Part 4 out of 6
The desolate and grim old man did not relax. "I was sittin' up to
give you a last chance to say something like that. I reckon it's
about time! I just wanted to see if you'd have manhood enough not
to make me take you over there by the collar. Last night I made up
my mind I'd give you just one more day. Well, you got to it before
I did--pretty close to the eleventh hour! All right. Start in
to-morrow. It's the first o' the month. Think you can get up in
"Six o'clock," Bibbs responded, briskly. "And I want to tell you--
I'm going in a 'cheerful spirit.' As you said, I'll go and I'll
"That's YOUR lookout!" his father grunted. "They'll put you back on
the clippin'-machine. You get nine dollars a week."
"More than I'm worth, too," said Bibbs, cheerily. "That reminds me,
I didn't mean YOU by 'Midas' in that nonsense I'd been writing. I
"Makes a hell of a lot o' difference what you meant!"
"I just wanted you to know. Good night, father."
The sound of the young man's footsteps ascending the stairs became
inaudible, and the house was quiet. But presently, as Sheridan sat
staring angrily at the fire, the shuffling of a pair of slipers
could be heard descending, and Mrs. Sheridan made her appearance,
her oblique expression and the state of her toilette being those of
a person who, after trying unsuccessfully to sleep on one side, has
got up to look for burglars.
"Papa!" she exclaimed, drowsily. "Why'n't you go to bed? It must be
goin' on 'leven o'clock!"
She yawned, and seated herself near him, stretching out her hands to
the fire. "What's the matter?" she asked, sleep and anxiety striving
sluggishly with each other in her voice. "I knew you were worried all
dinner-time. You got something new on your mind besides Jim's bein'
taken away like he was. What's worryin' you now, papa?"
She jeered feebly. "N' tell ME that! You sat up to see Bibbs, didn't
"He starts in at the shop again to-morrow morning," said Sheridan.
"Just the same as he did before?"
"How--how long you goin' to keep him at it, papa?" she asked, timidly.
"Until he KNOWS something!" The unhappy man struck his palms
together, then got to his feet and began to pace the room, as was his
wont when he talked. "He'll go back to the machine he couldn't learn
to tend properly in the six months he was there, and he'll stick to it
till he DOES learn it! Do you suppose that lummix ever asked himself
WHY I want him to learn it? No! And I ain't a-goin' to tell him,
either! When he went there I had 'em set him on the simplest machine
we got--and he stuck there! How much prospect would there be of his
learnin' to run the whole business if he can't run the easiest machine
in it? I sent him there to make him THOROUGH. And what happened? He
didn't LIKE it! That boy's whole life, there's been a settin' up o'
something mulish that's against everything I want him to do. I don't
know what it is, but it's got to be worked out of him. Now, labor
ain't any more a simple question than what it was when we were young.
My idea is that, outside o' union troubles, the man that can manage
workin'-in men is the man that's been one himself. Well, I set Bibbs
to learn the men and to learn the business, and HE set himself to balk
on the first job! That's what he did, and the balk's lasted close on
to three years. If he balks again I'm just done with him! Sometimes
I feel like I was pretty near done with everything, anyhow!"
"I knew there was something else," said Mrs. Sheridan, blinking over
a yawn. "You better let it go till to-morrow and get to bed now--
'less you'll tell me?"
"Suppose something happened to Roscoe," he said. "THEN what'd I
have to look forward to? THEN what could I depend on to hold things
together? A lummix! A lummix that hasn't learned how to push a strip
o' zinc along a groove!"
"Roscoe?" she yawned. "You needn't worry about Roscoe, papa. He's
the strongest child we had. I never did know anybody keep better
health than he does. I don't believe he's even had a cold in five
years. You better go up to bed, papa."
"Suppose something DID happen to him, though. You don't know what it
means, keepin' property together these days--just keepin' it ALIVE,
let alone makin' it grow the way I do. I've seen too many estates
hacked away in chunks, big and little. I tell you when a man dies the
wolves come out o' the woods, pack after pack, to see what they can
tear off for themselves; and if that dead man's chuldern ain't on the
job, night and day, everything he built'll get carried off. Carried
off? I've seen a big fortune behave like an ash-barrel in a cyclone--
there wasn't even a dust-heap left to tell where it stood! I've seen
it, time and again. My Lord! when I think o' such things comin' to
ME! It don't seem like I deserved it--no man ever tried harder to
raise his boys right than I have. I planned and planned and planned
how to bring 'em up to be guards to drive the wolves off, and how to
be builders to build, and build bigger. I tell you this business life
is no fool's job nowadays--a man's got to have eyes in the back of his
head. You hear talk, sometimes, 'd make you think the millennium had
come--but right the next breath you'll hear somebody hollerin' about
'the great unrest.' You BET there's a 'great unrest'! There ain't
any man alive smart enough to see what it's goin' to do to us in the
end, nor what day it's got set to bust loose, but it's frothin' and
bubblin' in the boiler. This country's been fillin' up with it from
all over the world for a good many years, and the old camp-meetin'
days are dead and done with. Church ain't what it used to be.
Nothin's what it used to be--everything's turned up from the bottom,
and the growth is so big the roots stick out in the air. There's an
awful ruction goin' on, and you got to keep hoppin' if you're goin' to
keep your balance on the top of it. And the schemers! They run like
bugs on the bottom of a board--after any piece o' money they hear is
loose. Fool schemes and crooked schemes; the fool ones are the most
and the worst! You got to FIGHT to keep your money after you've made
it. And the woods are full o' mighty industrious men that's got only
one motto: 'Get the other fellow's money before he gets yours!' And
when a man's built as I have, when he's built good and strong, and
made good things grow and prosper--THOSE are the fellows that lay for
the chance to slide in and sneak the benefit of it and put their names
to it! And what's the use of my havin' ever been born, if such a
thing as that is goin' to happen? What's the use of my havin' worked
my life and soul into my business, if it's all goin' to be dispersed
and scattered soon as I'm in the ground?"
He strode up and down the long room, gesticulating--little regarding
the troubled and drowsy figure by the fireside. His throat rumbled
thunderously; the words came with stormy bitterness. "You think this
is a time for young men to be lyin' on beds of ease? I tell you there
never was such a time before; there never was such opportunity. The
sluggard is despoiled while he sleeps--yes, by George! if a may lays
down they'll eat him before he wakes!--but the live man can build
straight up till he touches the sky! This is the business man's day;
it used to be the soldier's day and the statesman's day, but this is
OURS! And it ain't a Sunday to go fishin'--it's turmoil! turmoil!--
and you got to go out and live it and breathe it and MAKE it yourself,
or you'll only be a dead man walkin' around dreamin' you're alive.
And that's what my son Bibbs has been doin' all his life, and what
he'd rather do now than go out and do his part by me. And if anything
happens to Roscoe--"
"Oh, do stop worryin' over such nonsense," Mrs. Sheridan interrupted,
irritated into sharp wakefulness for the moment. "There isn't
anything goin' to happen to Roscoe, and you're just tormentin'
yourself about nothin'. Aren't you EVER goin' to bed?"
Sheridan halted. "All right, mamma," he said, with a vast sigh.
"Let's go up." And he snapped off the electric light, leaving
only the rosy glow of the fire.
"Did you speak to Roscoe?" she yawned, rising lopsidedly in her
drowsiness. "Did you mention about what I told you the other
"No. I will to-morrow."
But Roscoe did not come down-town the next day, nor the next; nor did
Sheridan see fit to enter his son's house. He waited. Then, on the
fourth day of the month, Roscoe walked into his father's office at
nine in the morning, when Sheridan happened to be alone.
"They told me down-stairs you'd left word you wanted to see me."
"Sit down," said Sheridan, rising.
Roscoe sat. His father walked close to him, sniffed suspiciously,
and then walked away, smiling bitterly. "Boh!" he exclaimed.
"Still at it!"
"Yes," said Roscoe. "I've had a couple of drinks this morning.
What about it?"
"I reckon I better adopt some decent young man," his father returned.
"I'd bring Bibbs up here and put him in your place if he was fit. I
"Better do it," Roscoe assently, sullenly.
"When'd you begin this thing?"
"I always did drink a little. Ever since I grew up, that is."
"Leave that talk out! You know what I mean."
"Well, I don't know as I ever had too much in office hours--until
the other day."
Sheridan began cutting. "It's a lie. I've had Ray Wills up from your
office. He didn't want to give you away, but I put the hooks into
him, and he came through. You were drunk twice before and couldn't
work. You been leavin' your office for drinks every few hours for the
last three weeks. I been over your books. Your office is way behind.
You haven't done any work, to count, in a month."
"All right," said Roscoe, drooping under the torture. "It's all
"What you goin' to do about it?"
Roscoe's head was sunk between his shoulders. "I can't stand very
much talk about it, father," he said, pleadingly.
"No!" Sheridan cried. "Neither can I! What do you think it means to
ME?" He dropped into the chair at his big desk, groaning. "I can't
stand to talk about it any more'n you can to listen, but I'm goin' to
find out what's the matter with you, and I'm goin' to straighten you
Roscoe shook his head helplessly.
"You can't straighten me out."
"See here!" said Sheridan. "Can you go back to your office and stay
sober to-day, while I get my work done, or will I have to hire a
couple o' huskies to follow you around and knock the whiskey out
o' your hand if they see you tryin' to take it?"
"You needn't worry about that," said Roscoe, looking up with a faint
resentment. "I'm not drinking because I've got a thirst."
"Well, what have you got?"
"Nothing. Nothing you can do anything about. Nothing, I tell you."
"We'll see about that!" said Sheridan, harshly. "Now I can't fool
with you to-day, and you get up out o' that chair and get out o' my
office. You bring your wife to dinner to-morrow. You didn't come
last Sunday--but you come to-morrow. I'll talk this out with you when
the women-folks are workin' the phonograph, after dinner. Can you
keep sober till then? You better be sure, because I'm going to send
Abercrombie down to your office every little while, and he'll let me
Roscoe paused at the door. "You told Abercrombie about it?" he asked.
"TOLD him!" And Sheridan laughed hideously. "Do you suppose there's
an elevator-boy in the whole dam' building that ain't on to you?"
Roscoe settled his hat down over his eyes and went out.
"WHO looks a mustang in the eye? Changety, chang, chang! Bash! Crash!
