Part 3 out of 6
But when the next moment brought him his memory, he found nothing
that could explain his exhilaration. On the contrary, under the
circumstances it seemed grotesquely unwarranted. However, it was a
brief visitation and was gone before he had finished dressing. It
left a little trail, the pleased recollection of it and the puzzle
of it, which remained unsolved. And, in fact, waking happily in the
morning is not usually the result of a drive home from a funeral.
No wonder the sequence evaded Bibbs Sheridan!
His father had gone when he came down-stairs. "Went on down to 's
office, jes' same," Jackson informed him. "Came sat breakfas'-table,
all by 'mself; eat nothin'. George bring nice breakfas', but he di'n'
eat a thing. Yessuh, went on down-town, jes' same he yoosta do.
Yessuh, I reckon putty much ev'y-thing goin' go on same as it yoosta
It struck Bibbs that Jackson was right. The day passed as other days
had passed. Mrs. Sheridan and Edith were in black, and Mrs. Sheridan
cried a little, now and then, but no other external difference was to
be seen. Edith was quiet, but not noticeably depressed, and at lunch
proved herself able to argue with her mother upon the propriety of
receiving calls in the earliest stages of "mourning." Lunch was as
usual--for Jim and his father had always lunched down-town--and the
afternoon was as usual. Bibbs went for his drive, and his mother
went with him, as she sometimes did when the weather was pleasant.
Altogether, the usualness of things was rather startling to Bibbs.
During the drive Mrs. Sheridan talked fragmentarily of Jim's
childhood. "But you wouldn't remember about that," she said, after
narrating an episode. "You were too little. He was always a good
boy, just like that. And he'd save whatever papa gave him, and put
it in the bank. I reckon it'll just about kill your father to put
somebody in his place as president of the Realty Company, Bibbs. I
know he can't move Roscoe over; he told me last week he'd already put
as much on Roscoe as any one man could handle and not go crazy. Oh,
it's a pity--" She stopped to wipe her eyes. "It's a pity you didn't
run more with Jim, Bibbs, and kind o' pick up his ways. Think what
it'd meant to papa now! You never did run with either Roscoe or Jim
any, even before you got sick. Of course, you were younger; but it
always DID seem queer--and you three bein' brothers like that. I
don't believe I ever saw you and Jim sit down together for a good talk
in my life."
"Mother, I've been away so long," Bibbs returned, gently. "And since
I came home I--"
"Oh, I ain't reproachin' you, Bibbs," she said. "Jim ain't been home
much of an evening since you got back--what with his work and callin'
and goin' to the theater and places, and often not even at the house
for dinner. Right the evening before he got hurt he had his dinner
at some miser'ble rest'rant down by the Pump Works, he was so set on
overseein' the night work and gettin' everything finished up right to
the minute he told papa he would. I reckon you might 'a' put in more
time with Jim if there'd been more opportunity, Bibbs. I expect you
feel almost as if you scarcely really knew him right well."
"I suppose I really didn't, mother. He was busy, you see, and I
hadn't much to say about the things that interested him, because I
don't know much about them."
"It's a pity! Oh, it's a pity!" she moaned. "And you'll have to
learn to know about 'em NOW, Bibbs! I haven't said much to you,
because I felt it was all between your father and you, but I honestly
do believe it will just kill him if he has to have any more trouble
on top of all this! You mustn't LET him, Bibbs--you mustn't! You
don't know how he's grieved over you, and now he can't stand any more
--he just can't! Whatever he says for you to do, you DO it, Bibbs,
you DO it! I want you to promise me you will."
"I would if I could," he said, sorrowfully.
"No, no! Why can't you?" she cried, clutching his arm. "He wants
you to go back to the machine-shop and--"
"And--'like it!" said Bibbs.
"Yes, that's it--to go in a cheerful spirit. Dr. Gurney said it
wouldn't hurt you if you went in a cheerful spirit--the doctor said
that himself, Bibbs. So why can't you do it? Can't you do that much
for your father? You ought to think what he's done for YOU. You got
a beautiful house to live in; you got automobiles to ride in; you got
fur coats and warm clothes; you been taken care of all your life. And
you don't KNOW how he worked for the money to give all these things
to you! You don't DREAM what he had to go through and what he risked
when we were startin' out in life; and you never WILL know! And now
this blow has fallen on him out of a clear sky, and you make it out to
be a hardship to do like he wants you to! And all on earth he asks is
for you to go back to the work in a cheerful spirit, so it won't hurt
you! That's all he asks. Look, Bibbs, we're gettin' back near home,
but before we get there I want you to promise me that you'll do what
he asks you to. Promise me!"
In her earnestness she cleared away her black veil that she might see
him better, and it blew out on the smoky wind. He readjusted it for
her before he spoke.
"I'll go back in as cheerful a spirit as I can, mother," he said.
"There!" she exclaimed, satisfied. "That's a good boy! That's all
I wanted you to say."
"Don't give me any credit," he said, ruefully. "There isn't anything
else for me to do."
"Now, don't begin talkin' THAT way!"
"No, no," he soothed her. "We'll have to begin to make the spirit
a cheerful one. We may--" They were turning into their own driveway
as he spoke, and he glanced at the old house next door. Mary
Vertrees was visible in the twilight, standing upon the front steps,
bareheaded, the door open behind her. She bowed gravely.
"'We may'--what?" asked Mrs. Sheridan, with a slight impatience.
"What is it, mother?"
"You said, 'We may,' and didn't finish what you were sayin'."
"Did I?" said Bibbs, blankly. "Well, what WERE we saying?"
"Of all the queer boys!" she cried. "You always were. Always!
You haven't forgot what you just promised me, have you?"
"No," he answered, as the car stopped. "No, the spirit will be as
cheerful as the flesh will let it, mother. It won't do to behave
His voice was low, and in her movement to descend from the car she
failed to here his final words.
"Behave like who, Bibbs?"
But she was fretful in her grief. "You said it wouldn't do to behave
like SOMEBODY. Behave like WHO?"
"It was just nonsense," he explained, turning to go in. "An obscure
person I don't think much of lately."
"Behave like WHO?" she repeated, and upon his yielding to her petulant
insistence, she made up her mind that the only thing to do was to tell
Dr. Gurney about it.
"Like Bildad the Shuhite!" was what Bibbs said.
The outward usualness of things continued after dinner. It was
Sheridan's custom to read the evening paper beside the fire in the
library, while his wife, sitting near by, either sewed (from old
habit) or allowed herself to be repeatedly baffled by one of the
simpler forms of solitaire. To-night she did neither, but sat in
her customary chair, gazing at the fire, while Sheridan let the
unfolded paper rest upon his lap, though now and then he lifted it,
as if to read, and let it fall back upon his knees again. Bibbs
came in noiselessly and sat in a corner, doing nothing; and from a
"reception-room" across the hall an indistinct vocal murmur became
just audible at intervals. Once, when this murmur grew louder,
under stress of some irrepressible merriment, Edith's voice could be
heard--"Bobby, aren't you awful!" and Sheridan glanced across at his
She rose at once and went into the "reception-room"; there was a
flurry of whispering, and the sound of tiptoeing in the hall--Edith
and her suitor changing quarters to a more distant room. Mrs.
Sheridan returned to her chair in the library.
"They won't bother you any more, papa," she said, in a comforting
voice. "She told me at lunch he'd 'phoned he wanted to come up this
evening, and I said I thought he'd better wait a few days, but she
said she'd already told him he could." She paused, then added, rather
guiltily: "I got kind of a notion maybe Roscoe don't like him as much
as he used to. Maybe--maybe you better ask Roscoe, papa." And as
Sheridan nodded solemnly, she concluded, in haste: "Don't say I said
to. I might be wrong about it, anyway."
He nodded again, and they sat for some time in a silence which Mrs.
Sheridan broke with a little sniff, having fallen into a reverie that
brought tears. "That Miss Vertrees was a good girl," she said. "SHE
was all right."
Her husband evidently had no difficulty in following her train of
thought, for he nodded once more, affirmatively.
"Did you--How did you fix it about the--the Realty Company?" she
faltered. "Did you--"
He rose heavily, helping himself to his feet by the arms of his chair.
"I fixed it," he said, in a husky voice. "I moved Cantwell up, and
put Johnston in Cantwell's place, and split up Johnston's work among
the four men with salaries high enough to take it." He went to her,
put his hand upon her shoulder, and drew a long, audible, tremulous
breath. "It's my bedtime, mamma; I'm goin' up." He dropped the hand
from her shoulder and moved slowly away, but when he reached the door
he stopped and spoke again, without turning to look at her. "The
Realty Company'll go right on just the same," he said. "It's like--
it's like sand, mamma. It puts me in mind of chuldern playin' in a
sand-pile. One of 'em sticks his finger in the sand and makes a
hole, and another of 'em'll pat the place with his hand, and all the
little grains of sand run in and fill it up and settle against one
another; and then, right away it's flat on top again, and you can't
tell there ever was a hole there. The Realty Company'll go on all
right, mamma. There ain't anything anywhere, I reckon, that wouldn't
go right on--just the same."
And he passed out slowly into the hall; then they heard his heavy
tread upon the stairs.
Mrs. Sheridan, rising to follow him, turned a piteous face to her son.
"It's so forlone," she said, chokingly. "That's the first time he
spoke since he came in the house this evening. I know it must 'a'
hurt him to hear Edith laughin' with that Lamhorn. She'd oughtn't to
let him come, right the very first evening this way; she'd oughtn't
to done it! She just seems to lose her head over him, and it scares
me. You heard what Sibyl said the other day, and--and you heard
"What Edith said to Sibyl?" Bibbs finished the sentence for her.
"We CAN'T have any trouble o' THAT kind!" she wailed. "Oh, it looks
as if movin' up to this New House had brought us awful bad luck!
It scares me!" She put both her hands over her face. "Oh, Bibbs,
Bibbs! if you only wasn't so QUEER! If you could only been a kind
of dependable son! I don't know what we're all comin' to!" And,
weeping, she followed her husband.
Bibbs gazed for a while at the fire; then he rose abruptly, like a man
who has come to a decision, and briskly sought the room--it was called
"the smoking-room"--where Edith sat with Mr. Lamhorn. They looked up
in no welcoming manner, at Bibbs's entrance, and moved their chairs to
a less conspicuous adjacency.
