Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Dawn O'Hara, The Girl Who Laughed by Edna Ferber

Part 4 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

and still you are not pleased." He shrugged despairing
shoulders.

"Can't you strike a happy medium between rudeness
and tenderness? After all, I haven't had a glimpse of
your blond beauty for three weeks. And while I don't ask
you to whisper sweet nothings, still, after twenty-one
days--"

"You have been lonely? If only I thought that those
weeks have been as wearisome to you--"

"Not lonely exactly," I hurriedly interrupted, "but
sort of wishing that some one would pat me on the head
and tell me that I was a good doggie. You know what I
mean. It is so easy to become accustomed to
thoughtfulness and devotion, and so dreadfully hard to be
happy without it, once one has had it. This has been a
sort of training for what I may expect when Vienna has
swallowed you up."

"You are still obstinate? These three weeks have not
changed you? Ach, Dawn! Kindchen!--"

But I knew that these were thin spots marked
"Danger!" in our conversational pond. So, "Come," said
I. "I have two new aborigines for you to meet. They are
the very shiniest and wildest of all our shiny-faced and
wild aborigines. And you should see their trousers and
neckties! If you dare to come back from Vienna wearing
trousers like these!--"

"And is the party in honor of these new aborigines?"
laughed Von Gerhard. "You did not explain in your note.
Merely you asked me to come, knowing that I cared not
if it were a lawn fete or a ball, so long as I might
again be with you."

We were on our way to the dining room, where the
festivities were to be held. I stopped and turned a look
of surprise upon him.

"Don't you know that the Knapfs are leaving? Did I
neglect to mention that this is a farewell party for Herr
and Frau Knapf? We are losing our home, and we have just
one week in which to find another."

"But where will you go? And why did you not tell me
this before?"

"I haven't an idea where I shall lay my poor old
head. In the lap of the gods, probably, for I don't know
how I shall find the time to interview landladies and
pack my belongings in seven short days. The book will
have to suffer for it. Just when it was getting along so
beautifully, too."

There was a dangerous tenderness in Von Gerhard's
eyes as he said: "Again you are a wanderer, eh--small
one? That you, with your love of beautiful things, and
your fastidiousness, should have to live in this way--in
these boarding-houses, alone, with not even the comforts
that should be yours. Ach, Kindchen, you were not made
for that. You were intended for the home, with a husband,
and kinder, and all that is truly worth while."

I swallowed a lump in my throat as I shrugged my
shoulders. "Pooh! Any woman can have a husband and
babies," I retorted, wickedly. "But mighty few women can
write a book. It's a special curse."

"And you prefer this life--this existence, to the
things that I offer you! You would endure these
hardships rather than give up the nonsensical views which
you entertain toward your--"

"Please. We were not to talk of that. I am enduring
no hardships. Since I have lived in this pretty town I
have become a worshiper of the goddess Gemutlichkeit.
Perhaps I shan't find another home as dear to my heart as
this has been, but at least I shan't have to sleep on a
park bench, and any one can tell you that park benches
have long been the favored resting place of genius.
There is Frau Nirlanger beckoning us. Now do stop
scowling, and smile for the lady. I know you will get on
beautifully with the aborigines."

He did get on with them so beautifully that in less
than half an hour they were swapping stories of Germany,
of Austria, of the universities, of student life. Frau
Knapf served a late supper, at which some one led in
singing Auld Lang Syne, although the sounds emanating
from the aborigines' end of the table sounded
suspiciously like Die Wacht am Rhein.
Following that the aborigines rose en masse and roared
out their German university songs, banging their glasses
on the table when they came to the chorus until we all
caught the spirit of it and banged our glasses like
rathskeller veterans. Then the red-faced and amorous
Fritz, he of the absent Lena, announced his intention of
entertaining the company. Made bold by an injudicious
mixture of Herr Knapf's excellent beer, and a wonderful
punch which Von Gerhard had concocted, Fritz mounted his
chair, placed his plump hand over the spot where he
supposed his heart to be, fastened his watery blue eyes
upon my surprised and blushing countenance, and sang
"Weh! Dass Wir Scheiden Mussen!" in an astonishingly
beautiful barytone. I dared not look at Von Gerhard, for
I knew that he was purple with suppressed mirth, so I
stared stonily at the sardine sandwich and dill pickle on
my plate, and felt myself growing hot and hysterical, and
cold and tearful by turns.

At the end of the last verse I rose hastily
and brought from their hiding-place the gifts which we of
Knapfs' had purchased as remembrances for Herr and Frau
Knapf. I had been delegated to make the presentation
speech, so I grasped in one hand the too elaborate pipe
that was to make Herr Knapf unhappy, and the too
fashionable silk umbrella that was to appall Frau Knapf,
and ascended the little platform at the end of the dining
room, and began to speak in what I fondly thought to be
fluent and highsounding German. Immediately the
aborigines went off into paroxysms of laughter. They
threw back their heads and roared, and slapped their
thighs, and spluttered. It appeared that they thought I
was making a humorous speech. At that discovery I cast
dignity aside and continued my speech in the language of
a German vaudeville comedian, with a dash of Weber and
Field here and there. With the presentation of the silk
umbrella Frau Knapf burst into tears, groped about
helplessly for her apron, realized that it was missing
from its accustomed place, and wiped her tears upon her
cherished blue silk sleeve in the utter abandon of her
sorrow. We drank to the future health and prosperity of
our tearful host and hostess, and some one suggested drei
mal drei, to which we responded in a manner to make the
chin-chucking lieutenant tremble in his frame on the wall.

When it was all over Frau Nirlanger beckoned me, and
she, Dr. von Gerhard and I stole out into the hall and
stood at the foot of the stairway, discussing our plans
for the future, and trying to smile as we talked of this
plan and that. Frau Nirlanger, in the pretty white gown,
was looking haggard and distrait. The oogly husband was
still in the dining room, finishing the beer and punch,
of which he had already taken too much.

"A tiny apartment we have taken," said Frau
Nirlanger, softly. "It is better so. Then I shall have
a little housework, a little cooking, a little marketing
to keep me busy and perhaps happy." Her hand closed over
mine. "But that shall us not separate," she pleaded.
"Without you to make me sometimes laugh what should I
then do? You will bring her often to our little
apartment, not?" she went on, turning appealingly to Von
Gerhard.

"As often as Mrs. Orme will allow me," he answered.

"Ach, yes. So lonely I shall be. You do not know
what she has been to me, this Dawn. She is brave for
two. Always laughing she is, and merry, nicht wahr?
Meine kleine Soldatin, I call her.

"Soldatin, eh?" mused Von Gerhard. "Our little
soldier. She is well named. And her battles she fights
alone. But quite alone." His eyes, as they looked down
on me from his great height had that in them which sent
the blood rushing and tingling to my finger-tips. I
brought my hand to my head in stiff military salute.

"Inspection satisfactory, sir?"

He laughed a rueful little laugh. "Eminently. Aber
ganz befriedigend."

He was very tall, and straight and good to look at as
he stood there in the hall with the light from the
newel-post illuminating his features and emphasizing his
blondness. Frau Nirlanger's face wore a drawn little
look of pain as she gazed at him, and from him to the
figure of her husband who had just emerged from the
dining room, and was making unsteady progress toward us.
Herr Nirlanger's face was flushed and his damp, dark hair
was awry so that one lock straggled limply down over his
forehead. As he approached he surveyed us with a surly
frown that changed slowly into a leering grin. He
lurched over and placed a hand familiarly on my shoulder.

"We mus' part," he announced, dramatically. "O, weh!
The bes' of frien's m'z part. Well, g'by, li'l
interfering Teufel. F'give you, though, b'cause you're
such a pretty li'l Teufel." He raised one hand as though
to pat my check and because of the horror which I saw on
the face of the woman beside me I tried to smile, and did
not shrink from him. But with a quick movement Von
Gerhard clutched the swaying figure and turned it so that
it faced the stairs.

"Come Nirlanger! Time for hard-working men like you
and me to be in bed. Mrs. Orme must not nod over her
desk to-morrow, either. So good-night. Schlafen Sie
wohl."

Konrad Nirlanger turned a scowling face over his
shoulder. Then he forgot what he was scowling for, and
smiled a leering smile.

"Pretty good frien's, you an' the li'l Teufel, yes?
Guess we'll have to watch you, huh, Anna? We'll watch
'em, won't we?"

He began to climb the stairs laboriously, with Frau
Nirlanger's light figure flitting just ahead of him. At
the bend in the stairway she turned and looked down on us
a moment, her eyes very bright and big. She pressed her
fingers to her lips and wafted a little kiss toward us
with a gesture indescribably graceful and pathetic.
She viewed her husband's laborious progress, not
daring to offer help. Then the turn in the stair hid her
from sight.

In the dim quiet of the little hallway Von Gerhard
held out his hands--those deft, manual hands--those
steady, sure, surgeonly hands--hands to cling to, to
steady oneself by, and because I needed them most just
then, and because I longed with my whole soul to place
both my weary hands in those strong capable ones and to
bring those dear, cool, sane fingers up to my burning
cheeks, I put one foot on the first stair and held out
two chilly fingertips. "Good-night, Herr Doktor," I
said, "and thank you, not only for myself, but for her.
I have felt what she feels to-night. It is not a
pleasant thing to be ashamed of one's husband."