So sang Bibbs, his musical gaieties inaudible to his fellow-workmen
because of the noise of the machinery. He had discovered long ago
that the uproar was rhythmical, and it had been intolerable; but now,
on the afternoon of the fourth day of his return, he was accompanying
the swing and clash of the metals with jubilant vaquero fragments,
mingling improvisations of his own among them, and mocking the
zinc-eater's crash with vocal imitations:
Fearless and bold, Chang! Bash! Behold! With a leap from the ground
to the saddle in a bound, And away--and away! Hi-YAY! WHO looks a
chang, chang, bash, crash, bang! WHO cares a dash how you bash and
you crash? NIGHT'S on the way EACH time I say, Hi-YAY! Crash, chang!
Bash, chang! Chang, bang, BANG!
The long room was ceaselessly thundering with metallic sound; the
air was thick with the smell of oil; the floor trembled perpetually;
everything was implacably in motion--nowhere was there a rest for the
dizzied eye. The first time he had entered the place Bibbs had become
dizzy instantly, and six months of it had only added increasing nausea
to faintness. But he felt neither now. "ALL DAY LONG I'LL SEND MY
THOUGHTS TO YOU. YOU MUST KEEP REMEMBERING THAT YOUR FRIEND STANDS
BESIDE YOU." He saw her there beside him, and the greasy, roaring
place became suffused with radiance. The poet was happy in his
machine-shop; he was still a poet there. And he fed his old
zinc-eater, and sang:
Away--and away! Hi-YAHa ! Crash, bash, crash, bash, CHANGa ! Wild are
his eyes, Fiercely he dies! Hi-YAH! Crash, bash, bang! Bash, CHANG!
Ready to fling Our gloves in the ring--
He was unaware of a sensation that passed along the lines of workmen.
Their great master had come among them, and they grinned to see him
standing with Dr. Gurney behind the unconscious Bibbs. Sheridan
nodded to those nearest him--he had personal acquaintance with nearly
all of them--but he kept his attention upon his son. Bibbs worked
steadily, never turning from his machine. Now and then he varied his
musical programme with remarks addressed to the zinc-eater.
"Go on, you old crash-basher! Chew it up! It's good for you, if you
don't try to bolt your vittles. Fletcherize, you pig! That's right
--YOU'LL never get a lump in your gizzard. Want some more? Here's
a nice, shiny one."
The words were indistinguishable, but Sheridan inclined his head to
Gurney's ear and shouted fiercely: "Talkin' to himself! By George!"
Gurney laughed reassuringly, and shook his head.
Bibbs returned to song:
Chang! Chang, bash, chang! It's I! WHO looks a mustang in the eye?
Fearless and bo--
His father grasped him by the arm. "Here!" he shouted. "Let ME show
you how to run a strip through there. The foreman says you're some
better'n you used to be, but that's no way to handle--Get out the way
and let me show you once."
"Better be careful," Bibbs warned him, stepping to one side.
"Careful? Boh!" Sheridan seized a strip of zinc from the box.
"What you talkin' to yourself about? Tryin' to make yourself think
you're so abused you're goin' wrong in the head?"
"'Abused'? No!" shouted Bibbs. "I was SINGING--because I 'like it'!
I told you I'd come back and 'like it.'"
Sheridan may not have understood. At all events, he made no reply,
but began to run the strip of zinc through the machine. He did it
awkwardly--and with bad results.
"Here!" he shouted. "This is the way. Watch how I do it. There's
nothin' to it, if you put your mind on it." By his own showing then
his mind was not upon it. He continued to talk. "All you got to look
out for is to keep it pressed over to--"
"Don't run your hand up with it," Bibbs vociferated, leaning toward
"Run nothin'! You GOT to--"
"Look out!" shouted Bibbs and Gurney together, and they both sprang
forward. But Sheridan's right hand had followed the strip too far,
and the zinc-eater had bitten off the tips of the first and second
fingers. He swore vehemently, and wrung his hand, sending a shower
of red drops over himself and Bibbs, but Gurney grasped his wrist,
and said, sharply:
"Come out of here. Come over to the lavatory in the office. Bibbs,
fetch my bag. It's in my machine, outside."
And when Bibbs brought the bag to the washroom he found the doctor
still grasping Sheridan's wrist, holding the injured hand over a
basin. Sheridan had lost color, and temper, too. He glared over
his shoulder at his son as the latter handed the bag to Gurney.
"You go on back to your work," he said. "I've had worse snips than
that from a pencil-sharpener."
"Oh no, you haven't!" said Gurney.
"I have, too!" Sheridan retorted, angrily. "Bibbs, you go on back
to your work. There's no reason to stand around here watchin' ole
Doc Gurney tryin' to keep himself awake workin' on a scratch that
only needs a little court-plaster. I slipped, or it wouldn't
happened. You get back on your job."
"All right," said Bibbs.
"HERE!" Sheridan bellowed, as his son was passing out of the door.
"You watch out when you're runnin' that machine! You hear what I say?
I slipped, or I wouldn't got scratched, but you--YOU'RE liable to get
your whole hand cut off! You keep your eyes open!"
"Yes, sir." And Bibbs returned to the zinc-eater thoughtfully.
Half an hour later, Gurney touched him on the shoulder and beckoned
him outside, where conversation was possible. "I sent him home,
Bibbs. He'll have to be careful of that hand. Go get your overalls
off. I'll take you for a drive and leave you at home."
"Can't," said Bibbs. "Got to stick to my job till the whistle blows."
"No, you don't," the doctor returned, smothering a yawn. "He wants
me to take you down to my office and give you an overhauling to see
how much harm these four days on the machine have done you. I guess
you folks have got that old man pretty thoroughly upset, between you,
up at your house! But I don't need to go over you. I can see with
my eyes half shut--"
"Yes," Bibbs interrupted, "that's what they are."
"I say I can see you're starting out, at least, in good shape.
What's made the difference?"
"I like the machine," said Bibbs. "I've made a friend of it.
I serenade it and talk to it, and then it talks back to me."
"Indeed, indeed? What does it say?"
"What I want to hear."
"Well, well!" The doctor stretched himself and stamped his foot
repeatedly. "Better come along and take a drive with me. You can
take the time off that he allowed for the examination, and--"
"Not at all," said Bibbs. "I'm going to stand by my old zinc-eater
till five o'clock. I tell you I LIKE it!"
"Then I suppose that's the end of your wanting to write."
"I don't know about that," Bibbs said, thoughtfully; "but the zinc-
eater doesn't interfere with my thinking, at least. It's better than
being in business; I'm sure of that. I don't want anything to change.
I'd be content to lead just the life I'm leading now to the end of my
"You do beat the devil!" exclaimed Gurney. "Your father's right when
he tells me you're a mystery. Perhaps the Almighty knew what He was
doing when He made you, but it takes a lot of faith to believe it!
Well, I'm off. Go on back to your murdering old machine." He climbed
into his car, which he operated himself, but he refrained from setting
it immediately in motion. "Well, I rubbed it in on the old man that
you had warned him not to slide his hand along too far, and that he
got hurt because he didn't pay attention to your warning, and because
he was trying to show you how to do something you were already doing a
great deal better than he could. You tell him I'll be around to look
at it and change the dressing to-morrow morning. Good-by."
But when he paid the promised visit, the next morning, he did more
than change the dressing upon the damaged hand. The injury was severe
of its kind, and Gurney spent a long time over it, though Sheridan was
rebellious and scornful, being brought to a degree of tractability
only by means of horrible threats and talk of amputation. However,
he appeared at the dinner-table with his hand supported in a sling,
which he seemed to regard as an indignity, while the natural inquiries
upon the subject evidently struck him as deliberate insults. Mrs.
Sheridan, having been unable to contain her solicitude several times
during the day, and having been checked each time in a manner that
blanched her cheek, hastened to warn Roscoe and Sibyl, upon their
arrival at five, to omit any reference to the injury and to avoid
even looking at the sling if they possibly could.
The Sheridans dined on Sundays at five. Sibyl had taken pains not to
arrive either before or after the hand was precisely on the hour; and
the members of the family were all seated at the table within two
minutes after she and Roscoe had entered the house.
It was a glum gathering, overhung with portents. The air seemed
charged, awaiting any tiny ignition to explode; and Mrs. Sheridan's
expression, as she sat with her eyes fixed almost continually upon
her husband, was that of a person engaged in prayer. Edith was pale
and intent. Roscoe looked ill; Sibyl looked ill; and Sheridan looked
both ill and explosive. Bibbs had more color than any of these, and
there was a strange brightness, like a light, upon his face. It was
curious to see anything so happy in the tense gloom of that household.
Edith ate little, but gazed nearly all the time at her plate. She
never once looked at Sibyl, though Sibyl now and then gave her a quick
glance, heavily charged, and then looked away. Roscoe ate nothing,
and, like Edith, kept his eyes upon his plate and made believe to
occupy himself with the viands thereon, loading his fork frequently,
but not lifting it to his mouth. He did not once look at his father,
though his father gazed heavily at him most of the time. And between
Edith and Sibyl, and between Roscoe and his father, some bitter
wireless communication seemed continually to be taking place
throughout the long silences prevailing during this enlivening
ceremony of Sabbath refection.
"Didn't you go to church this morning, Bibbs?" his mother asked,
in the effort to break up one of those ghastly intervals.
"What did you say, mother?"
"Didn't you go to church this morning?"
"I think so," he answered, as from a roseate trance.
"You THINK so! Don't you know?"
"Oh yes. Yes, I went to church!"
"Just down the street. It's brick."
"What was the sermon about?"
"Can't you hear me?" she cried. "I asked you what the sermon was
He roused himself. "I think it was about--" He frowned, seeming to
concentrate his will to recollect. "I think it was about something
in the Bible."
White-jacket George was glad of an opportunity to leave the room and
lean upon Mist' Jackson's shoulder in the pantry. "He don't know
they WAS any suhmon!" he concluded, having narrated the dining-room
dialogue. "All he know is he was with 'at lady lives nex' do'!"
George was right.
"Did you go to church all by yourself, Bibbs?" Sibyl asked.
"No," he answered. "No, I didn't go alone."
"Oh?" Sibyl gave the ejaculation an upward twist, as of mocking
inquiry, and followed it by another, expressive of hilarious
Bibbs looked at her studiously, but she spoke no further. And that
completed the conversation at the lugubrious feast.
Coffee came finally, was disposed of quickly, and the party dispersed
to other parts of the house. Bibbs followed his father and Roscoe
into the library, but was not well received.
"YOU go and listen to the phonograph with the women-folks," Sheridan
Bibbs retreated. "Sometimes you do seem to be a hard sort of man!"
However, he went obediently to the gilt-and-brocade room in which his
mother and his sister and his sister-in-law had helplessly withdrawn,
according to their Sabbatical custom. Edith sat in a corner, tapping
her feet together and looking at them; Sibyl sat in the center of the
room, examining a brooch which she had detached from her throat; and
Mrs. Sheridan was looking over a collection of records consisting
exclusively of Caruso and rag-time. She selected one of the latter,
remarking that she thought it "right pretty," and followed it with one
of the former and the same remark.
