Part 2 out of 6
"Maybe they expected father to endow the school," Bibbs murmured.
"Well, I had to have something to turn in, and I couldn't write a
LINE! I hate poetry, anyhow; and Bobby Lamhorn's always teasing me
about how I 'keep my heart among the stars.' He makes it seem such
a mushy kind of thing, the way he says it. I hate it!"
"You'll have to live it down, Edith. Perhaps abroad and under
another name you might find--"
"Oh, hush up! I'll hire some one to steal it and burn it the first
chance I get." She turned away petulantly, moving to the door. "I'd
like to think I could hope to hear the last of it before I die!"
"Edith!" he called, as she went into the hall.
"What's the matter?"
"I want to ask you: Do I really look better, or have you just got
used to me?"
"What on earth do you mean?" she said, coming back as far as the
"When I first came you couldn't look at me," Bibbs explained, in his
impersonal way. "But I've noticed you look at me lately. I wondered
"It's because you look so much better," she told him, cheerfully.
"This month you've been here's done you no end of good. It's the
"Yes, that's what they said at the sanitarium--the change."
"You look worse than 'most anybody I ever saw," said Edith, with
supreme candor. "But I don't know much about it. I've never seen a
corpse in my life, and I've never even seen anybody that was terribly
sick, so you mustn't judge by me. I only know you do look better,
I'm glad to say. But you're right about my not being able to look
at you at first. You had a kind of whiteness that--Well, you're
almost as thin, I suppose, but you've got more just ordinarily pale;
not that ghastly look. Anybody could look at you now, Bibbs, and
"Well--almost that!" she laughed. "And you're getting a better color
every day, Bibbs; you really are. You're getting along splendidly."
"I--I'm afraid so," he said, ruefully.
"'Afraid so'! Well, if you aren't the queerest! I suppose you mean
father might send you back to the machine-shop if you get well enough.
I heard him say something about it the night of the--" The jingle of
a distant bell interrupted her, and she glanced at her watch. "Bobby
Lamhorn! I'm going to motor him out to look at a place in the
country. Afternoon, Bibbs!"
When she had gone, Bibbs mooned pessimistically from shelf to shelf,
his eye wandering among the titles of the books. The library
consisted almost entirely of handsome "uniform editions": Irving,
Poe, Cooper, Goldsmith, Scott, Byron, Burns, Longfellow, Tennyson,
Hume, Gibbon, Prescott, Thackeray, Dickens, De Musset, Balzac,
Gautier, Flaubert, Goethe, Schiller, Dante, and Tasso. There were
shelves and shelves of encyclopedias, of anthologies, of "famous
classics," of "Oriental masterpieces," of "masterpieces of oratory,"
and more shelves of "selected libraries" of "literature," of "the
drama," and of "modern science." They made an effective decoration
for the room, all these big, expensive books, with a glossy binding
here and there twinkling a reflection of the flames that crackled
in the splendid Gothic fireplace; but Bibbs had an impression that
the bookseller who selected them considered them a relief, and that
white-jacket considered them a burden of dust, and that nobody else
considered them at all. Himself, he disturbed not one.
There came a chime of bells from a clock in another part of the house,
and white-jacket appeared beamingly in the doorway, bearing furs.
"Awready, Mist' Bibbs," he announced. "You' ma say wrap up wawm
f' you' ride, an' she cain' go with you to-day, an' not f'git go see
you' pa at fo' 'clock. Aw ready, suh."
He equipped Bibbs for the daily drive Dr. Gurney had commanded;
and in the manner of a master of ceremonies unctuously led the way.
In the hall they passed the Moor, and Bibbs paused before it while
white-jacket opened the door with a flourish and waved condescendingly
to the chauffeur in the car which stood waiting in the driveway.
"It seems to me I asked you what you thought about this 'statue' when
I first came home, George," said Bibbs, thoughtfully. "What did you
"Yessuh!" George chuckled, perfectly understanding that for some
unknown reason Bibbs enjoyed hearing him repeat his opinion of the
Moor. "You ast me when you firs' come home, an' you ast me nex' day,
an' mighty near ev'y day all time you been here; an' las' Sunday you
ast me twicet." He shook his head solemnly. "Look to me mus' be
somep'm might lamiDAL 'bout 'at statue!"
"Mighty lamiDAL!" George, burst out laughing. "What DO 'at word
mean, Mist' Bibbs?"
"It's new to me, George. Where did you hear it?"
"I nev' DID hear it!" said George. "I uz dess sittin' thinkum to
myse'f an' she pop in my head--'lamiDAL,' dess like 'at! An' she
soun' so good, seem like she GOTTA mean somep'm!"
"Come to think of it, I believe she does mean something. Why, yes--"
"Do she?" cried George. "WHAT she mean?"
"It's exactly the word for the statue," said Bibbs, with conviction,
as he climbed into the car. "It's a lamiDAL statue."
"Hiyi!" George exulted. "Man! Man! Listen! Well, suh, she mighty
lamiDAL statue, but lamiDAL statue heap o' trouble to dus'!" "I
expect she is!" said Bibbs, as the engine began to churn; and a
moment later he was swept from sight.
George turned to Mist' Jackson, who had been listening benevolently
in the hallway. "Same he aw-ways say, Mist' Jackson--'I expec' she
is!' Ev'y day he try t' git me talk 'bout 'at lamiDAL statue, an'
aw-ways, las' thing HE say, 'I expec' she is!' You know, Mist'
Jackson, if he git well, 'at young man go' be pride o' the family,
Mist' Jackson. Yes-suh, right now I pick 'im fo' firs' money!"
"Look out with all 'at money, George!" Jackson warned the enthusiast.
"White folks 'n 'is house know 'im heap longer'n you. You the on'y
man bettin' on 'im!"
"I risk it!" cried George, merrily. "I put her all on now--ev'y cent!
'At boy's go' be flower o' the flock!"
This singular prophecy, founded somewhat recklessly upon gratitude for
the meaning of "lamiDAL," differed radically from another prediction
concerning Bibbs, set forth for the benefit of a fair auditor some
twenty minutes later.
Jim Sheridan, skirting the edges of the town with Mary Vertrees
beside him, in his own swift machine, encountered the invalid upon
the highroad. The two cars were going in opposite directions, and
the occupants of Jim's had only a swaying glimpse of Bibbs sitting
alone on the back seat--his white face startlingly white against cap
and collar of black fur--but he flashed into recognition as Mary
bowed to him.
Jim waved his left hand carelessly. "It's Bibbs, taking his
constitutional," he explained.
"Yes, I know," said Mary. "I bowed to him, too, though I've never
met him. In fact, I've only seen him once--no, twice. I hope he
won't think I'm very bold, bowing to him."
"I doubt if he noticed it," said honest Jim.
"Oh, no!" she cried.
"What's the trouble?"
"I'm almost sure people notice it when I bow to them."
"Oh, I see!" said Jim. "Of course they would ordinarily, but Bibbs
"Is he? How?" she asked. "He strikes me as anything but funny."
"Well, I'm his brother," Jim said, deprecatingly, "but I don't know
what he's like, and, to tell the truth, I've never felt exactly like
I WAS his brother, the way I do Roscoe. Bibbs never did seem more
than half alive to me. Of course Roscoe and I are older, and when
we were boys we were too big to play with him, but he never played
anyway, with boys his own age. He'd rather just sit in the house and
mope around by himself. Nobody could ever get him to DO anything;
you can't get him to do anything now. He never had any LIFE in him;
and honestly, if he is my brother, I must say I believe Bibbs Sheridan
is the laziest man God ever made! Father put him in the machine-shop
over at the Pump Works--best thing in the world for him--and he was
just plain no account. It made him sick! If he'd had the right kind
of energy--the kind father's got, for instance, or Roscoe, either--
why, it wouldn't have made him sick. And suppose it was either of
them --yes, or me, either--do you think any of us would have stopped
if we WERE sick? Not much! I hate to say it, but Bibbs Sheridan'll
never amount to anything as long as he lives."
Mary looked thoughtful. "Is there any particular reason why he
should?" she asked.
"Good gracious!" he exclaimed. "You don't mean that, do you? Don't
you believe in a man's knowing how to earn his salt, no matter how
much money his father's got? Hasn't the business of this world got
to be carried on by everybody in it? Are we going to lay back on
what we've got and see other fellows get ahead of us? If we've got
big things already, isn't it every man's business to go ahead and
make 'em bigger? Isn't it his duty? Don't we always want to get
bigger and bigger?"
"Ye-es--I don't know. But I feel rather sorry for your brother.
He looked so lonely--and sick."
"He's gettin' better every day," Jim said. "Dr. Gurney says so.
There's nothing much the matter with him, really--it's nine-tenths
imaginary. 'Nerves'! People that are willing to be busy don't have
nervous diseases, because they don't have time to imagine 'em."
"You mean his trouble is really mental?"
"Oh, he's not a lunatic," said Jim. "He's just queer. Sometimes
he'll say something right bright, but half the time what he says is
'way off the subject, or else there isn't any sense to it at all.
For instance, the other day I heard him talkin' to one of the darkies
in the hall. The darky asked him what time he wanted the car for his
drive, and anybody else in the world would have just said what time
they DID want it, and that would have been all there was to it; but
here's what Bibbs says, and I heard him with my own ears. 'What time
do I want the car?' he says. 'Well, now, that depends--that depends,'
he says. He talks slow like that, you know. 'I'll tell you what time
I want the car, George,' he says, 'if you'll tell ME what you think
of this statue!' That's exactly his words! Asked the darky what he
thought of that Arab Edith and mother bought for the hall!"
Mary pondered upon this. "He might have been in fun, perhaps," she
"Askin' a darky what he thought of a piece of statuary--of a work of
art! Where on earth would be the fun of that? No, you're just
kind-hearted--and that's the way you OUGHT to be, of course--"
"Thank you, Mr. Sheridan!" she laughed.
"See here!" he cried. "Isn't there any way for us to get over this
Mister and Miss thing? A month's got thirty-one days in it; I've
managed to be with you a part of pretty near all the thirty-one, and
I think you know how I feel by this time--"
She looked panic-stricken immediately. "Oh, no," she protested,
quickly. "No, I don't, and--"
"Yes, you do," he said, and his voice shook a little. "You couldn't
"But I do!" she denied, hurriedly. "I do help knowing. I mean--Oh,
"What for? You do know how I feel, and you--well, you've certainly
WANTED me to feel that way--or else pretended--"
"Now, now!" she lamented. "You're spoiling such a cheerful
"'Spoilin' it!'" He slowed down the car and turned his face to her
squarely. "See here, Miss Vertrees, haven't you--"
"Stop! Stop the car a minute." And when he had complied she faced
him as squarely as he evidently desired her to face him. "Listen.
I don't want you to go on, to-day."
"Why not?" he asked, sharply.
"I don't know."
"You mean it's just a whim?"