Von Gerhard's two hands closed over that one of mine.
"Dawn, you will let me help you to find comfortable
quarters? You cannot tramp about from place to place all
the week. Let us get a list of addresses, and then, with
the machine, we can drive from one to the other in an
hour. It will at least save you time and strength."

"Go boarding-house hunting in a stunning green
automobile!" I exclaimed. From my vantage point on the
steps I could look down on him, and there came over me a
great longing to run my fingers gently through that
crisp blond hair, and to
bring his head down close against my breast for one
exquisite moment. So--"Landladies and oitermobiles!" I
laughed. "Never! Don't you know that if they got one
glimpse, through the front parlor windows, of me stepping
grand-like out of your, green motor car, they would
promptly over-charge me for any room in the house? I
shall go room-hunting in my oldest hat, with one finger
sticking out of my glove."

Von Gerhard shrugged despairing shoulders.

"Na, of what use is it to plead with you. Sometimes
I wonder if, after all, you are not merely amusing
yourself. Getting copy, perhaps, for the book, or a new
experience to add to your already varied store."

Abruptly I turned to hide my pain, and began to
ascend the stairs. With a bound Von Gerhard was beside
me, his face drawn and contrite.

"Forgive me, Dawn! I know that you are wisest. It
is only that I become a little mad, I think, when I see
you battling alone like this, among strangers, and know
that I have not the right to help you. I knew not what
I was saying. Come, raise your eyes and smile, like the
little Soldatin that you are. So. Now I am forgiven,
yes?"

I smiled cheerily enough into his blue eyes. "Quite
forgiven. And now you must run along. This is
scandalously late. The aborigines will be along saying
`Morgen!' instead of `Nabben'!' if we stay here much
longer. Good-night."

"You will give me your new address as soon as you
have found a satisfactory home?"

"Never fear! I probably shall be pestering you with
telephone calls, urging you to have pity upon me in my
loneliness. Now goodnight again. I'm as full of
farewells as a Bernhardt." And to end it I ran up the
stairs. At the bend, just where Frau Nirlanger had
turned, I too stopped and looked over my shoulder. Von
Gerhard was standing as I had left him, looking up at me.
And like Frau Nirlanger, I wafted a little kiss in his
direction, before I allowed the bend in the stairs to cut
off my view. But Von Gerhard did not signify by look or
word that he had seen it, as he stood looking up at me,
one strong white hand resting on the broad baluster.

CHAPTER XVI

JUNE MOONLIGHT, AND A NEW BOARDINGHOUSE

There was a week in which to scurry about for a new home.
The days scampered by, tripping over one another in their
haste. My sleeping hours were haunted by nightmares of
landladies and impossible boarding-house bedrooms.
Columns of "To Let, Furnished or Unfurnished" ads filed,
advanced, and retreated before my dizzy eyes. My time
after office hours was spent in climbing dim stairways,
interviewing unenthusiastic females in kimonos, and
peering into ugly bedrooms papered with sprawly and
impossible patterns and filled with the odors of
dead-and-gone dinners. I found one room less impossible
than the rest, only to be told that the preference was to
be given to a man who had "looked" the day before.

"I d'ruther take gents only," explained the ample
person who carried the keys to the mansion. "Gents goes
early in the morning and comes in late at night, and
that's all you ever see of 'em, half the time. I've
tried ladies, an' they get me wild, always yellin' for
hot water to wash their hair, or pastin' handkerchiefs
up on the mirr'r or wantin' to butt into the kitchen to
press this or that. I'll let you know if the gent don't
take it, but I got an idea he will."

He did. At any rate, no voice summoned me to that
haven for gents only. There were other landladies--
landladies fat and German; landladies lean and Irish;
landladies loquacious (regardless of nationality);
landladies reserved; landladies husbandless, wedded,
widowed, divorced, and willing; landladies slatternly;
landladies prim; and all hinting of past estates wherein
there had been much grandeur.

At last, when despair gripped me, and I had horrid
visions of my trunk, hat-box and typewriter reposing on
the sidewalk while I, homeless, sat perched in the midst
of them, I chanced upon a room which commanded a glorious
view of the lake. True, it was too expensive for my slim
purse; true, the owner of it was sour of feature; true,
the room itself was cavernous and unfriendly and
cold-looking, but the view of the great, blue lake
triumphed over all these, although a cautious inner voice
warned me that that lake view would cover a multitude of
sins. I remembered, later, how she of the sour visage
had dilated upon the subject of the sunrise over the water.
I told her at the time that while I was passionately fond
of sunrises myself, still I should like them just as well
did they not occur so early in the morning. Whereupon
she of the vinegar countenance had sniffed. I loathe
landladies who sniff.

My trunk and trusty typewriter were sent on to my new
home at noon, unchaperoned, for I had no time to spare at
that hour of the day. Later I followed them, laden with
umbrella, boxes, brown-paper parcels, and other
unfashionable moving-day paraphernalia. I bumped and
banged my way up the two flights of stairs that led to my
lake view and my bed, and my heart went down as my feet
went up. By the time the cavernous bedroom was gained
I felt decidedly quivery-mouthed, so that I dumped my
belongings on the floor in a heap and went to the window
to gaze on the lake until my spirits should rise. But it
was a gray day, and the lake looked large, and wet and
unsociable. You couldn't get chummy with it. I turned
to my great barn of a room. You couldn't get chummy with
that, either. I began to unpack, with furious energy.
In vain I turned every gas jet blazing high. They only
cast dim shadows in the murky vastness of that awful
chamber. A whole Fourth of July fireworks display, Roman
candles, sky-rockets, pin-wheels, set pieces and all,
could not have made that room take on a festive air.

As I unpacked I thought of my cosy room at Knapfs',
and as I thought I took my head out of my trunk and sank
down on the floor with a satin blouse in one hand, and a
walking boot in the other, and wanted to bellow with
loneliness. There came to me dear visions of the
friendly old yellow brocade chair, and the lamplight, and
the fireplace, and Frau Nirlanger, and the Pfannkuchen.
I thought of the aborigines. In my homesick mind their
bumpy faces became things of transcendent beauty. I
could have put my head on their combined shoulders and
wept down their blue satin neckties. In my memory of
Frau Knapf it seemed to me that I could discern a dim,
misty halo hovering above her tightly wadded hair. My
soul went out to her as I recalled the shining
cheek-bones, and the apron, and the chickens stewed in
butter. I would have given a year out of my life to have
heard that good-natured, "Nabben'." One aborigine had
been wont to emphasize his after-dinner arguments with a
toothpick brandished fiercely between thumb and finger.
The brandisher had always annoyed me. Now I thought of
him with tenderness in my heart and reproached myself for
my fastidiousness. I should have wept if I had not had
a walking boot in one hand, and a satin blouse in the
other. A walking boot is but a cold comfort. And my
thriftiness denied my tears the soiling of the blouse.
So I sat up on my knees and finished the unpacking.

Just before dinner time I donned a becoming gown to
chirk up my courage, groped my way down the long, dim
stairs, and telephoned to Von Gerhard. It seemed to me
that just to hear his voice would instill in me new
courage and hope. I gave the number, and waited.

"Dr. von Gerhard?" repeated a woman's voice at the
other end of the wire. "He is very busy. Will you leave
your name?"

"No," I snapped. "I'll hold the wire. Tell him that
Mrs. Orme is waiting to speak to him."

"I'll see." The voice was grudging.

Another wait; then--"Dawn!" came his voice in glad
surprise.

"Hello!" I cried, hysterically. "Hello! Oh, talk!
Say something nice, for pity's sake! I'm sorry that I've
taken you away from whatever you were doing, but I
couldn't help it. Just talk please! I'm dying of
loneliness."

"Child, are you ill?" Von Gerhard's voice was so
satisfyingly solicitous. "Is anything wrong? Your voice
is trembling. I can hear it quite plainly. What has
happened? Has Norah written--"

"Norah? No. There was nothing in her letter to
upset me. It is only the strangeness of this place. I
shall be all right in a day or so."

"The new home--it is satisfactory? You have found
what you wanted? Your room is comfortable?"

"It's--it's a large room," I faltered. "And there's
a--a large view of the lake, too."

There was a smothered sound at the other end of the
wire. Then--"I want you to meet me down-town at seven
o'clock. We will have dinner together," Von Gerhard
said, "I cannot have you moping up there all alone all
evening."

"I can't come."

"Why? "

"Because I want to so very much. And anyway, I'm
much more cheerful now. I am going in to dinner. And
after dinner I shall get acquainted with my room.
There are six corners and all the space under the bed
that I haven't explored yet."

"Dawn!"

"Yes?"

"If you were free to-night, would you marry me? If
you knew that the next month would find you mistress of
yourself would you--"

"Ernst!"

"Yes?"

"If the gates of Heaven were opened wide to you, and
they had `Welcome!' done in diamonds over the door, and
all the loveliest angel ladies grouped about the doorway
to receive you, and just beyond you could see awaiting
you all that was beautiful, and most exquisite, and most
desirable, would you enter?"

