Van Bibber and Others
Richard Harding Davis
Part 3 out of 3
It was about ten o'clock on the night before Christmas, and very cold.
Christmas Eve is a very-much-occupied evening everywhere, in a
newspaper office especially so, and all of the twenty and odd
reporters were out that night on assignments, and Conway and Bronson
were the only two remaining in the local room. They were the very best
of friends, in the office and out of it; but as the city editor had
given Conway the Christmas-eve story to write instead of Bronson, the
latter was jealous, and their relations were strained. I use the word
"story" in the newspaper sense, where everything written for the paper
is a story, whether it is an obituary, or a reading notice, or a
dramatic criticism, or a descriptive account of the crowded streets
and the lighted shop-windows of a Christmas Eve. Conway had finished
his story quite half an hour before, and should have sent it out to be
mutilated by the blue pencil of a copy editor; but as the city editor
had twice appeared at the door of the local room, as though looking
for some one to send out on another assignment, both Conway and
Bronson kept on steadily writing against time, to keep him off until
some one else came in. Conway had written his concluding paragraph a
dozen times, and Bronson had conscientiously polished and repolished a
three-line "personal" he was writing, concerning a gentleman unknown
to fame, and who would remain unknown to fame until that paragraph
appeared in print.
The city editor blocked the door for the third time, and looked at
Bronson with a faint smile of sceptical appreciation.
"Is that very important?" he asked.
Bronson said, "Not very," doubtfully, as though he did not think his
opinion should be trusted on such a matter, and eyed the paragraph
with critical interest. Conway rushed his pencil over his paper, with
the tip of his tongue showing between his teeth, and became suddenly
"Well, then, if you are not _very_ busy," said the city editor, "I
wish you would go down to Moyamensing. They release that bank-robber
Quinn to-night, and it ought to make a good story. He was sentenced
for six years, I think, but he has been commuted for good conduct and
bad health. There was a preliminary story about it in the paper this
morning, and you can get all the facts from that. It's Christmas Eve,
and all that sort of thing, and you ought to be able to make something
There are certain stories written for a Philadelphia newspaper that
circle into print with the regularity of the seasons. There is the
"First Sunday in the Park," for example, which comes on the first warm
Sunday in the spring, and which is made up of a talk with a park
policeman who guesses at the number of people who have passed through
the gates that day, and announcements of the re-painting of the
boat-houses and the near approach of the open-air concerts. You end
this story with an allusion to the presence in the park of the
"wan-faced children of the tenement," and the worthy workingmen (if it
is a one-cent paper which the workingmen are likely to read), and tell
how they worshipped nature in the open air, instead of saying that in
place of going properly to church, they sat around in their
shirt-sleeves and scattered egg-shells and empty beer bottles and
greasy Sunday newspapers over the green grass for which the worthy men
who do not work pay taxes. Then there is the "Hottest Sunday in the
Park," which comes up a month later, when you increase the park
policeman's former guess by fifteen thousand, and give it a news value
by adding a list of the small boys drowned in bathing.
The "First Haul of Shad" in the Delaware is another reliable story, as
is also the first ice fit for skating in the park; and then there is
always the Thanksgiving story, when you ask the theatrical managers
what they have to be thankful for, and have them tell you, "For the
best season that this theatre has ever known, sir," and offer you a
pass for two; and there is the New Year's story when you interview
the local celebrities as to what they most want for the new year, and
turn their commonplace replies into something clever. There is also a
story on Christmas Day, and the one Conway had just written on the
street scenes of Christmas Eve. After you have written one of these
stories two or three times, you find it just as easy to write it in
the office as anywhere else. One gentleman of my acquaintance did this
most unsuccessfully. He wrote his Christmas-day story with the aid of
a directory and the file of a last year's paper. From the year-old
file he obtained the names of all the charitable institutions which
made a practice of giving their charges presents and Christmas trees,
and from the directory he drew the names of their presidents and
boards of directors; but as he was unfortunately lacking in religious
knowledge and a sense of humor, he included all the Jewish
institutions on the list, and they wrote to the paper and rather
objected to being represented as decorating Christmas trees, or in any
way celebrating that particular day. But of all stale, flat, and
unprofitable stories, this releasing of prisoners from Moyamensing was
the worst. It seemed to Bronson that they were always releasing
prisoners; he wondered how they possibly left themselves enough to
make a county prison worth while. And the city editor for some reason
always chose him to go down and see them come out. As they were
released at midnight, and never did anything of moment when they were
released but to immediately cross over to the nearest saloon with all
their disreputable friends who had gathered to meet them, it was
trying to one whose regard for the truth was at first unshaken, and
whose imagination at the last became exhausted. So, when Bronson heard
he had to release another prisoner in pathetic descriptive prose, he
lost heart and patience, and rebelled.
"Andy," he said, sadly and impressively, "if I have written that story
once, I have written it twenty times. I have described Moyamensing
with the moonlight falling on its walls; I have described it with the
walls shining in the rain; I have described it covered with the pure
white snow that falls on the just as well as on the criminal; and I
have made the bloodhounds in the jail-yard howl dismally--and there
are no bloodhounds, as you very well know; and I have made released
convicts declare their intention to lead a better and a purer life,
when they only said, 'If youse put anything in the paper about me,
I'll lay for you;' and I have made them fall on the necks of their
weeping wives, when they only asked, 'Did you bring me some tobacco?
I'm sick for a pipe;' and I will not write any more about it; and if I
do, I will do it here in the office, and that is all there is to it."
"Oh yes, I think you will," said the city editor, easily.
"Let some one else do it," Bronson pleaded--"some one who hasn't done
the thing to death, who will get a new point of view--" Conway, who
had stopped writing, and had been grinning at Bronson over the city
editor's back, grew suddenly grave and absorbed, and began to write
again with feverish industry. "Conway, now, he's great at that sort of
The city editor laid a clipping from the morning paper on the desk,
and took a roll of bills from his pocket.
"There's the preliminary story," he said. "Conway wrote it, and it
moved several good people to stop at the business office on their way
down-town and leave something for the released convict's Christmas
dinner. The story is a very good story, and impressed them," he went
on, counting out the bills as he spoke, "to the extent of fifty five
dollars. You take that and give it to him, and tell him to forget the
past, and keep to the narrow road, and leave jointed jimmies alone.
That money will give you an excuse for talking to him, and he may say
something grateful to the paper, and comment on its enterprise. Come,
now, get up. I've spoiled you two boys. You've been sulking all the
evening because Conway got that story, and now you are sulking because
you have got a better one. Think of it--getting out of prison after
four years, and on Christmas Eve! It's a beautiful story just as it
is. But," he added, grimly, "you'll try to improve on it, and grow
maudlin. I believe sometimes you'd turn a red light on the dying
The conscientiously industrious Conway, now that his fear of being
sent out again was at rest, laughed at this with conciliatory mirth,
and Bronson smiled sheepishly, and peace was restored between them.
But as Bronson capitulated, he tried to make conditions. "Can I take a
cab?" he asked.
The city editor looked at his watch. "Yes," he said; "you'd better;
it's late, and we go to press early to-night, remember."
"And can I send my stuff down by the driver and go home?" Bronson went
on. "I can write it up there, and leave the cab at Fifteenth Street,
near our house. I don't want to come all the way down-town again."
"No," said the chief; "the driver might lose it, or get drunk, or
"Then can I take Gallegher with me to bring it back?" asked Bronson.
Gallegher was one of the office-boys.
The city editor stared at him grimly. "Wouldn't you like a
type-writer, and Conway to write the story for you, and a hot supper
sent after you?" he asked.
"No; Gallegher will do," Bronson said.
Gallegher had his overcoat on and a night-hawk at the door when
Bronson came down the stairs and stopped to light a cigar in the
"Go to Moyamensing," said Gallegher to the driver.
Gallegher looked at the man to see if he would show himself
sufficiently human to express surprise at their visiting such a place
on such a night, but the man only gathered up his reins impassively,
and Gallegher stepped into the cab, with a feeling of disappointment
at having missed a point. He rubbed the frosted panes and looked out
with boyish interest at the passing holiday-makers. The pavements were
full of them and their bundles, and the street as well, with wavering
lines of medical students and clerks blowing joyfully on the horns,
and pushing through the crowd with one hand on the shoulder of the man
in front. The Christmas greens hung in long lines, and only stopped
where a street crossed, and the shop fronts were so brilliant that the
street was as light as day.
It was so light that Bronson could read the clipping the city editor
had given him.
"What is it we are going on?" asked Gallegher.
Gallegher enjoyed many privileges; they were given him principally, I
think, because if they had not been given him he would have taken
them. He was very young and small, but sturdily built, and he had a
general knowledge which was entertaining, except when he happened to
know more about anything than you did. It was impossible to force him
to respect your years, for he knew all about you, from the number of
lines that had been cut off your last story to the amount of your
very small salary; and there was an awful simplicity about him, and a
certain sympathy, or it may have been merely curiosity, which showed
itself towards every one with whom he came in contact. So when he
asked Bronson what he was going to do, Bronson read the clipping in
his hand aloud.
"'Henry Quinn,'" Bronson read, "'who was sentenced to six years in
Moyamensing Prison for the robbery of the Second National Bank at
Tacony, will be liberated to-night. His sentence has been commuted,
owing to good conduct and to the fact that for the last year he has
been in very ill health. Quinn was night watchman at the Tacony bank
at the time of the robbery, and, as was shown at the trial, was in
reality merely the tool of the robbers. He confessed to complicity in
the robbery, but disclaimed having any knowledge of the later
whereabouts of the money, which has never been recovered. This was his
first offence, and he had, up to the time of the robbery, borne a very
excellent reputation. Although but lately married, his married life
had been a most unhappy one, his friends claiming that his wife and
her mother were the most to blame. Quinn took to spending his evenings
away from home, and saw a great deal of a young woman who was supposed
to have been the direct cause of his dishonesty. He admitted, in fact,
that it was to get money to enable him to leave the country with her
that he agreed to assist the bank-robbers. The paper acknowledges the
receipt of ten dollars from M.J.C. to be given to Quinn on his
release, also two dollars from Cash and three from Mary."
Gallegher's comment on this was one of disdain. "There isn't much in
that," he said, "is there? Just a man that's done time once, and
they're letting him out. Now, if it was Kid McCoy, or Billy Porter, or
some one like that--eh?" Gallegher had as high a regard for a string
of aliases after a name as others have for a double line of K.C.B.'s
and C.S.L.'s, and a man who had offended but once was not worthy of
his consideration. "And you will work in those bloodhounds again, too,
I suppose," he said, gloomily.
The reporter pretended not to hear this, and to doze in the corner,
and Gallegher whistled softly to himself and twisted luxuriously on
the cushions. It was a half-hour later when Bronson awoke to find he
had dozed in all seriousness, as a sudden current of cold air cut in
his face, and he saw Gallegher standing with his hand on the open
door, with the gray wall of the prison rising behind him.
Moyamensing looks like a prison. It is solidly, awfully suggestive of
the sternness of its duty and of the hopelessness of its failing in
it. It stands like a great fortress of the Middle Ages in a quadrangle
of cheap brick and white dwelling-houses, and a few mean shops and
tawdry saloons. It has the towers of a fortress, the pillars of an
Egyptian temple; but more impressive than either of these is the
awful simplicity of the bare, uncompromising wall that shuts out the
prying eyes of the world and encloses those who are no longer of the
world. It is hard to imagine what effect it has on those who remain in
the houses about it. One would think they would sooner live
overlooking a graveyard than such a place, with its mystery and
hopelessness and unending silence, its hundreds of human inmates whom
no one can see or hear, but who, one feels, are there.
Bronson, as he looked up at the prison, familiar as it was to him,
admitted that he felt all this, by a frown and a slight shrug of the
shoulders. "You are to wait here until twelve," he said to the driver
of the nighthawk. "Don't go far away."
Bronson and the boy walked to an oyster-saloon that made one of the
line of houses facing the gates of the prison on the opposite side of
the street, and seated themselves at one of the tables from which
Bronson could see out towards the northern entrance of the jail. He
told Gallegher to eat something, so that the saloon-keeper would make
them welcome and allow them to remain, and Gallegher climbed up on a
high chair, and heard the man shout back his order to the kitchen with
a faint smile of anticipation. It was eleven o'clock, but it was even
then necessary to begin to watch, as there was a tradition in the
office that prisoners with influence were sometimes released before
their sentence was quite fulfilled, and Bronson eyed the "released
prisoners' gate" from across the top of his paper. The electric lights
before the prison showed every stone in its wall, and turned the icy
pavements into black mirrors of light. On a church steeple a block
away a round clock-face told the minutes, and Bronson wondered, if
they dragged so slowly to him, how tardily they must follow one
another to the men in the prison, who could not see the clock's face.
The office-boy finished his supper, and went out to explore the
neighborhood, and came back later to say that it was growing colder,
and that he had found the driver in a saloon, but that he was, to all
appearances, still sober. Bronson suggested that he had better
sacrifice himself once again and eat something for the good of the
house, and Gallegher assented listlessly, with the comment that one
"might as well be eatin' as doin' nothin'." He went out again
restlessly, and was gone for a quarter of an hour, and Bronson had
re-read the day's paper and the signs on the wall and the clipping he
had read before, and was thinking of going out to find him, when
Gallegher put his head and arm through the door and beckoned to him
from the outside. Bronson wrapped his coat up around his throat and
followed him leisurely to the street. Gallegher halted at the curb,
and pointed across to the figure of a woman pacing up and down in the
glare of the electric lights, and making a conspicuous shadow on the
white surface of the snow.
"That lady," said Gallegher, "asked me what door they let the
released prisoners out of, an' I said I didn't know, but that I knew a
young fellow who did."
Bronson stood considering the possible value of this for a moment, and
then crossed the street slowly. The woman looked up sharply as he
approached, but stood still.
"If you are waiting to see Quinn," Bronson said, abruptly, "he will
come out of that upper gate, the green one with the iron spikes over
The woman stood motionless, and looked at him doubtfully. She was
quite young and pretty, but her face was drawn and wearied-looking, as
though she were a convalescent or one who was in trouble. She was of
the working class.
"I am waiting for him myself," Bronson said, to reassure her.
"Are you?" the girl answered, vaguely. "Did you try to see him?" She
did not wait for an answer, but went on, nervously: "They wouldn't let
me see him. I have been here since noon. I thought maybe he might get
out before that, and I'd be too late. You are sure that is the gate,
are you? Some of them told me there was another, and I was afraid I'd
miss him. I've waited so long," she added. Then she asked, "You're a
friend of his, ain't you?"
"Yes, I suppose so," Bronson said. "I am waiting to give him some
"Yes? I have some money, too," the girl said, slowly. "Not much."
Then she looked at Bronson eagerly and with a touch of suspicion, and
took a step backward. "You're no friend of hern, are you?" she asked,
"Her? Whom do you mean?" asked Bronson.
But Gallegher interrupted him. "Certainly not," he said. "Of course
The girl gave a satisfied nod, and then turned to retrace her steps
over the beat she had laid out for herself.
"Whom do you think she means?" asked Bronson, in a whisper.
"His wife, I suppose," Gallegher answered, impatiently.
The girl came back, as if finding some comfort in their presence.
"_She's_ inside now," with a nod of her head towards the prison. "Her
and her mother. They come in a cab," she added, as if that
circumstance made it a little harder to bear. "And when I asked if I
could see him, the man at the gate said he had orders not. I suppose
she gave him them orders. Don't you think so?" She did not wait for a
reply, but went on as though she had been watching alone so long that
it was a relief to speak to some one. "How much money have you got?"
Bronson told her.
"Fifty-five dollars!" The girl laughed, sadly. "I only got fifteen
dollars. That ain't much, is it? That's all I could make--I've been
sick--that and the fifteen I sent the paper."
"Was it you that--did you send any money to a paper?" asked Bronson.
"Yes; I sent fifteen dollars. I thought maybe I wouldn't get to speak
to him if she came out with him, and I wanted him to have the money,
so I sent it to the paper, and asked them to see he got it. I give it
under three names: I give my initials, and 'Cash,' and just my name--
'Mary.' I wanted him to know it was me give it. I suppose they'll send
it all right. Fifteen dollars don't look like much against fifty-five
dollars, does it?" She took a small roll of bills from her pocket and
smiled down at them. Her hands were bare, and Bronson saw that they
were chapped and rough. She rubbed them one over the other, and smiled
at him wearily.
Bronson could not place her in the story he was about to write; it was
a new and unlooked-for element, and one that promised to be of moment.
He took the roll of bills from his pocket and handed them to her. "You
might as well give him this too," he said. "I will be here until he
comes out, and it makes no difference who gives him the money, so long
as he gets it."
The girl smiled confusedly. The show of confidence seemed to please
her. But she said, "No, I'd rather not. You see, it isn't mine, and I
_did_ work for this," holding out her own roll of money. She looked up
at him steadily, and paused for a moment, and then said, almost
defiantly, "Do you know who I am?"
"I can guess," Bronson said.
"Yes, I suppose you can," the girl answered. "Well, you can believe it
or not, just as you please"--as though he had accused her of
something--"but, before God, it wasn't my doings." She pointed with a
wave of her hand towards the prison wall. "I did not know it was for
_me_ he helped them get the money until he said so on the stand. I
didn't know he was thinking of running off with me at all. I guess I'd
have gone if he had asked me. But I didn't put him up to it as they
said I'd done. I knew he cared for me a lot, but I didn't think he
cared as much as that. His wife"--she stopped, and seemed to consider
her words carefully, as if to be quite fair in what she said--"his
wife, I guess, didn't know just how to treat him. She was too fond of
going out, and having company at the house, when he was away nights
watching at the bank. When they was first married she used to go down
to the bank and sit up with him to keep him company; but it was
lonesome there in the dark, and she give it up. She was always fond of
company and having men around. Her and her mother are a good deal
alike. Henry used to grumble about it, and then she'd get mad, and
that's how it begun. And then the neighbors talked too. It was after
that that he got to coming to see me. I was living out in service
then, and he used to stop in to see me on his way back from the bank,
about seven in the morning, when I was up in the kitchen getting
breakfast. I'd give him a cup of coffee or something, and that's how
we got acquainted."
She turned her face away, and looked at the lights farther down the
street. "They said a good deal about me and him that wasn't true."
There was a pause, and then she looked at Bronson again. "I told him
he ought to stop coming to see me, and to make it up with his wife,
but he said he liked me best. I couldn't help his saying that, could
I, if he did? Then he--then this come," she nodded to the jail, "and
they blamed _me_ for it. They said that I stood in with the
bank-robbers, and was working with them; they said they used me for to
get him to help them." She lifted her face to the boy and the man, and
they saw that her eyes were wet and that her face was quivering.
"That's likely, isn't it?" she demanded, with a sob. She stood for a
moment looking at the great iron gate, and then at the clock-face
glowing dully through the falling snow: it showed a quarter to twelve.
"When he was put away," she went on, sadly, "I started in to wait for
him, and to save something against his coming out. I only got three
dollars a week and my keep, but I had saved one hundred and thirty
dollars up to last April, and then I took sick, and it all went to the
doctor and for medicines. I didn't want to spend it that way, but I
couldn't die and not see him. Sometimes I thought it would be better
if I did die and save the money for him, and then there wouldn't be
any more trouble, anyway. But I couldn't make up my mind to do it. I
did go without taking medicines they laid out for me for three days;
but I had to live--I just _had_ to. Sometimes I think I ought to have
given up, and not tried to get well. What do you think?"
Bronson shook his head, and cleared his throat as if he were going to
speak, but said nothing. Gallegher was looking up at the girl with
large, open eyes. Bronson wondered if any woman would ever love him as
much as that, or if he would ever love any woman so. It made him feel
lonesome, and he shook his head. "Well?" he said, impatiently.
"Well, that's all; that's how it is," she said. "She's been living on
there at Tacony with her mother. She kept seeing as many men as
before, and kept getting pitied all the time; everybody was so sorry
for her. When he was took so bad that time a year ago with his lungs,
they said in Tacony that if he died she'd marry Charley Oakes, the
conductor. He's always going to see her. Them that knew her knew me,
and I got word about how Henry was getting on. I couldn't see him,
because she told lies about me to the warden, and they wouldn't let
me. But I got word about him. He's been fearful sick just lately. He
caught a cold walking in the yard, and it got down to his lungs.
That's why they are letting him out. They say he's changed so. I
wonder if I'm changed much?" she said. "I've fallen off since I was
ill." She passed her hands slowly over her face, with a touch of
vanity that hurt Bronson somehow, and he wished he might tell her how
pretty she still was. "Do you think he'll know me?" she asked. "Do you
think she'll let me speak to him?"
"I don't know. How can I tell?" said the reporter, sharply. He was
strangely nervous and upset. He could see no way out of it. The girl
seemed to be telling the truth, and yet the man's wife was with him
and by his side, as she should be, and this woman had no place on the
scene, and could mean nothing but trouble to herself and to every one
else. "Come," he said, abruptly, "we had better be getting up there.
It's only five minutes of twelve."
The girl turned with a quick start, and walked on ahead of them up the
drive leading between the snow-covered grass-plots that stretched from
the pavement to the wall of the prison. She moved unsteadily and
slowly, and Bronson saw that she was shivering, either from excitement
or the cold.
"I guess," said Gallegher, in an awed whisper, "that there's going to
be a scrap."
"Shut up," said Bronson.
They stopped a few yards before the great green double gate, with a
smaller door cut in one of its halves, and with the light from a big
lantern shining down on them. They could not see the clock-face from
where they stood, and when Bronson took out his watch and looked at
it, the girl turned her face to his appealingly, but did not speak.
"It will be only a little while now," he said, gently. He thought he
had never seen so much trouble and fear and anxiety in so young a
face, and he moved towards her and said, in a whisper, as though those
inside could hear him, "Control yourself if you can," and then added,
doubtfully, and still in a whisper, "You can take my arm if you need
it." The girl shook her head dumbly, but took a step nearer him, as if
for protection, and turned her eyes fearfully towards the gate. The
minutes passed on slowly but with intense significance, and they stood
so still that they could hear the wind playing through the wires of
the electric light back of them, and the clicking of the icicles as
they dropped from the edge of the prison wall to the stones at their
And then slowly and laboriously, and like a knell, the great gong of
the prison sounded the first stroke of twelve; but before it had
counted three there came suddenly from all the city about them a great
chorus of clanging bells and the shrieks and tooting of whistles and
the booming of cannon. From far down town the big bell of the
State-house, with its prestige and historic dignity back of it, tried
to give the time, but the other bells raced past it, and beat out on
the cold crisp air joyously and uproariously from Kensington to the
Schuylkill; and from far across the Neck, over the marshes and frozen
ponds, came the dull roar of the guns at the navy-yard, and from the
Delaware the hoarse tootings of the ferry-boats, and the sharp shrieks
of the tugs, until the heavens seemed to rock and swing with the great
Gallegher looked up quickly with a queer, awed smile.
"It's Christmas," he said, and then he nodded doubtfully towards
Bronson and said, "Merry Christmas, sir."
It had come to the waiting holiday crowd down-town around the
State-house, to the captain of the tug, fog-bound on the river, to the
engineer sweeping across the white fields and sounding his welcome
with his hand on the bell-cord, to the prisoners beyond the walls, and
to the children all over the land, watching their stockings at the
foot of their beds.
And then the three were instantly drawn down to earth again by the
near, sharp click of opening bolts and locks, and the green gates
swung heavily in before them. The jail-yard was light with whitewash,
and two great lamps in front of round reflectors shone with blinding
force in their faces, and made them start suddenly backward, as though
they had been caught in the act and held in the circle of a
policeman's lantern. In the middle of the yard was the carriage in
which the prisoner's wife and her mother had come, and around it stood
the wardens and turnkeys in their blue and gold uniforms. They saw
them, dimly from behind the glare of the carriage lamps that shone in
their faces, and saw the horses moving slowly towards them, and the
driver holding up their heads as they slipped and slid on the icy
stones. The girl put her hand on Bronson's arm and clinched it with
her fingers, but her eyes were on the advancing carriage. The horses
slipped nearer to them and passed them, and the lights from the lamps
now showed their backs and the paving stones beyond them, and left the
cab in partial darkness. It was a four-seated carriage with a movable
top, opening into two halves at the centre. It had been closed when
the cab first entered the prison, a few hours before, but now its top
was thrown back, and they could see that it held the two women, who
sat facing each other on the farther side, and on the side nearer
them, stretching from the forward seat to the top of the back, was a
plain board coffin, prison-made and painted black.
The girl at Bronson's side gave something between a cry and a shriek
that turned him sick for an instant, and that made the office-boy drop
his head between his shoulders as though some one had struck at him
from above. Even the horses shied with sudden panic towards one
another, and the driver pulled them in with an oath of consternation,
and threw himself forward to look beneath their hoofs. And as the
carriage stopped the girl sprang in between the wheels and threw her
arms across the lid of the coffin, and laid her face down upon the
boards that were already damp with the falling snow.
"Henry! Henry! Henry!" she moaned.
The surgeon who attended the prisoner through the sickness that had
cheated the country of three hours of his sentence ran out from the
hurrying crowd of wardens and drew the girl slowly and gently away,
and the two women moved on triumphantly with their sorry victory.
* * * * *
Bronson gave his copy to Gallegher to take to the office, and
Gallegher laid it and the roll of money on the city editor's desk, and
then, so the chief related afterwards, moved off quickly to the door.
The chief looked up from his proofs and touched the roll of money with
his pencil. "Here! what's this?" he asked. "Wouldn't he take it?"
Gallegher stopped and straightened himself as though about to tell
with proper dramatic effect the story of the night's adventure, and
then, as though the awe of it still hung upon him, backed slowly to
the door, and said, confusedly, "No, sir; he was--he didn't need it."
AN UNFINISHED STORY
Mrs. Trevelyan, as she took her seat, shot a quick glance down the
length of her table and at the arrangement of her guests, and tried to
learn if her lord and master approved. But he was listening to
something Lady Arbuthnot, who sat on his right, was saying, and, being
a man, failed to catch her meaning, and only smiled unconcernedly and
cheerfully back at her. But the wife of the Austrian Minister, who was
her very dearest friend, saw and appreciated, and gave her a quick
little smile over her fan, which said that the table was perfect, the
people most interesting, and that she could possess her soul in peace.
So Mrs. Trevelyan pulled at the tips of her gloves and smiled upon her
guests. Mrs. Trevelyan was not used to questioning her powers, but
this dinner had been almost impromptu, and she had been in doubt. It
was quite unnecessary, for her dinner carried with it the added virtue
of being the last of the season, an encore to all that had gone
before--a special number by request on the social programme. It was
not one of many others stretching on for weeks, for the summer's
change and leisure began on the morrow, and there was nothing hanging
over her guests that they must go on to later. They knew that their
luggage stood ready locked and strapped at home; they could look
before them to the whole summer's pleasure, and they were relaxed and
ready to be pleased, and broke simultaneously into a low murmur of
talk and laughter. The windows of the dining-room stood open from the
floor, and from the tiny garden that surrounded the house, even in the
great mass of stucco and brick of encircling London, came the odor of
flowers and of fresh turf. A soft summer-night wind moved the candles
under their red shades; and gently as though they rose from afar, and
not only from across the top of the high wall before the house, came
the rumble of the omnibuses passing farther into the suburbs, and the
occasional quick rush of a hansom over the smooth asphalt. It was a
most delightful choice of people, gathered at short notice and to do
honor to no one in particular, but to give each a chance to say
good-by before he or she met the yacht at Southampton or took the club
train to Homburg. They all knew each other very well; and if there was
a guest of the evening, it was one of the two Americans--either Miss
Egerton, the girl who was to marry Lord Arbuthnot, whose mother sat on
Trevelyan's right, or young Gordon, the explorer, who has just come
out of Africa. Miss Egerton was a most strikingly beautiful girl,
with a strong, fine face, and an earnest, interested way when she
spoke, which the English found most attractive. In appearance she had
been variously likened by Trevelyan, who was painting her portrait, to
a druidess, a vestal virgin, and a Greek goddess; and Lady Arbuthnot's
friends, who thought to please the girl, assured her that no one would
ever suppose her to be an American--their ideas of the American young
woman having been gathered from those who pick out tunes with one
finger on the pianos in the public parlors of the Metropole. Miss
Egerton was said to be intensely interested in her lover's career, and
was as ambitious for his success in the House as he was himself. They
were both very much in love, and showed it to others as little as
people of their class do. The others at the table were General Sir
Henry Kent; Phillips, the novelist; the Austrian Minister and his
young wife; and Trevelyan, who painted portraits for large sums of
money and figure pieces for art; and some simply fashionable smart
people who were good listeners, and who were rather disappointed that
the American explorer was no more sun-burned than other young men who
had stayed at home, and who had gone in for tennis or yachting.
The worst of Gordon was that he made it next to impossible for one to
lionize him. He had been back in civilization and London only two
weeks, unless Cairo and Shepheard's Hotel are civilization, and he
had been asked everywhere, and for the first week had gone everywhere.
But whenever his hostess looked for him, to present another and not so
recent a lion, he was generally found either humbly carrying an ice to
some neglected dowager, or talking big game or international yachting
or tailors to a circle of younger sons in the smoking-room, just as
though several hundred attractive and distinguished people were not
waiting to fling the speeches they had prepared on Africa at him, in
the drawing-room above. He had suddenly disappeared during the second
week of his stay in London, which was also the last week of the London
season, and managers of lecture tours and publishers and lion-hunters,
and even friends who cared for him for himself, had failed to find him
at his lodgings. Trevelyan, who had known him when he was a travelling
correspondent and artist for one of the great weeklies, had found him
at the club the night before, and had asked him to his wife's
impromptu dinner, from which he had at first begged off, but, on
learning who was to be there, had changed his mind and accepted. Mrs.
Trevelyan was very glad he had come; she had always spoken of him as a
nice boy, and now that he had become famous she liked him none the
less, but did not show it before people as much as she had been used
to do. She forgot to ask him whether he knew his beautiful compatriot
or not; but she took it for granted that they had met, if not at
home, at least in London, as they had both been made so much of, and
at the same houses.
The dinner was well on its way towards its end, and the women had
begun to talk across the table, and to exchange bankers' addresses,
and to say "Be sure and look us up in Paris," and "When do you expect
to sail from Cowes?" They were enlivened and interested, and the
present odors of the food and flowers and wine, and the sense of
leisure before them, made it seem almost a pity that such a
well-suited gathering should have to separate for even a summer's
The Austrian Minister was saying this to his hostess, when Sir Henry
Kent, who had been talking across to Phillips, the novelist, leaned
back in his place and said, as though to challenge the attention of
every one, "I can't agree with you, Phillips. I am sure no one else
"Dear me," complained Mrs. Trevelyan, plaintively, "what have you been
saying now, Mr. Phillips? He always has such debatable theories," she
"On the contrary, Mrs. Trevelyan," answered the novelist, "it is the
other way. It is Sir Henry who is making all the trouble. He is
attacking one of the oldest and dearest platitudes I know." He paused
for the general to speak, but the older man nodded his head for him to
go on. "He has just said that fiction is stranger than truth,"
continued the novelist. "He says that I--that people who write could
never interest people who read if they wrote of things as they really
are. They select, he says--they take the critical moment in a man's
life and the crises, and want others to believe that that is what
happens every day. Which it is not, so the general says. He thinks
that life is commonplace and uneventful--that is, uneventful in a
picturesque or dramatic way. He admits that women's lives are saved
from drowning, but that they are not saved by their lovers, but by a
longshoreman with a wife and six children, who accepts five pounds for
doing it. That's it, is it not?" he asked.
The general nodded and smiled. "What I said to Phillips was," he
explained, "that if things were related just as they happen, they
would not be interesting. People do not say the dramatic things they
say on the stage or in novels; in real life they are commonplace or
sordid--or disappointing. I have seen men die on the battle-field,
for instance, and they never cried, 'I die that my country may live,'
or 'I have got my promotion at last;' they just stared up at the
surgeon and said, 'Have I got to lose that arm?' or 'I am killed, I
think.' You see, when men are dying around you, and horses are
plunging, and the batteries are firing, one doesn't have time to think
up the appropriate remark for the occasion. I don't believe, now, that
Pitt's last words were, 'Roll up the map of Europe.' A man who could
change the face of a continent would not use his dying breath in
making epigrams. It was one of his secretaries or one of the doctors
who said that. And the man who was capable of writing home, 'All is
lost but honor,' was just the sort of a man who would lose more
battles than he would win. No; you, Phillips," said the general,
raising his voice as he became more confident and conscious that be
held the centre of the stage, "and you, Trevelyan, don't write and
paint every-day things as they are. You introduce something for a
contrast or for an effect; a red coat in a landscape for the bit of
color you want, when in real life the red coat would not be within
miles; or you have a band of music playing a popular air in the street
when a murder is going on inside the house. You do it because it is
effective; but it isn't true. Now Mr. Caithness was telling us the
other night at the club, on this very matter--"
"Oh, that's hardly fair," laughed Trevelyan; "you've rehearsed all
this before. You've come prepared."
"No, not at all," frowned the general, sweeping on. "He said that
before he was raised to the bench, when he practised criminal law, he
had brought word to a man that he was to be reprieved, and to another
that he was to die. Now, you know," exclaimed the general, with a
shrug, and appealing to the table, "how that would be done on the
stage or in a novel, with the prisoner bound ready for execution, and
a galloping horse, and a fluttering piece of white paper, and all
that. Well, now, Caithness told us that he went into the man's cell
and said, 'You have been reprieved, John,' or William, or whatever the
fellow's name was. And the man looked at him and said: 'Is that so?
That's good--that's good;' and that was all he said. And then, again,
he told one man whose life he had tried very hard to save: 'The Home
Secretary has refused to intercede for you. I saw him at his house
last night at nine o'clock.' And the murderer, instead of saying, 'My
God! what will my wife and children do?' looked at him, and repeated,
'At nine o'clock last night!' just as though that were the important
part of the message."
"Well, but, general," said Phillips, smiling, "that's dramatic enough
as it is, I think. Why--"
"Yes," interrupted the general, quickly and triumphantly. "But that is
not what you would have made him say, is it? That's my point."
"There was a man told me once," Lord Arbuthnot began, leisurely--"he
was a great chum of mine, and it illustrates what Sir Henry has said,
I think--he was engaged to a girl, and he had a misunderstanding or an
understanding with her that opened both their eyes, at a dance, and
the next afternoon he called, and they talked it over in the
drawing-room, with the tea-tray between them, and agreed to end it. On
the stage he would have risen and said, 'Well, the comedy is over, the
tragedy begins, or the curtain falls;' and she would have gone to the
piano and played Chopin sadly while he made his exit. Instead of
which he got up to go without saying anything, and as he rose he upset
a cup and saucer on the tea-table, and said, 'Oh, I beg your pardon;'
and she said, 'It isn't broken;' and he went out. You see," the young
man added, smiling, "there were two young people whose hearts were
breaking, and yet they talked of teacups, not because they did not
feel, but because custom is too strong on us and too much for us. We
do not say dramatic things or do theatrical ones. It does not make
interesting reading, but it is the truth."
"Exactly," cut in the Austrian Minister, eagerly. "And then there is
the prerogative of the author and of the playwright to drop a curtain
whenever he wants to, or to put a stop to everything by ending the
chapter. That isn't fair. That is an advantage over nature. When some
one accuses some one else of doing something dreadful at the play,
down comes the curtain quick and keeps things at fever point, or the
chapter ends with a lot of stars, and the next page begins with a
description of a sunset two weeks later. To be true, we ought to be
told what the man who is accused said in the reply, or what happened
during those two weeks before the sunset. The author really has no
right to choose only the critical moments, and to shut out the
commonplace, every-day life by a sort of literary closure. That is, if
he claims to tell the truth."
Phillips raised his eyebrows and looked carefully around the table.
"Does any one else feel called upon to testify?" he asked.
"It's awful, isn't it, Phillips," laughed Trevelyan, comfortably, "to
find that the photographer is the only artist, after all? I feel very
"You ought to," pronounced the general, gayly. He was very well
satisfied with himself at having held his own against these clever
people. "And I am sure Mr. Gordon will agree with me, too," he went
on, confidently, with a bow towards the younger man. "He has seen more
of the world than any of us, and he will tell you, I am sure, that
what happens only suggests the story; it is not complete in itself.
That it always needs the author's touch, just as the rough diamond--"
"Oh, thanks, thanks, general," laughed Phillips. "My feelings are not
hurt as badly as that."
Gordon had been turning the stem of a wineglass slowly between his
thumb and his finger while the others were talking, and looking down
at it smiling. Now he raised his eyes as though he meant to speak, and
then dropped them again. "I am afraid, Sir Henry," he said, "that I
don't agree with you at all."
Those who had said nothing felt a certain satisfaction that they had
not committed themselves. The Austrian Minister tried to remember what
it was he had said, and whether it was too late to retreat, and the
general looked blankly at Gordon and said, "Indeed?"
"You shouldn't have called on that last witness, Sir Henry," said
Phillips, smiling. "Your case was very good as it was."
"I am quite sure," said Gordon, seriously, "that the story Phillips
will never write is a true story, but he will not write it because
people would say it is impossible, just as you have all seen sunsets
sometimes that you knew would be laughed at if any one tried to paint
them. We all know such a story, something in our own lives, or in the
lives of our friends. Not ghost stories, or stories of adventure, but
of ambitions that come to nothing, of people who were rewarded or
punished in this world instead of in the next, and love stories."
Phillips looked at the young man keenly and smiled. "Especially love
stories," he said.
Gordon looked back at him as if he did not understand.
"Tell it, Gordon," said Mr. Trevelyan.
"Yes," said Gordon, nodding his head in assent, "I was thinking of a
particular story. It is as complete, I think, and as dramatic as any
of those we read. It is about a man I met in Africa. It is not a long
story," he said, looking around the table tentatively, "but it ends
There was a silence much more appreciated than a polite murmur of
invitation would have been, and the simply smart people settled
themselves rigidly to catch every word for future use. They realized
that this would be a story which had not as yet appeared in the
newspapers, and which would not make a part of Gordon's book. Mrs.
Trevelyan smiled encouragingly upon her former protege; she was sure
he was going to do himself credit; but the American girl chose this
chance, when all the other eyes were turned expectantly towards the
explorer, to look at her lover.
"We were on our return march from Lake Tchad to the Mobangi," said
Gordon. "We had been travelling over a month, sometimes by water and
sometimes through the forest, and we did not expect to see any other
white men besides those of our own party for several months to come.
In the middle of a jungle late one afternoon I found this man lying at
the foot of a tree. He had been cut and beaten and left for dead. It
was as much of a surprise to me, you understand, as it would be to you
if you were driving through Trafalgar Square in a hansom, and an
African lion should spring up on your horses' haunches. We believed we
were the only white men that had ever succeeded in getting that far
south. Crampel had tried it, and no one knows yet whether he is dead
or alive; Doctor Schlemen had been eaten by cannibals, and Major
Bethume had turned back two hundred miles farther north; and we could
no more account for this man's presence than if he had been dropped
from the clouds. Lieutenant Royce, my surgeon, went to work at him,
and we halted where we were for the night. In about an hour the man
moved and opened his eyes. He looked up at us and said, 'Thank
God!'--because we were white, I suppose--and went off into
unconsciousness again. When he came to the next time, he asked Royce,
in a whisper, how long he had to live. He wasn't the sort of a man you
had to lie to about a thing like that, and Royce told him he did not
think he could live for more than an hour or two. The man moved his
head to show that he understood, and raised his hand to his throat and
began pulling at his shirt, but the effort sent him off into a
fainting-fit again. I opened his collar for him as gently as I could,
and found that his fingers had clinched around a silver necklace that
he wore about his neck, and from which there hung a gold locket shaped
like a heart."
Gordon raised his eyes slowly from the observation of his finger-tips
as they rested on the edge of the table before him to those of the
American girl who sat opposite. She had heard his story so far without
any show of attention, and had been watching, rather with a touch of
fondness in her eyes, the clever, earnest face of Arbuthnot, who was
following Gordon's story with polite interest. But now, at Gordon's
last words, she turned her eyes to him with a look of awful
indignation, which was followed, when she met his calmly polite look
of inquiry, by one of fear and almost of entreaty.
"When the man came to," continued Gordon, in the same conventional
monotone, "he begged me to take the chain and locket to a girl whom
he said I would find either in London or in New York. He gave me the
address of her banker. He said: 'Take it off my neck before you bury
me; tell her I wore it ever since she gave it to me. That it has been
a charm and loadstone to me. That when the locket rose and fell
against my breast, it was as if her heart were pressing against mine
and answering the beating and throbbing of the blood in my veins.'"
Gordon paused, and returned to the thoughtful scrutiny of his
"The man did not die," he said, raising his head. "Royce brought him
back into such form again that in about a week we were able to take
him along with us on a litter. But he was very weak, and would lie for
hours sleeping when we rested, or mumbling and raving in a fever. We
learned from him at odd times that he had been trying to reach Lake
Tchad, to do what we had done, without any means of doing it. He had
had not more than a couple of dozen porters and a corporal's guard of
Senegalese soldiers. He was the only white man in the party, and his
men had turned on him, and left him as we found him, carrying off with
them his stock of provisions and arms. He had undertaken the
expedition on a promise from the French government to make him
governor of the territory he opened up if he succeeded, but he had had
no official help. If he failed, he got nothing; if he succeeded, he
did so at his own expense and by his own endeavors. It was only a
wonder he had been able to get as far as he did. He did not seem to
feel the failure of his expedition. All that was lost in the happiness
of getting back alive to this woman with whom he was in love. He had
been three days alone before we found him, and in those three days,
while he waited for death, he had thought of nothing but that he would
never see her again. He had resigned himself to this, had given up all
hope, and our coming seemed like a miracle to him. I have read about
men in love, I have seen it on the stage, I have seen it in real life,
but I never saw a man so grateful to God and so happy and so insane
over a woman as this man was. He raved about her when he was feverish,
and he talked and talked to me about her when he was in his senses.
The porters could not understand him, and he found me sympathetic, I
suppose, or else he did not care, and only wanted to speak of her to
some one, and so he told me the story over and over again as I walked
beside the litter, or as we sat by the fire at night. She must have
been a very remarkable girl. He had met her first the year before, on
one of the Italian steamers that ply from New York to Gibraltar. She
was travelling with her father, who was an invalid going to Tangier
for his health; from Tangier they were to go on up to Nice and Cannes,
and in the spring to Paris and on to London for this season just over.
The man was going from Gibraltar to Zanzibar, and then on into the
Congo. They had met the first night out; they had separated thirteen
days later at Gibraltar, and in that time the girl had fallen in love
with him, and had promised to marry him if he would let her, for he
was very proud. He had to be. He had absolutely nothing to offer her.
She is very well known at home. I mean her family is: they have lived
in New York from its first days, and they are very rich. The girl had
lived a life as different from his as the life of a girl in society
must be from that of a vagabond. He had been an engineer, a newspaper
correspondent, an officer in a Chinese army, and had built bridges in
South America, and led their little revolutions there, and had seen
service on the desert in the French army of Algiers. He had no home or
nationality even, for he had left America when he was sixteen; he had
no family, had saved no money, and was trusting everything to the
success of this expedition into Africa to make him known and to give
him position. It was the story of Othello and Desdemona over again.
His blackness lay from her point of view, or rather would have lain
from the point of view of her friends, in the fact that he was as
helplessly ineligible a young man as a cowboy. And he really had lived
a life of which he had no great reason to be proud. He had existed
entirely for excitement, as other men live to drink until they kill
themselves by it; nothing he had done had counted for much except his
bridges. They are still standing. But the things he had written are
lost in the columns of the daily papers. The soldiers he had fought
with knew him only as a man who cared more for the fighting than for
what the fighting was about, and he had been as ready to write on one
side as to fight on the other. He was a rolling stone, and had been a
rolling stone from the time he was sixteen and had run away to sea, up
to the day he had met this girl, when he was just thirty. Yet you can
see how such a man would attract a young, impressionable girl, who had
met only those men whose actions are bounded by the courts of law or
Wall Street, or the younger set who drive coaches and who live the
life of the clubs. She had gone through life as some people go through
picture-galleries, with their catalogues marked at the best pictures.
She knew nothing of the little fellows whose work was skied, who were
trying to be known, who were not of her world, but who toiled and
prayed and hoped to be famous. This man came into her life suddenly
with his stories of adventure and strange people and strange places,
of things done for the love of doing them and not for the reward or
reputation, and he bewildered her at first, I suppose, and then
fascinated, and then won her. You can imagine how it was, these two
walking the deck together during the day, or sitting side by side when
the night came on, the ocean stretched before them. The daring of his
present undertaking, the absurd glamour that is thrown over those who
have gone into that strange country from which some travellers
return, and the picturesqueness of his past life. It is no wonder the
girl made too much of him. I do not think he knew what was coming. He
did not pose before her. I am quite sure, from what I knew of him,
that he did not. Indeed, I believed him when he said that he had
fought against the more than interest she had begun to show for him.
He was the sort of man women care for, but they had not been of this
woman's class or calibre. It came to him like a sign from the heavens.
It was as if a goddess had stooped to him. He told her when they
separated that if he succeeded--if he opened this unknown country, if
he was rewarded as they had promised to reward him--he might dare to
come to her; and she called him her knight-errant, and gave him her
chain and locket to wear, and told him, whether he failed or succeeded
it meant nothing to her, and that her life was his while it lasted,
and her soul as well.
"I think," Gordon said, stopping abruptly, with an air of careful
consideration, "that those were her words as he repeated them to me."
He raised his eyes thoughtfully towards the face of the girl opposite,
and then glanced past her, as if he were trying to recall the words
the man had used. The fine, beautiful face of the woman was white and
drawn around the lips, and she gave a quick, appealing glance at her
hostess, as if she would beg to be allowed to go. But Mrs. Trevelyan
and her guests were watching Gordon or toying with the things in front
of them. The dinner had been served, and not even the soft movements
of the servants interrupted the young man's story.
"You can imagine a man," Gordon went on, more lightly, "finding a
hansom cab slow when he is riding from the station to see the woman he
loves; but imagine this man urging himself and the rest of us to hurry
when we were in the heart of Africa, with six months' travel in front
of us before we could reach the first limits of civilization. That is
what this man did. When he was still on his litter he used to toss and
turn, and abuse the bearers and porters and myself because we moved so
slowly. When we stopped for the night he would chafe and fret at the
delay; and when the morning came he was the first to wake, if he slept
at all, and eager to push on. When at last he was able to walk, he
worked himself into a fever again, and it was only when Royce warned
him that he would kill himself if he kept on that he submitted to be
carried, and forced himself to be patient. And all the time the poor
devil kept saying how unworthy he was of her, how miserably he had
wasted his years, how unfitted he was for the great happiness which
had come into his life. I suppose every man says that when he is in
love; very properly, too; but the worst of it was, in this man's case,
that it was so very true. He was unworthy of her in everything but his
love for her. It used to frighten me to see how much he cared. Well,
we got out of it at last, and reached Alexandria, and saw white faces
once more, and heard women's voices, and the strain and fear of
failure were over, and we could breathe again. I was quite ready
enough to push on to London, but we had to wait a week for the
steamer, and during that time that man made my life miserable. He had
done so well, and would have done so much more if he had had my
equipment, that I tried to see that he received all the credit due
him. But he would have none of the public receptions, and the audience
with the khedive, or any of the fuss they made over us. He only wanted
to get back to her. He spent the days on the quay watching them load
the steamer, and counting the hours until she was to sail; and even at
night he would leave the first bed he had slept in for six months, and
would come into my room and ask me if I would not sit up and talk with
him until daylight. You see, after he had given up all thought of her,
and believed himself about to die without seeing her again, it made
her all the dearer, I suppose, and made him all the more fearful of
losing her again.
"He became very quiet as soon as we were really under way, and Royce
and I hardly knew him for the same man. He would sit in silence in his
steamer-chair for hours, looking out at the sea and smiling to
himself, and sometimes, for he was still very weak and feverish, the
tears would come to his eyes and run down his cheeks. 'This is the
way we would sit,' he said to me one night, 'with the dark purple sky
and the strange Southern stars over our heads, and the rail of the
boat rising and sinking below the line of the horizon. And I can hear
her voice, and I try to imagine she is still sitting there, as she did
the last night out, when I held her hands between mine.'" Gordon
paused a moment, and then went on more slowly: "I do not know whether
it was that the excitement of the journey overland had kept him up or
not, but as we went on he became much weaker and slept more, until
Royce became anxious and alarmed about him. But he did not know it
himself; he had grown so sure of his recovery then that he did not
understand what the weakness meant. He fell off into long spells of
sleep or unconsciousness, and woke only to be fed, and would then fall
back to sleep again. And in one of these spells of unconsciousness he
died. He died within two days of land. He had no home and no country
and no family, as I told you, and we buried him at sea. He left
nothing behind him, for the very clothes he wore were those we had
given him--nothing but the locket and the chain which he had told me
to take from his neck when he died."