"I don't know," she repeated. Her voice was low and troubled and
honest, and she kept her clear eyes upon his.
"Will you tell me something?"
"Have you ever told any man you loved him?"
And at that, though she laughed, she looked a little contemptuous.
"No," she said. "And I don't think I ever shall tell any man that
--or ever know what it means. I'm in earnest, Mr. Sheridan."
"Then you--you've just been flirting with me!" Poor Jim looked both
furious and crestfallen.
"Not on bit!" she cried. "Not one word! Not one syllable! I've
meant every single thing!"
"Of course you don't!" she said. "Now, Mr. Sheridan, I want you to
start the car. Now! Thank you. Slowly, till I finish what I have
to say. I have not flirted with you. I have deliberately courted
you. One thing more, and then I want you to take me straight home,
talking about the weather all the way. I said that I do not believe
I shall ever 'care' for any man, and that is true. I doubt the
existence of the kind of 'caring' we hear about in poems and plays
and novels. I think it must be just a kind of emotional TALK--most
of it. At all events, I don't feel it. Now, we can go faster,
"Just where does that let me out?" he demanded. "How does that
excuse you for--"
"It isn't an excuse," she said, gently, and gave him one final look,
wholly desolate. "I haven't said I should never marry."
"What?" Jim gasped.
She inclined her head in a broken sort of acquiescence, very humble,
"I promise nothing," she said, faintly.
"You needn't!" shouted Jim, radiant and exultant. "You needn't! By
George! I know you're square; that's enough for me! You wait and
promise whenever you're ready!"
"Don't forget what I asked," she begged him.
"Talk about the weather? I will! God bless the old weather!" cried
the happy Jim.
Through the open country Bibbs was borne flying between brown fields
and sun-flecked groves of gray trees, to breathe the rushing, clean
air beneath a glorious sky--that sky so despised in the city, and so
maltreated there, that from early October to mid-May it was impossible
for men to remember that blue is the rightful color overhead.
Upon each of Bibbs's cheeks there was a hint of something almost
resembling a pinkishness; not actual color, but undeniably its
phantom. How largely this apparition may have been the work of the
wind upon his face it is difficult to calculate, for beyond a doubt
it was partly the result of a lady's bowing to him upon no more formal
introduction than the circumstance of his having caught her looking
into his window a month before. She had bowed definitely; she had
bowed charmingly. And it seemed to Bibbs that she must have meant
to convey her forgiveness.
There had been something in her recognition of him unfamiliar to
his experience, and he rode the warmer for it. Nor did he lack the
impression that he would long remember her as he had just seen her:
her veil tumultuously blowing back, her face glowing in the wind
--and that look of gay friendliness tossed to him like a fresh rose
By and by, upon a rising ground, the driver halted the car, then
backed and tacked, and sent it forward again with its nose to the
south and the smoke. Far before him Bibbs saw the great smudge upon
the horizon, that nest of cloud in which the city strove and panted
like an engine shrouded in its own steam. But to Bibbs, who had
now to go to the very heart of it, for a commanded interview with
his father, the distant cloud was like an implacable genius issuing
thunderously in smoke from his enchanted bottle, and irresistibly
drawing Bibbs nearer and nearer.
They passed from the farm lands, and came, in the amber light of
November late afternoon, to the farthermost outskirts of the city;
and here the sky shimmered upon the verge of change from blue to
gray; the smoke did not visibly permeate the air, but it was there,
nevertheless--impalpable, thin, no more than the dust of smoke.
And then, as the car drove on, the chimneys and stacks of factories
came swimming up into view like miles of steamers advancing abreast,
every funnel with its vast plume, savage and black, sweeping to the
horizon, dripping wealth and dirt and suffocation over league on
league already rich and vile with grime.
The sky had become only a dingy thickening of the soiled air;
and a roar and clangor of metals beat deafeningly on Bibbs's ears.
And now the car passed two great blocks of long brick buildings,
hideous in all ways possible to make them hideous; doorways showing
dark one moment and lurid the next with the leap of some virulent
interior flame, revealing blackened giants, half naked, in passionate
action, struggling with formless things in the hot illumination.
And big as these shops were, they were growing bigger, spreading over
a third block, where two new structures were mushrooming to completion
in some hasty cement process of a stability not over-reassuring.
Bibbs pulled the rug closer about him, and not even the phantom of
color was left upon his cheeks as he passed this place, for he knew
it too well. Across the face of one of the buildings there was an
enormous sign: "Sheridan Automatic Pump Co., Inc."
Thence they went through streets of wooden houses, all grimed, and
adding their own grime from many a sooty chimney; flimsey wooden
houses of a thousand flimsy whimsies in the fashioning, built on
narrow lots and nudging one another crossly, shutting out the stingy
sunlight from one another; bad neighbors who would destroy one another
root and branch some night when the right wind blew. They were only
waiting for that wind and a cigarette, and then they would all be gone
together--a pinch of incense burned upon the tripod of the god.
Along these streets there were skinny shade-trees, and here and there
a forest elm or walnut had been left; but these were dying. Some
people said it was the scale; some said it was the smoke; and some
were sure that asphalt and "improving" the streets did it; but Bigness
was in too Big a hurry to bother much about trees. He had telegraph-
poles and telephone-poles and electric-light-poles and trolley-poles
by the thousand to take their places. So he let the trees die and
put up his poles. They were hideous, but nobody minded that; and
sometimes the wires fell and killed people--but not often enough to
matter at all.
Thence onward the car bore Bibbs through the older parts of the
town where the few solid old houses not already demolished were in
transition: some, with their fronts torn away, were being made into
segments of apartment-buildings; others had gone uproariously into
trade, brazenly putting forth "show-windows" on their first floors,
seeming to mean it for a joke; one or two with unaltered facades
peeped humorously over the tops of temporary office buildings of one
story erected in the old front yards. Altogether, the town here was
like a boarding-house hash the Sunday after Thanksgiving; the old
ingredients were discernible.
This was the fringe of Bigness's own sanctuary, and now Bibbs
reached the roaring holy of holies itself. The car must stop a
every crossing while the dark-garbed crowds, enveloped in maelstroms
of dust, hurried before it. Magnificent new buildings, already dingy,
loomed hundreds of feet above him; newer ones, more magnificent, were
rising beside them, rising higher; old buildings were coming down;
middle-aged buildings were coming down; the streets were laid open
to their entrails and men worked underground between palisades, and
overhead in metal cobwebs like spiders in the sky. Trolley-cars and
long interurban cars, built to split the wind like torpedo-boats,
clanged and shrieked their way round swarming corners; motor-cars
of every kind and shape known to man babbled frightful warnings and
frantic demands; hospital ambulances clamored wildly for passage;
steam-whistles signaled the swinging of titanic tentacle and claw;
riveters rattled like machine-guns; the ground shook to the thunder
of gigantic trucks; and the conglomerate sound of it all was the sound
of earthquake playing accompaniments for battle and sudden death. On
one of the new steel buildings no work was being done that afternoon.
The building had killed a man in the morning--and the steel-workers
always stop for the day when that "happens."
And in the hurrying crowds, swirling and sifting through the
brobdingnagian camp of iron and steel, one saw the camp-followers
and the pagan women--there would be work to-day and dancing to-night.
For the Puritan's dry voice is but the crackling of a leaf underfoot
in the rush and roar of the coming of the new Egypt.
Bibbs was on time. He knew it must be "to the minute" or his father
would consider it an outrage; and the big chronometer in Sheridan's
office marked four precisely when Bibbs walked in. Coincidentally
with his entrance five people who had been at work in the office,
under Sheridan's direction, walked out. They departed upon no visible
or audible suggestion, and with a promptness that seemed ominous to
the new-comer. As the massive door clicked softly behind the elderly
stenographer, the last of the procession, Bibbs had a feeling that
they all understood that he was a failure as a great man's son, a
disappointment, the "queer one" of the family, and that he had been
summoned to judgment--a well-founded impression, for that was exactly
what they understood.
"Sit down," said Sheridan.
It is frequently an advantage for deans, school-masters, and worried
fathers to place delinquents in the sitting-posture. Bibbs sat.
Sheridan, standing, gazed enigmatically upon his son for a period of
silence, then walked slowly to a window and stood looking out of it,
his big hands, loosely hooked together by the thumbs, behind his back.
They were soiled, as were all other hands down-town, except such as
might be still damp from a basin.
"Well, Bibbs," he said at last, not altering his attitude, "do you
know what I'm goin' to do with you?"
Bibbs, leaning back in his chair, fixed his eyes contemplatively upon
the ceiling. "I heard you tell Jim," he began, in his slow way. "You
said you'd send him to the machine-shop with me if he didn't propose
to Miss Vertrees. So I suppose that must be your plan for me. But--"
"But what?" said Sheridan, irritably, as the son paused.
"Isn't there somebody you'd let ME propose to?"
That brought his father sharply round to face him. "You beat the
devil! Bibbs, what IS the matter with you? Why can't you be like
"Liver, maybe," said Bibbs, gently.
"Boh! Even ole Doc Gurney says there's nothin' wrong with you
organically. No. You're a dreamer, Bibbs; that's what's the matter,
and that's ALL the matter. Oh, no one o' these BIG dreamers that put
through the big deals! No, sir! You're the kind o' dreamer that
just sets out on the back fence and thinks about how much trouble
there must be in the world! That ain't the kind that builds the
bridges, Bibbs; it's the kind that borrows fifteen cents from his
wife's uncle's brother-in-law to get ten cent's worth o' plug tobacco
and a nickel's worth o' quinine!"
He put the finishing touch on this etching with a snort, and turned
again to the window.
"Look out there!" he bade his son. "Look out o' that window! Look at
the life and evergy down there! I should think ANY young man's blood
would tingle to get into it and be part of it. Look at the big things
young men are doin' in this town!" He swung about, coming to the
mahogany desk in the middle of the room. "Look at what I was doin' at
your age! Look at what your own brothers are doin'! Look at Roscoe!
Yes, and look at Jim! I made Jim president o' the Sheridan Realty
Company last New-Year's, with charge of every inch o' ground and every
brick and every shingle and stick o' wood we own; and it's an example
to any young man--or ole man, either--the way he took ahold of it.
Last July we found out we wanted two more big warehouses at the Pump
Works--wanted 'em quick. Contractors said it couldn't be done; said
nine or ten months at the soonest; couldn't see it any other way.
