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About half an hour later the door into the bedroom opened and she appeared on the threshold of the sitting room, ready for the street. He stared at her in the dazed amazement of a man faced by the impossible, and uncertain whether it is sight or reason that is tricking him. She had gone into the bedroom not only homely but commonplace, not only commonplace but common, a dingy washed-out blonde girl whom it would be a humiliation to present as his wife. She was standing there, in the majesty of such proud pale beauty as poets delight to ascribe to a sorrowful princess. Her wonderful skin was clear and translucent, giving her an ethereal look. Her hair reminded him again of what marvels he had seen in the sunlight of Sunday afternoon. And looking at her form and the small head so gracefully capping it, he could think only of the simile that had always come to him in his moments of ecstasy--the lily on its tall stem.
And once more, like a torrent, the old infatuation sprang from its dried sources and came rushing and overwhelming through vein and nerve. "Am I mad now?--was I mad a few moments ago?--is it she or is it my own disordered senses?"
She was drawing on her gloves, was unconscious of his confusion. He controlled himself and said: "You have a most disconcerting way of changing your appearance."
She glanced down at her costume. "No, it's the same dress. I've only the one, you know."
He longed to take her in his arms, but could not trust himself. And this wonder-girl, his very own, was talking of leaving him! And he--not an hour before--he, apparently in his right senses had been tolerating such preposterous talk! Give her up? Never! He must see to it that the subject did not find excuse for intruding again. "I have frightened her--have disgusted her. I must restrain myself. I must be patient--and teach her slowly--and win her gradually."
They spent an interesting and even exciting afternoon, driving from shop to shop and selecting the first beginnings of her wardrobe. He had only about three hundred dollars. Some of the things they ordered were ready for delivery, and so had to be paid for at once. When they returned to the hotel he had but fifty dollars left--and had contracted debts that made it necessary for him to raise at least a thousand dollars within a week. He saw that his freedom with sums of money which terrified her filled her with awe and admiration--and that he was already more successful than he had expected to be, in increasing her hesitation about leaving him. Among the things they had bought were a simple black chiffon dress and a big plumed black hat to match. These needed no alterations and were delivered soon after they returned. Some silk stockings came also and a pair of slippers bought for the dinner toilet.
"You can dress to-night," said he, "and I'll take you to Sherry's, and to the theater afterwards."
She was delighted. At last she was going to look like the women of whom she had been dreaming these last few months. She set about dressing herself, he waiting in the sitting room in a state of acute nervousness. What would be the effect of such a toilet? Would she look like a lady--or like--what she had suggested that morning? She was so changeable, had such a wide range of variability that he dared not hope. When she finally appeared, he was ready to fall down and worship. He was about to take her where his world would see her, where every inch of her would be subjected to the cruelest, most hostile criticism. One glance at her, and he knew a triumph awaited him. No man and no woman would wonder that he had lost his head over such beauty as hers. Hat and dress seemed just what had been needed to bring out the full glory of her charms.
"You are incredibly beautiful," he said in an awed tone. "I am proud of you."
A little color came into her cheeks. She looked at herself in the mirror with her quiet intense secret, yet not covert vanity. He laughed in boyish pleasure. "This is only the small beginning," said he. "Wait a few months."
At dinner and in a box at the theater afterwards, he had the most exquisite pleasure of his life. She had been seen by many of his former friends, and he was certain they knew who she was. He felt that he would have no difficulty in putting her in the place his wife should occupy. A woman with such beauty as hers was a sensation, one fashionable society would not deny itself. She had good manners, an admirable manner. With a little coaching she would be as much at home in grandeur as were those who had always had it.
The last fear of losing her left him. On the way back to the hotel he, in a delirium of pride and passion, crushed her in his arms and caressed her with the frenzy that had always terrified her. She resisted only faintly, was almost passive. "She is mine!" he said to himself, exultantly. "She is really mine!"
* * * * * * *
When he awoke in the morning she was still asleep--looked like a tired lovely child. Several times, while he was dressing, he went in to feast his eyes upon her beauty. How could he possibly have thought her homely, in whatever moment of less beauty or charm she might have had? The crowning charm of infinite variety! She had a delightfully sweet disposition. He was not sure how much or how little intelligence she had--probably more than most women. But what did that matter? It would be impossible ever to grow weary or to be anything but infatuated lover when she had such changeful beauty.
He kissed her lightly on her thick braids, as he was about to go. He left a note explaining that he did not wish to disturb her and that it was necessary for him to be at the office earlier. And that morning in all New York no man left his home for the day's struggle for dollars with a freer or happier heart, or readier to play the game boldly, skillfully, with success.
Certainly he needed all his courage and all his skill.
To most of the people who live in New York and elsewhere throughout the country--or the world, for that matter--an income of a thousand dollars a month seems extremely comfortable, to say the least of it. The average American family of five has to scrape along on about half that sum a year. But among the comfortable classes in New York--and perhaps in one or two other cities--a thousand dollars a month is literally genteel poverty. To people accustomed to what is called luxury nowadays--people with the habit of the private carriage, the private automobile, and several servants--to such people a thousand dollars a month is an absurd little sum. It would not pay for the food alone. It would not buy for a man and his wife, with no children, clothing enough to enable them to make a decent appearance.
