you something, Tillie. Don’t count on it too much;
but Mrs. Schwitter has been failing rapidly for the last month or two.”

Tillie caught his arm.

“You’ve seen her?”

“I was interested. I wanted to see things work out right for you.”

All the color had faded from Tillie’s face.

“You’re very good to me, Mr. Le Moyne,” she said. “I don’t wish the poor
soul any harm, but--oh, my God! if she’s going, let it be before the
next four months are over.”

K. had fallen into the habit, after his long walks, of dropping into
Christine’s little parlor for a chat before he went upstairs. Those
early spring days found Harriet Kennedy busy late in the evenings, and,
save for Christine and K., the house was practically deserted.

The breach between Palmer and Christine was steadily widening. She was
too proud to ask him to spend more of his evenings with her. On those
occasions when he voluntarily stayed at home with her, he was so
discontented that he drove her almost to distraction. Although she was
convinced that he was seeing nothing of the girl who had been with
him the night of the accident, she did not trust him. Not that girl,
perhaps, but there were others. There would always be others.

Into Christine’s little parlor, then, K. turned, the evening after he
had seen Tillie. She was reading by the lamp, and the door into the hall
stood open.

“Come in,” she said, as he hesitated in the doorway.

“I am frightfully dusty.”

“There’s a brush in the drawer of the hat-rack--although I don’t really
mind how you look.”

The little room always cheered K. Its warmth and light appealed to his
aesthetic sense; after the bareness of his bedroom, it spelled luxury.
And perhaps, to be entirely frank, there was more than physical comfort
and satisfaction in the evenings he spent in Christine’s firelit parlor.
He was entirely masculine, and her evident pleasure in his society
gratified him. He had fallen into a way of thinking of himself as a sort
of older brother to all the world because he was a sort of older brother
to Sidney. The evenings with her did something to reinstate him in his
own self-esteem. It was subtle, psychological, but also it was very
human.

“Come and sit down,” said Christine. “Here’s a chair, and here are
cigarettes and there are matches. Now!”

But, for once, K. declined the chair. He stood in front of the fireplace
and looked down at her, his head bent slightly to one side.

“I wonder if you would like to do a very kind thing,” he said
unexpectedly.

“Make you coffee?”

“Something much more trouble and not so pleasant.”

Christine glanced up at him. When she was with him, when his steady eyes
looked down at her, small affectations fell away. She was more genuine
with K. than with anyone else, even herself.

“Tell me what it is, or shall I promise first?”

“I want you to promise just one thing: to keep a secret.”

“Yours?”

Christine was not over-intelligent, perhaps, but she was shrewd. That Le
Moyne’s past held a secret she had felt from the beginning. She sat up
with eager curiosity.

“No, not mine. Is it a promise?”

“Of course.”

“I’ve found Tillie, Christine. I want you to go out to see her.”

Christine’s red lips parted. The Street did not go out to see women in
Tillie’s situation.

“But, K.!” she protested.

“She needs another woman just now. She’s going to have a child,
Christine; and she has had no one to talk to but her hus--but Mr.
Schwitter and myself. She is depressed and not very well.”

“But what shall I say to her? I’d really rather not go, K. Not,”
 she hastened to set herself right in his eyes--“not that I feel any
unwillingness to see her. I know you understand that. But--what in the
world shall I say to her?”

“Say what your own kind heart prompts.”

It had been rather a long time since Christine had been accused
of having a kind heart. Not that she was unkind, but in all her
self-centered young life there had been little call on her sympathies.
Her eyes clouded.

“I wish I were as good as you think I am.”

There was a little silence between them. Then Le Moyne spoke briskly:--

“I’ll tell you how to get there; perhaps I would better write it.”

He moved over to Christine’s small writing-table and, seating himself,
proceeded to write out the directions for reaching Hillfoot.

Behind him, Christine had taken his place on the hearth-rug and stood
watching his head in the light of the desk-lamp. “What a strong, quiet
face it is,” she thought. Why did she get the impression of such a
tremendous reserve power in this man who was a clerk, and a clerk only?
Behind him she made a quick, unconscious gesture of appeal, both hands
out for an instant. She dropped them guiltily as K. rose with the paper
in his hand.

“I’ve drawn a sort of map of the roads,” he began. “You see, this--”

Christine was looking, not at the paper, but up at him.

“I wonder if you know, K.,” she said, “what a lucky woman the woman will
be who marries you?”

He laughed good-humoredly.

“I wonder how long I could hypnotize her into thinking that.”

He was still holding out the paper.

“I’ve had time to do a little thinking lately,” she said, without
bitterness. “Palmer is away so much now. I’ve been looking back,
wondering if I ever thought that about him. I don’t believe I ever did.
I wonder--”

She checked herself abruptly and took the paper from his hand.

“I’ll go to see Tillie, of course,” she consented. “It is like you to
have found her.”

She sat down. Although she picked up the book that she had been reading
with the evident intention of discussing it, her thoughts were still on
Tillie, on Palmer, on herself. After a moment:--

“Has it ever occurred to you how terribly mixed up things are? Take this
Street, for instance. Can you think of anybody on it that--that things
have gone entirely right with?”

“It’s a little world of its own, of course,” said K., “and it has plenty
of contact points with life. But wherever one finds people, many or few,
one finds all the elements that make up life--joy and sorrow, birth and
death, and even tragedy. That’s rather trite, isn’t it?”

Christine was still pursuing her thoughts.

“Men are different,” she said. “To a certain extent they make their own
fates. But when you think of the women on the Street,--Tillie,
Harriet Kennedy, Sidney Page, myself, even Mrs. Rosenfeld back in the
alley,--somebody else moulds things for us, and all we can do is to sit
back and suffer. I am beginning to think the world is a terrible place,
K. Why do people so often marry the wrong people? Why can’t a man
care for one woman and only one all his life? Why--why is it all so
complicated?”

“There are men who care for only one woman all their lives.”

“You’re that sort, aren’t you?”

“I don’t want to put myself on any pinnacle. If I cared enough for
a woman to marry her, I’d hope to--But we are being very tragic,
Christine.”

“I feel tragic. There’s going to be another mistake, K., unless you stop
it.”

He tried to leaven the conversation with a little fun.

“If you’re going to ask me to interfere between Mrs. McKee and the
deaf-and-dumb book and insurance agent, I shall do nothing of the sort.
She can both speak and hear enough for both of them.”

“I mean Sidney and Max Wilson. He’s mad about her, K.; and, because
she’s the sort she is, he’ll probably be mad about her all his life,
even if he marries her. But he’ll not be true to her; I know the type
now.”

K. leaned back with a flicker of pain in his eyes.

“What can I do about it?”

Astute as he was, he did not suspect that Christine was using this
method to fathom his feeling for Sidney. Perhaps she hardly knew it
herself.

“You might marry her yourself, K.”

But he had himself in hand by this time, and she learned nothing from
either his voice or his eyes.

“On twenty dollars a week? And without so much as asking her consent?”
 He dropped his light tone. “I’m not in a position to marry anybody. Even
if Sidney cared for me, which she doesn’t, of course--”

“Then you don’t intend to interfere? You’re going to let the Street see
another failure?”

“I think you can understand,” said K. rather wearily, “that if I cared
less, Christine, it would be easier to interfere.”

After all, Christine had known this, or surmised it, for weeks. But it
hurt like a fresh stab in an old wound. It was K. who spoke again after
a pause:--

“The deadly hard thing, of course, is to sit by and see things happening
that one--that one would naturally try to prevent.”

“I don’t believe that you have always been of those who only stand and
wait,” said Christine. “Sometime, K., when you know me better and like
me better, I want you to tell me about it, will you?”

“There’s very little to tell. I held a trust. When I discovered that I
was unfit to hold that trust any longer, I quit. That’s all.”

His tone of finality closed the discussion. But Christine’s eyes were on
him often that evening, puzzled, rather sad.

They talked of books, of music--Christine played well in a dashing way.
K. had brought her soft, tender little things, and had stood over her
until her noisy touch became gentle. She played for him a little, while
he sat back in the big chair with his hand screening his eyes.

When, at last, he rose and picked up his cap; it was nine o’clock.

“I’ve taken your whole evening,” he said remorsefully. “Why don’t you
tell me I am a nuisance and send me off?”

Christine was still at the piano, her hands on the keys. She spoke
without looking at him:--

“You’re never a nuisance, K., and--”

“You’ll go out to see Tillie, won’t you?”

“Yes. But I’ll not go under false pretenses. I am going quite frankly
because you want me to.”

Something in her tone caught his attention.

“I forgot to tell you,” she went on. “Father has given Palmer five
thousand dollars. He’s going to buy a share in a business.”

“That’s fine.”

“Possibly. I don’t believe much in Palmer’s business ventures.”

Her flat tone still held him. Underneath it he divined strain and
repression.

“I hate to go and leave you alone,” he said at last from the door. “Have
you any idea when Palmer will be back?”

“Not the slightest. K., will you come here a moment? Stand behind me; I
don’t want to see you, and I want to tell you something.”

He did as she bade him, rather puzzled.

“Here I am.”

“I think I am a fool for saying this. Perhaps I am spoiling the only
chance I have to get any happiness out of life. But I have got to say
it. It’s stronger than I am. I was terribly unhappy, K., and then you
came into my life, and I--now I listen for your step in the hall. I
can’t be a hypocrite any longer, K.”

When he stood behind her, silent and not moving, she turned slowly about
and faced him. He towered there in the little room, grave eyes on hers.

“It’s a long time since I have had a woman friend, Christine,” he said
soberly. “Your friendship has meant a good deal. In a good many
ways, I’d not care to look ahead if it were not for you. I value our
friendship so much that I--”

“That you don’t want me to spoil it,” she finished for him. “I know
you don’t care for me, K., not the way I--But I wanted you to know. It
doesn’t hurt a good man to know such a thing. And it--isn’t going to
stop your coming here, is it?”

“Of course not,” said K. heartily. “But to-morrow, when we are both
clear-headed, we will talk this over. You are mistaken about this thing,
Christine; I am sure of that. Things have not been going well, and just
because I am always around, and all that sort of thing, you think things
that aren’t really so. I’m only a reaction, Christine.”

He tried to make her smile up at him. But just then she could not smile.

If she had cried, things might have been different for every one; for
perhaps K. would have taken her in his arms. He was heart-hungry enough,
those days, for anything. And perhaps, too, being intuitive, Christine
felt this. But she had no mind to force him into a situation against his
will.

“It is because you are good,” she said, and held out her hand.
“Good-night.”

Le Moyne took it and bent over and kissed it lightly. There was in
the kiss all that he could not say of respect, of affection and
understanding.

“Good-night, Christine,” he said, and went into the hall and upstairs.

The lamp was not lighted in his room, but the street light glowed
through the windows. Once again the waving fronds of the ailanthus tree
flung ghostly shadows on the walls. There was a faint sweet odor of
blossoms, so soon to become rank and heavy.

Over the floor in a wild zigzag darted a strip of white paper which
disappeared under the bureau. Reginald was building another nest.



CHAPTER XXI


Sidney went into the operating-room late in the spring as the result of
a conversation between the younger Wilson and the Head.

“When are you going to put my protegee into the operating-room?” asked
Wilson, meeting Miss Gregg in a corridor one bright, spring afternoon.

“That usually comes in the second year, Dr. Wilson.”

He smiled down at her. “That isn’t a rule, is it?”

“Not exactly. Miss Page is very young, and of course there are other
girls who have not yet had the experience. But, if you make the
request--”

“I am going to have some good cases soon. I’ll not make a request, of
course; but, if you see fit, it would be good training for Miss Page.”

Miss Gregg went on, knowing perfectly that at his next operation Dr.
Wilson would expect Sidney Page in the operating-room. The other doctors
were not so exigent. She would have liked to have all the staff old and
settled, like Dr. O’Hara or the older Wilson. These young men came in
and tore things up.

She sighed as she went on. There were so many things to go wrong. The
butter had been bad--she must speak to the matron. The sterilizer in
the operating-room was out of order--that meant a quarrel with the chief
engineer. Requisitions were too heavy--that meant going around to the
wards and suggesting to the head nurses that lead pencils and bandages
and adhesive plaster and safety-pins cost money.

It was particularly inconvenient to move Sidney just then. Carlotta
Harrison was off duty, ill. She had been ailing for a month, and now she
was down with a temperature. As the Head went toward Sidney’s ward,
her busy mind was playing her nurses in their wards like pieces on a
checkerboard.

Sidney went into the operating-room that afternoon. For her blue
uniform, kerchief, and cap she exchanged the hideous operating-room
garb: long, straight white gown with short sleeves and mob-cap,
gray-white from many sterilizations. But the ugly costume seemed to
emphasize her beauty, as the habit of a nun often brings out the placid
saintliness of her face.

The relationship between Sidney and Max had reached that point that
occurs in all relationships between men and women: when things must
either go forward or go back, but cannot remain as they are. The
condition had existed for the last three months. It exasperated the man.

As a matter of fact, Wilson could not go ahead. The situation with
Carlotta had become tense, irritating. He felt that she stood ready
to block any move he made. He would not go back, and he dared not go
forward.

If Sidney was puzzled, she kept it bravely to herself. In her little
room at night, with the door carefully locked, she tried to think things
out. There were a few treasures that she looked over regularly: a dried
flower from the Christmas roses; a label that he had pasted playfully
on the back of her hand one day after the rush of surgical dressings was
over and which said “Rx, Take once and forever.”

There was another piece of paper over which Sidney spent much time. It
was a page torn out of an order book, and it read: “Sigsbee may have
light diet; Rosenfeld massage.” Underneath was written, very small:

     “You are the most beautiful person in the world.”

Two reasons had prompted Wilson to request to have Sidney in the
operating-room. He wanted her with him, and he wanted her to see him at
work: the age-old instinct of the male to have his woman see him at his
best.

He was in high spirits that first day of Sidney’s operating-room
experience. For the time at least, Carlotta was out of the way. Her
somber eyes no longer watched him. Once he looked up from his work and
glanced at Sidney where she stood at strained attention.

“Feeling faint?” he said.

She colored under the eyes that were turned on her.

“No, Dr. Wilson.”

“A great many of them faint on the first day. We sometimes have them
lying all over the floor.”

He challenged Miss Gregg with his eyes, and she reproved him with a
shake of her head, as she might a bad boy.

One way and another, he managed to turn the attention of the
operating-room to Sidney several times. It suited his whim, and it did
more than that: it gave him a chance to speak to her in his teasing way.

Sidney came through the operation as if she had been through fire--taut
as a string, rather pale, but undaunted. But when the last case had been
taken out, Max dropped his bantering manner. The internes were looking
over instruments; the nurses were busy on the hundred and one tasks of
clearing up; so he had a chance for a word with her alone.

“I am proud of you, Sidney; you came through it like a soldier.”

“You made it very hard for me.”

A nurse was coming toward him; he had only a moment.

“I shall leave a note in the mail-box,” he said quickly, and proceeded
with the scrubbing of his hands which signified the end of the day’s
work.

The operations had lasted until late in the afternoon. The night nurses
had taken up their stations; prayers were over. The internes were
gathered in the smoking-room, threshing over the day’s work, as was
their custom. When Sidney was free, she went to the office for the note.
It was very brief:--

I have something I want to say to you, dear. I think you know what it
is. I never see you alone at home any more. If you can get off for an
hour, won’t you take the trolley to the end of Division Street? I’ll be
there with the car at eight-thirty, and I promise to have you back by
ten o’clock.

MAX.

The office was empty. No one saw her as she stood by the mail-box. The
ticking of the office clock, the heavy rumble of a dray outside, the
roll of the ambulance as it went out through the gateway, and in her
hand the realization of what she had never confessed as a hope, even to
herself! He, the great one, was going to stoop to her. It had been in
his eyes that afternoon; it was there, in his letter, now.

It was eight by the office clock. To get out of her uniform and into
street clothing, fifteen minutes; on the trolley, another fifteen. She
would need to hurry.

But she did not meet him, after all. Miss Wardwell met her in the upper
hall.

“Did you get my message?” she asked anxiously.

“What message?”

“Miss Harrison wants to see you. She has been moved to a private room.”

Sidney glanced at K.’s little watch.

“Must she see me to-night?”

“She has been waiting for hours--ever since you went to the
operating-room.”

Sidney sighed, but she went to Carlotta at once. The girl’s condition
was puzzling the staff. There was talk of “T.R.”--which is hospital for
“typhoid restrictions.” But T.R. has apathy, generally, and Carlotta
was not apathetic. Sidney found her tossing restlessly on her high white
bed, and put her cool hand over Carlotta’s hot one.

“Did you send for me?”

“Hours ago.” Then, seeing her operating-room uniform: “You’ve been
THERE, have you?”

“Is there anything I can do, Carlotta?”

Excitement had dyed Sidney’s cheeks with color and made her eyes
luminous. The girl in the bed eyed her, and then abruptly drew her hand
away.

“Were you going out?”

“Yes; but not right away.”

“I’ll not keep you if you have an engagement.”

“The engagement will have to wait. I’m sorry you’re ill. If you would
like me to stay with you tonight--”

Carlotta shook her head on her pillow.

“Mercy, no!” she said irritably. “I’m only worn out. I need a rest. Are
you going home to-night?”

“No,” Sidney admitted, and flushed.

Nothing escaped Carlotta’s eyes--the younger girl’s radiance, her
confusion, even her operating room uniform and what it signified. How
she hated her, with her youth and freshness, her wide eyes, her soft red
lips! And this engagement--she had the uncanny divination of fury.

“I was going to ask you to do something for me,” she said shortly; “but
I’ve changed my mind about it. Go on and keep your engagement.”

To end the interview, she turned over and lay with her face to the wall.
Sidney stood waiting uncertainly. All her training had been to ignore
the irritability of the sick, and Carlotta was very ill; she could see
that.

“Just remember that I am ready to do anything I can, Carlotta,” she
said. “Nothing will--will be a trouble.”

She waited a moment, but, receiving no acknowledgement of her offer, she
turned slowly and went toward the door.

“Sidney!”

She went back to the bed.

“Yes. Don’t sit up, Carlotta. What is it?”

“I’m frightened!”

“You’re feverish and nervous. There’s nothing to be frightened about.”

“If it’s typhoid, I’m gone.”

“That’s childish. Of course you’re not gone, or anything like it.
Besides, it’s probably not typhoid.”

“I’m afraid to sleep. I doze for a little, and when I waken there are
people in the room. They stand around the bed and talk about me.”

Sidney’s precious minutes were flying; but Carlotta had gone into a
paroxysm of terror, holding to Sidney’s hand and begging not to be left
alone.

“I’m too young to die,” she would whimper. And in the next breath: “I
want to die--I don’t want to live!”

The hands of the little watch pointed to eight-thirty when at last she
lay quiet, with closed eyes. Sidney, tiptoeing to the door, was brought
up short by her name again, this time in a more normal voice:--

“Sidney.”

“Yes, dear.”

“Perhaps you are right and I’m going to get over this.”

“Certainly you are. Your nerves are playing tricks with you to-night.”

“I’ll tell you now why I sent for you.”

“I’m listening.”

“If--if I get very bad,--you know what I mean,--will you promise to do
exactly what I tell you?”

“I promise, absolutely.”

“My trunk key is in my pocket-book. There is a letter in the tray--just
a name, no address on it. Promise to see that it is not delivered; that
it is destroyed without being read.”

Sidney promised promptly; and, because it was too late now for her
meeting with Wilson, for the next hour she devoted herself to making
Carlotta comfortable. So long as she was busy, a sort of exaltation of
service upheld her. But when at last the night assistant came to sit
with the sick girl, and Sidney was free, all the life faded from her
face. He had waited for her and she had not come. Would he understand?
Would he ask her to meet him again? Perhaps, after all, his question had
not been what she had thought.

She went miserably to bed. K.’s little watch ticked under her pillow.
Her stiff cap moved in the breeze as it swung from the corner of her
mirror. Under her window passed and repassed the night life of the
city--taxicabs, stealthy painted women, tired office-cleaners trudging
home at midnight, a city patrol-wagon which rolled in through the gates
to the hospital’s always open door. When she could not sleep, she got up
and padded to the window in bare feet. The light from a passing machine
showed a youthful figure that looked like Joe Drummond.

