On a certain afternoon in the early part of July, about a month after the fight at the irrigating ditch and the mass meeting at Bonneville, Cedarquist, at the moment opening his mail in his office in San Francisco, was genuinely surprised to receive a visit from Presley.
“Well, upon my word, Pres,” exclaimed the manufacturer, as the young man came in through the door that the office boy held open for him, “upon my word, have you been sick? Sit down, my boy. Have a glass of sherry. I always keep a bottle here.”
Presley accepted the wine and sank into the depths of a great leather chair near by.
“Sick?” he answered. “Yes, I have been sick. I’m sick now. I’m gone to pieces, sir.”
His manner was the extreme of listlessness—the listlessness of great fatigue. “Well, well,” observed the other. “I’m right sorry to hear that. What’s the trouble, Pres?”
“Oh, nerves mostly, I suppose, and my head, and insomnia, and weakness, a general collapse all along the line, the doctor tells me. ‘Over-cerebration,’ he says; ‘over-excitement.’ I fancy I rather narrowly missed brain fever.”
“Well, I can easily suppose it,” answered Cedarquist gravely, “after all you have been through.”
Presley closed his eyes—they were sunken in circles of dark brown flesh—and pressed a thin hand to the back of his head.
“It is a nightmare,” he murmured. “A frightful nightmare, and it’s not over yet. You have heard of it all only through the newspaper reports. But down there, at Bonneville, at Los Muertos—oh, you can have no idea of it, of the misery caused by the defeat of the ranchers and by this decision of the Supreme Court that dispossesses them all. We had gone on hoping to the last that we would win there. We had thought that in the Supreme Court of the United States, at least, we could find justice. And the news of its decision was the worst, last blow of all. For Magnus it was the last—positively the very last.”
“Poor, poor Derrick,” murmured Cedarquist. “Tell me about him, Pres. How does he take it? What is he going to do?”
“It beggars him, sir. He sunk a great deal more than any of us believed in his ranch, when he resolved to turn off most of the tenants and farm the ranch himself. Then the fight he made against the Railroad in the Courts and the political campaign he went into, to get Lyman on the Railroad Commission, took more of it. The money that Genslinger blackmailed him of, it seems, was about all he had left. He had been gambling—you know the Governor—on another bonanza crop this year to recoup him. Well, the bonanza came right enough—just in time for S. Behrman and the Railroad to grab it. Magnus is ruined.”
“What a tragedy! what a tragedy!” murmured the other. “Lyman turning rascal, Harran killed, and now this; and all within so short a time—all at the SAME time, you might almost say.”
“If it had only killed him,” continued Presley; “but that is the worst of it.”
“How the worst?”
“I’m afraid, honestly, I’m afraid it is going to turn his wits, sir. It’s broken him; oh, you should see him, you should see him. A shambling, stooping, trembling old man, in his dotage already. He sits all day in the dining-room, turning over papers, sorting them, tying them up, opening them again, forgetting them—all fumbling and mumbling and confused. And at table sometimes he forgets to eat. And, listen, you know, from the house we can hear the trains whistling for the Long Trestle. As often as that happens the Governor seems to be—oh, I don’t know, frightened. He will sink his head between his shoulders, as though he were dodging something, and he won’t fetch a long breath again till the train is out of hearing. He seems to have conceived an abject, unreasoned terror of the Railroad.”
“But he will have to leave Los Muertos now, of course?”
“Yes, they will all have to leave. They have a fortnight more. The few tenants that were still on Los Muertos are leaving. That is one thing that brings me to the city. The family of one of the men who was killed—Hooven was his name—have come to the city to find work. I think they are liable to be in great distress, unless they have been wonderfully lucky, and I am trying to find them in order to look after them.”
“You need looking after yourself, Pres.”
“Oh, once away from Bonneville and the sight of the ruin there, I’m better. But I intend to go away. And that makes me think, I came to ask you if you could help me. If you would let me take passage on one of your wheat ships. The Doctor says an ocean voyage would set me up.”