"Good evening," said Bibbs, pleasantly; and he seated himself in a
leather easy-chair near them.
"What is it?" asked Edith, plainly astonished.
"Nothing," he returned, smiling.
She frowned. "Did you want something?" she asked.
"Nothing in the world. Father and mother have gone up-stairs; I
sha'n't be going up for several hours, and there didn't seem to be
anybody left for me to chat with except you and Mr. Lamhorn."
"'CHAT with'!" she echoed, incredulously.
"I can talk about almost anything," said Bibbs with an air of genial
politeness. "It doesn't matter to ME. I don't know much about
business--if that's what you happened to be talking about. But you
aren't in business, are you, Mr. Lamhorn.
"Not now," returned Lamhorn, shortly.
"I'm not, either," said Bibbs. "It was getting cloudier than usual,
I noticed, just before dark, and there was wind from the southwest.
Rain to-morrow, I shouldn't be surprised."
He seemed to feel that he had begun a conversation the support of
which had now become the pleasurable duty of other parties; and he
sat expectantly, looking first at his sister, then at Lamhorn, as
if implying that it was their turn to speak. Edith returned his
gaze with a mixture of astonishment and increasing anger, while Mr.
Lamhorn was obviously disturbed, though Bibbs had been as considerate
as possible in presenting the weather as a topic. Bibbs had
perceived that Lamhorn had nothing in his mind at any time except
"personalities"--he could talk about people and he could make love.
Bibbs, wishing to be courteous, offered the weather.
Lamhorn refused it, and concluded from Bibbs's luxurious attitude
in the leather chair that this half-crazy brother was a permanent
fixture for the rest of the evening. There was not reason to hope
that he would move, and Lamhorn found himself in danger of looking
"I was just going," he said, rising.
"Oh NO!" Edith cried, sharply.
"Yes. Good night! I think I--"
"Too bad," said Bibbs, genially, walking to the door with the visitor,
while Edith stood staring as the two disappeared in the hall. She
heard Bibbs offering to "help" Lamhorn with his overcoat and the
latter rather curtly declining assistance, these episodes of departure
being followed by the closing of the outer door. She ran into the
"What's the matter with you?" she cried, furiously. "What do you
MEAN? How did you dare come in there when you knew--"
Her voice broke; she made a gesture of rage and despair, and ran up
the stairs, sobbing. She fled to her mother's room, and when Bibbs
came up, a few minutes later, Mrs. Sheridan met him at his door.
"Oh, Bibbs," she said, shaking her head woefully, "you'd oughtn't
to distress your sister! She says you drove that young man right
out of the house. You'd ought to been more considerate."
Bibbs smiled faintly, noting that Edith's door was open, with Edith's
naive shadow motionless across its threshold. "Yes," he said. "He
doesn't appear to much of a 'man's man.' He ran at just a glimpse
Edith's shadow moved; her voice came quavering: "You call yourself
"No, no," he answered. "I said, 'just a glimpse of one.' I didn't
claim--" But her door slammed angrily; and he turned to his mother.
"There," he said, sighing. "That's almost the first time in my life
I ever tried to be a man of action, mother, and I succeeded perfectly
in what I tried to do. As a consequence I feel like a horse-thief!"
"You hurt her feelin's," she groaned. "You must 'a' gone at it too
He looked upon her wanly. "That's my trouble, mother," he murmured.
"I'm a plain, blunt fellow. I have rough ways, and I'm a rough man."
For once she perceived some meaning in his queerness. "Hush your
nonsense!" she said, good-naturedly, the astral of a troubled smile
appearing. "You go to bed."
He kissed her and obeyed.
Edith gave him a cold greeting the next morning at the breakfast-
"You mustn't do that under a misapprehension," he warned her, when
they were alone in the dining-room.
"Do what under a what?" she asked.
"Speak to me. I came into the smoking-room last night 'on purpose,'"
he told her, gravely. "I have a prejudice against that young man."
She laughed. "I guess you think it means a great deal who you have
prejudices against!" In mockery she adopted the manner of one who
implores. "Bibbs, for pity's sake PROMISE me, DON'T use YOUR
influence with papa against him!" And she laughed louder.
"Listen," he said, with peculiar earnestness. "I'll tell you now,
because--because I've decided I'm one of the family." And then,
as if the earnestness were too heavy for him to carry it further,
he continued, in his usual tone, "I'm drunk with power, Edith."
"What do you want to tell me?" she demanded, brusquely.
"Lamhorn made love to Sibyl," he said.
Edith hooted. "SHE did to HIM! And because you overheard that spat
between us the other day when I the same of accused her of it, and
said something like that to you afterward--"
"No," he said, gravely. "I KNOW."
"I was there, one day a week ago, with Roscoe, and I heard Sibyl and
Edith screamed with laughter. "You were with ROSCOE--and you heard
Lamhorn making love to Sibyl!"
"No. I heard them quarreling."
"You're funnier than ever, Bibbs!" she cried. "You say he made love
to her because you heard them quarreling!"
"That's it. If you want to know what's 'between' people, you can--by
the way they quarrel."
"You'll kill me, Bibbs! What were they quarreling about?"
"Nothing. That's how I knew. People who quarrel over nothing!--it's
Edith stopped laughing abruptly, but continued her mockery. "You
ought to know. You've had so much experience, yourself!"
"I haven't any, Edith," he said. "My life has been about as exciting
as an incubator chicken's. But I look out through the glass at
"Well, then," she said, "if you look out through the glass you must
know what effect such stuff would have upon ME!" She rose, visibly
agitated. "What if it WAS true?" she demanded, bitterly. "What if
it was true a hundred times over? You sit there with your silly face
half ready to giggle and half ready to sniffle, and tell me stories
like that, about Sibyl picking on Bobby Lamhorn and worrying him to
death, and you think it matters to ME? What if I already KNEW all
about their 'quarreling'? What if I understood WHY she--" She broke
off with a violent gesture, a sweep of her arm extended at full
length, as if she hurled something to the ground. "Do you think
a girl that really cared for a man would pay any attention to THAT?
Or to YOU, Bibbs Sheridan!"
He looked at her steadily, and his gaze was as keen as it was steady.
She met it with unwavering pride. Finally he nodded slowly, as if she
had spoken and he meant to agree with what she said.
"Ah, yes," he said. "I won't come into the smoking-room again. I'm
sorry, Edith. Nobody can make you see anything now. You'll never see
until you see for yourself. The rest of us will do better to keep out
of it--especially me!"
"That's sensible," she responded, curtly. "You're most surprising
of all when you're sensible, Bibbs."
"Yes," he sighed. "I'm a dull dog. Shake hands and forgive me,
Thawing so far as to smile, she underwent this brief ceremony, and
George appeared, summoning Bibbs to the library; Dr. Gurney was
waiting there, he announced. And Bibbs gave his sister a shy but
friendly touch upon the shoulder as a complement to the handshaking,
and left her.
Dr. Gurney was sitting by the log fire, alone in the room, and he
merely glanced over his shoulder when his patient came in. He was
not over fifty, in spite of Sheridan's habitual "ole Doc Gurney."
He was gray, however, almost as thin as Bibbs, and nearly always
he looked drowsy.
"Your father telephoned me yesterday afternoon, Bibbs," he said,
not rising. "Wants me to 'look you over' again. Come around here
in front of me--between me and the fire. I want to see if I can
see through you."
"You mean you're too sleepy to move," returned Bibbs, complying.
"I think you'll notice that I'm getting worse."
"Taken on about twelve pounds," said Gurney. "Thirteen, maybe."
"Well, it won't do." The doctor rubbed his eyelids. "You're so much
better I'll have to use some machinery on you before we can know just
where you are. You come down to my place this afternoon. Walk down
--all the way. I suppose you know why your father wants to know."
Bibbs nodded. "Machine-shop."
"Still hate it?"
Bibbs nodded again.
"Don't blame you!" the doctor grunted. "Yes, I expect it'll make
a lump in your gizzard again. Well, what do you say? Shall I tell
him you've got the old lump there yet? You still want to write,
"What's the use?" Bibbs said, smiling ruefully. "My kind of writing!"
"Yes," the doctor agreed. "I suppose it you broke away and lived on
roots and berries until you began to 'attract the favorable attention
of editors' you might be able to hope for an income of four or five
hundred dollars a year by the time you're fifty."
"That's about it," Bibbs murmured.
"Of course I know what you want to do," said Gurney, drowsily. "You
don't hate the machine-shop only; you hate the whole show--the noise
and jar and dirt, the scramble--the whole bloomin' craze to 'get on.'
You'd like to go somewhere in Algiers, or to Taormina, perhaps, and
bask on a balcony, smelling flowers and writing sonnets. You'd grow
fat on it and have a delicate little life all to yourself. Well, what
do you say? I can lie like sixty, Bibbs! Shall I tell your father
he'll lose another of his boys if you don't go to Sicily?"
"I don't want to go to Sicily," said Bibbs. "I want to stay right
The doctor's drowsiness disappeared for a moment, and he gave his
patient a sharp glance. "It's a risk," he said. "I think we'll find
you're so much better he'll send you back to the shop pretty quick.
Something's got hold of you lately; you're not quite so lackadaisical
as you used to be. But I warn you: I think the shop will knock you
just as it did before, and perhaps even harder, Bibbs."
He rose, shook himself, and rubbed his eyelids. "Well, when we go
over you this afternoon what are we going to say about it?"
"Tell him I'm ready," said Bibbs, looking at the floor.
"Oh no," Gurney laughed. "Not quite yet; but you may be almost.
We'll see. Don't forget I said to walk down."
And when the examination was concluded, that afternoon, the doctor
informed Bibbs that the result was much too satisfactory to be
pleasing. "Here's a new 'situation' for a one-act farce," he said,
gloomily, to his next patient when Bibbs had gone. "Doctor tells a
man he's well, and that's his death sentence, likely. Dam' funny
Bibbs decided to walk home, though Gurney had not instructed him upon
this point. In fact, Gurney seemed to have no more instructions on
any point, so discouraging was the young man's improvement. It was a
dingy afternoon, and the smoke was evident not only to Bibbs's sight,
but to his nostrils, though most of the pedestrians were so saturated
with the smell they could no longer detect it. Nearly all of them
walked hurriedly, too intent upon their destinations to be more than
half aware of the wayside; they wore the expressions of people under
a vague yet constant strain. They were all lightly powdered, inside
and out, with fine dust and grit from the hard-paved streets, and they
were unaware of that also. They did not even notice that they saw the
smoke, though the thickened air was like a shrouding mist. And when
Bibbs passed the new "Sheridan Apartments," now almost completed, he
observed that the marble of the vestibule was already streaky with
soot, like his gloves, which were new.
That recalled to him the faint odor of gasolene in the coupe on the
way from his brother's funeral, and this incited a train of thought
which continued till he reached the vicinity of his home. His route
was by a street parallel to that on which the New House fronted, and
in his preoccupation he walked a block farther than he intended, so
that, having crossed to his own street, he approached the New House
from the north, and as he came to the corner of Mr. Vertrees's lot
Mr. Vertrees's daughter emerged from the front door and walked
thoughtfully down the path to the old picket gate. She was
unconscious of the approach of the pedestrian from the north, and did
not see him until she had opened the gate and he was almost beside
her. Then she looked up, and as she saw him she started visibly.
And if this thing had happened to Robert Lamhorn, he would have had
a thought far beyond the horizon of faint-hearted Bibbs's thoughts.
Lamhorn, indeed, would have spoken his thought. He would have said:
"You jumped because you were thinking of me!"
Mary was the picture of a lady flustered. She stood with one hand
closing the gate behind her, and she had turned to go in the direction
Bibbs was walking. There appeared to be nothing for it but that they
should walk together, at least as far as the New House. But Bibbs had
paused in his slow stride, and there elapsed an instant before either
spoke or moved--it was no longer than that, and yet it sufficed for
each to seem to say, by look and attitude, "Why, it's YOU!"
Then they both spoke at once, each hurriedly pronouncing the other's
name as if about to deliver a message of importance. Then both came
to a stop simultaneously, but Bibbs made a heroic effort, and as they
began to walk on together he contrived to find his voice.
"I--I--hate a frozen fish myself," he said. "I think three miles was
too long for you to put up with one."
"Good gracious!" she cried, turning to him a glowing face from which
restraint and embarrassment had suddenly fled. "Mr. Sheridan, you're
lovely to put it that way. But it's always the girl's place to say
it's turning cooler! I ought to have been the one to show that we
didn't know each other well enough not to say SOMETHING! It was an
imposition for me to have made you bring me home, and after I went
into the house I decided I should have walked. Besides, it wasn't
three miles to the car-line. I never thought of it!"
"No," said Bibbs, earnestly. "I didn't, either. I might have said
something if I'd thought of anything. I'm talking now, though;
I must remember that, and not worry about it later. I think I'm
talking, though it doesn't sound intelligent even to me. I made up
my mind that if I ever met you again I'd turn on my voice and keep it
going, no mater what it said. I--"
She interrupted him with laughter, and Mary Vertrees's laugh was one
which Bibbs's father had declared, after the house-warming, "a cripple
would crawl five miles to hear." And at the merry lilting of it
Bibbs's father's son took heart to forget some of his trepidation.
"I'll be any kind of idiot," he said, "if you'll laugh at me some
more. It won't be difficult for me."
She did; and Bibbs's cheeks showed a little actual color, which
Mary perceived. It recalled to her, by contrast, her careless and
irritated description of him to her mother just after she had seen
him for the first time. "Rather tragic and altogether impossible."
It seemed to her now that she must have been blind.
They had passed the New House without either of them showing--or
possessing--any consciousness that it had been the destination of
one of them.
"I'll keep on talking," Bibbs continued, cheerfully, "and you keep on
laughing. I'm amounting to something in the world this afternoon.
I'm making a noise, and that makes you make music. Don't be bothered
by my bleating out such things as that. I'm really frightened, and
that makes me bleat anything. I'm frightened about two things: I'm
afraid of what I'll think of myself later if I don't keep talking--
talking now, I mean--and I'm afraid of what I'll think of myself if
I do. And besides these two things, I'm frightened, anyhow. I don't
remember talking as much as this more than once or twice in my life.
I suppose it was always in me to do it, though, the first time I met
any one who didn't know me well enough not to listen."
"But you're not really talking to me," said Mary. "You're just
"No," he returned, gravely. "I'm not thinking at all; I'm only making
vocal sounds because I believe it's more mannerly. I seem to be the
subject of what little meaning they possess, and I'd like to change
it, but I don't know how. I haven't any experience in talking, and
I don't know how to manage it."
"You needn't change the subject on my account, Mr. Sheridan," she
said. "Not even if you really talked about yourself." She turned
her face toward him as she spoke, and Bibbs caught his breath; he was
pathetically amazed by the look she gave him. It was a glowing look,
warmly friendly and understanding, and, what almost shocked him, it
was an eagerly interested look. Bibbs was not accustomed to anything
"I--you--I--I'm--" he stammered, and the faint color in his cheeks
grew almost vivid.
She was still looking at him, and she saw the strange radiance
that came into his face. There was something about him, too, that
explained how "queer" many people might think him; but he did not
seem "queer" to Mary Vertrees; he seemed the most quaintly natural
person she had ever met.
He waited, and became coherent. "YOU say something now," he said.
"I don't even belong in the chorus, and here I am, trying to sing
the funny man's solo! You--"
"No," she interrupted. "I'd rather play your accompaniment."
"I'll stop and listen to it, then."
"Perhaps--" she began, but after pausing thoughtfully she made a
gesture with her muff, indicating a large brick church which they
were approaching. "Do you see that church, Mr. Sheridan?"
"I suppose I could," he answered in simple truthfulness, looking at
her. "But I don't want to. Once, when I was ill, the nurse told me
I'd better say anything that was on my mind, and I got the habit.
The other reason I don't want to see the church is that I have a
feeling it's where you're going, and where I'll be sent back."
She shook her head in cheery negation. "Not unless you want to be.
Would you like to come with me?"
"Why--why--yes," he said. "Anywhere!" And again it was apparent
that he spoke in simple truthfulness.
"Then come--if you care for organ music. The organist is an old
friend of mine, and sometimes he plays for me. He's a dear old man.
He had a degree from Bonn, and was a professor afterward, but he
gave up everything for music. That's he, waiting in the doorway.
He looks like Beethoven, doesn't he? I think he knows that, perhaps
and enjoys it a little. I hope so."
"Yes," said Bibbs, as they reached the church steps. "I think
Beethoven would like it, too. It must be pleasant to look like
"I haven't kept you?" Mary said to the organist.
"No, no," he answered, heartily. "I would not mind so only you
should shooer come!"
"This is Mr. Sheridan, Dr. Kraft. He has come to listen with me."
The organist looked bluntly surprised. "Iss that SO?" he exclaimed.
"Well, I am glad if you wish him, and if he can stant my liddle
playink. He iss musician himself, then, of course."
"No," said Bibbs, as the three entered the church together. "I--I
played the--I tried to play--" Fortunately he checked himself; he
had been about to offer the information that he had failed to master
the jews'-harp in his boyhood. "No, I'm not a musician," he contented
himself with saying.
"What?" Dr. Kraft's surprise increased. "Young man, you are
fortunate! I play for Miss Vertrees; she comes always alone.
You are the first. You are the first one EVER!"
They had reached the head of the central aisle, and as the organist
finished speaking Bibbs stopped short, turning to look at Mary
Vertrees in a dazed way that was not of her preceiving; for, though
she stopped as he did, her gaze followed the organist, who was walking
away from them toward the front of the church, shaking his white
Beethovian mane roguishly.
"It's false pretenses on my part," Bibbs said. "You mean to be kind
to the sick, but I'm not an invalid any more. I'm so well I'm going
back to work in a few days. I'd better leave before he begins to
play, hadn't I?"
"No," said Mary, beginning to walk forward. "Not unless you don't
like great music."
He followed her to a seat about half-way up the aisle while Dr. Kraft
ascended to the organ. It was an enormous one, the procession of
pipes ranging from long, starveling whistles to thundering fat guns;
they covered all the rear wall of the church, and the organist's
figure, reaching its high perch, looked like that of some Lilliputian
magician ludicrously daring the attempt to conrol a monster certain
to overwhelm him.
"This afternoon some Handel!" he turned to shout.
Mary nodded. "Will you like that?" she asked Bibbs.
"I don't know. I never heard any except 'Largo.' I don't know
anything about music. I don't even know how to pretend I do. If
I knew enough to pretend, I would."
"No," said Mary, looking at him and smiling faintly, "you wouldn't."
She turned away as a great sound began to swim and tremble in the air;
the huge empty space of the church filled with it, and the two people
listening filled with it; the universe seemed to fill and thrill with
it. The two sat intensely still, the great sound all round about
them, while the church grew dusky, and only the organist's lamp made a
tiny star of light. His white head moved from side to side beneath it
rhythmically, or lunged and recovered with the fierceness of a duelist
thrusting, but he was magnificently the master of his giant, and it
sang to his magic as he bade it.
Bibbs was swept away upon that mighty singing. Such a thing was
wholly unknown to him; there had been no music in his meager life.
Unlike the tale, it was the Princess Bedrulbudour who had brought
him to the enchanted cave, and that--for Bibbs--was what made its
magic dazing. It seemed to him a long, long time since he had been
walking home drearily from Dr. Gurney's office; it seemed to him
that he had set out upon a happy journey since then, and that he
had reached another planet, where Mary Vertrees and he sat alone
together listening to a vast choiring of invisible soldiers and holy
angels. There were armies of voices about them singing praise and
thanksgiving; and yet they were alone. It was incredible that the
walls of the church were not the boundaries of the universe, to remain
so for ever; incredible that there was a smoky street just yonder,
where housemaids were bringing in evening papers from front steps and
where children were taking their last spins on roller-skates before
being haled indoors for dinner.
He had a curious sense of communication with his new friend. He knew
it could not be so, and yet he felt as if all the time he spoke to
her, saying: "You hear this strain? You hear that strain? You know
the dream that these sounds bring to me?" And it seemed to him as
though she answered continually: "I hear! I hear that strain, and
I hear the new one that you are hearing now. I know the dream that
these sounds bring to you. Yes, yes, I hear it all! We hear--
And though the church grew so dim that all was mysterious shadow
except the vague planes of the windows and the organist's light,
with the white head moving beneath it, Bibbs had no consciousness
that the girl sitting beside him had grown shadowy; he seemed to see
her as plainly as ever in the darkness, though he did not look at her.
And all the mighty chanting of the organ's multitudinous voices that
afternoon seemed to Bibbs to be chorusing of her and interpreting her,
singing her thoughts and singing for him the world of humble gratitude
that was in his heart because she was so kind to him. It all meant
But when she asked him what it meant, on their homeward way, he was
silent. They had come a few paces from the church without speaking,
"I'll tell you what it meant to me," she said, as he did not
immediately reply. "Almost any music of Handel's always means
one thing above all others to me: courage! That's it. It makes
cowardice of whining seem so infinitesimal--it makes MOST things
in our hustling little lives seem infinitesimal."
"Yes," he said. "It seems odd, doesn't it, that people down-town are
hurrying to trains and hanging to straps in trolley-cars, weltering
every way to get home and feed and sleep so they can get down-town
to-morrow. And yet there isn't anything down there worth getting to.
They're like servants drudging to keep the house going, and believing
the drudgery itself is the great thing. They make so much noise and
fuss and dirt they forget that the house was meant to live in. The
housework has to be done, but the people who do it have been so
overpaid that they're confused and worship the housework. They're
overpaid, and yet, poor things! they haven't anything that a chicken
can't have. Of course, when the world gets to paying its wages
sensibly that will be different."
"Do you mean 'communism'?" she asked, and she made their slow pace
a little slower--they had only three blocks to go.
"Whatever the word is, I only mean that things don't look very
sensible now--especially to a man that wants to keep out of 'em and
can't! 'Communism'? Well, at least any 'decent sport' would say it's
fair for all the strong runners to start from the same mark and give
the weak ones a fair distance ahead, so that all can run something
like even on the stretch. And wouldn't it be pleasant, really, if
they could all cross the winning-line together? Who really enjoys
beating anybody--if he sees the beaten man's face? The only way we
can enjoy getting ahead of other people nowadays is by forgetting what
the other people feel. And that," he added, "is nothing of what the
music meant to me. You see, if I keep talking about what it didn't
mean I can keep from telling you what it did mean."
"Didn't it mean courage to you, too--a little?" she asked. "Triumph
and praise were in it, and somehow those things mean courage to me."
"Yes, they were all there," Bibbs said. "I don't know the name of
what he played, but I shouldn't think it would matter much. The man
that makes the music must leave it to you what it can mean to you, and
the name he puts to it can't make much difference--except to himself
and people very much like him, I suppose."
"I suppose that's true, though I'd never thought of it like that."
"I imagine music must make feelings and paint pictures in the minds of
the people who hear it," Bibbs went on, musingly, "according to their
own natures as much as according to the music itself. The musician
might compose something and play it, wanting you to think of the Holy
Grail, and some people who heard it would think of a prayer-meeting,
and some would think of how good they were themselves, and a boy might
think of himself at the head of a solemn procession, carrying a banner
and riding a white horse. And then, if there were some jubilant
passages in the music, he'd think of a circus."
They had reached her gate, and she set her hand upon it, but did
not open it. Bibbs felt that this was almost the kindest of her
kindnesses--not to be prompt in leaving him.
"After all," she said, "you didn't tell me whether you liked it."
"No. I didn't need to."
"No, that's true, and I didn't need to ask. I knew. But you said
you were trying to keep from telling me what it did mean."
"I can't keep from telling it any longer," he said. "The music meant
to me--it meant the kindness of--of you."
"You thought I was a sort of lonely tramp--and sick--"
"No," she said, decidedly. "I thought perhaps you'd like to hear
Dr. Kraft play. And you did."
"It's curious; sometimes it seemed to me that it was you who were
Mary laughed. "I? I strum! Piano. A little Chopin--Grieg--
Chaminade. You wouldn't listen!"
Bibbs drew a deep breath. "I'm frightened again," he said, in an
unsteady voice. "I'm afraid you'll think I'm pushing, but--" He
paused, and the words sank to a murmur.
"Oh, if you want ME to play for you!" she said. "Yes, gladly. It
will be merely absurd after what you heard this afternoon. I play
like a hundred thousand other girls, and I like it. I'm glad when
any one's willing to listen, and if you--" She stopped, checked by
a sudden recollection, and laughed ruefully. "But my piano won't be
here after to-night. I--I'm sending it away to-morrow. I'm afraid
that if you'd like me to play to you you'd have to come this evening."
"You'll let me?" he cried.
"Certainly, if you care to."
"If I could play--" he said, wistfully, "if I could play like that
old man in the church I could thank you."
"Ah, but you haven't heard me play. I KNOW you liked this afternoon,
"Yes," said Bibbs. "It was the greatest happiness I've ever known."
It was too dark to see his face, but his voice held such plain
honesty, and he spoke with such complete unconsciousness of saying
anything especially significant, that she knew it was the truth.
For a moment she was nonplussed, then she opened the gate and went
in. "You'll come after dinner, then?"
"Yes," he said, not moving. "Would you mind if I stood here until
time to come in?"
She had reached the steps, and at that she turned, offering him the
response of laughter and a gay gesture of her muff toward the lighted
windows of the New House, as though bidding him to run home to his
That night, Bibbs sat writing in his note-book.
Music can come into a blank life, and fill it. Everything that
is beautiful is music, if you can listen.
There is no gracefulness like that of a graceful woman at a grand
piano. There is a swimming loveliness of line that seems to merge
with the running of the sound, and you seem, as you watch her, to
see what you are hearing and to hear what you are seeing.
There are women who make you think of pine woods coming down to
a sparkling sea. The air about such a woman is bracing, and when
she is near you, you feel strong and ambitious; you forget that
the world doesn't like you. You think that perhaps you are a great
fellow, after all. Then you come away and feel like a boy who has
fallen in love with his Sunday-school teacher. You'll be whipped
for it--and ought to be.
There are women who make you think of Diana, crowned with the moon.
But they do not have the "Greek profile." I do not believe Helen
of Troy had a "Greek profile"; they would not have fought about her
if her nose had been quite that long. The Greek nose is not the
adorable nose. The adorable nose is about an eighth of an inch
Much of the music of Wagner, it appears, is not suitable to the
piano. Wagner was a composer who could interpret into music such
things as the primitive impulses of humanity--he could have made a
machine-shop into music. But not if he had to work in it. Wagner
was always dealing in immensities--a machine-shop would have put a
majestic lump in so grand a gizzard as that.
There is a mystery about pianos, it seems. Sometimes they have to
be "sent away." That is how some people speak of the penitentiary.
"Sent away" is a euphuism for "sent to prison." But pianos are not
sent to prison, and they are not sent to the tuner--the tuner is
sent to them. Why are pianos "sent away"--and where?
Sometimes a glorious day shines into the most ordinary and useless
life. Happiness and beauty come caroling out of the air into the
gloomy house of that life as if some stray angel just happened to
perch on the roof-tree, resting and singing. And the night after
such a day is lustrous and splendid with the memory of it. Music
and beauty and kindness--those are the three greatest things God
can give us. To bring them all in one day to one who expected
nothing--ah! the heart that received them should be as humble as
it is thankful. But it is hard to be humble when one is so rich
with new memories. It is impossible to be humble after a day of
Yes--the adorable nose is more than an eighth of an inch shorter
than the Greek nose. It is a full quarter of an inch shorter.
There are women who will be kinder to a sick tramp than to a
conquering hero. But the sick tramp had better remember that's
what he is. Take care, take care! Humble's the word!
That "mystery about pianos" which troubled Bibbs had been a mystery
to Mr. Vertrees, and it was being explained to him at about the time
Bibbs scribbled the reference to it in his notes. Mary had gone
up-stairs upon Bibbs's departure at ten o'clock, and Mr. and Mrs.
Vertrees sat until after midnight in the library, talking. And in all
that time they found not one cheerful topic, but became more depressed
with everything and with every phase of everything that they discussed
--no extraordinary state of affairs in a family which has always "held
up its head," only to arrive in the end at a point where all it can
do is to look on helplessly at the processes of its own financial
dissolution. For that was the point which this despairing couple had
reached--they could do nothing except look on and talk about it. They
were only vaporing, and they knew it.
"She needn't to have done that about her piano," vapored Mr. Vertrees.
"We could have managed somehow without it. At least she ought to have
consulted me, and if she insisted I could have arranged the details
with the--the dealer."
"She thought that it might be--annoying for you," Mrs. Vertrees
explained. "Really, she planned for you not to know about it until
they had removed--until after to-morrow, that is, but I decided to--
to mention it. You see, she didn't even tell me about it until this
morning. She has another idea, too, I'm afraid. It's--it's--"
"Well?" he urged, as she found it difficult to go on.
"Her other idea is--that is, it was--I think it can be avoided,
of course--it was about her furs."
"No!" he exclaimed, quickly. "I won't have it! You must see to that.
I'd rather not talk to her about it, but you mustn't let her."
"I'll try not," his wife promised. "Of course, they're very
"All the more reason for her to keep them!" he returned, irritably.
"We're not THAT far gone, I think!"
"Perhaps not yet," Mrs. Vertrees said. "She seems to be troubled
about the--the coal matter and--about Tilly. Of course the piano
will take care of some things like those for a while and--"
"I don't like it. I gave her the piano to play on, not to--"
"You mustn't be distressed about it in ONE way," she said,
comfortingly. "She arranged with the--with the purchaser that
the men will come for it about half after five in the afternoon.
The days are so short now it's really quite winter."
"Oh, yes," he agreed, moodily. "So far as that goes people have a
right to move a piece of furniture without stirring up the neighbors,
I suppose, even by daylight. I don't suppose OUR neighbors are paying
much attention just now, though I hear Sheridan was back in his office
early the morning after the funeral."
Mrs. Vertrees made a little sound of commiseration. "I don't believe
that was because he wasn't suffering, though. I'm sure it was only
because he felt his business was so important. Mary told me he seemed
wrapped up in his son's succeeding; and that was what he bragged about
most. He isn't vulgar in his boasting, I understand; he doesn't talk
a great deal about his--his actual money--though there was something
about blades of grass that I didn't comprehend. I think he meant
something about his energy--but perhaps not. No, his bragging usually
seemed to be not so much a personal vainglory as about his family and
the greatness of this city."
"'Greatness of this city'!" Mr. Vertrees echoed, with dull bitterness.
"It's nothing but a coal-hole! I suppose it looks 'great' to the man
who has the luck to make it work for him. I suppose it looks 'great'
to any YOUNG man, too, starting out to make his fortune out of it.
The fellows that get what they want out of it say it's 'great,' and
everybody else gets the habit. But you have a different point of
view if it's the city that got what it wanted out of you! Of course
Sheridan says it's 'great'."
Mrs. Vertrees seemed unaware of this unusual outburst. "I believe,"
she began, timidly, "he doesn't boast of--that is, I understand he
has never seemed so interested in the--the other one."
Her husband's face was dark, but at that a heavier shadow fell upon
it; he looked more haggard than before. "'The other one'," he
repeated, averting his eyes. "You mean--you mean the third son--the
one that was here this evening?"
"Yes, the--the youngest," she returned, her voice so feeble it was
almost a whisper.
And then neither of them spoke for several long minutes. Nor did
either look at the other during that silence.
At last Mr. Vertrees contrived to cough, but not convincingly.
"What--ah--what was it Mary said about him out in the hall, when she
came in this afternoon? I heard you asking her something about him,
but she answered in such a low voice I didn't--ah--happen to catch
"She--she didn't say much. All she said was this: I asked her if she
had enjoyed her walk with him, and she said, 'He's the most wistful
creature I've ever known.'"
"That was all. He IS wistful-looking; and so fragile--though he
doesn't seem quite so much so lately. I was watching Mary from the
window when she went out to-day, and he joined her, and if I hadn't
known about him I'd have thought he had quite an interesting face."
"If you 'hadn't known about him'? Known what?"
"Oh, nothing, of course," she said, hurriedly. "Nothing definite,
that is. Mary said decidely, long ago, that he's not at all insane,
as we thought at first. It's only--well, of course it IS odd, their
attitude about him. I suppose it's some nervous trouble that makes
him--perhaps a little queer at times, so that he can't apply himself
to anything--or perhaps does odd things. But, after all, of course,
we only have an impression about it. We don't know--that is,
positively. I--" She paused, then went on: "I didn't know just
how to ask--that is--I didn't mention it to Mary. I didn't--I--"
The poor lady floundered pitifully, concluding with a mumble. "So
soon after--after the--the shock."
"I don't think I've caught more than a glimpse of him," said Mr.
Vertrees. "I wouldn't know him if I saw him, but your impression of
him is--" He broke off suddenly, springing to his feet in agitation.
"I can't image her--oh, NO!" he gasped. And he began to pace the
floor. "A half-witted epileptic!"
"No, no!" she cried. "He may be all right. We--"
"Oh, it's horrible! I can't--" He threw himself back into his chair
again, sweeping his hands across his face, then letting them fall
limply at his sides.
Mrs. Vertrees was tremulous. "You mustn't give way so," she said,
inspired for once almost to direct discourse. "Whatever Mary might
think of doing, it wouldn't be on her own account; it would be on
ours. But if WE should--should consider it, that wouldn't be on OUR
own account. It isn't because we think of ourselves."
"Oh God, no!" he groaned. "Not for us! We can go to the poorhouse,
but Mary can't be a stenographer!"
Sighing, Mrs. Vertrees resumed her obliqueness. "Of course," she
murmured, "it all seems very premature, speculating about such things,
but I had a queer sort of feeling that she seemed quite interested in
this--" She had almost said "in this one," but checked herself. "In
this young man. It's natural, of course; she is always so strong and
well, and he is--he seems to be, that is--rather appealing to the--the
"Yes!" he agreed, bitterly. "Precisely. The sympathies!"
"Perhaps," she faltered, "perhaps you might feel easier if I could
have a little talk with some one?"
"I had thought of--not going about it too brusquely, of course, but
perhaps just waiting for his name to be mentioned, if I happened to
be talking with somebody that knew the family--and then I might find
a chance to say that I was sorry to hear he'd been ill so much, and
--Something of that kind perhaps?"
"You don't know anybody that knows the family."
"Yes. That is--well, in a way, of course, one OF the family. That
Mrs. Roscoe Sheridan is not a--that is, she's rather a pleasant-faced
little woman, I think, and of course rather ordinary. I think she
is interested about--that is, of course, she'd be anxious to be more
intimate with Mary, naturally. She's always looking over here from
her house; she was looking out the window this afternoon when Mary
went out, I noticed--though I don't think Mary saw her. I'm sure she
wouldn't think it out of place to--to be frank about matters. She
called the other day, and Mary must rather like her--she said that
evening that the call had done her good. Don't you think it might
"Wise? I don't know. I feel the whole matter is impossible."
"Yes, so do I," she returned, promptly. "It isn't really a thing
we should be considering seriously, of course. Still--"
"I should say not! But possibly--"
Thus they skirmished up and down the field, but before they turned
the lights out and went up-stairs it was thoroughly understood between
them that Mrs. Vertrees should seek the earliest opportunity to obtain
definite information from Sibyl Sheridan concerning the mental and
physical status of Bibbs. And if he were subject to attacks of
lunacy, the unhappy pair decided to prevent the sacrifice they
supposed their daughter intended to make of herself. Altogether, if
there were spiteful ghosts in the old house that night, eavesdropping
upon the woeful comedy, they must have died anew of laughter!
Mrs. Vertrees's opportunity occurred the very next afternoon.
Darkness had fallen, and the piano-movers had come. They were
carrying the piano down the front steps, and Mrs. Vertrees was
standing in the open doorway behind them, preparing to withdraw,
when she heard a sharp exclamation; and Mrs. Roscoe Sheridan,
bareheaded, emerged from the shadow into the light of the doorway.
"Good gracious!" she cried. "It did give me a fright!"
"It's Mrs. Sheridan, isn't it?" Mrs. Vertrees was perplexed by this
informal appearance, but she reflected that it might be providential.
"Won't you come in?"
"No. Oh no, thank you!" Sibyl panted, pressing her hand to her side.
"You don't know what a fright you've given me! And it was nothing
but your piano!" She laughed shrilly. "You know, since our tragedy
coming so suddenly the other day, you have no idea how upset I've been
--almost hysterical! And I just glanced out of the window, a minute
or so ago, and saw your door wide open and black figures of men
against the light, carrying something heavy, and I almost fainted.
You see, it was just the way it looked when I saw them bringing my
poor brother-in-law in, next door, only such a few short days ago.
And I thought I'd seen your daughter start for a drive with Bibbs
Sheridan in a car about three o'clock--and--They aren't back yet,
"No. Good heavens!"
"And the only thing I could think of was that something must have
happened to them, and I just dashed over--and it was only your PIANO!"
She broke into laughter again. "I suppose you're just sending it
somewhere to be repaired, aren't you?"
"It's--it's being taken down-town," said Mrs. Vertrees. "Won't you
come in and make me a little visit. I was SO sorry, the other day,
that I was--ah--" She stopped inconsequently, then repeated her
invitation. "Won't you come in? I'd really--"
"Thank you, but I must be running back. My husband usually gets home
about this time, and I make a little point of it always to be there."
"That's very sweet." Mrs. Vertrees descended the steps and walked
toward the street with Sibyl. "It's quite balmy for so late in
November, isn't it? Almost like a May evening."
"I'm afraid Miss Vertrees will miss her piano," said Sibyl, watching
the instrument disappear into the big van at the curb. "She plays
wonderfully, Mrs. Kittersby tells me."
"Yes, she plays very well. One of your relatives came to hear her
yesterday, after dinner, and I think she played all evening for him."
"You mean Bibbs?" asked Sibyl.
"The--the youngest Mr. Sheridan. Yes. He's very musical, isn't he?"
"I never heard of it. But I shouldn't think it would matter much
whether he was or not, if he could get Miss Vertrees to play to him.
Does your daughter expect the piano back soon?"
"I--I believe not immediately. Mr. Sheridan came last evening to
hear her play because she had arranged with the--that is, it was
to be removed this afternoon. He seems almost well again."
"Yes." Sibyl nodded. "His father's going to try to start him to
"He seems very delicate," said Mrs. Vertrees. "I shouldn't think
he would be able to stand a great deal, either physically or--" She
paused and then added, glowing with the sense of her own adroitness
"Oh, mentally Bibbs is all right," said Sibyl, in an odd voice.
"Entirely?" Mrs. Vertrees asked, breathlessly.
"But has he ALWAYS been?" This question came with the same anxious
"Certainly. He had a long siege of nervous dyspepsia, but he's over
"And you think--"
"Bibbs is all right. You needn't wor--" Sibyl choked, and pressed
her handkerchief to her mouth. "Good night, Mrs. Vertrees," she said,
hurriedly, as the head-lights of an automobile swung round the corner
above, sending a brightening glare toward the edge of the pavement
where the two ladies were standing.
"Won't you come in?" urged Mrs. Vertrees, cordially, hearing the sound
of a cheerful voice out of the darkness beyond the approaching glare.
"Do! There's Mary now, and she--"
But Sibyl was half-way across the street. "No, thanks," she called.
"I hope she won't miss her piano!" And she ran into her own house
and plunged headlong upon a leather divan in the hall, holding her
handkerchief over her mouth.
The noise of her tumultuous entrance was evidently startling in the
quiet house, for upon the bang of the door there followed the crash
of a decanter, dropped upon the floor of the dining-room at the end
of the hall; and, after a rumble of indistinct profanity, Roscoe
came forth, holding a dripping napkin in his hand.
"What's your excitement?" he demanded. "What do you find to go
into hysterics over? Another death in the family?"
"Oh, it's funny! she gasped. "Those old frost-bitten people! I guess
THEY'RE getting their come-uppance!" Lying prone, she elevated her
feet in the air, clapped her heels together repeatedly, in an ecstasy.
"Come through, come through!" said her husband, crossly. "What you
been up to?"
"Me?" she cried, dropping her feet and swinging around to face him.
"Nothing. It's them! Those Vertreeses!" She wiped her eyes.
"They've had to sell their piano!"
"Well, what of it?"
"That Mrs. Kittersby told me all about 'em a week ago," said Sibyl.
"They've been hard up for a long time, and she says as long ago as
last winter she knew that girl got a pair of walking-shoes re-soled
and patched, because she got it done the same place Mrs. Kittersby's
cook had HERS! And the night of the house-warming I kind of got
suspicious, myself. She didn't have one single piece of any kind of
real jewelry, and you could see her dress was an old one done over.