And then I hung up the receiver and went in to
dinner. I went in to dinner, but not to dine. Oh,
shades of those who have suffered in boarding-houses--
that dining room! It must have been patterned after the
dining room at Dotheboys' hall. It was bare, and
cheerless, and fearfully undressed looking. The diners
were seated at two long, unsociable, boarding-housey
tables that ran the length of the room, and all the women
folks came down to dine with white wool shawls wrapped
snugly about their susceptible black silk shoulders. The
general effect was that of an Old People's Home. I found
seat after seat at table was filled, and myself the
youngest thing present. I felt so criminally young that
I wondered they did not strap me in a high chair and ram
bread and milk down my throat. Now and then the door
would open to admit another snuffly, ancient, and
be-shawled member of the company. I learned that Mrs.
Schwartz, on my right, did not care mooch for shteak for
breakfast, aber a leedle l'mb ch'p she likes. Also that
the elderly party on my left and the elderly party on my
right resented being separated by my person.
Conversation between E. P. on right, and E. P. on left
scintillated across my soup, thus:

"How you feel this evening Mis' Maurer, h'm?"

"Don't ask me."

"No wonder you got rheumatism. My room was like a
ice-house all day. Yours too?"

"I don't complain any more. Much good it does.
Barley soup again? In my own home I never ate it, and
here I pay my good money and get four time a week barley
soup. Are those fresh cucumbers? M-m-m-m. They
haven't stood long enough. Look at Mis' Miller. She
feels good this evening. She should feel good.
Twenty-five cents she won at bridge. I never seen how
that woman is got luck."

I choked, gasped, and fled.

Back in my own mausoleum once more I put things in
order, dragged my typewriter stand into the least murky
corner under the bravest gas jet and rescued my tottering
reason by turning out a long letter to Norah. That
finished, my spirits rose. I dived into the bottom of my
trunk for the loose sheets of the book-in-the-making,
glanced over the last three or four, discovered that they
did not sound so maudlin as I had feared, and straightway
forgot my gloomy surroundings in the fascination of
weaving the tale.

In the midst of my fine frenzy there came a knock at
the door. In the hall stood the anemic little serving
maid who had attended me at dinner. She was almost
eclipsed by a huge green pasteboard box.

"You're Mis' Orme, ain't you? This here's for you."

The little white-cheeked maid hovered at the
threshold while I lifted the box cover and revealed the
perfection of the American beauty buds that lay there,
all dewy and fragrant. The eyes of the little maid
were wide with wonder as she gazed, and because I had
known flower-hunger I separated two stately blossoms
from the glowing cluster and held them out to her.

"For me!" she gasped, and brought her lips down to
them, gently. Then--"There's a high green jar downstairs
you can have to stick your flowers in. You ain't got
nothin' big enough in here, except your water pitcher.
An' putting these grand flowers in a water pitcher--why,
it'd be like wearing a silk dress over a flannel
petticoat, wouldn't it?"

When the anemic little boarding-house slavey with the
beauty-loving soul had fetched the green jar, I placed
the shining stems in it with gentle fingers. At the
bottom of the box I found a card that read: "For it is
impossible to live in a room with red roses and still be
traurig"

How well he knew! And how truly impossible to be sad
when red roses are glowing for one, and filling the air
with their fragrance!

The interruption was fatal to book-writing. My
thoughts were a chaos of red roses, and anemic little
maids with glowing eyes, and thoughtful young doctors
with a marvelous understanding of feminine moods. So I
turned out all the lights, undressed by moonlight, and,
throwing a kimono about me, carried my jar of roses to
the window and sat down beside them so that their
exquisite scent caressed me.

The moonlight had put a spell of white magic upon the
lake. It was a light-flooded world that lay below my
window. Summer, finger on lip, had stolen in upon the
heels of spring. Dim, shadowy figures dotted the benches
of the park across the way. Just beyond lay the silver
lake, a dazzling bar of moonlight on its breast. Motors
rushed along the roadway with a roar and a whir and were
gone, leaving a trail of laughter behind them. From the
open window of the room below came the slip-slap of cards
on the polished table surface, and the low buzz of
occasional conversation as the players held postmortems.
Under the street light the popcorn vender's cart made a
blot on the mystic beauty of the scene below. But the
perfume of my red roses came to me, and their velvet
caressed my check, and beyond the noise and lights of the
street lay that glorious lake with the bar of moonlight
on its soft breast. I gazed and forgave the sour-faced
landlady her dining room; forgave the elderly parties
their shawls and barley soup; forgot for a moment
my weary thoughts of Peter Orme; forgot everything except
that it was June, and moonlight and good to be alive.

All the changes and events of that strange, eventful
year came crowding to my mind as I crouched there at the
window. Four new friends, tried and true! I conned
them over joyously in my heart. What a strange contrast
they made! Blackie, of the elastic morals, and the still
more elastic heart; Frau Nirlanger, of the smiling lips
and the lilting voice and the tragic eyes--she who had
stooped from a great height to pluck the flower of love
blooming below, only to find a worthless weed sullying
her hand; Alma Pflugel, with the unquenchable light of
gratefulness in her honest face; Von Gerhard, ready to
act as buffer between myself and the world, tender as a
woman, gravely thoughtful, with the light of devotion
glowing in his steady eyes.

"Here's richness," said I, like the fat boy in
Pickwick Papers. And I thanked God for the new energy
which had sent me to this lovely city by the lake. I
thanked Him that I had not been content to remain a
burden to Max and Norah, growing sour and crabbed with
the years. Those years of work and buffeting had made of
me a broader, finer, truer type of womanhood--had caused
me to forget my own little tragedy in contemplating the
great human comedy. And so I made a little prayer there
in the moon-flooded room.

"O dear Lord," I prayed, and I did not mean that it
should sound irreverent. "O dear Lord, don't bother
about my ambitions! Just let me remain strong and well
enough to do the work that is my portion from day to day.
Keep me faithful to my standards of right and wrong. Let
this new and wonderful love which has come into my life
be a staff of strength and comfort instead of a burden of
weariness. Let me not grow careless and slangy as the
years go by. Let me keep my hair and complexion and
teeth, and deliver me from wearing soiled blouses and
doing my hair in a knob. Amen."

I felt quite cheerful after that--so cheerful that
the strange bumps in the new bed did not bother me as
unfamiliar beds usually did. The roses I put to sleep in
their jar of green, keeping one to hold against my cheek
as I slipped into dreamland. I thought drowsily, just
before sleep claimed me:

"To-morrow, after office hours, I'll tuck up my
skirt, and wrap my head in a towel and have a
housecleaning bee. I'll move the bed where the
wash-stand is now, and I'll make the chiffonnier swap
places with the couch. One feels on friendlier
terms with furniture that one has shoved about a little.
How brilliant the moonlight is! The room is flooded with
it. Those roses--sweet!--sweet!--"

When I awoke it was morning. During the days that
followed I looked back gratefully upon that night, with
its moonlight, and its roses, and its great peace.

CHAPTER XVII

THE SHADOW OF TERROR

Two days before the date set for Von Gerhard's departure
the book was finished, typed, re-read, packed, and sent
away. Half an hour after it was gone all its most
glaring faults seemed to marshall themselves before my
mind's eye. Whole paragraphs, that had read quite
reasonably before, now loomed ludicrous in perspective.
I longed to snatch it back; to tidy it here, to take it
in there, to smooth certain rough places neglected in my
haste. For almost a year I had lived with this thing, so
close that its faults and its virtues had become
indistinguishable to me. Day and night, for many months,
it had been in my mind. Of late some instinct had
prompted me to finish it. I had worked at it far into
the night, until I marveled that the ancient occupants of
the surrounding rooms did not enter a combined protest
against the clack-clacking of my typewriter keys. And
now that it was gone I wondered, dully, if I could feel
Von Gerhard's departure more keenly.

No one knew of the existence of the book except
Norah, Von Gerhard, Blackie and me. Blackie had a way of
inquiring after its progress in hushed tones of mock awe.
Also he delighted in getting down on hands and knees and
guiding a yard-stick carefully about my desk with a view
to having a fence built around it, bearing an inscription
which would inform admiring tourists that here was the
desk at which the brilliant author had been wont to sit
when grinding out heart-throb stories for the humble
Post. He took an impish delight in my struggles with
my hero and heroine, and his inquiries after the health
of both were of such a nature as to make any earnest
writer person rise in wrath and slay him. I had seen
little of Blackie of late. My spare hours had been
devoted to the work in hand. On the day after the book
was sent away I was conscious of a little shock as I
strolled into Blackie's sanctum and took my accustomed
seat beside his big desk. There was an oddly pinched
look about Blackie's nostrils and lips, I thought. And
the deep-set black eyes appeared deeper and blacker than
ever in his thin little face.

A week of unseasonable weather had come upon the
city. June was going out in a wave of torrid heat such
as August might have boasted. The day had seemed endless and
intolerably close. I was feeling very limp and languid.
Perhaps, thought I, it was the heat which had wilted
Blackie's debonair spirits.

"It has been a long time since we've had a talk-talk,
Blackie. I've missed you. Also you look just a wee bit
green around the edges. I'm thinking a vacation wouldn't
hurt you."

Blackie's lean brown forefinger caressed the bowl of
his favorite pipe. His eyes, that had been gazing out
across the roofs beyond his window, came back to me, and
there was in them a curious and quizzical expression as
of one who is inwardly amused.

"I've been thinkin' about a vacation. None of your
measly little two weeks' affairs, with one week on
salary, and th' other without. I ain't goin' t' take my
vacation for a while--not till fall, p'raps, or maybe
winter. But w'en I do take it, sa-a-ay, girl, it's goin'
t' be a real one."

