Part 5 out of 6
self of the law that took Jim from you. That was a law concerning
the cohesion of molecules. The very self of the law took Roscoe from
you and gave Edith the certainty of beating you; and the very self of
the law makes Bibbs deny you to-night. The LAW beats you. Haven't
you been whipped enough? But you want to whip the law--you've set
yourself against it, to bend it to your own ends, to wield it and
The voice broke from Sheridan's heaving chest in a shout. "Yes!
And by God, I will!"
"So Ajax defied the lightning," said Gurney.
"I've heard that dam'-fool story, too," Sheridan retorted, fiercely.
"That's for chuldern and niggers. It ain't twentieth century, let me
tell you! "Defied the lightning,' did he, the jackass! If he'd been
half a man he'd 'a' got away with it. WE don't go showin' off defyin'
the lightning--we hitch it up and make it work for us like a
black-steer! A man nowadays would just as soon think o' defyin'
"Well, what about Bibbs?" said Gurney. "Will you be a really big man
"Gurney, you know a lot about bigness!" Sheridan began to walk to and
fro again, and the doctor returned gloomily to his chair. He had shot
his bolt the moment he judged its chance to strike center was best,
but the target seemed unaware of the marksman.
"I'm tryin' to make a big man out o' that poor truck yonder," Sheridan
went on, "and you step in, beggin' me to let him be Lord knows what--I
don't! I suppose you figure it out that now I got a SON-IN-LAW, I
mightn't need a son! Yes, I got a son-in-law now--a spender!"
"Oh, put your hand back!" said Gurney, wearily.
There was a bronze inkstand upon the table. Sheridan put his right
hand in the sling, but with his left he swept the inkstand from the
table and half-way across the room--a comet with a destroying black
tail. Mrs. Sheridan shrieked and sprang toward it.
"Let it lay!" he shouted, fiercely. "Let it lay!" And, weeping,
she obeyed. "Yes, sir," he went on, in a voice the more ominous for
the sudden hush he put upon it. "I got a spender for a son-in-law!
It's wonderful where property goes, sometimes. There was ole man
Tracy--you remember him, Doc--J. R. Tracy, solid banker. He went
into the bank as messenger, seventeen years old; he was president
at forty-three, and he built that bank with his life for forty years
more. He was down there from nine in the morning until four in the
afternoon the day before he died--over eighty! Gilt edge, that bank?
It was diamond edge! He used to eat a bag o' peanuts and an apple
for lunch; but he wasn't stingy--he was just livin' in his business.
He didn't care for pie or automobiles--he had his bank. It was an
institution, and it come pretty near bein' the beatin' heart o' this
town in its time. Well, that ole man used to pass one o' these here
turned-up-nose and turned-up-pants cigarette boys on the streets.
Never spoke to him, Tracy didn't. Speak to him? God! he wouldn't 'a'
coughed on him! He wouldn't 'a' let him clean the cuspidors at the
bank! Why, if he'd 'a' just seen him standin' in FRONT the bank he'd
'a' had him run off the street. And yet all Tracy was doin' every
day of his life was workin' for that cigarette boy! Tracy thought it
was for the bank; he thought he was givin' his life and his life-blood
and the blood of his brain for the bank, but he wasn't. It was every
bit--from the time he went in at seventeen till he died in harness at
eighty-three--it was every last lick of it just slavin' for that
turned-up-nose, turned-up-pants cigarette boy. AND TRACY DIDN'T EVEN
KNOW HIS NAME! He died, not ever havin' heard it, though he chased
him off the front steps of his house once. The day after Tracy died
his old-maid daughter married the cigarette--and there AIN'T any Tracy
bank any more! And now"--his voice rose again--"and now I got a
Gurney pointed to the flourishing right hand without speaking, and
Sheridan once more returned it to the sling.
"My son-in-law likes Florida this winter," Sheridan went on. "That's
good, and my son-in-law better enjoy it, because I don't think he'll
be there next winter. They got twelve-thousand dollars to spend, and
I hear it can be done in Florida by rich sons-in-law. When Roscoe's
woman got me to spend that much on a porch for their new house, Edith
wouldn't give me a minute's rest till I turned over the same to her.
And she's got it, besides what I gave her to go East on. It'll be
gone long before this time next year, and when she comes home and
leaves the cigarette behind--for good--she'll get some more. MY name
ain't Tracy, and there ain't goin' to be any Tracy business in the
Sheridan family. And there ain't goin' to be any college foundin' and
endowin' and trusteein', nor God-knows-what to keep my property alive
when I'm gone! Edith'll be back, and she'll get a girl's share when
she's through with that cigarette, but--"
"By the way," interposed Gurney, "didn't Mrs. Sheridan tell me that
Bibbs warned you Edith would marry Lamhorn in New York?"
Sheridan went completely to pieces: he swore, while his wife screamed
and stopped her ears. And as he swore he pounded the table with
his wounded hand, and when the doctor, after storming at him
ineffectively, sprang to catch and protect that hand, Sheridan
wrenched it away, tearing the bandage. He hammered the table till
"Fool!" he panted, choking. "If he's shown gumption enough to guess
right the first time in his life, it's enough for me to begin learnin'
him on!" And, struggling with the doctor, he leaned toward Bibbs,
thrusting forward his convulsed face, which was deathly pale. "My
name ain't Tracy, I tell you!" he screamed, hoarsely. "You give in,
you stubborn fool! I've had my way with you before, and I'll have my
way with you now!"
Bibbs's face was as white as his father's, but he kept remembering
that "splendid look" of Mary's which he had told her would give him
courage in a struggle, so that he would "never give up."
"No. You can't have your way," he said. And then, obeying a
significant motion of Gurney's head, he went out quickly, leaving
Mrs. Sheridan, in a wrapper, noiselessly opened the door of her
husband's room at daybreak the next morning, and peered within the
darkened chamber. At the "old" house they had shared a room, but
the architect had chosen to separate them at the New, and they had
not known how to formulate an objection, although to both of them
something seemed vaguely reprehensible in the new arrangement.
Sheridan did not stir, and she was withdrawing her head from the
aperture when he spoke.
"Oh, I'm, AWAKE! Come in, if you want to, and shut the door."
She came and sat by the bed. "I woke up thinkin' about it," she
explained. "And the more I thought about it the surer I got I must
be right, and I knew you'd be tormentin' yourself if you was awake,
so--well, you got plenty other troubles, but I'm just sure you ain't
goin' to have the worry with Bibbs it looks like."
"You BET I ain't!" he grunted.
"Look how biddable he was about goin' back to the Works," she
continued. "He's a right good-hearted boy, really, and sometimes I
honestly have to say he seems right smart, too. Now and then he'll
say something sounds right bright. 'Course, most always it doesn't,
and a good deal of the time, when he says things, why, I have to feel
glad we haven't got company, because they'd think he didn't have any
gumption at all. Yet, look at the way he did when Jim--when Jim got
hurt. He took right hold o' things. 'Course he'd been sick himself
so much and all--and the rest of us never had, much, and we were kind
o' green about what to do in that kind o' trouble--still, he did take
hold, and everything went off all right; you'll have to say that much,
papa. And Dr. Gurney says he's got brains, and you can't deny but
what the doctor's right considerable of a man. He acts sleepy, but
that's only because he's got such a large practice--he's a pretty
wide-awake kind of a man some ways. Well, what he says last night
about Bibbs himself bein' asleep, and how much he'd amount to if he
ever woke up--that's what I got to thinkin' about. You heard him,
papa; he says, 'Bibbs'll be a bigger business man than what Jim and
Roscoe was put together--if he ever wakes up,' he says. Wasn't that
exactly what he says?"
"I suppose so," said Sheridan, without exhibiting any interest.
"Gurney's crazier'n Bibbs, but if he wasn't--if what he says was
true--what of it?"
"Listen, papa. Just suppose Bibbs took it into his mind to get
married. You know where he goes all the time--"
"Oh, Lord, yes!" Sheridan turned over in the bed, his face to the
wall, leaving visible of himself only the thick grizzle of his hair.
"You better go back to sleep. He runs over there--every minute
she'll let him, I suppose. Go back to bed. There's nothin' in it."
"WHY ain't there?" she urged. "I know better--there is, too! You
wait and see. There's just one thing in the world that'll wake the
sleepiest young man alive up--yes, and make him JUMP up--and I don't
care who he is or how sound asleep it looks like he is. That's when
he takes it into his head to pick out some girl and settle down and
have a home and chuldern of his own. THEN, I guess, he'll go out
after the money! You'll see. I've known dozens o' cases, and so've
you--moony, no-'count young men, all notions and talk, goin' to be
ministers, maybe or something; and there's just this one thing takes
it out of 'em and brings 'em right down to business. Well, I never
could make out just what it is Bibbs wants to be, really; doesn't seem
he wants to be a minister exactly--he's so far-away you can't tell,
and he never SAYS--but I know this is goin' to get him right down to
common sense. Now, I don't say that Bibbs has got the idea in his
head yet--'r else he wouldn't be talkin' that fool-talk about nine
dollars a week bein' good enough for him to live on. But it's COMIN',
papa, and he'll JUMP for whatever you want to hand him out. He will!
And I can tell you this much, too: he'll want all the salary and
stock he can get hold of, and he'll hustle to keep gettin' more.
That girl's the kind that a young husband just goes crazy to give
things to! She's pretty and fine-lookin', and things look nice on
her, and I guess she'd like to have 'em about as well as the next.
And I guess she isn't gettin' many these days, either, and she'll be
pretty ready for the change. I saw her with her sleeves rolled up
at the kitchen window the other day, and Jackson told me yesterday
their cook left two weeks ago, and they haven't tried to hire another
one. He says her and her mother been doin' the housework a good
while, and now they're doin' the cookin,' too. 'Course Bibbs wouldn't
know that unless she's told him, and I reckon she wouldn't; she's kind
o' stiffish-lookin', and Bibbs is too up in the clouds to notice
anything like that for himself. They've never asked him to a meal
in the house, but he wouldn't notice that, either--he's kind of
innocent. Now I was thinkin'--you know, I don't suppose we've hardly
mentioned the girl's name at table since Jim went, but it seems to me
Sheridan flung out his arms, uttering a sound half-groan, half-yawn.
"You're barkin' up the wrong tree! Go on back to bed, mamma!"
"Why am I?" she demanded, crossly. "Why am I barkin' up the wrong
"Because you are. There's nothin' in it."
