“I knew something was wrong,”
he said, emerging, big and efficient, from the firelight,
“and I was just coming up.” Before
she could answer she felt his warm grasp on her hands,
and it seemed to her suddenly that it was not only
her hands he enfolded, but her agonized and suffering
“There’s a man up there ”
she faltered helplessly. “I was once married
to him long ago oh, long ago. Just
now I found him in the street and he seems to be out
of his mind. We are frightened.”
But he seemed not to hear her, not
to demand an explanation, not even to wait to discover
what she wanted. Already his long stride was
outstripping her on the staircase, and while she followed
more slowly, pausing now and then to take breath,
she realized thankfully that the situation had passed
completely away from her power of command. As
Miss Polly’s strength to hers, so was her strength
Faint, despairing moans issued from
Archibald’s room as she reached the landing;
and going inside, she saw George wrestling feebly with
O’Hara, who held him with one hand while with
the other he waved authoritative directions to Miss
“Get the bed ready for him,
with plenty of hot blankets. He’s about
at the end of his rope now. It’s a jag,
but it’s more than a jag, too. If I’m
not mistaken he’s in for a case of pneumonia.”
Miss Polly, hovering timidly at a
safe distance, held out the blankets and the hot water
bottles, while O’Hara carried George across the
room to the bed, and then covered him warmly.
When he turned to glance about his gaze fell on Gabriella,
and he remarked bluntly: “You’d better
get out. You aren’t wanted.”
“But I am obliged to be here.
It is my business, not yours,” she replied,
while a sensation of sickness passed over her.
For a moment he regarded her stubbornly,
“Well, I don’t know whose business it
was a minute ago,” he rejoined, “but it’s
mine now. I am boss of this particular hell,
and you’re going to keep out of it. I guess
I know more about D.T. than you and Miss Polly put
together would know in a thousand years.”
She was very humble. In the sweetness
of her relief, of her security, she would have submitted
cheerfully not only to slang, but to downright profanity.
It was one of those unforgettable instants when character,
she understood, was more effective than culture.
Even Arthur would have appeared at a disadvantage
beside O’Hara at that moment.
“I think I ought to help you,” she insisted.
“Well, I think you oughtn’t.
Out you go! I guess I know what I’m up
Before she could protest, before she
could even resist, he had pushed her out into the
hail, and while she still hesitated there at the head
of the staircase, the door opened far enough to allow
the huddled figure of Miss Polly to creep through
the crack. Then the key turned in the lock; and
O’Hara’s voice was heard pacifying George
as he might have pacified a child or a lunatic.
After a few minutes the shrieks stopped suddenly;
the door was unlocked again for a minute, and there
floated out the reassuring words:
“Don’t stand out there
any longer. It’s as right as right.
I’ve got him buffaloed!”
“What does he mean?” inquired
Gabriella helplessly of the seamstress.
“I don’t know, but I reckon
it’s all right,” responded Miss Polly.
“He seems to know just what to do, and anyhow
the doctor’ll be here in a minute. It seems
funny to give him whiskey, don’t it, but that
was the first thing Mr. O’Hara thought of.”
“I suppose his heart was weak.
He looked as if he were dying,” answered Gabriella.
“He asked for more whiskey, didn’t he?”
“Yes; I’m goin’
right straight to get it. Oh, Gabriella, ain’t
a man a real solid comfort sometimes?”
Without replying to this ejaculation,
Gabriella went after the whiskey, and when she came
back with the bottle in her hand, she found the doctor
on the landing outside the locked door. He was
a stranger to her, and she had scarcely begun her
explanation when O’Hara called him into the
“The sooner you take a look
at him the better.” Everything was taken
out of her hands everything, even her explanation
of George’s presence in her apartment.
As there was nothing more for her
to do, she went back to the sitting-room, where a
fire burned brightly, and began to talk to Miss Polly.
“I don’t know what I should
have done if he hadn’t been here,” she
“Who? Mr. O’Hara?
Well, it certainly was providential, honey, when you
come to think of it.”
The door of Archibald’s room
opened and shut, and the doctor came down the hall
to the telephone. They heard him order medicines
from a chemist near-by; and then, after a minute,
he took up the receiver, and spoke to a nurse at the
hospital. At first he gave merely the ordinary
directions, but at the end of the conversation he said
sharply in answer to a question: “No, there’s
no need of a restraining sheet. He’s too
far gone to be violent. It is only a matter of
His voice stopped, and Gabriella went
out to him. “Will you tell me what you
think, Doctor?” she asked.
“Is he your husband?”
He had a blank, secretive face, with light eyes, and
a hard mouth so different, she thought from
the poetic face of Dr. French.
“I divorced him ten years ago.”
He looked at her searchingly.
“Well, he may last until morning, but it is
doubtful. His heart has given out.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“No. Morphine is the only
thing. We are going to try camphorated oil, but
there is hardly a chance not a chance.”
He turned to go back into the room, then stopped,
and added in the same tone of professional stoicism:
“The nurse will be here in half an hour, and
I shall wait till she comes.”
When Gabriella went back to the sitting-room,
Miss Polly was weeping. “I followed you
and heard what he said. Oh, Gabriella, ain’t
life too awful!”
“I’ll be glad when the
nurse comes,” answered Gabriella with impatience.
Emotionally she felt as if she had turned to stone,
and she had little inclination to explore the trite
and tangled paths of Miss Polly’s philosophy.
The nurse, a stout, blond woman in
spectacles, arrived on the stroke of the half-hour,
and after talking with her a few minutes, the doctor
took up his bag and came to tell Gabriella that he
would return about daybreak. “I’ve
given instructions to the nurse, and Mr. O’Hara
will sit up in case he is needed, but there is nothing
to do except keep the patient perfectly quiet and
give the hypodermics. It is too late to try anything
“May I go in there?”
“Well, you can’t do any good, but you
may go in if you’d rather.”
Then he went, as if glad of his release,
and after Gabriella had prevailed upon Miss Folly
to go to bed, she changed her street dress for a tea-gown,
and threw herself on a couch before the fire in the
sitting-room. An overpowering fatigue weighed
her down; the yellow firelight had become an anodyne
to her nerves; and after a few minutes in which she
thought confusedly of O’Hara and Cousin Jimmy,
she let herself fall asleep.
When she awoke a man was replenishing
the fire, and as she struggled drowsily back into
consciousness, she realized that he was not Cousin
Jimmy, but O’Hara, and that he was placing the
lumps of coal very softly in the fear of awaking her.
“Hallo, there!” he exclaimed
when he turned with the scuttle still in his hand;
“so you’re awake, are you?”
She started up. “I’ve
been asleep!” she exclaimed in surprise.
“You looked like a kid when
I came in,” he responded cheerfully, and she
reflected that even the presence of death could not
shadow his jubilant spirit. “I went back
to the kitchen to make some coffee for the nurse and
myself, and I thought you might like a cup. It’s
first-rate coffee, if I do say it. Two lumps
and a little cream, I guess that’s the way.
I rummaged in the icebox, and found a bottle of cream
hidden away at the back. That was right, wasn’t
A strange, an almost uncanny feeling
of reminiscence, of vague yet profound familiarity,
was stealing over her. It all seemed to have
happened before, somewhere, somehow the
slow awakening to the large dark form in the yellow
firelight, O’Hara’s sudden turning to look
at her, his exuberance, his sanguine magnetism, and
even the cup of coffee he made and brought to her
side. She felt that it was the most natural thing
in the world to awake and find him there and to drink
“It’s good,” she
answered; “I had no dinner, and I am very hungry.”
“I thought you’d be.
That’s why I brought a snack with it.”
He was cutting a chicken sandwich on the tray he had
placed under the green shaded light, and after a minute
he brought it to her and held the cup while she ate.
A nurse could not have been gentler about the little
things she needed; yet she knew that he was rough,
off-hand, careless she could imagine that
he might become almost brutal if he were crossed in
his purpose. She had believed him to be so simple;
but he was in reality, she saw, a mass of complexities,
of actions and reactions, of intricacies and involutions
“I don’t know what I should
have done if you hadn’t been here,” she
said gratefully while she ate the sandwich and he
sat beside her holding her cup. “But I’m
so unused to being taken care of,” she added
with a trembling little laugh, “that I don’t
quite know how to behave.”
“Oh, you would have got on all
right,” he rejoined carelessly; “but I’m
glad all the same that I was here.”
She motioned toward the hall.
“Has there been any change?”
“No, there won’t be until
morning. He’ll last that long, I think.
We’re giving him a hypodermic every four hours,
but it really ain’t any good, you know.
It is merely professional.” For a minute
he was silent, watching her gravely; then recovering
his casual manner, he added: “I shouldn’t
let it upset me if I were you. Things happen that
way, and we’ve got to take them standing.”
She shook her head. “I’m
not upset. I’m not feeling it in the least.
Somehow, I can’t even realize that I ever knew
him. If you told me it was all a dream, I should
“Well, you’re a plucky
sort. I could tell that the first minute I saw
“It’s not pluck.
I don’t feel things, that’s all. I
suppose I’m hard, but I can’t help it.”
“Hard things come useful sometimes; they don’t
“Yes, I suppose if I’d
been soft, I should have broken long ago,” she
replied almost bitterly.
After putting the plate and cup aside,
he sat down by the table, and gazed at her attentively
for a long moment. “Well, you look as soft
as a white rose anyhow,” he remarked with a
curiously impersonal air of criticism.
A rosy glow flooded her face.
It was so long since any man had commented upon her
appearance that she felt painfully shy and displeased.
“All the same I’ve had
a hard life,” she returned with passionate earnestness.
“I married when I was twenty, and seven years
later my husband left me for another woman.”
“The one in there?”
She shuddered, “Yes, the one in there.”
“The darn fool!” he exclaimed briefly.
“There was a divorce, and then
I had my two children to support and educate.
Because I had a natural talent for dressmaking, I turned
to that, and in the end I succeeded. But for
ten years I never heard a word of the man I married until I
met him downstairs in the street.”
“And you brought him in?”
“What else could I do? He was dying.”
“Do you know what he was doing out there?”
“He was looking for me, I think. He thought.
I would take him in.”
“Well, it’s strange how
things work out,” was his comment after a pause.
“There’s something in it somewhere that
we can’t see. It’s impossible to
reason it out or explain it, but life has a way of
jerking you up at times and making you stand still
and think. I know I’m putting it badly,
but I can’t talk I never could.
Words, don’t mean much to me, and yet I know I
know ” He hesitated, and she watched
his thought struggle obscurely for expression.
“I know you can’t slip away from things
and be a quitter, no matter how hard you try.
Life pulls you back again and again till you’ve
learned to play the game squarely.”
He was gazing into the fire with a
look that was strangely spiritual on his face, which
was half in shadow, half in the transfiguring glow
of the flames. For the second time she became
acutely aware of the hidden subtleties beneath his
“I’ve felt that myself
often enough,” he resumed presently in a low
voice. “I’ve been pulled up by something
inside of me when I was plunging ahead with the bit
in my teeth, and it’s been just exactly as if
this something said: ’Go steady or you’ll
run amuck and bu’st up the whole blooming show.’
You can’t talk about it. It sounds like
plain foolishness when you put it into words, but
when it comes to you, no matter where you are, you
have to stand still and listen.”
“And is it only when you are
running amuck that you hear it?” she asked.
“No, there’ve been other
times a few of them. Once or twice
I’ve had it come to me up in the Rockies when
there didn’t seem more than a few feet between
me and the sky, and then there was a time out on the
prairie when I was lost and thought I’d never
get to the end of those darned miles of blankness.
Well, I’ve had a funny road to travel when I
look back at it.”
“Tell me about some of the women
you knew in the West.” An insatiable curiosity
to hear the truth about his marriage seized her; but
no sooner had she yielded to it than she felt an impulsive
regret. What right had she to pry into the hidden
sanctities of his past?
A frown contracted his forehead, but
he said merely: “Oh, there wasn’t
much about that,” and she felt curiously baffled
and resentful. “I think I’ll go and
take a look in there,” he added, rising and walking
softly in the direction of the room at the end of
He was gone so long that Gabriella,
crushing down the revolt of her nerves, went to the
door, and opening it very gently, looked cautiously
into the room. The window was wide open to the
night, where the snow was still falling, and beside
the candlestand at the head of the bed the nurse was
filling a hypodermic syringe from a teaspoon.
By the open window O’Hara stood inhaling the
frosty air; and Gabriella crossed the floor so silently
that he did not notice her presence until he turned
to watch the nurse give the injection.
Then he said in a whisper: “You’d
better go out. You can’t do any good.”
But she made an impatient gesture of dissent, and stopping
between the bed and the wall, waited while the nurse
bared George’s arm and inserted the point of
the needle. He was lying so motionless that she
thought at first that he was already dead; but presently
he stirred faintly, a shiver ran through the thin
arm on the sheet, and a low, half-strangled moan escaped
from his lips. Had she come upon him in a hospital
ward, she knew that she should not have recognized
him. He was not the man she had once loved; he
was not the father of her children; he was only a
stranger who was dying in her house. She could
feel nothing while she looked down at him. When
she tried to remember her young love she could recall
but a shadow. That, too, was dead; that, too,
had not left even a memory.
As she bent there above him she made
an effort to remember what he had once been, to recall
his face as she had first seen it, to revive the burning
radiance of that summer when they had been lovers.
But a gray veil of forgetfulness wrapped the past;
and her mind, when she tried to bring back the emotions
of seventeen years ago, became vacant. For so
long she had stoically put the thought of that past
out of her life, that when she returned to it now,
she found that only ashes remained. Then a swift
stab of pity pierced her heart like a blade, and she
saw again, not George her lover, not George her husband,
but the photograph Mrs. Fowler had shown her of the
boy in velvet clothes with the wealth of curls over
his lace collar. So it was that boy who lay dying
like a stranger in the bed of his son!
She turned hurriedly and went out
without speaking, without looking back when she opened
“If one could only understand
it,” she said aloud as she entered the sitting-room;
and then, with a start of surprise, she realized that
O’Hara had followed her. “You walked
so softly I didn’t hear you,” she explained.
“The rugs are thick, and I have
on slippers. My boots were soaking when I came
in, and I’d just taken them off when you called.”
They sat down again in front of the
fire; and while she stared silently at the flames,
with her chin on her hand and her elbow on the arm
of the chair, he burst out so unexpectedly that she
caught her breath in a gasp:
“You didn’t know that
I was married, too, did you?” His words, and
even more than his words, his voice, filled with suppressed
emotion, awoke her from her reverie in which she had
been dreaming of Arthur.
She smiled evasively, remembering
her promise to Mrs. Squires.
He hesitated again, and then spoke
with an effort. “Well, it was hell!”
he said grimly.
“I know” she
was very gentle, full of understanding and sympathy “but
you went through it bravely.”
“I stuck to her.”
His hand clenched while he answered. Then, after
a pause in which she watched him struggle against
some savage instinct for secrecy, he added quietly:
“If she were alive to-day, I’d be sticking
to her still.”
“You must have loved her.”
It was all she could think of to say, and yet the
words sounded trite and canting as soon as she had
Lifting his head quickly, he made
a contemptuous gesture of dissent. “No,
it wasn’t that. I never loved her, except,
perhaps, just at the first. But there’s
something that comes before love, I guess. I don’t
know what it is, but there’s something.
It may be just plain doggedness, but after I married
her there wasn’t anything on top this earth that
could have made me give up and let go. As soon
as I found what I was up against it was
morphine I knew I’d either got to
fight it out or be a quitter, and I’ve never
been a quitter. Until she got so bad she had to
be shut up I kept a home for her out there in Colorado,
and I lived with her in hell as long as she wasn’t
too bad to be out of a hospital. Then I brought
her on here and we found a private place down on Long
Island where she stayed till she died ”
“And you still saw her?”
“Except when I was out West,
and that’s where I was most of the time, you
know. My work was out there, and there’s
nothing like hell behind you to keep you running.
I made piles of money those years. That’s
all I ever cared for about money just making
it. I’d fight the devil to get it, but
after I’ve once got it, I’ll give it to
the first fool who comes begging. But the getting
of it is great.”
“How long did it last?”
“My marriage? Going on
eighteen years. She was down on Long Island for
the last ten of them.”
“Then you lived with her eight. Was she
“Took it before I ever married
her, and I found it out in a month. She wasn’t
so much to blame as you might think,” he pursued
thoughtfully. “You see she had a tough
time of it, and she was little and weak, and everything
was against her. She came out West first to teach
school, and then she got mixed up with some skunk
of a man who pretended to marry her when he had a
wife living in Chicago, and after that I guess she
went on taking a dope just to keep up her spirits and
ease the pain of some spinal trouble she’d had
since she was a child. There was nothing bad
in her she was just weak and
I began to feel sorry for her, and so I did it.
If I had it to do over again, I’m not so sure
I’d act differently. She was a poor little
creature that didn’t have any man to look after
her, and I was just muddling along anyway, thinking
about money. Heaven knows what would have become
of her if I hadn’t happened along when I did.”
He had lifted his head toward the
light, while he ran his hand through his hair, and
again she saw the look, so like spiritual exaltation,
transfigure his face. Before this man, who had
sprung from poverty and dirt, who had struggled up
by his own force, overcoming and triumphing, fighting
and winning, fighting and holding, fighting and losing,
but always fighting before this man, who
had been born in a cellar, she felt suddenly humbled.
Without friends, without knowledge, except the bitter
knowledge of the streets, he had fought his fight,
and had kept untarnished a certain hardy standard
of honour. Beside this tremendous achievement
she weighed his roughness, his ignorance of books and
of the superficial conventions, and she realized how
little these things really mattered how
little any outside things mattered in the final judgment
of life. She thought of George, dying a drunkard’s
death in the room at the end of the hail of
George whose way had been smoothed for him from birth,
who had taken everything that he had wanted.
“I wish there was something
I could do for you something to help you,”
she said impetuously. “But I never saw any
one who seemed to need help so little.”
His face brightened, and she saw that
her words had brought a touching wistfulness into
“Well, if you’d let me
come and talk to you sometimes” he answered
shyly. “There’re a lot of things I’d
like to talk to you about things I don’t
know, things I do know, and things I half know.”
From the brilliant look she turned
on him, he understood that he must have given her
pleasure, and she saw the smile return to his face.
“I’ll tell you everything
I know and welcome,” she replied readily; “but
that isn’t much. Better than that, I’ll
read to you.”
“If you don’t mind, I
think I’d rather you’d just talk.”
Then he rose with one of his abrupt movements, “I’d
better look in again now. The nurse might want
“I feel that you oughtn’t
to stay up,” urged Gabriella, rising as he turned
away from her. “You have done all you can.”
His only response was an impatient
negative gesture, and without looking at her, he crossed
the room quickly and went out into the hall. Hardly
a minute had passed, and she was still standing where
he had left her, when he returned and said in a whisper:
“He is going now very quietly.
Will you come?”
She shook her head, crying out sharply:
“No! no!” Then before something in his
face her opposition melted swiftly away, and she added:
“Yes, I’ll come. He might like to
have some one by him who knew him as he used to be.”
“After all, he got the worst
of it, poor devil!” he answered gently as he
opened the door.
By a miracle of memory her resentment
was swept out of her thoughts, and she was conscious
of an infinite pity. In George’s face, while
she watched it, there flickered back for an instant
the glory of that enchanted spring when she had first
loved him. Of his brilliant promise, his ardent
youth, there remained only this fading glimmer in the
face of a man who was dying. And it seemed to
her suddenly that she saw embodied in this wreck of
youth and love all the inscrutable mystery not of
death, but of life. Her tears fell quickly, and
while they fell O’Hara’s grasp enfolded
“It’s over now. The
best thing that could happen to him has happened,”
he said, and the touch of his hand was like the touch
of life itself, consoling, strengthening, restoring.
In the days that followed it was as
if the helpful spirit of Cousin Jimmy had returned
to her in the unfamiliar character of O’Hara.
The ghastly details of George’s burial were
not only taken out of her hands, she was hardly permitted
to know even that they were necessary. All explanations
were made, not by her, but by O’Hara; and when
they returned together from the cemetery, Gabriella
brought with her a feeling that she had been watching
something that belonged to O’Hara laid in the
earth. But when she tried to thank him, she found
that he was apparently unaware that he had done anything
deserving of gratitude.
“Oh, that’s nothing.
Anybody would have done it,” he remarked, and
dismissed the subject forever.
For a week after this she did not
see him again; and then one Saturday afternoon, when
she was leaving Dinard’s, they met by chance
and walked home together. It was the first time
she had been in the street with him, and she was conscious
of feeling absurdly young and girlish she,
the mother of a daughter old enough to have love affairs!
A soft flush the flush of youth tinted
her pale cheek; her step, which so often dragged wearily
after the day’s work, was as buoyant as Fanny’s;
and her low, beautiful laugh was as gay as if she were
not burdened by innumerable anxieties. As they
passed a shop window, her reflection flashed back
at her, and she thought happily: “Yes, it
is true, you are better looking at thirty-seven, Gabriella,
than you were at twenty.”
“Shall we walk down?”
asked O’Hara, and added: “So that
was your shop? I am glad that I saw it.
But what do you do there all day?”
She laughed merrily. “Put
in pins and take them out again. Design, direct,
scold, and flatter. We are getting in the spring
models now, and it’s very exciting.”
He glanced down at her figure, noting,
as if for the first time, the narrowness at the feet,
the large loose waist, and the bunchiness around the
“Did you make that?” he inquired.
“This coat? Oh, no; it
came from Paris. It was left on my hands,”
she explained, “or I shouldn’t be wearing
it. I wear only what people won’t buy,
“No, I didn’t know,”
he returned abstractedly, and she observed humorously
after a minute that he was not thinking of her because
he was thinking so profoundly about her clothes.
It was his way, she had discovered, to concentrate
his mind intensely upon the object before him, no
matter how trivial or insignificant it might appear.
He seemed never to have learned how to divide either
his interest or his attention.
“If you could make what you
wanted,” he remarked, “I should think you’d
make them more comfortable. Are you going to wear
those hobble skirts this spring?”
“They’ll be narrow at
the feet but very bunchy at the top doesn’t
that sound delightful? I am making a white taffeta
for Fanny that has five or six yards of perfectly
good material puffed out in the most ridiculous way
at the back over a petticoat of silver lace.”
Her spirits felt so light, so effervescent,
that she wanted to jest, to laugh, to talk nonsense
interminably; and after his first moments of bewilderment,
when he appeared still unable to detach his mind from
his business, he entered gaily and heartily into her
mood. His perplexities once disposed of, he gave
himself entirely to the enjoyment of the walk with
her, and she noticed for the first time his boyish
delight in the simplest details of life. With
the simplicity of a man to whom large pleasures are
unknown, he threw himself whole-heartedly into the
momentary diversion of small ones. Every person
in the crowd, she discovered, excited his interest,
and his humour bubbled over at the most insignificant
things at the grimace of a newsboy who offered
him a paper, at the absurd hat worn by a woman in
a motor car, at the expression of disgusted solemnity
on the face of a servant in livery, at the giggles
of an over-dressed girl who hung on the arm of an anemic
and exhausted admirer. Never before had she encountered
such vitality, such careless, pure, and uncalculating
joy of life. There was a tonic quality in his
physical presence, and while she walked at his side
down Fifth Avenue she felt as if she were swept onward
by one of the health-giving, pine-scented winds of
Colorado. And she told herself reassuringly that
only a man who had lived decently could have kept himself
so extraordinarily young and exuberant at forty-five.
The shop windows, particularly those
displaying men’s shirtings, enchanted him; and
he stopped a moment before each one, while she yielded
as obligingly as she might have yielded to a fancy
of Archibald’s, though she was aware that her
son would have scorned to look into a window.
“It’s so seldom I get
out on the Avenue, that’s why I like it, I suppose,”
he remarked while they were surveying a festive arrangement
of pink madras.
She smiled up at him, and her smile,
gay as it was, held a touch of maternal solicitude.
Notwithstanding his bigness and his success and his
forty-five years, there was something appealingly boyish
“It would be so easy to get
out, wouldn’t it?” she asked as they walked
“Well, there ain’t much fun when you are
“But you know plenty of people.”
“Oh, yes, I know people enough
in a business way, but that don’t mean having
friends, does it? Of course, I’ve men friends
scattered everywhere,” he added. “The
West is full of ’em, but it’s funny when
you come to think of it ” He broke
off, hesitated an instant, and then went on again:
“It’s funny, but I don’t believe.
I ever had a woman friend in my life I
mean a friend who wasn’t just the wife of some
man I knew in business.”
The confession touched her, and she
answered impulsively: “Well, that’s
just what I want to be to you a good friend.”
He laughed, but his eyes shone as
he looked down on her. “If you’d only
take the trouble.”
“It won’t be any trouble not
a bit of it. After your goodness to me, how could
I help being your friend?”
Lifting her eyes she would have met
his squarely while she spoke, but he was not looking
at her he appeared, indeed, to be looking
almost obstinately away from her.
“There wasn’t anything
in what I did,” he responded in a barely audible
voice, and she understood that he was embarrassed by
“But there was something in
it there was a great deal in it,”
she insisted. It was so easy to be natural with
a man, so easy to be candid and sincere when there
was no question of sentiment, and, she thought almost
gratefully of the elusive and mysterious Alice.
The faintest suggestion of romance would have spoiled
things in the beginning; but thanks to the hidden
Alice, she might be as kind and frank as she pleased.
Besides, she was nearly thirty-eight, and a woman of
thirty-eight might certainly be trusted to make a friend
of a man of forty-five.
With this thought, over which the
memory of Arthur brooded benevolently, in her mind,
she said warmly: “It will make so much difference
to me, too, having a real friend in New York.”
He turned to her with a start.
“Do you mean that I could make a difference
“The greatest difference, of
course,” she rejoined brightly, eager to convince
him of his importance in her life. “I can’t
tell you you would never understand how
lonely I get at times, and now with the children away
it is worse than ever the loneliness, I
mean, and the feeling that there isn’t anybody
one could turn to in trouble.”
For a minute he appeared to ponder
this deeply. “Well, you could always come
to me if you needed anything,” he answered at
last, and she felt intuitively that for some reason
he was distrustful either of himself or of her.
“I am not here very much of my time, but whenever
I am, I am entirely at your service.”
“But that’s only half
of it.” She was determined to reassure him.
“A friendship can’t be one-sided, can
it? And it isn’t fair when you give everything,
that I should give nothing.”
His scruples surrendered immediately
to her argument. “You give everything you
give happiness,” he said a strange
speech certainly from the twilight lover of Alice.
However, as she reasoned clearly after her first perplexity,
men were often strange when one least expected or
desired strangeness. At thirty-seven, whatever
else life had denied her, she felt that it had granted
her a complete understanding of men; and it was out
of this complete understanding that she observed brightly
after a minute:
“Well, if you feel that way,
we are obliged to be friends.” At least
she would prove by her frankness that she was not
one of those foolish women who are always taking things
“Yes, you give happiness.
You scatter it, all over the place,” he went
on, groping an instant after the right words.
“Cousin Jimmy used to say,”
she laughed back, “that I had a sunny temper.”
“That’s it that’s
what I meant,” he replied eagerly; and she was
impressed again by his utter inability to make light
conversation. When he was once started, when
he had lost himself in his subject, she knew that
he could speak both fluently and convincingly; but
she realized that he simply couldn’t talk unless
he had something to say. In order to put him
at his ease again, she remarked with pleasant firmness:
“Do you know there is something about you that
reminds me of my Cousin Jimmy. It gives me almost
a cousinly feeling for you.”
She had the air of expecting him to
be interested, but he met it with the rather vague
interrogation: “Cousin Jimmy?”
“The cousin who always came
to our help when we were in trouble. We used
to say that if the bread didn’t rise, mother
sent for Cousin Jimmy.”
Though he laughed readily enough,
she could see that his attention was still wandering.
“I never had a cousin,” he returned after
a pause, “or a relation of any sort, for that
His voice was curiously distant, and
she was conscious of a slight shock, as if she had
run against one of the hard places in his character.
“Well, I’ve done my best,” she thought
impatiently. “If he doesn’t want
to be friends he needn’t be.” Then,
with a change of manner, she observed flippantly:
“Sometimes one’s relatives are useful
and sometimes they’re not.” Really,
he was impossibly heavy except in a crisis; and one
could scarcely be expected to produce crises in order
to put him thoroughly at his ease.
As he made no response to her trite
remark, she, also, fell silent, while they turned
into Twenty-third Street, and began the long walk to
Ninth Avenue. Once or twice, glancing inquiringly
into his face, which wore a preoccupied look, she
wondered if he were thinking of Alice. Then,
as the silence became suddenly oppressive, she ventured
warily in the effort to dispel it: “I hope
you are not disturbed about anything?”
“Disturbed?” He turned
to her with a start. “No, I was only wondering
if you knew how much your friendship would mean to
It was out at last, and confirmed
once more in her knowledge of men, she retorted gaily:
“How can I know if you won’t take the trouble
to tell me?” After all, she reflected cheerfully,
the education she had derived from George and Judge
Crowborough, though lacking in the higher branches,
was fundamentally sound. All men were alike in
one thing at least they invariably disappointed
“I’ve been trying to tell
you for a quarter of an hour,” he answered,
“and I didn’t know how to put it.”
“But at last you didn’t
have to put it at all,” she said laughingly;
“it simply put itself, didn’t it?”
“I am still wondering,” he persisted gravely.
“Wondering if I know?”
She spoke in the sweetly practical tone of one who
is firmly resolved not to permit any nonsense.
“Yes, I do know that is, I know there
are ways in which I might be useful to you.”
“Well, there are some little some
very little things I might tell you if we were friends real
friends,” she made this plain, “just as
two men might be.”
“But the very last things two
men would tell each other,” he was laughing
now, “are the little things the things
about slang and walking-sticks and oak furniture.”
So he hadn’t forgotten!
The recollection of her impertinence confused her,
and she hastened to make light of it by protesting
gaily: “I was only joking. Of course,
you didn’t take that seriously.”
“I don’t know how much
more seriously,” he replied emphatically, “I
could have taken it.”
“But you haven’t thought of it since?”
“What would you say if I told you I hadn’t
thought of anything else?”
“Then I wish I hadn’t
said it.” She was obviously worried by his
admission. “It was horrid of me perfectly
horrid. I ought to have been ashamed of myself.
I had no right to criticise you, and you have been
so heavenly kind.”
“After that” he
appeared to be hammering the idea into her mind “I
was so grateful I’d have done almost anything.
Do you know,” he burst out with evident emotion,
“that was the first criticism I mean
downright honest criticism I’ve ever
had in my life. Nobody that is nobody
who knew ever thought enough of me before
to tell me where I was wrong.”
It was all a pathetic mistake, she
saw, but she saw also that it was impossible for her
to explain it away. She could not tell him the
ugly truth that she had been merely laughing at him
when he had believed, in his beautiful simplicity,
that she was speaking as a friend. Though she
felt ashamed, humbled, remorseful, there was nothing
that she could say now which would not hurt him more
than the original misunderstanding had done.
In her desire to atone as far as possible,
she remarked recklessly: “I only wish I
could be of some real help to you.”
“You can,” he answered
frankly. “You can let me come to see you
sometimes before I go West again.”
“You are going back in the spring?”
He laughed happily, drawing himself
erect with a large, free movement as if he needed
to stretch his limbs. “I can’t stand
more than six months of the East, and I’ve been
here a year now, off and on. After a time I begin
to want air. I want to breathe.”
“Yet you lived here once.”
“A sort of life, yes, but that don’t count.”
“What does count with you, I
wonder?” She was smiling up at him, and as they
passed under a street light her eyes shone with a misty
brightness through her veil of dotted net.
For a minute he thought over her question.
“I guess fighting does,” he answered at
last. “Getting on in spite of hard knocks,
and smashing things that stand in your way. I
like the feeling that comes after you’ve put
through a big deal or got the better of the desert
or the mountains. I got joy in Arizona out of
my first silver mine; but I didn’t get the joy
exactly out of the silver. I don’t suppose
“Oh, yes, I do. I understand
perfectly. It’s the pure spirit of adventure.
Whenever we do a thing for the sake of the struggle,
not for the thing itself, it’s pure adventure,
“Well, I like money,”
he said with the air of being entirely honest.
“I’m not a romantic chap, don’t think
that about me. I care a lot about money, only
after I’ve made it, somehow, I never know what
to do with it. All I want for myself is a place
to sleep and a bite to eat I’m not
over-particular what it is and clothes to
wear, good clothes, too but I don’t
give a hang for motor cars except to go long distances
in when there are no trains running.”
It was the commonplace problem, worked
out in intricate detail, of the newly rich, of the
uncultivated rich, of the rich whose strenuously active
processes of enrichment had permanently closed all
other highways to experience. Seventeen years
ago the Gabriella of Hill Street would have had only
disdain for the newly rich and their problems; but
life, which had softened her judgment and modified
her convictions, had completely reversed her inherited
opinion of such a case as O’Hara’s.
Though he was as raw as unbaked brick, she was penetrating
enough to discern that he was also as genuine; and,
so radically had events altered her point of view,
that at thirty-seven she found genuine rawness more
appealing than superficial refinement. George
had wearied her of the sham and the superficial, of
gloss without depth, of manner without substance,
of charm without character.
“But there is so much that you
might do to help,” she said presently.
“After all, money is power, isn’t it?”
“Misused power too often,”
he answered. “Of course, you can always
build lodging-houses and tenements and hospitals;
but when you come squarely down to facts, I’ve
never in my life tried to help a man by giving him
money that I haven’t regretted it. Why,
I’ve ruined men by helping to make their way
too easy at the start.”
“Perhaps you’re right,”
she admitted; “I don’t know much about
it, I confess; but I should have been spared a great
deal of suffering if I had had something to start
with when I was obliged to make my living.”
His voice had grown gentle in an instant. “I
can’t think of your ever having had a hard time.
You seem so strong, so successful, so happy.”
If she had answered straight from
her heart, Gabriella would have retorted frankly:
“A good deal of that is in the shape of my face
and the way I dress,” but instead of speaking
sincerely, she remarked with impersonal cheerfulness:
“Oh, well, happiness, like everything else, is
mainly a habit, isn’t it? I cultivated the
habit of happiness at the most miserable time of my
life, and I’ve never quite lost it.”
“But I don’t like to think
of your ever having worried,” he protested.
Of her ever having worried! Was
he becoming dangerously sentimental or was it merely
a random spark of his unquenchable Western chivalry?
Though she told herself emphatically
again that she was not falling in love with O’Hara,
though she was perfectly faithful in her heart to the
memory of Arthur, still she was vividly aware with
every drop of her blood, with every beat of her pulses,
of the man at her side. And through her magnetic
sense of his nearness there flowed to her presently
a deeper and clearer perception of the multitudinous
movements of life which surrounded her of
the variable darkness out of which lights flashed
and gigantic spectacular outlines loomed against a
dim background of sky, of the vague shapes stirring,
swarming, creating there in the darkness, and always
of the pitiless, insatiable hunger from which the
city had sprung. For the first time, flowing like
a current from the mind of the man beside her, there
came to her an understanding of her own share in the
common progress of life for the first time
she felt herself to be not merely a woman who lived
in a city, but an integral part of that city, one
cell among closely packed millions of cells.
Something of the responsibility she felt for her own
children seemed to spread out and cover the city lying
there in its dimness and mystery.
“But I don’t like to think
of your ever having worried,” he repeated.
“Oh, it’s over now,”
she returned, severely matter-of-fact. “It
took me years to make my way, but I’ve made
it at last, and I may settle down to a comfortable
middle-age without the dread of the poorhouse to spur
me into activity. My business is doing very well;
our custom has doubled in the last two or three years.”
“But wasn’t it a tough pull at one time?”
“It was hard; but what isn’t?
Of course, when I was obliged to work from nine till
six and then come home to cook the children’s
dinner and teach them their lessons, I used to be
tired out by the end of the day but that
lasted only a few years: five or six at the most and
now I can afford to let Fanny wear imported gowns
when she goes out to parties.”
Though she spoke gaily, making a jest
of her struggle, she saw the gravity of his face deepen
until his features looked almost wooden.
“And through it all you kept
something that so many other women seem to lose when
they work for a living,” he said. “You’ve
kept your your charm.”
Again she found herself on the point
of exclaiming frankly: “heaven knows I’ve
tried to!” and again, checking herself,
she proceeded cautiously: “I’ve never
understood why charm should be merely a hothouse flower.”
“I suppose it does depend a
good deal upon a sunny temper,” he rejoined
in his blindness.
They had reached the gate, and stopping
him when he would have entered, she said with the
directness of a man: “So we’re friends,
and you’re coming to see me?”
“Yes, I’m coming,”
he replied gravely. Then, standing beside the
gate, he watched her while she went up the walk and
opened the door with her key.
Upstairs, with her knitting on her
lap and her feet on the fender, Miss Polly looked
up to observe: “You’re late, Gabriella.
You must have walked all the way.”
“Yes, I walked all the way. Mr. O’Hara
“Where did you run across him?”
“Just as I left the shop. He was walking
down Fifth Avenue.”
“Do you reckon he was waitin’ outside?”
“Oh, no, he said he had been up to Fifty-ninth
Street on business.”
“Well, the walk certainly did you good.
You are bloomin’ like a rose.”
“The air was delicious, and
I really like talking to Mr. O’Hara. He
is quite interesting after you get over the first
impression, and he isn’t nearly so ignorant
about things as I imagined. He has thought a great
deal even if he hasn’t read very much. It’s
wonderful, isn’t it, what the West can do with
a man? Now, if he’d stayed in New York he
would have been merely impossible, but because he
has lived out of doors he has achieved a certain distinction.
I can understand a woman falling in love with him
just because of his force and his bigness. They
are the qualities a woman likes most, I think.”
“He must have made a great deal of money.”
“Yes, he’s rich, and that’s
a good thing. I like money tremendously, though
I used to think that I didn’t. I wonder
if he had been poor if I should have liked him quite
so much?” she asked herself honestly.
“I don’t ’spose
you could ever ever bring yourself to think
of him, honey? It would be a mighty good thing
in some ways.”
Gabriella, being in a candid mood,
pondered the question without subterfuge or evasion.
“Of course I’ve passed the sentimental
age,” she answered. “If Mr. O’Hara
had been poor, I suppose I should never have thought
of him; but his money does make a difference.
It stands for success, achievement, and ability, and
I like all those qualities. Then he is rough
in many ways, but he isn’t a bit vulgar.
He has genuine character. There is absolutely
no pretence about him.”
“You could catch him in a minute,”
replied Miss Polly hopefully, animated by the inveterate
match-making instinct of her class.
Gabriella laughed merrily. “Oh,
yes, I might capture him if I went questing for him.
I am not a child. But put that out of your head
forever, Miss Polly. I have given him clearly
to understand that there must be no nonsense, though,
for the matter of that, I doubt if he needed the warning.
There is an Alice.”
“I reckon it would take more
than an Alice to stand in the way if you wanted him,”
insisted the little seamstress, possessed by an obstinate
conviction that fate could provide no happiness apart
“Perhaps. But you see I
don’t want him.” Gabriella had become
perfectly serious, and to Miss Polly’s amazement
a hint of petulance showed in her manner. “Everything
of that kind was over for me long ago. I never
think of love now, and if I did there wouldn’t
be but one but one ”
“I know, honey,” agreed
Miss Polly, suddenly softened, “and I’d
give anything on earth if you and Arthur could come
“It wouldn’t be any use.
I made my choice, and I have had to abide by it.
He could never forgive me “.
She stopped as if she were choking, and Miss Polly
“Well, I wish he had a chance
to, that’s all. Why don’t you run
down to Richmond for a few days this spring to see
your folks? Your ma and all would be so glad
to see you, and it ain’t as if you had the children
to keep you back. The thing that worries me,”
she added with feeling, “is the thought of your
spendin’ the summer here without the children.
If Archibald goes to camp from school and Fanny joins
Jane at the White Sulphur Springs as soon as her school
is out, you won’t have them at all, will you?”
“No, but they will be happy;
that is the only thing that matters.”
“It seems all wrong to me.
What do you get out of life, honey?”
“What do any of us get out of
it, dear little Miss Polly, except the joy of triumphing?
It’s overcoming that really matters, nothing
else, and it is the same thing to you and to me that
it is to the man downstairs. I am happy because
in my little way I stood the test of struggle, and
so are you, and so is Mr. O’Hara.”
“But you’re young yet,
and it ain’t natural for you to live as you’re
doin’. Lots of women marry when they’re
older than you are.”
“Oh, yes, if they want to ”
For a minute the little seamstress
rattled her newspaper while she looked at her without
replying. Then, after folding the paper, and
removing her spectacles, she asked grimly: “Can
you look me in the eyes, Gabriella, and tell me that
you ain’t still hankerin’ after Arthur?”
The blush of a girl made the business-like
Gabriella appear as young and as piquantly feminine
as her daughter.
“No, Miss Polly, I cannot,”
she answered with incomparable directness; “I
have loved Arthur all my life.”
“That’s just what I thought
all along, and yet you went off and married somebody
else.” Excited by the unexpected confession,
Miss Polly was quivering with sympathy.
In that supreme instant of self-revelation
Gabriella answered this accusation as if it had been
uttered by her remorseful conscience. “But
that wasn’t love,” she said slowly; “it
was my youth craving experience; it was my youth reaching
after the unknown, the untried, the undiscovered.
We all go questing for adventure one way or another,
I suppose, but it was not the reality.”
“I wonder what is,” said
Miss Polly in a whisper; “I wonder what is,
“That,” replied Gabriella
softly, “is what I am still trying to discover.”