What'd Jim do? Took the contract himself; found a fellow with a new
cement and concrete process; kept men on the job night and day, and
stayed on it night and day himself--and, by George! we begin to USE
them warehouses next week! Four months and a half, and every inch
fireproof! I tell you Jim's one o' these fellers that make miracles
happen! Now, I don't say every young man can be like Jim, because
there's mighty few got his ability, but every young man can go in and
do his share. This town is God's own country, and there's opportunity
for anybody with a pound of energy and an ounce o' gumption. I tell
you these young business men I watch just do my heart good! THEY
don't set around on the back fence--no, sir! They take enough
exercise to keep their health; and they go to a baseball game once
or twice a week in summer, maybe, and they're raisin' nice families,
with sons to take their places sometime and carry on the work--because
the work's got to go ON! They're puttin' their life-blood into it, I
tell you, and that's why we're gettin' bigger every minute, and why
THEY'RE gettin' bigger, and why it's all goin' to keep ON gettin'
He slapped the desk resoundingly with his open palm, and then,
observing that Bibbs remained in the same impassive attitude, with
his eyes still fixed upon the ceiling in a contemplation somewhat
plaintive, Sheridan was impelled to groan. "Oh, Lord!" he said.
"This is the way you always were. I don't believe you understood a
darn word I been sayin'! You don't LOOK as if you did. By George!
"I don't understand about getting--about getting bigger," said Bibbs,
bringing his gaze down to look at his father placatively. "I don't
see just why--"
"WHAT?" Sheridan leaned forward, resting his hands upon the desk and
staring across it incredulously at his son.
"I don't understand--exactly--what you want it all bigger for?"
"Great God!" shouted Sheridan, and struck the desk a blow with his
clenched fist. "A son of mine asks me that! You go out and ask the
poorest day-laborer you can find! Ask him that question--"
"I did once," Bibbs interrupted; "when I was in the machine-shop.
"Wha'd he say?"
"He said, 'Oh, hell!'" answered Bibbs, mildly.
"Yes, I reckon he would!" Sheridan swung away from the desk. "I
reckon he certainly would! And I got plenty sympathy with him right
"It's the same answer, then?" Bibbs's voice was serious, almost
"Damnation!" Sheridan roared. "Did you ever hear the word Prosperity,
you ninny? Did you ever hear the word Ambition? Did you ever hear
the word PROGRESS?"
He flung himself into a chair after the outburst, his big chest
surging, his throat tumultuous with gutteral incoherences. "Now
then," he said, huskily, when the anguish had somewhat abated,
"what do you want to do?"
"What do you WANT to do, I said."
Taken by surprise, Bibbs stammered. "What--what do--I--what--"
"If I'd let you do exactly what you had the whim for, what would you
Bibbs looked startled; then timidity overwhelmed him--a profound
shyness. He bent his head and fixed his lowered eyes upon the toe
of his shoe, which he moved to and fro upon the rug, like a culprit
called to the desk in school.
"What would you do? Loaf?"
"No, sir." Bibbs's voice was almost inaudible, and what little sound
it made was unquestionably a guilty sound. "I suppose I'd--I'd--"
"I suppose I'd try to--to write."
"Nothing important--just poems and essays, perhaps."
"I see," said his father, breathing quickly with the restraint he was
putting upon himself. "That is, you want to write, but you don't want
to write anything of any account."
Sheridan got up again. "I take my hat off to the man that can write
a good ad," he said, emphatically. "The best writin' talent in this
country is right spang in the ad business to-day. You buy a magazine
for good writin'--look on the back of it! Let me tell you I pay money
for that kind o' writin'. Maybe you think it's easy. Just try it!
I've tried it, and I can't do it. I tell you an ad's got to be
written so it makes people do the hardest thing in this world to GET
'em to do: it's got to make 'em give up their MONEY! You talk about
'poems and essays.' I tell you when it comes to the actual skill
o' puttin' words together so as to make things HAPPEN, R. T. Bloss,
right here in this city, knows more in a minute than George Waldo
Emerson ever knew in his whole life!"
"You--you may be--" Bibbs said, indistinctly, the last word smothered
in a cough.
"Of COURSE I'm right! And if it ain't just like you to want to take
up with the most out-o'-date kind o' writin' there is! 'Poems and
essays'! My Lord, Bibbs, that's WOMEN'S work! You can't pick up a
newspaper without havin' to see where Mrs. Rumskididle read a paper
on 'Jane Eyre,' or 'East Lynne,' at the God-Knows-What Club. And
'poetry'! Why, look at Edith! I expect that poem o' hers would set
a pretty high-water mark for you, young man, and it's the only one
she's ever managed to write in her whole LIFE! When I wanted her to
go on and write some more she said it took too much time. Said it
took months and months. And Edith's a smart girl; she's got more
energy in her little finger than you ever give me a chance to see in
your whole body, Bibbs. Now look at the facts: say she could turn
out four or five poems a year and you could turn out maybe two. That
medal she got was worth about fifteen dollars, so there's your income
--thirty dollars a year! That's a fine success to make of your life!
I'm not sayin' a word against poetry. I wouldn't take ten thousand
dollars right now for that poem of Edith's; and poetry's all right
enough in its place--but you leave it to the girls. A man's got to
do a man's work in this world!"
He seated himself in a chair at his son's side and, leaning over,
tapped Bibbs confidentially on the knee. "This city's got the
greatest future in America, and if my sons behave right by me and by
themselves they're goin' to have a mighty fair share of it--a mighty
fair share. I love this town. It's God's own footstool, and it's
made money for me every day right along, I don't know how many years.
I love it like I do my own business, and I'd fight for it as quick
as I'd fight for my own family. It's a beautiful town. Look at our
wholesale district; look at any district you want to; look at the
park system we're puttin' through, and the boulevards and the public
statuary. And she grows. God! how she grows!" He had become
intensely grave; he spoke with solemnity. "Now, Bibbs, I can't take
any of it--nor any gold or silver nor buildings nor bonds--away with
me in my shroud when I have to go. But I want to leave my share in
it to my boys. I've worked for it; I've been a builder and a maker;
and two blades of grass have grown where one grew before, whenever
I laid my hand on the ground and willed 'em to grow. I've built big,
and I want the buildin' to go on. And when my last hour comes I want
to know that my boys are ready to take charge; that they're fit to
take charge and go ON with it. Bibbs, when that hour comes I want
to know that my boys are big men, ready and fit to hold of big things.
Bibbs, when I'm up above I want to know that the big share I've made
mine, here below, is growin' bigger and bigger in the charge of my
He leaned back, deeply moved. "There!" he said, huskily. "I've never
spoken more what was in my heart in my life. I do it because I want
you to understand--and not think me a mean father. I never had to
talk that way to Jim and Roscoe. They understood without any talk,
"I see," said Bibbs. "At least I think I do. But--"
"Wait a minute!" Sheridan raised his hand. "If you see the least bit
in the world, then you understand how it feels to me to have my son
set here and talk about 'poems and essays' and such-like fooleries.
And you must understand, too, what it meant to start one o' my boys
and have him come back on me the way you did, and have to be sent
to a sanitarium because he couldn't stand work. Now, let's get right
down to it, Bibbs. I've had a whole lot o' talk with ole Doc Gurney
about you, one time another, and I reckon I understand your case just
about as well as he does, anyway! Now here, I'll be frank with you.
I started you in harder than what I did the other boys, and that was
for your own good, because I saw you needed to be shook up more'n
they did. You were always kind of moody and mopish--and you needed
work that'd keep you on the jump. Now, why did it make you sick
instead of brace you up and make a man of you the way it ought of
done? I pinned ole Gurney down to it. I says, 'Look here, ain't it
really because he just plain hated it?' 'Yes,' he says, 'that's it.
If he'd enjoyed it, it wouldn't 'a' hurt him. He loathes it, and
that affects his nervous system. The more he tries it, the more he
hates it; and the more he hates it, the more injury it does him.'
That ain't quite his words, but it's what he meant. And that's about
the way it is."
"Yes," said Bibbs, "that's about the way it is."
"Well, then, I reckon it's up to me not only to make you do it, but
to make you like it!"
Bibbs shivered. And he turned upon his father a look that was almost
ghostly. "I can't," he said, in a low voice. "I can't."
"Can't go back to the shop?"
"No. Can't like it. I can't."
Sheridan jumped up, his patience gone. To his own view, he had
reasoned exhaustively, had explained fully and had pleaded more than
a father should, only to be met in the end with the unreasoning and
mysterious stubbornness which had been Bibbs's baffling characteristic
from childhood. "By George, you will!" he cried. "You'll go back
there and you'll like it! Gurney says it won't hurt you if you like
it, and he says it'll kill you if you go back and hate it; so it looks
as if it was about up to you not to hate it. Well, Gurney's a fool!
Hatin' work doesn't kill anybody; and this isn't goin' to kill you,
whether you hate it or not. I've never made a mistake in a serious
matter in my life, and it wasn't a mistake my sendin' you there in the
first place. And I'm goin' to prove it--I'm goin' to send you back
there and vindicate my judgment. Gurney says it's all 'mental
attitude.' Well, you're goin' to learn the right one! He says in a
couple more months this fool thing that's been the matter with you'll
be disappeared completely and you'll be back in as good or better
condition than you were before you ever went into the shop. And right
then is when you begin over--right in that same shop! Nobody can call
me a hard man or a mean father. I do the best I can for my chuldern,
and I take full responsibility for bringin' my sons up to be men.
Now, so far, I've failed with you. But I'm not goin' to keep ON
failin'. I never tackled a job YET I didn't put through, and I'm not
goin' to begin with my own son. I'm goin' to make a MAN of you. By
God! I am!"
Bibbs rose and went slowly to the door, where he turned. "You say
you give me a couple of months?" he said.
Sheridan pushed a bell-button on his desk. "Gurney said two months
more would put you back where you were. You go home and begin to get
yourself in the right 'mental attitude' before those two months are
"Good-by, sir," said Bibbs, meekly.
Bibbs's room, that neat apartment for transients to which the
"lamidal" George had shown him upon his return, still bore the
appearance of temporary quarters, possibly because Bibbs had no
clear conception of himself as a permanent incumbent. However,
he had set upon the mantelpiece the two photographs that he owned:
one, a "group" twenty years old--his father and mother, with Jim
and Roscoe as boys--and the other a "cabinet" of Edith at sixteen.
And upon a table were the books he had taken from his trunk: Sartor
Resartus, Virginibus Puerisque, Huckleberry Finn, and Afterwhiles.
There were some other books in the trunk--a large one, which remained
unremoved at the foot of the bed, adding to the general impression
of transiency. It contained nearly all the possessions as well as
the secret life of Bibbs Sheridan, and Bibbs sat beside it, the day
after his interview with his father, raking over a small collection
of manuscripts in the top tray. Some of these he glanced through
dubiously, finding little comfort in them; but one made him smile.
Then he shook his head ruefully indeed, and ruefully began to read it.