"But why wait so long?" I asked. "You need it now.
Who ever heard of putting off a vacation until winter!"

"Well, I dunno," mused Blackie. "I just made my
arrangements for that time, and I hate t' muss 'em up.
You'll say, w'en the time comes, that my plans are
reasonable."

There was a sharp ring from the telephone at
Blackie's elbow. He answered it, then thrust the
receiver into my hand. "For you," he said.

It was Von Gerhard's voice that came to me. "I have
something to tell you," he said. "Something most
important. If I call for you at six we can drive out to
the bay for supper, yes? I must talk to you."

"You have saved my life," I called back. "It has been
a beast of a day. You may talk as much and as
importantly as you like, so long as I am kept cool."

"That was Von Gerhard," said I to Blackie, and tried
not to look uncomfortable.

"Mm," grunted Blackie, pulling at his pipe.
"Thoughtful, ain't he?"

I turned at the door. "He-- he's going away day
after to-morrow, Blackie," I explained, although no
explanation had been asked for, "to Vienna. He expects
to stay a year--or two--or three--"

Blackie looked up quickly. "Goin' away, is he?
Well, maybe it's best, all around, girl. I see his
name's been mentioned in all the medical papers, and the
big magazines, and all that, lately. Gettin' t' be a big
bug, Von Gerhard is. Sorry he's goin', though. I was
plannin' t' consult him just before I go on my--vacation.
But some other guy'll do. He don't approve of me, Von
Gerhard don't."

For some reason which I could never explain I went
back into the room and held out both my hands to Blackie.
His nervous brown fingers closed over them. "That
doesn't make one bit of difference to us, does it,
Blackie?" I said, gravely. "We're--we're not caring so
long as we approve of one another, are we?"

"Not a bit, girl," smiled Blackie, "not a bit."

When the green car stopped before the Old Folks' Home
I was in seraphic mood. I had bathed, donned clean linen
and a Dutch-necked gown. The result was most
soul-satisfying. My spirits rose unaccountably. Even
the sight of Von Gerhard, looking troubled and distrait,
did not quiet them. We darted away, out along the lake
front, past the toll gate, to the bay road stretching its
flawless length along the water's side. It was alive
with swift-moving motor cars swarming like
twentieth-century pilgrims toward the mecca of cool
breezes and comfort. There were proud limousines;
comfortable family cars; trim little roadsters; noisy
runabouts. Not a hoof-beat was to be heard. It was as
though the horseless age had indeed descended upon the
world. There was only a hum, a rush, a roar, as car
after car swept on.

Summer homes nestled among the trees near the lake.
Through the branches one caught occasional gleams of
silvery water. The rush of cool air fanned my hot
forehead, tousled my hair, slid down between my collar
and the back of my neck, and I was grandly content.

"Even though you are going to sail away, and even
though you have the grumps, and refuse to talk, and scowl
like a jabberwock, this is an extremely nice world. You
can't spoil it."

"Behute!" Von Gerhard's tone was solemn.

"Would you be faintly interested in knowing that the
book is finished?"

"So? That is well. You were wearing yourself thin
over it. It was then quickly perfected."

"Perfected!" I groaned. "I turn cold when I think of
it. The last chapters got away from me completely. They
lacked the punch."

Von Gerhard considered that a moment, as I wickedly
had intended that he should. Then--"The punch? What is
that then--the punch?"

Obligingly I elucidated. "A book may be written in
flawless style, with a plot, and a climax, and a lot of
little side surprises. But if it lacks that peculiar and
convincing quality poetically known as the punch, it might
as well never have been written. It can never be a
six-best-seller, neither will it live as a classic. You
will never see it advertised on the book review page of
the Saturday papers, nor will the man across the aisle in
the street car be so absorbed in its contents that he will
be taken past his corner."

Von Gerhard looked troubled. "But the literary
value? Does that not enter--"

"I don't aim to contribute to the literary uplift,"
I assured him. "All my life I have cherished two
ambitions. One of them is to write a successful book,
and the other to learn to whistle through my teeth--this
way, you know, as the gallery gods do it. I am almost
despairing of the whistle, but I still have hopes of the
book."

Whereupon Von Gerhard, after a moment's stiff
surprise, gave vent to one of his heartwarming roars.

"Thanks," said I. "Now tell me the important news."

His face grew serious in an instant. "Not yet, Dawn.
Later. Let us hear more about the book. Not so
flippant, however, small one. The time is past when you
can deceive me with your nonsense."

"Surely you would not have me take myself seriously!
That's another debt I owe my Irish forefathers. They
could laugh--bless 'em!--in the very teeth of a potato
crop failure. And let me tell you, that takes some sense
of humor. The book is my potato crop. If it fails it
will mean that I must keep on drudging, with a knot or
two taken in my belt. But I'll squeeze a smile out of
the corner of my mouth, somehow. And if it succeeds!
Oh, Ernst, if it succeeds!"

"Then, Kindchen?"

"Then it means that I may have a little thin layer of
jam on my bread and butter. It won't mean money--at
least, I don't think it will. A first book never does.
But it will mean a future. It will mean that I will have
something solid to stand on. It will be a real
beginning--a breathing spell--time in which to accomplish
something really worth while--independence--freedom from
this tread-mill--"

"Stop!" cried Von Gerhard, sharply. Then, as I
stared in surprise--"I do ask your pardon. I was again
rude, nicht wahr? But in me there is a queer vein of
German superstition that disapproves of air castles.
Sich einbilden, we call it."

The lights of the bay pavilion twinkled just ahead.
The green car poked its nose up the path between rows of
empty machines. At last it drew up, panting, before a
vacant space between an imposing, scarlet touring car and
a smart, cream-colored runabout. We left it there and
walked up the light-flooded path.

Inside the great, barn-like structure that did duty
as pavilion glasses clinked, chairs scraped on the wooden
floor; a burst of music followed a sharp fusillade of
applause. Through the open doorway could be seen a
company of Tyrolese singers in picturesque costumes of
scarlet and green and black. The scene was very noisy,
and very bright, and very German.

"Not in there, eh?" said Von Gerhard, as though
divining my wish. "It is too brightly lighted, and too
noisy. We will find a table out here under the trees,
where the music is softened by the distance, and our eyes
are not offended by the ugliness of the singers. But
inexcusably ugly they are, these Tyrolese women."

We found a table within the glow of the pavilion's
lights, but still so near the lake that we could hear the
water lapping the shore. A cadaverous, sandy-haired
waiter brought things to eat, and we made brave efforts
to appear hungry and hearty, but my high spirits were
ebbing fast, and Von Gerhard was frankly distraught.
One of the women singers appeared suddenly in the doorway
of the pavilion, then stole down the steps, and disappeared
in the shadow of the trees beyond our table. The voices of
the singers ceased abruptly. There was a moment's hushed
silence. Then, from the shadow of the trees came a woman's
voice, clear, strong, flexible, flooding the night with the
bird-like trill of the mountain yodel. The sound rose
and fell, and swelled and soared. A silence. Then, in
a great burst of melody the chorus of voices within the
pavilion answered the call. Again a silence. Again the
wonder of the woman's voice flooded the stillness, ending
in a note higher, clearer, sweeter than any that had gone
before. Then the little Tyrolese, her moment of glory
ended, sped into the light of the noisy pavilion again.

When I turned to Von Gerhard my eyes were wet. "I
shall have that to remember, when you are gone."

Von Gerhard beckoned the hovering waiter. "Take
these things away. And you need not return." He placed
something in the man's palm--something that caused a
sudden whisking away of empty dishes, and many obsequious
bows.

Von Gerhard's face was turned away from me, toward
the beauty of the lake and sky. Now, as the last flirt
of the waiter's apron vanished around the corner he
turned his head slowly, and I saw that in his eyes which
made me catch my breath with apprehension.

"What is it?" I cried. "Norah? Max? The children?"

He shook his head. "They are well, so far, as I
know. I--perhaps first I should tell you--although this
is not the thing which I have to say to you--"

"Yes?" I urged him on, impatiently. I had never seen
him like this.

"I do not sail this week. I shall not be with Gluck
in Vienna this year. I shall stay here."

"Here! Why? Surely--"

"Because I shall be needed here, Dawn. Because I
cannot leave you now. You will need--some one--a
friend--"

I stared at him with eyes that were wide with terror,
waiting for I knew not what.

"Need--some one--for--what? I stammered. "Why should
you--"

In the kindly shadow of the trees Von Gerhard's hands
took my icy ones, and held them in a close clasp of
encouragement.

"Norah is coming to be with you--"

"Norah! Why? Tell me at once! At once!"

"Because Peter Orme has been sent home--cured," said
he.

The lights of the pavilion fell away, and advanced,
and swung about in a great sickening circle. I shut my
eyes. The lights still swung before my eyes. Von
Gerhard leaned toward me with a word of alarm. I clung
to his hands with all my strength.

"No!" I said, and the savage voice was not my own.
"No! No! No! It isn't true! It isn't--Oh, it's some
joke, isn't it? Tell me, it's--it's something funny,
isn't it? And after a bit we'll laugh--we'll laugh--of
course--see! I am smiling already--"

"Dawn--dear one--it is true. God knows I wish that
I could be happy to know it. The hospital authorities
pronounce him cured. He has been quite sane for weeks."