As the second reached its conclusion, George appeared in the broad
doorway, seeming to have an errand there, but he did not speak.
Instead, he favored Edith with a benevolent smile, and she immediately
left the room, George stepping aside for her to precede him, and
then disappearing after her in the hall with an air of successful
diplomacy. He made it perfectly clear that Edith had given him secret
instructions and that it had been his pride and pleasure to fulfil
them to the letter.
Sibyl stiffened in her chair; her lips parted, and she watched with
curious eyes the vanishing back of the white jacket.
"What's that?" she asked, in a low voice, but sharply.
"Here's another right pretty record," said Mrs. Sheridan, affecting--
with patent nervousness--not to hear. And she unloosed the music.
Sibyl bit her lip and began to tap her chin with the brooch. After
a little while she turned to Bibbs, who reposed at half-length in
a gold chair, with his eyes closed.
"Where did Edith go?" she asked, curiously.
"Edith?" he repeated, opening his eyes blankly. "Is she gone?"
Sibyl got up and stood in the doorway. She leaned against the casing,
still tapping her chin with the brooch. Her eyes were dilating; she
was suddenly at high tension, and her expression had become one of
sharp excitement. She listens intently.
When the record was spun out she could hear Sheridan rumbling in the
library, during the ensuing silence, and Roscoe's voice, querulous and
husky: "I won't say anything at all. I tell you, you might just as
well let me alone!"
But there were other sounds: a rustling and murmur, whispering, low
protesting cadences in a male voice. And as Mrs. Sheridan started
another record, a sudden, vital resolve leaped like fire in the eyes
of Sibyl. She walked down the hall and straight into the smoking-room.
Lamhorn and Edith both sprang to their feet, separating. Edith became
instantly deathly white with a rage that set her shaking from head to
foot, and Lamhorn stuttered as he tried to speak.
But Edith's shaking was not so violent as Sibyl's, nor was her face
so white. At sight of them and of their embrace, all possible
consequences became nothing to Sibyl. She courtesied, holding up
her skirts and contorting her lips to the semblance of a smile.
"Sit just as you were--both of you!" she said. And then to Edith:
"Did you tell my husband I had been telephoning to Lamhorn?"
"You march out of here!" said Edith, fiercely. "March straight out
Sibyl leveled a forefinger at Lamhorn.
"Did you tell her I'd been telephoning you I wanted you to come?"
"Oh, good God!" Lamhorn said. "Hush!"
"You knew she'd tell my husband, DIDN'T you?" she cried. "You knew
"HUSH!" he begged, panic-stricken.
"That was a MANLY thing to do! Oh, it was like a gentleman! You
wouldn't come--you wouldn't even come for five minutes to hear what
I had to say! You were TIRED of what I had to say! You'd heard it
all a thousand times before, and you wouldn't come! No! No! NO!"
she stormed. "You wouldn't even come for five minutes, but you could
tell that little cat! And SHE told my husband! You're a MAN!"
Edith saw in a flash that the consequences of battle would be ruinous
to Sibyl, and the furious girl needed no further temptation to give
way to her feelings. "Get out of this house!" she shrieked. "This
is my father's house. Don't you dare speak to Robert like that!"
"No! No! I mustn't SPEAK--"
"Don't you DARE!"
Edith and Sibyl began to scream insults at each other simultaneously,
fronting each other, their furious faces close. Their voices shrilled
and rose and cracked--they screeched. They could be heard over the
noise of the phonograph, which was playing a brass-band selection.
They could be heard all over the house. They were heard in the
kitchen; they could have been heard in the cellar. Neither of them
cared for that.
"You told my husband!" screamed Sibyl, bringing her face still closer
to Edith's. "You told my husband! This man put THAT in your hands
to strike me with! HE did!"
"I'll tell your husband again! I'll tell him everything I know!
It's TIME your husband--"
They were swept asunder by a bandaged hand. "Do you want the
neighbors in?" Sheridan thundered.
There fell a shocking silence. Frenzied Sibyl saw her husband and
his mother in the doorway, and she understood what she had done.
She moved slowly toward the door; then suddenly she began to run.
She ran into the hall, and through it, and out of the house. Roscoe
followed her heavily, his eyes on the ground.
"NOW THEN!" said Sheridan to Lamhorn.
The words were indefinite, but the voice was not. Neither was the
vicious gesture of the bandaged hand, which concluded its orbit
in the direction of the door in a manner sufficient for the swift
dispersal of George and Jackson and several female servants who
hovered behind Mrs. Sheridan. They fled lightly.
"Papa, papa!" wailed Mrs. Sheridan. "Look at your hand! You'd
oughtn't to been so rough with Edie; you hurt your hand on her
There was, in fact, a spreading red stain upon the bandages at the
tips of the fingers, and Sheridan put his hand back in the sling.
"Now then!" he repeated. "You goin' to leave my house?"
"He will NOT!" sobbed Edith. "Don't you DARE order him out!"
"Don't you bother, dear," said Lamhorn, quietly. "He doesn't
understand. YOU mustn't be troubled." Pallor was becoming to him;
he looked very handsome, and as he left the room he seemed in the
girl's distraught eyes a persecuted noble, indifferent to the rabble
yawping insult at his heels--the rabble being enacted by her father.
"Don't come back, either!" said, Sheridan, realistic in this
impersonation. "Keep off the premises!" he called savagely into
the hall. "This family's through with you!"
"It is NOT!" Edith cried, breaking from her mother. "You'll SEE about
that! You'll find out! You'll find out what'll happen! What's HE
done? I guess if I can stand it, it's none of YOUR business, is it?
What's HE done, I'd like to know? You don't know anything about it.
Don't you s'pose he told ME? She was crazy about him soon as he began
going there, and he flirted with her a little. That's everything he
did, and it was before he met ME! After that he wouldn't, and it
wasn't anything, anyway--he never was serious a minute about it. SHE
wanted it to be serious, and she was bound she wouldn't give him up.
He told her long ago he cared about me, but she kept persecuting him
"Yes," said Sheridan, sternly; "that's HIS side of it! That'll do!
He doesn't come in this house again!"
"You look out!" Edith cried.
"Yes, I'll look out! I'd 'a' told you to-day he wasn't to be allowed
on the premises, but I had other things on my mind. I had Abercrombie
look up this young man privately, and he's no 'count. He's no 'count
on earth! He's no good! He's NOTHIN'! But it wouldn't matter if
he was George Washington, after what's happened and what I've heard
"But, papa," Mrs. Sheridan began, "if Edie says it was all Sibyl's
fault, makin' up to him, and he never encouraged her much, nor--"
"'S enough!" he roared. "He keeps off these premises! And if any
of you so much as ever speak his name to me again--"
But Edith screamed, clapping her hands over her ears to shut out the
sound of his voice, and ran up-stairs, sobbing loudly, followed by
her mother. However, Mrs. Sheridan descended a few minutes later and
joined her husband in the library. Bibbs, still sitting in his gold
chair, saw her pass, roused himself from reverie, and strolled in
"She locked her door," said Mrs. Sheridan, shaking her head woefully.
"She wouldn't even answer me. They wasn't a sound from her room."
"Well," said her husband, "she can settle her mind to it. She
never speaks to that fellow again, and if he tries to telephone her
to-morrow--Here! You tell the help if he calls up to ring off and
say it's my orders. No, you needn't. I'll tell 'em myself."
"Better not," said Bibbs, gently.
His father glared at him.
"It's no good," said Bibbs. "Mother, when you were in love with
"My goodness!" she cried. "You ain't a-goin' to compare your father
"Edith feels about him just what you did about father," said Bibbs.
"And if YOUR father had told you--"
"I won't LISTEN to such silly talk!" she declared, angrily.
"So you're handin' out your advice, are you, Bibbs?" said Sheridan.
"What is it?"
"Let her see him all she wants."
"You're a--" Sheridan gave it up. "I don't know what to call you!"
"Let her see him all she wants," Bibbs repeated, thoughtfully.
"You're up against something too strong for you. If Edith were
a weakling you'd have a chance this way, but she isn't. She's got
a lot of your determination, father, and with what's going on inside
of her she'll beat you. You can't keep her from seeing him, as long
as she feels about him the way she does now. You can't make her think
less of him, either. Nobody can. Your only chance is that she'll
do it for herself, and if you give her time and go easy she probably
will. Marriage would do it for her quickest, but that's just what
you don't want, and as you DON'T want it, you'd better--"
"I can't stand any more!" Sheridan burst out. "If it's come to BIBBS
advisin' me how to run this house I better resign. Mamma, where's
that nigger George? Maybe HE'S got some plan how I better manage my
family. Bibbs, for God's sake go and lay down! 'Let her see him all
she wants'! Oh, Lord! here's wisdom; here's--"
"Bibbs," said Mrs. Sheridan, "if you haven't got anything to do, you
might step over and take Sibyl's wraps home--she left 'em in the hall.
I don't think you seem to quiet your poor father very much just now."
"All right." And Bibbs bore Sibyl's wraps across the street and
delivered them to Roscoe, who met him at the door. Bibbs said only,
"Forgot these," and, "Good night, Roscoe," cordially and cheerfully,
and returned to the New House. His mother and father were still
talking in the library, but with discretion he passed rapidly on
and upward to his own room, and there he proceeded to write in his
There seems to be another curious thing about Love [Bibbs wrote].
Love is blind while it lives and only opens its eyes and becomes
very wide awake when it dies. Let it alone until then.
You cannot reason with love or with any other passion. The wise
will not wish for love--nor for ambition. These are passions
and bring others in their train--hatreds and jealousies--all
blind. Friendship and a quiet heart for the wise.
What a turbulence is love! It is dangerous for a blind thing to
be turbulent; there are precipices in life. One would not cross
a mountain-pass with a thick cloth over his eyes. Lovers do.
Friendship walks gently and with open eyes.
To walk to church with a friend! To sit beside her there! To rise
when she rises, and to touch with one's thumb and fingers the other
half of the hymn-book that she holds! What lover, with his fierce
ways, could know this transcendent happiness?
Friendship brings everything that heaven could bring. There is no
labor that cannot become a living rapture if you know that a friend
is thinking of you as you labor. So you sing at your work. For
the work is part of the thoughts of your friend; so you love it!
Love is demanding and claiming and insistent. Friendship is all
kindness--it makes the world glorious with kindness. What color
you see when you walk with a friend! You see that the gray sky
is brilliant and shimmering; you see that the smoke has warm
browns and is marvelously sculptured--the air becomes iridescent.