It was written on paper stamped "Hood Sanitarium," and bore the title,
A man may keep a quiet heart at seventy miles an hour, but not if
he is running the train. Nor is the habit of contemplation a useful
quality in the stoker of a foundry furnace; it will not be found to
recommend him to the approbation of his superiors. For a profession
adapted solely to the pursuit of happiness in thinking, I would
choose that of an invalid: his money is time and he may spend it on
Olympus. It will not suffice to be an amateur invalid. To my way
of thinking, the perfect practitioner must be to all outward
purposes already dead if he is to begin the perfect enjoyment of
life. His serenity must not be disturbed by rumors of recovery; he
must lie serene in his long chair in the sunshine. The world must
be on the other side of the wall, and the wall must be so thick and
so high that he cannot hear the roaring of the furnace fires and the
screaming of the whistles. Peace--
Having read so far as the word "peace," Bibbs suffered an interruption
interesting as a coincidence of contrast. High voices sounded in the
hall just outside his door; and it became evident that a woman's
quarrel was in progress, the parties to it having begun it in Edith's
room, and continuing it vehemently as they came out into the hall.
"Yes, you BETTER go home!" Bibbs heard his sister vociferating,
shrilly. "You better go home and keep your mind a little more on
"Edie, Edie!" he heard his mother remonstrating, as peacemaker.
"You see here!" This was Sibyl, and her voice was both acrid and
tremulous. "Don't you talk to me that way! I came here to tell
Mother Sheridan what I'd heard, and to let her tell Father Sheridan
if she thought she ought to, and I did it for your own good."
"Yes, you did!" And Edith's gibing laughter tooted loudly. "Yes,
you did! YOU didn't have any other reason! OH no! YOU don't want
to break it up between Bobby Lamhorn and me because--"
"Edie, Edie! Now, now!"
"Oh, hush up, mamma! I'd like to know, then, if she says her new
friends tell her he's got such a reputation that he oughtn't to come
here, what about his not going to HER house. How--"
"I've explained that to Mother Sheridan." Sibyl's voice indicated
that she was descending the stairs. "Married people are not the same.
Some things that should be shielded from a young girl--"
This seemed to have no very soothing effect upon Edith. "'Shielded
from a young girl'!" she shrilled. "You seem pretty willing to be
the shield! You look out Roscoe doesn't notice what kind of a shield
Sibyl's answer was inaudible, but Mrs. Sheridan's flurried attempts
at pacification were renewed. "Now, Edie, Edie, she means it for
your good, and you'd oughtn't to--"
"Oh, hush up, mamma, and let me alone! If you dare tell papa--"
"Now, now! I'm not going to tell him to-day, and maybe--"
"You've got to promise NEVER to tell him!" the girl cried,
"Well, we'll see. You just come back in your own room, and we'll--"
"No! I WON'T 'talk it over'! Stop pulling me! Let me ALONE!" And
Edith, flinging herself violently upon Bibbs's door, jerked it open,
swung round it into the room, slammed the door behind her, and threw
herself, face down, upon the bed in such a riot of emotion that she
had no perception of Bibbs's presence in the room. Gasping and
sobbing in a passion of tears, she beat the coverlet and pillows
with her clenched fists. "Sneak!" she babbled aloud. "Sneak!
Bibbs saw that she did not know he was there, and he went softly
toward the door, hoping to get away before she became aware of him;
but some sound of his movement reached her, and she sat up, startled,
"Bibbs! I thought I saw you go out awhile ago."
"Yes. I came back, though. I'm sorry--"
"Did you hear me quarreling with Sibyl?"
"Only what you said in the hall. You lie down again, Edith. I'm
"No; don't go." She applied a handkerchief to her eyes, emitted a
sob, and repeated her request. "Don't go. I don't mind you; you're
quiet, anyhow. Mamma's so fussy, and never gets anywhere. I don't
mind you at all, but I wish you'd sit down."
"All right." And he returned to his chair beside the trunk. "Go
ahead and cry all you want, Edith," he said. "No harm in that!"
"Sibyl told mamma--OH!" she began, choking. "Mary Vertrees had mamma
and Sibyl and I to tea, one afternoon two weeks or so ago, and she had
some women there that Sibyl's been crazy to get in with, and she just
laid herself out to make a hit with 'em, and she's been running after
'em ever since, and now she comes over here and says THEY say Bobby
Lamhorn is so bad that, even though they like his family, none of the
nice people in town would let him in their houses. In the first
place, it's a falsehood, and I don't believe a word of it; and in the
second place I know the reason she did it, and, what's more, she KNOWS
I know it! I won't SAY what it is--not yet--because papa and all of
you would think I'm as crazy as she is snaky; and Roscoe's such a fool
he'd probably quit speaking to me. But it's true! Just you watch
her; that's all I ask. Just you watch that woman. You'll see!"
As it happened, Bibbs was literally watching "that woman." Glancing
from the window, he saw Sibyl pause upon the pavement in front of the
old house next door. She stood a moment, in deep thought, then walked
quickly up the path to the door, undoubtedly with the intention of
calling. But he did not mention this to his sister, who, after
delivering herself of a rather vague jeremiad upon the subject of her
sister-in-law's treacheries, departed to her own chamber, leaving him
to his speculations. The chief of these concerned the social
elasticities of women. Sibyl had just been a participant in a violent
scene; she had suffered hot insult of a kind that could not fail to
set her quivering with resentment; and yet she elected to betake
herself to the presence of people whom she knew no more than
"formally." Bibbs marveled. Surely, he reflected, some traces of
emotion must linger upon Sibyl's face or in her manner; she could not
have ironed it all quite out in the three or four minutes it took her
to reach the Vertreeses' door.
And in this he was not mistaken, for Mary Vertrees was at that moment
wondering what internal excitement Mrs. Roscoe Sheridan was striving
to master. But Sibyl had no idea that she was allowing herself to
exhibit anything except the gaiety which she conceived proper to the
manner of a casual caller. She was wholly intent upon fulfilling the
sudden purpose that brought her, and she was no more self-conscious
than she was finely intelligent. For Sibyl Sheridan belonged to a
type Scriptural in its antiquity. She was merely the idle and half-
educated intriguer who may and does delude men, of course, and the
best and dullest of her own sex as well, finding invariably strong
supporters among these latter. It is a type that has wrought some
damage in the world and would have wrought greater, save for the
check put upon its power by intelligent women and by its own "lack
of perspective," for it is a type that never sees itself. Sibyl
followed her impulses with no reflection or question--it was like
a hound on the gallop after a master on horseback. She had not even
the instinct to stop and consider her effect. If she wished to make
a certain impression she believed that she made it. She believed
that she was believed.
"My mother asked me to say that she was sorry she couldn't come
down," Mary said, when they were seated.
Sibyl ran the scale of a cooing simulance of laughter, which she had
been brought up to consider the polite thing to do after a remark
addressed to her by any person with whom she was not on familiar
terms. It was intended partly as a courtesy and partly as the
foundation for an impression of sweetness.
"Just thought I'd fly in a minute," she said, continuing the cooing to
relieve the last doubt of her gentiality. "I thought I'd just behave
like REAL country neighbors. We are almost out in the country, so far
from down-town, aren't we? And it seemed such a LOVELY day! I wanted
to tell you how much I enjoyed meeting those nice people at tea that
afternoon. You see, coming here a bride and never having lived here
before, I've had to depend on my husband's friends almost entirely,
and I really've known scarcely anybody. Mr. Sheridan has been so
engrossed in business ever since he was a mere boy, why, of course--"
She paused, with the air of having completed an explanation.
"Of course," said Mary, sympathetically accepting it.
"Yes. I've been seeing quite a lot of the Kittersbys since that
afternoon," Sibyl went on. "They're really delightful people.
Indeed they are! Yes--"
She stopped with unconscious abruptness, her mind plainly wandering to
another matter; and Mary perceived that she had come upon a definite
errand. Moreover, a tensing of Sibyl's eyelids, in that moment of
abstraction as she looked aside from her hostess, indicated that the
errand was a serious one for the caller and easily to be connected
with the slight but perceptible agitation underlying her assumption of
cheerful ease. There was a restlessnes of breathing, a restlessness
"Mrs. Kittersby and her daughter were chatting about some to the
people here in town the other day," said Sibyl, repeating the cooing
and protracting it. "They said something that took ME by surprise!
We were talking about our mutual friend, Mr. Robert Lamhorn--"
Mary interrupted her promptly. "Do you mean 'mutual' to include my
mother and me?" she asked.
"Why, yes; the Kittersbys and you and all of us Sheridans, I mean."
"No," said Mary. "We shouldn't consider Mr. Robert Lamhorn a friend
To her surprise, Sibyl nodded eagerly, as if greatly pleased. "That's
just the way Mrs. Kittersby talked!" she cried, with a vehemence that
made Mary stare. "Yes, and I hear that's the way ALL you old families
here speak of him!"
Mary looked aside, but otherwise she was able to maintain her
composure. "I had the impression he was a friend of yours," she
said; adding, hastily, "and your husband's."
"Oh yes," said the caller, absently. "He is, certainly. A man's
reputation for a little gaiety oughtn't to make a great difference to
married people, of course. It's where young girls are in question.
THEN it may be very, very dangerous. There are a great many things
safe and proper for married people that might be awf'ly imprudent
for a young girl. Don't you agree, Miss Vertrees?"
"I don't know," returned the frank Mary. "Do you mean that you intend
to remain a friend of Mr. Lamhorn's, but disapprove of Miss Sheridan's
"That's it exactly!" was the naive and ardent response of Sibyl.
"What I feel about it is that a man with his reputation isn't at all
suitable for Edith, and the family ought to be made to understand it.
I tell you," she cried, with a sudden access of vehemence, "her father
ought to put his foot down!"
Her eyes flashed with a green spark; something seemed to leap out and
then retreat, but not before Mary had caught a glimpse of it, as one
might catch a glimpse of a thing darting forth and then scuttling back
into hiding under a bush.
"Of course," said Sibyl, much more composedly, "I hardly need say
that it's entirely on Edith's account that I'm worried about this.
I'm as fond of Edith as if she was really my sister, and I can't help
fretting about it. It would break my heart to have Edith's life
This tune was off the key, to Mary's ear. Sibyl tried to sing with
pathos, but she flatted.
And when a lady receives a call from another who suffers under the
stress of some feeling which she wishes to conceal, there is not
uncommonly developed a phenomenon of duality comparable to the effect
obtained by placing two mirrors opposite each other, one clear and the
other flawed. In this case, particularly, Sibyl had an imperfect
consciousness of Mary. The Mary Vertrees that she saw was merely
something to be cozened to her own frantic purpose--a Mary Vertrees
who was incapable of penetrating that purpose. Sibyl sat there
believing that she was projecting the image of herself that she
desired to project, never dreaming that with every word, every look,
and every gesture she was more and more fully disclosing the pitiable
truth to the clear eyes of Mary. And the Sibyl that Mary saw was an
overdressed woman, in manner half rustic, and in mind as shallow as
a pan, but possessed by emotions that appeared to be strong--perhaps
even violent. What those emotions were Mary had not guessed, but she
began to suspect.
"And Edith's life WOULD be spoiled," Sibyl continued. "It would be a
dreadful thing for the whole family. She's the very apple of Father
Sheridan's eye, and he's as proud of her as he is of Jim and Roscoe.