"I'll bet you," she said, rising--"I'll bet you he goes to church
with her this morning. What you want to bet?"
"Go back to bed," he commanded. "I KNOW what I'm talkin' about;
there's nothin' in it, I tell you."
She shook her head perplexedly. "You think because--because Jim
was runnin' so much with her it wouldn't look right?"
"No. Nothin' to do with it."
"Then--do you know something about it that you ain't told me?"
"Yes, I do," he grunted. "Now go on. Maybe I can get a little sleep.
I ain't had any yet!"
"Well--" She went to the door, her expression downcast. "I thought
maybe--but--" She coughed prefatorily. "Oh, papa, something else
I wanted to tell you. I was talkin' to Roscoe over the 'phone last
night when the telegram came, so I forgot to tell you, but--well,
Sibyl wants to come over this afternoon. Roscoe says she has
something she wants to say to us. It'll be the first time she's been
out since she was able to sit up--and I reckon she wants to tell us
she's sorry for what happened. They expect to get off by the end
o' the week, and I reckon she wants to feel she's done what she could
to kind o' make up. Anyway, that's what he said. I 'phoned him again
about Edith, and he said it wouldn't disturb Sibyl, because she'd
been expectin' it; she was sure all along it was goin' to happen;
and, besides, I guess she's got all that foolishness pretty much out
of her, bein' so sick. But what I thought was, no use bein' rough
with her, papa--I expect she's suffered a good deal--and I don't think
we'd ought to be, on Roscoe's account. You'll--you'll be kind o'
polite to her, won't you, papa?"
He mumbled something which was smothered under the coverlet he had
pulled over his head.
"What?" she said, timidly. "I was just sayin' I hoped you'd treat
Sibyl all right when she comes, this afternoon. You will, won't you,
He threw the coverlet off furiously. "I presume so!" he roared.
She departed guiltily.
But if he had accepted her proffered wager that Bibbs would go to
church with Mary Vertrees that morning, Mrs. Sheridan would have
lost. Nevertheless, Bibbs and Mary did certainly set out from Mr.
Vertrees's house with the purpose of going to church. That was their
intention, and they had no other. They meant to go to church.
But it happened that they were attentively preoccupied in a
conversation as they came to the church; and though Mary was looking
to the right and Bibbs was looking to the left, Bibbs's leftward
glance converged with Mary's rightward glance, and neither was looking
far beyond the other at this time. It also happened that, though they
were a little jostled among groups of people in the vicinity of the
church, they passed this somewhat prominent edifice without being
aware of their proximity to it, and they had gone an incredible number
of blocks beyond it before they discovered their error. However,
feeling that they might be embarrassingly late if they returned, they
decided that a walk would make them as good. It was a windless winter
morning, with an inch of crisp snow over the ground. So they walked,
and for the most part they were silent, but on their way home, after
they had turned back at noon, they began to be talkative again.
"Mary," said Bibbs, after a time, "am I a sleep-walker?"
She laughed a little, then looked grave. "Does your father say you
"Yes--when he's in a mood to flatter me. Other times, other names.
He has quite a list."
"You mustn't mind," she said, gently. "He's been getting some pretty
severe shocks. What you've told me makes me pretty sorry for him,
Bibbs. I've always been sure he's very big."
"Yes. Big and--blind. He's like a Hercules without eyes and without
any consciousness except that of his strength and of his purpose to
grow stronger. Stronger for what? For nothing."
"Are you sure, Bibbs? It CAN'T be for nothing; it must be stronger
for something, even though he doesn't know what it is. Perhaps what
he and his kind are struggling for is something so great they COULDN'T
see it--so great none of us could see it."
"No, he's just like some blind, unconscious thing heaving
"Till he breaks through and leaps out into the daylight," she
finished for him, cheerily.
"Into the smoke," said Bibbs. "Look at the powder of coal-dust
already dirtying the decent snow, even though it's Sunday. That's
from the little pigs; the big ones aren't so bad, on Sunday! There's
a fleck of soot on your cheek. Some pig sent it out into the air;
he might as well have thrown it on you. It would have been braver,
for then he'd have taken his chance of my whipping him for it if
"IS there soot on my cheek, Bibbs, or were you only saying so
rhetorically? IS there?"
"Is there? There ARE soot on your cheeks, Mary--a fleck on each.
One landed since I mentioned the first."
She halted immediately, giving him her handkerchief, and he succeeded
in transferring most of the black from her face to the cambric. They
were entirely matter-of-course about it.
An elderly couple, it chanced, had been walking behind Bibbs and Mary
for the last block or so, and passed ahead during the removal of
the soot. "There!" said the elderly wife. "You're always wrong when
you begin guessing about strangers. Those two young people aren't
honeymooners at all--they've been married for years. A blind man
could see that."
"I wish I did know who threw that soot on you," said Bibbs, looking up
at the neighboring chimneys, as they went on. "They arrest children
for throwing snowballs at the street-cars, but--"
"But they don't arrest the street-cars for shaking all the pictures
in the houses crooked every time they go by. Nor for the uproar they
make. I wonder what's the cost in nerves for the noise of the city
each year. Yes, we pay the price for living in a 'growing town,'
whether we have money to pay or none."
"Who is it gets the pay?" said Bibbs.
"Not I!" she laughed.
"Nobody gets it. There isn't any pay; there's only money. And only
some of the men down-town get much of that. That's what my father
wants me to get."
"Yes," she said, smiling to him, and nodding. "And you don't want it,
and you don't need it."
"But you don't think I'm a sleep-walker, Mary?" He had told her of
his father's new plans for him, though he had not described the vigor
and picturesqueness of their setting forth. "You think I'm right?"
"A thousand times!" she cried. "There aren't so many happy people
in this world, I think--and you say you've found what makes you happy.
If it's a dream--keep it!"
"The thought of going down there--into the money shuffle--I hate
it as I never hated the shop!" he said. "I hate it! And the city
itself, the city that the money shuffle has made--just look at it!
Look at it in winter. The snow's tried hard to make the ugliness
bearable, but the ugliness is winning; it's making the snow hideous;
the snow's getting dirty on top, and it's foul underneath with the
dirt and disease of the unclean street. And the dirt and the ugliness
and the rush and the noise aren't the worst of it; it's what the dirt
and ugliness and rush and noise MEAN--that's the worst! The outward
things are insufferable, but they're only the expression of a spirit--
a blind enbryo of a spirit, not yet a soul--oh, just greed! And this
'go ahead' nonsense! Oughtn't it all to be a fellowship? I shouldn't
want to get ahead if I could--I'd want to help the other fellow to
keep up with me."
"I read something the other day and remembered it for you," said Mary.
"It was something Burne-Jones said of a picture he was going to paint:
'In the first picture I shall make a man walking in the street of a
great city, full of all kinds of happy life: children, and lovers
walking, and ladies leaning from the windows all down great lengths
of a street leading to the city walls; and there the gates are wide
open, letting in a space of green field and cornfield in harvest; and
all round his head a great rain of swirling autumn leaves blowing from
a little walled graveyard."
"And if I painted," Bibbs returned, "I'd paint a lady walking in the
street of a great city, full of all kinds of uproarious and futile
life--children being taught only how to make money, and lovers
hurrying to get richer, and ladies who'd given up trying to wash their
windows clean, and the gates of the city wide open, letting in slums
and slaughter-houses and freight-yards, and all round this lady's head
a great rain of swirling soot--" He paused, adding, thoughtfully:
"And yet I believe I'm glad that soot got on your cheek. It was just
as if I were your brother--the way you gave me your handkerchief to
rub it off for you. Still, Edith never--"
"Didn't she?" said Mary, as he paused again.
"No. And I--" He contented himself with shaking his head instead of
offering more definite information. Then he realized that they were
passing the New House, and he sighed profoundly. "Mary, our walk's
She looked as blank. "So it is, Bibbs."
They said no more until they came to her gate. As they drifted slowly
to a stop, the door of Roscoe's house opened, and Roscoe came out with
Sibyl, who was startlingly pale. She seemed little enfeebled by her
illness, however, walking rather quickly at her husband's side and not
taking his arm. The two crossed the street without appearing to see
Mary and her companion, and entering the New House, were lost to
sight. Mary gazed after them gravely, but Bibbs, looking at Mary,
did not see them.
"Mary," he said, "you seem very serious. Is anything bothering you?"
"No, Bibbs." And she gave him a bright, quick look that made him
instantly unreasonably happy.
"I know you want to go in--" he began.
"No. I don't want to."
"I mustn't keep you standing here, and I mustn't go in with you--
but--I just wanted to say--I've seemed very stupid to myself this
morning, grumbling about soot and all that--while all the time I--
Mary, I think it's been the very happiest of all the hours you've
given me. I do. And--I don't know just why--but it's seemed to me
that it was one I'd always remember. And you," he added, falteringly,
"you look so--so beautiful to-day!"
"It must have been the soot on my cheek, Bibbs."
"Mary, will you tell me something?" he asked.
"I think I will."
"It's something I've had a lot of theories about, but none of them
ever just fits. You used to wear furs in the fall, but now it's so
much colder, you don't--you never wear them at all any more. Why
Her eyes fell for a moment, and she grew red. Then she looked up
gaily. "Bibbs, if I tell you the answer will you promise not to ask
any more questions?"
"Yes. Why did you stop wearing them?"
"Because I found I'd be warmer without them!" She caught his hand
quickly in her own for an instant, laughed into his eyes, and ran
into the house.
It is the consoling attribute of unused books that their decorative
warmth will so often make even a ready-made library the actual
"living-room" of a family to whom the shelved volumes are indeed
sealed. Thus it was with Sheridan, who read nothing except
newspapers, business letters, and figures; who looked upon books as
he looked upon bric-a-brac or crocheting--when he was at home, and
not abed or eating, he was in the library.
He stood in the many-colored light of the stained-glass window at
the far end of the long room, when Roscoe and his wife came in, and
he exhaled a solemnity. His deference to the Sabbath was manifest,
as always, in the length of his coat and the closeness of his
Saturday-night shave; and his expression, to match this religious
pomp, was more than Sabbatical, but the most dismaying of his
demonstrations was his keeping his hand in his sling.
Sibyl advanced to the middle of the room and halted there, not
looking at him, but down at her muff, in which, it could be seen,
her hands were nervously moving. Roscoe went to a chair in another
part of the room. There was a deadly silence.