"You knew it--how long?"

"You know that Max has attended to all communications
from the doctors there. A few weeks ago they wrote that
Orme had shown evidences of recovery. He spoke of you,
of the people he had known in New York, of his work on the
paper, all quite rationally and calmly. But they must
first be sure. Max went to New York a week ago. Peter
was gone. The hospital authorities were frightened and
apologetic. Peter had walked away quite coolly one day.
He had gone into the city, borrowed money of some old
newspaper cronies, and vanished. He may be there still.
He may be--"

"Here! Ernst! Take me home! O God; I can't do it!
I can't! I ought to be happy, but I'm not. I ought to
be thankful, but I'm not, I'm not! The horror of having
him there was great enough, but it was nothing compared
to the horror of having him here. I used to dream that
he was well again, and that he was searching for me, and
the dreadful realness of it used to waken me, and I would
find myself shivering with terror. Once I dreamed that
I looked up from my desk to find him standing in the
doorway, smiling that mirthless smile of his, and I heard
him say, in his mocking way: `Hello, Dawn my love;
looking wonderfully well. Grass widowhood agrees with
you, eh?'"

"Dawn, you must not laugh like that. Come, we will
go. You are shivering! Don't, dear, don't. See, you
have Norah, and Max,and me to help you. We will put him
on his feet. Physically he is not what he should be. I can
do much for him."

"You!" I cried, and the humor of it was too exquisite
for laughter.

"For that I gave up Vienna," said Von Gerhard,
simply. "You, too, must do your share."

"My share! I have done my share. He was in the
gutter, and he was dragging me with him. When his
insanity came upon him I thanked God for it, and
struggled up again. Even Norah never knew what that
struggle was. Whatever I am, I am in spite of him. I
tell you I could hug my widow's weeds. Ten years ago he
showed me how horrible and unclean a thing can be made of
this beautiful life. I was a despairing, cowering girl
of twenty then--I am a woman now, happy in her work, her
friends; growing broader and saner in thought, quicker to
appreciate the finer things in life. And now--what?"

They were dashing off a rollicking folk-song indoors.
When it was finished there came a burst of laughter and
the sharp spat of applauding hands, and shouts of
approbation. The sounds seemed seared upon my brain. I
rose and ran down the path toward the waiting machine.
There in the darkness I buried my shamed face in my hands
and prayed for the tears that would not come.

It seemed hours before I heard Von Gerhard's firm,
quick tread upon the gravel path. He moved about the
machine, adjusting this and that, then took his place at
the wheel without a word. We glided out upon the smooth
white road. All the loveliness of the night seemed to
have vanished. Only the ugly, distorted shadows
remained. The terror of uncertainty gripped me. I could
not endure the sight of Von Gerhard's stern, set face.
I grasped his arm suddenly so that the machine veered and
darted across the road. With a mighty wrench Von Gerhard
righted it. He stopped the machine at the road-side.

"Careful, Kindchen," he said, gravely.

"Ernst," I said, and my breath came quickly,
chokingly, as though I had been running fast, "Ernst, I
can't do it. I'm not big enough. I can't. I hate him,
I tell you, I hate him! My life is my own. I've made it
what it is, in the face of a hundred temptations; in
spite of a hundred pitfalls. I can't lay it down again
for Peter Orme to trample. Ernst, if you love me, take
me away now. To Vienna--anywhere--only don't ask me to
take up my life with him again. I can't--I can't--"

"Love you?" repeated Ernst, slowly, "yes. Too well--"

"Too well--"

"Yes, too well for that, Gott sei dank, small one.
Too well for that."

CHAPTER XVIII

PETER ORME

A man's figure rose from the shadows of the porch and
came forward to meet us as we swung up to the curbing.
I stifled a scream in my throat. As I shrank back into
the seat I heard the quick intake of Von Gerhard's breath
as he leaned forward to peer into the darkness. A sick
dread came upon me.

"Sa-a-ay, girl," drawled the man's voice, with a
familiar little cackling laugh in it, "sa-a-ay, girl, the
policeman on th' beat's got me spotted for a suspicious
character. I been hoofin' it up an' down this block like
a distracted mamma waitin' for her daughter t' come home
from a boat ride."

"Blackie! It's only you!"

"Thanks, flatterer," simpered Blackie, coming to the
edge of the walk as I stepped from the automobile. "Was
you expectin' the landlady?"

"I don't know just whom I expected. I--I'm nervous,
I think, and you startled me. Dr.Von Gerhard was taken
back for a moment, weren't you, Doctor?"

Von Gerhard laughed ruefully. "Frankly, yes. It is
not early. And visitors at this hour--"

"What in the world is it, Blackie?" I put in. "Don't
tell me that Norberg has been seized with one of his
fiendish inspirations at this time of night."

Blackie struck a match and held it for an instant so
that the flare of it illuminated his face as he lighted
his cigarette. There was no laughter in the deep-set
black eyes.

"What is it Blackie?" I asked again. The horror of
what Von Gerhard had told me made the prospect of any
lesser trial a welcome relief.

"I got t' talk to you for a minute. P'raps Von
Gerhard 'd better hear it, too. I telephoned you an hour
ago. Tried to get you out to the bay. Waited here ever
since. Got a parlor, or somethin', where a guy can
talk?"

I led the way indoors. The first floor seemed
deserted. The bare, unfriendly boarding-house parlor was
unoccupied, and one dim gas jet did duty as illumination.

"Bring in the set pieces," muttered Blackie, as he
turned two more gas jets flaring high. "This parlor just
yells for a funeral."

Von Gerhard was frowning. "Mrs. Orme is not well,"
he began. "She has had a shock--some startling news
concerning--"

"Her husband?" inquired Blackie, coolly. I started
up with a cry. "How could you know?"

A look of relief came into Blackie's face. "That
helps a little. Now listen, kid. An' w'en I get
through, remember I'm there with the little helpin' mitt.
Have a cigarette, Doc?"

"No," said Von Gerhard, shortly.

Blackie's strange black eyes were fastened on my
face, and I saw an expression of pity in their depths as
he began to talk.

"I was up at the Press Club to-night. Dropped in for
a minute or two, like I always do on the rounds. The
place sounded kind of still when I come up the steps, and
I wondered where all the boys was. Looked into the
billiard room--nothin' doin'. Poked my head in at the
writin' room--same. Ambled into the readin' room--empty.
Well, I steered for the dining room, an' there was the
bunch. An' just as I come in they give a roar, and I
started to investigate. Up against the fireplace, with
one hand in his pocket, and the other hanging careless
like on the mantel, stood a man--stranger t' me. He was
talkin' kind of low, and quick, bitin' off his words like a
Englishman. An' the boys, they was starin' with their
eyes, an' their mouths, and forgettin' t' smoke, an' lettin'
their pipes an' cigars go dead in their hands, while he
talked. Talk! Sa-a-ay, girl, that guy, he could talk the
leads right out of a ruled, locked form. I didn't catch his
name. Tall, thin, unearthly lookin' chap, with the whitest
teeth you ever saw, an' eyes--well, his eyes was somethin'
like a lighted pipe with a little fine ash over the red,
just waitin' for a sudden pull t' make it glow."

"Peter!" I moaned, and buried my face in my hands.
Von Gerhard put a quick hand on my arm. But I shook it
off. "I'm not going to faint," I said, through set
teeth. "I'm not going to do anything silly. I want to
think. I want to . . . Go on, Blackie."

"Just a minute," interrupted Von Gerhard. "Does he
know where Mrs. Orme is living?"

"I'm coming t' that," returned Blackie, tranquilly.
"Though for Dawn's sake I'll say right here he don't
know. I told him later, that she was takin' a vacation
up at her folks' in Michigan."

"Thank God!" I breathed.

"Wore a New York Press Club button, this guy did. I
asked one of the boys standin' on the outer edge of the
circle what the fellow's name was, but he only says:
`Shut up Black! An' listen. He's seen every darn thing
in the world.' Well, I listened. He wasn't braggin'.
He wasn't talkin' big. He was just talkin'. Seems like
he'd been war correspondent in the Boer war, and the
Spanish-American, an' Gawd knows where. He spoke low,
not usin' any big words, either, an' I thought his eyes
looked somethin' like those of the Black Cat up on the
mantel just over his head--you know what I
mean, when the electric lights is turned on
in-inside{sic} the ugly thing. Well, every time he
showed signs of stoppin', one of the boys would up with
a question, and start him goin' again. He knew
everybody, an' everything, an' everywhere. All of a
sudden one of the boys points to the Roosevelt signature
on the wall--the one he scrawled up there along with all
the other celebrities first time he was entertained by
the Press Club boys. Well this guy, he looked at the
name for a minute. `Roosevelt?' he says, slow. `Oh, yes.
Seems t' me I've heard of him.' Well, at that the boys
yelled. Thought it was a good joke, seein' that Ted had
been smeared all over the first page of everything for
years. But kid, I seen th' look in that man's eyes when
he said it, and he wasn't jokin', girl. An' it came t' me,
all of a sudden, that all the things he'd been talkin'
about had happened almost ten years back. After he'd
made that break about Roosevelt he kind of shut up, and
strolled over to the piano and began t' play. You know
that bum old piano, with half a dozen dead keys, and no
tune?