Men can't tell those things, and you all made a big fuss over her,
but I thought she looked a sight, myself! Of course, EDITH was
crazy to have her, and--"
"Well, well?" he urged, impatiently.
"Well, I'm TELLING you! Mrs. Kittersby says they haven't got a THING!
Just absolutely NOTHING--and they don't know anywhere to turn! The
family's all died out but them, and all the relatives they got are
very distant, and live East and scarcely know 'em. She says the whole
town's been wondering what WOULD become of 'em. The girl had plenty
chances to marry up to a year or so ago, but she was so indifferent
she scared the men off, and the ones that had wanted to went and
married other girls. Gracious! they were lucky! Marry HER? The man
that found himself tied up to THAT girl--"
"Terrible funny, terrible funny!" said Roscoe, with sarcasm. "It's
so funny I broke a cut-glass decanter and spilled a quart of--"
"Wait!" she begged. "You'll see. I was sitting by the window a
little while ago, and I saw a big wagon drive up across the street
and some men go into the house. It was too dark to make out much,
and for a minute I got the idea they were moving out--the house
has been foreclosed on, Mrs. Kittersby says. It seemed funny, too,
because I knew that girl was out riding with Bibbs. Well, I thought
I'd see, so I slipped over--and it was their PIANO! They'd sold it
and were trying to sneak it out after dark, so nobody'd catch on!"
Again she gave way to her enjoyment, but resumed, as her husband
seemed about to interrupt the narrative. "Wait a minute, can't you?
The old lady was superintending, and she gave it all away. I sized
her up for one of those old churchy people that tell all kinds of
lies except when it comes to so many words, and then they can't.
She might just as well told me outright! Yes, they'd sold it; and
I hope they'll pay some of their debts. They owe everybody, and last
week a coal-dealer made an awful fuss at the door with Mr. Vertrees.
Their cook told our upstairs girl, and she said she didn't know WHEN
she'd seen any money, herself! Did you ever hear of such a case as
that girl in your LIFE?"
"What girl? Their cook?"
"That Vertrees girl! Don't you see they looked on our coming up into
this neighborhood as their last chance? They were just going down and
out, and here bobs up the green, rich Sheridan family! So they doll
the girl up in her old things, made over, and send her out to get a
Sheridan--she's GOT to get one! And she just goes in blind; and she
tries it on first with YOU. You remember, she just plain TOLD you
she was going to mash you, and then she found out you were the married
one, and turned right square around to Jim and carried him off his
feet. Oh, Jim was landed--there's no doubt about THAT! But Jim was
lucky; he didn't live to STAY landed, and it's a good thing for him!"
Sibyl's mirth had vanished, and she spoke with virulent rapidity.
"Well, she couldn't get you, because you were married, and she
couldn't get Jim, because Jim died. And there they were, dead broke!
Do you know what she did? Do you know what she's DOING?"
"No, I don't," said Roscoe, gruffly.
Sibyl's voice rose and culminated in a scream of renewed hilarity.
"BIBBS! She waited in the grave-yard, and drove home with him from
JIM'S FUNERAL! Never spoke to him before! Jim wasn't COLD!"
She rocked herself back and forth upon the divan. "Bibbs!" she
shrieked. "Bibbs! Roscoe, THINK of it! BIBBS!"
He stared unsympathetically, but her mirth was unabated for all that.
"And yesterday," she continued, between paroxysms--"yesterday she came
out of the house--just as he was passing. She must have been looking
out--waiting for the chance; I saw the old lady watching at the
window! And she got him there last night--to 'PLAY' to him; the
old lady gave that away! And to-day she made him take her out in a
machine! And the cream of it is that they didn't even know whether he
was INSANE or not--they thought maybe he was, but she went after him
just the same! The old lady set herself to pump me about it to-day.
BIBBS! Oh, my Lord! BIBBS!"
But Roscoe looked grim. "So it's funny to you, is it? It sounds
kind of pitiful to me. I should think it would to a woman, too."
"Oh, it might," she returned, sobering. "It might, if those people
weren't such frozen-faced smart Alecks. If they'd had the decency
to come down off the perch a little I probably wouldn't think it was
funny, but to see 'em sit up on their pedestal all the time they're
eating dirt--well, I think it's funny! That girl sits up as if she
was Queen Elizabeth, and expects people to wallow on the ground before
her until they get near enough for her to give 'em a good kick with
her old patched shoes--oh, she'd do THAT, all right!--and then she
powders up and goes out to mash--BIBBS SHERIDAN!"
"Look here," said Roscoe, heavily; "I don't care about that one way
or another. If you're through, I got something I want to talk to you
about. I was going to, that day just before we heard about Jim."
At this Sibyl stiffened quickly; her eyes became intensely bright.
"What is it?"
"Well," he began, frowning, "what I was going to say then--" He broke
off, and, becoming conscious that he was still holding the wet napkin
in his hand, threw it pettishly into a corner. "I never expected I'd
have to say anything like this to anybody I MARRIED; but I was going
to ask you what was the matter between you and Lamhorn."
Sibyl uttered a sharp monosyllable. "Well?"
"I felt the time had come for me to know about it," he went on.
"You never told me anything--"
"You never asked," she interposed, curtly.
"Well, we'd got in a way of not talking much," said Roscoe. "It
looks to me now as if we'd pretty much lost the run of each other
the way a good many people do. I don't say it wasn't my fault.
I was up early and down to work all day, and I'd come home tired
at night, and want to go to bed soon as I'd got the paper read--
unless there was some good musical show in town. Well, you seemed
all right until here lately, the last month or so, I began to see
something was wrong. I couldn't help seeing it."
"Wrong?" she said. "What like?"
"You changed; you didn't look the same. You were all strung up and
excited and fidgety; you got to looking peakid and run down. Now
then, Lamhorn had been going with us a good while, but I noticed
that not long ago you got to picking on him about every little thing
he did; you got to quarreling with him when I was there and when I
wasn't. I could see you'd been quarreling whenever I came in and he
"Do you object to that?" asked Sibyl, breathing quickly.
"Yes--when it injures my wife's health!" he returned, with a quick
lift of his eyes to hers. "You began to run down just about the time
you began falling out with him." He stepped close to her. "See here,
Sibyl, I'm going to know what it means."
"Oh, you ARE?" she snapped.
"You're trembling," he said, gravely.
"Yes. I'm angry enough to do more than tremble, you'll find. Go on!"
"That was all I was going to say the other day," he said. "I was
going to ask you--"
"Yes, that was all you were going to say THE OTHER DAY. Yes. What
else have you to say to-night?"
"To-night," he replied, with grim swiftness, "I want to know why you
keep telephoning him you want to see him since he stopped coming
She made a long, low sound of comprehension before she said, "And
what else did Edith want you to ask me?"
"I want to know what you say over the telephone to Lamhorn," he said,
"Is that all Edith told you to ask me? You saw her when you stopped
in there on your way home this evening, didn't you? Didn't she tell
you then what I said over the telephone to Mr. Lamhorn?"
"No, she didn't!" he vociferated, his voice growing louder. "She
said, 'You tell your wife to stop telephoning Robert Lamhorn to come
and see her, because he isn't going to do it!' That's what she said!
And I want to know what it means. I intend--"
A maid appeared at the lower end of the hall. "Dinner is ready," she
said, and, giving the troubled pair one glance, went demurely into
the dining-room. Roscoe disregarded the interruption.
"I intend to know exactly what has been going on," he declared.
"I mean to know just what--"
Sibyl jumped up, almost touching him, standing face to face with him.
"Oh, you DO!" she cried, shrilly. "You mean to know just what's what,
do you? You listen to your sister insinuating ugly things about your
wife, and then you come home making a scene before the servants and
humiliating me in their presence! Do you suppose that Irish girl
didn't hear every word you said? You go in there and eat your dinner
alone! Go on! Go and eat your dinner alone--because I won't eat with
And she broke away from the detaining grasp he sought to fasten upon
her, and dashed up the stairway, panting. He heard the door of her
room slam overhead, and the sharp click of the key in the lock.
At seven o'clock on the last morning of that month, Sheridan, passing
through the upper hall on his way to descend the stairs for breakfast,
found a couple of scribbled sheets of note-paper lying on the floor.
A window had been open in Bibbs's room the evening before; he had left
his note-book on the sill--and the sheets were loose. The door was
open, and when Bibbs came in and closed it, he did not notice that
the two sheets had blown out into the hall. Sheridan recognized the
handwriting and put the sheets in his coat pocket, intending to give
them to George or Jackson for return to the owner, but he forgot and
carried them down-town with him. At noon he found himself alone in
his office, and, having a little leisure, remembered the bits of
manuscript, took them out, and glanced at them. A grance was enough
to reveal that they were not epistolary. Sheridan would not have
read a "private letter" that came into his possession in that way,
though in a "matter of business" he might have felt it his duty
to take advantage of an opportunity afforded in any manner whatsoever.
Having satisfied himself that Bibbs's scribblings were only a sample
of the kind of writing his son preferred to the machine-shop, he
decided, innocently enough, that he would be justified in reading
It appears that a lady will nod pleasantly upon some windy
generalization of a companion, and will wear the most agreeable
expression of accepting it as the law, and then--days afterward,
when the thing is a mummy to its promulgator--she will inquire out
of a clear sky: "WHY did you say that the people down-town have
nothing in life that a chicken hasn't? What did you mean?" And she
may say it in a manner that makes a sensible reply very difficult
--you will be so full of wonder that she remembered so seriously.
Yet, what does the rooster lack? He has food and shelter; he is
warm in winter; his wives raise not one fine family for him, but
dozens. He has a clear sky over him; he breathes sweet air; he
walks in his April orchard under a roof of flowers. He must die,
violently perhaps, but quickly. Is Midas's cancer a better way?
The rooster's wives and children must die. Are those of Midas
immortal? His life is shorter than the life of Midas, but Midas's
life is only a sixth as long as that of the Galapagos tortoise.
The worthy money-worker takes his vacation so that he may refresh
himself anew for the hard work of getting nothing that the rooster
doesn't get. The office-building has an elevator, the rooster
flies up to the bough. Midas has a machine to take him to his work;
the rooster finds his worm underfoot. The "business man" feels
a pressure sometimes, without knowing why, and sits late at wine
after the day's labor; next morning he curses his head because it
interferes with the work--he swears never to relieve that pressure
again. The rooster has no pressure and no wine; this difference is
in his favor.
The rooster is a dependent; he depends upon the farmer and the
weather. Midas is a dependent; he depends upon the farmer and the
weather. The rooster thinks only of the moment; Midas provides for
to-morrow. What does he provide for to-morrow? Nothing that the
rooster will not have without providing.
The rooster and the prosperous worker: they are born, they grub,
they love; they grub and love grubbing; they grub and they die.
Neither knows beauty; neither knows knowledge. And after all, when
Midas dies and the rooster dies, there is one thing Midas has had
and rooster has not. Midas has had the excitement of accumulating
what he has grubbed, and that has been his life and his love and
his god. He cannot take that god with him when he dies. I wonder
if the worthy gods are those we can take with us.
Midas must teach all to be as Midas; the young must be raised in
The manuscript ended there, and Sheridan was not anxious for more.
He crumpled the sheets into a ball, depositing it (with vigor) in
a waste-basket beside him; then, rising, he consulted a Cyclopedia
of Names, which a book-agent had somehow sold to him years before;
a volume now first put to use for the location of "Midas." Having
read the legend, Sheridan walked up and down the spacious office,
exhaling the breath of contempt. "Dam' fool!" he mumbled. But
this was no new thought, nor was the contrariness of Bibbs's notes
a surpise to him; and presently he dismissed the matter from his
He felt very lonely, and this was, daily, his hardest hour. For
a long time he and Jim had lunched together habitually. Roscoe
preferred a club luncheon, but Jim and his father almost always went
to a small restaurant near the Sheridan Building, where they spent
twenty minutes in the consumption of food, and twenty in talk, with
cigars. Jim came for his father every day, at five minutes after
twelve, and Sheridan was again in his office at five minutes before
one. But now that Jim no longer came, Sheridan remained alone in
his office; he had not gone out to lunch since Jim's death, nor did
he have anything sent to him--he fasted until evening.
It was the time he missed Jim personally the most--the voice and eyes
and handshake, all brisk and alert, all business-like. But these
things were not the keenest in Sheridan's grief; his sense of loss
went far deeper. Roscoe was dependable, a steady old wheel-horse, and
that was a great comfort; but it was in Jim that Sheridan had most
happily perceived his own likeness. Jim was the one who would have
been surest to keep the great property growing greater, year by year.
Sheridan had fallen asleep, night after night, picturing what the
growth would be under Jim. He had believed that Jim was absolutely
certain to be one of the biggest men in the country. Well, it was all
up to Roscoe now!
That reminded him of a question he had in mind to ask Roscoe. It was
a question Sheridan considered of no present importance, but his wife
had suggested it--though vaguely--and he had meant to speak to Roscoe
about it. However, Roscoe had not come into his father's office for
several days, and when Sheridan had seen his son at home there had
been no opportunity.
He waited until the greater part of his day's work was over, toward
four o'clock, and then went down to Roscoe's office, which was on a
lower floor. He found several men waiting for business interviews in
an outer room of the series Roscoe occupied; and he supposed that he
would find his son busy with others, and that his question would have
to be postponed, but when he entered the door marked "R. C. Sheridan.
Private," Roscoe was there alone.
He was sitting with his back to the door, his feet on a window-sill,
and he did not turn as his father opened the door.
"Some pretty good men out there waitin' to see you, my boy," said
Sheridan. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing," Roscoe answered indistinctly, not moving.
"Well, I guess that's all right, too. I let 'em wait sometimes
myself! I just wanted to ask you a question, but I expect it'll
keep, if you're workin' something out in your mind!"
Roscoe made no reply; and his father, who had turned to the door,
paused with his hand on the knob, staring curiously at the motionless
figure in the chair. Usually the son seemed pleased and eager when
he came to the office. "You're all right, ain't you?" said Sheridan.
"Not sick, are you?"
Sheridan was puzzled; then, abruptly, he decided to ask his question.
"I wanted to talk to you about that young Lamhorn," he said. "I guess
your mother thinks he's comin' to see Edith pretty often, and you
known him longer'n any of us, so--"
"I won't," said Roscoe, thickly--"I won't say a dam' thing about him!"
Sheridan uttered an exclamation and walked quickly to a position near
the window where he could see his son's face. Roscoe's eyes were
bloodshot and vacuous; his hair was disordered, his mouth was
distorted, and he was deathly pale. The father stood aghast.
"By George!" he muttered. "ROSCOE!"
"My name," said Roscoe. "Can' help that."
"ROSCOE!" Blank astonishment was Sheridan's first sensation.
Probably nothing in the world could have more amazed his than to find
Roscoe--the steady old wheel-horse--in this condition. "How'd you
GET this way?" he demanded. "You caught cold and took too much for
For reply Roscoe laughed hoarsely. "Yeuh! Cold! I been drinkun all
time, lately. Firs' you notice it?"
"By George!" cried Sheridan. "I THOUGHT I'd smelt it on you a good
deal lately, but I wouldn't 'a' believed you'd take more'n was good
for you. Boh! To see you like a common hog!"
Roscoe chuckled and threw out his right arm in a meaningless gesture.
"Hog!" he repeated, chuckling.
"Yes, a hog!" said Sheridan, angrily. "In business hours! I don't
object to anybody's takin' a drink if you wants to, out o' business
hours; nor, if a man keeps his work right up to the scratch, I
wouldn't be the one to baste him if he got good an' drunk once in two,
three years, maybe. It ain't MY way. I let it alone, but I never
believed in forcin' my way on a grown-up son in moral matters. I
guess I was wrong! You think them men out there are waitin' to talk
business with a drunkard? You think you can come to your office and
do business drunk? By George! I wonder how often this has been
happening and me not on to it! I'll have a look over your books
to-morrow, and I'll--"
Roscoe stumbled to his feet, laughing wildly, and stood swaying,
contriving to hold himself in position by clutching the back of
the heavy chair in which he had been sitting.
"Hoo--hoorah!" he cried. "'S my principles, too. Be drunkard all
you want to--outside business hours. Don' for Gossake le'n'thing
innerfere business hours! Business! Thassit! You're right, father.
Drink! Die! L'everything go to hell, but DON' let innerfere
Sheridan had seized the telephone upon Roscoe's desk, and was calling
his own office, overhead. "Abercrombie? Come down to my son Roscoe's
suite and get rid of some gentlemen that are waitin' there to see him
in room two-fourteen. There's Maples and Schirmer and a couple o'
fellows on the Kinsey business. Tell 'em something's come up I have
to go over with Roscoe, and tell 'em to come back day after to-morrow
at two. You needn't come in to let me know they're gone; we don't
want to be disturbed. Tell Pauly to call my house and send Claus down
here with a closed car. We may have to go out. Tell him to hustle,
and call me at Roscoe's room as soon as the car gets here. 'T's all!"
Roscoe had laughed bitterly throughout this monologue. "Drunk in
business hours! Thass awf'l! Mus'n' do such thing! Mus'n' get
drunk, mus'n' gamble, mus'n' kill 'nybody--not in business hours!
All right any other time. Kill 'nybody you want to--'s long 'tain't
in business hours! Fine! Mus'n' have any trouble 't'll innerfere
business. Keep your trouble 't home. Don' bring it to th' office.
Might innerfere business! Have funerals on Sunday--might innerfere
business! Don' let your wife innerfere business! Keep all, all, ALL
your trouble an' your meanness, an' your trad--your tradegy--keep 'em
ALL for home use! If you got die, go on die 't home--don' die round
th' office! Might innerfere business!"
Sheridan picked up a newspaper from Roscoe's desk, and sat down with
his back to his son, affecting to read. Roscoe seemed to be unaware
of his father's significant posture.
"You know wh' I think?" he went on. "I think Bibbs only one the
fam'ly any 'telligence at all. Won' work, an' di'n' get married.
Jim worked, an' he got killed. I worked, an' I got married. Look
at me! Jus' look at me, I ask you. Fine 'dustriss young business
man. Look whass happen' to me! Fine!" He lifted his hand from
the sustaining chair in a deplorable gesture, and, immediately
losing his balance, fell across the chair and caromed to the floor
with a crash, remaining prostrate for several minutes, during which
Sheridan did not relax his apparent attention to the newspaper.
He did not even look round at the sound of Roscoe's fall.
Roscoe slowly climbed to an upright position, pulling himself up
by holding to the chair. He was slightly sobered outwardly, having
progressed in the prostrate interval to a state of befuddlement less
volatile. He rubbed his dazed eyes with the back of his left hand.
"What--what you ask me while ago?" he said.
"Yes, you did. What--what was it?"
"Nothin'. You better sit down."
"You ask' me what I thought about Lamhorn. You did ask me that.
Well, I won't tell you. I won't say dam' word 'bout him!"
The telephone-bell tinkled. Sheridan placed the receiver to his ear
and said, "Right down." Then he got Roscoe's coat and hat from a
closet and brought them to his son. "Get into this coat," he said.
"You're goin' home."
"All ri'," Roscoe murmured, obediently.
They went out into the main hall by a side door, not passing through
the outer office; and Sheridan waited for an empty elevator, stopped
it, and told the operator to take on no more passengers until they
reached the ground floor. Roscoe walked out of the building and got
into the automobile without lurching, and twenty minutes later walked
into his own house in the same manner, neither he nor his father
having spoken a word in the interval.
Sheridan did not go in with him; he went home, and to his own room
without meeting any of his family. But as he passed Bibbs's door he
heard from within the sound of a cheerful young voice humming jubilant
fragments of song:
WHO looks a mustang in the eye?... With a leap from the ground to the
saddle in a bound. And away--and away! Hi-yay!
It was the first time in Sheridan's life that he had ever detected any
musical symptom whatever in Bibbs--he had never even heard him whistle
--and it seemed the last touch of irony that the useless fool should
be merry to-day.
To Sheridan it was Tom o' Bedlam singing while the house burned; and
he did not tarry to enjoy the melody, but went into his own room and
locked the door.
He emerged only upon a second summons to dinner, two hours later, and
came to the table so white and silent that his wife made her anxiety
manifest and was but partially reassured by his explanation that his
lunch had "disagreed" with him a little.
