Thus had another ideal tumbled to the rubbish heap! She seemed to be breathing the dust which the newly fallen had stirred up among its longer dead fellows. Certainly she was breathing the dust from somewhere.
During her senior year at the university, when people would ask: “And what are you going to do when you leave school, Miss Willard?” she would respond with anything that came to hand, secretly hugging to her mind that idea of getting a position in a publishing house. Her conception of her publishing house was finished about the same time as her class-day gown. She was to have a roll-top desk–probably of mahogany–and a big chair which whirled round like that in the office of the under-graduate dean. She was to have a little office all by herself, opening on a bigger office–the little one marked “Private.” There were to be beautiful rugs–the general effect not unlike the library at the University Club–books and pictures and cultivated gentlemen who spoke often of Greek tragedies and the Renaissance. She was a little uncertain as to her duties, but had a general idea about getting down between nine and ten, reading the morning paper, cutting the latest magazine, and then “writing something.”
Commencement was now four months past, and one of her professors had indeed secured for her a position in a Chicago “publishing house.” This was her first morning and she was standing at the window looking down into Dearborn Street while the man who was to have her in charge was fixing a place for her to sit.
That the publishing house should be on Dearborn Street had been her first blow, for she had long located her publishing house on that beautiful stretch of Michigan Avenue which overlooked the lake. But the real insult was that this publishing house, instead of having a building, or at least a floor, all to itself, simply had a place penned off in a bleak, dirty building such as one who had done work in sociological research instinctively associated with a box factory. And the thing which fairly trailed her visions in the dust was that the partition penning them off did not extend to the ceiling, and the adjoining room being occupied by a patent medicine company, she was face to face with glaring endorsements of Dr. Bunting’s Famous Kidney and Bladder Cure. Taken all in all there seemed little chance for Greek tragedies or the Renaissance.
The man who was “running things”–she buried her phraseology with her dreams–wore a skull cap, and his moustache dragged down below his chin. Just at present he was engaged in noisily pulling a most unliterary pine table from a dark corner to a place near the window. That accomplished, an ostentatious hunt ensued, resulting in the triumphant flourish of a feather duster. Several knocks at the table, and the dust of many months–perhaps likewise of many dreams–ascended to a resting place on the endorsement of Dr. Bunting’s Kidney and Bladder Cure. He next produced a short, straight-backed chair which she recognised as brother to the one which used to stand behind their kitchen stove. He gave it a shake, thus delicately indicating that she was receiving special favours in this matter of an able-bodied chair, and then announced with brisk satisfaction: “So! Now we are ready to begin.” She murmured a “Thank you,” seated herself and her buried hopes in this chair which did not whirl round, and leaned her arms upon a table which did not even dream in mahogany.
In the other publishing house, one pushed buttons and uniformed menials appeared–noiselessly, quickly and deferentially. At this moment a boy with sandy hair brushed straight back in a manner either statesmanlike or clownlike–things were too involved to know which–shuffled in with an armful of yellow paper which he flopped down on the pine table. After a minute he returned with a warbled “Take Me Back to New York Town” and a paste-pot. And upon his third appearance he was practising gymnastics with a huge pair of shears, which he finally presented, grinningly.
There was a long pause, broken only by the sonorous voice of Dr. Bunting upbraiding someone for not having billed out that stuff to Apple Grove, and then the sandy-haired boy appeared bearing a large dictionary, followed by the man in the skull cap behind a dictionary of equal unwieldiness. These were set down on either side of the yellow paper, and he who was filling the position of cultivated gentleman pulled up a chair, briskly.
“Has Professor Lee explained to you the nature of our work?” he wanted to know.
“No,” she replied, half grimly, a little humourously, and not far from tearfully, “he didn’t–explain.”
“Then it is my pleasure to inform you,” he began, blinking at her importantly, “that we are engaged here in the making of a dictionary.”
“A dic–?” but she swallowed the gasp in the laugh coming up to meet it, and of their union was born a saving cough.
“Quite an overpowering thought, is it not?” he agreed pleasantly. “Now you see you have before you the two dictionaries you will use most, and over in that case you will find other references. The main thing”–his voice sank to an impressive whisper–“is not to infringe the copyright. The publisher was in yesterday and made a little talk to the force, and he said that any one who handed in a piece of copy infringing the copyright simply employed that means of writing his own resignation. Neat way of putting it, was it not?”
“Yes, wasn’t it–neat?” she agreed, wildly.