Norman, living alone and living very quietly indeed, might have got along for a while on that sum, if he had taken much thought about expenditures, had persisted in such severe economies as using street cars instead of taxicabs and drinking whisky at dinner instead of his customary quart of six-dollar champagne. Norman, the married man, could not escape disaster for a single month on an income so pitiful.
Probably on the morning on which he set out for downtown in search of money enough to enable him to live decently, not less than ten thousand men on Manhattan Island left comfortable or luxurious homes faced with precisely the same problem. And each and every one of them knew that on that day or some day soon they must find the money demanded imperiously by their own and their families' tastes and necessities or be ruined--flung out, trampled upon, derided as failures, hated by the "loved ones" they had caused to be humiliated. And every man of that legion had a fine, an unusually fine brain--resourceful, incessant, teeming with schemes for wresting from those who had dollars the dollars they dared not go home without. And those ten thousand quickest and most energetic brains, by their mode of thought and action, determined the thought and action of the entire country--gave the mercenary and unscrupulous cast to the whole social system. Themselves the victims of conditions, they were the bellwethers to millions of victims compelled to follow their leadership.
Norman, by the roundabout mode of communication he and Tetlow had established, summoned his friend and backer to his office. "Tetlow," he began straight off, "I've got to have more money."
"How much?" said Tetlow.
"More than you can afford to advance me."
"How much?" repeated Tetlow.
"Three thousand a month right away--at the least."
"That's a big sum," said Tetlow.
"Yes, for a man used to dealing in small figures. But in reality it's a moderate income."
"Few large families spend more."
"Few large or small families in my part of New York pinch along on so little."
"What has happened to you?" said Tetlow, dropping into a chair and folding his fat hands on his stomach.
"Why?" asked Norman.
"It's in your voice--in your face--in your cool demand for a big income."
"Let's start right, old man," said Norman. "Don't call thirty-six thousand a year big or you'll think it big. And if you think it big, you will stay little."
Tetlow nodded. "I'm ready to grow," said he. "Now what's happened to you?"
"I've got married," replied Norman.
"I thought so. To Miss--Hallowell?"
"To Miss Hallowell. So my way's clear, and I'm going to resume the march."
"I've two plans. Either will serve. The first is yours--the one you partly revealed to me the other day."
"Partly?" said Tetlow.
"Partly," repeated Norman, laughing. "I know you, Billy, and that means I know you're absolutely incapable of plotting as big a scheme as you suggested to me. It came either from Galloway or from some one of his clique."
"I said all I'm at liberty to say, Fred."
"I don't wish you to break your promise. All I want to know is, can I get the three thousand a month and assurance of its lasting and leading to something bigger?"
"What is your other scheme?" said Tetlow, and it was plain to the shrewder young lawyer that the less shrewd young lawyer wished to gain time.
"Simple and sure," replied Norman. "We will buy ten shares of Universal Fuel Company through a dummy and bring suit to dissolve it. I looked into the matter for Burroughs once when he was after the Fosdick-Langdon group. Universal Fuel wouldn't dare defend the action I could bring. We could get what we pleased for our ten shares to let up on the suit. The moment their lawyers saw the papers I'd draw, they'd advise it."
Tetlow shook his large, impressively molded head. "Shady," said he. "Shady."
Norman smiled with good-natured patience. "You sound like Burroughs or Galloway when they are denouncing a man for trying to get rich by the same methods they pursued. My dear Bill, don't be one of those lawyers who will do the queer work for a client but not for themselves. There's no sense, no morality, no intelligent hypocrisy even, in that. We didn't create the commercial morality of the present day. For God's sake, let's not be of the poor fools who practice it but get none of its benefits."
Tetlow shifted uneasily. "I don't like to hear that sort of thing," said he, apologetic and nervous.
"Is it true?"
"Yes. But--damn it, I don't like to hear it."
"That is to say, you're willing to pay the price of remaining small and obscure just for the pleasure of indulging in a wretched hypocrisy of a self-deception. Bill, come out of the small class. Whether you go in with me or not, come out of the class of understrappers. What's the difference between the big men and their little followers? Why, the big men see. They don't deceive themselves with the cant they pour out for the benefit of the ignorant mob."
Tetlow was listening like a pupil to a teacher. That was always his attitude toward Norman.
"The big men," continued Norman, "know that canting is necessary--that one must always profess high and disinterested motives, and so on, and so on. But they don't let their hypocritical talk influence their actions. How is it with the little fellows? Why, they believe the flapdoodle the leaders talk. They go into the enterprise, do all the small dirty work, lie and cheat and steal, and hand over the proceeds to the big fellows, for the sake of a pat on the back and a noisy 'Honest fellow! Here are a few crumbs for you.' And crumbs are all that a weak, silly, hypocritical fool deserves. Can you deny it?"