You see the gold in brown hair. Light floods everything.
When you walk to church with a friend you know that life can give
you nothing richer. You pray that there will be no change in
anything for ever.
What an adorable thing it is to discover a little foible in your
friend, a bit of vanity that gives you one thing more about her to
adore! On a cold morning she will perhaps walk to church with you
without her furs, and she will blush and return an evasive answer
when you ask her why she does not wear them. You will say no
more, because you understand. She looks beautiful in her furs;
you love their darkness against her cheek; but you comprehend that
they conceal the loveliness of her throat and the fine line of her
chin, and that she also has comprehended this, and, wishing to
look still more bewitching, discards her furs at the risk of
taking cold. So you hold your peace, and try to look as if you
had not thought it out.
This theory is satisfactory except that it does not account for
the absence of the muff. Ah, well, there must always be a mystery
somewhere! Mystery is a part of enchantment.
Manual labor is best. Your heart can sing and your mind can dream
while your hands are working. You could not have a singing heart
and a dreaming mind all day if you had to scheme out dollars,
or if you had to add columns of figures. Those things take your
attention. You cannot be thinking of your friend while you write
letters beginning "Yours of the 17th inst. rec'd and contents
duly noted." But to work with your hands all day, thinking and
singing, and then, after nightfall, to hear the ineffable kindness
of your friend's greeting--always there--for you! Who would wake
from such a dream as this?
Dawn and the sea--music in moonlit gardens--nightingales
serenading through almond-groves in bloom--what could bring such
things into the city's turmoil? Yet they are here, and roses
blossom in the soot. That is what it means not to be alone!
That is what a friend gives you!
Having thus demonstrated that he was about twenty-five and had formed
a somewhat indefinite definition of friendship, but one entirely his
own (and perhaps Mary's) Bibbs went to bed, and was the only Sheridan
to sleep soundly through the night and to wake at dawn with a light
His cheerfulness was vaguely diminished by the troublous state of
affairs of his family. He had recognized his condition when he wrote,
"Who would wake from such a dream as this?" Bibbs was a sympathetic
person, easily touched, but he was indeed living in a dream, and all
things outside of it were veiled and remote--for that is the way of
youth in a dream. And Bibbs, who had never before been of any age,
either old or young, had come to his youth at last.
He went whistling from the house before even his father had come
down-stairs. There was a fog outdoors, saturated with a fine powder
of soot, and though Bibbs noticed absently the dim shape of an
automobile at the curb before Roscoe's house, he did not recognize it
as Dr. Gurney's, but went cheerily on his way through the dingy mist.
And when he was once more installed beside his faithful zinc-eater
he whistled and sang to it, as other workmen did to their own machines
sometimes, when things went well. His comrades in the shop glanced
at him amusedly now and then. They liked him, and he ate his lunch at
noon with a group of Socialists who approved of his ideas and talked
of electing him to their association.
The short days of the year had come, and it was dark before the
whistles blew. When the signal came, Bibbs went to the office, where
he divested himself of his overalls--his single divergence from the
routine of his fellow-workmen--and after that he used soap and water
copiously. This was his transformation scene: he passed into the
office a rather frail young working-man noticeably begrimed, and
passed out of it to the pavement a cheerfully pre-occupied sample
of gentry, fastidious to the point of elegance.
The sidewalk was crowded with the bearers of dinner-pails, men and
boys and women and girls from the work-rooms that closed at five.
Many hurried and some loitered; they went both east and west, jostling
one another, and Bibbs, turning his face homeward, was forced to go
Coming toward him, as slowly, through the crowd, a tall girl caught
sight of his long, thin figure and stood still until he had almost
passed her, for in the thick crowd and the thicker gloom he did not
recognize her, though his shoulder actually touched hers. He would
have gone by, but she laughed delightedly; and he stopped short,
startled. Two boys, one chasing the other, swept between them, and
Bibbs stood still, peering about him in deep perplexity. She leaned
"I knew YOU!" she said.
"Good heavens!' cried Bibbs. "I thought it was your voice coming out
of a star!"
"There's only smoke overhead," said Mary, and laughed again. "There
aren't any stars."
"Oh yes, there were--when you laughed!"
She took his arm, and they went on. "I've come to walk home with you,
Bibbs. I wanted to."
"But were you here in the--"
"In the dark? Yes! Waiting? Yes!"
Bibbs was radiant; he felt suffocated with happiness. He began to
"But it's not safe, and I'm not worth it. You shouldn't have--you
ought to know better. What did--"
"I only waited about twelve seconds," she laughed. "I'd just got
"But to come all this way and to this part of town in the dark, you--"
"I was in this part of town already," she said. "At least, I was only
seven or eight blocks away, and it was dark when I came out, and I'd
have had to go home alone--and I preferred going home with you."
"It's pretty beautiful for me," said Bibbs, with a deep breath.
"You'll never know what it was to hear your laugh in the darkness--and
then to--to see you standing there! Oh, it was like--it was like--how
can I TELL you what it was like?" They had passed beyond the crowd
now, and a crossing-lamp shone upon them, which revealed the fact that
again she was without her furs. Here was a puzzle. Why did that
adorable little vanity of hers bring her out without them in the DARK?
But of course she had gone out long before dark. For undefinable
reasons this explanation was not quite satisfactory; however, allowing
it to stand, his solicitude for her took another turn. "I think you
ought to have a car," he said, "especially when you want to be out
after dark. You need one in winter, anyhow. Have you ever asked your
father for one?"
"No," said Mary. "I don't think I'd care for one particularly."
"I wish you would." Bibbs's tone was earnest and troubled. "I think
in winter you--"
"No, no," she interrupted, lightly. "I don't need--"
"But my mother tried to insist on sending one over here every
afternoon for me. I wouldn't let her, because I like the walk,
but a girl--"
"A girl likes to walk, too," said Mary. "Let me tell you where I've
been this afternoon and how I happened to be near enough to make you
take me home. I've been to see a little old man who makes pictures
of the smoke. He has a sort of warehouse for a studio, and he lives
there with his mother and his wife and their seven children, and he's
gloriously happy. I'd seen one of his pictures at an exhibition, and
I wanted to see more of them, so he showed them to me. He has almost
everthing he ever painted; I don't suppose he's sold more than four
or five pictures in his life. He gives drawing-lessons to keep
"How do you mean he paints the smoke?" Bibbs asked.
"Literally. He paints from his studio window and from the street--
anywhere. He just paints what's around him--and it's beautiful."
"Wonderful! He sees the sky through it, somehow. He does the ugly
roofs of cheap houses through a haze of smoke, and he does smoky
sunsets and smoky sunrises, and he has other things with the heavy,
solid, slow columns of smoke going far out and growing more ethereal
and mixing with the hazy light in the distance; and he has others
with the broken sky-line of down-town, all misted with the smoke and
puffs and jets of vapor that have colors like an orchard in mid-April.
I'm going to take you there some Sunday afternoon, Bibbs."
"You're showing me the town," he said. "I didn't know what was in it
"There are workers in beauty here," she told him, gently. "There are
other painters more prosperous than my friend. There are all sorts
"I didn't know."
"No. Since the town began growing so great that it called itself
'greater,' one could live here all one's life and know only the side
of it that shows."
"The beauty-workers seem buried very deep," said Bibbs. "And I
imagine that your friend who makes the smoke beautiful must be buried
deepest of all. My father loves the smoke, but I can't imagine his
buying one of your friend's pictures. He'd buy the 'Bay of Naples,"
but he wouldn't get one of those. He'd think smoke in a picture was
horrible--unless he could use it for an advertisement."
"Yes," she said, thoughtfully. "And really he's the town. They ARE
buried pretty deep, it seems, sometimes, Bibbs."
"And yet it's all wonderful," he said. "It's wonderful to me."
"You mean the town is wonderful to you?"
"Yes, because everything is, since you called me your friend. The
city is only a rumble on the horizon for me. It can't come any closer
than the horizon so long as you let me see you standing by my old
zinc-eater all day long, helping me. Mary--" He stopped with a gasp.
"That's the first time I've called you 'Mary'!"
"Yes." She laughed, a little tremuously. "Though I wanted you to!"
"I said it without thinking. It must be because you came there to
walk home with me. That must be it."
"Women like to have things said," Mary informed him, her tremulous
laughter continuing. "Were you glad I came for you?"
"No--not 'glad.' I felt as if I were being carried straight up and up
and up--over the clouds. I feel like that still. I think I'm that
way most of the time. I wonder what I was like before I knew you.
The person I was then seems to have been somebody else, not Bibbs
Sheridan at all. It seems long, long ago. I was gloomy and sickly
--somebody else--somebody I don't understand now, a coward afraid
of shadows--afraid of things that didn't exist--afraid of my old
zinc-eater! And now I'm only afraid of what might change anything."
She was silent a moment, and then, "You're happy, Bibbs?" she asked.
"Ah, don't you see?" he cried. "I want it to last for a thousand,
thousand years, just as it is! You've made me so rich, I'm a miser.
I wouldn't have one thing different--nothing, nothing!"
"Dear Bibbs!" she said, and laughed happily.
Bibbs continued to live in the shelter of his dream. He had told
Edith, after his ineffective effort to be useful in her affairs, that
he had decided that he was "a member of the family"; but he appeared
to have relapsed to the retired list after that one attempt at
participancy--he was far enough detached from membership now. These
were turbulent days in the New House, but Bibbs had no part whatever
in the turbulence--he seemed an absent-minded stranger, present by
accident and not wholly aware that he was present. He would sit,
faintly smiling over pleasant imaginings and dear reminiscences of
his own, while battle raged between Edith and her father, or while
Sheridan unloosed jeremiads upon the sullen Roscoe, who drank heavily
to endure them. The happy dreamer wandered into storm-areas like a
somnambulist, and wandered out again unawakened. He was sorry for
his father and for Roscoe, and for Edith and for Sibyl, but their
sufferings and outcries seemed far away.
Sibyl was under Gurney's care. Roscoe had sent for him on Sunday
night, not long after Bibbs returned the abandoned wraps; and during
the first days of Sibyl's illness the doctor found it necessary to be
with her frequently, and to install a muscular nurse. And whether
he would or no, Gurney received from his hysterical patient a variety
of pungent information which would have staggered anybody but a family
physician. Among other things he was given to comprehend the change
in Bibbs, and why the zinc-eater was not putting a lump in the
operator's gizzard as of yore.