Life, that had always seemed so simple, was growing very complicated
for Sidney: Joe and K., Palmer and Christine, Johnny Rosenfeld,
Carlotta--either lonely or tragic, all of them, or both. Life in the
raw.

Toward morning Carlotta wakened. The night assistant was still there. It
had been a quiet night and she was asleep in her chair. To save her cap
she had taken it off, and early streaks of silver showed in her hair.

Carlotta roused her ruthlessly.

“I want something from my trunk,” she said.

The assistant wakened reluctantly, and looked at her watch. Almost
morning. She yawned and pinned on her cap.

“For Heaven’s sake,” she protested. “You don’t want me to go to the
trunk-room at this hour!”

“I can go myself,” said Carlotta, and put her feet out of bed.

“What is it you want?”

“A letter on the top tray. If I wait my temperature will go up and I
can’t think.”

“Shall I mail it for you?”

“Bring it here,” said Carlotta shortly. “I want to destroy it.”

The young woman went without haste, to show that a night assistant may
do such things out of friendship, but not because she must. She stopped
at the desk where the night nurse in charge of the rooms on that floor
was filling out records.

“Give me twelve private patients to look after instead of one nurse like
Carlotta Harrison!” she complained. “I’ve got to go to the trunk-room
for her at this hour, and it next door to the mortuary!”

As the first rays of the summer sun came through the window, shadowing
the fire-escape like a lattice on the wall of the little gray-walled
room, Carlotta sat up in her bed and lighted the candle on the stand.
The night assistant, who dreamed sometimes of fire, stood nervously by.

“Why don’t you let me do it?” she asked irritably.

Carlotta did not reply at once. The candle was in her hand, and she was
staring at the letter.

“Because I want to do it myself,” she said at last, and thrust the
envelope into the flame. It burned slowly, at first a thin blue flame
tipped with yellow, then, eating its way with a small fine crackling,
a widening, destroying blaze that left behind it black ash and
destruction. The acrid odor of burning filled the room. Not until it was
consumed, and the black ash fell into the saucer of the candlestick, did
Carlotta speak again. Then:--

“If every fool of a woman who wrote a letter burnt it, there would be
less trouble in the world,” she said, and lay back among her pillows.

The assistant said nothing. She was sleepy and irritated, and she had
crushed her best cap by letting the lid of Carlotta’s trunk fall on her.
She went out of the room with disapproval in every line of her back.

“She burned it,” she informed the night nurse at her desk. “A letter to
a man--one of her suitors, I suppose. The name was K. Le Moyne.”

The deepening and broadening of Sidney’s character had been very
noticeable in the last few months. She had gained in decision without
becoming hard; had learned to see things as they are, not through the
rose mist of early girlhood; and, far from being daunted, had developed
a philosophy that had for its basis God in His heaven and all well with
the world.

But her new theory of acceptance did not comprehend everything. She was
in a state of wild revolt, for instance, as to Johnny Rosenfeld, and
more remotely but not less deeply concerned over Grace Irving. Soon
she was to learn of Tillie’s predicament, and to take up the cudgels
valiantly for her.

But her revolt was to be for herself too. On the day after her failure
to keep her appointment with Wilson she had her half-holiday. No word
had come from him, and when, after a restless night, she went to her new
station in the operating-room, it was to learn that he had been called
out of the city in consultation and would not operate that day. O’Hara
would take advantage of the free afternoon to run in some odds and ends
of cases.

The operating-room made gauze that morning, and small packets of
tampons: absorbent cotton covered with sterilized gauze, and fastened
together--twelve, by careful count, in each bundle.

Miss Grange, who had been kind to Sidney in her probation months, taught
her the method.

“Used instead of sponges,” she explained. “If you noticed yesterday,
they were counted before and after each operation. One of these missing
is worse than a bank clerk out a dollar at the end of the day. There’s
no closing up until it’s found!”

Sidney eyed the small packet before her anxiously.

“What a hideous responsibility!” she said.

From that time on she handled the small gauze sponges almost reverently.

The operating-room--all glass, white enamel, and shining
nickel-plate--first frightened, then thrilled her. It was as if, having
loved a great actor, she now trod the enchanted boards on which he
achieved his triumphs. She was glad that it was her afternoon off, and
that she would not see some lesser star--O’Hara, to wit--usurping his
place.

But Max had not sent her any word. That hurt. He must have known that
she had been delayed.

The operating-room was a hive of industry, and tongues kept pace with
fingers. The hospital was a world, like the Street. The nurses had come
from many places, and, like cloistered nuns, seemed to have left the
other world behind. A new President of the country was less real than a
new interne. The country might wash its soiled linen in public; what was
that compared with enough sheets and towels for the wards? Big buildings
were going up in the city. Ah! but the hospital took cognizance of that,
gathering as it did a toll from each new story added. What news of
the world came in through the great doors was translated at once into
hospital terms. What the city forgot the hospital remembered. It took
up life where the town left it at its gates, and carried it on or saw
it ended, as the case might be. So these young women knew the ending of
many stories, the beginning of some; but of none did they know both the
first and last, the beginning and the end.

By many small kindnesses Sidney had made herself popular. And there was
more to it than that. She never shirked. The other girls had the respect
for her of one honest worker for another. The episode that had caused
her suspension seemed entirely forgotten. They showed her carefully what
she was to do; and, because she must know the “why” of everything, they
explained as best they could.

It was while she was standing by the great sterilizer that she heard,
through an open door, part of a conversation that sent her through the
day with her world in revolt.

The talkers were putting the anaesthetizing-room in readiness for the
afternoon. Sidney, waiting for the time to open the sterilizer, was
busy, for the first time in her hurried morning, with her own thoughts.
Because she was very human, there was a little exultation in her mind.
What would these girls say when they learned of how things stood between
her and their hero--that, out of all his world of society and clubs and
beautiful women, he was going to choose her?

Not shameful, this: the honest pride of a woman in being chosen from
many.

The voices were very clear.

“Typhoid! Of course not. She’s eating her heart out.”

“Do you think he has really broken with her?”

“Probably not. She knows it’s coming; that’s all.”

“Sometimes I have wondered--”

“So have others. She oughtn’t to be here, of course. But among so many
there is bound to be one now and then who--who isn’t quite--”

She hesitated, at a loss for a word.

“Did you--did you ever think over that trouble with Miss Page about the
medicines? That would have been easy, and like her.”

“She hates Miss Page, of course, but I hardly think--If that’s true, it
was nearly murder.”

There were two voices, a young one, full of soft southern inflections,
and an older voice, a trifle hard, as from disillusion.

They were working as they talked. Sidney could hear the clatter of
bottles on the tray, the scraping of a moved table.

“He was crazy about her last fall.”

“Miss Page?” (The younger voice, with a thrill in it.)

“Carlotta. Of course this is confidential.”

“Surely.”

“I saw her with him in his car one evening. And on her vacation last
summer--”

The voices dropped to a whisper. Sidney, standing cold and white by the
sterilizer, put out a hand to steady herself. So that was it! No wonder
Carlotta had hated her. And those whispering voices! What were they
saying? How hateful life was, and men and women. Must there always be
something hideous in the background? Until now she had only seen life.
Now she felt its hot breath on her cheek.

She was steady enough in a moment, cool and calm, moving about her work
with ice-cold hands and slightly narrowed eyes. To a sort of physical
nausea was succeeding anger, a blind fury of injured pride. He had been
in love with Carlotta and had tired of her. He was bringing her his
warmed-over emotions. She remembered the bitterness of her month’s
exile, and its probable cause. Max had stood by her then. Well he might,
if he suspected the truth.

For just a moment she had an illuminating flash of Wilson as he really
was, selfish and self-indulgent, just a trifle too carefully dressed,
daring as to eye and speech, with a carefully calculated daring, frankly
pleasure-loving. She put her hands over her eyes.

The voices in the next room had risen above their whisper.

“Genius has privileges, of course,” said the older voice. “He is a very
great surgeon. To-morrow he is to do the Edwardes operation again. I am
glad I am to see him do it.”

Sidney still held her hands over her eyes. He WAS a great surgeon: in
his hands he held the keys of life and death. And perhaps he had never
cared for Carlotta: she might have thrown herself at him. He was a man,
at the mercy of any scheming woman.

She tried to summon his image to her aid. But a curious thing happened.
She could not visualize him. Instead, there came, clear and distinct, a
picture of K. Le Moyne in the hall of the little house, reaching one of
his long arms to the chandelier over his head and looking up at her as
she stood on the stairs.



CHAPTER XXII


“My God, Sidney, I’m asking you to marry me!”

“I--I know that. I am asking you something else, Max.”

“I have never been in love with her.”

His voice was sulky. He had drawn the car close to a bank, and they were
sitting in the shade, on the grass. It was the Sunday afternoon after
Sidney’s experience in the operating-room.

“You took her out, Max, didn’t you?”

“A few times, yes. She seemed to have no friends. I was sorry for her.”

“That was all?”

“Absolutely. Good Heavens, you’ve put me through a catechism in the last
ten minutes!”

“If my father were living, or even mother, I--one of them would have
done this for me, Max. I’m sorry I had to. I’ve been very wretched for
several days.”

It was the first encouragement she had given him. There was no coquetry
about her aloofness. It was only that her faith in him had had a shock
and was slow of reviving.

“You are very, very lovely, Sidney. I wonder if you have any idea what
you mean to me?”

“You meant a great deal to me, too,” she said frankly, “until a few days
ago. I thought you were the greatest man I had ever known, and the best.
And then--I think I’d better tell you what I overheard. I didn’t try to
hear. It just happened that way.”

He listened doggedly to her account of the hospital gossip, doggedly and
with a sinking sense of fear, not of the talk, but of Carlotta herself.
Usually one might count on the woman’s silence, her instinct for
self-protection. But Carlotta was different. Damn the girl, anyhow! She
had known from the start that the affair was a temporary one; he had
never pretended anything else.

There was silence for a moment after Sidney finished. Then:

“You are not a child any longer, Sidney. You have learned a great deal
in this last year. One of the things you know is that almost every man
has small affairs, many of them sometimes, before he finds the woman
he wants to marry. When he finds her, the others are all off--there’s
nothing to them. It’s the real thing then, instead of the sham.”

“Palmer was very much in love with Christine, and yet--”

“Palmer is a cad.”

“I don’t want you to think I’m making terms. I’m not. But if this thing
went on, and I found out afterward that you--that there was anyone else,
it would kill me.”

“Then you care, after all!”

There was something boyish in his triumph, in the very gesture with
which he held out his arms, like a child who has escaped a whipping. He
stood up and, catching her hands, drew her to her feet. “You love me,
dear.”

“I’m afraid I do, Max.”

“Then I’m yours, and only yours, if you want me,” he said, and took her
in his arms.

He was riotously happy, must hold her off for the joy of drawing her to
him again, must pull off her gloves and kiss her soft bare palms.

“I love you, love you!” he cried, and bent down to bury his face in the
warm hollow of her neck.

Sidney glowed under his caresses--was rather startled at his passion, a
little ashamed.

“Tell me you love me a little bit. Say it.”

“I love you,” said Sidney, and flushed scarlet.

But even in his arms, with the warm sunlight on his radiant face, with
his lips to her ear, whispering the divine absurdities of passion, in
the back of her obstinate little head was the thought that, while she
had given him her first embrace, he had held other women in his arms. It
made her passive, prevented her complete surrender.

And after a time he resented it. “You are only letting me love you,” he
complained. “I don’t believe you care, after all.”

He freed her, took a step back from her.

“I am afraid I am jealous,” she said simply. “I keep thinking of--of
Carlotta.”

“Will it help any if I swear that that is off absolutely?”

“Don’t be absurd. It is enough to have you say so.”

But he insisted on swearing, standing with one hand upraised, his eyes
on her. The Sunday landscape was very still, save for the hum of busy
insect life. A mile or so away, at the foot of two hills, lay a white
farmhouse with its barn and outbuildings. In a small room in the barn
a woman sat; and because it was Sunday, and she could not sew, she read
her Bible.

“--and that after this there will be only one woman for me,” finished
Max, and dropped his hand. He bent over and kissed Sidney on the lips.

At the white farmhouse, a little man stood in the doorway and surveyed
the road with eyes shaded by a shirt-sleeved arm. Behind him, in a
darkened room, a barkeeper was wiping the bar with a clean cloth.

“I guess I’ll go and get my coat on, Bill,” said the little man heavily.
“They’re starting to come now. I see a machine about a mile down the
road.”

Sidney broke the news of her engagement to K. herself, the evening of
the same day. The little house was quiet when she got out of the car at
the door. Harriet was asleep on the couch at the foot of her bed,
and Christine’s rooms were empty. She found Katie on the back porch,
mountains of Sunday newspapers piled around her.

“I’d about give you up,” said Katie. “I was thinking, rather than see
your ice-cream that’s left from dinner melt and go to waste, I’d take it
around to the Rosenfelds.”

“Please take it to them. I’d really rather they had it.”

She stood in front of Katie, drawing off her gloves.

“Aunt Harriet’s asleep. Is--is Mr. Le Moyne around?”

“You’re gettin’ prettier every day, Miss Sidney. Is that the blue suit
Miss Harriet said she made for you? It’s right stylish. I’d like to see
the back.”

Sidney obediently turned, and Katie admired.

“When I think how things have turned out!” she reflected. “You in a
hospital, doing God knows what for all sorts of people, and Miss Harriet
making a suit like that and asking a hundred dollars for it, and that
tony that a person doesn’t dare to speak to her when she’s in the
dining-room. And your poor ma...well, it’s all in a lifetime! No; Mr.
K.’s not here. He and Mrs. Howe are gallivanting around together.”

“Katie!”

“Well, that’s what I call it. I’m not blind. Don’t I hear her dressing
up about four o’clock every afternoon, and, when she’s all ready,
sittin’ in the parlor with the door open, and a book on her knee, as if
she’d been reading all afternoon? If he doesn’t stop, she’s at the foot
of the stairs, calling up to him. ‘K.,’ she says, ‘K., I’m waiting to
ask you something!’ or, ‘K., wouldn’t you like a cup of tea?’ She’s
always feedin’ him tea and cake, so that when he comes to table he won’t
eat honest victuals.”

Sidney had paused with one glove half off. Katie’s tone carried
conviction. Was life making another of its queer errors, and were
Christine and K. in love with each other? K. had always been HER
friend, HER confidant. To give him up to Christine--she shook herself
impatiently. What had come over her? Why not be glad that he had some
sort of companionship?

She went upstairs to the room that had been her mother’s, and took off
her hat. She wanted to be alone, to realize what had happened to
her. She did not belong to herself any more. It gave her an odd, lost
feeling. She was going to be married--not very soon, but ultimately. A
year ago her half promise to Joe had gratified her sense of romance. She
was loved, and she had thrilled to it.

But this was different. Marriage, that had been but a vision then,
loomed large, almost menacing. She had learned the law of compensation:
that for every joy one pays in suffering. Women who married went down
into the valley of death for their children. One must love and be loved
very tenderly to pay for that. The scale must balance.

And there were other things. Women grew old, and age was not always
lovely. This very maternity--was it not fatal to beauty? Visions of
child-bearing women in the hospitals, with sagging breasts and relaxed
bodies, came to her. That was a part of the price.

Harriet was stirring, across the hall. Sidney could hear her moving
about with flat, inelastic steps.

That was the alternative. One married, happily or not as the case might
be, and took the risk. Or one stayed single, like Harriet, growing a
little hard, exchanging slimness for leanness and austerity of figure,
flat-chested, thin-voiced. One blossomed and withered, then, or one
shriveled up without having flowered. All at once it seemed very
terrible to her. She felt as if she had been caught in an inexorable
hand that had closed about her.

Harriet found her a little later, face down on her mother’s bed, crying
as if her heart would break. She scolded her roundly.

“You’ve been overworking,” she said. “You’ve been getting thinner. Your
measurements for that suit showed it. I have never approved of this
hospital training, and after last January--”

She could hardly credit her senses when Sidney, still swollen with
weeping, told her of her engagement.

“But I don’t understand. If you care for him and he has asked you to
marry him, why on earth are you crying your eyes out?”

“I do care. I don’t know why I cried. It just came over me, all at once,
that I--It was just foolishness. I am very happy, Aunt Harriet.”

Harriet thought she understood. The girl needed her mother, and she,
Harriet, was a hard, middle-aged woman and a poor substitute. She patted
Sidney’s moist hand.

“I guess I understand,” she said. “I’ll attend to your wedding things,
Sidney. We’ll show this street that even Christine Lorenz can be
outdone.” And, as an afterthought: “I hope Max Wilson will settle down
now. He’s been none too steady.”

K. had taken Christine to see Tillie that Sunday afternoon. Palmer
had the car out--had, indeed, not been home since the morning of the
previous day. He played golf every Saturday afternoon and Sunday at the
Country Club, and invariably spent the night there. So K. and Christine
walked from the end of the trolley line, saying little, but under K.’s
keen direction finding bright birds in the hedgerows, hidden field
flowers, a dozen wonders of the country that Christine had never dreamed
of.

The interview with Tillie had been a disappointment to K. Christine,
with the best and kindliest intentions, struck a wrong note. In her
endeavor to cover the fact that everything in Tillie’s world was wrong,
she fell into the error of pretending that everything was right.

Tillie, grotesque of figure and tragic-eyed, listened to her patiently,
while K. stood, uneasy and uncomfortable, in the wide door of the
hay-barn and watched automobiles turning in from the road. When
Christine rose to leave, she confessed her failure frankly.

“I’ve meant well, Tillie,” she said. “I’m afraid I’ve said exactly
what I shouldn’t. I can only think that, no matter what is wrong, two
wonderful pieces of luck have come to you. Your husband--that is, Mr.
Schwitter--cares for you,--you admit that,--and you are going to have a
child.”

Tillie’s pale eyes filled.

“I used to be a good woman, Mrs. Howe,” she said simply. “Now I’m not.
When I look in that glass at myself, and call myself what I am, I’d give
a good bit to be back on the Street again.”

She found opportunity for a word with K. while Christine went ahead of
him out of the barn.

“I’ve been wanting to speak to you, Mr. Le Moyne.” She lowered her
voice. “Joe Drummond’s been coming out here pretty regular. Schwitter
says he’s drinking a little. He don’t like him loafing around here: he
sent him home last Sunday. What’s come over the boy?”

“I’ll talk to him.”

“The barkeeper says he carries a revolver around, and talks wild. I
thought maybe Sidney Page could do something with him.”

“I think he’d not like her to know. I’ll do what I can.”

K.’s face was thoughtful as he followed Christine to the road.

Christine was very silent, on the way back to the city. More than once
K. found her eyes fixed on him, and it puzzled him. Poor Christine was
only trying to fit him into the world she knew--a world whose men were
strong but seldom tender, who gave up their Sundays to golf, not to
visiting unhappy outcasts in the country. How masculine he was, and
yet how gentle! It gave her a choking feeling in her throat. She took
advantage of a steep bit of road to stop and stand a moment, her fingers
on his shabby gray sleeve.

It was late when they got home. Sidney was sitting on the low step,
waiting for them.

Wilson had come across at seven, impatient because he must see a case
that evening, and promising an early return. In the little hall he had
drawn her to him and kissed her, this time not on the lips, but on the
forehead and on each of her white eyelids.

“Little wife-to-be!” he had said, and was rather ashamed of his own
emotion. From across the Street, as he got into his car, he had waved
his hand to her.

Christine went to her room, and, with a long breath of content, K.
folded up his long length on the step below Sidney.

“Well, dear ministering angel,” he said, “how goes the world?”

“Things have been happening, K.”

He sat erect and looked at her. Perhaps because she had a woman’s
instinct for making the most of a piece of news, perhaps--more likely,
indeed--because she divined that the announcement would not be entirely
agreeable, she delayed it, played with it.