Presently, however, he spoke effectively. Bibbs, whose appetite had
become hearty, was helping himself to a second breast of capon from
white-jacket's salver. "Here's another difference between Midas and
chicken," Sheridan remarked, grimly. "Midas can eat rooster, but
rooster can't eat Midas. I reckon you overlooked that. Midas looks
to me like he had the advantage there."
Bibbs retained enough presence of mind to transfer the capon breast to
his plate without dropping it and to respond, "Yes--he crows over it."
Having returned his antagonists's fire in this fashion, he blushed--
for he could blush distinctly now--and his mother looked upon him with
pleasure, thought the reference to Midas and roosters was of course
jargon to her. "Did you ever see anybody improve the way that child
has!" she exclaimed. "I declare, Bibbs, sometimes lately you look
"He's got to be such a gadabout," Edith giggled.
"I found something of his on the floor up-stairs this morning, before
anybody was up," said Sheridan. "I reckon if people lose things in
this house and expect to get 'em back, they better get up as soon as
"What was it he lost?" asked Edith.
"He knows!" her father returned. "Seems to me like I forgot to bring
it home with me. I looked it over--thought probably it was something
pretty important, belongin' to a busy man like him." He affected to
search his pockets. "What DID I do with it, now? Oh yes! Seems to
me like I remember leavin' it down at the office--in the waste-
"Good place for it," Bibbs murmured, still red.
Sheridan gave him a grin. "Perhaps pretty soon you'll be gettin' up
early enough to find things before I do!"
It was a threat, and Bibbs repeated the substance of it, later in the
evening, to Mary Vertrees--they had come to know each other that well.
"My time's here at last," he said, as they sat together in the
melancholy gas-light of the room which had been denuded of its piano.
That removal had left an emptiness so distressing to Mr. and Mrs.
Vertrees that neither of them had crossed the threshold since the dark
day; but the gas-light, though from a single jet, shed no melancholy
upon Bibbs, nor could any room seem bare that knew the glowing
presence of Mary. He spoke lightly, not sadly.
"Yes, it's come. I've shirked and put off, but I can't shirk and put
off any longer. It's really my part to go to him--at least it would
save my face. He means what he says, and the time's come to serve my
sentence. Hard labor for life, I think."
Mary shook her head. "I don't think so. He's too kind."
"You think my father's KIND?" And Bibbs stared at her.
"Yes. I'm sure of it. I've felt that he has a great, brave heart.
It's only that he has to be kind in his own way--because he can't
understand any other way."
"Ah yes," said Bibbs. "If that's what you mean by 'kind'!"
She looked at him gravely, earnest concern in her friendly eyes.
"It's going to be pretty hard for you, isn't it?"
"Oh--self-pity!" he returned, smiling. "This has been just the last
flicker of revolt. Nobody minds work if he likes the kind of work.
There'd be no loafers in the world if each man found the thing that
he could do best; but the only work I happen to want to do is useless
--so I have to give it up. To-morrow I'll be a day-laborer."
"What is it like--exactly?"
"I get up at six," he said. "I have a lunch-basket to carry with me,
which is aristocratic and no advantage. The other workmen have tin
buckets, and tin buckets are better. I leave the house at six-thirty,
and I'm at work in my overalls at seven. I have an hour off at noon,
and work again from one till five."
"But the work itself?"
"It wasn't muscularly exhausting--not at all. They couldn't give me
a heavier job because I wasn't good enough."
"But what will you do? I want to know."
"When I left," said Bibbs, "I was 'on' what they call over there
a 'clipping-machine,' in one of the 'by-products' departments, and
that's what I'll be sent back to."
"But what is it?" she insisted.
Bibbs explained. "It's very simple and very easy. I feed long strips
of zinc into a pair of steel jaws, and the jaws bite the zinc into
little circles. All I have to do is to see that the strip goes into
the jaws at a certain angle--and yet I was a very bad hand at it."
He had kept his voice cheerful as he spoke, but he had grown a shade
paler, and there was a latent anguish deep in his eyes. He may have
known it and wished her not to see it, for he turned away.
"You do that all day long?" she asked, and as he nodded, "It seems
incredible!" she exclaimed. "YOU feeding a strip of zinc into a
machine nine hours a day! No wonder--" She broke off, and then,
after a keen glance at his face, she said: "I should think you WOULD
have been a 'bad hand at it'!"
He laughed ruefully. "I think it's the noise, though I'm ashamed to
say it. You see, it's a very powerful machine, and there's a sort of
rhythmical crashing--a crash every time the jaws bite off a circle."
"How often is that?"
"The thing should make about sixty-eight disks a minute--a little more
than one a second."
"And you're close to it?"
"Oh, the workman has to sit in its lap," he said, turning to her more
gaily. "The others don't mind. You see, it's something wrong with
me. I have an idiotic way of flinching from the confounded thing--I
flinch and duck a little every time the crash comes, and I couldn't
get over it. I was a treat to the other workmen in that room; they'll
be glad to see me back. They used to laugh at me all day long."
Mary's gaze was averted from Bibbs now; she sat with her elbow resting
on the arm of the chair, her lifted hand pressed against her cheek.
She was staring at the wall, and her eyes had a burning brightness in
"It doesn't seem possible any one could do that to you," she said, in
a low voice. "No. He's not kind. He ought to be proud to help you
to the leisure to write books; it should be his greatest privilege to
have them published for you--"
"Can't you SEE him?" Bibbs interrupted, a faint ripple of hilarity in
his voice. "If he could understand what you're saying--and if you can
imagine his taking such a notion, he'd have had R. T. Bloss put up
posters all over the country: 'Read B. Sheridan. Read the Poet with
a Punch!' No. It's just as well he never got the--But what's the
use? I've never written anything worth printing, and I never shall."
"You could!" she said.
"That's because you've never seen the poor little things I've tried
"You wouldn't let me, but I KNOW you could! Ah, it's a pity!"
"It isn't," said BIBBS, honestly. "I never could--but you're the
kindest lady in this world, Miss Vertrees."
She gave him a flashing glance, and it was as kind as he said she was.
"That sounds wrong," she said, impulsively. "I mean 'Miss Vertrees.'
I've thought of you by your first name ever since I met you. Wouldn't
you rather call me 'Mary'?"
Bibbs was dazzled; he drew a long, deep breath and did not speak.
"Wouldn't you?" she asked, without a trace of coquetry.
"If I CAN!" he said, in a low voice.
"Ah, that's very pretty!" she laughed. "You're such an honest person,
it's pleasant to have you gallant sometimes, by way of variety."
She became grave again immediately. "I hear myself laughing as if
it were some one else. It sounds like laughter on the eve of a great
calamity." She got up restlessly, crossed the room and leaned against
the wall, facing him. "You've GOT to go back to that place?"
"And the other time you did it--"
"Just over it," said Bibbs. "Two years. But I don't mind the
prospect of a repetition so much as--"
"So much as what?" she prompted, as he stopped.
Bibbs looked up at her shyly. "I want to say it, but--but I come
to a dead balk when I try. I--"
"Go on. Say it, whatever it is," she bade him. "You wouldn't know
how to say anything I shouldn't like."
"I doubt if you'd either like or dislike what I want to say," he
returned, moving uncomfortably in his chair and looking at his feet--
he seemed to feel awkward, thoroughly. "You see, all my life--until
I met you--if I ever felt like saying anything, I wrote it instead.
Saying things is a new trick for me, and this--well, it's just this:
I used to feel as if I hadn't ever had any sort of a life at all. I'd
never been of use to anything or anybody, and I'd never had anything,
myself, except a kind of haphazard thinking. But now it's different--
I'm still of no use to anybody, and I don't see any prospect of being
useful, but I have had something for myself. I've had a beautiful
and happy experience, and it makes my life seem to be--I mean I'm
glad I've lived it! That's all; it's your letting me be near you
sometimes, as you have, this strange, beautiful, happy little while!"
He did not once look up, and reached silence, at the end of what he
had to say, with his eyes still awkwardly regarding his feet. She did
not speak, but a soft rustling of her garments let him know that she
had gone back to her chair again. The house was still; the shabby
old room was so quiet that the sound of a creaking in the wall seemed
sharp and loud.
And yet, when Mary spoke at last, her voice was barely audible.
"If you think it has been--happy--to be friends with me--you'd want
to--to make it last."
"Yes," said Bibbs, as faintly.
"You'd want to go on being my friend as long as we live, wouldn't
"Yes," he gulped.
"But you make that kind of speech to me because you think it's over."
He tried to evade her. "Oh, a day-laborer can't come in his
"No," she interrupted, with a sudden sharpness. "You said what you
did because you think the shop's going to kill you."
"Yes, you do think that!" She rose to her feet again and came and
stood before him. "Or you think it's going to send you back to the
sanitarium. Don't deny it, Bibbs. There! See how easily I call you
that! You see I'm a friend, or I couldn't do it. Well, if you meant
what you said--and you did mean it, I know it!--you're not going to go
back to the sanitarium. The shop sha'n't hurt you. It sha'n't!"
And now Bibbs looked up. She stood before him, straight and tall,
splendid in generous strength, her eyes shining and wet.
"If I mean THAT much to you," she cried, "they can't harm you! Go
back to the shop--but come to me when your day's work is done. Let
the machines crash their sixty-eight times a minute, but remember
each crash that deafens you is that much nearer the evening and me!"
He stumbled to his feet. "You say--" he gasped.
"Every evening, dear Bibbs!"
He could only stare, bewildered.
"EVERY evening. I want you. They sha'n't hurt you again!" And she
held out her hand to him; it was strong and warm in his tremulous
clasp. "If I could, I'd go and feed the strips of zinc to the machine
with you," she said. "But all day long I'll send my thoughts to you.
You must keep remembering that your friend stands beside you. And
when the work is done--won't the night make up for the day?"
Light seemed to glow from her; he was blinded by that radiance of
kindness. But all he could say was, huskily, "To think you're there
--with me--standing beside the old zinc-eater--"
And they laughed and looked at each other, and at last Bibbs found
what it meant not to be alone in the world. He had a friend.
When he came into the New House, a few minutes later, he found his
father sitting alone by the library fire. Bibbs went in and stood
before him. "I'm cured, father," he said. "When do I go back to
the shop? I'm ready."