Sibyl was not delirious--she was a thin little ego writhing and
shrieking in pain. Life had hurt her, and had driven her into hurting
herself; her condition was only the adult's terrible exaggeration
of that of a child after a bad bruise--there must be screaming and
telling mother all about the hurt and how it happened. Sibyl babbled
herself hoarse when Gurney withheld morphine. She went from the
beginning to the end in a breath. No protest stopped her; nothing
"You ought to let me die!" she wailed. "It's cruel not to let me die!
What harm have I ever done to anybody that you want to keep me alive?
Just look at my life! I only married Roscoe to get away from home,
and look what that got me into!--look where I am now! He brought me
to this town, and what did I have in my life but his FAMILY? And they
didn't even know the right crowd! If they had, it might have been
SOMETHING! I had nothing--nothing--nothing in the world! I wanted
to have a good time --and how could I? Where's any good time among
these Sheridans? They never even had wine on the table! I thought
I was marrying into a rich family where I'd meet attractive people
I'd read about, and travel, and go to dances--and, oh, my Lord! all
I got was these Sheridans! I did the best I could; I did, indeed!
Oh, I DID! I just tried to live. Every woman's got a right to live,
some time in her life, I guess! Things were just beginning to look
brighter--we'd moved up here, and that frozen crowd across the street
were after Jim for their daughter, and they'd have started us with the
right people--and then I saw how Edith was getting him away from me.
She did it, too! She got him! A girl with money can do that to a
married woman--yes, she can, every time! And what could I do? What
can any woman do in my fix? I couldn't do ANYTHING but try to stand
it--and I couldn't stand it! I went to that icicle--that Vertrees
girl--and she could have helped me a little, and it wouldn't have hurt
her. It wouldn't have done her any harm to help me THAT little! She
treated me as if I'd been dirt that she wouldn't even take the trouble
to sweep out of her house! Let her WAIT!"
Sibyl's voice, hoarse from babbling, became no more than a husky
whisper, though she strove to make it louder. She struggled half
upright, and the nurse restrained her. "I'd get up out of this bed
to show her she can't do such things to me! I was absolutely
ladylike, and she walked out and left me there alone! She'll SEE!
She started after Bibbs before Jim's casket was fairly underground,
and she thinks she's landed that poor loon--but she'll see! She'll
see! If I'm ever able to walk across the street again I'll show her
how to treat a woman in trouble that comes to her for help! It
wouldn't have hurt her any--it wouldn't--it wouldn't. And Edith
needn't have told what she told Roscoe--it wouldn't have hurt her
to let me alone. And HE told her I bored him--telephoning him I
wanted to see him. He needn't have done it! He needn't--needn't--"
Her voice grew fainter, for that while, with exhaustion, though she
would go over it all again as soon as her strength returned. She lay
panting. Then, seeing her husband standing disheveled in the doorway,
"Don't come in, Roscoe," she murmured. "I don't want to see you."
And as he turned away she added, "I'm kind of sorry for you, Roscoe."
Her antagonist, Edith, was not more coherent in her own wailings,
and she had the advantage of a mother for listener. She had also
the disadvantage of a mother for duenna, and Mrs. Sheridan, under her
husband's sharp tutelage, proved an effective one. Edith was reduced
to telephoning Lamhorn from shops whenever she could juggle her mother
into a momentary distraction over a counter.
Edith was incomparably more in love than before Lamhorn's expulsion.
Her whole being was nothing but the determination to hurdle everything
that separated her from him. She was in a state that could be altered
by only the lightest and most delicate diplomacy of suggestion, but
Sheridan, like legions of other parents, intensified her passion and
fed it hourly fuel by opposing to it an intolerable force. He swore
she should cool, and thus set her on fire.
Edith planned neatly. She fought hard, every other evening, with
her father, and kept her bed between times to let him see what his
violence had done to her. Then, when the mere sight of her set him
to breathing fast, she said pitiably that she might bear her trouble
better if she went away; it was impossible to be in the same town with
Lamhorn and not think always of him. Perhaps in New York she might
forget a little. She had written to a school friend, established
quietly with an aunt in apartments--and a month or so of theaters
and restaurants might bring peace. Sheridan shouted with relief;
he gave her a copious cheque, and she left upon a Monday morning
wearing violets with her mourning and having kissed everybody good-by
except Sibyl and Bibbs. She might have kissed Bibbs, but he failed to
realize that the day of her departure had arrived, and was surprised,
on returning from his zinc-eater, that evening, to find her gone.
"I suppose they'll be maried there," he said, casually.
Sheridan, seated, warming his stockinged feet at the fire, jumped up,
fuming. "Either you go out o' here, or I will, Bibbs!" he snorted.
"I don't want to be in the same room with the particular kind of idiot
you are! She's through with that riff-raff; all she needed was to be
kept away from him a few weeks, and I KEPT her away, and it did the
business. For Heaven's sake, go on out o' here!"
Bibbs obeyed the gesture of a hand still bandaged. And the black
silk sling was still round Sheridan's neck, but no word of Gurney's
and no excruciating twinge of pain could keep Sheridan's hand in
the sling. The wounds, slight enough originally, had become infected
the first time he had dislodged the bandages, and healing was long
delayed. Sheridan had the habit of gesture; he could not "take time
to remember," he said, that he must be careful, and he had also a
curious indignation with his hurt; he refused to pay it the compliment
of admitting its existence.
The Saturday following Edith's departure Gurney came to the Sheridan
Building to dress the wounds and to have a talk with Sheridan which
the doctor felt had become necessary. But he was a little before the
appointed time and was obliged to wait a few minutes in an anteroom
--there was a directors' meeting of some sort in Sheridan's office.
The door was slightly ajar, leaking cigar-smoke and oratory, the
latter all Sheridan's, and Gurney listened.
"No, sir; no, sir; no, sir!" he heard the big voice rumbling, and
then, breaking into thunder, "I tell you NO! Some o' you men make
me sick! You'd lose your confidence in Almighty God if a doodle-bug
flipped his hind leg at you! You say money's tight all over the
country. Well, what if it is? There's no reason for it to be tight,
and it's not goin' to keep OUR money tight! You're always runnin'
to the woodshed to hide your nickels in a crack because some fool
newspaper says the market's a little skeery! You listen to every
street-corner croaker and then come and set here and try to scare ME
out of a big thing! We're IN on this--understand? I tell you there
never WAS better times. These are good times and big times, and I
won't stand for any other kind o' talk. This country's on its feet
as it never was before, and this city's on its feet and goin' to stay
there!" And Gurney heard a series of whacks and thumps upon the desk.
"'Bad times'!" Sheridan vociferated, with accompanying thumps.
"Rabbit talk! These times are glorious, I tell you! We're in the
promised land, and we're goin' to STAY there! That's all, gentlemen.
The loan goes!"
The directors came forth, flushed and murmurous, and Gurney hastened
in. His guess was correct: Sheridan had been thumping the desk with
his right hand. The physician scolded wearily, making good the fresh
damage as best he might; and then he said what he had to say on the
subject of Roscoe and Sibyl, his opinion meeting, as he expected,
a warmly hostile reception. But the result of this conversation was
that by telephonic command Roscoe awaited his father, an hour later,
in the library at the New House.
"Gurney says your wife's able to travel," Sheridan said brusquely, as
he came in.
"Yes." Roscoe occupied a deep chair and sat in the dejected attitude
which had become his habit. "Yes, she is."
"Edith had to leave town, and so Sibyl thinks she'll have to, too!"
"Oh, I wouldn't put it that way," Roscoe protested, drearily.
"No, I hear YOU wouldn't!" There was a bitter gibe in the father's
voice, and he added: "It's a good thing she's goin' abroad--if she'll
stay there. I shouldn't think any of us want her here any more--you
least of all!"
"It's no use your talking that way," said Roscoe. "You won't do any
"Well, when are you comin' back to your office?" Sheridan used a
brisker, kinder tone. "Three weeks since you showed up there at all.
When you goin' to be ready to cut out whiskey and all the rest o' the
foolishness and start in again? You ought to be able to make up for
a lot o' lost time and a lot o' spilt milk when that woman takes
herself out o' the way and lets you and all the rest of us alone."
"It's no use, father, I tell you. I know what Gurney was going to say
to you. I'm not going back to the office. I'm DONE!"
"Wait a minute before you talk that way!" Sheridan began his
sentry-go up and down the room. "I suppose you know it's taken two
pretty good men about sixteen hours a day to set things straight and
get 'em runnin' right again, down in your office?"
"They must be good men." Roscoe nodded indifferently. "I thought I
was doing about eight men's work. I'm glad you found two that could
"Look here! If I worked you it was for your own good. There are
plenty men drive harder'n I do, and--"
"Yes. There are some that break down all the other men that work with
'em. They either die, or go crazy, or have to quit, and are no use
the rest of their lives. The last's my case, I guess--'complicated by
"You set there and tell me you give up?" Sheridan's voice shook, and
so did the gesticulating hand which he extended appealingly toward
the despondent figure. "Don't do it, Roscoe! Don't say it! Say
you'll come down there again and be a man! This woman ain't goin'
to trouble you any more. The work ain't goin' to hurt you if you
haven't got her to worry you, and you can get shut o' this nasty
whiskey-guzzlin'; it ain't fastened on you yet. Don't say--"
"It's no use on earth," Roscoe mumbled. "No use on earth."
"Look here! If you want another month's vacation--"
"I know Gurney told you, so what's the use talking about 'vacations'?"
"Gurney!" Sheridan vociferated the name savagely. "It's Gurney,
Gurney, Gurney! Always Gurney! I don't know what the world's comin'
to with everybody runnin' around squealin', 'The doctor says this,'
and, 'The doctor says that'! It makes me sick! How's this country
expect to get its Work done if Gurney and all the other old nanny-
goats keep up this blattin'--'Oh, oh! Don't lift that stick o' wood;
you'll ruin your NERVES!' So he says you got 'nervous exhaustion
induced by overwork and emotional strain.' They always got to
stick the Work in if they see a chance! I reckon you did have the
'emotional strain,' and that's all's the matter with you. You'll be
over it soon's this woman's gone, and Work's the very thing to make
you quit frettin' about her."
"Did Gurney tell you I was fit to work?"
"Shut up!" Sheridan bellowed. "I'm so sick o' that man's name I
feel like shootin' anybody that says it to me!" He fumed and chafed,
swearing indistinctly, then came and stood before his son. "Look
here; do you think you're doin' the square thing by me? Do you?
How much you worth?"
"I've got between seven and eight thousand a year clear, of my own,
outside the salary. That much is mine whether I work or not."
"It is? You could'a pulled it out without me, I suppose you think,
at your age?"
"No. But it's mine, and it's enough."
"My Lord! It's about what a Congressman gets, and you want to quit
there! I suppose you think you'll get the rest when I kick the
bucket, and all you have to do is lay back and wait! You let me
tell you right here, you'll never see one cent of it. You go out o'
business now, and what would you know about handlin' it five or ten
or twenty years from now? Because I intend to STAY here a little
while yet, my boy! They'd either get it away from you or you'd sell
for a nickel and let it be split up and--" He whirled about, marched
to the other end of the room, and stood silent a moment. Then he
said, solemnly: "Listen. If you go out now, you leave me in the
lurch, with nothin' on God's green earth to depend on but your brother
--and you know what he is. I've depended on you for it ALL since Jim
died. Now you've listened to that dam' doctor, and he says maybe you
won't ever be as good a man as you were, and that certainly you won't
be for a year or so--probably more. Now, that's all a lie. Men don't
break down that way at your age. Look at ME! And I tell you, you can
shake this thing off. All you need is a little GET-up and a little
gumption. Men don't go away for YEARS and then come back into MOVING
businesses like ours--they lose the strings. And if you could, I
won't let you--if you lay down on me now, I won't--and that's because
if you lay down you prove you ain't the man I thought you were."
He cleared his throat and finished quietly: "Roscoe, will you take
a month's vacation and come back and go to it?"
"No," said Roscoe, listlessly. "I'm through."
"All right," said Sheridan. He picked up the evening paper from a
table, went to a chair by the fire and sat down, his back to his son.
Roscoe rose, his head hanging, but there was a dull relief in his
eyes. "Best I can do," he muttered, seeming about to depart, yet
lingering. "I figure it out a good deal like this," he said. "I
didn't KNOW my job was any strain, and I managed all right, but from
what Gur--from what I hear, I was just up to the limit of my nerves
from overwork, and the--the trouble at home was the extra strain
that's fixed me the way I am. I tried to brace, so I could stand
the work and the trouble too, on whiskey--and that put the finish
to me! I--I'm not hitting it as hard as I was for a while, and I
reckon pretty soon, if I can get to feeling a little more energy, I
better try to quit entirely--I don't know. I'm all in--and the doctor
says so. I thought I was running along fine up to a few months ago,
but all the time I was ready to bust, and didn't know it. Now, then,
I don't want you to blame Sibyl, and if I were you I wouldn't speak
of her as 'that woman,' because she's your daughter-in-law and going
to stay that way. She didn't do anything wicked. It was a shock to
me, and I don't deny it, to find what she had done--encouraging that
fellow to hang around her after he began trying to flirt with her,
and losing her head over him the way she did. I don't deny it was
a shock and that it'll always be a hurt inside of me I'll never get
over. But it was my fault; I didn't understand a woman's nature."
Poor Roscoe spoke in the most profound and desolate earnest. "A
woman craves society, and gaiety, and meeting attractive people, and
traveling. Well, I can't give her the other things, but I can give
her the traveling--real traveling, not just going to Atlantic City or
New Orleans, the way she has, two, three times. A woman has to have
something in her life besides a business man. And that's ALL I was.
I never understood till I heard her talking when she was so sick, and
I believe if you'd heard her then you wouldn't speak so hard-heartedly
about her; I believe you might have forgiven her like I have. That's
all. I never cared anything for any girl but her in my life, but
I was so busy with business I put it ahead of her. I never THOUGHT
about her, I was so busy thinking business. Well, this is where it's
brought us to--and now when you talk about 'business' to me I feel
the way you do when anybody talks about Gurney to you. The word
'business' makes me dizzy--it makes me honestly sick at the stomach.
I believe if I had to go down-town and step inside that office door
I'd fall down on the floor, deathly sick. You talk about a 'month's
vacation'--and I get just as sick. I'm rattled--I can't plan--I
haven't got any plans--can't make any, except to take my girl and get
just as far away from that office as I can--and stay. We're going to
Japan first, and if we--"
His father rustled the paper. "I said good-by, Roscoe."
"Good-by," said Roscoe, listlessly.
Sheridan waited until he heard the sound of the outer door closing;
then he rose and pushed a tiny disk set in the wall. Jackson
"Has Bibbs got home from work?"
"Mist' Bibbs? No, suh."
"Tell him I want to see him, soon as he comes."
Sheridan returned to his chair and fixed his attention fiercely upon
the newspaper. He found it difficult to pursue the items beyond
their explanatory rubrics--there was nothing unusual or startling to
concentrate his attention:
"Motorman Puts Blame on Brakes. Three Killed when Car Slides."
"Burglars Make Big Haul."
"Board Works Approve Big Car-line Extension."
"Hold-up Men Injure Two. Man Found in Alley, Skull Fractured."
"Sickening Story Told in Divorce Court."
"Plan New Eighteen-story Structure."
"School-girl Meets Death under Automobile."
"Negro Cuts Three. One Dead."
"Life Crushed Out. Third Elevator Accident in Same Building Causes
Action by Coroner."
"Declare Militia will be Menace. Polish Societies Protest to
Governor in Church Rioting Case."
"Short $3,500 in Accounts, Trusted Man Kills Self with Drug."
"Found Frozen. Family Without Food or Fuel. Baby Dead when
Parents Return Home from Seeking Work."
"Minister Returned from Trip Abroad Lectures on Big Future of Our
City. Sees Big Improvement during Short Absence. Says No
European City Holds Candle." (Sheridan nodded approvingly here.)
Bibbs came through the hall whistling, and entered the room briskly.
"Well, father, did you want me?"
"Yes. Sit down." Sheridan got up, and Bibbs took a seat by the
fire, holding out his hands to the crackling blaze, for it was cold
"I came within seven of the shop record to-day," he said. "I handled
more strips than any other workman has any day this month. The
nearest to me is sixteen behind."
"There!" exclaimed his father, greatly pleased. "What'd I tell you?
I'd like to hear Gurney hint again that I wasn't right in sending you
there--I would just like to hear him! And you--ain't you ashamed of
makin' such a fuss about it? Ain't you?"
"I didn't go at it in the right spirit the other time," Bibbs said,
smiling brightly, his face ruddy in the cheerful firelight. "I didn't
know the difference it meant to like a thing."
"Well, I guess I've pretty thoroughly vindicated my judgement. I
guess I HAVE! I said the shop'd be good for you, and it was. I said
it wouldn't hurt you, and it hasn't. It's been just exactly what
I said it would be. Ain't that so?"
"Looks like it!" Bibbs agreed, gaily.
"Well, I'd like to know any place I been wrong, first and last!
Instead o' hurting you, it's been the makin' of you--physically.
You're a good inch taller'n what I am, and you'd be a bigger man than
what I am if you'd get some flesh on your bones; and you ARE gettin'
a little. Physically, it's started you out to be the huskiest one o'
the whole family. Now, then, mentally--that's different. I don't say
it unkindly, Bibbs, but you got to do something for yourself mentally,
just like what's begun physically. And I'm goin' to help you."
Sheridan decided to sit down again. He brought his chair close to his
son's, and, leaning over, tapped Bibbs's knee confidentially. "I got
plans for you, Bibbs," he said.
Bibbs instantly looked thoroughly alarmed. He drew back. "I--I'm all
right now, father."
"Listen." Sheridan settled himself in his chair, and spoke in the
tone of a reasonable man reasoning. "Listen here, Bibbs. I had
another blow to-day, and it was a hard one and right in the face,
though I HAVE been expectin' it some little time back. Well, it's
got to be met. Now I'll be frank with you. As I said a minute ago,
mentally I couldn't ever called you exactly strong. You been a little
weak both ways, most of your life. Not but what I think you GOT a
mentality, if you'd learn to use it. You got will-power, I'll say that
for you. I never knew boy or man that could be stubborner--never one
in my life! Now, then, you've showed you could learn to run that
machine best of any man in the shop, in no time at all. That looks
to me like you could learn to do other things. I don't deny but what
it's an encouragin' sign. I don't deny that, at all. Well, that
helps me to think the case ain't so hopeless as it looks. You're all
I got to meet this blow with, but maybe you ain't as poor material as
I thought. Your tellin' me about comin' within seven strips of the
shop's record to-day looks to me like encouragin' information brought
in at just about the right time. Now, then, I'm goin' to give you a
raise. I wanted to send you straight on up through the shops--a year
or two, maybe--but I can't do it. I lost Jim, and now I've lost
Roscoe. He's quit. He's laid down on me. If he ever comes back at
all, he'll be a long time pickin' up the strings, and, anyway, he
ain't the man I thought he was. I can't count on him. I got to have
SOMEBODY I KNOW I can count on. And I'm down to this: you're my last
chance. Bibbs, I got to learn you to use what brains you got and see
if we can't develop 'em a little. Who knows? And I'm goin' to put my
time in on it. I'm goin' to take you right down-town with ME, and I
won't be hard on you if you're a little slow at first. And I'm goin'
to do the big thing for you. I'm goin' to make you feel you got to do
the big thing for me, in return. I've vindicated my policy with you
about the shop, and now I'm goin' to turn right around and swing you
'way over ahead of where the other boys started, and I'm goin' to make
an appeal to your ambition that'll make you dizzy!" He tapped his son
on the knee again. "Bibbs, I'm goin' to start you off this way: I'm
goin' to make you a director in the Pump Works Company; I'm goin' to
make you vice-president of the Realty Company and a vice-president of
the Trust Company!"
Bibbs jumped to his feet, blanched. "Oh no!" he cried.
Sheridan took his dismay to be the excitement of sudden joy. "Yes,
sir! And there's some pretty fat little salaries goes with those
vice-presidencies, and a pinch o' stock in the Pump Company with the
directorship. You thought I was pretty mean about the shop--oh, I
know you did!--but you see the old man can play it both ways. And so
right now, the minute you've begun to make good the way I wanted you
to, I deal from the new deck. And I'll keep on handin' it out bigger
and bigger every time you show me you're big enough to play the hand
I deal you. I'm startin' you with a pretty big one, my boy!"
"But I don't--I don't--I don't want it!" Bibbs stammered.
"What'd you say?" Sheridan thought he had not heard aright.
"I don't want it, father. I thank you--I do thank you--"
Sheridan looked perplexed. "What's the matter with you? Didn't you
understand what I was tellin' you?"
"You sure? I reckon you didn't. I offered--"
"I know, I know! But I can't take it."
"What's the matter with you?" Sheridan was half amazed, half
suspicious. "Your head feel funny?"