Gordon's voice had grown very cold and hard. He stopped and ran his
fingers down into his pocket and pulled out a little leather bag. The
people at the table watched him in silence as he opened it and took
out a dull silver chain with a gold heart hanging from it.
"This is it," he said, gently. He leaned across the table, with his
eyes fixed on those of the American girl, and dropped the chain in
front of her. "Would you like to see it?" he said.
The rest moved curiously forward to look at the little heap of gold
and silver as it lay on the white cloth. But the girl, with her eyes
half closed and her lips pressed together, pushed it on with her hand
to the man who sat next her, and bowed her head slightly, as though it
was an effort for her to move at all. The wife of the Austrian
Minister gave a little sigh of relief.
"I should say your story did end badly, Mr. Gordon," she said. "It is
terribly sad, and so unnecessarily so."
"I don't know," said Lady Arbuthnot, thoughtfully--"I don't know; it
seems to me it was better. As Mr. Gordon says, the man was hardly
worthy of her. A man should have something more to offer a woman than
love; it is a woman's prerogative to be loved. Any number of men may
love her; it is nothing to their credit: they cannot help themselves."
"Well," said General Kent, "if all true stories turn out as badly as
that one does, I will take back what I said against those the
story-writers tell. I prefer the ones Anstey and Jerome make up. I
call it a most unpleasant story."
"But it isn't finished yet," said Gordon, as he leaned over and
picked up the chain and locket. "There is still a little more."
"Oh, I beg your pardon!" said the wife of the Austrian Minister,
eagerly. "But then," she added, "you can't make it any better. You
cannot bring the man back to life."
"No," said Gordon, "but I can make it a little worse."
"Ah, I see," said Phillips, with a story-teller's intuition--"the
"The first day I reached London I went to her banker's and got her
address," continued Gordon. "And I wrote, saying I wanted to see her,
but before I could get an answer I met her the next afternoon at a
garden-party. At least I did not meet her; she was pointed out to me.
I saw a very beautiful girl surrounded by a lot of men, and asked who
she was, and found out it was the woman I had written to, the owner of
the chain and locket; and I was also told that her engagement had just
been announced to a young Englishman of family and position, who had
known her only a few months, and with whom she was very much in love.
So you see," he went on, smiling, "that it was better that he died,
believing in her and in her love for him. Mr. Phillips, now, would
have let him live to return and find her married; but Nature is kinder
than writers of fiction, and quite as dramatic."
Phillips did not reply to this, and the general only shook his head
doubtfully and said nothing. So Mrs. Trevelyan looked at Lady
Arbuthnot, and the ladies rose and left the room. When the men had
left them, a young girl went to the piano, and the other women seated
themselves to listen; but Miss Egerton, saying that it was warm,
stepped out through one of the high windows on to the little balcony
that overhung the garden. It was dark out there and cool, and the
rumbling of the encircling city sounded as distant and as far off as
the reflection seemed that its million lights threw up to the sky
above. The girl leaned her face and bare shoulder against the rough
stone wall of the house, and pressed her hands together, with her
fingers locking and unlocking and her rings cutting through her
gloves. She was trembling slightly, and the blood in her veins was hot
and tingling. She heard the voices of the men as they entered the
drawing-room, the momentary cessation of the music at the piano, and
its renewal, and then a figure blocked the light from the window, and
Gordon stepped out of it and stood in front of her with the chain and
locket in his hand. He held it towards her, and they faced each other
for a moment in silence.
"Will you take it now?" he said.
The girl raised her head, and drew herself up until she stood straight
and tall before him. "Have you not punished me enough?" she asked, in
a whisper. "Are you not satisfied? Was it brave? Was it manly? Is that
what you have learned among your savages--to torture a woman?" She
stopped with a quick sob of pain, and pressed her hands against her
Gordon observed her, curiously, with cold consideration. "What of the
sufferings of the man to whom you gave this?" he asked. "Why not
consider him? What was your bad quarter of an hour at the table, with
your friends around you, to the year he suffered danger and physical
pain for you--for you, remember?"
The girl hid her face for a moment in her hands, and when she lowered
them again her cheeks were wet and her voice was changed and softer.
"They told me he was dead," she said. "Then it was denied, and then
the French papers told of it again, and with horrible detail, and how
Gordon took a step nearer her. "And does your love come and go with
the editions of the daily papers?" he asked, fiercely. "If they say
to-morrow morning that Arbuthnot is false to his principles or his
party, that he is a bribe-taker, a man who sells his vote, will you
believe them and stop loving him?" He gave a sharp exclamation of
disdain. "Or will you wait," he went on, bitterly, "until the Liberal
organs have had time to deny it? Is that the love, the life, and the
soul you promised the man who--"
There was a soft step on the floor of the drawing-room, and the tall
figure of young Arbuthnot appeared in the opening of the window as he
looked doubtfully out into the darkness. Gordon took a step back into
the light of the window, where he could be seen, and leaned easily
against the railing of the balcony. His eyes were turned towards the
street, and he noticed over the wall the top of a passing omnibus and
the glow of the men's pipes who sat on it.
"Miss Egerton?" asked Arbuthnot, his eyes still blinded by the lights
of the room he had left. "Is she here? Oh, is that you?" he said, as
he saw the movement of the white dress. "I was sent to look for you,"
he said. "They were afraid something was wrong." He turned to Gordon,
as if in explanation of his lover-like solicitude. "It has been rather
a hard week, and it has kept one pretty well on the go all the time,
and I thought Miss Egerton looked tired at dinner."
The moment he had spoken, the girl came towards him quickly, and put
her arm inside of his, and took his hand.
He looked down at her wonderingly at this show of affection, and then
drew her nearer, and said, gently, "You are tired, aren't you? I came
to tell you that Lady Arbuthnot is going. She is waiting for you."
It struck Gordon, as they stood there, how handsome they were and how
well suited. They took a step towards the window, and then the young
nobleman turned and looked out at the pretty garden and up at the sky,
where the moon was struggling against the glare of the city.
"It is very pretty and peaceful out here," he said, "is it not? It
seems a pity to leave it. Good-night, Gordon, and thank you for your
story." He stopped, with one foot on the threshold, and smiled. "And
yet, do you know," he said, "I cannot help thinking you were guilty of
doing just what you accused Phillips of doing. I somehow thought you
helped the true story out a little. Now didn't you? Was it all just as
you told it? Or am I wrong?"
"No," Gordon answered; "you are right. I did change it a little, in
"And what was that, may I ask?" said Arbuthnot.
"The man did not die," Gordon answered.
Arbuthnot gave a quick little sigh of sympathy. "Poor devil!" he said,
softly; "poor chap!" He moved his left hand over and touched the hand
of the girl, as though to reassure himself of his own good fortune.
Then he raised his eyes to Gordon's with a curious, puzzled look in
them. "But then," he said, doubtfully, "if he is not dead, how did you
come to get the chain?"
The girl's arm within his own moved slightly, and her fingers
tightened their hold upon his hand.
"Oh," said Gordon, indifferently, "it did not mean anything to him,
you see, when he found he had lost her, and it could not mean anything
to her. It is of no value. It means nothing to any one--except,
perhaps, to me."
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