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The next day or the next but one Dorothy telephoned him. He often called her up on one pretext or another, or frankly for no reason at all beyond the overwhelming desire to hear her voice. But she had never before "disturbed" him. He had again and again assured her that he would not regard himself as "disturbed," no matter what he might be doing. She would not have it so. As he was always watching for some faint sign that she was really interested in him, this call gave him a thrill of hope--a specimen of the minor absurdities of those days of extravagant folly.
"Are you coming over to-day?" she asked.
"Right away, if you wish."
"Oh, no. Any time will do."
"I'll come at once. I'm not busy."
"No. Late this afternoon. Father asked me to call up and make sure. He wants to see you."
"I'm a business person," retorted she. "I know better than to annoy you, as I've often said."
He knew it was foolish, tiresome; yet he could not resist the impulse to say, "Now that I've heard your voice I can't stay away. I'll come over to lunch."
Her answering voice was irritated. "Please don't. I'm cleaning house. You'd be in the way."
He shrank and quivered like a boy who has been publicly rebuked. "I'll come when you say," he replied.
"Not a minute before four o'clock."
"That's a long time--now you've made me crazy to see you."
"Don't talk nonsense. I must go back to work."
"What are you doing?" he asked, to detain her.
"Dusting and polishing. Molly did the sweeping and is cleaning windows now."
"What have you got on?"
"How silly you are!"
"No one knows that better than I. But I want to have a picture of you to look at."
"I've got on an old white skirt and an old shirt waist, both dirty, and a pair of tennis shoes that were white once but are gray now, where they aren't black. And I've got a pink chiffon rag tied round my hair."
"Pink is wonderful when you wear it."
"I look a fright. And my face is streaked--and my arms."
"Oh, you've got your sleeves rolled up. That's an important detail."
"You're making fun of me."
"No, I'm thinking of your arms. They are--ravishing."
"That's quite enough. Good-by."
And she rang off. He was used to her treating compliment and flattery from him in that fashion. He could not--or was it would not?--understand why. He had learned that she was not at all the indifferent and unaware person in the matter of her physical charms he had at first fancied her. On the contrary, she had more than her share of physical vanity--not more than was her right, in view of her charms, but more than she could carry off well. With many a secret smile he had observed that she thought herself perfect physically. This did not repel him; it never does repel a man--when and so long as he is under the enchantment of the charms the woman more or less exaggerates. But, while he had often seen women with inordinate physical vanity, so often that he had come to regarding it as an essential part of feminine character, never before had he seen one so content with her own good opinion of herself that she was indifferent to appreciation from others.
He did not go back to the office after lunch. Several important matters were coming up; if he got within reach they might conspire to make it impossible for him to be with her on time. If his partners, his clients knew! He the important man of affairs kneeling at the feet of a nobody!--and why? Chiefly because he was unable to convince her that he amounted to anything. His folly nauseated him. He sat in a corner in the dining room of the Lawyers' Club and drank one whisky and soda after another and brooded over his follies and his unhappiness, muttering monotonously from time to time: "No wonder she makes a fool of me. I invite it, I beg for it, damned idiot that I am!" By three o'clock he had drunk enough liquor to have dispatched the average man for several days. It had produced no effect upon him beyond possibly a slight aggravation of his moodiness.
It took only twenty minutes to get from New York to her house. He set out at a few minutes after three; arrived at twenty minutes to four. As experience of her ways had taught him that she was much less friendly when he disobeyed her requests, he did not dare go to the house, but, after looking at it from a corner two blocks away, made a detour that would use up some of the time he had to waste. And as he wandered he indulged in his usual alternations between self-derision and passion. He appeared at the house at five minutes to four. Patrick, who with Molly his wife looked after the domestic affairs, was at the front gate gazing down the street in the direction from which he always came. At sight of him Pat came running. Norman quickened his pace, and every part of his nervous system was in turmoil.
"Mr. Hallowell--he's--dead," gasped Pat.
"Dead?" echoed Norman.
"Three quarters of an hour ago, sir. He came from the lobatry, walked in the sitting room where Miss Dorothy was oiling the furniture and I was oiling the floor. And he sets down--and he looks at her--as cool and calm as could be--and he says, 'Dorothy, my child, I'm dying.' And she stands up straight and looks at him curious like--just curious like. And he says, 'Dorothy, good-by.' And he shivers, and I jumps up just in time to catch him from rolling to the floor. He was dead then--so the doctor says."
"Dead!" repeated Norman, looking round vaguely.
He went on to the house, Pat walking beside him and chattering on and on--a stream of words Norman did not hear. As he entered the open front door Dorothy came down the stairs. He had thought he knew how white her skin was. But he did not know until then. And from that ghostly pallor looked the eyes of grief beyond tears. He advanced toward her. But she seemed to be wrapped in an atmosphere of aloofness. He felt himself a stranger and an alien. After a brief silence she said: "I don't realize it. I've been upstairs where Pat carried him--but I don't realize it. It simply can't be."
"Do you know what he wished to say to me?" he asked.
"No. I guess he felt this coming. Probably it came quicker than he expected. Now I can see that he hasn't been well for several days. But he would never let anything about illness be said. He thought talking of those things made them worse."
"You have relatives--somebody you wish me to telegraph?"
She shook her head. "No one. Our relatives out West are second cousins or further away. They care nothing about us. No, I'm all alone."
The tears sprang to his eyes. But there were no tears in her eyes, no forlornness in her voice. She was simply stating a fact. He said: "I'll look after everything. Don't give it a moment's thought."
"No, I'll arrange," replied she. "It'll give me something to do--something to do for him. You see, it's my last chance." And she turned to ascend the stairs. "Something to do," she repeated dully. "I wish I hadn't cleaned house this morning. That would be something more to do."
This jarred on him--then brought the tears to his eyes again. How childish she was!--and how desolate! "But you'll let me stay?" he pleaded. "You'll need me. At any rate, I want to feel that you do."
"I'd rather you didn't stay," she said, in the same calm, remote way. "I'd rather be alone with him, this last time. I'll go up and sit there until they take him away. And then--in a few days I'll see what to do--I'll send for you."
"I can't leave you at such a time," he cried. "You haven't realized yet. When you do you will need some one."
"You don't understand," she interrupted. "He and I understood each other in some ways. I know he'd not want--anyone round."
At her slight hesitation before "anyone" he winced.
"I must be alone with him," she went on. "Thank you, but I want to go now."
"Not just yet," he begged. Then, seeing the shadow of annoyance on her beautiful white face, he rose and said: "I'm going. I only want to help you." He extended his hand impulsively, drew it back before she had the chance to refuse it. For he felt that she would refuse it. He said, "You know you can rely on me."
"But I don't need anybody," replied she. "Good-by."
"If I can do anything----"
"Pat will telephone." She was already halfway upstairs.
He found Pat in the front yard, and arranged with him to get news and to send messages by way of the drug store at the corner, so that she would know nothing about it. He went to a florist's in New York and sent masses of flowers. And then--there was nothing more to do. He stopped in at the club and drank and gambled until far into the morning. He fretted gloomily about all the next day, riding alone in the Park, driving with his sister, drinking and gambling at the club again and smiling cynically to himself at the covert glances his acquaintances exchanged. He was growing used to those glances. He cared not the flip of a penny for them.
On the third day came the funeral, and he went. He did not let his cabman turn in behind the one carriage that followed the hearse. At the graveyard he stood afar off, watching her in her simple new black, noting her calm. She seemed thinner, but he thought it might be simply her black dress. He could see no change in her face. As she was leaving the grave, she looked in his direction but he was uncertain whether she had seen him. Pat and Molly were in the big, gloomy looking carriage with her.
He ventured to go to the front gate an hour later. Pat came out. "It's no use to go in, Mr. Norman," he said. "She'll not see you. She's shut up in her own room."
"Hasn't she cried yet, Pat?"
"Not yet. We're waiting for it, sir. We're afraid her mind will give way. At least, Molly is. I don't think so. She's a queer young lady--as queer as she looks--though at first you'd never think it. She's always looking different. I never seen so many persons in one."
"Can't Molly make her cry?--by talking about him?"
"She's tried, sir. It wasn't no use. Why, Miss Dorothy talks about him just as if he was still here." Pat wiped the sweat from his forehead. "I've been in many a house of mourning, but never through such a strain as this. Somehow I feel as if I'd never before been round where there was anyone that'd lost somebody they really cared about. Weeping and moaning don't amount to much beside what she's doing."
Norman stayed round for an hour or more, then rushed away distracted. He drank like a madman--drank himself into a daze, and so got a few hours of a kind of sleep. He was looking haggard and wild now, and everyone avoided him, though in fact there was not the least danger of an outburst of temper. His sister--Josephine--the office--several clients telephoned for him. To all he sent the same refusal--that he was too ill to see anyone. Not until the third day after the funeral did Dorothy telephone for him.
He took an ice-cold bath, got himself together as well as he could, and reached the house in Jersey City about half past three in the afternoon. She came gliding into the room like a ghost, trailing a black negligee that made the whiteness of her skin startling. Her eyelids were heavy and dark, but unreddened. She gazed at him with calm, clear melancholy, and his heart throbbed and ached for her. She seated herself, clasped her hands loosely in her lap, and said:
"I've sent for you so that I could settle things up."
"Your father's affairs? Can't I do it better?"
"He had arranged everything. There are only the papers--his notes--and he wrote out the addresses of the men they were to be sent to. No, I mean settle things up with you."
"You mustn't bother about that," said he. "Besides, there's nothing to settle."
"I shan't pretend I'm going to try to pay you back," she went on, as if he had not spoken. "I never could do it. But you will get part at least by selling this furniture and the things at the laboratory."
"Dorothy--please," he implored. "Don't you understand you're to stay on here, just the same? What sort of man do you think I am? I did this for you, and you know it."
"But I did it for my father," replied she, "and he's gone." She was resting her melancholy gaze upon him. "I couldn't take anything from you. You didn't think I was that kind?"
He was silent.
"I cared nothing about the scandal--what people said--so long as I was doing it for him. . . . I'd have done anything for him. Sometimes I thought you were going to compel me to do things I'd have hated to do. I hope I wronged you, but I feared you meant that." She sat thinking several minutes, sighed wearily. "It's all over now. It doesn't matter. I needn't bother about it any more."
"Dorothy, let's not talk of these things now," said Norman. "There's no hurry. I want you to wait until you are calm and have thought everything over. Then I'm sure you'll see that you ought to stay on."
"How could I?" she asked wonderingly.
"Why not? Am I demanding anything of you? You know I'm not--and that I never shall."
"But there's no reason on earth why you should support me. I can work. Why shouldn't I? And if I didn't, if I stayed on here, what sort of woman would I be?"
He was unable to find an answer. He was trying not to see a look in her face--or was it in her soul, revealed through her eyes?--a look that made him think for the first time of a resemblance between her and her father.
"You see yourself I've got to go. Any money I could earn wouldn't more than pay for a room and board somewhere."
"You can let me advance you money while you--" He hesitated, had an idea which he welcomed eagerly--"while you study for the stage. Yes, that's the sensible thing. You can learn to act. Then you will be able to make a decent living."
She slowly shook her head. "I've no talent for it--and no liking. No, Mr. Norman, I must go back to work--and right away."
"But at least wait until you've looked into the stage business," he urged. "You may find that you like it and that you have talent for it."
"I can't take any more from you," she said.