"No doubt you're right, Fred," conceded Tetlow. "But I'm afraid I haven't the nerve."
"Come in behind me. I've got nerve for two--now!"
At that triumphant "now" Tetlow looked curiously at his friend. "Yes, it has changed you--changed you back to what you were. I don't understand."
"It isn't necessary that you understand," rejoined Norman."
"Do you think you could really carry through that scheme you've just outlined?"
"I see it fascinates you."
"I've no objection to rising to the class of big men," said Tetlow. "But aren't you letting your confidence in yourself deceive you?"
"Did I ever let it deceive me?"
"No," confessed Tetlow. "I've often watched you, and thought you'd fall through it, or stumble at least. But you never did."
"And shall I tell you why? Because I use my self-confidence and my hopefulness and all my optimistic qualities only to create an atmosphere of success. But when it comes to planning a move of any kind, when I assemble my lieutenants round the council board in my brain, I never permit a single cheerful one to speak, or even to enter. It's a serious, gloomy circle of faces, Bill."
Tetlow nodded reminiscently. "Yes, you always were like that, Fred."
"And the one who does the most talking at my council is the gloomiest of all. He's Lieutenant Flawpicker. He can't see any hope for anything. He sees all the possibilities of failure. He sees all the chances against success. And what's the result? Why, when the council rises it has taken out of the plan every chance of mishap that my intelligence could foresee and it has provided not one but several safe lines of orderly retreat in case success proves impossible."
Tetlow gazed at Norman in worshipful admiration. "What a brain! What a mind!" he ejaculated. "And to think that you could be upset by a woman!"
Norman leaned back in his chair smiling broadly. "Not by a woman," he corrected. "By a girl--an inexperienced girl of twenty."
"It seems incredible."
"A grain of dust, dropped into a watch movement in just the right place--you know what happens."
Tetlow nodded. Then, with a sharp, anxious look, "But it's all over?"
Norman hesitated. "I believe so," he said.
Tetlow rose and rubbed his thighs. He had been sitting long in the same position, and he was now stout enough to suffer from fat man's cramp. "Well," said he, "we needn't bother about that Universal Fuel scheme at present. I can guarantee you the three thousand dollars, and the other things."
Norman shook his head. "Not enough," he said.
"You want more money?"
"No. But I will not work, or rather, wait, in the dark. Tell your principals that I must be let in."
Tetlow hesitated, walking about the office. Finally he said, "Look here, Fred--you think I deceived you the other day--posed as your friend when in reality I was simply acting as agent for people who wanted you."
Norman gave Tetlow a look that made him redden with pleasure. "No, I don't, old man," said he. "I know you recommended me--and that they were shy of me because of the way I've been acting--and that you stood sponsor for me. Isn't that right?"
"Something like that," admitted Tetlow. "But they were eager to get you. It was only a question of trusting you. I was able to do you a good turn there."
"And I'll make a rich man, and a famous one, of you," said Norman.
"Yes. I believe you will," cried Tetlow, tears in his prominent studious eyes. "I'll see those people in a day or two, and let you know. Do you need money right away? Of course you do." And down he sat and drew a check for fifteen hundred dollars.
Norman laughed as he glanced to see if it was correctly drawn. "I'd not have dared return to my bride with empty pockets. That's what it means to live in New York."
Tetlow grinned. "A sentimental town, isn't it? Especially the women."
"Oh, I don't blame them," said Norman. "They need the money, and the only way they've got of making it is out of sentiment. And you must admit they give a bully good quality, if the payment is all right."
Tetlow shrugged his shoulders. "I'm glad I don't need them," said he. "It gives me the creeps to see them gliding about with their beautiful dresses and their sweet, soft faces."
He and Norman lunched together in an out-of-the way restaurant. After a busy and a happy afternoon, Norman returned early to the hotel. He had cashed his check. He was in funds. He would give her another and more thrilling taste of the joy that was to be hers through him--and soon she would be giving even as she got--for he would teach her not to fear love, not to shrink from it, but to rejoice in it and to let it permeate and complete all her charms.
He ascended to the apartment and knocked. There was no answer. He searched in vain for a chambermaid to let him in. He descended to the office. "Oh, Mr. Norman," said one of the clerks. "Your wife left this note for you."
Norman took it. "She went out?"
"About three o'clock--with a young gentleman who called on her. They came back a while ago and she left the note."
"Thank you," said Norman. He took his key, went up to the apartment. Not until he had closed and locked the door did he open the note. He read:
"Last night you broke your promise. So I am going away. Don't look for me. It won't be any use. When I decide what to do I'll send you word."
He was standing at the table. He tossed the note on the marble, threw open the bedroom door. The black chiffon dress, the big plumed hat, and all the other articles they had bought were spread upon the bed, arranged with the obvious intention that he should see at a glance she had taken nothing away with her.
"Hell!" he said aloud. "Why didn't I let her go yesterday morning?"
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