I looked up for a moment. "He could make you think
that it was a concert grand, couldn't he? He hasn't
forgotten even that?"

"Forgotten? Girl, I don't know what his
accomplishments was when you knew him, but if he was any
more fascinatin' than he is now, then I'm glad I didn't
know him. He could charm the pay envelope away from a
reporter that was Saturday broke. Somethin' seemed t'
urge me t' go up t' him an' say: `Have a game of
billiards?'

"`Don't care if I do,' says he, and swung his long
legs off the piano stool and we made for the billiard
room, with the whole gang after us. Sa-a-ay, girl, I'm
a modest violet, I am, but I don't mind mentionin' that
the general opinion up at the club is that I'm a little
wizard with the cue. Well, w'en he got through with me
I looked like little sister when big brother is tryin' t'
teach her how to hold the cue in her fingers. He just
sent them balls wherever he thought they'd look pretty.
I bet if he'd held up his thumb and finger an' said,
`jump through this!' them balls would of jumped."

Von Gerhard took a couple of quick steps in Blackie's
direction. His eyes were blue steel.

"Is this then necessary?" he asked. "All this leads
to what? Has not Mrs. Orme suffered enough, that she
should undergo this idle chatter? It is sufficient that
she knows this--this man is here. It is a time for
action, not for words."

"Action's comin' later, Doc," drawled Blackie,
looking impish. "Monologuin' ain't my specialty. I
gener'ly let the other gink talk. You never can learn
nothin' by talkin'. But I got somethin' t' say t' Dawn
here. Now, in case you're bored the least bit, w'y don't
hesitate one minnit t'--"

"Na, you are quite right, and I was hasty," said Von
Gerhard, and his eyes, with the kindly gleam in them,
smiled down upon the little man. "It is only that both
you and I are over-anxious to be of assistance to this
unhappy lady. Well, we shall see. You talked with this
man at the Press Club?"

"He talked. I listened."

"That would be Peter's way," I said, bitterly. How
he used to love to hold forth, and how I grew to long
for blessed silence--for fewer words, and
more of that reserve which means strength!"

"All this time," continued Blackie, "I didn't know
his name. When we'd finished our game of billiards he
hung up his cue, and then he turned around like
lightning, and faced the boys that were standing around
with their hands in their pockets. He had a odd little
smile on his face--a smile with no fun it, if you know
what I mean. Guess you do, maybe, if you've seen it.

"`Boys,' says he, smilin' that twisted kind of smile,
`boys, I'm lookin' for a job. I'm not much of a talker,
an' I'm only a amateur at music, and my game of billiards
is ragged. But there's one thing I can do, fellows, from
abc up to xyz, and that's write. I can write, boys, in
a way to make your pet little political scribe sound like
a high school paper. I don't promise to stick. As soon
as I get on my feet again I'm going back to New York.
But not just yet. Meanwhile, I'm going to the highest
bidder.'

"Well, you know since Merkle left us we haven't had
a day when we wasn't scooped on some political guff. `I
guess we can use you--some place,' I says, tryin' not t'
look too anxious. If your ideas on salary can take a
slump be tween New York and Milwaukee. Our salaries
around here is more what is elegantly known as a stipend.
What's your name, Bo?'

"`Name?' says he, smiling again, `Maybe it'll be
familiar t' you. That is, it will if my wife is usin'
it. Orme's my name--Peter Orme. Know a lady of that
name? Good.'

"I hadn't said I did, but those eyes of his had seen
the look on my face.

"`Friends in New York told me she was here,' he says.
`Where is she now? Got her address?' he says.

"`She expectin' you?' I asked.

"`N-not exactly,' he says, with that crooked grin.

"`Thought not,' I answered, before I knew what I was
sayin'. `She's up north with her folks on a vacation.'

"`The devil she is!' he says. `Well, in that case
can you let me have ten until Monday?'"

Blackie came over to me as I sat cowering in my
chair. He patted my shoulder with one lean brown hand.
"Now kid, you dig, see? Beat it. Go home for a week.
I'll fix it up with Norberg. No tellin' what a guy like
that's goin' t' do. Send your brother-in-law down
here if you want to make it a family affair, and between
us, we'll see this thing through."

I looked up at Von Gerhard. He was nodding approval.
It all seemed so easy, so temptingly easy. To run away!
Not to face him until I was safe in the shelter of
Norah's arms! I stood up, resolve lending me new
strength and courage.

"I am going. I know it isn't brave, but I can't be
brave any longer. I'm too tired--too old--"

I grasped the hand of each of those men who had stood
by me so staunchly in the year that was past. The words
of thanks that I had on my lips ended in dry, helpless
sobs. And because Blackie and Von Gerhard looked so
pathetically concerned and so unhappy in my unhappiness
my sobs changed to hysterical laughter, in which the two
men joined, after one moment's bewildered staring.

So it was that we did not hear the front door slam,
or the sound of footsteps in the hall. Our overstrained
nerves found relief in laughter, so that Peter Orme, a
lean, ominous figure in the doorway looked in upon a
merry scene.

I was the first to see him. And at the sight of the
emaciated figure, with its hollow cheeks and its sunken
eyes all terror and hatred left me, and I felt only a
great pity for this wreck of manhood. Slowly I went up
to him there in the doorway.

"Well, Peter?" I said.

"Well, Dawn old girl," said he "you're looking
wonderfully fit. Grass widowhood seems to agree with
you, eh?"

And I knew then that my dread dream had come true.

Peter advanced into the room with his old easy grace
of manner. His eyes glowed as he looked at Blackie.
Then he laughed, showing his even, white teeth. "Why,
you little liar!" he said, in his crisp, clear English.
"I've a notion to thwack you. What d' you mean by
telling me my wife's gone? You're not sweet on her
yourself, eh?"

Von Gerhard stifled an exclamation, and Orme turned
quickly in his direction. "Who are you?" he asked.
"Still another admirer? Jolly time you were having when
I interrupted." He stared at Von Gerhard deliberately
and coolly. A little frown of dislike came into his
face. "You're a doctor, aren't you? I knew it. I can
tell by the hands, and the eyes, and the skin, and the
smell. Lived with 'em for ten years, damn them! Dawn,
tell these fellows they're excused, will you? And by the
way, you don't seem very happy to see me?"

I went up to him then, and laid my hand on his arm.
"Peter, you don't understand. These two gentlemen have
been all that is kind to me. I am happy to know that you
are well again. Surely you do not expect me to be joyful
at seeing you. All that pretense was left out of our
lives long before your--illness. It hasn't been all
roses for me since then, Peter. I've worked until I
wanted to die with weariness. You know what this
newspaper game is for a woman. It doesn't grow easier as
she grows older and tireder."

"Oh, cut out the melodrama, Dawn," sneered Peter.
"Have either of you fellows the makin's about you?
Thanks. I'm famished for a smoke."

The worrying words of ten years ago rose
automatically to my lips. "Aren't you smoking too much,
Peter?" The tone was that of a harassed wife.

Peter stared. Then he laughed his short, mirthless
little laugh. "By Jove! Dawn, I believe you're as much
my wife now as you were ten years ago. I always said,
you know, that you would have become a first-class nagger
if you hadn't had such a keen sense of humor. That saved
you." He turned his mocking eyes to Von Gerhard.
"Doesn't it beat the devil, how these good women stick to
a man, once they're married! There's a certain dog-like
devotion about it that's touching."

There was a dreadful little silence. For the first
time in my knowledge of him I saw a hot, painful red
dyeing Blackie's sallow face. His eyes had a menace in
their depths. Then, very quietly, Von Gerhard stepped
forward and stopped directly before me.

"Dawn," he said, very softly and gently, "I retract
my statement of an hour ago. If you will give me another
chance to do as you asked me, I shall thank God for it
all my life. There is no degradation in that. To live
with this man--that is degradation. And I say you shall
not suffer it."

I looked up into his face, and it had never seemed so
dear to me. "The time for that is past," I said, my tone
as calm and even as his own. "A man like you cannot
burden himself with a derelict like me--mast gone, sails
gone, water-logged, drifting. Five years from now you'll
thank me for what I am saying now. My place is with this
other wreck--tossed about by wind and weather until we
both go down together." There came a sharp, insistent
ring at the door-bell. No answering sound came from the
regions above stairs. The ringing sounded again, louder
than before.

"I'll be the Buttons," said Blackie, and disappeared
into the hallway.

"Oh, yes, I've heard about you," came to our ears a
moment later, in a high, clear voice--a dear, beloved
voice that sent me flying to the door in an agony of
hope.

"Norah!" I cried, "Norah! Norah! Norah!" And as
her blessed arms closed about me the tears that had been
denied me before came in a torrent of joy.

"There, there!" murmured she, patting my shoulder
with those comforting mother-pats. "What's all this
about? And why didn't somebody meet me? I telegraphed.
You didn't get it? Well, I forgive you. Howdy-do,
Peter? I suppose you are Peter. I hope you haven't been
acting devilish again. That seems to be your specialty.
Now don't smile that Mephistophelian smile at me. It
doesn't frighten me. Von Gerhard, take him down to his
hotel. I'm dying for my kimono and bed. And this child
is trembling like a race-horse. Now run along, all of
you. Things that look greenery-yallery at night always
turn pink in the morning. Great Heavens! There's somebody
calling down from the second-floor landing. It sounds
like a landlady. Run, Dawn, and tell her your perfectly
respectable sister has come. Peter! Von Gerhard!
Mr. Blackie! Shoo!"