She was conscious of a man’s having stepped in behind her and taken a seat at the table next hers. She heard him opening his dictionaries and getting out his paper. Then the man in the skull cap had risen and was saying genially: “Well, here is a piece of old Webster, your first ‘take’–no copyright on this, you see, but you must modernise and expand. Don’t miss any of the good words in either of these dictionaries. Here you have dictionaries, copy-paper, paste, and Professor Lee assures me you have brains–all the necessary ingredients for successful lexicography. We are to have some rules printed to-morrow, and in the meantime I trust I’ve made myself clear. The main thing”–he bent down and spoke it solemnly–“is not to infringe the copyright.” With a cheerful nod he was gone, and she heard him saying to the man at the next table: “Mr. Clifford, I shall have to ask you to be more careful about getting in promptly at eight.”
She removed the cover from her paste-pot and dabbled a little on a piece of paper. Then she tried the unwieldy shears on another piece of paper. She then opened one of her dictionaries and read studiously for fifteen minutes. That accomplished, she opened the other dictionary and pursued it for twelve minutes. Then she took the column of “old Webster,” which had been handed her pasted on a piece of yellow paper, and set about attempting to commit it to memory. She looked up to be met with the statement that Mrs. Marjory Van Luce De Vane, after spending years under the so-called best surgeons of the country, had been cured in six weeks by Dr. Bunting’s Famous Kidney and Bladder Cure. She pushed the dictionaries petulantly from her, and leaning her very red cheek upon her hand, her hazel eyes blurred with tears of perplexity and resentment, her mouth drawn in pathetic little lines of uncertainty, looked over at the sprawling warehouse on the opposite side of Dearborn Street. She was just considering the direct manner of writing one’s resignation–not knowing how to infringe the copyright–when a voice said: “I beg pardon, but I wonder if I can help you any?”
She had never heard a voice like that before. Or, had she heard it?–and where? She looked at him, a long, startled gaze. Something made her think of the voice the prince used to have in long-ago dreams. She looked into a face that was dark and thin and–different. Two very dark eyes were looking at her kindly, and a mouth which was a baffling combination of things to be loved and things to be deplored was twitching a little, as though it would like to join the eyes in a smile, if it dared.
Because he saw both how funny and how hard it was, she liked him. It would have been quite different had he seen either one without the other.
“You can tell me how not to infringe the copyright,” she laughed. “I’m not sure that I know what a copyright is.”
He laughed–a laugh which belonged with his voice. “Mr. Littletree isn’t as lucid as he thinks he is. I’ve been here a week or so, and picked up a few things you might like to know.”
He pulled his chair closer to her table then and gave her a lesson in the making of copy. Edna Willard was never one-half so attractive as when absorbed in a thing which someone was showing her how to do. Her hazel eyes would widen and glisten with the joy of comprehending; her cheeks would flush a deeper pink with the coming of new light, her mouth would part in a child-like way it had forgotten to outgrow, her head would nod gleefully in token that she understood, and she had a way of pulling at her wavy hair and making it more wavy than it had been before. The man at the next table was a long time in explaining the making of a dictionary. He spoke in low tones, often looking at the figure of the man in the skull cap, who was sitting with his back to them, looking over copy. Once she cried, excitedly: “Oh–I see!” and he warned, “S–h!” explaining, “Let him think you got it all from him. It will give you a better stand-in.” She nodded, appreciatively, and felt very well acquainted with this kind man whose voice made her think of something–called to something–she did not just know what.
After that she became so absorbed in lexicography that when the men began putting away their things it was hard to realise that the morning had gone. It was a new and difficult game, the evasion of the copyright furnishing the stimulus of a hazard.
The man at the next table had been watching her with an amused admiration. Her child-like absorption, the way every emotion from perplexity to satisfaction expressed itself in the poise of her head and the pucker of her face, took him back over years emotionally barren to the time when he too had those easily stirred enthusiasms of youth. For the man at the next table was far from young now. His mouth had never quite parted with boyishness, but there was more white than black in his hair, and the lines about his mouth told that time, as well as forces more aging than time, had laid heavy hand upon him. But when he looked at the girl and told her with a smile that it was time to stop work, it was a smile and a voice to defy the most tell-tale face in all the world.
During her luncheon, as she watched the strange people coming and going, she did much wondering. She wondered why it was that so many of the men at the dictionary place were very old men; she wondered if it would be a good dictionary–one that would be used in the schools; she wondered if Dr. Bunting had made a great deal of money, and most of all she wondered about the man at the next table whose voice was like–like a dream which she did not know that she had dreamed.
When she had returned to the straggling old building, had stumbled down the narrow, dark hall and opened the door of the big bleak room, she saw that the man at the next table was the only one who had returned from luncheon. Something in his profile made her stand there very still. He had not heard her come in, and he was looking straight ahead, eyes half closed, mouth set–no unsurrendered boyishness there now. Wholly unconsciously she took an impulsive step forward. But she stopped, for she saw, and felt without really understanding, that it was not just the moment’s pain, but the revealed pain of years. Just then he began to cough, and it seemed the cough, too, was more than of the moment. And then he turned and saw her, and smiled, and the smile changed all.
As the afternoon wore on the man stopped working and turning a little in his chair sat there covertly watching the girl. She was just typically girl. It was written that she had spent her days in the happy ways of healthful girlhood. He supposed that a great many young fellows had fallen in love with her–nice, clean young fellows, the kind she would naturally meet. And then his eyes closed for a minute and he put up his hand and brushed back his hair; there was weariness, weariness weary of itself, in the gesture. He looked about the room and scanned the faces of the men, most of them older than he, many of them men whose histories were well known to him. They were the usual hangers on about newspaper offices; men who, for one reason or other–age, dissipation, antiquated methods–had been pitched over, men for whom such work as this came as a godsend. They were the men of yesterday–men whom the world had rushed past. She was the only one there, this girl who would probably sit here beside him for many months, with whom the future had anything to do. Youth!–Goodness!–Joy!–Hope!–strange things to bring to a place like this. And as if their alienism disturbed him, he moved restlessly, almost resentfully, bit his lips nervously, moistened them, and began putting away his things.
As the girl was starting home along Dearborn Street a few minutes later, she chanced to look in a window. She saw that it was a saloon, but before she could turn away she saw a man with a white face–white with the peculiar whiteness of a dark face, standing before the bar drinking from a small glass. She stood still, arrested by a look such as she had never seen before: a panting human soul sobbingly fluttering down into something from which it had spent all its force in trying to rise. When she recalled herself and passed on, a mist which she could neither account for nor banish was dimming the clear hazel of her eyes.
The next day was a hard one at the dictionary place. She told herself it was because the novelty of it was wearing away, because her fingers ached, because it tired her back to sit in that horrid chair. She did not admit of any connection between her flagging interest and the fact that the place at the next table was vacant.
The following day he was still absent. She assumed that it was nervousness occasioned by her queer surroundings made her look around whenever she heard a step behind her. Where was he? Where had that look carried him? If he were in trouble, was there no one to help him?
The third day she did an unpremeditated thing. The man in the skull cap had been showing her something about the copy. As he was leaving, she asked: “Is the man who sits at the next table coming back?”
“Oh yes,” he replied grimly, “he’ll be back.”
“Because,” she went on, “if he wasn’t, I thought I would take his shears. These hurt my fingers.”
He made the exchange for her–and after that things went better.
He did return late the next morning. After he had taken his place he looked over at her and smiled. He looked sick and shaken–as if something that knew no mercy had taken hold of him and wrung body and soul.
“You have been ill?” she asked, with timid solicitude.
“Oh no,” he replied, rather shortly.
He was quiet all that day, but the next day they talked about the work, laughed together over funny definitions they found. She felt that he could tell many interesting things about himself, if he cared to.
As the days went on he did tell some of those things–out of the way places where he had worked, queer people whom he had known. It seemed that words came to him as gifts, came freely, happily, pleased, perhaps, to be borne by so sympathetic a voice. And there was another thing about him. He seemed always to know just what she was trying to say; he never missed the unexpressed. That made it easy to say things to him; there seemed a certain at-homeness between his thought and hers. She accounted for her interest in him by telling herself she had never known any one like that before. Now Harold, the boy whom she knew best out at the university, why one had to say things to Harold to make him understand! And Harold never left one wondering–wondering what he had meant by that smile, what he had been going to say when he started to say something and stopped, wondering what it was about his face that one could not understand. Harold never could claim as his the hour after he had left her, and was one ever close to anyone with whom one did not spend some of the hours of absence? She began to see that hours spent together when apart were the most intimate hours of all.
And as Harold did not make one wonder, so he did not make one worry. Never in all her life had there been a lump in her throat when she thought of Harold. There was often a lump in her throat when the man at the next table was coughing.
One day, she had been there about two months, she said something to him about it. It was hard; it seemed forcing one’s way into a room that had never been opened to one–there were several doors he kept closed.
“Mr. Clifford,” she turned to him impetuously as they were putting away their things that night, “will you mind if I say something to you?”
He was covering his paste-pot. He looked up at her strangely. The closed door seemed to open a little way. “I can’t conceive of ‘minding’ anything you might say to me, Miss Noah,”–he had called her Miss Noah ever since she, by mistake, had one day called him Mr. Webster.
“You see,” she hurried on, very timid, now that the door had opened a little, “you have been so good to me. Because you have been so good to me it seems that I have some right to–to–”
His head was resting upon his hand, and he leaned a little closer as though listening for something he wanted to hear.
“I had a cousin who had a cough like yours,”–brave now that she could not go back–“and he went down to New Mexico and stayed for a year, and when he came back–when he came back he was as well as any of us. It seems so foolish not to”–her voice broke, now that it had so valiantly carried it–“not to–”
He looked at her, and that was all. But she was never wholly the same again after that look. It enveloped her being in a something which left her richer–different. It was a look to light the dark place between two human souls. It seemed for the moment that words would follow it, but as if feeling their helplessness–perhaps needlessness–they sank back unuttered, and at the last he got up, abruptly, and walked away.
One night, while waiting for the elevator, she heard two of the men talking about him. When she went out on the street it was with head high, cheeks hot. For nothing is so hard to hear as that which one has half known, and evaded. One never denies so hotly as in denying to one’s self what one fears is true, and one never resents so bitterly as in resenting that which one cannot say one has the right to resent.
That night she lay in her bed with wide open eyes, going over and over the things they had said. “Cure?”–one of them had scoffed, after telling how brilliant he had been before he “went to pieces”–“why all the cures on earth couldn’t help him! He can go just so far, and then he can no more stop himself–oh, about as much as an ant could stop a prairie fire!”
She finally turned over on her pillow and sobbed; and she wondered why–wondered, yet knew.
But it resulted in the flowering of her tenderness for him. Interest mounted to defiance. It ended in blind, passionate desire to “make it up” to him. And again he was so different from Harold; Harold did not impress himself upon one by upsetting all one’s preconceived ideas.
She felt now that she understood better–understood the closed doors. He was–she could think of no better word than sensitive.
And that is why, several mornings later, she very courageously–for it did take courage–threw this little note over on his desk–they had formed a habit of writing notes to each other, sometimes about the words, sometimes about other things.
“IN-VI-TA-TION, n. That which Miss Noah extends to Mr. Webster for Friday evening, December second, at the house where she lives–hasn’t she already told him where that is? It is the wish of Miss Noah to present Mr. Webster to various other Miss Noahs, all of whom are desirous of making his acquaintance.”
She was absurdly nervous at luncheon that day, and kept telling herself with severity not to act like a high-school girl. He was late in returning that noon, and though there seemed a new something in his voice when he asked if he hadn’t better sharpen her pencils, he said nothing about her new definition of invitation. It was almost five o’clock when he threw this over on her desk:
“AP-PRE-CI-A-TION, n. That sentiment inspired in Mr. Webster by the kind invitation of Miss Noah for Friday evening.
“RE-GRET, n. That which Mr. Webster experiences because, for reasons into which he cannot go in detail, it is impossible for him to accept Miss Noah’s invitation.
“RE-SENT-MENT, n. That which is inspired in Mr. Webster by the insinuation that there are other Miss Noahs in the world.”
Then below he had written: “Three hours later. Miss Noah, the world is queer. Some day you may find out–though I hope you never will–that it is frequently the things we most want to do that we must leave undone. Miss Noah, won’t you go on bringing me as much of yourself as you can to Dearborn Street, and try not to think much about my not being able to know the Miss Noah of Hyde Park? And little Miss Noah–I thank you. There aren’t words enough in this old book of ours to tell you how much–or why.”
That night he hurried away with never a joke about how many words she had written that day. She did not look up as he stood there putting on his coat.
It was spring now, and the dictionary staff had begun on W.
They had written of Joy, of Hope and Life and Love, and many other things. Life seemed pressing just behind some of those definitions, pressing the harder, perhaps, because it could not break through the surface.
For it did not break through; it flooded just beneath.
How did she know that he cared for her? She could not possibly have told. Perhaps the nearest to actual proof she could bring was that he always saw that her overshoes were put in a warm place. And when one came down to facts, the putting of a girl’s rubbers near the radiator did not necessarily mean love.
Perhaps then it was because there was no proof of it that she was most sure. For some of the most sure things in the world are things which cannot be proved.
It was only that they worked together and were friends; that they laughed together over funny definitions they found, that he was kind to her, and that they seemed remarkably close together.
That is as far as facts can take it.
And just there–it begins.
For the force which rushes beneath the facts of life, caring nothing for conditions, not asking what one desires or what one thinks best, caring as little about a past as about a future–save its own future–the force which can laugh at man’s institutions and batter over in one sweep what he likes to call his wisdom, was sweeping them on. And because it could get no other recognition it forced its way into the moments when he asked her for an eraser, when she wanted to know how to spell a word. He could not so much as ask her if she needed more copy-paper without seeming to be lavishing upon her all the love of all the ages.
And so the winter had worn on, and there was really nothing whatever to tell about it.
She was quiet this morning, and kept her head bent low over her work. For she had estimated the number of pages there were between W and Z. Soon they would be at Z;–and then? Then? Shyly she turned and looked at him; he too was bent over his work. When she came in she had said something about its being spring, and that there must be wild flowers in the woods. Since then he had not looked up.
Suddenly it came to her–tenderly, hotly, fearfully yet bravely, that it was she who must meet Z. She looked at him again, covertly. And she felt that she understood. It was the lines in his face made it clearest. Years, and things blacker, less easily surmounted than years–oh yes, that too she faced fearlessly–were piled in between. She knew now that it was she–not he–who could push them aside.
It was all very unmaidenly, of course; but maidenly is a word love and life and desire may crowd from the page.
Perhaps she would not have thrown it after all–the little note she had written–had it not been that when she went over for more copy-paper she stood for a minute looking out the window. Even on Dearborn Street the seductiveness of spring was in the air. Spring, and all that spring meant, filled her.
Because, way beyond the voice of Dr. Bunting she heard the songs of far-away birds, and because beneath the rumble of a printing press she could get the babble of a brook, because Z was near and life was strong, the woman vanquished the girl, and she threw this over to his desk:
“CHAFING-DISH, n. That out of which Miss Noah asks Mr. Webster to eat his Sunday night lunch tomorrow. All the other Miss Noahs are going to be away, and if Mr. Webster does not come, Miss Noah will be all alone. Miss Noah does not like to be lonely.”
She ate no lunch that day; she only drank a cup of coffee and walked around.
He did not come back that afternoon. It passed from one to two, from two to three, and then very slowly from three to four, and still he had not come.
He too was walking about. He had walked down to the lake and was standing there looking out across it.
Why not?–he was saying to himself–fiercely, doggedly. Over and over again–Well, why not?
A hundred nights, alone in his room, he had gone over it. Had not life used him hard enough to give him a little now?–longing had pleaded. And now there was a new voice–more prevailing voice–the voice of her happiness. His face softened to an almost maternal tenderness as he listened to that voice.
Too worn to fight any longer, he gave himself up to it, and sat there dreaming. They were dreams of joy rushing in after lonely years, dreams of stepping into the sunlight after long days in fog and cold, dreams of a woman before a fireplace–her arms about him, her cheer and her tenderness, her comradeship and her passion–all his to take! Ah, dreams which even thoughts must not touch–so wonderful and sacred they were.
A long time he sat there, dreaming dreams and seeing visions. The force that rules the race was telling him that the one crime was the denial of happiness–his happiness, her happiness; and when at last his fight seemed but a puerile fight against forces worlds mightier than he, he rose, and as one who sees a great light, started back toward Dearborn Street.
On the way he began to cough. The coughing was violent, and he stepped into a doorway to gain breath. And after he had gone in there he realised that it was the building of Chicago’s greatest newspaper.
He had been city editor of that paper once. Facts, the things he knew about himself, talked to him then. There was no answer.
It left him weak and dizzy and crazy for a drink. He walked on slowly, unsteadily, his white face set. For he had vowed that if it took the last nerve in his body there should be no more of that until after they had finished with Z. He knew himself too well to vow more. He was not even sure of that.
He did not turn in where he wanted to go, but resistance took the last bit of force that was in him. He was trembling like a sick man when he stepped into the elevator.
She was just leaving. She was in the little cloak room putting on her things. She was all alone in there.
He stepped in. He pushed the door shut, and stood there leaning against it, looking at her, saying nothing.
“Oh–you are ill?” she gasped, and laid a frightened hand upon him.
The touch crazed him. All resistance gone, he swept her into his arms; he held her fiercely, and between sobs kissed her again and again. He could not let her go. He frightened her. He hurt her. And he did not care–he did not know.
Then he held her off and looked at her. And as he looked into her eyes, passion melted to tenderness. It was she now–not he; love–not hunger. Holding her face in his two hands, looking at her as if getting something to take away, his white lips murmured words too inarticulate for her to hear. And then again he put his arms around her–all differently. Reverently, sobbingly, he kissed her hair. And then he was gone.
He did not come out that Sunday afternoon, but Harold dropped in instead, and talked of some athletic affairs over at the university. She wondered why she did not go crazy in listening to him, and yet she could answer intelligently. It was queer–what one could do.
They had come at last to Z. There would be no more work upon the dictionary after that day. And it was raining–raining as in Chicago alone it knows how to rain.
They wrote no notes to each other now. It had been different since that day. They made small effort to cover their raw souls with the mantle of commonplace words.
Both of them had tried to stay away that last day. But both were in their usual places.
The day wore on eventlessly. Those men with whom she had worked, the men of yesterday, who had been kind to her, came up at various times for little farewell chats. The man in the skull cap told her that she had done excellent work. She was surprised at the ease with which she could make decent reply, thinking again that it was queer–what one could do.
He was moving. She saw him lay some sheets of yellow paper on the desk in front. He had finished with his “take.” There would not be another to give him. He would go now.
He came back to his desk. She could hear him putting away his things. And then for a long time there was no sound. She knew that he was just sitting there in his chair.
Then she heard him get up. She heard him push his chair up to the table, and then for a minute he stood there. She wanted to turn toward him; she wanted to say something–do something. But she had no power.
She saw him lay an envelope upon her desk. She heard him walking away. She knew, numbly, that his footsteps were not steady. She knew that he had stopped; she was sure that he was looking back. But still she had no power.
And then she heard him go.
Even then she went on with her work; she finished her “take” and laid down her pencil. It was finished now–and he had gone. Finished?–Gone? She was tearing open the envelope of the letter.
This was what she read:
“Little dictionary sprite, sunshine vender, and girl to be loved, if I were a free man I would say to you–Come, little one, and let us learn of love. Let us learn of it, not as one learns from dictionaries, but let us learn from the morning glow and the evening shades. But Miss Noah, maker of dictionaries and creeper into hearts, the bound must not call to the free. They might fittingly have used my name as one of the synonyms under that word Failure, but I trust not under Coward.
“And now, you funny little Miss Noah from the University of Chicago, don’t I know that your heart is blazing forth the assurance that you don’t care for any of those things–the world, people, common sense–that you want just love? They made a grand failure of you out at your university; they taught you philosophy and they taught you Greek, and they’ve left you just as much the woman as women were five thousand years ago. Oh, I know all about you–you little girl whose hair tried so hard to be red. Your soul touched mine as we sat there writing words–words–words, the very words in which men try to tell things, and can’t–and I know all about what you would do. But you shall not do it. Dear little copy maker, would a man standing out on the end of a slippery plank have any right to cry to someone on the shore–‘Come out here on this plank with me?’ If he loved the someone on the shore, would he not say instead–‘Don’t get on this plank?’ Me get off the plank–come with you to the shore–you are saying? But you see, dear, you only know slippery planks as viewed from the shore–God grant you may never know them any other way!
“It was you, was it not, who wrote our definition of happiness? Yes, I remember the day you did it. You were so interested; your cheeks grew so very red, and you pulled and pulled at your wavy hair. You said it was such an important definition. And so it is, Miss Noah, quite the most important of all. And on the page of life, Miss Noah, may happiness be written large and unblurred for you. It is because I cannot help you write it that I turn away. I want at least to leave the page unspoiled.
“I carry a picture of you. I shall carry it always. You are sitting before a fireplace, and I think of that fireplace as symbolising the warmth and care and tenderness and the safety that will surround you. And sometimes as you sit there let a thought of me come for just a minute, Miss Noah–not long enough nor deep enough to bring you any pain. But only think–I brought him happiness after he believed all happiness had gone. He was so grateful for that light which came after he thought the darkness had settled down. It will light his way to the end.
“We’ve come to Z, and it’s good-bye. There is one thing I can give you without hurting you,–the hope, the prayer, that life may be very, very good to you.”
The sheets of paper fell from her hands. She sat staring out into Dearborn Street. She began to see. After all, he had not understood her. Perhaps men never understood women; certainly he had not understood her. What he did not know was that she was willing to pay for her happiness–pay–pay any price that might be exacted. And anyway–she had no choice. Strange that he could not see that! Strange that he could not see the irony and cruelty of bidding her good-bye and then telling her to be happy!
It simplified itself to such an extent that she grew very calm. It would be easy to find him, easy to make him see–for it was so very simple–and then….
She turned in her copy. She said good-bye quietly, naturally, rode down in the lumbering old elevator and started out into the now drenching rain toward the elevated trains which would take her to the West Side; it was so fortunate that she had heard him telling one day where he lived.
When she reached the station she saw that more people were coming down the stairs than were going up. They were saying things about the trains, but she did not heed them. But at the top of the stairs a man in uniform said: “Blockade, Miss. You’ll have to take the surface cars.”
She was sorry, for it would delay her, and there was not a minute to lose. She was dismayed, upon reaching the surface cars, to find she could not get near them; the rain, the blockade on the “L” had caused a great crowd to congregate there. She waited a long time, getting more and more wet, but it was impossible to get near the cars. She thought of a cab, but could see none, they too having all been pressed into service.
She determined, desperately, to start and walk. Soon she would surely get either a cab or a car. And so she started, staunchly, though she was wet through now, and trembling with cold and nervousness.
As she hurried through the driving rain she faced things fearlessly. Oh yes, she understood–everything. But if he were not well–should he not have her with him? If he had that thing to fight, did he not need her help? What did men think women were like? Did he think she was one to sit down and reason out what would be advantageous? Better a little while with him on a slippery plank than forever safe and desolate upon the shore!
She never questioned her going; were not life and love too great to be lost through that which could be so easily put right?
The buildings were reeling, the streets moving up and down–that awful rain, she thought, was making her dizzy. Labouriously she walked on–more slowly, less steadily, a pain in her side, that awful reeling in her head.
Carriages returning to the city were passing her, but she had not strength to call to them, and it seemed if she walked to the curbing she would fall. She was not thinking so clearly now. The thing which took all of her force was the lifting of her feet and the putting them down in the right place. Her throat seemed to be closing up–and her side–and her head….
Someone had her by the arm. Then someone was speaking her name; speaking it in surprise–consternation–alarm.
It was Harold.
It was all vague then. She knew that she was in a carriage, and that Harold was talking to her kindly. “You’re taking me there?” she murmured.
“Yes–yes, Edna, everything’s all right,” he replied soothingly.
“Everything’s all right,” she repeated, in a whisper, and leaned her head back against the cushions.
They stopped after a while, and Harold was standing at the open door of the cab with something steaming hot which he told her to drink. “You need it,” he said decisively, and thinking it would help her to tell it, she drank it down.
The world was a little more defined after that, and she saw things which puzzled her. “Why, it looks like the city,” she whispered, her throat too sore now to speak aloud.
“Why sure,” he replied banteringly; “don’t you know we have to go through the city to get out to the South Side?”
“Oh, but you see,” she cried, holding her throat, “but you see, it’s the other way!”
“Not to-night,” he insisted; “the place for you to-night is home. I’m taking you where you belong.”
She reached over wildly, trying to open the door, but he held her back; she began to cry, and he talked to her, gently but unbendingly. “But you don’t understand!” she whispered, passionately. “I’ve got to go!”
“Not to-night,” he said again, and something in the way he said it made her finally huddle back in the corner of the carriage.
Block after block, mile after mile, they rode on in silence. She felt overpowered. And with submission she knew that it was Z. For the whole city was piled in between. Great buildings were in between, and thousands of men running to and fro on the streets; man, and all man had builded up, were in between. And then Harold–Harold who had always seemed to count for so little, had come and taken her away.
Dully, wretchedly–knowing that her heart would ache far worse to-morrow than it did to-night–she wondered about things. Did things like rain and street-cars and wet feet and a sore throat determine life? Was it that way with other people, too? Did other people have barriers–whole cities full of them–piled in between? And then did the Harolds come and take them where they said they belonged? Were there not some people strong enough to go where they wanted to go?