"You think I am not to be trusted. I'm not going to say now how I feel toward you. But I can honestly say one thing. Now that you are all alone and unprotected, you needn't have the least fear of me."
She smiled faintly. "I see you don't believe me. Well, it doesn't matter. I've seen Mr. Tetlow and he has given me a place at twelve a week in his office."
Norman sank back in his chair. "He is in for himself now?"
"No. He's head clerk for Pitchley & Culver."
"Culver!" exclaimed Norman. "I don't want you to go into Culver's office. He's a scoundrel."
Again Dorothy smiled faintly. Norman colored. "I know he stands well--as well as I do. But I can't trust you with him. That sounds ridiculous but--it's true."
"I think I can trust myself," she said quietly. Her grave regard fixed his. "Don't you?" she asked.
His eyes lowered. "Yes," he replied. "But--why shouldn't you come back with us? I'll see that you get a much better position than Culver's giving you."
Over her face crept one of those mysterious transformations that made her so bafflingly fascinating to him. Behind that worldly-wise, satirical mask was she mocking at him? All she said was: "I couldn't work there. I've settled it with Mr. Tetlow. I go to work to-morrow."
"To-morrow!" he cried, starting up.
"And I've found a place to live. Pat and Molly; will take care of things for you here."
"Dorothy! You don't mean this? You're not going to break off?"
"I shan't see you again--except as we may meet by accident."
"Do you realize what you're saying means to me?" he cried. "Don't you know how I love you?" He advanced toward her. She stood and waited passively, looking at him. "Dorothy--my love--do you want to kill me?"
"When are you to be married?" she asked quietly.
"You are playing with me!" he cried. "You are tormenting me. What have I ever done that you should treat me this way?" He caught her unresisting hands and kissed them. "Dear--my dear--don't you care for me at all?"
"No," she said placidly. "I've always told you so."
He seized her in his arms, kissed her with a frenzy that was savage, ferocious. "You will drive me mad. You have driven me mad!" he muttered. And he added, unconscious that he was speaking his thoughts, so distracted was he: "You must love me--you must! No woman has ever resisted me. You cannot."
She drew herself away from him, stood before him like snow, like ice. "One thing I have never told you. I'll tell you now," she said deliberately. "I despise you."
He fell back a step and the chill of her coldness seemed to be freezing the blood in his veins.
"I've always despised you," she went on, and he shivered before that contemptuous word--it seemed only the more contemptuous for her calmness. "Sometimes I've despised you thoroughly--again only a little--but always that feeling."
For a moment he thought she had at last stung his pride into the semblance of haughtiness. He was able to look at her with mocking eyes and to say, "I congratulate you on your cleverness in concealing your feelings."
"It wasn't my cleverness," she said wearily. "It was your blindness. I never deceived you."
"No, you never have," he replied sincerely. "Perhaps I deserve to be despised. Again, perhaps if you knew the world--the one I live in--better, you'd think less harshly of me."
"I don't think harshly of you. How could I--after all you did for my father?"
"Dorothy, if you'll stay here and study for the stage--or anything you choose--I promise you I'll never speak of my feeling for you--or show it in any way--unless you yourself give me leave."
She smiled with childlike pathos. "You ought not to tempt me. Do you want me to keep on despising you? Can't you ever be fair with me?"
The sad, frank gentleness of the appeal swung his unhinged mind to the other extreme--from the savagery of passion to a frenzy of remorse. "Fair to you? No," he cried, "because I love you. Oh, I'm ashamed--bitterly ashamed. I'm capable of any baseness to get you. You're right. You can't trust me. In going you're saving me from myself." He hesitated, stared wildly, appalled at the words that were fighting for utterance--the words about marriage--about marrying her! He said hoarsely: "I am mad--mad! I don't know what I'm saying. Good-by--For God's sake, don't think the worst of me, Dorothy. Good-by. I will be a man again--I will!"
And he wrung her hand and, talking incoherently, he rushed from the room and from the house.
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