CHAPTER XIX

A TURN OF THE WHEEL

"You who were ever alert to befriend a man
You who were ever the first to defend a man,
You who had always the money to lend a man
Down on his luck and hard up for a V,
Sure you'll be playing a harp in beatitude
(And a quare sight you will be in that attitude)
Some day, where gratitude seems but a platitude,
You'll find your latitude."

From my desk I could see Peter standing in the doorway of
the news editor's room. I shut my eyes for a moment.
Then I opened them again, quickly. No, it was not a
dream. He was there, a slender, graceful, hateful
figure, with the inevitable cigarette in his unsteady
fingers--the expensive-looking, gold-tipped cigarette of
the old days. Peter was Peter. Ten years had made
little difference. There were queer little hollow places
in his cheeks, and under the jaw-bone, and at the base of
the head, and a flabby, parchment-like appearance about
the skin. That was all that made him different from the
Peter of the old days.

The thing had adjusted itself, as Norah had said it
would. The situation that had filled me with loathing
and terror the night of Peter's return had been
transformed into quite a matter-of-fact and commonplace
affair under Norah's deft management. And now I was back
in harness again, and Peter was turning out brilliant
political stuff at spasmodic intervals. He was not
capable of any sustained effort. He never would be
again; that was plain. He was growing restless and
dissatisfied. He spoke of New York as though it were
Valhalla. He said that he hadn't seen a pretty girl
since he left Forty-second street. He laughed at
Milwaukee's quaint German atmosphere. He sneered at our
journalistic methods, and called the newspapers "country
sheets," and was forever talking of the World, and the
Herald, and the Sun, until the men at the Press Club
fought shy of him. Norah had found quiet and comfortable
quarters for Peter in a boarding-house near the lake, and
just a square or two distant from my own boarding-house.
He hated it cordially, as only the luxury-loving can hate
a boarding-house, and threatened to leave daily.

"Let's go back to the big town, Dawn, old girl," he
would say. "We're buried alive in this overgrown Dutch
village. I came here in the first place on your account.
Now it's up to you to get me out of it. Think of what New
York means! Think of what I've been! And I can write as
well as ever."

But I always shook my head. "We would not last a
month in New York, Peter. New York has hurried on and
left us behind. We're just two pieces of discard. We'll
have to be content where we are."

"Content! In this silly hole! You must be mad!"
Then, with one of his unaccountable changes of tone and
topic, "Dawn, let me have some money. I'm strapped. If
I had the time I'd get out some magazine stuff. Anything
to get a little extra coin. Tell me, how does that
little sport you call Blackie happen to have so much
ready cash? I've never yet struck him for a loan that he
hasn't obliged me. I think he's sweet on you, perhaps,
and thinks he's doing you a sort of second-hand favor."

At times such as these all the old spirit that I had
thought dead within me would rise up in revolt against
this creature who was taking, from me my pride, my sense
of honor, my friends. I never saw Von Gerhard now.
Peter had refused outright to go to him for treatment,
saying that he wasn't going to be poisoned by any cursed
doctor, particularly not by one who had wanted to run away
with his wife before his very eyes.

Sometimes I wondered how long this could go on. I
thought of the old days with the Nirlangers; of Alma
Pflugel's rose-encircled cottage; of Bennie; of the
Knapfs; of the good-natured, uncouth aborigines, and
their many kindnesses. I saw these dear people rarely
now. Frau Nirlanger's resignation to her unhappiness
only made me rebel more keenly against my own.

If only Peter could become well and strong again, I
told myself, bitterly. If it were not for those blue
shadows under his eyes, and the shrunken muscles, and the
withered skin, I could leave him to live his life as he
saw fit. But he was as dependent as a child, and as
capricious. What was the end to be? I asked myself.
Where was it all leading me?

And then, in a fearful and wonderful manner, my
question was answered.

There came to my desk one day an envelope bearing the
letter-head of the publishing house to which I had sent
my story. I balanced it for a moment in my fingers,
woman-fashion, wondering, hoping, surmising.

"Of course they can't want it," I told myself, in
preparation for any disappointment that was in store for
me. "They're sending it back. This is the letter that
will tell me so."

And then I opened it. The words jumped out at me
from the typewritten page. I crushed the paper in my
hands, and rushed into Blackie's little office as I had
been used to doing in the old days. He was at his desk,
pipe in mouth. I shook his shoulder and flourished the
letter wildly, and did a crazy little dance about his
chair.

"They want it! They like it! Not only that, they
want another, as soon as I can get it out. Think of it!"

Blackie removed his pipe from between his teeth and
wiped his lips with the back of his hand. "I'm
thinkin'," he said. "Anything t' oblige you. When
you're through shovin' that paper into my face would you
mind explainin' who wants what?"

"Oh, you're so stupid! So slow! Can't you see that
I've written a real live book, and had it accepted, and
that I am going to write another if I have to run away
from a whole regiment of husbands to do it properly?
Blackie, can't you see what it means! Oh, Blackie, I
know I'm maudlin in my joy, but forgive me. It's been so
long since I've had the taste of it."

"Well, take a good chew while you got th'chance an'
don't count too high on this first book
business. I knew a guy who wrote a book once, an' he
planned to take a trip to Europe on it, and build a house
when he got home, and maybe a yacht or so, if he wasn't
too rushed. Sa-a-ay, girl, w'en he got through gettin'
those royalties for that book they'd dwindled down to
fresh wall paper for the dinin'-room, and a new gas stove
for his wife, an' not enough left over to take a trolley
trip to Oshkosh on. Don't count too high."

"I'm not counting at all, Blackie, and you can't
discourage me."

"Don't want to. But I'd hate to see you come down
with a thud." Suddenly he sat up and a grin overspread
his thin face. "Tell you what we'll do, girlie. We'll
celebrate. Maybe it'll be the last time. Let's pretend
this is six months ago, and everything's serene. You get
your bonnet. I'll get the machine. It's too hot to
work, anyway. We'll take a spin out to somewhere that's
cool, and we'll order cold things to eat, and cold things
to drink, and you can talk about yourself till you're
tired. You'll have to take it out on somebody, an' it
might as well be me."

Five minutes later, with my hat in my hand, I turned
to find Peter at my elbow.

"Want to talk to you," he said, frowning.

"Sorry, Peter, but I can't stop. Won't it do later?"

"No. Got an assignment? I'll go with you."

"N-not exactly, Peter. The truth is, Blackie has
taken pity on me and has promised to take me out for a
spin, just to cool off. It has been so insufferably
hot."

Peter turned away. "Count me in on that," he said,
over his shoulder.

"But I can't, Peter," I cried. "It isn't my party.
And anyway--"

Peter turned around, and there was an ugly glow in
his eyes and an ugly look on his face, and a little red
ridge that I had not noticed before seemed to burn itself
across his forehead. "And anyway, you don't want me, eh?
Well, I'm going. I'm not going to have my wife chasing
all over the country with strange men. Remember, you're
not the giddy grass widdy you used to be. You can take
me, or stay at home, understand?"

His voice was high-pitched and quavering. Something
in his manner struck a vague terror to my heart. "Why,
Peter, if you care that much I shall be glad to have you
go. So will Blackie, I am sure. Come, we'll go down
now. He'll be waiting for us."

Blackie's keen, clever mind grasped the situation as
soon as he saw us together. His dark face was illumined
by one of his rare smiles. "Coming with us, Orme? Do
you good. Pile into the tonneau, you two, and hang on to
your hair. I'm going to smash the law."

Peter sauntered up to the steering-wheel. "Let me
drive," he said. "I'm not bad at it."

"Nix with the artless amateur," returned Blackie.
"This ain't no demonstration car. I drive my own little
wagon when I go riding, and I intend to until I take my
last ride, feet first."

Peter muttered something surly and climbed into the
front seat next to Blackie, leaving me to occupy the
tonneau in solitary state.

Peter began to ask questions--dozens of them, which
Blackie answered, patiently and fully. I could not hear
all that they said, but I saw that Peter was urging
Blackie to greater speed, and that Blackie was explaining
that he must first leave the crowded streets behind.
Suddenly Peter made a gesture in the direction of the
wheel, and said something in a high, sharp voice.
Blackie's answer was quick and decidedly in the negative.
The next instant Peter Orme rose in his place and leaning
forward and upward, grasped the wheel that was
in Blackie's hands. The car swerved sickeningly. I
noticed, dully, that Blackie did not go white as
novelists say men do in moments of horror. A dull red
flush crept to the very base of his neck. With a twist
of his frail body he tried to throw off Peter's hands.
I remember leaning over the back of the seat and trying
to pull Peter back as I realized that it was a madman
with whom we were dealing. Nothing seemed real. It was
ridiculously like the things one sees in the moving
picture theaters. I felt no fear.

"Sit down, Orme!" Blackie yelled. "You'll ditch us!
Dawn! God!--"

We shot down a little hill. Two wheels were lifted
from the ground. The machine was poised in the air for
a second before it crashed into the ditch and turned over
completely, throwing me clear, but burying Blackie and
Peter under its weight of steel and wood and whirring
wheels.