“I have gone into the operating-room.”

“Fine!”

“The costume is ugly. I look hideous in it.”

“Doubtless.”

He smiled up at her. There was relief in his eyes, and still a question.

“Is that all the news?”

“There is something else, K.”

It was a moment before he spoke. He sat looking ahead, his face set.
Apparently he did not wish to hear her say it; for when, after a moment,
he spoke, it was to forestall her, after all.

“I think I know what it is, Sidney.”

“You expected it, didn’t you?”

“I--it’s not an entire surprise.”

“Aren’t you going to wish me happiness?”

“If my wishing could bring anything good to you, you would have
everything in the world.”

His voice was not entirely steady, but his eyes smiled into hers.

“Am I--are we going to lose you soon?”

“I shall finish my training. I made that a condition.”

Then, in a burst of confidence:--

“I know so little, K., and he knows so much! I am going to read and
study, so that he can talk to me about his work. That’s what marriage
ought to be, a sort of partnership. Don’t you think so?”

K. nodded. His mind refused to go forward to the unthinkable future.
Instead, he was looking back--back to those days when he had hoped
sometime to have a wife to talk to about his work, that beloved work
that was no longer his. And, finding it agonizing, as indeed all thought
was that summer night, he dwelt for a moment on that evening, a year
before, when in the same June moonlight, he had come up the Street and
had seen Sidney where she was now, with the tree shadows playing over
her.

Even that first evening he had been jealous.

It had been Joe then. Now it was another and older man, daring,
intelligent, unscrupulous. And this time he had lost her absolutely,
lost her without a struggle to keep her. His only struggle had been with
himself, to remember that he had nothing to offer but failure.

“Do you know,” said Sidney suddenly, “that it is almost a year since
that night you came up the Street, and I was here on the steps?”

“That’s a fact, isn’t it!” He managed to get some surprise into his
voice.

“How Joe objected to your coming! Poor Joe!”

“Do you ever see him?”

“Hardly ever now. I think he hates me.”

“Why?”

“Because--well, you know, K. Why do men always hate a woman who just
happens not to love them?”

“I don’t believe they do. It would be much better for them if they
could. As a matter of fact, there are poor devils who go through life
trying to do that very thing, and failing.”

Sidney’s eyes were on the tall house across. It was Dr. Ed’s evening
office hour, and through the open window she could see a line of people
waiting their turn. They sat immobile, inert, doggedly patient, until
the opening of the back office door promoted them all one chair toward
the consulting-room.

“I shall be just across the Street,” she said at last. “Nearer than I am
at the hospital.”

“You will be much farther away. You will be married.”

“But we will still be friends, K.?”

Her voice was anxious, a little puzzled. She was often puzzled with him.

“Of course.”

But, after another silence, he astounded her. She had fallen into the
way of thinking of him as always belonging to the house, even, in a
sense, belonging to her. And now--

“Shall you mind very much if I tell you that I am thinking of going
away?”

“K.!”

“My dear child, you do not need a roomer here any more. I have always
received infinitely more than I have paid for, even in the small
services I have been able to render. Your Aunt Harriet is prosperous.
You are away, and some day you are going to be married. Don’t you see--I
am not needed?”

“That does not mean you are not wanted.”

“I shall not go far. I’ll always be near enough, so that I can see
you”--he changed this hastily--“so that we can still meet and talk
things over. Old friends ought to be like that, not too near, but to be
turned on when needed, like a tap.”

“Where will you go?”

“The Rosenfelds are rather in straits. I thought of helping them to get
a small house somewhere and of taking a room with them. It’s largely a
matter of furniture. If they could furnish it even plainly, it could be
done. I--haven’t saved anything.”

“Do you ever think of yourself?” she cried. “Have you always gone
through life helping people, K.? Save anything! I should think not! You
spend it all on others.” She bent over and put her hand on his shoulder.
“It will not be home without you, K.”

To save him, he could not have spoken just then. A riot of rebellion
surged up in him, that he must let this best thing in his life go out
of it. To go empty of heart through the rest of his days, while his very
arms ached to hold her! And she was so near--just above, with her hand
on his shoulder, her wistful face so close that, without moving, he
could have brushed her hair.

“You have not wished me happiness, K. Do you remember, when I was going
to the hospital and you gave me the little watch--do you remember what
you said?”

“Yes”--huskily.

“Will you say it again?”

“But that was good-bye.”

“Isn’t this, in a way? You are going to leave us, and I--say it, K.”

“Good-bye, dear, and--God bless you.”



CHAPTER XXIII


The announcement of Sidney’s engagement was not to be made for a year.
Wilson, chafing under the delay, was obliged to admit to himself that
it was best. Many things could happen in a year. Carlotta would have
finished her training, and by that time would probably be reconciled to
the ending of their relationship.

He intended to end that. He had meant every word of what he had sworn to
Sidney. He was genuinely in love, even unselfishly--as far as he could
be unselfish. The secret was to be carefully kept also for Sidney’s
sake. The hospital did not approve of engagements between nurses and the
staff. It was disorganizing, bad for discipline.

Sidney was very happy all that summer. She glowed with pride when her
lover put through a difficult piece of work; flushed and palpitated when
she heard his praises sung; grew to know, by a sort of intuition, when
he was in the house. She wore his ring on a fine chain around her neck,
and grew prettier every day.

Once or twice, however, when she was at home, away from the glamour, her
early fears obsessed her. Would he always love her? He was so handsome
and so gifted, and there were women who were mad about him. That was the
gossip of the hospital. Suppose she married him and he tired of her? In
her humility she thought that perhaps only her youth, and such charm as
she had that belonged to youth, held him. And before her, always, she
saw the tragic women of the wards.

K. had postponed his leaving until fall. Sidney had been insistent, and
Harriet had topped the argument in her businesslike way. “If you insist
on being an idiot and adopting the Rosenfeld family,” she said, “wait
until September. The season for boarders doesn’t begin until fall.”

So K. waited for “the season,” and ate his heart out for Sidney in the
interval.

Johnny Rosenfeld still lay in his ward, inert from the waist down. K.
was his most frequent visitor. As a matter of fact, he was watching the
boy closely, at Max Wilson’s request.

“Tell me when I’m to do it,” said Wilson, “and when the time comes,
for God’s sake, stand by me. Come to the operation. He’s got so much
confidence that I’ll help him that I don’t dare to fail.”

So K. came on visiting days, and, by special dispensation, on Saturday
afternoons. He was teaching the boy basket-making. Not that he knew
anything about it himself; but, by means of a blind teacher, he kept
just one lesson ahead. The ward was intensely interested. It found
something absurd and rather touching in this tall, serious young man
with the surprisingly deft fingers, tying raffia knots.

The first basket went, by Johnny’s request, to Sidney Page.

“I want her to have it,” he said. “She got corns on her fingers from
rubbing me when I came in first; and, besides--”

“Yes?” said K. He was tying a most complicated knot, and could not look
up.

“I know something,” said Johnny. “I’m not going to get in wrong by
talking, but I know something. You give her the basket.”

K. looked up then, and surprised Johnny’s secret in his face.

“Ah!” he said.

“If I’d squealed she’d have finished me for good. They’ve got me, you
know. I’m not running in 2.40 these days.”

“I’ll not tell, or make it uncomfortable for you. What do you know?”

Johnny looked around. The ward was in the somnolence of mid-afternoon.
The nearest patient, a man in a wheel-chair, was snoring heavily.

“It was the dark-eyed one that changed the medicine on me,” he said.
“The one with the heels that were always tapping around, waking me up.
She did it; I saw her.”

After all, it was only what K. had suspected before. But a sense of
impending danger to Sidney obsessed him. If Carlotta would do that, what
would she do when she learned of the engagement? And he had known her
before. He believed she was totally unscrupulous. The odd coincidence of
their paths crossing again troubled him.

Carlotta Harrison was well again, and back on duty. Luckily for Sidney,
her three months’ service in the operating-room kept them apart. For
Carlotta was now not merely jealous. She found herself neglected,
ignored. It ate her like a fever.

But she did not yet suspect an engagement. It had been her theory that
Wilson would not marry easily--that, in a sense, he would have to be
coerced into marriage. Some clever woman would marry him some day, and
no one would be more astonished than himself. She thought merely that
Sidney was playing a game like her own, with different weapons. So she
planned her battle, ignorant that she had lost already.

Her method was simple enough. She stopped sulking, met Max with smiles,
made no overtures toward a renewal of their relations. At first this
annoyed him. Later it piqued him. To desert a woman was justifiable,
under certain circumstances. But to desert a woman, and have her
apparently not even know it, was against the rules of the game.

During a surgical dressing in a private room, one day, he allowed his
fingers to touch hers, as on that day a year before when she had taken
Miss Simpson’s place in his office. He was rewarded by the same slow,
smouldering glance that had caught his attention before. So she was only
acting indifference!

Then Carlotta made her second move. A new interne had come into the
house, and was going through the process of learning that from a senior
at the medical school to a half-baked junior interne is a long step
back. He had to endure the good-humored contempt of the older men, the
patronizing instructions of nurses as to rules.

Carlotta alone treated him with deference. His uneasy rounds in
Carlotta’s precinct took on the state and form of staff visitations. She
flattered, cajoled, looked up to him.

After a time it dawned on Wilson that this junior cub was getting more
attention than himself: that, wherever he happened to be, somewhere in
the offing would be Carlotta and the Lamb, the latter eyeing her with
worship. Her indifference had only piqued him. The enthroning of a
successor galled him. Between them, the Lamb suffered mightily--was
subject to frequent “bawling out,” as he termed it, in the
operating-room as he assisted the anaesthetist. He took his troubles to
Carlotta, who soothed him in the corridor--in plain sight of her quarry,
of course--by putting a sympathetic hand on his sleeve.

Then, one day, Wilson was goaded to speech.

“For the love of Heaven, Carlotta,” he said impatiently, “stop making
love to that wretched boy. He wriggles like a worm if you look at him.”

“I like him. He is thoroughly genuine. I respect him, and--he respects
me.”

“It’s rather a silly game, you know.”

“What game?”

“Do you think I don’t understand?”

“Perhaps you do. I--I don’t really care a lot about him, Max. But I’ve
been down-hearted. He cheers me up.”

Her attraction for him was almost gone--not quite. He felt rather sorry
for her.

“I’m sorry. Then you are not angry with me?”

“Angry? No.” She lifted her eyes to his, and for once she was not
acting. “I knew it would end, of course. I have lost a--a lover. I
expected that. But I wanted to keep a friend.”

It was the right note. Why, after all, should he not be her friend? He
had treated her cruelly, hideously. If she still desired his friendship,
there was no disloyalty to Sidney in giving it. And Carlotta was very
careful. Not once again did she allow him to see what lay in her eyes.
She told him of her worries. Her training was almost over. She had
a chance to take up institutional work. She abhorred the thought of
private duty. What would he advise?

The Lamb was hovering near, hot eyes on them both. It was no place to
talk.

“Come to the office and we’ll talk it over.”

“I don’t like to go there; Miss Simpson is suspicious.”

The institution she spoke of was in another city. It occurred to
Wilson that if she took it the affair would have reached a graceful and
legitimate end.

Also, the thought of another stolen evening alone with her was not
unpleasant. It would be the last, he promised himself. After all, it was
owing to her. He had treated her badly.

Sidney would be at a lecture that night. The evening loomed temptingly
free.

“Suppose you meet me at the old corner,” he said carelessly, eyes on
the Lamb, who was forgetting that he was only a junior interne and was
glaring ferociously. “We’ll run out into the country and talk things
over.”

She demurred, with her heart beating triumphantly.

“What’s the use of going back to that? It’s over, isn’t it?”

Her objection made him determined. When at last she had yielded, and he
made his way down to the smoking-room, it was with the feeling that he
had won a victory.

K. had been uneasy all that day; his ledgers irritated him. He had been
sleeping badly since Sidney’s announcement of her engagement. At five
o’clock, when he left the office, he found Joe Drummond waiting outside
on the pavement.

“Mother said you’d been up to see me a couple of times. I thought I’d
come around.”

K. looked at his watch.

“What do you say to a walk?”

“Not out in the country. I’m not as muscular as you are. I’ll go about
town for a half-hour or so.”

Thus forestalled, K. found his subject hard to lead up to. But here
again Joe met him more than halfway.

“Well, go on,” he said, when they found themselves in the park; “I don’t
suppose you were paying a call.”

“No.”

“I guess I know what you are going to say.”

“I’m not going to preach, if you’re expecting that. Ordinarily, if a man
insists on making a fool of himself, I let him alone.”

“Why make an exception of me?”

“One reason is that I happen to like you. The other reason is that,
whether you admit it or not, you are acting like a young idiot, and are
putting the responsibility on the shoulders of some one else.”

“She is responsible, isn’t she?”

“Not in the least. How old are you, Joe?”

“Twenty-three, almost.”

“Exactly. You are a man, and you are acting like a bad boy. It’s a
disappointment to me. It’s more than that to Sidney.”

“Much she cares! She’s going to marry Wilson, isn’t she?”

“There is no announcement of any engagement.”

“She is, and you know it. Well, she’ll be happy--not! If I’d go to her
to-night and tell her what I know, she’d never see him again.” The idea,
thus born in his overwrought brain, obsessed him. He returned to it
again and again. Le Moyne was uneasy. He was not certain that the boy’s
statement had any basis in fact. His single determination was to save
Sidney from any pain.

When Joe suddenly announced his inclination to go out into the country
after all, he suspected a ruse to get rid of him, and insisted on going
along. Joe consented grudgingly.

“Car’s at Bailey’s garage,” he said sullenly. “I don’t know when I’ll
get back.”

“That won’t matter.” K.’s tone was cheerful. “I’m not sleeping, anyhow.”

That passed unnoticed until they were on the highroad, with the car
running smoothly between yellowing fields of wheat. Then:--

“So you’ve got it too!” he said. “We’re a fine pair of fools. We’d both
be better off if I sent the car over a bank.”

He gave the wheel a reckless twist, and Le Moyne called him to time
sternly.

They had supper at the White Springs Hotel--not on the terrace, but in
the little room where Carlotta and Wilson had taken their first meal
together. K. ordered beer for them both, and Joe submitted with bad
grace.

But the meal cheered and steadied him. K. found him more amenable to
reason, and, gaining his confidence, learned of his desire to leave the
city.

“I’m stuck here,” he said. “I’m the only one, and mother yells blue
murder when I talk about it. I want to go to Cuba. My uncle owns a farm
down there.”

“Perhaps I can talk your mother over. I’ve been there.”

Joe was all interest. His dilated pupils became more normal, his
restless hands grew quiet. K.’s even voice, the picture he drew of
life on the island, the stillness of the little hotel in its mid-week
dullness, seemed to quiet the boy’s tortured nerves. He was nearer
to peace than he had been for many days. But he smoked incessantly,
lighting one cigarette from another.

At ten o’clock he left K. and went for the car. He paused for a moment,
rather sheepishly, by K.’s chair.

“I’m feeling a lot better,” he said. “I haven’t got the band around my
head. You talk to mother.”

That was the last K. saw of Joe Drummond until the next day.



CHAPTER XXIV


Carlotta dressed herself with unusual care--not in black this time, but
in white. She coiled her yellow hair in a soft knot at the back of her
head, and she resorted to the faintest shading of rouge. She intended to
be gay, cheerful. The ride was to be a bright spot in Wilson’s memory.
He expected recriminations; she meant to make him happy. That was the
secret of the charm some women had for men. They went to such women to
forget their troubles. She set the hour of their meeting at nine, when
the late dusk of summer had fallen; and she met him then, smiling, a
faintly perfumed white figure, slim and young, with a thrill in her
voice that was only half assumed.

“It’s very late,” he complained. “Surely you are not going to be back at
ten.”

“I have special permission to be out late.”

“Good!” And then, recollecting their new situation: “We have a lot to
talk over. It will take time.”

At the White Springs Hotel they stopped to fill the gasolene tank of the
car. Joe Drummond saw Wilson there, in the sheet-iron garage alongside
of the road. The Wilson car was in the shadow. It did not occur to Joe
that the white figure in the car was not Sidney. He went rather white,
and stepped out of the zone of light. The influence of Le Moyne was
still on him, however, and he went on quietly with what he was doing.
But his hands shook as he filled the radiator.

When Wilson’s car had gone on, he went automatically about his
preparations for the return trip--lifted a seat cushion to investigate
his own store of gasolene, replacing carefully the revolver he always
carried under the seat and packed in waste to prevent its accidental
discharge, lighted his lamps, examined a loose brake-band.

His coolness gratified him. He had been an ass: Le Moyne was right. He’d
get away--to Cuba if he could--and start over again. He would forget the
Street and let it forget him.

The men in the garage were talking.

“To Schwitter’s, of course,” one of them grumbled. “We might as well go
out of business.”

“There’s no money in running a straight place. Schwitter and half a
dozen others are getting rich.”

“That was Wilson, the surgeon in town. He cut off my brother-in-law’s
leg--charged him as much as if he had grown a new one for him. He used
to come here. Now he goes to Schwitter’s, like the rest. Pretty girl he
had with him. You can bet on Wilson.”

So Max Wilson was taking Sidney to Schwitter’s, making her the butt of
garage talk! The smiles of the men were evil. Joe’s hands grew cold, his
head hot. A red mist spread between him and the line of electric lights.
He knew Schwitter’s, and he knew Wilson.

He flung himself into his car and threw the throttle open. The car
jerked, stalled.

“You can’t start like that, son,” one of the men remonstrated. “You let
‘er in too fast.”

“You go to hell!” Joe snarled, and made a second ineffectual effort.

Thus adjured, the men offered neither further advice nor assistance. The
minutes went by in useless cranking--fifteen. The red mist grew heavier.
Every lamp was a danger signal. But when K., growing uneasy, came out
into the yard, the engine had started at last. He was in time to see Joe
run his car into the road and turn it viciously toward Schwitter’s.

Carlotta’s nearness was having its calculated effect on Max Wilson. His
spirits rose as the engine, marking perfect time, carried them along the
quiet roads.

Partly it was reaction--relief that she should be so reasonable, so
complaisant--and a sort of holiday spirit after the day’s hard work.
Oddly enough, and not so irrational as may appear, Sidney formed a
part of the evening’s happiness--that she loved him; that, back in the
lecture-room, eyes and even mind on the lecturer, her heart was with
him.

So, with Sidney the basis of his happiness, he made the most of his
evening’s freedom. He sang a little in his clear tenor--even, once when
they had slowed down at a crossing, bent over audaciously and kissed
Carlotta’s hand in the full glare of a passing train.

“How reckless of you!”

“I like to be reckless,” he replied.

His boyishness annoyed Carlotta. She did not want the situation to get
out of hand. Moreover, what was so real for her was only too plainly a
lark for him. She began to doubt her power.

The hopelessness of her situation was dawning on her. Even when the
touch of her beside him and the solitude of the country roads got in
his blood, and he bent toward her, she found no encouragement in his
words:--“I am mad about you to-night.”

She took her courage in her hands:--“Then why give me up for some one
else?”

“That’s--different.”

“Why is it different? I am a woman. I--I love you, Max. No one else will
ever care as I do.”

“You are in love with the Lamb!”

“That was a trick. I’m sorry, Max. I don’t care for anyone else in the
world. If you let me go I’ll want to die.”

Then, as he was silent:--

“If you’ll marry me, I’ll be true to you all my life. I swear it. There
will be nobody else, ever.”

The sense, if not the words, of what he had sworn to Sidney that Sunday
afternoon under the trees, on this very road! Swift shame overtook
him, that he should be here, that he had allowed Carlotta to remain in
ignorance of how things really stood between them.

“I’m sorry, Carlotta. It’s impossible. I’m engaged to marry some one
else.”

“Sidney Page?”--almost a whisper.

“Yes.”

He was ashamed at the way she took the news. If she had stormed or wept,
he would have known what to do. But she sat still, not speaking.

“You must have expected it, sooner or later.”

Still she made no reply. He thought she might faint, and looked at her
anxiously. Her profile, indistinct beside him, looked white and drawn.
But Carlotta was not fainting. She was making a desperate plan. If their
escapade became known, it would end things between Sidney and him. She
was sure of that. She needed time to think it out. It must become known
without any apparent move on her part. If, for instance, she became ill,
and was away from the hospital all night, that might answer. The thing
would be investigated, and who knew--

The car turned in at Schwitter’s road and drew up before the house.
The narrow porch was filled with small tables, above which hung rows of
electric lights enclosed in Japanese paper lanterns. Midweek, which had
found the White Springs Hotel almost deserted, saw Schwitter’s crowded
tables set out under the trees. Seeing the crowd, Wilson drove directly
to the yard and parked his machine.

“No need of running any risk,” he explained to the still figure beside
him. “We can walk back and take a table under the trees, away from those
infernal lanterns.”

She reeled a little as he helped her out.

“Not sick, are you?”

“I’m dizzy. I’m all right.”

She looked white. He felt a stab of pity for her. She leaned rather
heavily on him as they walked toward the house. The faint perfume that
had almost intoxicated him, earlier, vaguely irritated him now.

At the rear of the house she shook off his arm and preceded him around
the building. She chose the end of the porch as the place in which to
drop, and went down like a stone, falling back.

There was a moderate excitement. The visitors at Schwitter’s were too
much engrossed with themselves to be much interested. She opened her
eyes almost as soon as she fell--to forestall any tests; she was
shrewd enough to know that Wilson would detect her malingering very
quickly--and begged to be taken into the house. “I feel very ill,” she
said, and her white face bore her out.

Schwitter and Bill carried her in and up the stairs to one of the newly
furnished rooms. The little man was twittering with anxiety. He had a
horror of knockout drops and the police. They laid her on the bed, her
hat beside her; and Wilson, stripping down the long sleeve of her glove,
felt her pulse.

“There’s a doctor in the next town,” said Schwitter. “I was going to
send for him, anyhow--my wife’s not very well.”

“I’m a doctor.”

“Is it anything serious?”

“Nothing serious.”

He closed the door behind the relieved figure of the landlord, and,
going back to Carlotta, stood looking down at her.

“What did you mean by doing that?”

“Doing what?”

“You were no more faint than I am.”

She closed her eyes.

“I don’t remember. Everything went black. The lanterns--”

He crossed the room deliberately and went out, closing the door behind
him. He saw at once where he stood--in what danger. If she insisted
that she was ill and unable to go back, there would be a fuss. The story
would come out. Everything would be gone. Schwitter’s, of all places!

At the foot of the stairs, Schwitter pulled himself together. After all,
the girl was only ill. There was nothing for the police. He looked at
his watch. The doctor ought to be here by this time. It was sooner than
they had expected. Even the nurse had not come. Tillie was alone, out
in the harness-room. He looked through the crowded rooms, at the
overflowing porch with its travesty of pleasure, and he hated the whole
thing with a desperate hatred.

Another car. Would they never stop coming! But perhaps it was the
doctor. A young man edged his way into the hall and confronted him.

“Two people just arrived here. A man and a woman--in white. Where are
they?”

It was trouble then, after all!

“Upstairs--first bedroom to the right.” His teeth chattered. Surely, as
a man sowed he reaped.

Joe went up the staircase. At the top, on the landing, he confronted
Wilson. He fired at him without a word--saw him fling up his arms and
fall back, striking first the wall, then the floor.

The buzz of conversation on the porch suddenly ceased. Joe put his
revolver in his pocket and went quietly down the stairs. The crowd
parted to let him through.

Carlotta, crouched in her room, listening, not daring to open the door,
heard the sound of a car as it swung out into the road.



CHAPTER XXV


On the evening of the shooting at Schwitter’s, there had been a late
operation at the hospital. Sidney, having duly transcribed her lecture
notes and said her prayers, was already asleep when she received the
insistent summons to the operating-room. She dressed again with flying
fingers. These night battles with death roused all her fighting blood.
There were times when she felt as if, by sheer will, she could force
strength, life itself, into failing bodies. Her sensitive nostrils
dilated, her brain worked like a machine.

That night she received well-deserved praise. When the Lamb, telephoning
hysterically, had failed to locate the younger Wilson, another staff
surgeon was called. His keen eyes watched Sidney--felt her capacity, her
fiber, so to speak; and, when everything was over, he told her what was
in his mind.

“Don’t wear yourself out, girl,” he said gravely. “We need people like
you. It was good work to-night--fine work. I wish we had more like you.”

By midnight the work was done, and the nurse in charge sent Sidney to
bed.

It was the Lamb who received the message about Wilson; and because he
was not very keen at the best, and because the news was so startling, he
refused to credit his ears.

“Who is this at the ‘phone?”

“That doesn’t matter. Le Moyne’s my name. Get the message to Dr. Ed
Wilson at once. We are starting to the city.”

“Tell me again. I mustn’t make a mess of this.”

“Dr. Wilson, the surgeon, has been shot,” came slowly and distinctly.
“Get the staff there and have a room ready. Get the operating-room
ready, too.”

The Lamb wakened then, and roused the house. He was incoherent, rather,
so that Dr. Ed got the impression that it was Le Moyne who had been
shot, and only learned the truth when he got to the hospital.

“Where is he?” he demanded. He liked K., and his heart was sore within
him.

“Not in yet, sir. A Mr. Le Moyne is bringing him. Staff’s in the
executive committee room, sir.”

“But--who has been shot? I thought you said--”

The Lamb turned pale at that, and braced himself.

“I’m sorry--I thought you understood. I believe it’s not--not serious.
It’s Dr. Max, sir.”

Dr. Ed, who was heavy and not very young, sat down on an office chair.
Out of sheer habit he had brought the bag. He put it down on the floor
beside him, and moistened his lips.

“Is he living?”

“Oh, yes, sir. I gathered that Mr. Le Moyne did not think it serious.”

He lied, and Dr. Ed knew he lied.

The Lamb stood by the door, and Dr. Ed sat and waited. The office
clock said half after three. Outside the windows, the night world went
by--taxi-cabs full of roisterers, women who walked stealthily close
to the buildings, a truck carrying steel, so heavy that it shook the
hospital as it rumbled by.

Dr. Ed sat and waited. The bag with the dog-collar in it was on the
floor. He thought of many things, but mostly of the promise he had made
his mother. And, having forgotten the injured man’s shortcomings, he
was remembering his good qualities--his cheerfulness, his courage, his
achievements. He remembered the day Max had done the Edwardes operation,
and how proud he had been of him. He figured out how old he was--not
thirty-one yet, and already, perhaps--There he stopped thinking. Cold
beads of sweat stood out on his forehead.

“I think I hear them now, sir,” said the Lamb, and stood back
respectfully to let him pass out of the door.

Carlotta stayed in the room during the consultation. No one seemed to
wonder why she was there, or to pay any attention to her. The staff was
stricken. They moved back to make room for Dr. Ed beside the bed, and
then closed in again.

Carlotta waited, her hand over her mouth to keep herself from screaming.
Surely they would operate; they wouldn’t let him die like that!

When she saw the phalanx break up, and realized that they would not
operate, she went mad. She stood against the door, and accused them of
cowardice--taunted them.

“Do you think he would let any of you die like that?” she cried. “Die
like a hurt dog, and none of you to lift a hand?”

It was Pfeiffer who drew her out of the room and tried to talk reason
and sanity to her.

“It’s hopeless,” he said. “If there was a chance, we’d operate, and you
know it.”

The staff went hopelessly down the stairs to the smoking-room, and
smoked. It was all they could do. The night assistant sent coffee down
to them, and they drank it. Dr. Ed stayed in his brother’s room, and
said to his mother, under his breath, that he’d tried to do his best by
Max, and that from now on it would be up to her.

K. had brought the injured man in. The country doctor had come, too,
finding Tillie’s trial not imminent. On the way in he had taken it
for granted that K. was a medical man like himself, and had placed his
hypodermic case at his disposal.

When he missed him,--in the smoking-room, that was,--he asked for him.

“I don’t see the chap who came in with us,” he said. “Clever fellow.
Like to know his name.”

The staff did not know.

K. sat alone on a bench in the hall. He wondered who would tell Sidney;
he hoped they would be very gentle with her. He sat in the shadow,
waiting. He did not want to go home and leave her to what she might have
to face. There was a chance she would ask for him. He wanted to be near,
in that case.

He sat in the shadow, on the bench. The night watchman went by twice and
stared at him. At last he asked K. to mind the door until he got some
coffee.

“One of the staff’s been hurt,” he explained. “If I don’t get some
coffee now, I won’t get any.”

K. promised to watch the door.

A desperate thing had occurred to Carlotta. Somehow, she had not thought
of it before. Now she wondered how she could have failed to think of it.
If only she could find him and he would do it! She would go down on her
knees--would tell him everything, if only he would consent.

When she found him on his bench, however, she passed him by. She had a
terrible fear that he might go away if she put the thing to him first.
He clung hard to his new identity.

So first she went to the staff and confronted them. They were men of
courage, only declining to undertake what they considered hopeless work.
The one man among them who might have done the thing with any chance
of success lay stricken. Not one among them but would have given of his
best--only his best was not good enough.

“It would be the Edwardes operation, wouldn’t it?” demanded Carlotta.

The staff was bewildered. There were no rules to cover such conduct on
the part of a nurse. One of them--Pfeiffer again, by chance--replied
rather heavily:--

“If any, it would be the Edwardes operation.”

“Would Dr. Edwardes himself be able to do anything?”

This was going a little far.

“Possibly. One chance in a thousand, perhaps. But Edwardes is dead. How
did this thing happen, Miss Harrison?”

She ignored his question. Her face was ghastly, save for the trace of
rouge; her eyes were red-rimmed.

“Dr. Edwardes is sitting on a bench in the hall outside!” she announced.

Her voice rang out. K. heard her and raised his head. His attitude was
weary, resigned. The thing had come, then! He was to take up the old
burden. The girl had told.

Dr. Ed had sent for Sidney. Max was still unconscious. Ed remembered
about her when, tracing his brother’s career from his babyhood to man’s
estate and to what seemed now to be its ending, he had remembered that
Max was very fond of Sidney. He had hoped that Sidney would take him and
do for him what he, Ed, had failed to do.

So Sidney was summoned.

She thought it was another operation, and her spirit was just a little
weary. But her courage was indomitable. She forced her shoes on her
tired feet, and bathed her face in cold water to rouse herself.

The night watchman was in the hall. He was fond of Sidney; she always
smiled at him; and, on his morning rounds at six o’clock to waken the
nurses, her voice was always amiable. So she found him in the hall,
holding a cup of tepid coffee. He was old and bleary, unmistakably dirty
too--but he had divined Sidney’s romance.

“Coffee! For me?” She was astonished.

“Drink it. You haven’t had much sleep.”

She took it obediently, but over the cup her eyes searched his.

“There is something wrong, daddy.”

That was his name, among the nurses. He had had another name, but it was
lost in the mists of years.

“Get it down.”

So she finished it, not without anxiety that she might be needed. But
daddy’s attentions were for few, and not to be lightly received.

“Can you stand a piece of bad news?”

Strangely, her first thought was of K.

“There has been an accident. Dr. Wilson--”

“Which one?”

“Dr. Max--has been hurt. It ain’t much, but I guess you’d like to know
it.”

“Where is he?”

“Downstairs, in Seventeen.”

So she went down alone to the room where Dr. Ed sat in a chair, with
his untidy bag beside him on the floor, and his eyes fixed on a straight
figure on the bed. When he saw Sidney, he got up and put his arms around
her. His eyes told her the truth before he told her anything. She hardly
listened to what he said. The fact was all that concerned her--that her
lover was dying there, so near that she could touch him with her hand,
so far away that no voice, no caress of hers, could reach him.

The why would come later. Now she could only stand, with Dr. Ed’s arms
about her, and wait.

“If they would only do something!” Sidney’s voice sounded strange to her
ears.

“There is nothing to do.”

But that, it seemed, was wrong. For suddenly Sidney’s small world, which
had always sedately revolved in one direction, began to move the other
way.

The door opened, and the staff came in. But where before they had
moved heavily, with drooped heads, now they came quickly, as men with a
purpose. There was a tall man in a white coat with them. He ordered them
about like children, and they hastened to do his will. At first Sidney
only knew that now, at last, they were going to do something--the tall
man was going to do something. He stood with his back to Sidney, and
gave orders.

The heaviness of inactivity lifted. The room buzzed. The nurses stood
by, while the staff did nurses’ work. The senior surgical interne,
essaying assistance, was shoved aside by the senior surgical consultant,
and stood by, aggrieved.

It was the Lamb, after all, who brought the news to Sidney. The new
activity had caught Dr. Ed, and she was alone now, her face buried
against the back of a chair.

“There’ll be something doing now, Miss Page,” he offered.

“What are they going to do?”

“Going after the bullet. Do you know who’s going to do it?”

His voice echoed the subdued excitement of the room--excitement and new
hope.

“Did you ever hear of Edwardes, the surgeon?--the Edwardes operation,
you know. Well, he’s here. It sounds like a miracle. They found him
sitting on a bench in the hall downstairs.”

Sidney raised her head, but she could not see the miraculously found
Edwardes. She could see the familiar faces of the staff, and that other
face on the pillow, and--she gave a little cry. There was K.! How like
him to be there, to be wherever anyone was in trouble! Tears came to her
eyes--the first tears she had shed.

As if her eyes had called him, he looked up and saw her. He came toward
her at once. The staff stood back to let him pass, and gazed after him.
The wonder of what had happened was growing on them.

K. stood beside Sidney, and looked down at her. Just at first it seemed
as if he found nothing to say. Then:

“There’s just a chance, Sidney dear. Don’t count too much on it.”

“I have got to count on it. If I don’t, I shall die.”

If a shadow passed over his face, no one saw it.

“I’ll not ask you to go back to your room. If you will wait somewhere
near, I’ll see that you have immediate word.”

“I am going to the operating-room.”

“Not to the operating-room. Somewhere near.”

His steady voice controlled her hysteria. But she resented it. She was
not herself, of course, what with strain and weariness.

“I shall ask Dr. Edwardes.”

He was puzzled for a moment. Then he understood. After all, it was as
well. Whether she knew him as Le Moyne or as Edwardes mattered very
little, after all. The thing that really mattered was that he must try
to save Wilson for her. If he failed--It ran through his mind that if he
failed she might hate him the rest of her life--not for himself, but for
his failure; that, whichever way things went, he must lose.

“Dr. Edwardes says you are to stay away from the operation, but to
remain near. He--he promises to call you if--things go wrong.”

She had to be content with that.

Nothing about that night was real to Sidney. She sat in the
anaesthetizing-room, and after a time she knew that she was not alone.
There was somebody else. She realized dully that Carlotta was there,
too, pacing up and down the little room. She was never sure, for
instance, whether she imagined it, or whether Carlotta really stopped
before her and surveyed her with burning eyes.

“So you thought he was going to marry you!” said Carlotta--or the dream.
“Well, you see he isn’t.”

Sidney tried to answer, and failed--or that was the way the dream went.

“If you had enough character, I’d think you did it. How do I know you
didn’t follow us, and shoot him as he left the room?”

It must have been reality, after all; for Sidney’s numbed mind grasped
the essential fact here, and held on to it. He had been out with
Carlotta. He had promised--sworn that this should not happen. It had
happened. It surprised her. It seemed as if nothing more could hurt her.

In the movement to and from the operating room, the door stood open for
a moment. A tall figure--how much it looked like K.!--straightened and
held out something in its hand.

“The bullet!” said Carlotta in a whisper.

Then more waiting, a stir of movement in the room beyond the closed
door. Carlotta was standing, her face buried in her hands, against the
door. Sidney suddenly felt sorry for her. She cared a great deal. It
must be tragic to care like that! She herself was not caring much; she
was too numb.

Beyond, across the courtyard, was the stable. Before the day of the
motor ambulances, horses had waited there for their summons, eager as
fire horses, heads lifted to the gong. When Sidney saw the outline of
the stable roof, she knew that it was dawn. The city still slept, but
the torturing night was over. And in the gray dawn the staff, looking
gray too, and elderly and weary, came out through the closed door and
took their hushed way toward the elevator. They were talking among
themselves. Sidney, straining her ears, gathered that they had seen a
miracle, and that the wonder was still on them.

Carlotta followed them out.

Almost on their heels came K. He was in the white coat, and more and
more he looked like the man who had raised up from his work and held out
something in his hand. Sidney’s head was aching and confused.

She sat there in her chair, looking small and childish. The dawn was
morning now--horizontal rays of sunlight on the stable roof and across
the windowsill of the anaesthetizing-room, where a row of bottles sat on
a clean towel.

The tall man--or was it K.?--looked at her, and then reached up and
turned off the electric light. Why, it was K., of course; and he was
putting out the hall light before he went upstairs. When the light was
out everything was gray. She could not see. She slid very quietly out of
her chair, and lay at his feet in a dead faint.

K. carried her to the elevator. He held her as he had held her that day
at the park when she fell in the river, very carefully, tenderly, as one
holds something infinitely precious. Not until he had placed her on her
bed did she open her eyes. But she was conscious before that. She was
so tired, and to be carried like that, in strong arms, not knowing where
one was going, or caring--

The nurse he had summoned hustled out for aromatic ammonia. Sidney,
lying among her pillows, looked up at K.

“How is he?”

“A little better. There’s a chance, dear.”

“I have been so mixed up. All the time I was sitting waiting, I kept
thinking that it was you who were operating! Will he really get well?”

“It looks promising.”

“I should like to thank Dr. Edwardes.”

The nurse was a long time getting the ammonia. There was so much to talk
about: that Dr. Max had been out with Carlotta Harrison, and had been
shot by a jealous woman; the inexplicable return to life of the great
Edwardes; and--a fact the nurse herself was willing to vouch for, and
that thrilled the training-school to the core--that this very Edwardes,
newly risen, as it were, and being a miracle himself as well as
performing one, this very Edwardes, carrying Sidney to her bed and
putting her down, had kissed her on her white forehead.

The training-school doubted this. How could he know Sidney Page? And,
after all, the nurse had only seen it in the mirror, being occupied
at the time in seeing if her cap was straight. The school, therefore,
accepted the miracle, but refused the kiss.

The miracle was no miracle, of course. But something had happened to K.
that savored of the marvelous. His faith in himself was coming back--not
strongly, with a rush, but with all humility. He had been loath to
take up the burden; but, now that he had it, he breathed a sort of
inarticulate prayer to be able to carry it.

And, since men have looked for signs since the beginning of time, he too
asked for a sign. Not, of course, that he put it that way, or that he
was making terms with Providence. It was like this: if Wilson got well,
he’d keep on working. He’d feel that, perhaps, after all, this was
meant. If Wilson died--Sidney held out her hand to him.

“What should I do without you, K.?” she asked wistfully.

“All you have to do is to want me.”

His voice was not too steady, and he took her pulse in a most
businesslike way to distract her attention from it.

“How very many things you know! You are quite professional about
pulses.”

Even then he did not tell her. He was not sure, to be frank, that she’d
be interested. Now, with Wilson as he was, was no time to obtrude his
own story. There was time enough for that.

“Will you drink some beef tea if I send it to you?”

“I’m not hungry. I will, of course.”

“And--will you try to sleep?”

“Sleep, while he--”

“I promise to tell you if there is any change. I shall stay with him.”

“I’ll try to sleep.”

But, as he rose from the chair beside her low bed, she put out her hand
to him.

“K.”

“Yes, dear.”

“He was out with Carlotta. He promised, and he broke his promise.”

“There may have been reasons. Suppose we wait until he can explain.”

“How can he explain?” And, when he hesitated: “I bring all my troubles
to you, as if you had none. Somehow, I can’t go to Aunt Harriet, and of
course mother--Carlotta cares a great deal for him. She said that I shot
him. Does anyone really think that?”

“Of course not. Please stop thinking.”

“But who did, K.? He had so many friends, and no enemies that I knew
of.”

Her mind seemed to stagger about in a circle, making little excursions,
but always coming back to the one thing.

“Some drunken visitor to the road-house.”

He could have killed himself for the words the moment they were spoken.

“They were at a road-house?”

“It is not just to judge anyone before you hear the story.”

She stirred restlessly.

“What time is it?”

“Half-past six.”

“I must get up and go on duty.”

He was glad to be stern with her. He forbade her rising. When the nurse
came in with the belated ammonia, she found K. making an arbitrary
ruling, and Sidney looking up at him mutinously.

“Miss Page is not to go on duty to-day. She is to stay in bed until
further orders.”

“Very well, Dr. Edwardes.”

The confusion in Sidney’s mind cleared away suddenly. K. was Dr.
Edwardes! It was K. who had performed the miracle operation--K. who
had dared and perhaps won! Dear K., with his steady eyes and his long
surgeon’s fingers! Then, because she seemed to see ahead as well as
back into the past in that flash that comes to the drowning and to those
recovering from shock, and because she knew that now the little house
would no longer be home to K., she turned her face into her pillow and
cried. Her world had fallen indeed. Her lover was not true and might
be dying; her friend would go away to his own world, which was not the
Street.

K. left her at last and went back to Seventeen, where Dr. Ed still sat
by the bed. Inaction was telling on him. If Max would only open
his eyes, so he could tell him what had been in his mind all these
years--his pride in him and all that.

With a sort of belated desire to make up for where he had failed, he put
the bag that had been Max’s bete noir on the bedside table, and began
to clear it of rubbish--odd bits of dirty cotton, the tubing from a long
defunct stethoscope, glass from a broken bottle, a scrap of paper on
which was a memorandum, in his illegible writing, to send Max a check
for his graduating suit. When K. came in, he had the old dog-collar in
his hand.

“Belonged to an old collie of ours,” he said heavily. “Milkman ran over
him and killed him. Max chased the wagon and licked the driver with his
own whip.”

His face worked.

“Poor old Bobby Burns!” he said. “We’d raised him from a pup. Got him in
a grape-basket.”

The sick man opened his eyes.



CHAPTER XXVI


Max had rallied well, and things looked bright for him. His patient did
not need him, but K. was anxious to find Joe; so he telephoned the
gas office and got a day off. The sordid little tragedy was easy to
reconstruct, except that, like Joe, K. did not believe in the innocence
of the excursion to Schwitter’s. His spirit was heavy with the
conviction that he had saved Wilson to make Sidney ultimately wretched.

For the present, at least, K.’s revealed identity was safe. Hospitals
keep their secrets well. And it is doubtful if the Street would
have been greatly concerned even had it known. It had never heard of
Edwardes, of the Edwardes clinic or the Edwardes operation. Its medical
knowledge comprised the two Wilsons and the osteopath around the corner.
When, as would happen soon, it learned of Max Wilson’s injury, it would
be more concerned with his chances of recovery than with the manner of
it. That was as it should be.

But Joe’s affair with Sidney had been the talk of the neighborhood. If
the boy disappeared, a scandal would be inevitable. Twenty people had
seen him at Schwitter’s and would know him again.

To save Joe, then, was K.’s first care.

At first it seemed as if the boy had frustrated him. He had not been
home all night. Christine, waylaying K. in the little hall, told him
that. “Mrs. Drummond was here,” she said. “She is almost frantic. She
says Joe has not been home all night. She says he looks up to you, and
she thought if you could find him and would talk to him--”

“Joe was with me last night. We had supper at the White Springs Hotel.
Tell Mrs. Drummond he was in good spirits, and that she’s not to worry.
I feel sure she will hear from him to-day. Something went wrong with his
car, perhaps, after he left me.”

He bathed and shaved hurriedly. Katie brought his coffee to his room,
and he drank it standing. He was working out a theory about the boy.
Beyond Schwitter’s the highroad stretched, broad and inviting, across
the State. Either he would have gone that way, his little car eating up
the miles all that night, or--K. would not formulate his fear of what
might have happened, even to himself.

As he went down the Street, he saw Mrs. McKee in her doorway, with a
little knot of people around her. The Street was getting the night’s
news.

He rented a car at a local garage, and drove himself out into the
country. He was not minded to have any eyes on him that day. He went
to Schwitter’s first. Schwitter himself was not in sight. Bill was
scrubbing the porch, and a farmhand was gathering bottles from the grass
into a box. The dead lanterns swung in the morning air, and from back on
the hill came the staccato sounds of a reaping-machine.

“Where’s Schwitter?”

“At the barn with the missus. Got a boy back there.”

Bill grinned. He recognized K., and, mopping dry a part of the porch,
shoved a chair on it.

“Sit down. Well, how’s the man who got his last night? Dead?”

“No.”

“County detectives were here bright and early. After the lady’s husband.
I guess we lose our license over this.”

“What does Schwitter say?”

“Oh, him!” Bill’s tone was full of disgust. “He hopes we do. He hates
the place. Only man I ever knew that hated money. That’s what this house
is--money.”

“Bill, did you see the man who fired that shot last night?”

A sort of haze came over Bill’s face, as if he had dropped a curtain
before his eyes. But his reply came promptly:

“Surest thing in the world. Close to him as you are to me. Dark man,
about thirty, small mustache--”

“Bill, you’re lying, and I know it. Where is he?”

The barkeeper kept his head, but his color changed.

“I don’t know anything about him.” He thrust his mop into the pail. K.
rose.

“Does Schwitter know?”

“He doesn’t know nothing. He’s been out at the barn all night.”

The farmhand had filled his box and disappeared around the corner of the
house. K. put his hand on Bill’s shirt-sleeved arm.

“We’ve got to get him away from here, Bill.”

“Get who away?”

“You know. The county men may come back to search the premises.”

“How do I know you aren’t one of them?”

“I guess you know I’m not. He’s a friend of mine. As a matter of fact,
I followed him here; but I was too late. Did he take the revolver away
with him?”

“I took it from him. It’s under the bar.”

“Get it for me.”

In sheer relief, K.’s spirits rose. After all, it was a good world:
Tillie with her baby in her arms; Wilson conscious and rallying; Joe
safe, and, without the revolver, secure from his own remorse. Other
things there were, too--the feel of Sidney’s inert body in his arms, the
way she had turned to him in trouble. It was not what he wanted, this
last, but it was worth while. The reaping-machine was in sight now; it
had stopped on the hillside. The men were drinking out of a bucket that
flashed in the sun.

There was one thing wrong. What had come over Wilson, to do so reckless
a thing? K., who was a one-woman man, could not explain it.

From inside the bar Bill took a careful survey of Le Moyne. He noted his
tall figure and shabby suit, the slight stoop, the hair graying over his
ears. Barkeepers know men: that’s a part of the job. After his survey he
went behind the bar and got the revolver from under an overturned pail.

K. thrust it into his pocket.

“Now,” he said quietly, “where is he?”

“In my room--top of the house.”

K. followed Bill up the stairs. He remembered the day when he had sat
waiting in the parlor, and had heard Tillie’s slow step coming down.
And last night he himself had carried down Wilson’s unconscious figure.
Surely the wages of sin were wretchedness and misery. None of it paid.
No one got away with it.

The room under the eaves was stifling. An unmade bed stood in a corner.
From nails in the rafters hung Bill’s holiday wardrobe. A tin cup and a
cracked pitcher of spring water stood on the window-sill.

Joe was sitting in the corner farthest from the window. When the door
swung open, he looked up. He showed no interest on seeing K., who had to
stoop to enter the low room.

“Hello, Joe.”

“I thought you were the police.”

“Not much. Open that window, Bill. This place is stifling.”

“Is he dead?”

“No, indeed.”

“I wish I’d killed him!”

“Oh, no, you don’t. You’re damned glad you didn’t, and so am I.”

“What will they do with me?”

“Nothing until they find you. I came to talk about that. They’d better
not find you.”

“Huh!”

“It’s easier than it sounds.”

K. sat down on the bed.

“If I only had some money!” he said. “But never mind about that, Joe;
I’ll get some.”

Loud calls from below took Bill out of the room. As he closed the door
behind him, K.’s voice took on a new tone: “Joe, why did you do it?”

“You know.”

“You saw him with somebody at the White Springs, and followed them?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know who was with him?”

“Yes, and so do you. Don’t go into that. I did it, and I’ll stand by
it.”

“Has it occurred to you that you made a mistake?”

“Go and tell that to somebody who’ll believe you!” he sneered. “They
came here and took a room. I met him coming out of it. I’d do it again
if I had a chance, and do it better.”

“It was not Sidney.”

“Aw, chuck it!”

“It’s a fact. I got here not two minutes after you left. The girl was
still there. It was some one else. Sidney was not out of the hospital
last night. She attended a lecture, and then an operation.”

Joe listened. It was undoubtedly a relief to him to know that it had not
been Sidney; but if K. expected any remorse, he did not get it.

“If he is that sort, he deserves what he got,” said the boy grimly.

And K. had no reply. But Joe was glad to talk. The hours he had spent
alone in the little room had been very bitter, and preceded by a time
that he shuddered to remember. K. got it by degrees--his descent of the
staircase, leaving Wilson lying on the landing above; his resolve to
walk back and surrender himself at Schwitter’s, so that there could be
no mistake as to who had committed the crime.

“I intended to write a confession and then shoot myself,” he told K.
“But the barkeeper got my gun out of my pocket. And--”

After a pause: “Does she know who did it?”

“Sidney? No.”

“Then, if he gets better, she’ll marry him anyhow.”

“Possibly. That’s not up to us, Joe. The thing we’ve got to do is to
hush the thing up, and get you away.”

“I’d go to Cuba, but I haven’t the money.”

K. rose. “I think I can get it.”

He turned in the doorway.

“Sidney need never know who did it.”

“I’m not ashamed of it.” But his face showed relief.

There are times when some cataclysm tears down the walls of reserve
between men. That time had come for Joe, and to a lesser extent for K.
The boy rose and followed him to the door.

“Why don’t you tell her the whole thing?--the whole filthy story?” he
asked. “She’d never look at him again. You’re crazy about her. I haven’t
got a chance. It would give you one.”

“I want her, God knows!” said K. “But not that way, boy.”

Schwitter had taken in five hundred dollars the previous day.

“Five hundred gross,” the little man hastened to explain. “But you’re
right, Mr. Le Moyne. And I guess it would please HER. It’s going hard
with her, just now, that she hasn’t any women friends about. It’s in the
safe, in cash; I haven’t had time to take it to the bank.” He seemed
to apologize to himself for the unbusinesslike proceeding of lending
an entire day’s gross receipts on no security. “It’s better to get him
away, of course. It’s good business. I have tried to have an orderly
place. If they arrest him here--”

His voice trailed off. He had come a far way from the day he had walked
down the Street, and eyed Its poplars with appraising eyes--a far way.
Now he had a son, and the child’s mother looked at him with tragic eyes.
It was arranged that K. should go back to town, returning late that
night to pick up Joe at a lonely point on the road, and to drive him to
a railroad station. But, as it happened, he went back that afternoon.

He had told Schwitter he would be at the hospital, and the message found
him there. Wilson was holding his own, conscious now and making a hard
fight. The message from Schwitter was very brief:--

“Something has happened, and Tillie wants you. I don’t like to trouble
you again, but she--wants you.”

K. was rather gray of face by that time, having had no sleep and little
food since the day before. But he got into the rented machine again--its
rental was running up; he tried to forget it--and turned it toward
Hillfoot. But first of all he drove back to the Street, and walked
without ringing into Mrs. McKee’s.

Neither a year’s time nor Mrs. McKee’s approaching change of state had
altered the “mealing” house. The ticket-punch still lay on the hat-rack
in the hall. Through the rusty screen of the back parlor window one
viewed the spiraea, still in need of spraying. Mrs. McKee herself was in
the pantry, placing one slice of tomato and three small lettuce leaves
on each of an interminable succession of plates.

K., who was privileged, walked back.

“I’ve got a car at the door,” he announced, “and there’s nothing so
extravagant as an empty seat in an automobile. Will you take a ride?”

Mrs. McKee agreed. Being of the class who believe a boudoir cap the
ideal headdress for a motor-car, she apologized for having none.

“If I’d known you were coming I would have borrowed a cap,” she said.
“Miss Tripp, third floor front, has a nice one. If you’ll take me in my
toque--”

K. said he’d take her in her toque, and waited with some anxiety,
having not the faintest idea what a toque was. He was not without other
anxieties. What if the sight of Tillie’s baby did not do all that he
expected? Good women could be most cruel. And Schwitter had been very
vague. But here K. was more sure of himself: the little man’s voice had
expressed as exactly as words the sense of a bereavement that was not a
grief.

He was counting on Mrs. McKee’s old fondness for the girl to bring them
together. But, as they neared the house with its lanterns and tables,
its whitewashed stones outlining the drive, its small upper window
behind which Joe was waiting for night, his heart failed him, rather. He
had a masculine dislike for meddling, and yet--Mrs. McKee had suddenly
seen the name in the wooden arch over the gate: “Schwitter’s.”

“I’m not going in there, Mr. Le Moyne.”

“Tillie’s not in the house. She’s back in the barn.”

“In the barn!”

“She didn’t approve of all that went on there, so she moved out. It’s
very comfortable and clean; it smells of hay. You’d be surprised how
nice it is.”

“The like of her!” snorted Mrs. McKee. “She’s late with her conscience,
I’m thinking.”

“Last night,” K. remarked, hands on the wheel, but car stopped, “she
had a child there. It--it’s rather like very old times, isn’t it? A
man-child, Mrs. McKee, not in a manger, of course.”

“What do you want me to do?” Mrs. McKee’s tone, which had been fierce at
the beginning, ended feebly.

“I want you to go in and visit her, as you would any woman who’d had a
new baby and needed a friend. Lie a little--” Mrs. McKee gasped. “Tell
her the baby’s pretty. Tell her you’ve been wanting to see her.” His
tone was suddenly stern. “Lie a little, for your soul’s sake.”

She wavered, and while she wavered he drove her in under the arch with
the shameful name, and back to the barn. But there he had the tact to
remain in the car, and Mrs. McKee’s peace with Tillie was made alone.
When, five minutes later, she beckoned him from the door of the barn,
her eyes were red.

“Come in, Mr. K.,” she said. “The wife’s dead, poor thing. They’re going
to be married right away.”

The clergyman was coming along the path with Schwitter at his heels. K.
entered the barn. At the door to Tillie’s room he uncovered his head.
The child was asleep at her breast.


The five thousand dollar check from Mr. Lorenz had saved Palmer Howe’s
credit. On the strength of the deposit, he borrowed a thousand at the
bank with which he meant to pay his bills, arrears at the University and
Country Clubs, a hundred dollars lost throwing aces with poker dice, and
various small obligations of Christine’s.

The immediate result of the money was good. He drank nothing for a week,
went into the details of the new venture with Christine’s father, sat at
home with Christine on her balcony in the evenings. With the knowledge
that he could pay his debts, he postponed the day. He liked the feeling
of a bank account in four figures.

The first evening or two Christine’s pleasure in having him there
gratified him. He felt kind, magnanimous, almost virtuous. On the third
evening he was restless. It occurred to him that his wife was beginning
to take his presence as a matter of course. He wanted cold bottled beer.
When he found that the ice was out and the beer warm and flat, he was
furious.

Christine had been making a fight, although her heart was only half
in it. She was resolutely good-humored, ignored the past, dressed for
Palmer in the things he liked. They still took their dinners at the
Lorenz house up the street. When she saw that the haphazard table
service there irritated him, she coaxed her mother into getting a
butler.

The Street sniffed at the butler behind his stately back. Secretly and
in its heart, it was proud of him. With a half-dozen automobiles, and
Christine Howe putting on low neck in the evenings, and now a butler,
not to mention Harriet Kennedy’s Mimi, it ceased to pride itself on
its commonplaceness, ignorant of the fact that in its very lack of
affectation had lain its charm.

On the night that Joe shot Max Wilson, Palmer was noticeably restless.
He had seen Grace Irving that day for the first time but once since
the motor accident. To do him justice, his dissipation of the past few
months had not included women.

The girl had a strange fascination for him. Perhaps she typified the
care-free days before his marriage; perhaps the attraction was deeper,
fundamental. He met her in the street the day before Max Wilson was
shot. The sight of her walking sedately along in her shop-girl’s black
dress had been enough to set his pulses racing. When he saw that she
meant to pass him, he fell into step beside her.

“I believe you were going to cut me!”

“I was in a hurry.”

“Still in the store?”

“Yes.” And, after a second’s hesitation: “I’m keeping straight, too.”

“How are you getting along?”

“Pretty well. I’ve had my salary raised.”

“Do you have to walk as fast as this?”

“I said I was in a hurry. Once a week I get off a little early. I--”

He eyed her suspiciously.

“Early! What for?”

“I go to the hospital. The Rosenfeld boy is still there, you know.”

“Oh!”

But a moment later he burst out irritably:--

“That was an accident, Grace. The boy took the chance when he engaged
to drive the car. I’m sorry, of course. I dream of the little
devil sometimes, lying there. I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he added
magnanimously. “I’ll stop in and talk to Wilson. He ought to have done
something before this.”

“The boy’s not strong enough yet. I don’t think you can do anything for
him, unless--”

The monstrous injustice of the thing overcame her. Palmer and she
walking about, and the boy lying on his hot bed! She choked.

“Well?”

“He worries about his mother. If you could give her some money, it would
help.”

“Money! Good Heavens--I owe everybody.”

“You owe him too, don’t you? He’ll never walk again.”

“I can’t give them ten dollars. I don’t see that I’m under any
obligation, anyhow. I paid his board for two months in the hospital.”

When she did not acknowledge this generosity,--amounting to forty-eight
dollars,--his irritation grew. Her silence was an accusation. Her manner
galled him, into the bargain. She was too calm in his presence, too
cold. Where she had once palpitated visibly under his warm gaze, she was
now self-possessed and quiet. Where it had pleased his pride to think
that he had given her up, he found that the shoe was on the other foot.

At the entrance to a side street she stopped.

“I turn off here.”

“May I come and see you sometime?”

“No, please.”

“That’s flat, is it?”

“It is, Palmer.”

He swung around savagely and left her.

The next day he drew the thousand dollars from the bank. A good many
of his debts he wanted to pay in cash; there was no use putting checks
through, with incriminating indorsements. Also, he liked the idea of
carrying a roll of money around. The big fellows at the clubs always had
a wad and peeled off bills like skin off an onion. He took a couple of
drinks to celebrate his approaching immunity from debt.

He played auction bridge that afternoon in a private room at one of the
hotels with the three men he had lunched with. Luck seemed to be with
him. He won eighty dollars, and thrust it loose in his trousers pocket.
Money seemed to bring money! If he could carry the thousand around for a
day or so, something pretty good might come of it.

He had been drinking a little all afternoon. When the game was over, he
bought drinks to celebrate his victory. The losers treated, too, to show
they were no pikers. Palmer was in high spirits. He offered to put up
the eighty and throw for it. The losers mentioned dinner and various
engagements.

Palmer did not want to go home. Christine would greet him with raised
eyebrows. They would eat a stuffy Lorenz dinner, and in the evening
Christine would sit in the lamplight and drive him mad with soft music.
He wanted lights, noise, the smiles of women. Luck was with him, and he
wanted to be happy.

At nine o’clock that night he found Grace. She had moved to a cheap
apartment which she shared with two other girls from the store. The
others were out. It was his lucky day, surely.

His drunkenness was of the mind, mostly. His muscles were well
controlled. The lines from his nose to the corners of his mouth were
slightly accentuated, his eyes open a trifle wider than usual. That
and a slight paleness of the nostrils were the only evidences of his
condition. But Grace knew the signs.

“You can’t come in.”

“Of course I’m coming in.”

She retreated before him, her eyes watchful. Men in his condition were
apt to be as quick with a blow as with a caress. But, having gained his
point, he was amiable.

“Get your things on and come out. We can take in a roof-garden.”

“I’ve told you I’m not doing that sort of thing.”

He was ugly in a flash.