“Why, certainly, Pres,” declared Cedarquist. “But I’m sorry you’ll have to go. We expected to have you down in the country with us this winter.”
Presley shook his head. “No,” he answered. “I must go. Even if I had all my health, I could not bring myself to stay in California just now. If you can introduce me to one of your captains—”
“With pleasure. When do you want to go? You may have to wait a few weeks. Our first ship won’t clear till the end of the month.”
“That would do very well. Thank you, sir.”
But Cedarquist was still interested in the land troubles of the Bonneville farmers, and took the first occasion to ask:
“So, the Railroad are in possession on most of the ranches?” “On all of them,” returned Presley. “The League went all to pieces, so soon as Magnus was forced to resign. The old story—they got quarrelling among themselves. Somebody started a compromise party, and upon that issue a new president was elected. Then there were defections. The Railroad offered to lease the lands in question to the ranchers—the ranchers who owned them,” he exclaimed bitterly, “and because the terms were nominal—almost nothing—plenty of the men took the chance of saving themselves. And, of course, once signing the lease, they acknowledged the Railroad’s title. But the road would not lease to Magnus. S. Behrman takes over Los Muertos in a few weeks now.”
“No doubt, the road made over their title in the property to him,” observed Cedarquist, “as a reward of his services.”
“No doubt,” murmured Presley wearily. He rose to go.
“By the way,” said Cedarquist, “what have you on hand for, let us say, Friday evening? Won’t you dine with us then? The girls are going to the country Monday of next week, and you probably won’t see them again for some time if you take that ocean voyage of yours.”
“I’m afraid I shall be very poor company, sir,” hazarded Presley. “There’s no ‘go,’ no life in me at all these days. I am like a clock with a broken spring.”
“Not broken, Pres, my boy;” urged the other, “only run down. Try and see if we can’t wind you up a bit. Say that we can expect you. We dine at seven.”
“Thank you, sir. Till Friday at seven, then.”
Regaining the street, Presley sent his valise to his club (where he had engaged a room) by a messenger boy, and boarded a Castro Street car. Before leaving Bonneville, he had ascertained, by strenuous enquiry, Mrs. Hooven’s address in the city, and thitherward he now directed his steps.
When Presley had told Cedarquist that he was ill, that he was jaded, worn out, he had only told half the truth. Exhausted he was, nerveless, weak, but this apathy was still invaded from time to time with fierce incursions of a spirit of unrest and revolt, reactions, momentary returns of the blind, undirected energy that at one time had prompted him to a vast desire to acquit himself of some terrible deed of readjustment, just what, he could not say, some terrifying martyrdom, some awe-inspiring immolation, consummate, incisive, conclusive. He fancied himself to be fired with the purblind, mistaken heroism of the anarchist, hurling his victim to destruction with full knowledge that the catastrophe shall sweep him also into the vortex it creates.
But his constitutional irresoluteness obstructed his path continually; brain-sick, weak of will, emotional, timid even, he temporised, procrastinated, brooded; came to decisions in the dark hours of the night, only to abandon them in the morning.
Once only he had ACTED. And at this moment, as he was carried through the windy, squalid streets, he trembled at the remembrance of it. The horror of “what might have been” incompatible with the vengeance whose minister he fancied he was, oppressed him. The scene perpetually reconstructed itself in his imagination. He saw himself under the shade of the encompassing trees and shrubbery, creeping on his belly toward the house, in the suburbs of Bonneville, watching his chances, seizing opportunities, spying upon the lighted windows where the raised curtains afforded a view of the interior. Then had come the appearance in the glare of the gas of the figure of the man for whom he waited. He saw himself rise and run forward. He remembered the feel and weight in his hand of Caraher’s bomb—the six inches of plugged gas pipe. His upraised arm shot forward. There was a shiver of smashed window-panes, then—a void—a red whirl of confusion, the air rent, the ground rocking, himself flung headlong, flung off the spinning circumference of things out into a place of terror and vacancy and darkness. And then after a long time the return of reason, the consciousness that his feet were set upon the road to Los Muertos, and that he was fleeing terror-stricken, gasping, all but insane with hysteria. Then the never-to-be-forgotten night that ensued, when he descended into the pit, horrified at what he supposed he had done, at one moment ridden with remorse, at another raging against his own feebleness, his lack of courage, his wretched, vacillating spirit. But morning had come, and with it the knowledge that he had failed, and the baser assurance that he was not even remotely suspected. His own escape had been no less miraculous than that of his enemy, and he had fallen on his knees in inarticulate prayer, weeping, pouring out his thanks to God for the deliverance from the gulf to the very brink of which his feet had been drawn.
After this, however, there had come to Presley a deep-rooted suspicion that he was—of all human beings, the most wretched—a failure. Everything to which he had set his mind failed—his great epic, his efforts to help the people who surrounded him, even his attempted destruction of the enemy, all these had come to nothing. Girding his shattered strength together, he resolved upon one last attempt to live up to the best that was in him, and to that end had set himself to lift out of the despair into which they had been thrust, the bereaved family of the German, Hooven.
After all was over, and Hooven, together with the seven others who had fallen at the irrigating ditch, was buried in the Bonneville cemetery, Mrs. Hooven, asking no one’s aid or advice, and taking with her Minna and little Hilda, had gone to San Francisco—had gone to find work, abandoning Los Muertos and her home forever. Presley only learned of the departure of the family after fifteen days had elapsed.
At once, however, the suspicion forced itself upon him that Mrs. Hooven—and Minna, too for the matter of that—country-bred, ignorant of city ways, might easily come to grief in the hard, huge struggle of city life. This suspicion had swiftly hardened to a conviction, acting at last upon which Presley had followed them to San Francisco, bent upon finding and assisting them.
The house to which Presley was led by the address in his memorandum book was a cheap but fairly decent hotel near the power house of the Castro Street cable. He inquired for Mrs. Hooven.
The landlady recollected the Hoovens perfectly.
“German woman, with a little girl-baby, and an older daughter, sure. The older daughter was main pretty. Sure I remember them, but they ain’t here no more. They left a week ago. I had to ask them for their room. As it was, they owed a week’s room-rent. Mister, I can’t afford——”
“Well, do you know where they went? Did you hear what address they had their trunk expressed to?”
“Ah, yes, their trunk,” vociferated the woman, clapping her hands to her hips, her face purpling. “Their trunk, ah, sure. I got their trunk, and what are you going to do about it? I’m holding it till I get my money. What have you got to say about it? Let’s hear it.”
Presley turned away with a gesture of discouragement, his heart sinking. On the street corner he stood for a long time, frowning in trouble and perplexity. His suspicions had been only too well founded. So long ago as a week, the Hoovens had exhausted all their little store of money. For seven days now they had been without resources, unless, indeed, work had been found; “and what,” he asked himself, “what work in God’s name could they find to do here in the city?”
Seven days! He quailed at the thought of it. Seven days without money, knowing not a soul in all that swarming city. Ignorant of city life as both Minna and her mother were, would they even realise that there were institutions built and generously endowed for just such as they? He knew them to have their share of pride, the dogged sullen pride of the peasant; even if they knew of charitable organisations, would they, could they bring themselves to apply there? A poignant anxiety thrust itself sharply into Presley’s heart. Where were they now? Where had they slept last night? Where breakfasted this morning? Had there even been any breakfast this morning? Had there even been any bed last night? Lost, and forgotten in the plexus of the city’s life, what had befallen them? Towards what fate was the ebb tide of the streets drifting them?
Was this to be still another theme wrought out by iron hands upon the old, the world-old, world-wide keynote? How far were the consequences of that dreadful day’s work at the irrigating ditch to reach? To what length was the tentacle of the monster to extend?