It would be a horrible thing for him to have her marry a man like
Robert Lamhorn; but he doesn't KNOW anything about him, and if
somebody doesn't tell him, what I'm most afraid of is that Edith might
get his consent and hurry on the wedding before he finds out, and then
it would be too late. You see, Miss Vertrees, it's very difficult for
me to decide just what it's my duty to do."
"I see," said Mary, looking at her thoughtfully, "Does Miss Sheridan
seem to--to care very much about him?"
"He's deliberately fascinated her," returned the visitor, beginning
to breathe quickly and heavily. "Oh, she wasn't difficult! She knew
she wasn't in right in this town, and she was crazy to meet the people
that were, and she thought he was one of 'em. But that was only the
start that made it easy for him--and he didn't need it. He could have
done it, anyway!" Sibyl was launched now; her eyes were furious and
her voice shook. "He went after her deliberately, the way he does
everything; he's as cold-blooded as a fish. All he cares about is his
own pleasure, and lately he's decided it would be pleasant to get hold
of a piece of real money--and there was Edith! And he'll marry her!
Nothing on earth can stop him unless he finds out she won't HAVE any
money if she marries him, and the only person that could make him
understand that is Father Sheridan. Somehow, that's got to be
managed, because Lamhorn is going to hurry it on as fast as he can.
He told me so last night. He said he was going to marry her the first
minute he could persuade her to it--and little Edith's all ready to be
persuaded!" Sibyl's eyes flashed green again. "And he swore he'd do
it," she panted. "He swore he'd marry Edith Sheridan, and nothing on
earth could stop him!"
And then Mary understood. Her lips parted and she stared at the
babbling creature incredulously, a sudden vivid picture in her mind,
a canvas of unconscious Sibyl's painting. Mary beheld it with pity
and horror: she saw Sibyl clinging to Robert Lamhorn, raging, in a
whisper, perhaps--for Roscoe might have been in the house, or servants
might have heard. She saw Sibyl entreating, beseeching, threatening
despairingly, and Lamhorn--tired of her--first evasive, then brutally
letting her have the truth; and at last, infuriated, "swearing" to
marry her rival. If Sibyl had not babbled out the word "swore" it
might have been less plain.
The poor woman blundered on, wholly unaware of what he had confessed.
"You see," she said, more quietly, "whatever's going to be done ought
to be done right away. I went over and told Mother Sheridan what I'd
heard about Lamhorn--oh, I was open and aboveboard! I told her right
before Edith. I think it ought all to be done with perfect frankness,
because nobody can say it isn't for the girl's own good and what her
best friend would do. But Mother Sheridan's under Edith's thumb, and
she's afraid to ever come right out with anything. Father Sheridan's
different. Edith can get anything she wants out of him in the way of
money or ordinary indulgence, but when it comes to a matter like this
he'd be a steel rock. If it's a question of his will against anybody
else's he'd make his will rule if it killed 'em both! Now, he'd never
in the world let Lamhorn come near the house again if he knew his
reputation. So, you see, somebody's got to tell him. It isn't a very
easy position for me, is it, Miss Vertrees?"
"No," said Mary, gravely.
"Well, to be frank," said Sibyl, smiling, "that's why I've come
"To ME!" Mary frowned.
Sibyl rippled and cooed again. "There isn't ANYBODY ever made such
a hit with Father Sheridan in his life as you have. And of course
we ALL hope you're not going to be exactly an outsider in the affairs
of the family!" (This sally with another and louder effect of
laughter). "And if it's MY duty, why, in a way, I think it might be
thought yours, too."
"No, no!" exclaimed Mary, sharply.
"Listen," said Sibyl. "Now suppose I go to Father Sheridan with
this story, and Edith says it's not true; suppose she says Lamhorn
has a good reputation and that I'm repeating irresponsible gossip,
or suppose (what's most likely) she loses her temper and says I
invented it, then what am I going to do? Father Sheridan doesn't
know Mrs. Kittersby and her daughter, and they're out of the question,
anyway. But suppose I could say: 'All right, if you want proof,
ask Miss Vertrees. She came with me, and she's waiting in the next
room right now, to--"
"No, no," said Mary, quickly. "You mustn't--"
"Listen just a minute more," Sibyl urged, confidingly. She was on
easy ground now, to her own mind, and had no doubt of her success.
"You naturally don't want to begin by taking part in a family quarrel,
but if YOU take part in it, it won't be one. You don't know yourself
what weight you carry over there, and no one would have the right
to say you did it except out of the purest kindness. Don't you see
that Jim and his father would admire you all the more for it? Miss
Vertrees, listen! Don't you see we OUGHT to do it, you and I? Do you
suppose Robert Lamhorn cares a snap of his finger for her? Do you
suppose a man like him would LOOK at Edith Sheridan if it wasn't for
the money?" And again Sibyl's emotion rose to the surface. "I tell
you he's after nothing on earth but to get his finger in that old
man's money-pile, over there, next door! He'd marry ANYBODY to do it.
Marry Edith?" she cried. "I tell you he'd marry their nigger cook for
She stopped, afraid--at the wrong time--that she had been too
vehement, but a glance at Mary reassured her, and Sibyl decided that
she had produced the effect she wished. Mary was not looking at her;
she was staring straight before her at the wall, her eyes wide and
shining. She became visibly a little paler as Sibyl looked at her.
"After nothing on earth but to get his finger in that old man's
money-pile, over there, next door!" The voice was vulgar, the words
were vulgar--and the plain truth was vulgar! How it rang in Mary
Vertrees's ears! The clear mirror had caught its own image clearly
in the flawed one at last.
Sibyl put forth her best bid to clench the matter. She offered her
bargain. "Now don't you worry," she said, sunnily, "about this
setting Edith against you. She'll get over it after a while, anyway,
but if she tried to be spiteful and make it uncomfortable for you
when you drop in over there, or managed so as to sort of leave you
out, why, I've got a house, and Jim likes to come there. I don't
THINK Edith WOULD be that way; she's too crazy to have you take her
around with the smart crowd, but if she DID, you needn't worry.
And another thing--I guess you won't mind Jim's own sister-in-law
speaking of it. Of course, I don't know just how matters stand
between you and Jim, but Jim and Roscoe are about as much alike as
two brothers can be, and Roscoe was very slow making up his mind;
sometimes I used to think he actually never WOULD. Now, what I mean
is, sisters-in-law can do lots of things to help matters on like
that. There's lots of little things can be said, and lots--"
She stopped, puzzled. Mary Vertrees had gone from pale to scarlet,
and now, still scarlet indeed, she rose, without a word of
explanation, or any other kind of word, and walked slowly to the
open door and out of the room.
Sibyl was a little taken aback. She supposed Mary had remembered
something neglected and necessary for the instruction of a servant,
and that she would return in a moment; but it was rather a rude excess
of absent-mindedness not to have excused herself, especially as her
guest was talking. And, Mary's return being delayed, Sibyl found
time to think this unprefaced exit odder and ruder than she had first
considered it. There might have been more excuse for it, she thought,
had she been speaking of matters less important--offering to do the
girl all the kindness in her power, too!
Sibyl yawned and swung her muff impatiently; she examined the sole of
her shoe; she decided on a new shape of heel; she made an inventory
of the furniture of the room, of the rugs, of the wall-paper and
engravings. Then she looked at her watch and frowned; went to a
window and stood looking out upon the brown lawn, then came back to
the chair she had abandoned, and sat again. There was no sound in
A strange expression began imperceptibly to alter the planes of her
face, and slowly she grew as scarlet as Mary--scarlet to the ears.
She looked at her watch again--and twenty-five minutes had elapsed
since she had looked at it before.
She went into the hall, glanced over her shoulder oddly; then she
let herself softly out of the front door, and went across the street
to her own house.
Roscoe met her upon the threshold, gloomily. "Saw you from the
window," he explained. "You must find a lot to say to that old
"What old lady?"
"Mrs. Vertrees. I been waiting for you a long time, and I saw the
daughter come out, fifteen minutes ago, and post a letter, and then
walk on up the street. Don't stand out on the porch," he said,
crossly. "Come in here. There's something it's come time I'll
have to talk to you about. Come in!"
But as she was moving to obey he glanced across at his father's house
and started. He lifted his hand to shield his eyes from the setting
sun, staring fixedly. "Something's the matter over there," he
muttered, and then, more loudly, as alarm came into his voice, he
said, "What's the matter over there?"
Bibbs dashed out of the gate in an automobile set at its highest
speed, and as he saw Roscoe he made a genture singularly eloquent of
calamity, and was lost at once in a cloud of dust down the street.
Edith had followed part of the way down the drive, and it could be
seen that she was crying bitterly. She lifted both arms to Roscoe,
"By George!" gasped Roscoe. "I believe somebody's dead!"
And he started for the New House at a run.
Sheridan had decided to conclude his day's work early that afternoon,
and at about two o'clock he left his office with a man of affairs from
foreign parts, who had traveled far for a business conference with
Sheridan and his colleagues. Herr Favre, in spite of his French name,
was a gentleman of Bavaria. It was his first visit to our country,
and Sheridan took pleasure in showing him the sights of the country's
finest city. They got into an open car at the main entrance of the
Sheridan Building, and were driven first, slowly and momentously,
through the wholesale district and the retail district; then more
rapidly they inspected the packing-houses and the stock-yards; then
skirmished over the "park system" and "boulevards"; and after that
whizzed through the "residence section" on their way to the factories
"All cray," observed Herr Favre, smilingly.
"'Cray'?" echoed Sheridan. "I don't know what you mean. 'Cray'?"
"No white," said Herr Favre, with a wave of his hand toward the long
rows of houses on both sides of the street. "No white lace window-
curtains; all cray lace window-curtains."
"Oh. I see!" Sheridan laughed indulgently. "You mean 'GRAY.'
No, they ain't, they're white. I never saw any gray ones."
Herr Favre shook his head, much amused. "There are NO white ones,
he said. "There is no white ANYTHING in your city; no white window-
curtains, no white house, no white peeble!" He pointed upward.
"Smoke!" Then he sniffed the air and clasped his nose between
forefinger and thumb. "Smoke! Smoke ef'rywhere. Smoke in your
insites." He tapped his chest. "Smoke in your lunks!"
"Oh! SMOKE!" Sheridan cried with gusto, drawing in a deep breath
and patently finding it delicious. "You BET we got smoke!"
"Exbensif!" said Herr Favre. "Ruins foliage; ruins fabrics. Maybe
in summer it iss not so bad, but I wonder your wifes will bear it."
Sheridan laughed uproariously. "They know it means new spring hats
"They must need many, too!" said the visitor. "New hats, new all
things, but nothing white. In Munchen we could not do it; we are
a safing peeble."
"In Munchen. You say 'Munich.'"
"Well, I never been to Munich, but I took in the Mediterranean trip,
and I tell you, outside o' some right good scenery, all I saw was
mighty dirty and mighty shiftless and mighty run-down at the heel.
Now comin' right down TO it, Mr. Farver, wouldn't you rather live here
in this town than in Munich? I know you got more enterprise up there
than the part of the old country I saw, and I know YOU'RE a live
business man and you're associated with others like you, but when it
comes to LIVIN' in a place, wouldn't you heap rather be here than over
"For me," said Herr Favre, "no. Here I should not think I was living.
It would be like the miner who goes into the mine to work; nothing
"We got a good many good citizens here from your part o' the world.
THEY like it."
"Oh yes." And Herr Favre laughed deprecatingly. "The first
generation, they bring their Germany with them; then, after that,
they are Americans, like you." He tapped his host's big knee
genially. "You are patriot; so are they."
"Well, I reckon you must be a pretty hot little patriot yourself, Mr.
Farver!" Sheridan exclaimed, gaily. "You certainly stand up for your
own town, if you stick to sayin' you'd rather live there than you
would here. Yes, SIR! You sure are some patriot to say THAT--after
you've seen our city! It ain't reasonable in you, but I must say I
kind of admire you for it; every man ought to stick up for his own,
even when he sees the other fellow's got the goods on him. Yet I
expect way down deep in your heart, Mr. Farver, you'd rather live
right here than any place else in the world, if you had your choice.
Man alive! this is God's country, Mr. Farver, and a blind man couldn't
help seein' it! You couldn't stand where you do in a business way and
NOT see it. Soho, boy! Here we are. This is the big works, and I'll
show you something now that'll make your eyes stick out!"
They had arrived at the Pump Works; and for an hour Mr. Favre was
personally conducted and personally instructed by the founder and
president, the buzzing queen bee of those buzzing hives.
"Now I'll take you for a spin in the country," said Sheridan, when
at last they came out to the car again. "We'll take a breezer."
But, with his foot on the step, he paused to hail a neat young man
who came out of the office smiling a greeting. "Hello, young fellow!"
Sheridan said, heartily. "On the job, are you, Jimmie? Ha! They
don't catch you OFF of it very often, I guess, though I do hear you go
automobile-ridin' in the country sometimes with a mighty fine-lookin'
girl settin' up beside you!" He roared with laughter, clapping his
son upon the shoulder. "That's all right with me--if it is with HER!
So, Jimmie? Well, when we goin' to move into your new warehouses?
"Sunday, if you want to," said Jim.
"No!" cried his father, delighted. "Don't tell me you're goin' to
keep your word about dates! That's no way to do contractin'! Never
heard of a contractor yet didn't want more time."
"They'll be all ready for you on the minute," said Jim. "I'm going
over both of 'em now, with Links and Sherman, from foundation to roof.
I guess they'll pass inspection, too!"
"Well, then, when you get through with that," said his father, "you
go and take your girl out ridin'. By George! you've earned it! You
tell her you stand high with ME!" He stepped into the car, waving a
waggish farewell, and when the wheels were in motion again, he turned
upon his companion a broad face literally shining with pride. "That's
my boy Jimmie!" he said.
"Fine young man, yes," said Herr Favre.
"I got two o' the finest boys," said Sheridan, "I got two o' the
finest boys God ever made, and that's a fact, Mr. Farver! Jim's
the oldest, and I tell you they got to get up the day before if they
expect to catch HIM in bed! My other boy, Roscoe, he's always to
the good, too, but Jim's a wizard. You saw them two new-process
warehouses, just about finished? Well, JIM built 'em. I'll tell you
about that, Mr. Farver." And he recited this history, describing the
new process at length; in fact, he had such pride in Jim's achievement
that he told Herr Favre all about it more than once.
"Fine young man, yes," repeated the good Munchner, three-quarters
of an hour later. They were many miles out in the open country by
He is that!" said Sheridan, adding, as if confidentially: "I got
a fine family, Mr. Farver--fine chuldern. I got a daughter now; you
take her and put her anywhere you please, and she'll shine up with ANY
of 'em. There's culture and refinement and society in this town by
the car-load, and here lately she's been gettin' right in the thick
of it--her and my daughter-in-law, both. I got a mighty fine
daughter-in-law, Mr. Farver. I'm goin' to get you up for a meal with
us before you leave town, and you'll see--and, well, sir, from all I
hear the two of 'em been holdin' their own with the best. Myself, I
and the wife never had time for much o' that kind o' doin's, but it's
all right and good for the chuldern; and my daughter she's always kind
of taken to it. I'll read you a poem she wrote when I get you up at
the house. She wrote it in school and took the first prize for poetry
with it. I tell you they don't make 'em any smarter'n that girl, Mr.
Farver. Yes, sir; take us all round, we're a pretty happy family;
yes, sir. Roscoe hasn't got any chuldern yet, and I haven't ever
spoke to him and his wife about it--it's kind of a delicate matter--
but it's about time the wife and I saw some gran'-chuldern growin' up
around us. I certainly do hanker for about four or five little curly-
headed rascals to take on my knee. Boys, I hope, o' course; that's
only natural. Jim's got his eye on a mighty splendid-lookin' girl;
lives right next door to us. I expect you heard me joshin' him about
it back yonder. She's one of the ole blue-bloods here, and I guess
it was a mighty good stock--to raise HER! She's one these girls that
stand tight up and look at you! And pretty? She's the prettiest
thing you ever saw! Good size, too; good health and good sense.
Jim'll be just right if he gets her. I must say it tickles ME to
think o' the way that boy took ahold o' that job back yonder. Four
months and a half! Yes, sir--"
He expanded this theme once more; and thus he continued to entertain
the stranger throughout the long drive. Darkness had fallen before
they reached the city on their return, and it was after five when
Sheridan allowed Herr Favre to descend at the door of his hotel, where
boys were shrieking extra editions of the evening paper.
"Now, good night, Mr. Farver," said Sheridan, leaning from the car to
shake hands with his guest. "Don't forget I'm goin' to come around
and take you up to--Go on away, boy!"
A newsboy had thrust himself almost between them, yelling, "Extry!
Secon' Extry. Extry, all about the horrable acciDENT. Extry!"
"Get out!" laughed Sheridan. "Who wants to read about accidents?
The boy moved away philosophically. "Extry! Extry!" he shrilled.
"Three men killed! Extry! Millionaire killed! Two other men killed!
"Don't forget, Mr. Farver," Sheridan completed his interrupted
farewells. "I'll come by to take you up to our house for dinner.
I'll be here for you about half-past five to-morrow afternoon. Hope
you 'njoyed the drive much as I have. Good night--good night!" He
leaned back, speaking to the chauffer. "Now you can take me around
to the Central City barber-shop, boy. I want to get a shave 'fore
I go up home."
"Extry! Extry!" screamed the newsboys, zig-zagging among the crowds
like bats in the dusk. "Extry! All about the horrable acciDENT!
Extry!" It struck Sheridan that the papers sent out too many
"Extras"; they printed "Extras" for all sorts of petty crimes and
casualties. It was a mistake, he decided, critically. Crying "Wolf!"
too often wouldn't sell the goods; it was bad business. The papers
would "make more in the long run," he was sure, if they published an
"Extra" only when something of real importance happened.
"Extry! All about the hor'ble AX'nt! Extry!" a boy squawked under
his nose, as he descended from the car.
"Go on away!" said Sheridan, gruffly, though he smiled. He liked
to see the youngsters working so noisily to get on in the world.
But as he crossed the pavement to the brilliant glass doors of the
barber-shop, a second newsboy grasped the arm of the one who had
thus cried his wares.
"Say, Yallern," said this second, hoarse with awe, "'n't chew know
who that IS?"
"Jeest!" cried the first, staring insanely.
At about the same hour, four times a week--Monday, Wednesday, Friday,
and Saturday--Sheridan stopped at this shop to be shaved by the head
barber. The barbers were negroes, he was their great man, and it was
their habit to give him a "reception," his entrance being always
the signal for a flurry of jocular hospitality, followed by general
excesses of briskness and gaiety. But it was not so this evening.
The shop was crowded. Copies of the "Extra" were being read by men
waiting, and by men in the latter stages of treatment. "Extras" lay
upon vacant seats and showed from the pockets of hanging coats.
There was a loud chatter between the practitioners and their recumbent
patients, a vocal charivari which stopped abruptly as Sheridan opened
the door. His name seemed to fizz in the air like the last sputtering
of a firework; the barbers stopped shaving and clipping; lathered men
turned their prostrate heads to stare, and there was a moment of
amazing silence in the shop.
The head barber, nearest the door, stood like a barber in a tableau.
His left hand held stretched between thumb and forefinger an elastic
section of his helpless customer's cheek, while his right hand hung
poised above it, the razor motionless. And then, roused from trance
by the door's closing, he accepted the fact of Sheridan's presence.
The barber remembered that there are no circumstances in life--or
just after it-- under which a man does not need to be shaved.
He stepped forward, profoundly grave. "I be through with this man
in the chair one minute, Mist' Sheridan," he said, in a hushed tone.
"Yessuh." And of a solemn negro youth who stood by, gazing stupidly,
"You goin' RESIGN?" he demanded in a fierce undertone. "You goin'
take Mist' Sheridan's coat?" He sent an angry look round the shop,
and the barbers, taking his meaning, averted their eyes and fell to
work, the murmur of subdued conversation buzzing from chair to chair.
"You sit down ONE minute, Mist' Sheridan," said the head barber,
gently. "I fix nice chair fo' you to wait in."
"Never mind," said Sheridan. "Go on get through with your man."
"Yessuh." And he went quickly back to his chair on tiptoe, followed
by Sheridan's puzzled gaze.
Something had gone wrong in the shop, evidently. Sheridan did not
know what to make of it. Ordinarily he would have shouted a hilarious
demand for the meaning of the mystery, but an inexplicable silence had
been imposed upon him by the hush that fell upon his entrance and by
the odd look every man in the shop had bent upon him.
Vaguely disquieted, he walked to one of the seats in the rear of
the shop, and looked up and down the two lines of barbers, catching
quickly shifted, furtive glances here and there. He made this brief
survey after wondering if one of the barbers had died suddenly, that
day, or the night before; but there was no vacancy in either line.
The seat next to his was unoccupied, but some one had left a copy of
the "Extra" there, and, frowning, he picked it up and glanced at it.
The first of the swollen display lines had little meaning to him:
Fatally Faulty. New Process Roof Collapses Hurling Capitalist to
Death with Inventor. Seven Escape When Crash Comes. Death Claims--
Thus far had he read when a thin hand fell upon the paper, covering
the print from his eyes; and, looking up, he saw Bibbs standing before
him, pale and gentle, immeasurably compassionate.
"I've come for you, father," said Bibbs. "Here's the boy with your
coat and hat. Put them on and come home."
And even then Sheridan did not understand. So secure was he in the
strength and bigness of everything that was his, he did not know what
calamity had befallen him. But he was frightened.
Without a word, he followed Bibbs heavily out throught the still shop,
but as they reached the pavement he stopped short and, grasping his
son's sleeve with shaking fingers, swung him round so that they stood
face to face.
"What--what--" His mouth could not do him the service he asked of it,
he was so frightened.
"Extry!" screamed a newsboy straight in his face. "Young North Side
millionaire insuntly killed! Extry!"
"Not--JIM!" said Sheridan.
Bibbs caught his father's hand in his own.
"And YOU come to tell me that?"
Sheridan did not know what he said. But in those first words and
in the first anguish of the big, stricken face Bibbs understood the
unuttered cry of accusation:
"Why wasn't it you?"
Standing in the black group under gaunt trees at the cemetery, three
days later, Bibbs unwillingly let an old, old thought become definite
in his mind: the sickly brother had buried the strong brother, and
Bibbs wondered how many million times that had happened since men
first made a word to name the sons of one mother. Almost literally
he had buried his strong brother, for Sheridan had gone to pieces
when he saw his dead son. He had nothing to help him meet the shock,
neither definite religion nor "philosophy" definite or indefinite.
He could only beat his forehead and beg, over and over, to be killed
with an ax, while his wife was helpless except to entreat him not to
"take on," herself adding a continuous lamentation. Edith, weeping,
made truce with Sibyl and saw to it that the mourning garments were
beyond criticism. Roscoe was dazed, and he shirked, justifying
himself curiously by saying he "never had any experience in such
matters." So it was Bibbs, the shy outsider, who became, during
this dreadful little time, the master of the house; for as strange
a thing as that, sometimes, may be the result of a death. He met
the relatives from out of town at the station; he set the time for
the funeral and the time for meals; he selected the flowers and he
selected Jim's coffin; he did all the grim things and all the other
things. Jim had belonged to an order of Knights, who lengthened the
rites with a picturesque ceremony of their own, and at first Bibbs
wished to avoid this, but upon reflection he offered no objection--
he divined that the Knights and their service would be not precisely
a consolation, but a satisfaction to his father. So the Knights led
the procession, with their band playing a dirge part of the long way
to the cemetery; and then turned back, after forming in two lines,
plumed hats sympathetically in hand, to let the hearse and the
carriages pass between.
"Mighty fine-lookin' men," said Sheridan, brokenly. "They all--all
liked him. He was--" His breath caught in a sob and choked him.
"He was--a Grand Supreme Herald."
Bibbs had divined aright.
"Dust to dust," said the minister, under the gaunt trees; and at that
Sheridan shook convulsively from head to foot. All of the black group
shivered, except Bibbs, when it came to "Dust to dust." Bibbs stood
passive, for he was the only one of them who had known that thought as
a familiar neighbor; he had been close upon dust himself for a long,
long time, and even now he could prophesy no protracted separation
between himself and dust. The machine-shop had brought him very
close, and if he had to go back it would probably bring him closer
still; so close--as Dr. Gurney predicted--that no one would be able
to tell the difference between dust and himself. And Sheridan, if
Bibbs read him truly, would be all the more determined to "make a
man" of him, now that there was a man less in the family. To Bibbs's
knowledge, no one and nothing had ever prevented his father from
carrying through his plans, once he had determined upon them; and
Sheridan was incapable of believing that any plan of his would not
work out according to his calculations. His nature unfitted him to
accept failure. He had the gift of terrible persistence, and with
unflecked confidence that his way was the only way he would hold to
that way of "making a man" of Bibbs, who understood very well, in his
passive and impersonal fashion, that it was a way which might make,
not a man, but dust of him. But he had no shudder for the thought.
He had no shudder for that thought or for any other thought. The
truth about Bibbs was in the poem which Edith had adopted: he had
so thoroughly formed the over-sensitive habit of hiding his feelings
that no doubt he had forgotten--by this time--where he had put some
of them, especially those which concerned himself. But he had not
hidden his feelings about his father where they could not be found.
He was strange to his father, but his father was not strange to him.
He knew that Sheridan's plans were conceived in the stubborn belief
that they would bring about a good thing for Bibbs himself; and
whatever the result was to be, the son had no bitterness. Far
otherwise, for as he looked at the big, woeful figure, shaking and
tortured, an almost unbearable pity laid hands upon Bibbs's throat.
Roscoe stood blinking, his lip quivering; Edith wept audibly; Mrs.
Sheridan leaned in half collapse against her husband; but Bibbs knew
that his father was the one who cared.
It was over. Men in overalls stepped forward with their shovels,
and Bibbs nodded quickly to Roscoe, making a slight gesture toward
the line of waiting carriages. Roscoe understood--Bibbs would stay
and see the grave filled; the rest were to go. The groups began
to move away over the turf; wheels creaked on the graveled drive;
and one by one the carriages filled and departed, the horses setting
off at a walk. Bibbs gazed steadfastly at the workmen; he knew that
his father kept looking back as he went toward the carriage, and that
was a thing he did not want to see. But after a little while there
were no sounds of wheels or hoofs on the gravel, and Bibbs, glancing
up, saw that every one had gone. A coupe had been left for him,
the driver dozing patiently.
The workmen placed the flowers and wreaths upon the mound and about
it, and Bibbs altered the position of one or two of these, then stood
looking thoughtfully at the grotesque brilliancy of that festal-
seeming hillock beneath the darkening November sky. "It's too bad!"
he half whispered, his lips forming the words--and his meaning was
that it was too bad that the strong brother had been the one to go.
For this was his last thought before he walked to the coupe and saw
Mary Vertrees standing, all alone, on the other side of the drive.
She had just emerged from a grove of leafless trees that grew on
a slope where the tombs were many; and behind her rose a multitude
of the barbaric and classic shapes we so strangely strew about our
graveyards: urn-crowned columns and stone-draped obelisks, shop-
carved angels and shop-carved children poising on pillars and shafts,
all lifting--in unthought pathos--their blind stoniness toward the
sky. Against such a background, Bibbs was not incongruous, with his
figure, in black, so long and slender, and his face so long and thin
and white; nor was the undertaker's coupe out of keeping, with the
shabby driver dozing on the box and the shaggy horses standing
patiently in attitudes without hope and without regret. But for
Mary Vertrees, here was a grotesque setting--she was a vivid, living
creature of a beautiful world. And a graveyard is not the place for
people to look charming.
She also looked startled and confused, but not more startled and
confused than Bibbs. In "Edith's" poem he had declared his intention
of hiding his heart "among the stars"; and in his boyhood one day he
had successfully hidden his body in the coal-pile. He had been no
comrade of other boys or of girls, and his acquaintances of a recent
period were only a few fellow-invalids and the nurses at the Hood
Sanitarium. All his life Bibbs had kept himself to himself--he was
but a shy onlooker in the world. Nevertheless, the startled gaze he
bent upon the unexpected lady before him had causes other than his
shyness and her unexpectedness. For Mary Vertrees had been a shining
figure in the little world of late given to the view of this humble
and elusive outsider, and spectators sometimes find their hearts
beating faster than those of the actors in the spectacle. Thus with
Bibbs now. He started and stared; he lifted his hat with incredible
awkwardness, his fingers fumbling at his forehead before they found
"Mr. Sheridan," said Mary, "I'm afraid you'll have to take me home
with you. I--" She stopped, not lacking a momentary awkwardness
of her own.
"Why--why--yes," Bibbs stammered. "I'll--I'll be de--Won't you get
In that manner and in that place they exchanged their first words.
Then Mary without more ado got into the coupe, and Bibbs followed,
closing the door.
"You're very kind," she said, somewhat breathlessly. "I should have
had to walk, and it's beginning to get dark. It's three miles, I
"Yes," said Bibbs. "It--it is beginning to get dark. I--I noticed
"I ought to tell you--I--" Mary began, confusedly. She bit her lip,
sat silent a moment, then spoke with composure. "It must seem odd,
"No, no!" Bibbs protested, earnestly. "Not in the--in the least."
"It does, though," said Mary. "I had not intended to come to the
cemetery, Mr. Sheridan, but one of the men in charge at the house
came and whispered to me that 'the family wished me to'--I think your
sister sent him. So I came. But when we reached here I--oh, I felt
that perhaps I--"
Bibbs nodded gravely. "Yes, yes," he murmured.
"I got out on the opposite side of the carriage," she continued.
"I mean opposite from--from where all of you were. And I wandered
off over in the other direction; and I didn't realize how little time
it takes. From where I was I couldn't see the carriages leaving--at
least I didn't notice them. So when I got back, just now, you were
the only one here. I didn't know the other people in the carriage
I came in, and of course they didn't think to wait for me. That's
"Yes," said Bibbs, "I--" And that seemed all he had to say just then.
Mary looked out through the dusty window. "I think we'd better be
going home, if you please," she said.
"Yes," Bibbs agreed, not moving. "It will be dark before we get
She gave him a quick little glance. "I think you must be very tired,
Mr. Sheridan; and I know you have reason to be," she said, gently.
"If you'll let me, I'll--" And without explaining her purpose she
opened the door on her side of the coupe and leaned out.
Bibbs started in blank perplexity, not knowing what she meant to do.
"Driver!" she called, in her clear voice, loudly. "Driver! We'd
like to start, please! Driver! Stop at the house just north of Mr.
Sheridan's, please." The wheels began to move, and she leaned back
beside Bibbs once more. "I noticed that he was asleep when we got
in," she said. "I suppose they have a great deal of night work."
Bibbs drew a long breath and waited till he could command his voice.
"I've never been able to apologize quickly," he said, with his
accustomed slowness, "because if I try to I stammer. My brother
Roscoe whipped me once, when we were boys, for stepping on his
slate-pencil. It took me so long to tell him it was an accident,
he finished before I did."
Mary Vertrees had never heard anything quite like the drawling,
gentle voice or the odd implication that his not noticing the
motionless state of their vehicle was an "accident." She had formed
a casual impression of him, not without sympathy, but at once she
discovered that he was unlike any of her cursory and vague imaginings
of him. And suddenly she saw a picture he had not intended to paint
for sympathy: a sturdy boy hammering a smaller, sickly boy, and the
sickly boy unresentful. Not that picture alone; others flashed before
her. Instantaneously she had a glimpse of Bibbs's life and into his
life. She had a queer feeling, new to her experience, of knowing him
instantly. It startled her a litttle; and then, with some surprise,
she realized that she was glad he had sat so long, after getting into
the coupe, before he noticed that it had not started. What she did
not realize, however, was that she had made no response to his
apology, and they passed out of the cemetery gates, neither having
Bibbs was so content with the silence he did not know that it was
silence. The dusk, gathering in their small inclosure, was filled
with a rich presence for him; and presently it was so dark that
neither of the two could see the other, nor did even their garments
touch. But neither had any sense of being alone. The wheels creaked
steadily, rumbling presently on paved streeets; there were the
sounds, as from a distance, of the plod-plod of the horses; and
sometimes the driver became audible, coughing asthmatically, or
saying, "You, JOE!" with a spiritless flap of the whip upon an
unresponsive back. Oblongs of light from the lamps at street-corners
came swimming into the interior of the coupe and, thinning rapidly to
lances, passed utterly, leaving greater darkness. And yet neither of
these two last attendants at Jim Sheridan's funeral broke the
It was Mary who preceived the strangeness of it--too late. Abruptly
she realized that for an indefinite interval she had been thinking of
her companion and not talking to him. "Mr. Sheridan," she began, not
knowing what she was going to say, but impelled to say anything, as
she realized the queerness of this drive--"Mr. Sheridan, I--"
The coupe stopped. "You, JOE!" said the driver, reproachfully,
and climbed down and opened the door.
"What's the trouble?" Bibbs inquired.
"Lady said stop at the first house north of Mr. Sheridan's, sir."
Mary was incredulous; she felt that it couldn't be true and that it
mustn't be true that they had driven all the way without speaking.
"What?" Bibbs demanded.
"We're there, sir," said the driver, sympathetically. "Next house
north of Mr. Sheridan's."
Bibbs descended to the curb. "Why, yes," he said. "Yes, you seem to
be right." And while he stood staring at the dimly illuminated front
windows of Mr. Vertrees's house Mary got out, unassisted.
"Let me help you," said Bibbs, stepping toward her mechanically; and
she was several feet from the coupe when he spoke.
"Oh no," she murmured. "I think I can--" She meant that she could
get out of the coupe without help, but, perceiving that she had
already accomplished this feat, she decided not to complete the
"You, JOE!" cried the driver, angrily, climbing to his box. And he
rumbled away at his team's best pace--a snail's.
"Thank you for bringing me home, Mr. Sheridan," said Mary, stiffly.
She did not offer her hand. "Good night."
"Good night," Bibbs said in response, and, turning with her, walked
beside her to the door. Mary made that a short walk; she almost ran.
Realization of the queerness of their drive was growing upon her,
beginning to shock her; she stepped aside from the light that fell
through the glass panels of the door and withheld her hand as it
touched the old-fashioned bell-handle.
"I'm quite safe, thank you," she said, with a little emphasis.
"Good night," said Bibbs, and went obediently. When he reached the
street he looked back, but she had vanished within the house.
Moving slowly away, he caromed against two people who were turning out
from the pavement to cross the street. They were Roscoe and his wife.
"Where are your eyes, Bibbs?" demanded Roscoe. "Sleep-walking, as
But Sibyl took the wanderer by the arm. "Come over to our house for
a little while, Bibbs," she urged. "I want to--"
"No, I'd better--"
"Yes. I want you to. Your father's gone to bed, and they're all
quiet over there--all worn out. Just come for a minute."
He yielded, and when they were in the house she repeated herself with
real feeling: "'All worn out!' Well, if anybody is, YOU are, Bibbs!
And I don't wonder; you've done every bit of the work of it. You
mustn't get down sick again. I'm going to make you take a little
He let her have her own way, following her into the dining-room, and
was grateful when she brought him a tiny glass filled from one of the
decanters on the sideboard. Roscoe gloomily poured for himself a much
heavier libation in a larger glass; and the two men sat, while Sibyl
leaned against the sideboard, reviewing the episodes of the day and
recalling the names of the donors of flowers and wreaths. She pressed
Bibbs to remain longer when he rose to go, and then, as he persisted,
she went with him to the front door. He opened it, and she said:
"Bibbs, you were coming out of the Vertreeses' house when we met you.
How did you happen to be there?"
"I had only been to the door," he said. "Good night, Sibyl."
"Wait," she insisted. "We saw you coming out."
"I wasn't," he explained, moving to depart. "I'd just brought Miss
"What?" she cried.
"Yes," he said, and stepped out upon the porch, "that was it. Good
"Wait!" she said, following him across the threshold. "How did that
happen? I thought you were going to wait while those men filled the--
the--" She paused, but moved nearer him insistently.
"I did wait. Miss Vertrees was there," he said, reluctantly. "She
had walked away for a while and didn't notice that the carriages were
leaving. When she came back the coupe waiting for me was the only one
She regarded him with dilating eyes. She spoke with a slow
breathlessness. "And she drove home from Jim's funeral--with you!"
Without warning she burst into laughter, clapped her hand
ineffectually over her mouth, and ran back uproariously into the
house, hurling the door shut behind her.
Bibbs went home pondering. He did not understand why Sibyl had
laughed. The laughter itself had been spontaneous and beyond
suspicion, but it seemed to him that she had only affected the effort
to suppress it and that she wished it to be significant. Significant
of what? And why had she wished to impress upon him the fact of her
overwhelming amusement? He found no answer, but she had succeeded in
disturbing him, and he wished that he had not encountered her.
At home, uncles, aunts, and cousins from out of town were wandering
about the house, several mournfully admiring the "Bay of Naples,"
and others occupied with the Moor and the plumbing, while they waited
for trains. Edith and her mother had retired to some upper fastness,
but Bibbs interviewed Jackson and had the various groups of relatives
summoned to the dining-room for food. One great-uncle, old Gideon
Sheridan from Boonville, could not be found, and Bibbs went in search
of him. He ransacked the house, discovering the missing antique at
last by accident. Passing his father's closed door on tiptoe, Bibbs
heard a murmurous sound, and paused to listen. The sound proved to be
a quavering and rickety voice, monotonously bleating:
"The Lo-ord givuth and the Lo-ord takuth away! We got to remember
that; we got to remember that! I'm a-gittin' along, James; I'm a-
gittin' along, and I've seen a-many of 'em go--two daughters and a son
the Lord give me, and He has taken all away. For the Lo-ord givuth
and the Lo-ord takuth away! Remember the words of Bildad the Shuhite,
James. Bildad the Shuhite says, 'He shall have neither son nor nephew
among his people, nor any remaining in his dwellings.' Bildad the
Bibbs opened the door softly. His father was lying upon the bed,
in his underclothes, face downward, and Uncle Gideon sat near by,
swinging backward and forward in a rocking-chair, stroking his long
white beard and gazing at the ceiling as he talked. Bibbs beckoned
him urgently, but Uncle Gideon paid no attention.
"Bibdad the Shuhite spake and his says, 'If thy children have sinned
against Him and He have cast them away--'"
There was a muffled explosion beneath the floor, and the windows
rattled. The figure lying face downward on the bed did not move,
but Uncle Gideon leaped from his chair. "My God!" he cried.
There came a second explosion, and Uncle Gideon ran out into the hall.
Bibbs went to the head of the great staircase, and, looking down,
discovered the source of the distubance. Gideon's grandson, a boy
of fourteen, had brought his camera to the funeral and was taking
"flash-lights" of the Moor. Uncle Gideon, reassured by Bibbs's
explanation, would have returned to finish his quotation from Bildad
the Shuhite, but Bibbs detained him, and after a little argument
persuaded him to descend to the dining-room whither Bibbs followed,
after closing the door of his father's room.
He kept his eye on Gideon after dinner, diplomatically preventing
several attempts on the part of that comforter to reascend the stairs;
and it was a relief to Bibbs when George announced that an automobile
was waiting to convey the ancient man and his grandson to their train.
They were the last to leave, and when they had gone Bibbs went sighing
to his own room.
He stretched himself wearily upon the bed, but presently rose, went
to the window, and looked for a long time at the darkened house where
Mary Vertrees lived. Then he open his trunk, took therefrom a small
note-book half filled with fragmentary scribblings, and began to
Laughter after a funeral. In this reaction people will laugh at
anything and at nothing. The band plays a dirge on the way to the
cemetery, but when it turns back, and the mourning carriages are
out of hearing, it strikes up, "Darktown is Out To-night." That
is natural--but there are women whose laughter is like the whirring
of whips. Why is it that certain kinds of laughter seem to spoil
something hidden away from the laughers? If they do not know of
it, and have never seen it, how can their laughter hurt it? Yet it
does. Beauty is not out of place among grave-stones. It is not
out of place anywhere. But a woman who has been betrothed to a
man would not look beautiful at his funeral. A woman might look
beautiful, though, at the funeral of a man whom she had known and
liked. And in that case, too, she would probably not want to talk
if she drove home from the cemetery with his brother: nor would
she want the brother to talk. Silence is usually either stupid or
timid. But for a man who stammers if he tries to talk fast, and
drawls so slowly, when he doesn't stammer, that nobody has time to
listen to him, silence is advisable. Nevertheless, too much silence
is open to suspicion. It may be reticence, or it may be a vacuum.
It may be dignity, or it may be false teeth.
Sometimes an imperceptible odor will become perceptible in a small
inclosure, such as a closed carriage. The ghost of gasoline rising
from a lady's glove might be sweeter to the man riding beside her
than all the scents of Arcady in spring. It depends on the lady--
but there ARE! Three miles may be three hundred miles, or it may
be three feet. When it is three feet you have not time to say a
great deal before you reach the end of it. Still, it may be that
one should begin to speak.
No one could help wishing to stay in a world that holds some of
the people that are in this world. There are some so wonderful
you do not understand how the dead COULD die. How could they let
themselves? A falling building does not care who falls with it.
It does not choose who shall be upon its roof and who shall not.
Silence CAN be golden? Yes. But perhaps if a woman of the world
should find herself by accident sitting beside a man for the length
of time it must necessarily take two slow old horses to jog three
miles, she might expect that man to say something of some sort!
Even if she thought him a feeble hypochondriac, even if she had
heard from others that he was a disappointment to his own people,
even if she had seen for herself that he was a useless and
irritating encumbrance everywhere, she might expect him at least
to speak--she might expect him to open his mouth and try to make
sounds, if he only barked. If he did not even try, but sat every
step of the way as dumb as a frozen fish, she might THINK him a
frozen fish. And she might be right. She might be right if she
thought him about as pleasant a companion as--as Bildad the Shuhite!
Bibbs closed his note-book, replacing it in his trunk. Then, after a
period of melancholy contemplation, he undressed, put on a dressing-
gown and slippers, and went softly out into the hall--to his father's
door. Upon the floor was a tray which Bibbs had sent George, earlier
in the evening, to place upon a table in Sheridan's room--but the food
was untouched. Bibbs stood listening outside the door for several
minutes. There came no sound from within, and he went back to his
own room and to bed.
In the morning he woke to a state of being hitherto unknown in his
experience. Sometimes in the process of waking there is a little
pause--sleep has gone, but coherent thought has not begun. It is
a curious half-void, a glimpse of aphasia; and although the person
experiencing it may not know for that instant his own name or age or
sex, he may be acutely conscious of depression or elation. It is the
moment, as we say, before we "remember"; and for the first time in
Bibbs's life it came to him bringing a vague happiness. He woke to a
sense of new riches; he had the feeling of a boy waking to a birthday.