“You’ve got somebody else on the string.”

“Honestly, no. There--there has never been anybody else, Palmer.”

He caught her suddenly and jerked her toward him.

“You let me hear of anybody else, and I’ll cut the guts out of him!”

He held her for a second, his face black and fierce. Then, slowly and
inevitably, he drew her into his arms. He was drunk, and she knew it.
But, in the queer loyalty of her class, he was the only man she had
cared for. She cared now. She took him for that moment, felt his hot
kisses on her mouth, her throat, submitted while his rather brutal
hands bruised her arms in fierce caresses. Then she put him from her
resolutely.

“Now you’re going.”

“The hell I’m going!”

But he was less steady than he had been. The heat of the little flat
brought more blood to his head. He wavered as he stood just inside the
door.

“You must go back to your wife.”

“She doesn’t want me. She’s in love with a fellow at the house.”

“Palmer, hush!”

“Lemme come in and sit down, won’t you?”

She let him pass her into the sitting-room. He dropped into a chair.

“You’ve turned me down, and now Christine--she thinks I don’t know. I’m
no fool; I see a lot of things. I’m no good. I know that I’ve made her
miserable. But I made a merry little hell for you too, and you don’t
kick about it.”

“You know that.”

She was watching him gravely. She had never seen him just like this.
Nothing else, perhaps, could have shown her so well what a broken reed
he was.

“I got you in wrong. You were a good girl before I knew you. You’re
a good girl now. I’m not going to do you any harm, I swear it. I only
wanted to take you out for a good time. I’ve got money. Look here!” He
drew out the roll of bills and showed it to her. Her eyes opened wide.
She had never known him to have much money.

“Lots more where that comes from.”

A new look flashed into her eyes, not cupidity, but purpose.

She was instantly cunning.

“Aren’t you going to give me some of that?”

“What for?”

“I--I want some clothes.”

The very drunk have the intuition sometimes of savages or brute beasts.

“You lie.”

“I want it for Johnny Rosenfeld.”

He thrust it back into his pocket, but his hand retained its grasp of
it.

“That’s it,” he complained. “Don’t lemme be happy for a minute! Throw it
all up to me!”

“You give me that for the Rosenfeld boy, and I’ll go out with you.”

“If I give you all that, I won’t have any money to go out with!”

But his eyes were wavering. She could see victory.

“Take off enough for the evening.”

But he drew himself up.

“I’m no piker,” he said largely. “Whole hog or nothing. Take it.”

He held it out to her, and from another pocket produced the eighty
dollars, in crushed and wrinkled notes.

“It’s my lucky day,” he said thickly. “Plenty more where this came from.
Do anything for you. Give it to the little devil. I--” He yawned. “God,
this place is hot!”

His head dropped back on his chair; he propped his sagging legs on a
stool. She knew him--knew that he would sleep almost all night.
She would have to make up something to tell the other girls; but no
matter--she could attend to that later.

She had never had a thousand dollars in her hands before. It seemed
smaller than that amount. Perhaps he had lied to her. She paused, in
pinning on her hat, to count the bills. It was all there.



CHAPTER XXVII


K. spent all of the evening of that day with Wilson. He was not to go
for Joe until eleven o’clock. The injured man’s vitality was standing
him in good stead. He had asked for Sidney and she was at his bedside.
Dr. Ed had gone.

“I’m going, Max. The office is full, they tell me,” he said, bending
over the bed. “I’ll come in later, and if they’ll make me a shakedown,
I’ll stay with you to-night.”

The answer was faint, broken but distinct. “Get some sleep...I’ve been a
poor stick...try to do better--” His roving eyes fell on the dog collar
on the stand. He smiled, “Good old Bob!” he said, and put his hand over
Dr. Ed’s, as it lay on the bed.

K. found Sidney in the room, not sitting, but standing by the window.
The sick man was dozing. One shaded light burned in a far corner. She
turned slowly and met his eyes. It seemed to K. that she looked at
him as if she had never really seen him before, and he was right.
Readjustments are always difficult.

Sidney was trying to reconcile the K. she had known so well with this
new K., no longer obscure, although still shabby, whose height had
suddenly become presence, whose quiet was the quiet of infinite power.

She was suddenly shy of him, as he stood looking down at her. He saw the
gleam of her engagement ring on her finger. It seemed almost defiant. As
though she had meant by wearing it to emphasize her belief in her lover.

They did not speak beyond their greeting, until he had gone over the
record. Then:--

“We can’t talk here. I want to talk to you, K.”

He led the way into the corridor. It was very dim. Far away was the
night nurse’s desk, with its lamp, its annunciator, its pile of records.
The passage floor reflected the light on glistening boards.

“I have been thinking until I am almost crazy, K. And now I know how it
happened. It was Joe.”

“The principal thing is, not how it happened, but that he is going to
get well, Sidney.”

She stood looking down, twisting her ring around her finger.

“Is Joe in any danger?”

“We are going to get him away to-night. He wants to go to Cuba. He’ll
get off safely, I think.”

“WE are going to get him away! YOU are, you mean. You shoulder all our
troubles, K., as if they were your own.”

“I?” He was genuinely surprised. “Oh, I see. You mean--but my part in
getting Joe off is practically nothing. As a matter of fact, Schwitter
has put up the money. My total capital in the world, after paying the
taxicab to-day, is seven dollars.”

“The taxicab?”

“By Jove, I was forgetting! Best news you ever heard of! Tillie married
and has a baby--all in twenty-four hours! Boy--they named it Le Moyne.
Squalled like a maniac when the water went on its head. I--I took Mrs.
McKee out in a hired machine. That’s what happened to my capital.” He
grinned sheepishly. “She said she would have to go in her toque. I had
awful qualms. I thought it was a wrapper.”

“You, of course,” she said. “You find Max and save him--don’t look like
that! You did, didn’t you? And you get Joe away, borrowing money to send
him. And as if that isn’t enough, when you ought to have been getting
some sleep, you are out taking a friend to Tillie, and being godfather
to the baby.”

He looked uncomfortable, almost guilty.

“I had a day off. I--”

“When I look back and remember how all these months I’ve been talking
about service, and you said nothing at all, and all the time you were
living what I preached--I’m so ashamed, K.”

He would not allow that. It distressed him. She saw that, and tried to
smile.

“When does Joe go?”

“To-night. I’m to take him across the country to the railroad. I was
wondering--”

“Yes?”

“I’d better explain first what happened, and why it happened. Then if
you are willing to send him a line, I think it would help. He saw a girl
in white in the car and followed in his own machine. He thought it was
you, of course. He didn’t like the idea of your going to Schwitter’s.
Carlotta was taken ill. And Schwitter and--and Wilson took her upstairs
to a room.”

“Do you believe that, K.?”

“I do. He saw Max coming out and misunderstood. He fired at him then.”

“He did it for me. I feel very guilty, K., as if it all comes back to
me. I’ll write to him, of course. Poor Joe!”

He watched her go down the hall toward the night nurse’s desk. He would
have given everything just then for the right to call her back, to take
her in his arms and comfort her. She seemed so alone. He himself had
gone through loneliness and heartache, and the shadow was still on him.
He waited until he saw her sit down at the desk and take up a pen. Then
he went back into the quiet room.

He stood by the bedside, looking down. Wilson was breathing quietly: his
color was coming up, as he rallied from the shock. In K.’s mind now was
just one thought--to bring him through for Sidney, and then to go away.
He might follow Joe to Cuba. There were chances there. He could do
sanitation work, or he might try the Canal.

The Street would go on working out its own salvation. He would have
to think of something for the Rosenfelds. And he was worried about
Christine. But there again, perhaps it would be better if he went away.
Christine’s story would have to work itself out. His hands were tied.

He was glad in a way that Sidney had asked no questions about him, had
accepted his new identity so calmly. It had been overshadowed by the
night tragedy. It would have pleased him if she had shown more interest,
of course. But he understood. It was enough, he told himself, that he
had helped her, that she counted on him. But more and more he knew in
his heart that it was not enough. “I’d better get away from here,” he
told himself savagely.

And having taken the first step toward flight, as happens in such cases,
he was suddenly panicky with fear, fear that he would get out of hand,
and take her in his arms, whether or no; a temptation to run from
temptation, to cut everything and go with Joe that night. But there
his sense of humor saved him. That would be a sight for the gods, two
defeated lovers flying together under the soft September moon.

Some one entered the room. He thought it was Sidney and turned with the
light in his eyes that was only for her. It was Carlotta.

She was not in uniform. She wore a dark skirt and white waist and her
high heels tapped as she crossed the room. She came directly to him.

“He is better, isn’t he?”

“He is rallying. Of course it will be a day or two before we are quite
sure.”

She stood looking down at Wilson’s quiet figure.

“I guess you know I’ve been crazy about him,” she said quietly. “Well,
that’s all over. He never really cared for me. I played his game and
I--lost. I’ve been expelled from the school.”

Quite suddenly she dropped on her knees beside the bed, and put her
cheek close to the sleeping man’s hand. When after a moment she rose,
she was controlled again, calm, very white.

“Will you tell him, Dr. Edwardes, when he is conscious, that I came in
and said good-bye?”

“I will, of course. Do you want to leave any other message?”

She hesitated, as if the thought tempted her. Then she shrugged her
shoulders.

“What would be the use? He doesn’t want any message from me.”

She turned toward the door. But K. could not let her go like that. Her
face frightened him. It was too calm, too controlled. He followed her
across the room.

“What are your plans?”

“I haven’t any. I’m about through with my training, but I’ve lost my
diploma.”

“I don’t like to see you going away like this.”

She avoided his eyes, but his kindly tone did what neither the Head nor
the Executive Committee had done that day. It shook her control.

“What does it matter to you? You don’t owe me anything.”

“Perhaps not. One way and another I’ve known you a long time.”

“You never knew anything very good.”

“I’ll tell you where I live, and--”

“I know where you live.”

“Will you come to see me there? We may be able to think of something.”

“What is there to think of? This story will follow me wherever I go!
I’ve tried twice for a diploma and failed. What’s the use?”

But in the end he prevailed on her to promise not to leave the city
until she had seen him again. It was not until she had gone, a straight
figure with haunted eyes, that he reflected whimsically that once again
he had defeated his own plans for flight.

In the corridor outside the door Carlotta hesitated. Why not go back?
Why not tell him? He was kind; he was going to do something for her.
But the old instinct of self-preservation prevailed. She went on to her
room.

Sidney brought her letter to Joe back to K. She was flushed with the
effort and with a new excitement.

“This is the letter, K., and--I haven’t been able to say what I wanted,
exactly. You’ll let him know, won’t you, how I feel, and how I blame
myself?”

K. promised gravely.

“And the most remarkable thing has happened. What a day this has been!
Somebody has sent Johnny Rosenfeld a lot of money. The ward nurse wants
you to come back.”

The ward had settled for the night. The well-ordered beds of the daytime
were chaotic now, torn apart by tossing figures. The night was hot and
an electric fan hummed in a far corner. Under its sporadic breezes, as
it turned, the ward was trying to sleep.

Johnny Rosenfeld was not asleep. An incredible thing had happened to
him. A fortune lay under his pillow. He was sure it was there, for ever
since it came his hot hand had clutched it.

He was quite sure that somehow or other K. had had a hand in it. When he
disclaimed it, the boy was bewildered.

“It’ll buy the old lady what she wants for the house, anyhow,” he
said. “But I hope nobody’s took up a collection for me. I don’t want no
charity.”

“Maybe Mr. Howe sent it.”

“You can bet your last match he didn’t.”

In some unknown way the news had reached the ward that Johnny’s friend,
Mr. Le Moyne, was a great surgeon. Johnny had rejected it scornfully.

“He works in the gas office,” he said, “I’ve seen him there. If he’s a
surgeon, what’s he doing in the gas office. If he’s a surgeon, what’s he
doing teaching me raffia-work? Why isn’t he on his job?”

But the story had seized on his imagination.

“Say, Mr. Le Moyne.”

“Yes, Jack.”

He called him “Jack.” The boy liked it. It savored of man to man. After
all, he was a man, or almost. Hadn’t he driven a car? Didn’t he have a
state license?

“They’ve got a queer story about you here in the ward.”

“Not scandal, I trust, Jack!”

“They say that you’re a surgeon; that you operated on Dr. Wilson and
saved his life. They say that you’re the king pin where you came from.”
 He eyed K. wistfully. “I know it’s a damn lie, but if it’s true--”

“I used to be a surgeon. As a matter of fact I operated on Dr. Wilson
to-day. I--I am rather apologetic, Jack, because I didn’t explain to
you sooner. For--various reasons--I gave up that--that line of business.
To-day they rather forced my hand.”

“Don’t you think you could do something for me, sir?”

When K. did not reply at once, he launched into an explanation.

“I’ve been lying here a good while. I didn’t say much because I knew I’d
have to take a chance. Either I’d pull through or I wouldn’t, and the
odds were--well, I didn’t say much. The old lady’s had a lot of trouble.
But now, with THIS under my pillow for her, I’ve got a right to ask.
I’ll take a chance, if you will.”

“It’s only a chance, Jack.”

“I know that. But lie here and watch these soaks off the street. Old, a
lot of them, and gettin’ well to go out and starve, and--My God! Mr. Le
Moyne, they can walk, and I can’t.”

K. drew a long breath. He had started, and now he must go on. Faith in
himself or no faith, he must go on. Life, that had loosed its hold on
him for a time, had found him again.

“I’ll go over you carefully to-morrow, Jack. I’ll tell you your chances
honestly.”

“I have a thousand dollars. Whatever you charge--”

“I’ll take it out of my board bill in the new house!”

At four o’clock that morning K. got back from seeing Joe off. The trip
had been without accident.

Over Sidney’s letter Joe had shed a shamefaced tear or two. And during
the night ride, with K. pushing the car to the utmost, he had felt that
the boy, in keeping his hand in his pocket, had kept it on the letter.
When the road was smooth and stretched ahead, a gray-white line into the
night, he tried to talk a little courage into the boy’s sick heart.

“You’ll see new people, new life,” he said. “In a month from now you’ll
wonder why you ever hung around the Street. I have a feeling that you’re
going to make good down there.”

And once, when the time for parting was very near,--“No matter what
happens, keep on believing in yourself. I lost my faith in myself once.
It was pretty close to hell.”

Joe’s response showed his entire self-engrossment.

“If he dies, I’m a murderer.”

“He’s not going to die,” said K. stoutly.

At four o’clock in the morning he left the car at the garage and walked
around to the little house. He had had no sleep for forty-five hours;
his eyes were sunken in his head; the skin over his temples looked drawn
and white. His clothes were wrinkled; the soft hat he habitually wore
was white with the dust of the road.

As he opened the hall door, Christine stirred in the room beyond. She
came out fully dressed.

“K., are you sick?”

“Rather tired. Why in the world aren’t you in bed?”

“Palmer has just come home in a terrible rage. He says he’s been robbed
of a thousand dollars.”

“Where?”

Christine shrugged her shoulders.

“He doesn’t know, or says he doesn’t. I’m glad of it. He seems
thoroughly frightened. It may be a lesson.”

In the dim hall light he realized that her face was strained and set.
She looked on the verge of hysteria.

“Poor little woman,” he said. “I’m sorry, Christine.”

The tender words broke down the last barrier of her self-control.

“Oh, K.! Take me away. Take me away! I can’t stand it any longer.”

She held her arms out to him, and because he was very tired and lonely,
and because more than anything else in the world just then he needed a
woman’s arms, he drew her to him and held her close, his cheek to her
hair.

“Poor girl!” he said. “Poor Christine! Surely there must be some
happiness for us somewhere.”

But the next moment he let her go and stepped back.

“I’m sorry.” Characteristically he took the blame. “I shouldn’t have
done that--You know how it is with me.”

“Will it always be Sidney?”

“I’m afraid it will always be Sidney.”



CHAPTER XXVIII


Johnny Rosenfeld was dead. All of K.’s skill had not sufficed to save
him. The operation had been a marvel, but the boy’s long-sapped strength
failed at the last.

K., set of face, stayed with him to the end. The boy did not know he was
going. He roused from the coma and smiled up at Le Moyne.

“I’ve got a hunch that I can move my right foot,” he said. “Look and
see.”

K. lifted the light covering.

“You’re right, old man. It’s moving.”

“Brake foot, clutch foot,” said Johnny, and closed his eyes again.

K. had forbidden the white screens, that outward symbol of death. Time
enough for them later. So the ward had no suspicion, nor had the boy.

The ward passed in review. It was Sunday, and from the chapel far below
came the faint singing of a hymn. When Johnny spoke again he did not
open his eyes.

“You’re some operator, Mr. Le Moyne. I’ll put in a word for you whenever
I get a chance.”

“Yes, put in a word for me,” said K. huskily.

He felt that Johnny would be a good mediator--that whatever he, K., had
done of omission or commission, Johnny’s voice before the Tribunal would
count.

The lame young violin-player came into the ward. She had cherished a
secret and romantic affection for Max Wilson, and now he was in the
hospital and ill. So she wore the sacrificial air of a young nun and
played “The Holy City.”

Johnny was close on the edge of his long sleep by that time, and very
comfortable.

“Tell her nix on the sob stuff,” he complained. “Ask her to play ‘I’m
twenty-one and she’s eighteen.’”

She was rather outraged, but on K.’s quick explanation she changed to
the staccato air.

“Ask her if she’ll come a little nearer; I can’t hear her.”

So she moved to the foot of the bed, and to the gay little tune Johnny
began his long sleep. But first he asked K. a question: “Are you sure
I’m going to walk, Mr. Le Moyne?”

“I give you my solemn word,” said K. huskily, “that you are going to be
better than you have ever been in your life.”

It was K. who, seeing he would no longer notice, ordered the screens to
be set around the bed, K. who drew the coverings smooth and folded the
boy’s hands over his breast.

The violin-player stood by uncertainly.

“How very young he is! Was it an accident?”

“It was the result of a man’s damnable folly,” said K. grimly. “Somebody
always pays.”

And so Johnny Rosenfeld paid.

The immediate result of his death was that K., who had gained some of
his faith in himself on seeing Wilson on the way to recovery, was beset
by his old doubts. What right had he to arrogate to himself again powers
of life and death? Over and over he told himself that there had been no
carelessness here, that the boy would have died ultimately, that he
had taken the only chance, that the boy himself had known the risk and
begged for it.

The old doubts came back.

And now came a question that demanded immediate answer. Wilson would
be out of commission for several months, probably. He was gaining, but
slowly. And he wanted K. to take over his work.

“Why not?” he demanded, half irritably. “The secret is out. Everybody
knows who you are. You’re not thinking about going back to that
ridiculous gas office, are you?”

“I had some thought of going to Cuba.”

“I’m damned if I understand you. You’ve done a marvelous thing; I lie
here and listen to the staff singing your praises until I’m sick of your
name! And now, because a boy who wouldn’t have lived anyhow--”

“That’s not it,” K. put in hastily. “I know all that. I guess I could do
it and get away with it as well as the average. All that deters me--I’ve
never told you, have I, why I gave up before?”

Wilson was propped up in his bed. K. was walking restlessly about the
room, as was his habit when troubled.

“I’ve heard the gossip; that’s all.”

“When you recognized me that night on the balcony, I told you I’d lost
my faith in myself, and you said the whole affair had been gone over
at the State Society. As a matter of fact, the Society knew of only two
cases. There had been three.”

“Even at that--”

“You know what I always felt about the profession, Max. We went into
that more than once in Berlin. Either one’s best or nothing. I had done
pretty well. When I left Lorch and built my own hospital, I hadn’t
a doubt of myself. And because I was getting results I got a lot of
advertising. Men began coming to the clinics. I found I was making
enough out of the patients who could pay to add a few free wards. I want
to tell you now, Wilson, that the opening of those free wards was the
greatest self-indulgence I ever permitted myself. I’d seen so much
careless attention given the poor--well, never mind that. It was almost
three years ago that things began to go wrong. I lost a big case.”

“I know. All this doesn’t influence me, Edwardes.”

“Wait a moment. We had a system in the operating-room as perfect as I
could devise it. I never finished an operation without having my first
assistant verify the clip and sponge count. But that first case died
because a sponge had been left in the operating field. You know how
those things go; you can’t always see them, and one goes by the count,
after reasonable caution. Then I lost another case in the same way--a
free case.

“As well as I could tell, the precautions had not been relaxed. I was
doing from four to six cases a day. After the second one I almost went
crazy. I made up my mind, if there was ever another, I’d give up and go
away.”

“There was another?”

“Not for several months. When the last case died, a free case again, I
performed my own autopsy. I allowed only my first assistant in the room.
He was almost as frenzied as I was. It was the same thing again. When I
told him I was going away, he offered to take the blame himself, to
say he had closed the incision. He tried to make me think he was
responsible. I knew--better.”

“It’s incredible.”

“Exactly; but it’s true. The last patient was a laborer. He left a
family. I’ve sent them money from time to time. I used to sit and think
about the children he left, and what would become of them. The ironic
part of it was that, for all that had happened, I was busier all the
time. Men were sending me cases from all over the country. It was either
stay and keep on working, with that chance, or--quit. I quit.” “But if
you had stayed, and taken extra precautions--”

“We’d taken every precaution we knew.”

Neither of the men spoke for a time. K. stood, his tall figure outlined
against the window. Far off, in the children’s ward, children were
laughing; from near by a very young baby wailed a thin cry of protest
against life; a bell rang constantly. K.’s mind was busy with the
past--with the day he decided to give up and go away, with the months of
wandering and homelessness, with the night he had come upon the Street
and had seen Sidney on the doorstep of the little house.

“That’s the worst, is it?” Max Wilson demanded at last.

“That’s enough.”

“It’s extremely significant. You had an enemy somewhere--on your
staff, probably. This profession of ours is a big one, but you know its
jealousies. Let a man get his shoulders above the crowd, and the pack
is after him.” He laughed a little. “Mixed figure, but you know what I
mean.”

K. shook his head. He had had that gift of the big man everywhere, in
every profession, of securing the loyalty of his followers. He would
have trusted every one of them with his life.

“You’re going to do it, of course.”

“Take up your work?”

“Yes.”

He stirred restlessly. To stay on, to be near Sidney, perhaps to stand
by as Wilson’s best man when he was married--it turned him cold. But he
did not give a decided negative. The sick man was flushed and growing
fretful; it would not do to irritate him.

“Give me another day on it,” he said at last. And so the matter stood.

Max’s injury had been productive of good, in one way. It had brought the
two brothers closer together. In the mornings Max was restless until
Dr. Ed arrived. When he came, he brought books in the shabby bag--his
beloved Burns, although he needed no book for that, the “Pickwick
Papers,” Renan’s “Lives of the Disciples.” Very often Max world doze
off; at the cessation of Dr. Ed’s sonorous voice the sick man would stir
fretfully and demand more. But because he listened to everything without
discrimination, the older man came to the conclusion that it was the
companionship that counted. It pleased him vastly. It reminded him of
Max’s boyhood, when he had read to Max at night. For once in the last
dozen years, he needed him.

“Go on, Ed. What in blazes makes you stop every five minutes?” Max
protested, one day.

Dr. Ed, who had only stopped to bite off the end of a stogie to hold in
his cheek, picked up his book in a hurry, and eyed the invalid over it.

“Stop bullying. I’ll read when I’m ready. Have you any idea what I’m
reading?”

“Of course.”

“Well, I haven’t. For ten minutes I’ve been reading across both pages!”

Max laughed, and suddenly put out his hand. Demonstrations of affection
were so rare with him that for a moment Dr. Ed was puzzled. Then, rather
sheepishly, he took it.

“When I get out,” Max said, “we’ll have to go out to the White Springs
again and have supper.”

That was all; but Ed understood.

Morning and evening, Sidney went to Max’s room. In the morning she only
smiled at him from the doorway. In the evening she went to him after
prayers. She was allowed an hour with him then.

The shooting had been a closed book between them. At first, when he
began to recover, he tried to talk to her about it. But she refused to
listen. She was very gentle with him, but very firm.

“I know how it happened, Max,” she said--“about Joe’s mistake and all
that. The rest can wait until you are much better.”

If there had been any change in her manner to him, he would not
have submitted so easily, probably. But she was as tender as ever,
unfailingly patient, prompt to come to him and slow to leave. After a
time he began to dread reopening the subject. She seemed so effectually
to have closed it. Carlotta was gone. And, after all, what good could he
do his cause by pleading it? The fact was there, and Sidney knew it.

On the day when K. had told Max his reason for giving up his work, Max
was allowed out of bed for the first time. It was a great day. A box of
red roses came that day from the girl who had refused him a year or more
ago. He viewed them with a carelessness that was half assumed.

The news had traveled to the Street that he was to get up that day.
Early that morning the doorkeeper had opened the door to a gentleman
who did not speak, but who handed in a bunch of early chrysanthemums and
proceeded to write, on a pad he drew from his pocket:--

“From Mrs. McKee’s family and guests, with their congratulations on your
recovery, and their hope that they will see you again soon. If their
ends are clipped every day and they are placed in ammonia water, they
will last indefinitely.” Sidney spent her hour with Max that evening as
usual. His big chair had been drawn close to a window, and she found him
there, looking out. She kissed him. But this time, instead of letting
her draw away, he put out his arms and caught her to him.

“Are you glad?”

“Very glad, indeed,” she said soberly.

“Then smile at me. You don’t smile any more. You ought to smile; your
mouth--”

“I am almost always tired; that’s all, Max.”

She eyed him bravely.

“Aren’t you going to let me make love to you at all? You get away beyond
my reach.”

“I was looking for the paper to read to you.”

A sudden suspicion flamed in his eyes.

“Sidney.”

“Yes, dear.”

“You don’t like me to touch you any more. Come here where I can see
you.”

The fear of agitating him brought her quickly. For a moment he was
appeased.

“That’s more like it. How lovely you are, Sidney!” He lifted first one
hand and then the other to his lips. “Are you ever going to forgive me?”

“If you mean about Carlotta, I forgave that long ago.”

He was almost boyishly relieved. What a wonder she was! So lovely, and
so sane. Many a woman would have held that over him for years--not that
he had done anything really wrong on that nightmare excursion. But so
many women are exigent about promises.

“When are you going to marry me?”

“We needn’t discuss that to-night, Max.”

“I want you so very much. I don’t want to wait, dear. Let me tell Ed
that you will marry me soon. Then, when I go away, I’ll take you with
me.”

“Can’t we talk things over when you are stronger?”

Her tone caught his attention, and turned him a little white. He faced
her to the window, so that the light fell full on her.

“What things? What do you mean?”

He had forced her hand. She had meant to wait; but, with his keen eyes
on her, she could not dissemble.

“I am going to make you very unhappy for a little while.”

“Well?”

“I’ve had a lot of time to think. If you had really wanted me, Max--”

“My God, of course I want you!”

“It isn’t that I am angry. I am not even jealous. I was at first. It
isn’t that. It’s hard to make you understand. I think you care for me--”

“I love you! I swear I never loved any other woman as I love you.”

Suddenly he remembered that he had also sworn to put Carlotta out of his
life. He knew that Sidney remembered, too; but she gave no sign.

“Perhaps that’s true. You might go on caring for me. Sometimes I think
you would. But there would always be other women, Max. You’re like that.
Perhaps you can’t help it.”

“If you loved me you could do anything with me.” He was half sullen.

By the way her color leaped, he knew he had struck fire. All
his conjectures as to how Sidney would take the knowledge of his
entanglement with Carlotta had been founded on one major premise--that
she loved him. The mere suspicion made him gasp.

“But, good Heavens, Sidney, you do care for me, don’t you?”

“I’m afraid I don’t, Max; not enough.”

She tried to explain, rather pitifully. After one look at his face, she
spoke to the window.

“I’m so wretched about it. I thought I cared. To me you were the best
and greatest man that ever lived. I--when I said my prayers, I--But that
doesn’t matter. You were a sort of god to me. When the Lamb--that’s one
of the internes, you know--nicknamed you the ‘Little Tin God,’ I was
angry. You could never be anything little to me, or do anything that
wasn’t big. Do you see?”

He groaned under his breath.

“No man could live up to that, Sidney.”

“No. I see that now. But that’s the way I cared. Now I know that I
didn’t care for you, really, at all. I built up an idol and worshiped
it. I always saw you through a sort of haze. You were operating, with
everybody standing by, saying how wonderful it was. Or you were coming
to the wards, and everything was excitement, getting ready for you. I
blame myself terribly. But you see, don’t you? It isn’t that I think you
are wicked. It’s just that I never loved the real you, because I never
knew you.”

When he remained silent, she made an attempt to justify herself.

“I’d known very few men,” she said. “I came into the hospital, and for
a time life seemed very terrible. There were wickednesses I had never
heard of, and somebody always paying for them. I was always asking, Why?
Why? Then you would come in, and a lot of them you cured and sent out.
You gave them their chance, don’t you see? Until I knew about Carlotta,
you always meant that to me. You were like K.--always helping.”

The room was very silent. In the nurses’ parlor, a few feet down the
corridor, the nurses were at prayers.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” read the Head, her voice
calm with the quiet of twilight and the end of the day.

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the
still waters.”

The nurses read the response a little slowly, as if they, too, were
weary.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death--”

The man in the chair stirred. He had come through the valley of the
shadow, and for what? He was very bitter. He said to himself savagely
that they would better have let him die. “You say you never loved me
because you never knew me. I’m not a rotter, Sidney. Isn’t it possible
that the man you, cared about, who--who did his best by people and all
that--is the real me?”

She gazed at him thoughtfully. He missed something out of her eyes, the
sort of luminous, wistful look with which she had been wont to survey
his greatness. Measured by this new glance, so clear, so appraising, he
sank back into his chair.

“The man who did his best is quite real. You have always done the best
in your work; you always will. But the other is a part of you too, Max.
Even if I cared, I would not dare to run the risk.”

Under the window rang the sharp gong of a city patrol-wagon. It rumbled
through the gates back to the courtyard, where its continued clamor
summoned white-coated orderlies.

An operating-room case, probably. Sidney, chin lifted, listened
carefully. If it was a case for her, the elevator would go up to the
operating-room. With a renewed sense of loss, Max saw that already she
had put him out of her mind. The call to service was to her a call to
battle. Her sensitive nostrils quivered; her young figure stood erect,
alert.

“It has gone up!”

She took a step toward the door, hesitated, came back, and put a light
hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, dear Max.”

She had kissed him lightly on the cheek before he knew what she intended
to do. So passionless was the little caress that, perhaps more than
anything else, it typified the change in their relation.

When the door closed behind her, he saw that she had left her ring
on the arm of his chair. He picked it up. It was still warm from
her finger. He held it to his lips with a quick gesture. In all his
successful young life he had never before felt the bitterness of
failure. The very warmth of the little ring hurt.

Why hadn’t they let him die? He didn’t want to live--he wouldn’t live.
Nobody cared for him! He would--

His eyes, lifted from the ring, fell on the red glow of the roses that
had come that morning. Even in the half light, they glowed with fiery
color.

The ring was in his right hand. With the left he settled his collar and
soft silk tie.

K. saw Carlotta that evening for the last time. Katie brought word to
him, where he was helping Harriet close her trunk,--she was on her way
to Europe for the fall styles,--that he was wanted in the lower hall.

“A lady!” she said, closing the door behind her by way of caution. “And
a good thing for her she’s not from the alley. The way those people beg
off you is a sin and a shame, and it’s not at home you’re going to be to
them from now on.”

So K. had put on his coat and, without so much as a glance in Harriet’s
mirror, had gone down the stairs. Carlotta was in the lower hall. She
stood under the chandelier, and he saw at once the ravages that trouble
had made in her. She was a dead white, and she looked ten years older
than her age.

“I came, you see, Dr. Edwardes.”

Now and then, when some one came to him for help, which was generally
money, he used Christine’s parlor, if she happened to be out. So now,
finding the door ajar, and the room dark, he went in and turned on the
light.

“Come in here; we can talk better.”

She did not sit down at first; but, observing that her standing kept him
on his feet, she sat finally. Evidently she found it hard to speak.

“You were to come,” K. encouraged her, “to see if we couldn’t plan
something for you. Now, I think I’ve got it.”

“If it’s another hospital--and I don’t want to stay here, in the city.”

“You like surgical work, don’t you?”

“I don’t care for anything else.”

“Before we settle this, I’d better tell you what I’m thinking of.
You know, of course, that I closed my hospital. I--a series of things
happened, and I decided I was in the wrong business. That wouldn’t be
important, except for what it leads to. They are trying to persuade me
to go back, and--I’m trying to persuade myself that I’m fit to go back.
You see,”--his tone was determinedly cheerful, “my faith in myself has
been pretty nearly gone. When one loses that, there isn’t much left.”

“You had been very successful.” She did not look up.

“Well, I had and I hadn’t. I’m not going to worry you about that. My
offer is this: We’ll just try to forget about--about Schwitter’s and all
the rest, and if I go back I’ll take you on in the operating-room.”

“You sent me away once!”

“Well, I can ask you to come back, can’t I?” He smiled at her
encouragingly.

“Are you sure you understand about Max Wilson and myself?”

“I understand.”

“Don’t you think you are taking a risk?”

“Every one makes mistakes now and then, and loving women have made
mistakes since the world began. Most people live in glass houses, Miss
Harrison. And don’t make any mistake about this: people can always come
back. No depth is too low. All they need is the willpower.”

He smiled down at her. She had come armed with confession. But the offer
he made was too alluring. It meant reinstatement, another chance, when
she had thought everything was over. After all, why should she damn
herself? She would go back. She would work her finger-ends off for him.
She would make it up to him in other ways. But she could not tell him
and lose everything.

“Come,” he said. “Shall we go back and start over again?”

He held out his hand.



CHAPTER XXIX


Late September had come, with the Street, after its summer indolence
taking up the burden of the year. At eight-thirty and at one the school
bell called the children. Little girls in pig-tails, carrying freshly
sharpened pencils, went primly toward the school, gathering, comet
fashion, a tail of unwilling brothers as they went.

An occasional football hurtled through the air. Le Moyne had promised
the baseball club a football outfit, rumor said, but would not coach
them himself this year. A story was going about that Mr. Le Moyne
intended to go away.

The Street had been furiously busy for a month. The cobblestones had
gone, and from curb to curb stretched smooth asphalt. The fascination
of writing on it with chalk still obsessed the children. Every few yards
was a hop-scotch diagram. Generally speaking, too, the Street had put up
new curtains, and even, here and there, had added a coat of paint.

To this general excitement the strange case of Mr. Le Moyne had added
its quota. One day he was in the gas office, making out statements that
were absolutely ridiculous. (What with no baking all last month, and
every Sunday spent in the country, nobody could have used that amount of
gas. They could come and take their old meter out!) And the next there
was the news that Mr. Le Moyne had been only taking a holiday in the
gas office,--paying off old scores, the barytone at Mrs. McKee’s
hazarded!--and that he was really a very great surgeon and had saved Dr.
Max Wilson.

The Street, which was busy at the time deciding whether to leave the old
sidewalks or to put down cement ones, had one evening of mad excitement
over the matter,--of K., not the sidewalks,--and then had accepted the
new situation.

But over the news of K.’s approaching departure it mourned. What was
the matter with things, anyhow? Here was Christine’s marriage, which had
promised so well,--awnings and palms and everything,--turning out badly.
True, Palmer Howe was doing better, but he would break out again. And
Johnny Rosenfeld was dead, so that his mother came on washing-days,
and brought no cheery gossip; but bent over her tubs dry-eyed and
silent--even the approaching move to a larger house failed to thrill
her. There was Tillie, too. But one did not speak of her. She was
married now, of course; but the Street did not tolerate such a reversal
of the usual processes as Tillie had indulged in. It censured Mrs. McKee
severely for having been, so to speak, and accessory after the fact.

The Street made a resolve to keep K., if possible. If he had shown
any “high and mightiness,” as they called it, since the change in his
estate, it would have let him go without protest. But when a man is the
real thing,--so that the newspapers give a column to his having been
in the city almost two years,--and still goes about in the same shabby
clothes, with the same friendly greeting for every one, it demonstrates
clearly, as the barytone put it, that “he’s got no swelled head on him;
that’s sure.”

“Anybody can see by the way he drives that machine of Wilson’s that he’s
been used to a car--likely a foreign one. All the swells have foreign
cars.” Still the barytone, who was almost as fond of conversation as
of what he termed “vocal.” “And another thing. Do you notice the way
he takes Dr. Ed around? Has him at every consultation. The old boy’s
tickled to death.”

A little later, K., coming up the Street as he had that first day, heard
the barytone singing:--

      “Home is the hunter, home from the hill,
       And the sailor, home from sea.”

Home! Why, this WAS home. The Street seemed to stretch out its arms to
him. The ailanthus tree waved in the sunlight before the little house.
Tree and house were old; September had touched them. Christine sat
sewing on the balcony. A boy with a piece of chalk was writing something
on the new cement under the tree. He stood back, head on one side, when
he had finished, and inspected his work. K. caught him up from behind,
and, swinging him around--

“Hey!” he said severely. “Don’t you know better than to write all over
the street? What’ll I do to you? Give you to a policeman?”

“Aw, lemme down, Mr. K.”

“You tell the boys that if I find this street scrawled over any more,
the picnic’s off.”

“Aw, Mr. K.!”

“I mean it. Go and spend some of that chalk energy of yours in school.”

He put the boy down. There was a certain tenderness in his hands, as in
his voice, when he dealt with children. All his severity did not conceal
it. “Get along with you, Bill. Last bell’s rung.”

As the boy ran off, K.’s eye fell on what he had written on the cement.
At a certain part of his career, the child of such a neighborhood as the
Street “cancels” names. It is a part of his birthright. He does it as he
whittles his school desk or tries to smoke the long dried fruit of the
Indian cigar tree. So K. read in chalk an the smooth street:--

     Max Wilson Marriage.      Sidney Page Love.

[Note: the a, l, s, and n of “Max Wilson” are crossed through, as are
the S, d, n, and a of “Sidney Page”]

The childish scrawl stared up at him impudently, a sacred thing profaned
by the day. K. stood and looked at it. The barytone was still singing;
but now it was “I’m twenty-one, and she’s eighteen.” It was a cheerful
air, as should be the air that had accompanied Johnny Rosenfeld to his
long sleep. The light was gone from K.’s face again. After all, the
Street meant for him not so much home as it meant Sidney. And now,
before very long, that book of his life, like others, would have to be
closed.

He turned and went heavily into the little house.

Christine called to him from her little balcony:--

“I thought I heard your step outside. Have you time to come out?”

K. went through the parlor and stood in the long window. His steady eyes
looked down at her.

“I see very little of you now,” she complained. And, when he did not
reply immediately: “Have you made any definite plans, K.?”

“I shall do Max’s work until he is able to take hold again. After
that--”

“You will go away?”

“I think so. I am getting a good many letters, one way and another. I
suppose, now I’m back in harness, I’ll stay. My old place is closed. I’d
go back there--they want me. But it seems so futile, Christine, to leave
as I did, because I felt that I had no right to go on as things were;
and now to crawl back on the strength of having had my hand forced, and
to take up things again, not knowing that I’ve a bit more right to do it
than when I left!”

“I went to see Max yesterday. You know what he thinks about all that.”

He took an uneasy turn up and down the balcony.

“But who?” he demanded. “Who would do such a thing? I tell you,
Christine, it isn’t possible.”

She did not pursue the subject. Her thoughts had flown ahead to the
little house without K., to days without his steps on the stairs or the
heavy creak of his big chair overhead as he dropped into it.

But perhaps it would be better if he went. She had her own life to live.
She had no expectation of happiness, but, somehow or other, she must
build on the shaky foundation of her marriage a house of life, with
resignation serving for content, perhaps with fear lurking always. That
she knew. But with no active misery. Misery implied affection, and her
love for Palmer was quite dead.

“Sidney will be here this afternoon.”

“Good.” His tone was non-committal.

“Has it occurred to you, K., that Sidney is not very happy?”

He stopped in front of her.

“She’s had a great anxiety.”

“She has no anxiety now. Max is doing well.”

“Then what is it?”

“I’m not quite sure, but I think I know. She’s lost faith in Max, and
she’s not like me. I--I knew about Palmer before I married him. I got a
letter. It’s all rather hideous--I needn’t go into it. I was afraid to
back out; it was just before my wedding. But Sidney has more character
than I have. Max isn’t what she thought he was, and I doubt whether
she’ll marry him.”

K. glanced toward the street where Sidney’s name and Max’s lay open to
the sun and to the smiles of the Street. Christine might be right, but
that did not alter things for him.

Christine’s thoughts went back inevitably to herself; to Palmer, who was
doing better just now; to K., who was going away--went back with an ache
to the night K. had taken her in his arms and then put her away. How
wrong things were! What a mess life was!

“When you go away,” she said at last, “I want you to remember this. I’m
going to do my best, K. You have taught me all I know. All my life I’ll
have to overlook things; I know that. But, in his way, Palmer cares for
me. He will always come back, and perhaps sometime--”

Her voice trailed off. Far ahead of her she saw the years stretching
out, marked, not by days and months, but by Palmer’s wanderings away,
his remorseful returns.

“Do a little more than forgetting,” K. said. “Try to care for him,
Christine. You did once. And that’s your strongest weapon. It’s always a
woman’s strongest weapon. And it wins in the end.”

“I shall try, K.,” she answered obediently.

But he turned away from the look in her eyes.

Harriet was abroad. She had sent cards from Paris to her “trade.” It was
an innovation. The two or three people on the Street who received her
engraved announcement that she was there, “buying new chic models
for the autumn and winter--afternoon frocks, evening gowns, reception
dresses, and wraps, from Poiret, Martial et Armand, and others,” left
the envelopes casually on the parlor table, as if communications from
Paris were quite to be expected.

So K. lunched alone, and ate little. After luncheon he fixed a broken
ironing-stand for Katie, and in return she pressed a pair of trousers
for him. He had it in mind to ask Sidney to go out with him in Max’s
car, and his most presentable suit was very shabby.

“I’m thinking,” said Katie, when she brought the pressed garments up
over her arm and passed them in through a discreet crack in the door,
“that these pants will stand more walking than sitting, Mr. K. They’re
getting mighty thin.”

“I’ll take a duster along in case of accident,” he promised her; “and
to-morrow I’ll order a suit, Katie.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Katie from the stairs. “Some fool
of a woman from the alley will come in to-night and tell you she can’t
pay her rent, and she’ll take your suit away in her pocket-book--as like
as not to pay an installment on a piano. There’s two new pianos in the
alley since you came here.”

“I promise it, Katie.”

“Show it to me,” said Katie laconically. “And don’t go to picking up
anything you drop!”

Sidney came home at half-past two--came delicately flushed, as if she
had hurried, and with a tremulous smile that caught Katie’s eye at once.

“Bless the child!” she said. “There’s no need to ask how he is to-day.
You’re all one smile.”

The smile set just a trifle.

“Katie, some one has written my name out on the street, in chalk. It’s
with Dr. Wilson’s, and it looks so silly. Please go out and sweep it
off.”

“I’m about crazy with their old chalk. I’ll do it after a while.”

“Please do it now. I don’t want anyone to see it. Is--is Mr. K.
upstairs?”

But when she learned that K. was upstairs, oddly enough, she did not go
up at once. She stood in the lower hall and listened. Yes, he was
there. She could hear him moving about. Her lips parted slightly as she
listened.

Christine, looking in from her balcony, saw her there, and, seeing
something in her face that she had never suspected, put her hand to her
throat.

“Sidney!”

“Oh--hello, Chris.”

“Won’t you come and sit with me?”

“I haven’t much time--that is, I want to speak to K.”

“You can see him when he comes down.”

Sidney came slowly through the parlor. It occurred to her, all at once,
that Christine must see a lot of K., especially now. No doubt he was
in and out of the house often. And how pretty Christine was! She was
unhappy, too. All that seemed to be necessary to win K.’s attention was
to be unhappy enough. Well, surely, in that case--

“How is Max?”

“Still better.”

Sidney sat down on the edge of the railing; but she was careful,
Christine saw, to face the staircase. There was silence on the balcony.
Christine sewed; Sidney sat and swung her feet idly.

“Dr. Ed says Max wants you to give up your training and marry him now.”

“I’m not going to marry him at all, Chris.”

Upstairs, K.’s door slammed. It was one of his failings that he always
slammed doors. Harriet used to be quite disagreeable about it.

Sidney slid from the railing.

“There he is now.”

Perhaps, in all her frivolous, selfish life, Christine had never had a
bigger moment than the one that followed. She could have said nothing,
and, in the queer way that life goes, K. might have gone away from the
Street as empty of heart as he had come to it.

“Be very good to him, Sidney,” she said unsteadily. “He cares so much.”



CHAPTER XXX


K. was being very dense. For so long had he considered Sidney as
unattainable that now his masculine mind, a little weary with much
wretchedness, refused to move from its old attitude.

“It was glamour, that was all, K.,” said Sidney bravely.

“But, perhaps,” said K., “it’s just because of that miserable incident
with Carlotta. That wasn’t the right thing, of course, but Max has told
me the story. It was really quite innocent. She fainted in the yard,
and--”

Sidney was exasperated.

“Do you want me to marry him, K.?”

K. looked straight ahead.

“I want you to be happy, dear.”

They were on the terrace of the White Springs Hotel again. K. had
ordered dinner, making a great to-do about getting the dishes they both
liked. But now that it was there, they were not eating. K. had placed
his chair so that his profile was turned toward her. He had worn the
duster religiously until nightfall, and then had discarded it. It hung
limp and dejected on the back of his chair. Past K.’s profile Sidney
could see the magnolia tree shaped like a heart.

“It seems to me,” said Sidney suddenly, “that you are kind to every one
but me, K.”

He fairly stammered his astonishment:--

“Why, what on earth have I done?”

“You are trying to make me marry Max, aren’t you?”

She was very properly ashamed of that, and, when he failed of reply out
of sheer inability to think of one that would not say too much, she went
hastily to something else:

“It is hard for me to realize that you--that you lived a life of your
own, a busy life, doing useful things, before you came to us. I wish you
would tell me something about yourself. If we’re to be friends when you
go away,”--she had to stop there, for the lump in her throat--“I’ll want
to know how to think of you,--who your friends are,--all that.”

He made an effort. He was thinking, of course, that he would be
visualizing her, in the hospital, in the little house on its side
street, as she looked just then, her eyes like stars, her lips just
parted, her hands folded before her on the table.

“I shall be working,” he said at last. “So will you.”

“Does that mean you won’t have time to think of me?”

“I’m afraid I’m stupider than usual to-night. You can think of me as
never forgetting you or the Street, working or playing.”

Playing! Of course he would not work all the time. And he was going back
to his old friends, to people who had always known him, to girls--

He did his best then. He told her of the old family house, built by one
of his forebears who had been a king’s man until Washington had put the
case for the colonies, and who had given himself and his oldest son then
to the cause that he made his own. He told of old servants who had wept
when he decided to close the house and go away. When she fell silent, he
thought he was interesting her. He told her the family traditions that
had been the fairy tales of his childhood. He described the library, the
choice room of the house, full of family paintings in old gilt frames,
and of his father’s collection of books. Because it was home, he waxed
warm over it at last, although it had rather hurt him at first to
remember. It brought back the other things that he wanted to forget.

But a terrible thing was happening to Sidney. Side by side with the
wonders he described so casually, she was placing the little house. What
an exile it must have been for him! How hopelessly middle-class they
must have seemed! How idiotic of her to think, for one moment, that she
could ever belong in this new-old life of his!

What traditions had she? None, of course, save to be honest and good
and to do her best for the people around her. Her mother’s people, the
Kennedys went back a long way, but they had always been poor. A library
full of paintings and books! She remembered the lamp with the blue-silk
shade, the figure of Eve that used to stand behind the minister’s
portrait, and the cherry bookcase with the Encyclopaedia in it and
“Beacon Lights of History.” When K., trying his best to interest her and
to conceal his own heaviness of spirit, told her of his grandfather’s
old carriage, she sat back in the shadow.

“Fearful old thing,” said K.,--“regular cabriolet. I can remember yet
the family rows over it. But the old gentleman liked it--used to have
it repainted every year. Strangers in the city used to turn around and
stare at it--thought it was advertising something!”

“When I was a child,” said Sidney quietly, “and a carriage drove up and
stopped on the Street, I always knew some one had died!”

There was a strained note in her voice. K., whose ear was attuned to
every note in her voice, looked at her quickly. “My great-grandfather,”
 said Sidney in the same tone, “sold chickens at market. He didn’t do it
himself; but the fact’s there, isn’t it?”

K. was puzzled.

“What about it?” he said.

But Sidney’s agile mind had already traveled on. This K. she had never
known, who had lived in a wonderful house, and all the rest of it--he
must have known numbers of lovely women, his own sort of women, who had
traveled and knew all kinds of things: girls like the daughters of the
Executive Committee who came in from their country places in summer
with great armfuls of flowers, and hurried off, after consulting their
jeweled watches, to luncheon or tea or tennis.

“Go on,” said Sidney dully. “Tell me about the women you have known,
your friends, the ones you liked and the ones who liked you.”

K. was rather apologetic.

“I’ve always been so busy,” he confessed. “I know a lot, but I don’t
think they would interest you. They don’t do anything, you know--they
travel around and have a good time. They’re rather nice to look at, some
of them. But when you’ve said that you’ve said it all.”

Nice to look at! Of course they would be, with nothing else to think of
in all the world but of how they looked.

Suddenly Sidney felt very tired. She wanted to go back to the hospital,
and turn the key in the door of her little room, and lie with her face
down on the bed.

“Would you mind very much if I asked you to take me back?”

He did mind. He had a depressed feeling that the evening had failed.
And his depression grew as he brought the car around. He understood, he
thought. She was grieving about Max. After all, a girl couldn’t care as
she had for a year and a half, and then give a man up because of another
woman, without a wrench.

“Do you really want to go home, Sidney, or were you tired of sitting
there? In that case, we could drive around for an hour or two. I’ll not
talk if you’d like to be quiet.” Being with K. had become an agony, now
that she realized how wrong Christine had been, and that their worlds,
hers and K.’s, had only touched for a time. Soon they would be separated
by as wide a gulf as that which lay between the cherry bookcase--for
instance,--and a book-lined library hung with family portraits. But she
was not disposed to skimp as to agony. She would go through with it,
every word a stab, if only she might sit beside K. a little longer,
might feel the touch of his old gray coat against her arm. “I’d like to
ride, if you don’t mind.”

K. turned the automobile toward the country roads. He was remembering
acutely that other ride after Joe in his small car, the trouble he
had had to get a machine, the fear of he knew not what ahead, and his
arrival at last at the road-house, to find Max lying at the head of the
stairs and Carlotta on her knees beside him.

“K.” “Yes?”

“Was there anybody you cared about,--any girl,--when you left home?”

“I was not in love with anyone, if that’s what you mean.”

“You knew Max before, didn’t you?”

“Yes. You know that.”

“If you knew things about him that I should have known, why didn’t you
tell me?”

“I couldn’t do that, could I? Anyhow--”

“Yes?”

“I thought everything would be all right. It seemed to me that the mere
fact of your caring for him--” That was shaky ground; he got off it
quickly. “Schwitter has closed up. Do you want to stop there?”

“Not to-night, please.”

They were near the white house now. Schwitter’s had closed up, indeed.
The sign over the entrance was gone. The lanterns had been taken down,
and in the dusk they could see Tillie rocking her baby on the porch. As
if to cover the last traces of his late infamy, Schwitter himself was
watering the worn places on the lawn with the garden can.

The car went by. Above the low hum of the engine they could hear
Tillie’s voice, flat and unmusical, but filled with the harmonies of
love as she sang to the child.

When they had left the house far behind, K. was suddenly aware that
Sidney was crying. She sat with her head turned away, using her
handkerchief stealthily. He drew the car up beside the road, and in a
masterful fashion turned her shoulders about until she faced him.

“Now, tell me about it,” he said.

“It’s just silliness. I’m--I’m a little bit lonely.”

“Lonely!”

“Aunt Harriet’s in Paris, and with Joe gone and everybody--”

“Aunt Harriet!”

He was properly dazed, for sure. If she had said she was lonely
because the cherry bookcase was in Paris, he could not have been more
bewildered. And Joe! “And with you going away and never coming back--”

“I’ll come back, of course. How’s this? I’ll promise to come back when
you graduate, and send you flowers.”

“I think,” said Sidney, “that I’ll become an army nurse.”

“I hope you won’t do that.”

“You won’t know, K. You’ll be back with your old friends. You’ll have
forgotten the Street and all of us.”

“Do you really think that?”

“Girls who have been everywhere, and have lovely clothes, and who won’t
know a T bandage from a figure eight!”

“There will never be anybody in the world like you to me, dear.”

His voice was husky.

“You are saying that to comfort me.”

“To comfort you! I--who have wanted you so long that it hurts even to
think about it! Ever since the night I came up the Street, and you were
sitting there on the steps--oh, my dear, my dear, if you only cared a
little!”

Because he was afraid that he would get out of hand and take her in his
arms,--which would be idiotic, since, of course, she did not care for
him that way,--he gripped the steering-wheel. It gave him a curious
appearance of making a pathetic appeal to the wind-shield.

“I have been trying to make you say that all evening!” said Sidney. “I
love you so much that--K., won’t you take me in your arms?”

Take her in his arms! He almost crushed her. He held her to him and
muttered incoherencies until she gasped. It was as if he must make up
for long arrears of hopelessness. He held her off a bit to look at her,
as if to be sure it was she and no changeling, and as if he wanted her
eyes to corroborate her lips. There was no lack of confession in her
eyes; they showed him a new heaven and a new earth.

“It was you always, K.,” she confessed. “I just didn’t realize it. But
now, when you look back, don’t you see it was?”

He looked back over the months when she had seemed as unattainable as
the stars, and he did not see it. He shook his head.

“I never had even a hope.”

“Not when I came to you with everything? I brought you all my troubles,
and you always helped.”

Her eyes filled. She bent down and kissed one of his hands. He was so
happy that the foolish little caress made his heart hammer in his ears.

“I think, K., that is how one can always tell when it is the right one,
and will be the right one forever and ever. It is the person--one goes
to in trouble.”

He had no words for that, only little caressing touches of her arm, her
hand. Perhaps, without knowing it, he was formulating a sort of prayer
that, since there must be troubles, she would, always come to him and he
would always be able to help her.

And Sidney, too, fell silent. She was recalling the day she became
engaged to Max, and the lost feeling she had had. She did not feel the
same at all now. She felt as if she had been wandering, and had come
home to the arms that were about her. She would be married, and take the
risk that all women took, with her eyes open. She would go through the
valley of the shadow, as other women did; but K. would be with her.
Nothing else mattered. Looking into his steady eyes, she knew that she
was safe. She would never wither for him.

Where before she had felt the clutch of inexorable destiny, the woman’s
fate, now she felt only his arms about her, her cheek on his shabby
coat.

“I shall love you all my life,” she said shakily.

His arms tightened about her.

The little house was dark when they got back to it. The Street, which
had heard that Mr. Le Moyne approved of night air, was raising its
windows for the night and pinning cheesecloth bags over its curtains to
keep them clean.

In the second-story front room at Mrs. McKee’s, the barytone slept
heavily, and made divers unvocal sounds. He was hardening his throat,
and so slept with a wet towel about it.

Down on the doorstep, Mrs. McKee and Mr. Wagner sat and made love with
the aid of a lighted match and the pencil-pad.

The car drew up at the little house, and Sidney got out. Then it drove
away, for K. must take it to the garage and walk back.

Sidney sat on the doorstep and waited. How lovely it all was! How
beautiful life was! If one did one’s best by life, it did its best too.
How steady K.’s eyes were! She saw the flicker of the match across the
street, and knew what it meant. Once she would have thought that that
was funny; now it seemed very touching to her.

Katie had heard the car, and now she came heavily along the hall. “A
woman left this for Mr. K.,” she said. “If you think it’s a begging
letter, you’d better keep it until he’s bought his new suit to-morrow.
Almost any moment he’s likely to bust out.”

But it was not a begging letter. K. read it in the hall, with Sidney’s
shining eyes on him. It began abruptly:--

“I’m going to Africa with one of my cousins. She is a medical
missionary. Perhaps I can work things out there. It is a bad station on
the West Coast. I am not going because I feel any call to the work, but
because I do not know what else to do.

“You were kind to me the other day. I believe, if I had told you then,
you would still have been kind. I tried to tell you, but I was so
terribly afraid.

“If I caused death, I did not mean to. You will think that no excuse,
but it is true. In the hospital, when I changed the bottles on Miss
Page’s medicine-tray, I did not care much what happened. But it was
different with you.

“You dismissed me, you remember. I had been careless about a sponge
count. I made up my mind to get back at you. It seemed hopeless--you
were so secure. For two or three days I tried to think of some way to
hurt you. I almost gave up. Then I found the way.

“You remember the packets of gauze sponges we made and used in the
operating-room? There were twelve to each package. When we counted them
as we got them out, we counted by packages. On the night before I left,
I went to the operating-room and added one sponge every here and there.
Out of every dozen packets, perhaps, I fixed one that had thirteen. The
next day I went away.

“Then I was terrified. What if somebody died? I had meant to give you
trouble, so you would have to do certain cases a second time. I swear
that was all. I was so frightened that I went down sick over it. When
I got better, I heard you had lost a case and the cause was being
whispered about. I almost died of terror.

“I tried to get back into the hospital one night. I went up the
fire-escape, but the windows were locked. Then I left the city. I
couldn’t stand it. I was afraid to read a newspaper.

“I am not going to sign this letter. You know who it is from. And I am
not going to ask your forgiveness, or anything of that sort. I don’t
expect it. But one thing hurt me more than anything else, the other
night. You said you’d lost your faith in yourself. This is to tell you
that you need not. And you said something else--that any one can ‘come
back.’ I wonder!”

K. stood in the hall of the little house with the letter in his hand.
Just beyond on the doorstep was Sidney, waiting for him. His arms were
still warm from the touch of her. Beyond lay the Street, and beyond that
lay the world and a man’s work to do. Work, and faith to do it, a good
woman’s hand in the dark, a Providence that made things right in the
end.

“Are you coming, K.?”

“Coming,” he said. And, when he was beside her, his long figure folded
to the short measure of the step, he stooped humbly and kissed the hem
of her soft white dress.

Across the Street, Mr. Wagner wrote something in the dark and then
lighted a match.

“So K. is in love with Sidney Page, after all!” he had written. “She
is a sweet girl, and he is every inch a man. But, to my mind, a certain
lady--”

Mrs. McKee flushed and blew out the match.

Late September now on the Street, with Joe gone and his mother eyeing
the postman with pitiful eagerness; with Mrs. Rosenfeld moving heavily
about the setting-up of the new furniture; and with Johnny driving
heavenly cars, brake and clutch legs well and Strong. Late September,
with Max recovering and settling his tie for any pretty nurse who
happened along, but listening eagerly for Dr. Ed’s square tread in the
hall; with Tillie rocking her baby on the porch at Schwitter’s, and
Carlotta staring westward over rolling seas; with Christine taking up
her burden and Grace laying hers down; with Joe’s tragic young eyes
growing quiet with the peace of the tropics.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” she reads. “I shall not want.”... “Yea, though
I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

Sidney, on her knees in the little parlor, repeats the words with the
others. K. has gone from the Street, and before long she will join him.
With the vision of his steady eyes before her, she adds her own prayer
to the others--that the touch of his arms about her may not make her
forget the vow she has taken, of charity and its sister, service, of a
cup of water to the thirsty, of open arms to a tired child.





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