Presley returned toward the central, the business quarter of the city, alternately formulating and dismissing from his mind plan after plan for the finding and aiding of Mrs. Hooven and her daughters. He reached Montgomery Street, and turned toward his club, his imagination once more reviewing all the causes and circumstances of the great battle of which for the last eighteen months he had been witness.
All at once he paused, his eye caught by a sign affixed to the wall just inside the street entrance of a huge office building, and smitten with an idea, stood for an instant motionless, upon the sidewalk, his eyes wide, his fists shut tight.
The building contained the General Office of the Pacific and Southwestern Railroad. Large though it was, it nevertheless, was not pretentious, and during his visits to the city, Presley must have passed it, unheeding, many times.
But for all that it was the stronghold of the enemy—the centre of all that vast ramifying system of arteries that drained the life-blood of the State; the nucleus of the web in which so many lives, so many fortunes, so many destinies had been enmeshed. From this place—so he told himself—had emanated that policy of extortion, oppression and injustice that little by little had shouldered the ranchers from their rights, till, their backs to the wall, exasperated and despairing they had turned and fought and died. From here had come the orders to S. Behrman, to Cyrus Ruggles and to Genslinger, the orders that had brought Dyke to a prison, that had killed Annixter, that had ruined Magnus, that had corrupted Lyman. Here was the keep of the castle, and here, behind one of those many windows, in one of those many offices, his hand upon the levers of his mighty engine, sat the master, Shelgrim himself.
Instantly, upon the realisation of this fact an ungovernable desire seized upon Presley, an inordinate curiosity. Why not see, face to face, the man whose power was so vast, whose will was so resistless, whose potency for evil so limitless, the man who for so long and so hopelessly they had all been fighting. By reputation he knew him to be approachable; why should he not then approach him? Presley took his resolution in both hands. If he failed to act upon this impulse, he knew he would never act at all. His heart beating, his breath coming short, he entered the building, and in a few moments found himself seated in an ante-room, his eyes fixed with hypnotic intensity upon the frosted pane of an adjoining door, whereon in gold letters was inscribed the word, “PRESIDENT.”
In the end, Presley had been surprised to find that Shelgrim was still in. It was already very late, after six o’clock, and the other offices in the building were in the act of closing. Many of them were already deserted. At every instant, through the open door of the ante-room, he caught a glimpse of clerks, office boys, book-keepers, and other employees hurrying towards the stairs and elevators, quitting business for the day. Shelgrim, it seemed, still remained at his desk, knowing no fatigue, requiring no leisure.
“What time does Mr. Shelgrim usually go home?” inquired Presley of the young man who sat ruling forms at the table in the ante-room.
“Anywhere between half-past six and seven,” the other answered, adding, “Very often he comes back in the evening.”
And the man was seventy years old. Presley could not repress a murmur of astonishment. Not only mentally, then, was the President of the P. and S. W. a giant. Seventy years of age and still at his post, holding there with the energy, with a concentration of purpose that would have wrecked the health and impaired the mind of many men in the prime of their manhood.
But the next instant Presley set his teeth.
“It is an ogre’s vitality,” he said to himself. “Just so is the man-eating tiger strong. The man should have energy who has sucked the life-blood from an entire People.”
A little electric bell on the wall near at hand trilled a warning. The young man who was ruling forms laid down his pen, and opening the door of the President’s office, thrust in his head, then after a word exchanged with the unseen occupant of the room, he swung the door wide, saying to Presley:
“Mr. Shelgrim will see you, sir.”
Presley entered a large, well lighted, but singularly barren office. A well-worn carpet was on the floor, two steel engravings hung against the wall, an extra chair or two stood near a large, plain, littered table. That was absolutely all, unless he excepted the corner wash-stand, on which was set a pitcher of ice water, covered with a clean, stiff napkin. A man, evidently some sort of manager’s assistant, stood at the end of the table, leaning on the back of one of the chairs. Shelgrim himself sat at the table.