I remember rising from the ground, and sinking back
again and rising once more to run forward to where the
car lay in the ditch, and tugging at that great frame of
steel with crazy, futile fingers. Then I ran screaming
down the road toward a man who was tranquilly working in
a field nearby.

CHAPTER XX

BLACKIE'S VACATION COMES

The shabby blue office coat hangs on the hook in the
little sporting room where Blackie placed it. No one
dreams of moving it. There it dangles, out at elbows,
disreputable, its pockets burned from many a hot pipe
thrust carelessly into them, its cuffs frayed, its lapels
bearing the marks of cigarette, paste-pot and pen.

It is that faded old garment, more than anything
else, which makes us fail to realize that its owner will
never again slip into its comfortable folds. We cannot
believe that a lifeless rag like that can triumph over
the man of flesh and blood and nerves and sympathies.
With what contempt do we look upon those garments during
our lifetime! And how they live on, defying time, long,
long after we have been gathered to our last rest.

In some miraculous manner Blackie had lived on for
two days after that ghastly ride. Peter had been killed
instantly, the doctors said. They gave no hope for
Blackie. My escape with but a few ridiculous bruises
and scratches was due, they said, to the fact that I had
sat in the tonneau. I heard them all, in a stupor of
horror and grief, and wondered what
plan Fate had in store for me, that I alone should have
been spared. Norah and Max came, and took things in
charge, and I saw Von Gerhard, but all three appeared dim
and shadowy, like figures in a mist. When I closed my
eyes I could see Peter's tense figure bending over
Blackie at the wheel, and heard his labored breathing as
he struggled in his mad fury, and felt again the helpless
horror that had come to me as we swerved off the road and
into the ditch below, with Blackie, rigid and desperate,
still clinging to the wheel. I lived it all over and
over in my mind. In the midst of the blackness I heard
a sentence that cleared the fog from my mind, and caused
me to raise myself from my pillows.

Some one--Norah, I think--had said that Blackie was
conscious, and that he was asking for some of the men at
the office, and for me. For me! I rose and dressed, in
spite of Norah's protests. I was quite well, I told
them. I must see him. I shook them off with trembling
fingers and when they saw that I was quite determined
they gave in, and Von Gerhard telephoned to the hospital
to learn the hour at which I might meet
the others who were to see Blackie for a brief moment.

I met them in the stiff little waiting room of he
hospital--Norberg, Deming, Schmidt, Holt--men who had
known him from the time when they had yelled, "Heh, boy!"
at him when they wanted their pencils sharpened.
Awkwardly we followed the fleet-footed nurse who glided
ahead of us down the wide hospital corridors, past
doorways through which we caught glimpses of white beds
that were no whiter than the faces that lay on the
pillows. We came at last into a very still and bright
little room where Blackie lay.

Had years passed over his head since I saw him last?
The face that tried to smile at us from the pillow was
strangely wizened and old. It was as though a withering
blight had touched it. Only the eyes were the same.
They glowed in the sunken face, beneath the shock of
black hair, with a startling luster and brilliancy.

I do not know what pain he suffered. I do not know
what magic medicine gave him the strength to smile at us,
dying as he was even then.

"Well, what do you know about little Paul Dombey?" he
piped in a high, thin voice. The shock of relief was too
much. We giggled hysterically, then stopped short and
looked at each other, like scared and naughty children.

"Sa-a-ay, boys and girls, cut out the heavy thinking
parts. Don't make me do all the social stunts. What's
the news? What kind of a rotten cotton sportin' sheet is
that dub Callahan gettin' out? Who won to-day--Cubs or
Pirates? Norberg, you goat, who pinned that purple tie
on you?"

He was so like the Blackie we had always known that
we were at our ease immediately. The sun shone in at the
window, and some one laughed a little laugh somewhere
down the corridor, and Deming, who is Irish, plunged into
a droll description of a brand-new office boy who had
arrived that day.

"S'elp me, Black, the kid wears spectacles and a
Norfolk suit, and low-cut shoes with bows on 'em. On the
square he does. Looks like one of those Boston infants
you see in the comic papers. I don't believe he's real.
We're saving him until you get back, if the kids in the
alley don't chew him up before that time."

An almost imperceptible shade passed over Blackie's
face. He closed his eyes for a moment. Without their
light his countenance was ashen, and awful.

A nurse in stripes and cap appeared in the doorway.
She looked keenly at the little figure in the bed. Then
she turned to us.

"You must go now," she said. "You were just to see
him for a minute or two, you know."

Blackie summoned the wan ghost of a smile to his
lips. "Guess you guys ain't got th' stimulatin' effect
that a bunch of live wires ought to have. Say, Norberg,
tell that fathead, Callahan, if he don't keep the third
drawer t' the right in my desk locked, th' office kids'll
swipe all the roller rink passes surest thing you know."

"I'll--tell him, Black," stammered Norberg, and
turned away.

They said good-by, awkwardly enough. Not one of them
that did not owe him an unpayable debt of gratitude. Not
one that had not the memory of some secret kindness
stored away in his heart. It was Blackie who had
furnished the money that had sent Deming's sick wife
west. It had been Blackie who had rescued Schmidt time
and again when drink got a strangle-hold. Blackie had
always said: "Fire Schmidt! Not much! Why, Schmidt
writes better stuff drunk than all the rest of the
bunch sober." And Schmidt would be granted another
reprieve by the Powers that Were.

Suddenly Blackie beckoned the nurse in the doorway.
She came swiftly and bent over him.

"Gimme two minutes more, that's a good nursie.
There's something I want to say t' this dame. It's de
rigger t' hand out last messages, ain't it?"

The nurse looked at me, doubtfully. "But you're not
to excite yourself."

"Sa-a-ay, girl, this ain't goin' t' be no scene from
East Lynne. Be a good kid. The rest of the bunch can
go."

And so, when the others had gone, I found myself
seated at the side of his bed, trying to smile down at
him. I knew that there must be nothing to excite him.
But the words on my lips would come.

"Blackie," I said, and I struggled to keep my voice
calm and emotionless, "Blackie, forgive me. It is all my
fault--my wretched fault."

"Now, cut that," interrupted Blackie. "I thought
that was your game. That's why I said I wanted t' talk
t' you. Now, listen. Remember my tellin' you, a few
weeks ago, 'bout that vacation I was plannin'? This is
it, only it's come sooner than I expected, that's all.
I seen two three doctor guys about it. Your friend Von
Gerhard was one of 'em. They didn't tell me t' take no
ocean trip this time. Between 'em, they decided my
vacation would come along about November, maybe. Well,
I beat 'em to it, that's all. Sa-a-ay, girl, I ain't
kickin'. You can't live on your nerves and expect t'
keep goin'. Sooner or later you'll be suein' those same
nerves for non-support. But, kid, ain't it a shame that
I got to go out in a auto smashup, in these days when
even a airship exit don't make a splash on the front
page!"

The nervous brown hand was moving restlessly over the
covers. Finally it met my hand, and held it in a tense
little grip.

"We've been good pals, you and me, ain't we, kid?"

"Yes, Blackie."

"Ain't regretted it none?"

"Regretted it! I am a finer, truer, better woman for
having known you, Blackie."

He gave a little contented sigh at that, and his eyes
closed. When he opened them the old, whimsical smile
wrinkled his face.

"This is where I get off at. It ain't been no long
trip, but sa-a-ay, girl, I've enjoyed every mile of the
road. All kinds of scenery--all kinds of
lan'scape--plain--fancy--uphill--downhill--"

I leaned forward, fearfully.

"Not--yet," whispered Blackie. Say Dawn--in the
story books--they--always--are strong on the--good-by
kiss, what?"

And as the nurse appeared in the doorway again,
disapproval on her face, I stooped and gently pressed my
lips to the pain-lined cheek.

CHAPTER XXI

HAPPINESS

We laid Peter to rest in that noisy, careless, busy city
that he had loved so well, and I think his cynical lips
would have curled in a bitterly amused smile, and his
somber eyes would have flamed into sudden wrath if he
could have seen how utterly and completely New York had
forgotten Peter Orme. He had been buried alive ten years
before--and Newspaper Row has no faith in resurrections.
Peter Orme was not even a memory. Ten years is an age in
a city where epochs are counted by hours.

Now, after two weeks of Norah's loving care, I was
back in the pretty little city by the lake. I had come
to say farewell to all those who had filled my life so
completely in that year. My days of newspaper work were
over. The autumn and winter would be spent at Norah's,
occupied with hours of delightful, congenial work, for
the second book was to be written in the quiet peace of
my own little Michigan town. Von Gerhard was to take his
deferred trip to Vienna in the spring, and I knew that I
was to go with him. The thought filled my heart with a
great flood of happiness.

Together Von Gerhard and I had visited Alma Pflugel's
cottage, and the garden was blooming in all its wonder of
color and scent as we opened the little gate and walked
up the worn path. We found them in the cool shade of the
arbor, the two women sewing, Bennie playing with the last
wonderful toy that Blackie had given him. They made a
serene and beautiful picture there against the green
canopy of the leaves. We spoke of Frau Nirlanger, and of
Blackie, and of the strange snarl of events which had at
last been unwound to knit a close friendship between us.
And when I had kissed them and walked for the last time
in many months up the flower-bordered path, the scarlet
and pink, and green and gold of that wonderful garden
swam in a mist before my eyes.

Book of the day: