In the Haworth
IN THE HAWORTH.
BY GERALDINE BONNER
NO. 15 in the third section of the Haworth apartment-house was vacant. No. 17 above it and No. 13 below it felt uneasy when they realized that a vacuum existed between them which might draw to itself elements of an uncongenial character. No. 16, whose door commanded the door of No. 15, and whose right to borrow everything in No. 15 worth borrowing had long been recognized as a perquisite of her position in the Ha worth, was in a quiver of apprehension anent a new lodger.
No. 13 on the floor below was known as Mrs. Kelly, a talkative soul, given to speculation. There was a Mr. Kelly—H. Augustus—but to the inmates of the Haworth his was a pale personality; and there were two small Kellys, to relate whose miraculous recoveries from many illnesses would Mrs. Kelly seriously incline. Her husband's employment was somewhat mysterious, owing to the fact that she had given out that "Mr. Kelly was in the Custom-house," but had neglected to state whether as a dutiable commodity, an unclaimed article, or an employé. Judging by Mrs. Kelly, being in the Custom-house was a lucrative position. She dressed with a splendor which caused her incomings and outgoings to be watched from behind the blinds of No. 16, No. 17, and even No. 18, who, attracted by a rustle strictly feminine, laid down his brushes and peeped out, only to see No. 13 arrest the progress of a car with a wave of her parasol. Mrs. Kelly was the only person in the Haworth who had pretensions to style. Besides her rustling garments, she had an easy, friendly way of alluding to people moving in the great world of fashion; and she had a brother, Mr. George Judkins, who was suspected in the Haworth of being a social luminary. Mrs. Kelly was regarded as the common mother of the Haworth, and honored as such.
No. 16, who two weeks after the departure of No. 15 declared her independence by borrowing a collander of No. 14, was a music teacher; by name, Miss Merry. There were rumors rife in the Haworth that Miss Merry, in the secluded recesses of No. 16, concealed a maiden aunt as the sop to Mrs. Grundy-Cerberus. The maiden aunt would have been regarded as entirely mythical had not Mrs. Kelly, on one of those tours of visits to which she occasionally subjected the Haworth in the character of common mother, unwarily opened a door and come upon an aged lady darkling in the dim interior, who there was no reason for believing was not the illusive maiden aunt brought to bay. Mrs. Kelly, who in common with the rest of the Haworth had regarded Miss Merry's protectress as a fiction, shut the door in trepidation, and made no sign that she had discovered Miss Merry's cache. Skeletons in closets, though they took the form of maiden aunts, were obnoxious to her open nature. It was an experience nevertheless by which she set great store. As a piquant bit of gossip it obtained favor in the Haworth, and Mrs. Kelly attained a still higher renown as the Columbus of the maiden aunt.
Under the roof, surveying an uneven expanse of flat and sloping roofs of slate and tin and a forest of chimneys, the inmates of No. 17 and No. 18 had made nests for themselves out of such scraps as fell in their way. No. 18, the smallest of the flats, for the Haworth shrank as it rose higher, was occupied by three young men. They were regarded askance in the Haworth, as refractory elements to the fine social tone which distinguished the lower floors. Moreover, their professions and antecedents were wrapt in a suspicious obscurity. There was the tired young man who came home late, and whose hands were always black. Miss Merry, noting him from behind her door, said he was a "printer's devil." She did not know just what this meant, but then there was a suggestion of ink and general murkiness about it which accorded with the black hands. There was the man with the erratic employment, who sometimes worked till twelve o'clock at night, and sometimes had nothing to do all day long. And then there was Morrill, whom they all knew slightly, liked very much, and pitied a little because he was the victim of an unfortunate ambition, was so poor, so unlucky, and had finally crowned his misfortunes by falling in love. Morrill and his loves interested the Haworth almost as much as Miss Merry and her aunt.
The Haworth regarded No. 17 with tender curiosity. When her light feet pattered down the long nights of stairs, and the door snapped behind her, heads appeared at all the front windows of the third section of the Haworth. All, that is, but the front window of No. 18. Peeping out between the dingy scrim curtains, with his pens or brushes in his mouth and his heart in his throat, Morrill, the unlucky, stood watching her till she disappeared down the street.
Morrill was fond of looking out of his front window. In the evenings, his work done—he was an embryo artist and illustrator, with much energy and but little work to expend it on—he was wont to lean out over the sill on his folded arms, puffing at his pipe, and piecing out fragmentary day-dreams, his bearded head, seen from the street below, a dark blot against the yellow evening sky. Sometimes in the early summer dawn, when the Haworth still slumbered below him, he watched the rosy morning flush up the piece of sky at the end of the street, behind the delicate barring of crossed telegraph wires. With absorbed eyes he saw the color spread and glow, tint the gleaming roofs, turn to pink the scrap of sluggish river with its lazy sails, visible at the end of the street's narrowing vista, then creep warmly down the crowding walls, striking silver from the window-panes, and spots of sudden color from the scarlet geranium blossoms in the window-boxes, sinking gradually lower and lower into the chilly street. Once or twice on such mornings the front window of No. 17 opened, and No. 17 herself, in the charming disarray of loosened hair and blue and white striped cotton jacket, peered out over her straggling geraniums and sickly mignonette to see the sun rise too. They were too far apart to do more than exchange greetings, to cry softly, in pretended surprise: "Oh, Steve, is that you? Isn't it lovely?" and, "Hullo, Claude! Do you think it's going to be a hot day?" But he could see the blush of the dawn on her face, and a shy light chase the sleep from her drowsy eyes.
Chance favored these two. They were forever meeting on the stairs, and pausing for a few whispers, all the richer for their forced brevity, and the knowledge each had of duties waiting to be performed. Constantly, when Claude posed at night sittings, he met her—purely by accident, she having previously mentioned the fact—and they walked home together, arm in arm under the stars, slowly and silently, in a gloriously confidential manner.
Claude, it need hardly be said, was No. 17. She was of French extraction, as her name, Claudine Desparolle, showed, and she was a professional model. Every year in the annual exhibitions Claude smiled and drooped, full face and profile, on canvases innumerable. Claude's back hair, delicate profile, and the graceful curve of her long white throat, brought young MacGregor fame. Claude as Desdemona, swathed in Eastern stuffs, with the shifting currents of the canals and the dark, mysterious walls of old Venice as a background, was exhibited in the Salon of 188-. There was a study of Claude's head against faded, twilight tapestries in the palace of one of the great railway millionaires. She not only understood the art of posing; she was beautiful. Her coloring was her professional recommendation. Her coarse, rough hair, showing an inclination to curl, and of a glowing, golden red, and her skin of the opaque, warm whiteness of the calla-lily, were a source of inspiration for the artists, and bread and butter for her mother and herself. Claude supported her mother, the career of Desparolle, now deceased, having been fast, furious, and brief. The mother, a partial invalid, cherished her broken-down nervous system, and catered for No. 17 with brilliant economy.
Claude was a busy person. Besides her work at the studios she had allowed Steve Morrill to make a study of her head. It was Steve's first great effort, and they regarded it fondly as his masterpiece. It progressed slowly, for Claude could pose only occasionally, having few disengaged hours. On these rare occasions she sat with her throat bared, a blue scarf twisted round her shoulders, and her head bent under the glare of his dusty skylight. Never were sittings more unbusinesslike and delightful. Claude told gossip of the studios, was full of comments on the coming pictures and anecdotes of her artist friends, and Steve's deep laugh rang out through the open windows and echoed among the chimneys. Sometimes over Steve's shoulder she studied the portrait, her head thrown back and her eyes narrowed, ventured a criticism now and then, pressing on his shoulder with her fingertips to emphasize her point. Again sudden silences would fall on them. Steve, absorbed in catching the faint greenish shadow beneath her chin, which melted into the ivory of her rounding cheek, almost held his breath, and Claude was all the model, silent and motionless. Like a true Bohemian, Steve lived in the moment, in an ephemeral but not the less brilliant rainbow of joy, which broke and dissolved when Claude laughed her good-byes from the doorway. Late in the afternoon, when the skylight glass shone red like a fire, he heard her coming up the stairs, and was not ashamed to creep into the tiny hall and watch her through the crack of the door, laughing under her breath, as she leaned over the banisters looking down.
"Sometimes over Steve's shoulder she studied the portrait."
Her laughter was caused by a brief conversation with Mrs. Kelly, returning resplendent from one of her trips on the cars.
"Claude," Mrs. Kelly had cried, excitedly making passes with her parasol from the rear of the car—"Claude, wait! I've something to tell you." Then, springing from the car and achieving the curb, "No. 15 is taken."
Claude, as befitted the proprietress of No. 17, was instantly interested.
"Who is it?" she asked, anxiously.
"I'm sure I don't know—at least I don't mean that. I saw the express carts this morning, and asked the janitor. Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Adams, he says. And, my dear, a baby—a young baby! Of course I know what to expect. Croup, of course—"
"But, Mrs. Kelly," gently interposed Claude, anxious to keep Mrs. Kelly from mounting her great croup hobby-horse, "have you seen them?"
"No, no, dear; not yet. But, as I was saying, she's sure to have it. And croup in an apartment-house! The janitor says it's an extremely delicate-looking child. Oh, I know just what to expect! Why, when my little Ethel was three years old—"
But Claude was gone. She had recognized Mrs. Kelly's favorite form of preamble. Little Ethel at three years always heralded long and tedious recitals. She was the pilot-fish of the Kelly conversation shark. Claude knew her of old, and fled before her.
It was late in the evening of that day that Freddie and Lucilla moved into No. 15. On their upturned Lares and Penates they sat enthroned, gravely viewing their new domain. The solemnity of the moment was such that they sat in silence, Freddie on the edge of "wedded," Lucilla on the refrigerator; between them, the baby slept in her tin bath-tub. To Lucilla, Western and country-bred, No. 15 was rich with pleasant potentialities, which on the morrow she would reduce to realities. At present her mind was a chaos of the electric buttons and speaking-tubes in the kitchen, which Freddie had just been explaining. Sitting on the refrigerator, gazing vacantly at the portrait of her maternal grandfather—a famous warrior, who testified to his intrepid spirit by glaring boldly at a thunder-storm raging on his right—she went over them once more. When the door-bell rang, you pressed the upper button, that opened the door; when the tube whistled, you also opened the door; and when you pressed the lower button, that called the janitor; and when you whistled down the tube—Here Lucilla lost it all again, and said slowly, staring fixedly at the ancestor, as she wrestled with the problem, "What happens when you whistle, Freddie?"
Freddie stopped filling his pipe, and looked anxiously at his wife over a lighted match. "It depends a good deal what I'm whistling for," he answered. "When I'm whistling for a car and whistling for a dog, the results are different."
Lucilla, roused and blushing, explained; and once more the buttons and tubes were extricated from their tangle.
It was early the next morning; the faint, gray light was filtering down the well, and the rattling of an occasional cart echoed sonorously through the empty street, when a long, shrieking, windy sound broke the silence of No. 15. Lucilla heard it in her dreams, and woke, startled as the fawn at the horn of the chase. New to flats and city life, she was at first frightened, then puzzled, when, on the point of setting it down as a freak of imagination, its reality was established beyond a doubt by its suddenly bursting forth again—a clear, piercing whistle. With a sweep of memory, Lucilla remembered her lesson in tubes and electric buttons, and, cowering under the clothes, murmured fearfully, "Some one at the front door."
Wondering what possible reason could bring any one out at such an hour, she bravely rose, slipped on her blue wrapper, thrust her feet into slippers, and, sleepy-eyed and shivering, with her shoulders drawn up to her ears, crept kitchen ward. She noiselessly opened the glass door, and, holding to the knob, peeped in apprehensively. It seemed to Lucilla that there was something public about a flat. She half expected to find people walking down her hall, or see them lying perdu beneath the stationary wash-tub. As she stood. knob in hand, peeping about with palpitating alertness, the whistle shrieked again with terrible suddenness. With her hand pressed to her heart, Lucilla drew in her head and shut the door; then, biting her lip and gazing obliquely out of the corners of her eyes, stood listening. What could any one want at such an hour? She ought to open the door; but if any one did come, she could never, in her present attire, let him in to No. 15. It was a trying moment, but the blood of warriors, somewhat vitiated by time, to be sure, flowed in Lucilla's veins. Gathering her gown about her, as though surrounded by beetles, she stepped gingerly toward the dumb-waiter door, beside which the buttons and tubes gleamed in the cold, eerie light. With fierce courage she pressed the first of the two buttons that her hand touched—the lower one—then stepped back with fascinated eyes fastened upon it, awaiting the result. But there was no result; nothing happened. The Haworth, was wrapped in the silence of early morning. Lucilla, growing desperate, timorously pressed the button again, then drew back shuddering, as from contact with a reptile. Suddenly, almost at her side, rose a deep, masculine voice, "Well, ma'am, what's the matter?"
Lucilla afterward wondered why she did not faint. In her fright she clutched the door of the dumb-waiter, which stood ajar, and clung dumbly to it, with her heart beating loudly. The voice, with a resigned intonation, rose again from somewhere below: "Won't yer please, ma'am, tell me what yer want? I've whistled for yer ashes three times, and now yer ring for me. Won't yer send yer ashes down?"
Lucilla, with what she was fond of terming a brain wave, comprehended the situation. She opened the door of the dumb-waiter, and called, tremulously, "Who is it?"
"It's the janitor, ma'am. I've been whistlin' for yer ashes for fifteen minutes. Will yer 'blige me by sendin' 'em down?"
Holding her gown tightly about her still trembling form, as though the janitorial eye had power to pierce the boards, Lucilla answered, vaguely, "What ashes?"
It occurred to her at the moment that this question was not a particularly happy one, but she was confused, and desirous of gaining time.
"The ashes out of yer range," with stubborn patience.
Lucilla comprehended. "Wait a moment," she called, in a sprightly and amiable tone, the sweetness of which she hoped would obliterate all impressions left by her last question. A noise of scraping, metallic rattling, and dry grinding now filled the kitchen of No. 15. A fine cloud of ash dust rose on the air and powdered Lucilla's earnest face. A few minutes later she set a pan of ashes on the dumb-waiter, and, charily standing some distance off, lowered it with the tips of her fingers.
Cold, nervous, and wakeful, she now retired. As she dropped off her slippers, the whistle shrieked again with startling suddenness. For a moment Lucilla stood irresolute, nervously pinching her underlip with a chill thumb and forefinger. Then, brave in her newly acquired knowledge of the janitor, the dumb-waiter, and the tubes, she stole, cautious and soft-footed, back to the kitchen. Opening the dumb-waiter door, but concealing herself behind it, she sent her voice down the shaft in the form of greeting which seemed to her most dignified, and yet, in her loneliness, was warmed by a suggestion of past acquaintance, perhaps friendship, "Janitor, what do you want?"
She afterward thought that this was somewhat haughty, that it smacked of "Minion, what is your hest?" or, "Vassal, what seekest thou?" For Lucilla, as a Western, was practically democratic. For a moment all was still; then a strange voice, young yet husky, floated upward:
"I ain't the janitor. It's me—Mike Shea."
In blushing consternation, Lucilla shrank into her wrapper. Could it be the dreaded morning visitor, she thought, with a sudden spasmodic fluttering of her heart. She had never known a Mike Shea. Various forms of retort to this piece of intelligence occurred to her, but she dismissed them as inappropriate. She thought of ringing for the janitor, or calling up Freddie, or suggesting to the unwelcome Mike, with a veiled but stinging sarcasm, that the pleasure of his acquaintance was denied her. But Lucilla, despite her vaunted fighting blood, had a kindly heart. She determined to give Mike a chance to extricate himself from a position which was fast becoming compromising.
"Well?" she called, interrogatively, her tone suggesting a keen desire for further information.
The intruder was silent for a space; then his youthful husky voice, distinctly exasperated and yet imploring, rose from the depths below: "Won't "yer pleze tell me how much milk yer want, and send down yer can?"
"Milk!" cried Lucilla, with sudden vivacity; and then added, confidingly and with the joyousness of dawning comprehension, "Oh, yes, milk!"
The curiosity of the visitor was aroused. He leaned forward and gazed up the shaft for a glimpse of his interlocutor. Then he said, slowly: "Yes, milk. It's a thing you drink. I'd 'vise yer never to take too much, 't might go to yer head. Say," coaxingly, "send down yer can."
Lucilla was roused by these gibes. She looked down the crack between the dumb-waiter and the side of the shaft, and observed, haughtily: "I moved in last night. I have made no arrangements—"
She would have continued further, but Mr. Shea's head was withdrawn, to reappear immediately, his upturned face brightened by an apologetic smile. "I mistook yer tube," he said, easily, smiling at her through the crack, with an expression which seemed to the offended Lucilla absolutely demoniac. "It's No. 17 I'm after."
The next moment the dumb-waiter creaked on its upward way, and Lucilla, as she crept back to her room, heard the long, muffled whistle of No. 17's tube, and the slow steps of No. 17 moving kitchenward.
"It must be the last," sighed Lucilla, as she dropped off her slippers, and unfastened her wrapper with cold fingers. "I'll have a little more sleep."
But fate had decided otherwise. As her heavy eyelids closed gratefully, and as she found herself drowsily wondering how a waiter so obviously noisy ever was called dumb, the whistle shrilled once more. In a tremor she rose, pattered to the kitchen, and flung open the dumb-waiter door. The aperture was filled by the dumb-waiter, with one huge block of ice upon its shelf. The horrors of the situation fell coldly upon Lucilla's heart. The ice gleamed blue and transparent, and exhaled a chill breath. As she gazed blankly at it, her perplexity found expression in a low gasp of, "Good heavens! what will I do with it?"
At the same time a suppressed but audible outburst of masculine laughter echoed sonorously up the shaft. Lucilla, emboldened by desperation, looked severely down through the crack, to perceive, leaning against the door-frame, half inside the shaft, a burly ice-man, his iron pincers dangling from his hand, and his bronzed face deeply creased with his irrepressible mirth. Lucilla felt that hesitation was loss of dignity. With as indifferent a front as she could assume, she dodged forward, folded the ice in her soft warm arms, and with set teeth bore it to the table. There it slipped from her benumbed grasp, and fell with a loud crash. Lucilla screamed and sprang back, and the ice glided down the table, massive and shining, till it struck a pile of pans and strewed them afar with a variety of clangs. Quivering like a leaf, her hands extended, her fingers spread apart like the rays of a starfish, and gazing tearfully at her dripping garments, stood Lucilla, terror-stricken. She was roused by the voice of Freddie, crying from the interior, in wakeful tones of surprise and alarm.
"Quivering like a leaf ... stood Lucilla terror-stricken."
"Lucilla, what, in the name of mercy, are you doing in there?"
"Oh, Freddie, it's the ice! I'm all wet, and so cold!" she whimpered.
"What ice? What are you talking about? Wait a moment, and I'll help you."
The laughter of the waiting ice-man, to whom these remarks were audible, now became uncontrollable. Lucilla, fearful that the tenderness with which Freddie would console her would be also heard by these unhallowed ears, hurried to the dumb-waiter door, and without now considering the best form of address, cried, loudly: "That's all right. You will do. You may come every morning."
"Lucilla, what do you mean? What are you talking about?" called Freddie from the interior, in a voice of terror.
"That's all right," cried Lucilla still louder, as the man made an attempt to speak. "That will do to-morrow," and she slammed the door, just as Freddie, pale and scared, burst open the glass door of the kitchen and confronted her with lover-like solicitude. Alas! that one should have to recount the fall of Lucilla the Spartan! Subsiding on the boiler, with Freddie's stalwart arm about her shoulders, she drooped nervelessly against him, and melted into tears.
From this somewhat inauspicious opening Lucilla's experiences of the Haworth were pleasant. She grew fond of No. 15 and its little cozy rooms. She hung and rehung her pictures, giving the place of honor to the grandfather smiling at the thunder-storm. Freddie did not like this, confessing a long-cherished aversion to the ancestor. Lucilla, with troubled, serious eyes, inquiring the reason, had been told that he found it humiliating to think he had married the descendant of a man who didn't know enough to come in when it rained. Lucilla, thus cruelly taken by surprise, was offended. She ignored Freddie for an hour. She intended to ignore him for the rest of the evening, but in the middle of dinner forgot all about it, and sliding her hand round the edge of the tiny table, laid it with a soft pressure on his, saying, with a pensive smile, "Oh, Freddie, I've just thought of such an awfully crushing thing I might have said to that ice-man!"
After this all went well. Lucilla procured an Irish domestic, and the shrieking of the whistle disturbed her no more. And then her social position in the Haworth was assured. She felt that the Haworth approved her. In the light of its applauding smiles she unfolded softly and delicately, like a wind-flower in a sunny, sheltered nook.
The period of first calls had been certainly trying, especially to the shy and retiring Lucilla. Mrs. Kelly's call had almost crushed both ladies by the solemnity and awful majesty of its social interchanges. Mrs. Kelly, knowing the full value of a first impression, was attired as befitted the common mother of the Haworth. Heavy silks and jet beads rattled portentously about her as she greeted Lucilla in the small parlor. There, disposed to advantage on the hard little sofa, she flashed her brilliant glance over the apartment, and opened the floodgates of her conversation. Lucilla, shy as a rabbit, was breathless and speechless before this torrent of small-talk.
She felt very small and ill-dressed, and sat stiffly on the edge of her chair, feeling that she was visibly shrinking to the vanishing-point of insignificance. There was something so large and protecting about Mrs. Kelly, and her silks kept up a series of creaks and crepitations which made it impossible to forget them. Moreover, the confident ease of her manner made Lucilla feel awkward and country-bred.
The situation soon became slightly strained. Mrs. Kelly told of all the ills through which she had triumphantly conducted the young Kellys unscathed, with the deprecating pride of conscious merit. Lucilla responded without enthusiasm. Mrs. Kelly, rather exhausted, drew from her voluminous folds a filmy handkerchief, which she slowly pressed to her lips, then, folding her hands over it on her lap, glanced despairingly about the room.
Her eyes suddenly lighted on the baby, who, fascinated by this glistening apparition, had crawled stealthily toward it; and now, sitting upright, gazed upon it with open mouth and rounded eyes. Mrs. Kelly, bending downward, raised the inert and silently alarmed baby, and steadying it against her knee, smiled upon it as she softly beat its dimpled fist between her hands.
"A pretty child," said Mrs. Kelly, with dawning hope. "How old?"
Lucilla, brightening, stated its age. Then, under the encouraging Kelly eye, she glanced off into its diet. Restraint broken, she began rioting sumptuously in an elysium of soluble foods and infantine indispositions. Under the head of ills, Lucilla had little to offer, being as yet inexperienced; but this topic was Mrs. Kely's pièce de résistance in all feminine conversations. She gazed at the baby's rapt, upturned face with smiling abstraction, revolving in her mind a gentle and yet effective opening.
"Subject to colds?" she at length inquired, in a light, conversational tone.
Lucilla, with an uneasy premonition that her offspring was being weighed in the balance and found wanting, reluctantly admitted, "Well, no; not exactly," as less compromising than a positive denial.
"No crying at nights?" Mrs. Kelly continued, in a persuasive tone, calculated to spur the recalcitrant memory to prodigies of recollection.
"None," said Lucilla, with the brevity of mortification.
"Teething, perhaps?" hazarded the guest, confident that if she tried long enough she would arrive at some infantile complaint over which she and Lucilla could establish an entente cordiale.
"No; she isn't troubled with her teeth," said Lucilla, despondently, hanging her head. She felt as if maternally she was a failure, as she saw Mrs. Kelly protrude her underlip and raise her brows musingly, as she continued to gaze at the baby.
"She's a very healthy child," said Lucilla, feeling that this was a commonplace and vulgar recommendation, as opposed to that glittering assortment of ills which from babyhood had distinguished the young Kellys beyond their fellows.
"And yet," commented Mrs. Kelly, a suggestion of personal grievance in her tone, "she is not what you could call a rugged-looking baby."
Lucilla was too subdued to answer. She realized how inadequate she was to the requirements of her position as a young mother, and how far the baby fell below the national standard, and when Mrs. Kelly suggested, encouragingly, "Croupy at nights?" she tamely succumbed, and accepted her humiliating position without a struggle.
"I don't think," she said, gloomily, "that she has ever been sick in her life."
For the first time in her history as common mother of the Haworth, Mrs. Kelly was daunted. Her happy dreams of triumphantly producing her wonderful croup remedy and infallible cough syrup were not to be realized. It looked as if her visit would be as bare of great results as the visits of Claude or Miss Merry. Mrs. Kelly recognized the full importance of her position as common mother to the third section of the Haworth, and was determined to live up to it. Still for one day she felt that she had done her duty; she had certainly tried hard. Greatly exhausted, she rose to depart, depositing the baby in a soft bunch in its mother's arms. In the doorway she paused, looked back at the mother, with her cheek pressed against the child's, and said, with the prophetic intensity of a Delphic pythoness on the tripod, "Just wait till she gets her teeth!" And with the delivery of this Parthian arrow cheering her, she rustled down the stairs.
It was some weeks after this that Mrs. Kelly paid her second call at No. 15. It was in the evening, and Lucilla and Freddie already had a visitor—Claude, in her old black dress. Claude and Lucilla, having the common bonds of youth and health and good looks, had formed a friendship. Miss Merry felt that she had been deprived of a lawful perquisite, when, called to her door by strange bumping sounds on the stairs, she beheld Claude and the janitor carrying Lucilla's sewing-machine up stairs. On her way to and from the studios the model frequently paused at the door of No. 15 for a murmured gossip with her friend, their sudden bursts of smothered laughter tantalizing Miss Merry by their captivating suggestion of tender confidences. One day Claude, meeting Lucilla and Morrill on the landing, presented them to each other. Morrill, who had come running up stairs in his muddy boots and his battered hat, was greatly abashed by this sudden introduction into the most select society of the Haworth, and looked awkward and embarrassed. Lucilla, wondering at him, vaguely conscious that he was one of the young men in No. 18, saw him turn and look at Claude, and experienced a feeling of pained surprise, amounting, in its suddenness and intensity, to a shock. When she went down stairs, leaving them lingering on the landing, she was pondering deeply.
Lucilla was not afraid of Mrs. Kelly now, and, as she entered, rose joyously to meet her; but paused, looking rather blank, on beholding two gentlemen in her wake. One was Mr. Kelly, the mysterious H. Augustus, not at all mysterious-looking—quite an ordinary gentleman, with a blunt nose and sandy hair. A rigorous fashion not permitting Mr. Kelly to attire himself in rustling silks and jingling beads, he did not present such a splendid appearance as his wife, and both Freddie and Lucilla felt, with a sudden accession of vivacity, that they could rise superior to him.
But at the sight of the other gentleman—Mr. George Judkins—Mrs. Kelly's brother, they experienced a mutual chill. Mr. Judkins, junior member of the firm of Treadwell, Pierce, and Treadwell, was in receipt of an income of seven thousand dollars per annum, a fact which Mr. Judkins rarely lost sight of. He was an immaculately dressed young man, well barbered, well shod, well gloved even. There was an air of elegant completeness about him, from his varnished boots to his neat parting, and a vague but fascinating suggestion of being a social success encompassed him. He was obviously a young man who had the confidence of his firm, and one who could triumph over the temptations of pipes, base-metal watches, and slippers in the evening. No fear that Mr. Judkins would ever commit a gaucherie, ever wear his hat at an unpopular angle, or ever, under the most exhilarating circumstances, make a pun. In the Haworth he was regarded with respectful curiosity as a creature of another sphere, a gilded butterfly, a dazzling embodiment of the social code. It was with conscious pride that Mrs. Kelly presented him, and with a feeling of fluttered embarrassment that Lucilla welcomed beneath her humble roof so distinguished a guest.
The introductions over, Mr. Judkins subsided upon the piano stool, where he sat silently staring, with all the power of his steely eyes, at Claude in her old black dress. As for Claude, she was in her gayest mood, and, cognizant of the gray eyes fixed upon her, posed against the mantel-piece for their benefit. The others gathered around the table under the lamp's warm tent of light, and Lucilla, with a deep color in her cheeks, wondering at herself as she easily threw remarks into the buzz of conversation, as a grindstone throws off sparks, saw herself in futurity a social queen.
It was a delightful evening. The elders laughed and gossiped round the table, and Claude and Judkins by the piano. Judkins had recovered from the silent surprise into which he had been thrown by the vivid beauty of his companion, and became talkative, almost animated. He was enjoying himself thoroughly, relating his experiences on a recent western trip, when a sudden pounding on the ceiling arrested his eloquence. As if in answer to the sound, Claude rose and gathered up her hat and gloves.
"That's mother," she said, carelessly, extending her hand in farewell: "when she wants me to come up, she knocks on the floor; that means bedtime. We had to institute some such rule, because one night I staid down here so late that mother fell asleep with the door of No. 17 locked. I had to come down here, and go up in the dumb-waiter. You can't imagine how nicely I fitted in. Lucilla pulled me up. Oh, it was a thrilling adventure!"
She gave Judkins a coquettish glance, and bid the others good-night. At the door she turned, and, standing with a hand on either side of the doorway, said, with a bewitching smile which included the company: "I should love to have you all come and see me; and as we live under the roof and have no elevator, I can recommend the dumb-waiter. It's a little cramped for space, but it's much better than the stairs, and Lucilla—she's the elevator boy—can pull you up. Good-night," and she ran up the stairs laughing.
Lucilla's evenings became popular after this. Claude was a constant visitor, and Mr. Morrill brushed himself up and came occasionally, and Mr. Judkins, neat and elegant, came often. Lucilla felt as if she had a salon. She began to lose her shyness, and acquire a manner which she felt was both dignified and gracious. She could even stand Freddie's teasing with an unblushing front. There was also an air of mysterious importance about her which puzzled Freddie. On the evenings when Claude and Mr. Judkins sat in the drawing-room of No. 15 she would retire into the innermost recesses of the flat, and then call, in a voice of honied sweetness, "Freddie, Freddie, come here for a moment, dear." And when Freddie came, would ask him to move a trunk, or do some equally unnecessary thing, which could easily have waited till the morning. For Lucilla, with the concentration of purpose which distinguishes all great minds, was trying to make a match. She approved Mr. Judkins, and deep down in her heart thought him one of the most truly aristocratic of young men. Bred in the severe life of the farther West, she knew the value of money, and her beautiful Claude, with seven thousand a year and a well-dressed, well-mannered husband, seemed to her the most natural and desirable dénoûement. Moreover, she felt Mr. Judkins's superiority. His clothes, so well cut, so fresh, so neatly creased, his reserved and dignified manners, his gleaming gold watch, given him by his grateful employers when he was a clerk, all impressed her deeply. He was not amusing, she had unwillingly admitted to Freddie one night.
"But then, Freddie," she remarked, demurely, as her white fingers flashed in and out down the strands of hair she was braiding, "it's not much use having such an amusing husband—they only embarrass you," which put an end to Freddie's criticisms.
Without doubt Lucilla was showing wonderful capabilities, hitherto unsuspected. Freddie watched her progress with pride and some apprehension. She grew extremely diplomatic, and cautious as a detective. That glance on the stairs had been followed by other glances of the same nature, which had confirmed her suspicions of Morrill, and Morrill was henceforward proscribed as a stumbling-block in her path. Lucilla was naturally trim and precise, and noted with a disapproving eye that the young man's cuffs were frayed, his coat worn on the seams, his trousers not unfrequently streaked with paint, and his brown beard untrimmed. She disapproved of his companions in No. 18, the man with the black hands being especially offensive to her nice sense. Then Morrill's manner was not fine enough for Claude. He was good-looking, she could see that; and once, when driven to bay by Claude, who, sitting tailor fashion on the floor, had insisted on an answer as she played with the baby, had admitted that his eyes were the tenderest and deepest brown eyes in all the world.
"But one can't marry on eyes," observed the cunning Lucilla, holding off the button-hole she was making, and staring at it with her head on one side. At which Claude, with a furious exclamation, had flung out of the room with her chin in the air.
Claude, in fact, was a puzzle even to this female Talleyrand. On the evenings when the three young people gathered in the parlor of No. 15, she was more than Lucilla could fathom. She was certainly most agreeable to Judkins, and yet, the day after what Lucilla was fond of calling "his most promising evening," a large bunch of Jacqueminot roses had suddenly descended past the front parlor window of No. 15, and lay, a glowing crimson heap, upon the pavement. Claude, being questioned, blushed, and said pettishly that "Mr. Judkins was stupid; he had no sense of humor." What relevancy this bore to the ill-fated bunch of roses she did not state, and it was part of Lucilla's abnormally rapid development in the science of diplomacy that she didn't demand a more lucid explanation.
After a little Morrill began to feel himself de trop in the parlor of No. 15. Lucilla, who, like a Jesuit, salved her conscience with the thought of the great end to be accomplished, saw with a sort of painful satisfaction that he was quite extinguished by the elegance and ease of Judkins. The poor boy, looking shy and shabby, sat with his feet tucked under the sofa to hide the holes in his boots, and his eyes fastened on his clasped hands, which he pressed between his knees. Claude tried to include him in the conversation, but Judkins had a peculiar insistent manner of forcibly taking all her remarks to himself. Lucilla, watching, felt that the day was won. She was certain the contrast between the two men thus forced upon her would decide Claude. Once or twice she had been disturbed by seeing the model bestow glances of sudden eloquence upon Morrill—glances which in their silent meaning had shaken Lucilla to the roots of her being. But they were generally lost on the young man, who was engrossed in surreptitiously pulling his coat sleeves over his frayed cuffs. He, on his part, had begun to lose heart. With savage bitterness he realized that he could never acquire that ease of manner, that rare flow of marrowless small-talk, which was a characteristic of the Judkins breed, and which seemed to please Claude. Already the pall of Judkins's conventionality seemed to have fallen on her; the old, rich, spicy, Bohemian spirit was gone. It might have been a thousand years ago, in a different country, in a different age, that they had laughed and gossiped over the portrait in No. 18. So, gradually, he stopped visiting No. 15 in the evening. He saw himself a pariah. With the sensitiveness of a lover, he divined Lucilla's disapproval of his aspirations, and was forced to recognize the common-sense which prompted it. One evening he left early, and ascended to No. 18. As he stood in the dim landing, fitting his key into the lock, and trying not to hear the distant laughter from below, he said aloud: "I guess I'll stop going down there. You must brace up, Steve, my boy!"
This was his last visit. Some time before, Claude's sittings had stopped. It was impossible to say whose fault it was. He, supposing she wished to thus delicately show him that it was all over, set his teeth and said nothing. Working at night over his pen-and-ink sketches, he could hear her laughter as it floated up the stairs; and leaning on his elbows, with held breath and concentrated gaze, he listened for the sound of her ascending feet. One night, as he sat bending over his work, the shaded lamp casting a circle of light about him, the rest of the room full of giant shadows, he heard her calling over the banisters as she came up, "Good-night, good-night, Mr. Judkins!" then the broken murmurs of two voices, a momentary silence, a burst of blended laughter, and she flew up the stairs past his door into No. 17. Struck to the soul, he pushed away his work, bent his face down into his clasped hands, and groaned, "God help me, this is awfully hard!"
A few days later, suddenly coming out of No. 18, he met Claude hurrying up the stairs. They both stopped, and for a moment gazed at each other. Then they grew embarrassed; in the eyes of each the other read the consciousness of Judkins, and she said, looking down and drumming on the banister with the tips of her fingers: "It's a long time since I've seen you. Where have you been?"
"Why don't you come down to Mrs. Adams's any more?" she asked.
"I thought I'd better stay away. I was busy. It seemed to me that I wasn't wanted," he said, slowly, longing for a contradiction.
On the contrary, she answered, with a fierce and bitter laugh, tilting up her chin at an aggressive angle, "Oh, if you don't want to come, don't let me urge you."
Then there was an awkward pause, both waiting for the other to speak of the sittings. Finally she said, nonchalantly, sauntering to the door of No. 17, "Well, good-by!" As the door opened and she went in, she called over her shoulder: "I hope you're getting on well with your work. Good-by!"
She walked slowly through the parlor, exchanging a greeting with her mother, strolled into her own room, humming an opéra bouffe air, softly closed the door, bolted it, threw herself on the bed, and burying her face on the pillow, sobbed till the bed shook. Morrill, after staring dully at the closed door, clattered down the stairs, sick at heart. Here were a pair of fools!
That evening Mr. Judkins called on Lucilla and found her alone. Freddie was detained on business, Miss Merry was giving a lesson, Claude was upstairs in No. 17. For a time Lucilla and Mr. Judkins conversed on indifferent topics, or, rather, Lucilla talked and Mr. Judkins commented. Presently, both parties being possessed by a mutual idea, the conversation reverted to it. Said Mr. Judkins, looking slightly conscious, as he leaned his chin on the top of his cane, "Where is Miss Claude to-night?"
Lucilla, dropping her eyes guiltily, answered, "Upstairs, I believe."
"How is she?"
"Quite well, I think."
Mr. Judkins sucked the top of his cane for a moment, and then said, staring vacantly into the empty fireplace, "She's a charming young lady."
Lucilla, wondering if he was going to make a confidence, began to flutter. "She's so bright," she murmured, in a tone at once encouraging, and yet not insistent; for Lucilla was a master of tonal distinctions.
"So high-spirited and vivacious," he observed.
"I never saw a girl so full of life and ready for fun," said Lucilla, with a kindling glance.
"Charming," he murmured, dreamily. "Do you remember the evening she invited us to come up and call in the dumb-waiter?"
"Distinctly," cried Lucilla, all aglow. "She did it herself, and I pulled her up. We nearly died of laughing. How she would laugh if you took her at her word!"
Mr. Judkins turned his head suddenly, and fastened his eyes earnestly upon Lucilla. "Do you think she would?" he asked, slowly. "I'd like to amuse her in some little way; that is, show her that I am not so—so—solemn. I'm afraid she thinks I'm very quiet—too sober!"
"She would think anything of that kind a great joke," cried Lucilla, now fairly on fire with enthusiasm. "Why don't you do it?"
She looked at Mr. Judkins with startled surprise at her own temerity. He was grave to solemnity.
"You really believe it would make her think I was—er—lively?" he asked, anxiously, with his tenacious gaze still on hers.
"Why, of course! It must. After that she couldn't help thinking that you had a sense of humor," said Lucilla, in her excitement unconsciously using Claude's own words.
Mr. Judkins, with furrowed brow, sucked his cane in a frenzy of indecision. Suddenly he drew himself up, and, striking his fist on his knee, said, "By George. I'll do it!"
He rose, shook himself together, and stood staring before him with a look of stern determination. Lucilla rose too, glowing with her purpose. She was half frightened at her own daring, yet encouraged herself with the knowledge that she was merely the instigator, not the perpetrator of the deed, and that the end justified the means. Seizing the lamp, she led the way down the dark little passage toward the kitchen. Both unconsciously walked on their tiptoes, and at the creaking of the boards or the banging of a distant door started, and turning, gazed at each other with startled eyes and quickened breathing. With the guilty trepidation of a pair of burglars, they opened the glass door and stole into the kitchen. Lucilla set the lamp on the stationary wash-tub, and by its pale light gazed about. In the small bare room, smelling of soap-suds, and with lines of pewter dish covers resting against the whitewashed walls, Mr. Judkins, in his neatly creased clothes, presented an incongruous appearance. His rigid face, lightened by an embarrassed smile, when his roving eyes encountered Lucilla's alarmed glance, proclaimed him uneasy and yet determined. For a moment they were silent. The dripping of the water from the faucet in the sink sounded sharp and distinct; the clock ticked with strident regularity. Lucilla, with her slender shielding hand showing crimson against the lamp's light, listened nervously for the sounds which would herald detection. Mr. Judkins, after looking curiously about him, at the flowered chintz curtain of the dresser, the copper boiler, the wash-tub, said, in the hoarse whisper of a conspirator, "Where is it?"
Lucilla crept cautiously toward the dumb-waiter door, opened it, and drew up the dumb-waiter. Then she called her instructions down the tube to the janitor. Mr. Judkins's face lengthened. "It's very small," he said, peering in.
"Oh, you can easily get in by drawing your knees up," said Lucilla, hastily, fearing that his resolution was weakening. To encourage him, she carried the lamp to the door, and held it where it threw its light into the furthest corners of the two shelves intersected by the rope.
Mr. Judkins gingerly placed one foot on the lower shelf. The wood groaned, and the waiter shook and gave a fraction with a tightening creak of the rope. Mr. Judkins nimbly withdrew his foot, and turned on Lucilla. "Are you certain," he said, with sudden asperity, "that that janitor can pull me up?"
"If I could pull Claude up, he ought to be able to pull you," said Lucilla, a trifle defiant. Deep down in her heart she began to have vague misgivings. Without stopping to analyze her sensations, she began to feel cross, and to know that there was something wrong in the way Mr. Judkins was setting out to be humorous. Neither she nor Judkins looked or felt in the least humorous. In fact, they were both a little out of temper.
"How am I to get in?" he said, sharply, pressing down on the shelf with the palm of his hand.
Lucilla could give no instructions on this point, so, after trying various modes of ingress, he finally backed in, as though Lucilla were royalty. During this performance the dumb-waiter groaned and creaked, and before he was disposed as comfortably as the space would permit, Mr. Judkins was in a fever of nervous apprehension. When at length a cessation of his subdued writhings proclaimed that he was finally settled, Lucilla, lamp in hand, bent and looked anxiously and curiously in upon him. He was reclining, his weight resting on his right elbow; the crown of his head was pressed against the roof, and his chin was forced down on his chest. So tightly was he wedged that he could hardly turn his head, and gazed sternly straight before, as he said to Lucilla, with pardonable irritation:
"What are you standing there staring at me for when my back's half broken? Won't you be so good as to shut the door, and tell the janitor to pull up? And, for Heaven's sake, tell him to take care, and to hurry."
Lucilla closed the door, whistled the signal down the tube, and the dumb-waiter slid slowly up the shaft.
A shock, followed by a sudden stoppage in his upward flight, told Mr. Judkins that he had arrived. The door was closed, but through the crack a thin line of light divided the gloom which surrounded him. For a moment he made no sign, pondering what he had best do. A half-formulated idea of springing suddenly out upon Claude, like a jack-in-the-box, had been in his mind when he started, but now for the first time it occurred to him that Claude was probably in the front room, and though he jumped out with the suddenness and lightness of a panther, if there was nobody to see him it would be very flat. Then he thought of knocking on the door three distinct raps, like a spirit. But if he knocked, and Claude herself did open the door, he felt that, after all, it would not be so funny. He didn't feel at all like laughing, and less like being laughed at; he was too uncomfortable. No; he would open the door, creep out, walk along the hall, and surprise her in the parlor. Then tell her, jocosely, how he had come, and if she refused to believe him, call up Lucilla for corroboration. Thus would he be forever absolved from all accusations of too great sobriety. This, though a decided modification of the original daring plan, would be the most dignified and suitable. With difficulty he shifted his position and pressed his elbow on the door. It did not open; it was fastened on the other side. At the same time he heard steps in the hall; the kitchen door was opened, and some one creaked across the board floor. He scarcely breathed, listening. If it was Claude, would he be daring enough to suddenly call her from his place of concealment? Yes; that was an inspiration; but first wait and be certain. He listened intently. He could hear the rustle of a woman's skirts, and her footsteps as she slowly moved about. He had shaped his mouth to cry in a deep, mysterious voice, "Miss Claude!" when he was arrested by the metallic ringing of tin against tin; and then a voice said, in a tone of patient resignation, "There! Claude's forgotten the bread again."
It was the mother. Judkins gasped for breath, and his heart throbbed in his throat.
"It would have given her hysterics," he thought, and then shut his eyes, weak with the horror of what might have been.
But this danger past, he began to feel what had been subordinated to the more lively interests of the last few moments—the pains of his cramped position. He suffered acutely. His neck ached; his elbows, especially the one he was leaning on, ached; his back ached. He would have given almost anything to have stretched himself just for one second. Knowing that it was impossible to get out, he worked himself into a frenzy of nervousness. He thought of how he might be sitting peacefully in Lucilla's best arm-chair, and in his heart he cursed himself. As for Lucilla, if he ever did get out, he would have a word with her. It was she who had decoyed him into this. Wretched woman! Unconsciously at first he began to grow angry with the person on the other side of the door. The tranquil, happy way she tripped about in there, while he was cramped in this tiny space, breaking his back, ruining his clothes, struck him as particularly brutal. If he didn't soon have a chance to stretch himself, he would shriek until he made her hear and come to his relief. Oh, the misery he suffered! How brutally selfish some people were! He tried to move his head, and ground his teeth when he found that he could only change his position when the door was opened. He felt his heart swell to bursting, and he wondered if his face were purple. The strain was becoming insupportable, when his mode of thought suddenly changed, and he began to feel abused and injured. He could almost have cried. What had he done that he should be martyrized in this manner, while that creature in the kitchen was sauntering about, careless, happy, free? There seemed a sort of joyous buoyancy in her foot-fall which maddened him. She knew he was in here, he believed, and was torturing him on purpose. Good heavens! he would become distracted if he couldn't stretch himself. How he wished he could get his hands on that fiend on the other side of the door! Oh, the agony of his neck! What on earth would he do? He made a desperate effort to move, and at the same time words burst from him. He cried loudly, in a furious, menacing tone:
"Look here! are you going to open this door and let me out, or are you not?"
A deadly silence followed this outburst. He was filled with alarm at what he had done, and in his fear his pain was forgotten. With his eyes staring in the dark, he listened. He heard the footsteps cross the floor, a slight thud and rattle, as though a body had struck against the door, the turning of the door-handle, and then a voice calling, in suppressed tones:
"Claude! Claude! Come here—quick!"
Hurried steps in the hall followed, and then Claude's voice, loud, but suggesting sudden terror:
"Good heavens, mother! What's the matter?"
"There's a man—a burglar—in the dumb-waiter. I heard him!"
"Mother! In the dumb-waiter? You must be crazy!"
"I heard him, I tell you. He told me to let him out. Oh, Claude, love, what shall we do? Let's call Mr. Adams."
This suggestion acted like an electric shock on the prisoner, who, in the excitement of the last few moments, forgot that Freddie was from home. Trying to make his voice ingratiating and jovial, he cried: "Don't be afraid; it's only me. It's nothing but a joke."
Another silence followed. Then the women whispered together, to Judkins's alarm. They might be concocting some horrible plan to get rid of him. Suddenly he heard Claude say, in a hoarse, strained whisper:
"I'm not afraid. It's some one who got in through the basement. The voice sounds as though the man was intoxicated."
The next instant the door was thrown open, and a blaze of light from the lamp Claude held revealed Judkins couchant. The mother shrieked and retreated to the door. Claude cast one look upon him, and staggered back, gasping, "Mr. Judkins!"
Judkins, who could not turn his head, was forced to glance at her somewhat archly from the corner of his eye. He was so confused, cramped, and altogether wretched that for a moment he made no movement, saying, in a pitiful tone, which ill suited his coy glance:
"Excuse me! A thousand pardons! I'm awfully sorry! Only let me explain! It may look peculiar, Miss Claude, I know; but—"
Here he began to climb out, still reiterating apologies and clinging to the door as he drew forth his stiffened limbs. As he faced Claude he could see that she was pale and frightened. The mother, too, had come creeping back, and stood beside her daughter, and Judkins was terrified by the expression of her pallid, angry face.
"I—Mrs. Adams and I," he began, looking imploringly at Claude, as she stood holding her hand before the lamp—"we thought—for a joke, you know—just a little joke—that I'd come up in the dumb-waiter—you remember that evening?—and—and pay a call—for a joke," he reiterated, smiling nervously.
But his heart's queen was icy and would not understand.
"I don't see any joke," she said, coldly, as she lifted the lamp off the table. "Frightening an old lady half to death doesn't seem to me very funny. I'm sorry, but I'm busy this evening. You'll have to excuse me. If you go through the glass door you'll find yourself in the hall. Good-night!"
She looked at him sternly from beneath her frowning brows, and Judkins, chilled by that glance, turned and crept away. As he closed the door he heard her say: "Mother, you must take some brandy. You look dreadful," and he felt as if he had killed the mother.
He went slowly down the stairs, knowing his fate. As he passed the door of No. 15 it opened a little, and one of Lucilla's large and lambent blue eyes was applied to the crack. His appearance filled her with apprehensions, and when Freddie returned an hour later he found her silent and preoccupied.
A few nights after this there was a full moon. Claude, returning late from a night sitting, lingered on the steps of the third section, watching the moonlight glide down the walls. The shadows of the houses lay like silhouettes on the street, dense and inky in the thin, silvery radiance. The Haworth slept, with here and there a light in an uncurtained widow glowing on its dark façade. Claude entered softly, clicked the door to, and stole a darkling way up stairs through the silent house. A faint sheen of moonlight had filtered down the well, and lit with a pale, mysterious haze the landings of the stairs where windows had been pierced. Above all the keen, clear light made a luminous glow of the skylight. Claude almost held her breath as she crept upward, trying to step lightly with her tired feet, and listening to the eerie whisperings which fill a sleeping house. At length she reached the last landing, and gazing up at the shining skylight, noiselessly ascended the last flight. Gaining the top, she gave a long, quivering sigh of relief, then started back against the banister as she saw a man bending down fitting a key into the door of No. 18. He heard her and turned his head; then stood staring at her, still holding the key in the lock.
"Have you only just come in?" he asked, in a whisper.
She nodded, leaning against the banister, with her hand on her side, panting.
"Have you been at the studios?" he whispered again, with his eyes on hers.
"Yes," she murmured, abashed by the intensity of his gaze, hitherto wistful and tender as that of an affectionate dog.
"Did you come back alone?"
"Alone at this hour?" the whisper breaking into an undertone.
A feeling of terrified embarrassment overwhelmed her, and she turned away her head in silence.
"Why didn't you tell me? I would have come for you. "His voice was shaken, and sounded strange, and he suddenly made a step toward her.
But she shrank back frightened, crying out, imploringly: "Oh, I'm so tired, Steve! I can't talk now. Let me in, please, "and brushed past him to her door. The moonlight had crept down the wall and across the door of No. 17, dividing the door-knob into a vague and a glittering hemisphere. Pressing her shoulder against the upper panel, she rattled and turned the knob, forgetting that the door was locked, and that she had the key in her pocket. In the brilliant light he could see for the first time her drooping profile, with her teeth pressed on her trembling under lip. "What am I going to do?" she gasped, half sobbing. "I can't get in."
"Wait! I want to speak to you—just for a moment."
As if utterly spent, she suddenly drooped against the door, and turning, looked at him, her large, frightened eyes shining with tears: "Oh, Steve! it's mean of you. I'm so tired. Please—"
But Steve refused to listen. He only saw the tears, and then those lips that had haunted him in his dreams quivered beneath his.
It took some time for the inmates of the third section of the Haworth to recover from the series of shocks to which they had been subjected. Lucilla, after sitting Marius-like amid the débris of her cherished schemes, and considering her future career hopelessly ruined, plucked up heart, collected the fragments of her life, and was reconciled to the inevitable. But, like the Queen of Sheba when confronted by the glories of King Solomon, "there was no more spirit left in her." She was resigned, but not rejoiced. She watched the finishing of Claude's picture, and acknowledged that it was a good likeness, though "rather too smudgy for her taste." She saw it packed and sent off to the agent, who was to forward it to the annual exhibition of the Academy, and felt a philosophic peace descend upon her, when she realized that she hoped it would be admitted. Her appearance in these days was marked by an air of settled resignation, and when she remembered, she adopted a look of patient martyrdom which made Freddie laugh behind his evening paper.
One afternoon Claude came into Lucilla's parlor, bringing with her the freshness and joyousness of the young spring, and the scent of violets wafted from a little bunch she wore in her gown. Tossing a paper into Lucilla's lap, she sat down on the floor, and seizing the baby, cried: "News, Lucilla! The picture's sold!—three days after the exhibition opened. There's a notice about it in that paper. Steve's fortune's made!"
She addressed Lucilla, but looked at the baby, holding her off at arm's-length. The baby, gently sawing the air with creased and dimpled hands, regarded Claude gravely, then, reassured, broke into a sweet chuckling laugh, peering at her sideways with her dark dewy eyes.
"And still more news," she continued: "in two months No. 17 will be vacant."
Lucilla dropped the paper and exclaimed, "Yes!"
She held the baby off again, and glared at it with a fierce frown. "Vacant—that is, to let."
She paused here, and Lucilla, with a melancholy premonition of what was coming, watched the rare faint color rise in her face.
"What you going to go away for?"
"What you going to go away for?" asked Lucilla, bluntly, feeling she was expected to say something.
"I'm not going far," came the answer, rather faintly; and she drew the baby to her, and began kissing its velvet neck under its ear. "I was going to ask you if you'd let the baby be the bridesmaid, and if you would be a proxy for Steve's family, because he hasn't got any."