"I've never been quite so sane in my life," said Bibbs, "as I have
lately. And I've got just what I want. I'm living exactly the right
life. I'm earning my daily bread, and I'm happy in doing it. My
wages are enough. I don't want any more money, and I don't deserve
"Damnation!" Sheridan sprang up. "You've turned Socialist! You been
listening to those fellows down there, and you--"
"No, sir. I think there's a great deal in what they say, but that
Sheridan tried to restrain his growing fury, and succeeded partially.
"Then what is it? What's the matter?"
"Nothing," he son returned, nervously. "Nothing--except that I'm
content. I don't want to change anything."
Bibbs had the incredible folly to try to explain. "I'll tell you,
father, if I can. I know it may be hard to understand--"
"Yes, I think it may be," said Sheridan, grimly. "What you say
usually is a LITTLE that way. Go on!"
Perturbed and distressed, Bibbs rose instinctively; he felt himself
at every possible disadvantage. He was a sleeper clinging to a dream
--a rough hand stretched to shake him and waken him. He went to a
table and made vague drawings upon it with a finger, and as he spoke
he kept his eyes lowered. "You weren't altogether right about the
shop--that is, in one way you weren't, father." He glanced up
apprehensively. Sheridan stood facing him, expressionless, and made
no attempt to interrupt. "That's difficult to explain," Bibbs
continued, lowering his eyes again, to follow the tracings of his
finger. "I--I believe the shop might have done for me this time if
I hadn't--if something hadn't helped me to--oh, not only to bear it,
but to be happy in it. Well, I AM happy in it. I want to go on just
as I am. And of all things on earth that I don't want, I don't want
to live a business life--I don't want to be drawn into it. I don't
think it IS living--and now I AM living. I have the healthful toil
--and I can think. In business as important as yours I couldn't think
anything but business. I don't--I don't think making money is worth
"Go on," said Sheridan, curtly, as Bibbs paused timidly.
"It hasn't seemed to get anywhere, that I can see," said Bibbs. "You
think this city is rich and powerful--but what's the use of its being
rich and powerful? They don't teach the children any more in the
schools because the city is rich and powerful. They teach them more
than they used to because some people--not rich and powerful people--
have thought the thoughts to teach the children. And yet when you've
been reading the paper I've heard you objecting to the children being
taught anything except what would help them to make money. You said
it was wasting the taxes. You want them taught to make a living, but
not to live. When I was a little boy this wasn't an ugly town; now
it's hideous. What's the use of being big just to be hideous? I mean
I don't think all this has meant really going ahead--it's just been
getting bigger and dirtier and noisier. Wasn't the whole country
happier and in many ways wiser when it was smaller and cleaner and
quieter and kinder? I know you think I'm an utter fool, father, but,
after all, though, aren't business and politics just the housekeeping
part of life? And wouldn't you despise a woman that not only made her
housekeeping her ambition, but did it so noisily and dirtily that the
whole neighborhood was in a continual turmoil over it? And suppose
she talked and thought about her housekeeping all the time, and was
always having additions built to her house when she couldn't keep
clean what she already had; and suppose, with it all, she made the
house altogether unpeaceful and unlivable--"
"Just one minute!" Sheridan interrupted, adding, with terrible
courtesy, "If you will permit me? Have you ever been right about
"I don't quite--"
"I ask the simple question: Have you ever been right about anything
whatever in the course of your life? Have you ever been right upon
any subject or question you've thought about and talked about? Can
you mention one single time when you were proved to be right?"
He was flourishing the bandaged hand as he spoke, but Bibbs said only,
"If I've always been wrong before, surely there's more chance that I'm
right about this. It seems reasonable to suppose something would be
due to bring up my average."
"Yes, I thought you wouldn't see the point. And there's another you
probably couldn't see, but I'll take the liberty to mention it. You
been balkin' all your life. Pretty much everything I ever wanted you
to do, you'd let out SOME kind of a holler, like you are now--and yet
I can't seem to remember once when you didn't have to lay down and do
what I said. But go on with your remarks about our city and the
business of this country. Go on!"
"I don't want to be a part of it," said Bibbs, with unwonted decision.
"I want to keep to myself, and I'm doing it now. I couldn't, if I
went down there with you. I'd be swallowed into it. I don't care for
money enough to--"
"No," his father interrupted, still dangerously quiet. "You've
never had to earn a living. Anybody could tell that by what you say.
Now, let me remind you: you're sleepin' in a pretty good bed; you're
eatin' pretty fair food; you're wearin' pretty fine clothes. Just
suppose one o' these noisy housekeepers--me, for instance--decided
to let you do your own housekeepin'. May I ask what your proposition
"I'm earning nine dollars a week," said Bibbs, sturdily. "It's
enough. I shouldn't mind at all."
"Who's payin' you that nine dollars a week?"
"My work!" Bibbs answered. "And I've done so well on that clipping-
machine I believe I could work up to fifteen or even twenty a week
at another job. I could be a fair plumber in a few months, I'm sure.
I'd rather have a trade than be in business--I should, infinitely!"
"You better set about learnin' one pretty dam' quick!" But Sheridan
struggled with his temper and again was partially successful in
controlling it. "You better learn a trade over Sunday, because you're
either goin' down with me to my office Monday morning--or--you can go
"All right," said Bibbs, gently. "I can get along."
Sheridan raised his hands sardonically, as in prayer. "O God," he
said, "this boy was crazy enough before he began to earn his nine
dollars a week, and now his money's gone to his head! Can't You do
nothin' for him?" Then he flung his hands apart, palms outward, in
a furious gesture of dismissal. "Get out o' this room! You got a
skull that's thicker'n a whale's thigh-bone, but it's cracked spang
all the way across! You hated the machine-shop so bad when I sent you
there, you went and stayed sick for over two years--and now, when I
offer to take you out of it and give you the mint, you holler for the
shop like a calf for its mammy! You're cracked! Oh, but I got a fine
layout here! One son died, one quit, and one's a loon! The loon's
all I got left! H. P. Ellersly's wife had a crazy brother, and they
undertook to keep him at the house. First morning he was there he
walked straight though a ten-dollar plate-glass window out into the
yard. He says, 'Oh, look at the pretty dandelion!' That's what
you're doin'! You want to spend your life sayin', 'Oh, look at the
pretty dandelion!' and you don't care a tinker's dam' what you bust!
Well, mister, loon or no loon, cracked and crazy or whatever you are,
I'll take you with me Monday morning, and I'll work you and learn you
--yes, and I'll lam you, if I got to--until I've made something out of
you that's fit to be called a business man! I'll keep at you while
I'm able to stand, and if I have to lay down to die I'll be whisperin'
at you till they get the embalmin'-fluid into me! Now go on, and
don't let me hear from you again till you can come and tell me you've
waked up, you poor, pitiful, dandelion-pickin' SLEEP-WALKER!"
Bibbs gave him a queer look. There was something like reproach in it,
for once; but there was more than that--he seemed to be startled by
his father's last word.
There was sleet that evening, with a whopping wind, but neither this
storm nor that other which so imminently threatened him held place
in the consciousness of Bibbs Sheridan when he came once more to the
presence of Mary. All was right in his world has he sat with her,
reading Maurice Maeterlinck's Alladine and Palomides. The sorrowful
light of the gas-jet might have been May morning sunshine flashing
amber and rose through the glowing windows of the Sainte-Chapelle,
it was so bright for Bibbs. And while the zinc-eater held out to
bring him such golden nights as these, all the king's horses and all
the king's men might not serve to break the spell.
Bibbs read slowly, but in a reasonable manner, as if he were talking;
and Mary, looking at him steadily from beneath her curved fingers,
appeared to discover no fault. It had grown to be her habit to look
at him whenever there was an opportunity. It may be said, in truth,
that while they were together, and it was light, she looked at him all
When he came to the end of Alladine and Palomides they were silent a
little while, considering together; then he turned back the pages and
said: "There's something I want to read over. This:"
You would think I threw a window open on the dawn.... She has a
soul that can be seen around her--that takes you in its arms like
an ailing child and without saying anything to you consoles you
for everything.... I shall never understand it all. I do not know
how it can all be, but my knees bend in spite of me when I speak
He stopped and looked at her.
"You boy!" said Mary, not very clearly.
"Oh yes," he returned. "But it's true--especially my knees!"
"You boy!" she murmured again, blushing charmingly. "You might read
another line over. The first time I ever saw you, Bibbs, you were
looking into a mirror. Do it again. But you needn't read it--I can
give it to you: 'A little Greek slave that came from the heart of
"I! I'm one of the hands at the Pump Works--and going to stay one,
unless I have to decide to study plumbing."
"No." She shook her head. "You love and want what's beautiful and
delicate and serene; it's really art that you want in your life,
and have always wanted. You seemed to me, from the first, the most
wistful person I had ever known, and that's what you were wistful
Bibbs looked doubtful and more wistful than ever; but after a moment
or two the matter seemed to clarify itself to him. "Why, no," he
said; "I wanted something else more than that. I wanted you."
"And here I am!" she laughed, completely understanding. "I think
we're like those two in The Cloister and the Hearth. I'm just the
rough Burgundian cross-bow man, Denys, who followed that gentle Gerard
and told everybody that the devil was dead."
"He isn't, though," said Bibbs, as a hoarse little bell in the next
room began a series of snappings which proved to be ten, upon count.
"He gets into the clock whenever I'm with you." And, sighing deeply
he rose to go.
"You're always very prompt about leaving me."
"I--I try to be," he said. "It isn't easy to be careful not to risk
everything by giving myself a little more at a time. If I ever saw
you look tired--"
"Have you ever?"
"Not yet. You always look--you always look--"
"Care-free. That's it. Except when you feel sorry for me about
something, you always have that splendid look. It puts courage into
people to see it. If I had a struggle to face I'd keep remembering
that look--and I'd never give up! It's a brave look, too, as though
gaiety might be a kind of gallantry on your part, and yet I don't
quite understand why it should be, either." He smiled quizzically,
looking down upon her. "Mary, you haven't a 'secret sorrow,' have
For answer she only laughed.
"No," he said; "I can't imagine you with a care in the world. I think
that's why you were so kind to me--you have nothing but happiness in
your own life, and so you could spare time to make my troubles turn
to happiness, too. But there's one little time in the twenty-four
hours when I'm not happy. It's now, when I have to say good night.
I feel dismal every time it comes--and then, when I've left the house,
there's a bad little blankness, a black void, as though I were
temporarily dead; and it lasts until I get it established in my mind
that I'm really beginning another day that's to end with YOU again.
Then I cheer up. But now's the bad time--and I must go through it,
and so--good night." And he added with a pungent vehemence of which
he was little aware, "I hate it!"
"Do you?" she said, rising to go to the door with him. But he stood
motionless, gazing at her wonderingly.
"Mary! Your eyes are so--" He stopped.
"Yes?" But she looked quickly away.
"I don't know," he said. "I thought just then--"
"What did you think?"
"I don't know--it seemed to me that there was something I ought to
She laughed and met his wondering gaze again frankly. "My eyes are
pleased," she said. "I'm glad that you miss me a little after you
"But to-morrow's coming faster than other days if you'll let it," he
She inclined her head. "Yes. I'll--'let it'!"
"Going to church," said Bibbs. "It IS going to church when I go with
She went to the front door with him; she always went that far. They
had formed a little code of leave-taking, by habit, neither of them
ever speaking of it; but it was always the same. She always stood
in the doorway until he reached the sidewalk, and there he always
turned and looked back, and she waved her hand to him. Then he went
on, halfway to the New House, and looked back again, and Mary was not
in the doorway, but the door was open and the light shone. It was as
if she meant to tell him that she would never shut him out; he could
always see that friendly light of the open doorway--as if it were
open for him to come back, if he would. He could see it until a wing
of the New House came between, when he went up the path. The open
doorway seemed to him the beautiful symbol of her friendship--of her
thought of him; a symbol of herself and of her ineffable kindness.
And she kept the door open--even to-night, though the sleet and fine
snow swept in upon her bare throat and arms, and her brown hair was
strewn with tiny white stars. His heart leaped as he turned and saw
that she was there, waving her hand to him, as if she did not know
that the storm touched her. When he had gone on, Mary did as she
always did--she went into an unlit room across the hall from that
in which they had spent the evening, and, looking from the window,
watched him until he was out of sight. The storm made that difficult
to-night, but she caught a glimpse of him under the street-lamp that
stood between the two houses, and saw that he turned to look back
again. Then, and not before, she looked at the upper windows of
Roscoe's house across the street. They were dark. Mary waited, but
after a little while she closed the front door and returned to her
window. A moment later two of the upper windows of Roscoe's house
flashed into light and a hand lowered the shade of one of them. Mary
felt the cold then--it was the third night she had seen those windows
lighted and the shade lowered, just after Bibbs had gone.
But Bibbs had no glance to spare for Roscoe's windows. He stopped for
his last look back at the open door, and, with a thin mantle of white
already upon his shoulders, made his way, gasping in the wind, to the
lee of the sheltering wing of the New House.
A stricken George, muttering hoarsely, admitted him, and Bibbs became
aware of a paroxysm within the house. Terrible sounds came from the
library: Sheridan cursing as never before; his wife sobbing, her
voice rising to an agonized squeal of protest upon each of a series
of muffled detonations--the outrageous thumping of a bandaged hand
upon wood; then Gurney, sharply imperious, "Keep your hand in that
sling! Keep your hand in that sling, I say!"
"LOOK!" George gasped, delighted to play herald for so important
a tragedy; and he renewed upon his face the ghastly expression with
which he had first beheld the ruins his calamitous gesture laid before
the eyes of Bibbs. "Look at 'at lamidal statue!"
Gazing down the hall, Bibbs saw heroic wreckage, seemingly Byzantine--
painted colossal fragments of the shattered torso, appallingly human;
and gilded and silvered heaps of magnificence strewn among ruinous
palms like the spoil of a barbarians' battle. There had been a
massacre in the oasis--the Moor had been hurled headlong from his
"He hit 'at ole lamidal statue," said George. "POW!"
"YESsuh! POW! he hit 'er! An' you' ma run tell me git doctuh quick
's I kin telefoam--she sho' you' pa goin' bus' a blood-vessel. He
ain't takin' on 'tall NOW. He ain't nothin' 'tall to what he was
'while ago. You done miss' it, Mist' Bibbs. Doctuh got him all
quiet' down, to what he was. POW! he hit'er! Yessuh!" He took
Bibbs's coat and proffered a crumpled telegraph form. "Here what
come," he said. "I pick 'er up when he done stompin' on 'er. You
read 'er, Mist' Bibbs--you' ma tell me tuhn 'er ovuh to you soon's
you come in."
Bibbs read the telegram quickly. It was from New York and addressed
to Mrs. Sheridan.
Sure you will all approve step have taken as was so wretched my
health would probably suffered severely Robert and I were married
this afternoon thought best have quiet wedding absolutely sure
you will understand wisdom of step when you know Robert better am
happiest woman in world are leaving for Florida will wire address
when settled will remain till spring love to all father will like
him too when knows him like I do he is just ideal.
George departed, and Bibbs was left gazing upon chaos and listening
to thunder. He could not reach the stairway without passing the open
doors of the library, and he was convinced that the mere glimpse of
him, just then, would prove nothing less than insufferable for his
father. For that reason he was about to make his escape into the
gold-and-brocade room, intending to keep out of sight, when he heard
Sheridan vociferously demanding his presence.
"Tell him to come in here! He's out there. I heard George just let
him in. Now you'll SEE!" And tear-stained Mrs. Sheridan, looking out
into the hall, beckoned to her son.
Bibbs went as far as the doorway. Gurney sat winding a strip of white
cotton, his black bag open upon a chair near by; and Sheridan was
striding up and down, his hand so heavily wrapped in fresh bandages
that he seemed to be wearing a small boxing-glove. His eyes were
bloodshot; his forehead was heavily bedewed; one side of his collar
had broken loose, and there were blood-stains upon his right cuff.
"THERE'S our little sunshine!" he cried, as Bibbs appeared. "THERE'S
the hope o' the family--my lifelong pride and joy! I want--"
"Keep you hand in that sling," said Gurney, sharply.
Sheridan turned upon him, uttering a sound like a howl. "For God's
sake, sing another tune!" he cried. "You said you 'came as a doctor
but stay as a friend,' and in that capacity you undertake to sit up
and criticize ME--"
"Oh, talk sense," said the doctor, and yawned intentionally. "What
do you want Bibbs to say?"
"You were sittin' up there tellin' me I got 'hysterical'--
'hysterical,' oh Lord! You sat up there and told me I got
'hysterical' over nothin'! You sat up there tellin' me I didn't
have as heavy burdens as many another man you knew. I just want you
to hear THIS. Now listen!" He swung toward the quiet figure waiting
in the doorway. "Bibbs, will you come down-town with me Monday morning
and let me start you with two vice-presidencies, a directorship, stock,
and salaries? I ask you."
"No, father," said Bibbs, gently.
Sheridan looked at Gurney and then faced his son once more.
"Bibbs, you want to stay in the shop, do you, at nine dollars a week,
instead of takin' up my offer?"
"And I'd like the doctor to hear: What'll you do if I decide you're
too high-priced a workin'-man either to live in my house or work in
"Find other work," said Bibbs.
"There! You hear him for yourself!" Sheridan cried. "You hear
"Keep you hand in that sling! Yes, I hear him."
Sheridan leaned over Gurney and shouted, in a voice that cracked and
broke, piping into falsetto: "He thinks of bein' a PLUMBER! He wants
to be a PLUMBER! He told me he couldn't THINK if he went into
business--he wants to be a plumber so he can THINK!"
He fell back a step, wiping his forhead with the back of his left
hand. "There! That's my son! That's the only son I got now! That's
my chance to live," he cried, with a bitterness that seemed to leave
ashes in his throat. "That's my one chance to live--that thing you
see in the doorway yonder!"
Dr. Gurney thoughtfully regarded the bandage strip he had been
winding, and tossed it into the open bag. "What's the matter
with giving Bibbs a chance to live?" he said, coolly. "I would
if I were you. You've had TWO that went into business."
Sheridan's mouth moved grotesquely before he could speak. "Joe
Gurney," he said, when he could command himself so far, "are you
accusin' me of the responsibility for the death of my son James?"
"I accuse you of nothing," said the doctor. "But just once I'd like
to have it out with you on the question of Bibbs--and while he's here,
too." He got up, walked to the fire, and stood warming his hands
behind his back and smiling. "Look here, old fellow, let's be
reasonable," he said. "You were bound Bibbs should go to the shop
again, and I gave you and him, both, to understand pretty plainly that
if he went it was at the risk of his life. Well, what did he do? He
said he wanted to go. And he did go, and he's made good there. Now,
see: Isn't that enough? Can't you let him off now? He wants to
write, and how do you know that he couldn't do it if you gave him
a chance? How do you know he hasn't some message-- something to say
that might make the world just a little bit happier or wiser? He
MIGHT--in time--it's a possibility not to be denied. Now he can't
deliver any message if he goes down there with you, and he won't HAVE
any to deliver. I don't say going down with you is likely to injure
his health, as I thought the shop would, and as the shop did, the
first time. I'm not speaking as doctor now, anyhow. But I tell you
one thing I know: if you take him down there you'll kill something
that I feel is in him, and it's finer, I think, than his physical
body, and you'll kill it deader than a door-nail! And so why not let
it live? You've about come to the end of your string, old fellow.
Why not stop this perpetual devilish fighting and give Bibbs his
Sheridan stood looking at him fixedly. "What 'fighting?'"
"Yours--with nature." Gurney sustained the daunting gaze of his
fierce antagonist equably. "You don't seem to understand that you've
been struggling against actual law."
"Natural law," said Gurney. "What do you think beat you with Edith?
Did Edith, herself, beat you? Didn't she obey without question
something powerful that was against you? EDITH wasn't against you,
and you weren't against HER, but you set yourself against the power
that had her in its grip, and it shot out a spurt of flame--and won
in a walk! What's taken Roscoe from you? Timbers bear just so much
strain, old man; but YOU wanted to send the load across the broken
bridge, and you thought you could bully or coax the cracked thing
into standing. Well, you couldn't! Now here's Bibbs. There are
thousands of men fit for the life you want him to lead--and so is he.
It wouldn't take half of Bibbs's brains to be twice as good a business
man as Jim and Roscoe put together."
"WHAT!" Sheridan goggled at him like a zany.
"Your son Bibbs," said the doctor, composedly, "Bibbs Sheridan has
the kind and quantity of 'gray matter' that will make him a success
in anything--if he ever wakes up! Personally I should prefer him to
remain asleep. I like him that way. But the thousands of men fit
for the life you want him to lead aren't fit to do much with the life
he OUGHT to lead. Blindly, he's been fighting for the chance to lead
it--he's obeying something that begs to stay alive within him; and,
blindly, he knows you'll crush it out. You've set your will to do it.
Let me tell you something more. You don't know what you've become
since Jim's going thwarted you--and that's what was uppermost, a
bafflement stronger than your normal grief. You're half mad with a
consuming fury against the very self of the law--for it was the very