But Sibyl found a shaky voice, after an interval of gulping, though
she was unable to lift her eyes, and the darkling lids continued to
veil them. She spoke hurriedly, like an ungifted child reciting
something committed to memory, but her sincerity was none the less
evident for that.
"Father Sheridan, you and mother Sheridan have always been so kind to
me, and I would hate to have you think I don't appreciate it, from the
way I acted. I've come to tell you I am sorry for the way I did that
night, and to say I know as well as anybody the way I behaved, and
it will never happen again, because it's been a pretty hard lesson;
and when we come back, some day, I hope you'll see that you've got
a daughter-in-law you never need to be ashamed of again. I want to
ask you to excuse me for the way I did, and I can say I haven't any
feelings toward Edith now, but only wish her happiness and good in
her new life. I thank you for all your kindness to me, and I know
I made a poor return for it, but if you can overlook the way I behaved
I know I would feel a good deal happier--and I know Roscoe would, too.
I wish to promise not to be as foolish in the future, and the same
error would never occur again to make us all so unhappy, if you can be
charitable enought to excuse it this time."
He looked steadily at her without replying, and she stood before him,
never lifting her eyes; motionless, save where the moving fur proved
the agitation of her hands within the muff.
"All right," he said at last.
She looked up then with vast relief, though there was a revelation
of heavy tears when the eyelids lifted.
"Thank you," she said. "There's something else--about something
different--I want to say to you, but I want mother Sheridan to hear
"She's up-stairs in her room," said Sheridan. "Roscoe--"
Sibyl interrupted. She had just seen Bibbs pass through the hall
and begin to ascend the stairs; and in a flash she instinctively
perceived the chance for precisely the effect she wanted.
"No, let me go," she said. "I want to speak to her a minute first,
And she went away quickly, gaining the top of the stairs in time to
see Bibbs enter his room and close the door. Sibyl knew that Bibbs,
in his room, had overheard her quarrel with Edith in the hall outside;
for bitter Edith, thinking the more to shame her, had subsequently
informed her of the circumstance. Sibyl had just remembered this,
and with the recollection there had flashed the thought--out of her
own experience-- that people are often much more deeply impressed by
words they overhear than by words directly addressed to them. Sibyl
intended to make it impossible for Bibbs not to overhear. She did not
hesitate--her heart was hot with the old sore, and she believed wholly
in the justice of her cause and in the truth of what she was going to
say. Fate was virtuous at times; it had delivered into her hands the
girl who had affronted her.
Mrs. Sheridan was in her own room. The approach of Sibyl and Roscoe
had driven her from the library, for she had miscalculated her
husband's mood, and she felt that if he used his injured hand as a
mark of emphasis again, in her presence, she would (as she thought
of it) "have a fit right there." She heard Sibyl's step, and
pretended to be putting a touch to her hair before a mirror.
"I was just coming down," she said, as the door opened.
"Yes, he wants you to," said Sibyl. "It's all right, mother Sheridan.
He's forgiven me."
Mrs. Sheridan sniffed instantly; tears appeared. She kissed her
daughter-in-law's cheek; then, in silence, regarded the mirror afresh,
wiped her eyes, and applied powder.
"And I hope Edith will be happy," Sibyl added, inciting more
applications of Mrs. Sheridan's handkerchief and powder.
"Yes, yes," murmured the good woman. "We mustn't make the worst
"Well, there was something else I had to say, and he wants you to hear
it, too," said Sibyl. "We better go down, mother Sheridan."
She led the way, Mrs. Sheridan following obediently, but when they
came to a spot close by Bibbs's door, Sibyl stopped. "I want to tell
you about it first," she said, abruptly. "It isn't a secret, of
course, in any way; it's something the whole family has to know, and
the sooner the whole family knows it the better. It's something it
wouldn't be RIGHT for us ALL not to understand, and of course father
Sheridan most of all. But I want to just kind of go over it first
with you; it'll kind of help me to see I got it all straight. I
haven't got any reason for saying it except the good of the family,
and it's nothing to me, one way or the other, of course, except for
that. I oughtn't to've behaved the way I did that night, and it seems
to me if there's anything I can do to help the family, I ought to,
because it would help show I felt the right way. Well, what I want to
do is to tell this so's to keep the family from being made a fool of.
I don't want to see the family just made use of and twisted around her
finger by somebody that's got no more heart than so much ice, and just
as sure to bring troubles in the long run as--as Edith's mistake is.
Well, then, this is the way it is. I'll just tell you how it looks
to me and see if it don't strike you the same way."
Within the room, Bibbs, much annoyed, tapped his ear with his pencil.
He wished they wouldn't stand talking near his door when he was trying
to write. He had just taken from his trunk the manuscript of a poem
begun the preceding Sunday afternoon, and he had some ideas he wanted
to fix upon paper before they maliciously seized the first opportunity
to vanish, for they were but gossamer. Bibbs was pleased with the
beginnings of his poem, and if he could carry it through he meant to
dare greatly with it--he would venture it upon an editor. For he had
his plan of life now: his day would be of manual labor and thinking
--he could think of his friend and he could think in cadences for
poems, to the crashing of the strong machine--and if his father turned
him out of home and out of the Works, he would work elsewhere and live
elsewhere. His father had the right, and it mattered very little to
Bibbs--he faced the prospect of a working-man's lodging-house without
trepidation. He could find a washstand to write upon, he thought; and
every evening when he left Mary he would write a little; and he would
write on holidays and on Sundays--on Sundays in the afternoon. In a
lodging-house, at least he wouldn't be interrupted by his sister-in-
law's choosing the immediate vicinity of his door for conversations
evidently important to herself, but merely disturbing to him. He
frowned plaintively, wishing he could think of some polite way of
asking her to go away. But, as she went on, he started violently,
dropping manuscript and pencil upon the floor.
"I don't know whether you heard it, mother Sheridan," she said, "but
this old Vertrees house, next door, had been sold on foreclosure, and
all THEY got out of it was an agreement that let's 'em live there a
little longer. Roscoe told me, and he says he heard Mr. Vertrees has
been up and down the streets more'n two years, tryin' to get a job
he could call a 'position,' and couldn't land it. You heard anything
about it, mother Sheridan?"
"Well, I DID know they been doin' their own house-work a good while
back," said Mrs. Sheridan. "And now they're doin' the cookin', too."
Sibyl sent forth a little titter with a sharp edge. "I hope they find
something to cook! She sold her piano mighty quick after Jim died!"
Bibbs jumped up. He was trembling from head to foot and he was dizzy
--of all the real things he could never have dreamed in his dream
the last would have been what he heard now. He felt that something
incredible was happening, and that he was powerless to stop it.
It seemed to him that heavy blows were falling on his head and upon
Mary's; it seemed to him that he and Mary were being struck and beaten
physically--and that something hideous impended. He wanted to shout
to Sibyl to be silent, but he could not; he could only stand,
swallowing and trembling.
"What I think the whole family ought to understand is just this," said
Sibyl, sharply. "Those people were so hard up that this Miss Vertrees
started after Bibbs before they knew whether he was INSANE or not!
They'd got a notion he might be, from his being in a sanitarium, and
Mrs. Vertrees ASKED me if he was insane, the very first day Bibbs took
the daughter out auto-riding!" She paused a moment, looking at Mrs.
Sheridan, but listening intently. There was no sound from within the
"No!" exclaimed Mrs. Sheridan.
"It's the truth," Sibyl declared, loudly. "Oh, of course we were all
crazy about that girl at first. We were pretty green when we moved up
here, and we thought she'd get us IN--but it didn't take ME long to
read her! Her family were down and out when it came to money--and
they had to go after it, one way or another, SOMEHOW! So she started
for Roscoe; but she found out pretty quick he was married, and she
turned right around to Jim--and she landed him! There's no doubt
about it, she had Jim, and if he'd lived you'd had another daughter-
in-law before this, as sure as I stand here telling you the God's
truth about it! Well--when Jim was left in the cemetery she was
waiting out there to drive home with Bibbs! Jim wasn't COLD--and she
didn't know whether Bibbs was insane or not, but he was the only one
of the rich Sheridan boys left. She had to get him."
The texture of what was the truth made an even fabric with what was
not, in Sibyl's mind; she believed every word that she uttered, and
she spoke with the rapidity and vehemence of fierce conviction.
"What I feel about it is," she said, "it oughtn't to be allowed to go
on. It's too mean! I like poor Bibbs, and I don't want to see him
made such a fool of, and I don't want to see the family made such a
fool of! I like poor Bibbs, but if he'd only stop to think a minute
himself he'd have to realize he isn't the kind of man ANY girl would
be apt to fall in love with. He's better-looking lately, maybe, but
you know how he WAS--just kind of a long white rag in good clothes.
And girls like men with some SO to 'em--SOME sort of dashingness,
anyhow! Nobody ever looked at poor Bibbs before, and neither'd she
--no, SIR! not till she'd tried both Roscoe and Jim first! It was
only when her and her family got desperate that she--"
Bibbs--whiter than when he came from the sanitarium--opened the
door. He stepped across its threshold and stook looking at her.
Both women screamed.
"Oh, good heavens!" cried Sibyl. "Were you in THERE? Oh, I
wouldn't--" She seized Mrs. Sheridan's arm, pulling her toward
the stairway. "Come on, mother Sheridan!" she urged, and as the
befuddled and confused lady obeyed, Sibyl left a trail of noisy
exclamations: "Good gracious! Oh, I wouldn't--too bad! I didn't
DREAM he was there! I wouldn't hurt his feelings! Not for the
world! Of course he had to know SOME time! But, good heavens--"
She heard his door close as she and Mrs. Sheridan reached the top
of the stairs, and she glanced over her shoulder quickly, but
Bibbs was not following; he had gone back into his room.
"He--he looked--oh, terrible bad!" stammered Mrs. Sheridan.
"Still, it's a good deal better he knows about it," said Sibyl.
"I shouldn't wonder it might turn out the very best thing could
happened. Come on!"
And completing their descent to the library, the two made their
appearance to Roscoe and his father. Sibyl at once gave a full
and truthful account of what had taken place, repeating her own
remarks, and omitting only the fact that it was through her design
that Bibbs had overheard them.
"But as I told mother Sheridan," she said, in conclusion, "it might
turn out for the very best that he did hear--just that way. Don't
you think so, father Sheridan?"
He merely grunted in reply, and sat rubbing the thick hair on the top
of his head with his left hand and looking at the fire. He had given
no sign of being impressed in any manner by her exposure of Mary
Vertrees's character; but his impassivity did not dismay Sibyl--it
was Bibbs whom she desired to impress, and she was content in that
"I'm sure it was all for the best," she said. "It's over now, and
he knows what she is. In one way I think it was lucky, because,
just hearing a thing that way, a person can tell it's SO--and he
knows I haven't got any ax to grind except his own good and the good
of the family."
Mrs. Sheridan went nervously to the door and stood there, looking
toward the stairway. "I wish--I wish I knew what he was doin',"
she said. "He did look terrible bad. It was like something had
been done to him that was--I don't know what. I never saw anybody
look like he did. He looked--so queer. It was like you'd--"
She called down the hall, "George!"
"Were you up in Mr. Bibbs's room just now?"
"Yes'm. He ring bell; tole me make him fiah in his grate. I done
buil' him nice fiah. I reckon he ain' feelin' so well. Yes'm."
"What do you expect he wants a fire for?" she asked, turning toward
her husband. "The house is warm as can be, I do wish I--"
"Oh, quit frettin'!" said Sheridan.
"Well, I--I kind o' wish you hadn't said anything, Sibyl. I know
you meant it for the best and all, but I don't believe it would
been so much harm if--"
"Mother Sheridan, you don't mean you WANT that kind of a girl in
the family? Why, she--"
"I don't know, I don't know," the troubled woman quavered. "If he
liked her it seems kind of a pity to spoil it. He's so queer, and
he hasn't ever taken much enjoyment. And besides, I believe the way
it was, there was more chance of him bein' willin' to do what papa
wants him to. If she wants to marry him--"
Sheridan interrupted her with a hooting laugh. "She don't!" he
said. "You're barkin' up the wrong tree, Sibyl. She ain't that
kind of a girl."
"But, father Sheridan, didn't she--"
He cut her short. "That's enough. You may mean all right, but
you guess wrong. So do you, mamma."
Sibyl cried out, "Oh! But just LOOK how she ran after Jim--"
"She did not," he said, curtly. "She wouldn't take Jim. She
turned him down cold."
"But that's impossi--"
"It's not. I KNOW she did."
Sibyl looked flatly incredulous.
"And YOU needn't worry," he said, turning to his wife. "This won't
have any effect on your idea, because there wasn't any sense to it,
anyhow. D'you think she'd be very likely to take Bibbs--after she
wouldn't take JIM? She's a good-hearted girl, and she lets Bibbs
come to see her, but if she'd ever given him one sign of encouragement
the way you women think, he wouldn't of acted the stubborn fool he
has--he'd 'a' been at me long ago, beggin' me for some kind of a job
he could support a wife on. There's nothin' in it--and I've got the
same old fight with him on my hands I've had all his life--and the
Lord knows what he won't do to balk me! What's happened now'll
probably only make him twice as stubborn, but --"
"SH!" Mrs. Sheridan, still in the doorway, lifted her hand. "That's
his step--he's comin' down-stairs." She shrank away from the door
as if she feared to have Bibbs see her. "I--I wonder--" she said,
almost in a whisper--"I wonder what he'd goin'--to do."
Her timorousness had its effect upon the others. Sheridan rose,
frowning, but remained standing beside his chair; and Roscoe moved
toward Sibyl, who stared uneasily at the open doorway. They listened
as the slow steps descended the stairs and came toward the library.
Bibbs stopped upon the threshold, and with sick and haggard eyes
looked slowly from one to the other until at last his gaze rested
upon his father. Then he came and stood before him.
"I'm sorry you've had so much trouble with me," he said, gently.
"You won't, any more. I'll take the job you offered me."
Sheridan did not speak--he stared, astounded and incredulous; and
Bibbs had left the room before any of its occupants uttered a sound,
though he went as slowly as he came. Mrs. Sheridan was the first to
move. She went nervously back to the doorway, and then out into the
hall. Bibbs had gone from the house.
Bibbs's mother had a feeling about him then that she had never known
before; it was indefinite and vague, but very poignant--something in
her mourned for him uncomprehendingly. She felt that an awful thing
had been done to him, though she did not know what it was. She went
up to his room.
The fire George had built for him was almost smothered under thick,
charred ashes of paper. The lid of his trunk stood open, and the
large upper tray, which she remembered to have seen full of papers
and note-books, was empty. And somehow she understood that Bibbs
had given up the mysterious vocation he had hoped to follow--and
that he had given it up for ever. She thought it was the wisest
thing he could have done--and yet, for an unknown reason, she sat
upon the bed and wept a little before she went down-stairs.
So Sheridan had his way with Bibbs, all through.
As Bibbs came out of the New House, a Sunday trio was in course of
passage upon the sidewalk: an ample young woman, placid of face;
a black-clad, thin young man, whose expression was one of habitual
anxiety, habitual wariness and habitual eagerness. He propelled a
perambulator containing the third--and all three were newly cleaned,
Sundayfied, and made fit to dine with the wife's relatives.
"How'd you like for me to be THAT young fella, mamma?" the husband
whispered. "He's one of the sons, and there ain't but two left
The wife stared curiously at Bibbs. "Well, I don't know," she
returned. "He looks to me like he had his own troubles."
"I expect he has, like anybody else," said the young husband, "but
I guess we could stand a good deal if we had his money."
"Well, maybe, if you keep on the way you been, baby'll be as well
fixed as the Sheridans. You can't tell." She glanced back at
Bibbs, who had turned north. "He walks kind of slow and stooped
"So much money in his pockets it makes him sag, I guess," said the
young husband, with bitter admiration.
Mary, happening to glance from a window, saw Bibbs coming, and she
started, clasping her hands together in a sudden alarm. She met him
at the door.
"Bibbs!" she cried. "What is the matter? I saw something was
terribly wrong when I--You look--" She paused, and he came in,
not lifting his eyes to hers. Always when he crossed that threshold
he had come with his head up and his wistful gaze seeking hers.
"Ah, poor boy!" she said, with a gesture of understanding and pity.
"I know what it is!"
He followed her into the room where they always sat, and sank into
"You needn't tell me," she said. "They've made you give up. Your
father's won--you're going to do what he wants. You've given up."
Still without looking at her, he inclined his head in affirmation.
She gave a little cry of compassion, and came and sat near him.
"Bibbs," she said. "I can be glad of one thing, though it's selfish.
I can be glad you came straight to me. It's more to me than even if
you'd come because you were happy." She did not speak again for a
little while; then she said: "Bibbs--dear--could you tell me about
it? Do you want to?"
Still he did not look up, but in a voice, shaken and husky he asked
her a question so grotesque that at first she thought she had
misunderstood his words.
"Mary," he said, "could you marry me?"
"What did you say, Bibbs?" she asked, quietly.
His tone and attitude did not change. "Will you marry me?"
Both of her hands leaped to her cheeks--she grew red and then white.
She rose slowly and moved backward from him, staring at him, at first
incredulously, then with an intense perplexity more and more luminous
in her wide eyes; it was like a spoken question. The room filled
with strangeness in the long silence--the two were so strange to each
other. At last she said:
"What made you say that?"
He did not answer.
"Bibbs, look at me!" Her voice was loud and clear. "What made
you say that? Look at me!"
He could not look at her, and he could not speak.
"What was it that made you?" she said. "I want you to tell me."
She went closer to him, her eyes ever brighter and wider with that
intensity of wonder. "You've given up--to your father," she said,
slowly, "and then you came to ask me--" She broke off. "Bibbs,
do you want me to marry you?"
"Yes," he said, just audibly.
"No!" she cried. "You do not. Then what made you ask me? What
is it that's happened?"
"Wait," she said. "Let me think. It's something that happened since
our walk this morning--yes, since you left me at noon. Something
happened that--" She stopped abruptly, with a tremulous murmur of
amazement and dawning comprehension. She remembered that Sibyl had
gone to the New House.
Bibbs swallowed painfully and contrived to say, "I do--I do want
you to--marry me, if--if--you could."
She looked at him, and slowly shook her head. "Bibbs, do you--"
Her voice was as unsteady as his--little more than a whisper. "Do
you think I'm --in love with you?"
"No," he said.
Somewhere in the still air of the room there was a whispered word;
it did not seem to come from Mary's parted lips, but he was aware
of it. "Why?"
"I've had nothing but dreams," Bibbs said, desolately, "but they
weren't like that. Sibyl said no girl could care about me." He
smiled faintly, though still he did not look at Mary. "And when
I first came home Edith told me Sibyl was so anxious to marry that
she'd have married ME. She meant it to express Sibyl's extremity,
you see. But I hardly needed either of them to tell me. I hadn't
thought of myself as--well, not as particularly captivating!"
Oddly enough, Mary's pallor changed to an angry flush. "Those
two!" she exclaimed, sharply; and then, with thoroughgoing contempt:
"Lamhorn! That's like them!" She turned away, went to the bare
little black mantel, and stood leaning upon it. Presently she
asked: "WHEN did Mrs. Roscoe Sheridan say that 'no girl' could
care about you?"
Mary drew a deep breath. "I think I'm beginning to understand--a
little." She bit her lip; there was anger in good truth in her eyes
and in her voice. "Answer me once more," she said. "Bibbs, do you
know now why I stopped wearing my furs?"
"I thought so! Your sister-in-law told you, didn't she?"
"I--I heard her say--"
"I think I know what happened, now." Mary's breath came fast and
her voice shook, but she spoke rapidly. "You 'heard her say' more
than that. You 'heard her say' that we were bitterly poor, and
on that account I tried first to marry your brother--and then--"
But now she faltered, and it was only after a convulsive effort
that she was able to go on. "And then--that I tried to marry--you!
You 'heard her say' that--and you believe that I don't care for you
and that 'no girl' could care for you--but you think I am in such
an 'extremity,' as Sibyl was--that you-- And so, not wanting me,
and believing that I could not want you--except for my 'extremity'
--you took your father's offer and then came to ask me--to marry
you! What had I shown you of myself that could make you--"
Suddenly she sank down, kneeling, with her face buried in her arms
upon the lap of a chair, tears overwhelming her.
"Mary, Mary!" he cried, helplessly. "Oh NO--you--you don't
"I do, though!" she sobbed. "I do!"
He came and stood beside her. "You kill me!" he said. "I can't
make it plain. From the first of your loveliness to me, I was all
self. It was always you that gave and I that took. I was the
dependent--I did nothing but lean on you. We always talked of me,
not of you. It was all about my idiotic distresses and troubles.
I thought of you as a kind of wonderful being that had no mortal
or human suffering except by sympathy. You seemed to lean down
--out of a rosy cloud--to be kind to me. I never dreamed I could
do anything for YOU! I never dreamed you could need anything to
be done for you by anybody. And to-day I heard that--that you--"
"You heard that I needed to marry--some one--anybody--with money,"
she sobbed. "And you thought we were so--so desperate--you believed
that I had--"
"No!" he said, quickly. "I didn't believe you'd done one kind
thing for me--for that. No, no, no! I knew you'd NEVER thought
of me except generously--to give. I said I couldn't make it
plain!" he cried, despairingly.
"Wait!" She lifted her head and extended her hands to him
unconsciously, like a child. "Help me up, Bibbs." Then, when she
was once more upon her feet, she wiped her eyes and smiled upon him
ruefully and faintly, but reassuringly, as if to tell him, in that
way, that she knew he had not meant to hurt her. And that smile
of hers, so lamentable, but so faithfully friendly, misted his own
eyes, for his shamefacedness lowered them no more.
"Let me tell you what you want to tell me," she said. "You can't,
because you can't put it into words--they are too humiliating for me
and you're too gentle to say them. Tell me, though, isn't it true?
You didn't believe that I'd tried to make you fall in love with me--"
"Never! Never for an instant!"
"You didn't believe I'd tried to make you want to marry me--"
"No, no, no!"
"I believe it, Bibbs. You thought that I was fond of you; you knew
I cared for you--but you didn't think I might be--in love with you.
But you thought that I might marry you without being in love with you
because you did believe I had tried to marry your brother, and--"
"Mary, I only knew--for the first time--that you--that you were--"
"Were desperately poor," she said. "You can't even say that!
Bibbs, it was true: I did try to make Jim want to marry me. I did!"
And she sank down into the chair, weeping bitterly again. Bibbs was
"Mary," he groaned, "I didn't know you COULD cry!"
"Listen," she said. "Listen till I get through--I want you to
understand. We were poor, and we weren't fitted to be. We never
had been, and we didn't know what to do. We'd been almost rich;
there was plenty, but my father wanted to take advantage of the
growth of the town; he wanted to be richer, but instead--well,
just about the time your father finished building next door we
found we hadn't anything. People say that, sometimes, meaning
that they haven't anything in comparison with other people of their
own kind, but we really hadn't anything--we hadn't anything at all,
Bibbs! And we couldn't DO anything. You might wonder why I didn't
'try to be a stenographer'--and I wonder myself why, when a family
loses its money, people always say the daughters 'ought to go and
be stenographers.' It's curious!--as if a wave of the hand made
you into a stenographer. No, I'd been raised to be either married
comfortably or a well-to-do old maid, if I chose not to marry.
The poverty came on slowly, Bibbs, but at last it was all there--
and I didn't know how to be a stenographer. I didn't know how to
be anything except a well-to-do old maid or somebody's wife--and
I couldn't be a well-to-do old maid. Then, Bibbs, I did what I'd
been raised to know how to do. I went out to be fascinating and be
married. I did it openly, at least, and with a kind of decent
honesty. I told your brother I had meant to fascinate him and that
I was not in love with him, but I let him think that perhaps I meant
to marry him. I think I did mean to marry him. I had never cared
for anybody, and I thought it might be there really WASN'T anything
more than a kind of excited fondness. I can't be sure, but I think
that though I did mean to marry him I never should have done it,
because that sort of a marriage is--it's sacrilege--something would
have stopped me. Something did stop me; it was your sister-in-law,
Sibyl. She meant no harm--but she was horrible, and she put what
I was doing into such horrible words--and they were the truth--oh!
I SAW myself! She was proposing a miserable compact with me--and
I couldn't breathe the air of the same room with her, though I'd so
cheapened myself she had a right to assume that I WOULD. But I
couldn't! I left her, and I wrote to your brother--just a quick
scrawl. I told him just what I'd done; I asked his pardon, and
I said I would not marry him. I posted the letter, but he never
got it. That was the afternoon he was killed. That's all, Bibbs.
Now you know what I did--and you know--ME!" She pressed her
clenched hands tightly against her eyes, leaning far forward, her
head bowed before him.
Bibbs had forgotten himself long ago; his heart broke for her.
"Couldn't you--Isn't there--Won't you--" he stammered. "Mary,
I'm going with father. Isn't there some way you could use the
She gave a choked little laugh.
"You gave me something to live for," he said. "You kept me alive,
I think--and I've hurt you like this!"
"Not you--oh no!"
"You could forgive me, Mary?"
"Oh, a thousand times!" Her right hand went out in a faltering
gesture, and just touched his own for an instant. "But there's
nothing to forgive."
"And you can't--you can't--"
"Can't what, Bibbs?"
"Marry you?" she said for him.
"No, no, no!" She sprang up, facing him, and, without knowing what
she did, she set her hands upon his breast, pushing him back from her
a little. "I can't, I can't! Don't you SEE?"
"No, no! And you must go now, Bibbs; I can't bear any more--
"Never, never, never!" she cried, in a passion of tears. "You
mustn't come any more. I can't see you, dear! Never, never,
Somehow, in helpless, stumbling obedience to her beseeching gesture,
he got himself to the door and out of the house.
Sibyl and Roscoe were upon the point of leaving when Bibbs returned
to the New House. He went straight to Sibyl and spoke to her quietly,
but so that the others might hear.
"When you said that if I'd stop to think, I'd realize that no one
would be apt to care enough about me to marry me, you were right,"
he said. "I thought perhaps you weren't, and so I asked Miss
Vertrees to marry me. It proved what you said of me, and disproved
what you said of her. She refused."
And, having thus spoken, he quitted the room as straightforwardly
as he had entered it.
"He's SO queer!" Mrs. Sheridan gasped. "Who on earth would thought
of his doin' THAT?"
"I told you," said her husband, grimly.
"You didn't tell us he'd go over there and--"
"I told you she wouldn't have him. I told you she wouldn't have JIM,
Sibyl was altogether taken aback. "Do you supose it's true? Do you
suppose she WOULDN'T?"
"He didn't look exactly like a young man that had just got things
fixed up fine with his girl," said Sheridan. "Not to me, he didn't!"
"But why would--"
"I told you," he interrupted, angrily, "she ain't that kind of
a girl! If you got to have proof, well, I'll tell you and get it
over with, though I'd pretty near just as soon not have to talk
a whole lot about my dead boy's private affairs. She wrote to Jim
she couldn't take him, and it was a good, straight letter, too.
It came to Jim's office; he never saw it. She wrote it the afternoon
he was hurt."
"I remember I saw her put a letter in the mail-box that afternoon,"
said Roscoe. "Don't you remember, Sibyl? I told you about it--I
was waiting for you while you were in there so long talking to her
mother. It was just before we saw that something was wrong over
here, and Edith came and called me."
Sibyl shook her head, but she remembered. And she was not cast down,
for, although some remnants of perplexity were left in her eyes, they
were dimmed by an increasing glow of triumph; and she departed--after
some further fragmentary discourse--visibly elated. After all, the
guilty had not been exalted; and she perceived vaguely, but none the
less surely, that her injury had been copiously avenged. She bestowed
a contented glance upon the old house with the cupola, as she and
Roscoe crossed the street.
When they had gone, Mrs. Sheridan indulged in reverie, but after
a while she said, uneasily, "Papa, you think it would be any use
to tell Bibbs about that letter?"
"I don't know," he answered, walking moodily to the window. "I been
thinkin' about it." He came to a decision. "I reckon I will." And
he went up to Bibbs's room.
"Well, you goin' back on what you said?" he inquired, brusquely,
as he opened the door. "You goin' to take it back and lay down
on me again?"
"No," said Bibbs.
"Well, perhaps I didn't have any call to accuse you of that. I
don't know as you ever did go back on anything you said, exactly,
though the Lord knows you've laid down on me enough. You certainly
have!" Sheridan was baffled. This was not what he wished to say,
but his words were unmanageable; he found himself unable to control
them, and his querulous abuse went on in spite of him. "I can't say
I expect much of you--not from the way you always been, up to now
--unless you turn over a new leaf, and I don't see any encouragement
to think you're goin' to do THAT! If you go down there and show a
spark o' real GIT-up, I reckon the whole office'll fall in a faint.
But if you're ever goin' to show any, you better begin right at the
beginning and begin to show it to-morrow."
"You better, if it's in you!" Sheridan was sheerly nonplussed. He
had always been able to say whatever he wished to say, but his tongue
seemed bewitched. He had come to tell Bibbs about Mary's letter, and
to his own angry astonishment he found it impossible to do anything
except to scold like a drudge-driver. "You better come down there
with your mind made up to hustle harder than the hardest workin'-man
that's under you, or you'll not get on very good with me, I tell you!
The way to get ahead--and you better set it down in your books--the
way to get ahead is to do ten times the work of the hardest worker
that works FOR you. But you don't know what work is, yet. All
you've ever done was just stand around and feed a machine a child
could handle, and then come home and take a bath and go callin'.
I tell you you're up against a mighty different proposition now,
and if you're worth your salt--and you never showed any signs of it
yet--not any signs that stuck out enough to bang somebody on the head
and make 'em sit up and take notice--well, I want to say, right here
and now--and you better listen, because I want to say just what I DO
say. I say--"
He meandered to a full stop. His mouth hung open, and his mind was
a hopeless blank.
Bibbs looked up patiently--an old, old look. "Yes, father; I'm
"That's all," said Sheridan, frowning heavily. "That's all I came
to say, and you better see't you remember it!"
He shook his head warningly, and went out, closing the door behind
him with a crash. However, no sound of footsteps indicated his
departure. He stopped just outside the door, and stood there a
minute or more. Then abruptly he turned the knob and exhibited to
his son a forehead liberally covered with perspiration.
"Look here," he said, crossly. "That girl over yonder wrote Jim
"I know," said Bibbs. "She told me."
"Well, I thought you needn't feel so much upset about it--" The
door closed on his voice as he withdrew, but the conclusion of
the sentence was nevertheless audible--"if you knew she wouldn't
have Jim, either."
And he stamped his way down-stairs to tell his wife to quit her
frettin' and not bother him with any more fool's errands. She was
about to inquire what Bibbs "said," but after a second thought she
decided not to speak at all. She merely murmured a wordless assent,
and verbal communication was given over between them for the rest
of that afternoon.
Bibbs and his father were gone when Mrs. Sheridan woke, the next
morning, and she had a dreary day. She missed Edith woefully, and
she worried about what might be taking place in the Sheridan Building.
She felt that everything depended on how Bibbs "took hold," and
upon her husband's return in the evening she seized upon the first
opportunity to ask him how things had gone. He was non-committal.
What could anybody tell by the first day? He'd seen plenty go at
things well enough right at the start and then blow up. Pretty near
anybody could show up fair the first day or so. There was a big job
ahead. This material, such as it was--Bibbs, in fact--had to be
broken in to handling the work Roscoe had done; and then, at least
as an overseer, he must take Jim's position in the Realty Company
as well. He told her to ask him again in a month.
But during the course of dinner she gathered from some disjointed
remarks of his that he and Bibbs had lunched together at the small
restaurant where it had been Sheridan's custom to lunch with Jim,
and she took this to be an encouraging sign. Bibbs went to his room
as soon as they left the table, and her husband was not communicative
after reading his paper.
She became an anxious spectator of Bibbs's progress as a man of
business, although it was a progress she could glimpse but dimly and
only in the evening, through his remarks and his father's at dinner.
Usually Bibbs was silent, except when directly addressed, but on
the first evening of the third week of his new career he offered an
opinion which had apparently been the subject of previous argument.
"I'd like you to understand just what I meant about those
storage-rooms, father," he said, as Jackson placed his coffee before
him. "Abercrombie agreed with me, but you wouldn't listen to him."
"You can talk, if you want to, and I'll listen," Sheridan returned,
"but you can't show me that Jim ever took up with a bad thing.
The roof fell because it hadn't had time to settle and on account
of weather conditions. I want that building put just the way Jim
"You can't have it," said Bibbs. "You can't, because Jim planned for
the building to stand up, and it won't do it. The other one--the one
that didn't fall--is so shot with cracks we haven't dared use it for
storage. It won't stand weight. There's only one thing to do: get
both buildings down as quickly as we can, and build over. Brick's
the best and cheapest in the long run for that type."
Sheridan looked sarcastic. "Fine! What we goin' to do for storage-
rooms while we're waitin' for those few bricks to be laid?"
"Rent," Bibbs returned, promptly. "We'll lose money if we don't rent,
anyhow--they were waiting so long for you to give the warehouse matter
your attention after the roof fell. You don't know what an amount of
stuff they've got piled up on us over there. We'd have to rent until
we could patch up those process perils--and the Krivitch Manufacturing
Company's plant is empty, right across the street. I took an option
on it for us this morning."
Sheridan's expression was queer. "Look here!" he said, sharply.
"Did you go and do that without consulting me?"
"It didn't cost anything," said Bibbs. "It's only until to-morrow
afternoon at two o'clock. I undertook to convince you before then."
"Oh, you did?" Sheridan's tone was sardonic. "Well, just suppose
you couldn't convince me."
"I can, though--and I intend to," said Bibbs, quietly. "I don't
think you understand the condition of those buildings you want
"Now, see here," said Sheridan, with slow emphasis; "suppose I had
my mind set about this. JIM thought they'd stand, and suppose it
was--well, kind of a matter of sentiment with me to prove he was
Bibbs looked at him compassionately. "I'm sorry if you have a
sentiment about it, father," he said. "But whether you have or not
can't make a difference. You'll get other people hurt if you trust
that process, and that won't do. And if you want a monument to Jim,
at least you want one that will stand. Besides, I don't think you
can reasonably defend sentiment in this particular kind of affair."
"Oh, you don't?"
"No, but I'm sorry you didn't tell me you felt it."
Sheridan was puzzled by his son's tone. "Why are you 'sorry'?"
he asked, curiously.
"Because I had the building inspector up there, this noon," said
Bibbs, "and I had him condemn both those buildings."
"He'd been afraid to do it before, until he heard from us--afraid
you'd see he lost his job. But he can't un-condemn them--they've
got to come down now."
Sheridan gave him a long and piercing stare from beneath lowered
brows. Finally he said, "How long did they give you on that option
to convince me?"
"Until two o'clock to-morrow afternoon."
"All right," said Sheridan, not relaxing. "I'm convinced."
Bibbs jumped up. "I thought you would be. I'll telephone the
Krivitch agent. He gave me the option until to-morrow, but I
told him I'd settle it this evening."
Sheridan gazed after him as he left the room, and then, though his
expression did not alter in the slightest, a sound came from him
that startled his wife. It had been a long time since she had heard
anything resembling a chuckle from him, and this sound--although
it was grim and dry--bore that resemblance.
She brightened eagerly. "Looks like he was startin' right well
don't it, papa?"
"Startin'? Lord! He got me on the hip! Why, HE knew what I wanted
--that's why he had the inspector up there, so't he'd have me beat
before we even started to talk about it. And did you hear him?
'Can't reasonably defend SENTIMENT!' And the way he says 'Us':
'Took an option for Us'! 'Stuff piled up on Us'!"
There was always an alloy for Mrs. sheridan. "I don't just like
the way he looks, though, papa."
"Oh, there's got to be something! Only one chick left at home,
so you start to frettin' about IT!"
"No. He's changed. There's kind of a settish look to his face,
"I guess that's the common sense comin' out on him, then," said
Sheridan. "You'll see symptoms like that in a good many business
men, I expect."
"Well, and he don't have as good color as he was gettin' before.
And he'd begun to fill out some, but--"
Sheridan gave forth another dry chuckle, and, going round the table
to her, patted her upon the shoulder with his left hand, his right
being still heavily bandaged, though he no longer wore a sling.
"That's the way it is with you, mamma--got to take your frettin'
out one way if you don't another!"
"No. He don't look well. It ain't exactly the way he looked when
he begun to get sick that time, but he kind o' seems to be losin',
"Yes, he may 'a' lost something," said Sheridan. "I expect he's
lost a whole lot o' foolishness besides his God-forsaken notions
about writin' poetry and--"
"No," his wife persisted. "I mean he looks right peakid. And
yesterday, when he was settin' with us, he kept lookin' out the
window. He wasn't readin'."
"Well, why shouldn't he look out the window?"
"He was lookin' over there. He never read a word all afternoon,
I don't believe."
"Look, here!" said Sheridan. "Bibbs might 'a' kept goin' on over
there the rest of his life, moonin' on and on, but what he heard Sibyl
say did one big thing, anyway. It woke him up out of his trance.
Well, he had to go and bust clean out with a bang; and that stopped
his goin' over there, and it stopped his poetry, but I reckon he's
begun to get pretty fair pay for what he lost. I guess a good many
young men have had to get over worries like his; they got to lose
SOMETHING if they're goin' to keep ahead o' the procession nowadays
--and it kind o' looks to me, mamma, like Bibbs might keep quite a
considerable long way ahead. Why, a year from now I'll bet you he
won't know there ever WAS such a thing as poetry! And ain't he funny?
He wanted to stick to the shop so's he could 'think'! What he meant
was, think about something useless. Well, I guess he's keepin' his
mind pretty occupied the other way these days. Yes, sir, it took a
pretty fair-sized shock to get him out of his trance, but it certainly
did the business." He patted his wife's shoulder again, and then,
without any prefatory symptoms, broke into a boisterous laugh.
"Honest, mamma, he works like a gorilla!"
And so Bibbs sat in the porch of the temple with the money-changers.
But no one came to scourge him forth, for this was the temple of
Bigness, and the changing of money was holy worship and true religion.
The priests wore that "settish" look Bibbs's mother had seen beginning
to develop about his mouth and eyes--a wary look which she could not
define, but it comes with service at the temple; and it was the more
marked upon Bibbs for his sharp awakening to the necessities of that
He did as little "useless" thinking as possible, giving himself no
time for it. He worked continuously, keeping his thoughts still on
his work when he came home at night; and he talked of nothing whatever
except his work. But he did not sing at it. He was often in the
streets, and people were not allowed to sing in the streets. They
might make any manner of hideous uproar--they could shake buildings;
they could out-thunder the thunder, deafen the deaf, and kill the
sick with noise; or they could walk the streets or drive through them
bawling, squawking, or screeching, as they chose, if the noise was
traceably connected with business; though street musicians were not
tolerated, being considered a nuisance and an interference. A man or
woman who went singing for pleasure through the streets--like a crazy
Neopolitan--would have been stopped, and belike locked up; for Freedom
does not mean that a citizen is allowed to do every outrageous thing
that comes into his head. The streets were dangerous enough, in all
conscience, without any singing! and the Motor Federation issued
public warnings declaring that the pedestrian's life was in his own
hands, and giving directions how to proceed with the least peril.
However, Bibbs Sheridan had no desire to sing in the streets, or
anywhere. He had gone to his work with an energy that, for the start,
at least, was bitter, and there was no song left in him.
He began to know his active fellow-citizens. Here and there among
them he found a leisurely, kind soul, a relic of the old period
of neighborliness, "pioneer stock," usually; and there were men
--particularly among the merchants and manufacturers--"so honest
they leaned backward"; reputations sometimes attested by stories
of heroic sacrifices to honor; nor were there lacking some instances
of generosity even nobler. Here and there, too, were book-men,
in their little leisure; and, among the Germans, music-men. And
these, with the others, worshiped Bigness and the growth, each man
serving for his own sake and for what he could get out of it, but
all united in their faith in the beneficence and glory of their god.
To almost all alike that service stood as the most important thing
in life, except on occasion of some such vital, brief interregnum as
the dangerous illness of a wife or child. In the way of "relaxation"
some of the servers took golf; some took fishing; some took "shows"
--a mixture of infantile and negroid humor, stockings, and tin music;
some took an occasional debauch; some took trips; some took cards;
and some took nothing. The high priests were vigilant to watch that
no "relaxation" should affect the service. When a man attended to
anything outside his business, eyes were upon him; his credit was
in danger--that is, his life was in danger. And the old priests were
as ardent as the young ones; the million was as eager to be bigger as
the thousand; seventy was as busy as seventeen. They strove mightily
against one another, and the old priests were the most wary, the most
plausible, and the most dangerous. Bibbs learned he must walk charily
among these--he must wear a thousand eyes and beware of spiders
And outside the temple itself were the pretenders, the swarming
thieves and sharpers and fleecers, the sly rascals and the open
rascals; but these were feeble folk, not dangerous once he knew them,
and he had a good guide to point them out to him. They were useful
sometimes, he learned, and many of them served as go-betweens in
matters where business must touch politics. He learned also how
breweries and "traction" companies and banks and other institutions
fought one another for the political control of the city. The
newspapers, he discovered, had lost their ancient political influence,
especially with the knowing, who looked upon them with a skeptical
humor, believing the journals either to be retained partisans, like
lawyers, or else striving to forward the personal ambitions of their
owners. The control of the city lay not with them, but was usually
obtained by giving the hordes of negroes gin-money, and by other
largesses. The revenues of the people were then distributed as fairly
as possible among a great number of men who had assisted the winning
side. Names and titles of offices went with many of the prizes, and
most of these title-holders were expected to present a busy appearance
at times; and, indeed, some among them did work honestly and
Bibbs had been very ignorant. All these simple things, so well known
and customary, astonished him at first, and once--in a brief moment
of forgetting that he was done with writing--he thought that if he
had known them and written of them, how like a satire the plainest
relation of them must have seemed! Strangest of all to him was the
vehement and sincere patriotism. On every side he heard it--it was
a permeation; the newest school-child caught it, though just from
Hungary and learning to stammer a few words of the local language.
Everywhere the people shouted of the power, the size, the riches,
and the growth of their city. Not only that, they said that the
people of their city were the greatest, the "finest," the strongest,
the Biggest people on earth. They cited no authorities, and felt
the need of none, being themselves the people thus celebrated. And
if the thing was questioned, or if it was hinted that there might be
one small virtue in which they were not perfect and supreme, they
wasted no time examining themselves to see if what the critic said
was true, but fell upon him and hooted him and cursed him, for they
were sensitive. So Bibbs, learning their ways and walking with them,
harkened to the voice of the people and served Bigness with them.
For the voice of the people is the voice of their god.
Sheridan had made the room next to his own into an office for Bibbs,
and the door between the two rooms usually stood open--the father had
established that intimacy. One morning in February, when Bibbs was
alone, Sheridan came in, some sheets of typewritten memoranda in his
"Bibbs," he said, "I don't like to butt in very often this way, and
when I do I usually wish I hadn't--but for Heaven's sake what have
you been buying that ole busted inter-traction stock for?"
Bibbs leaned back from his desk. "For eleven hundred and fifty-five
dollars. That's all it cost."
"Well, it ain't worth eleven hundred and fifty-five cents. You ought
to know that. I don't get your idea. That stuff's deader'n Adam's
"It might be worth something--some day."
"It mightn't be so dead--not if we went into it," said Bibbs, coolly.
"Oh!" Sheridan considered this musingly; then he said, "Who'd you
buy it from?"
"Well, he must 'a' got it from one o' the crowd o' poor ninnies that
was soaked with it. Don't you know who owned it?"
"Yes, I do."
"Ain't sayin', though? That it? What's the matter?"
"It belonged to Mr. Vertrees," said Bibbs, shortly, applying himself
to his desk.
"So!" Sheridan gazed down at his son's thin face. "Excuse me,"
he said. "Your business." And he went back to his own room. But
presently he looked in again.
"I reckon you won't mind lunchin' alone to-day"--he was shuffling
himself into his overcoat--"because I just thought I'd go up to the
house and get THIS over with mamma." He glanced apologetically toward
his right hand as it emerged from the sleeve of the overcoat. The
bandages had been removed, finally, that morning, revealing but three
fingers--the forefinger and the finger next to it had been amputated.
"She's bound to make an awful fuss, and better to spoil her lunch than
her dinner. I'll be back about two."
But he calculated the time of his arrival at the New House so
accurately that Mrs. Sheridan's lunch was not disturbed, and she
was rising from the lonely table when he came into the dining-room.
He had left his overcoat in the hall, but he kept his hands in his
"What's the matter, papa?" she asked, quickly. "Has anything gone
wrong? You ain't sick?"
"Me!" He laughed loudly. "Me SICK?"
"You had lunch?"
"Didn't want any to-day. You can give me a cup o' coffee, though."
She rang, and told George to have coffee made, and when he had
withdrawn she said querulously, "I just know there's something
"Nothin' in the world," he responded, heartily, taking a seat at the
head of the table. "I thought I'd talk over a notion o' mine with
you, that's all. It's more women-folks' business than what it is
"Why, ole Doc Gurney was up at the office this morning awhile--"
"To look at your hand? How's he say it's doin'?"
"Fine! Well, he went in and sat around with Bibbs awhile--"
Mrs. Sheridan nodded pessimistically. "I guess it's time you had
him, too. I KNEW Bibbs--"
"Now, mamma, hold your horses! I wanted him to look Bibbs over
BEFORE anything's the matter. You don't suppose I'm goin' to take
any chances with BIBBS, do you? Well, afterwards, I shut the door,
and I an' ole Gurney had a talk. He's a mighty disagreeable man;
he rubbed it in on me what he said about Bibbs havin' brains if he
ever woke up. Then I thought he must want to get something out
o' me, he go so flattering--for a minute! 'Bibbs couldn't help havin'
business brains,' he says, 'bein' YOUR son. Don't be surprised,' he
says--'don't be surprised at his makin' a success,' he says. 'He
couldn't get over his heredity; he couldn't HELP bein' a business
success--once you got him into it. It's in his blood. Yes, sir'
he says, 'it doesn't need MUCH brains,' he says, 'an only third-rate
brains, at that,' he says, 'but it does need a special KIND o'
brains,' he says, 'to be a millionaire. I mean,' he says, 'when
a man's given a start. If nobody gives him a start, why, course
he's got to have luck AND the right kind o' brains. The only miracle
about Bibbs,' he says, 'is where he got the OTHER kind o' brains--the
brains you made him quit usin' and throw away.'"
"But what'd he say about his health?" Mrs. Sheridan demanded,
impatiently, as George placed a cup of coffee before her husband.
Sheridan helped himself to cream and sugar, and began to sip the
"I'm comin' to that," he returned, placidly. "See how easy I manage
this cup with my left hand, mamma?"
"You been doin' that all winter. What did--"
"It's wonderful," he interrupted, admiringly, "what a fellow can do
with his left hand. I can sign my name with mine now, well's I ever
could with my right. It came a little hard at first, but now, honest,
I believe I RATHER sign with my left. That's all I ever have to write,
anyway--just the signature. Rest's all dictatin'." He blew across
the top of the cup unctuously. "Good coffee, mamma! Well, about
Bibbs. Ole Gurney says he believes if Bibbs could somehow get back
to the state o' mind he was in about the machine-shop--that is,
if he could some way get to feelin' about business the way he felt
about the shop--not the poetry and writin' part, but--" He paused,
supplementing his remarks with a motion of his head toward the old
house next door. "He says Bibbs is older and harder'n what he was
when he broke down that time, and besides, he ain't the kind o' dreamy
way he was then--and I should say he AIN'T! I'd like 'em to show ME
anybody his age that's any wider awake! But he says Bibbs's health
never need bother us again if--"
Mrs. Sheridan shook her head. "I don't see any help THAT way.
You know yourself she wouldn't have Jim."
"Who's talkin' about her havin' anybody? But, my Lord! she might let
him LOOK at her! She needn't 'a' got so mad, just because he asked
her, that she won't let him come in the house any more. He's a
mighty funny boy, and some ways I reckon he's pretty near as hard
to understand as the Bible, but Gurney kind o' got me in the way o'
thinkin' that if she'd let him come back and set around with her an
evening or two sometimes--not reg'lar, I don't mean--why--Well, I just
thought I'd see what YOU'D think of it. There ain't any way to talk
about it to Bibbs himself--I don't suppose he'd let you, anyhow--but
I thought maybe you could kind o' slip over there some day, and sort
o' fix up to have a little talk with her, and kind o' hint around till
you see how the land lays, and ask her--"
"ME!" Mrs. Sheridan looked both helpless and frightened. "No."
She shook her head decidedly. "It wouldn't do any good."
"You won't try it?"
"I won't risk her turnin' me out o' the house. Some way, that's what
I believe she did to Sibyl, from what Roscoe said once. No, I CAN'T
--and, what's more, it'd only make things worse. If people find out
you're runnin' after 'em they think you're cheap, and then they won't
do as much for you as if you let 'em alone. I don't believe it's any
use, and I couldn't do it if it was."
He sighed with resignation. "All right, mamma. That's all." Then,
in a livelier tone, he said: "Ole Gurney took the bandages off my
hand this morning. All healed up. Says I don't need 'em any more."
"Why, that's splendid, papa!" she cried, beaming. "I was afraid--
She came toward him, but he rose, still keeping his hand in his
pocket. "Wait a minute," he said, smiling. "Now it may give you just
a teeny bit of a shock, but the fact is--well, you remember that
Sunday when Sibyl came over here and made all that fuss about nothin'
--it was the day after I got tired o' that statue when Edith's
"Let me see your hand!" she cried.
"Now wait!" he said, laughing and pushing her away with his left hand.
"The truth is, mamma, that I kind o' slipped out on you that morning,
when you wasn't lookin', and went down to ole Gurney's office--he'd
told me to, you see--and, well, it doesn't AMOUNT to anything." And
he held out, for her inspection, the mutilated hand. "You see, these
days when it's all dictatin', anyhow, nobody'd mind just a couple
He had to jump for her--she went over backward. For the second time
in her life Mrs. Sheridan fainted.
It was a full hour later when he left her lying upon a couch in her
own room, still lamenting intermittently, though he assured her
with heat that the "fuss" she was making irked him far more than his
physical loss. He permitted her to think that he meant to return
directly to his office, but when he came out to the open air he told
the chauffeur in attendance to await him in front of Mr. Vertrees's
house, whither he himself proceeded on foot.
Mr. Vertrees had taken the sale of half of his worthless stock as
manna in the wilderness; it came from heaven--by what agency he did
not particularly question. The broker informed him that "parties were
interested in getting hold of the stock," and that later there might
be a possible increase in the value of the large amount retained by
his client. It might go "quite a ways up" within a year or so, he
said, and he advised "sitting tight" with it. Mr. Vertrees went home
He rose from his knees feeling that he was surely coming into his own
again. It was more than a mere gasp of temporary relief with him,
and his wife shared his optimism; but Mary would not let him buy back
her piano, and as for furs--spring was on the way, she said. But they
paid the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick-maker, and hired
a cook once more. It was this servitress who opened the door for
Sheridan and presently assured him that Miss Vertrees would "be down."
He was not the man to conceal admiration when he felt it, and he
flushed and beamed as Mary made her appearance, almost upon the heels
of the cook. She had a look of apprehension for the first fraction of
a second, but it vanished at the sight of him, and its place was taken
in her eyes by a soft brilliance, while color rushed in her cheeks.
"Don't be surprised," he said. "Truth is, in a way it's sort of on
business I looked in here. It'll only take a minute, I expect."
"I'm sorry," said Mary. "I hoped you'd come because we're neighbors."
He chuckled. "Neighbors! Sometimes people don't see so much o' their
neighbors as they used to. That is, I hear so--lately."
"You'll stay long enough to sit down, won't you?"
"I guess I could manage that much." And they sat down, facing each
other and not far apart.
"Of course, it couldn't be called business, exactly," he said, more
gravely. "Not at all, I expect. But there's something o' yours it
seemed to me I ought to give you, and I just thought it was better
to bring it myself and explain how I happened to have it. It's
this--this letter you wrote my boy." He extended the letter to her
solemnly, in his left hand, and she took it gently from him. "It was
in his mail, after he was hurt. You knew he never got it, I expect."
"Yes," she said, in a low voice.
He sighed. "I'm glad he didn't. Not," he added, quickly--"not but
what you did just right to send it. You did. You couldn't acted any
other way when it came right down TO it. There ain't any blame comin'
to you--you were above-board all through."
Mary said, "Thank you," almost in a whisper, and with her head bowed
"You'll have to excuse me for readin' it. I had to take charge of all
his mail and everything; I didn't know the handwritin', and I read it
all--once I got started."
"I'm glad you did."
"Well"--he leaned forward as if to rise--"I guess that's about all.
I just thought you ought to have it."
"Thank you for bringing it."
He looked at her hopefully, as if he thought and wished that she
might have something more to say. But she seemed not to be aware
of this glance, and sat with her eyes fixed sorrowfully upon the
"Well, I expect I better be gettin' back to the office," he said,
rising desperately. "I told--I told my partner I'd be back at two
o'clock, and I guess he'll think I'm a poor business man if he
catches me behind time. I got to walk the chalk a mighty straight
line these days--with THAT fellow keepin' tabs on me!"
Mary rose with him. "I've always heard YOU were the hard driver."
He guffawed derisively. "Me? I'm nothin' to that partner o' mine.
You couldn't guess to save your life how he keeps after me to hold up
my end o' the job. I shouldn't be surprised he'd give me the grand
bounce some day, and run the whole circus by himself. You know how
he is--once he goes AT a thing!"
"No," she smiled. "I didn't know you had a partner. I'd always
He laughed, looking away from her. "It's just my way o' speakin'
o' that boy o' mine, Bibbs."
He stood then, expectant, staring out into the hall with an air of
careless geniality. He felt that she certainly must at least say,
"How IS Bibbs?" but she said nothing at all, though he waited until
the silence became embarrassing.
"Well, I guess I better be gettin' down there," he said, at last.
"He might worry."
"Good-by--and thank you," said Mary.
"For the letter."
"Oh," he said, blankly. "You're welcome. Good-by."
Mary put out her hand. "Good-by."
"You'll have to excuse my left hand," he said. "I had a little
accident to the other one."
She gave a pitying cry as she saw. "Oh, poor Mr. Sheridan!"
"Nothin' at all! Dictate everything nowadays, anyhow." He laughed
jovially. "Did anybody tell you how it happened?"
"I heard you hurt your hand, but no--not just how."
"It was this way," he began, and both, as if unconsciously, sat
down again. "You may not know it, but I used to worry a good deal
about the youngest o' my boys--the one that used to come to see you
sometimes, after Jim--that is, I mean Bibbs. He's the one I spoke
of as my partner; and the truth is that's what it's just about goin'
to amount to, one o' these days--if his health holds out. Well, you
remember, I expect, I had him on a machine over at a plant o' mine;
and sometimes I'd kind o' sneak in there and see how he was gettin'
along. Take a doctor with me sometimes, because Bibbs never WAS so
robust, you might say. Ole Doc Gurney--I guess maybe you know him?
Tall, thin man; acts sleepy--"
"Well, one day I an' ole Doc Gurney, we were in there, and I undertook
to show Bibbs how to run his machine. He told me to look out, but I
wouldn't listen, and I didn't look out--and that's how I got my hand
hurt, tryin' to show Bibbs how to do something he knew how to do and
I didn't. Made me so mad I just wouldn't even admit to myself it WAS
hurt--and so, by and by, ole Doc Gurney had to take kind o' radical
measures with me. He's a right good doctor, too. Don't you think so,
"Yes, he is so!" Sheridan now had the air of a rambling talker and
gossip with all day on his hands. "Take him on Bibbs's case. I was
talkin' about Bibbs's case with him this morning. Well, you'd laugh
to hear the way ole Gurney talks about THAT! 'Course he IS just as
much a friend as he is doctor--and he takes as much interest in Bibbs
as if he was in the family. He says Bibbs isn't anyways bad off YET;
and he thinks he could stand the pace and get fat on it if--well, this
is what'd made YOU laugh if you'd been there, Miss Vertrees--honest
it would!" He paused to chuckle, and stole a glance at her. She was
gazing straight before her at the wall; her lips were parted, and--
visibly--she was breathing heavily and quickly. He feared that she
was growing furiously angry; but he had led to what he wanted to say,
and he went on, determined now to say it all. He leaned forward and
altered his voice to one of confidential friendliness, though in it he
still maintained a tone which indicated that ole Doc Gurney's opinion
was only a joke he shared with her. "Yes, sir, you certainly would
'a' laughed! Why, that ole man thinks YOU got something to do with
it. You'll have to blame it on him, young lady, if it makes you feel
like startin' out to whip somebody! He's actually got THIS theory:
he says Bibbs got to gettin' better while he worked over there at the
shop because you kept him cheered up and feelin' good. And he says if
you could manage to just stand him hangin' around a little-- maybe not
much, but just SOMEtimes--again, he believed it'd do Bibbs a mighty
lot o' good. 'Course, that's only what the doctor said. Me, I don't
know anything about that; but I can say this much--I never saw any
such a MENTAL improvement in anybody in my life as I have lately in
Bibbs. I expect you'd find him a good deal more entertaining than
what he used to be--and I know it's a kind of embarrassing thing to
suggest after the way he piled in over here that day to ask you to
stand up before the preacher with him, but accordin' to ole Doc
GURNEY, he's got you on his brain so bad--"
Mary jumped. "Mr. Sheridan!" she exclaimed.
He sighed profoundly. "There! I noticed you were gettin' mad.
I didn't --"
"No, no, no!" she cried. "But I don't understand--and I think you
don't. What is it you want me to do?"
He sighed again, but this time with relief. "Well, well!" he said.
"You're right. It'll be easier to talk plain. I ought to known I
could with you, all the time. I just hoped you'd let that boy come
and see you sometimes, once more. Could you?"
"You don't understand." She clasped her hands together in a sorrowful
gesture. "Yes, we must talk plain. Bibbs heard that I'd tried to
make your oldest son care for me because I was poor, and so Bibbs came
and asked me to marry him--because he was sorry for me. And I CAN'T
see him any more," she cried in distress. "I CAN'T!"
Sheridan cleared his throat uncomfortably. "You mean because he
thought that about you?"
"No, no! What he thought was TRUE!"
"Well--you mean he was so much in--you mean he thought so much of
you--" The words were inconceivably awkward upon Sheridan's tongue;
he seemed to be in doubt even about pronouncing them, but after a
ghastly pause he bravely repeated them. "You mean he thought so much
of you that you just couldn't stand him around?"
"NO! He was sorry for me. He cared for me; he was fond of me; and
he'd respected me--too much! In the finest way he loved me, if you
like, and he'd have done anything on earth for me, as I would for him,
and as he knew I would. It was beautiful, Mr. Sheridan," she said.
"But the cheap, bad things one has done seem always to come back--they
wait, and pull you down when you're happiest. Bibbs found me out, you
see; and he wasn't 'in love' with me at all."
"He wasn't? Well, it seems to me he gave up everything he wanted to
do--it was fool stuff, but he certainly wanted it mighty bad--he just
threw it away and walked right up and took the job he swore he never
would--just for you. And it looks to me as if a man that'd do that
must think quite a heap o' the girl he does it for! You say it was
only because he was sorry, but let me tell you there's only ONE girl
he could feel THAT sorry for! Yes, sir!"
"No, no," she said. "Bibbs isn't like other men--he would do anything
Sheridan grinned. "Perhaps not so much as you think, nowadays," he
said. "For instance, I got kind of a suspicion he doesn't believe in
'sentiment in business.' But that's neither here nor there. What he
wanted was, just plain and simple, for you to marry him. Well, I was
afraid his thinkin' so much OF you had kind o' sickened you of him--
the way it does sometimes. But from the way you talk, I understand
that ain't the trouble." He coughed, and his voice trembled a little.
"Now here, Miss Vertrees, I don't have to tell you--because you see
things easy--I know I got no business comin' to you like this, but
I had to make Bibbs go my way instead of his own--I had to do it for
the sake o' my business and on his own account, too--and I expect
you got some idea how it hurt him to give up. Well, he's made good.
He didn't come in half-hearted or mean; he came in--all the way!
But there isn't anything in it to him; you can see he's just shut his
teeth on it and goin' ahead with dust in his mouth. You see, one way
of lookin' at it, he's got nothin' to work FOR. And it seems to me
like it cost him your friendship, and I believe--honest--that's what
hurt him the worst. Now you said we'd talk plain. Why can't you let
him come back?"
She covered her face desperately with her hands. "I can't!"
He rose, defeated, and looking it.
"Well, I mustn't press you," he said, gently.
At that she cried out, and dropped her hands and let him see her
face. "Ah! He was only sorry for me!"
He gazed at her intently. Mary was proud, but she had a fatal
honesty, and it confessed the truth of her now; she was helpless.
It was so clear that even Sheridan, marveling and amazed, was able
to see it. Then a change came over him; gloom fell from him, and
he grew radiant.
"Don't! Don't" she cried. "You mustn't--"
"I won't tell him," said Sheridan, from the doorway. "I won't tell