He was large, almost to massiveness. An iron-grey beard and a mustache that completely hid the mouth covered the lower part of his face. His eyes were a pale blue, and a little watery; here and there upon his face were moth spots. But the enormous breadth of the shoulders was what, at first, most vividly forced itself upon Presley’s notice. Never had he seen a broader man; the neck, however, seemed in a manner to have settled into the shoulders, and furthermore they were humped and rounded, as if to bear great responsibilities, and great abuse.
At the moment he was wearing a silk skull-cap, pushed to one side and a little awry, a frock coat of broadcloth, with long sleeves, and a waistcoat from the lower buttons of which the cloth was worn and, upon the edges, rubbed away, showing the metal underneath. At the top this waistcoat was unbuttoned and in the shirt front disclosed were two pearl studs.
Presley, uninvited, unnoticed apparently, sat down. The assistant manager was in the act of making a report. His voice was not lowered, and Presley heard every word that was spoken.
The report proved interesting. It concerned a book-keeper in the office of the auditor of disbursements. It seems he was at most times thoroughly reliable, hard-working, industrious, ambitious. But at long intervals the vice of drunkenness seized upon the man and for three days rode him like a hag. Not only during the period of this intemperance, but for the few days immediately following, the man was useless, his work untrustworthy. He was a family man and earnestly strove to rid himself of his habit; he was, when sober, valuable. In consideration of these facts, he had been pardoned again and again.
“You remember, Mr. Shelgrim,” observed the manager, “that you have more than once interfered in his behalf, when we were disposed to let him go. I don’t think we can do anything with him, sir. He promises to reform continually, but it is the same old story. This last time we saw nothing of him for four days. Honestly, Mr. Shelgrim, I think we ought to let Tentell out. We can’t afford to keep him. He is really losing us too much money. Here’s the order ready now, if you care to let it go.”
There was a pause. Presley all attention, listened breathlessly. The assistant manager laid before his President the typewritten order in question. The silence lengthened; in the hall outside, the wrought-iron door of the elevator cage slid to with a clash. Shelgrim did not look at the order. He turned his swivel chair about and faced the windows behind him, looking out with unseeing eyes. At last he spoke:
“Tentell has a family, wife and three children. How much do we pay him?”
“One hundred and thirty.”
“Let’s double that, or say two hundred and fifty. Let’s see how that will do.”
“Why—of course—if you say so, but really, Mr. Shelgrim”
“Well, we’ll try that, anyhow.”
Presley had not time to readjust his perspective to this new point of view of the President of the P. and S. W. before the assistant manager had withdrawn. Shelgrim wrote a few memoranda on his calendar pad, and signed a couple of letters before turning his attention to Presley. At last, he looked up and fixed the young man with a direct, grave glance. He did not smile. It was some time before he spoke. At last, he said:
Presley advanced and took a chair nearer at hand. Shelgrim turned and from his desk picked up and consulted Presley’s card. Presley observed that he read without the use of glasses.
“You,” he said, again facing about, “you are the young man who wrote the poem called ‘The Toilers.’”
“It seems to have made a great deal of talk. I’ve read it, and I’ve seen the picture in Cedarquist’s house, the picture you took the idea from.”
Presley, his senses never more alive, observed that, curiously enough, Shelgrim did not move his body. His arms moved, and his head, but the great bulk of the man remained immobile in its place, and as the interview proceeded and this peculiarity emphasised itself, Presley began to conceive the odd idea that Shelgrim had, as it were, placed his body in the chair to rest, while his head and brain and hands went on working independently. A saucer of shelled filberts stood near his elbow, and from time to time he picked up one of these in a great thumb and forefinger and put it between his teeth.
“I’ve seen the picture called ‘The Toilers,’” continued Shelgrim, “and of the two, I like the picture better than the poem.”
“The picture is by a master,” Presley hastened to interpose.
“And for that reason,” said Shelgrim, “it leaves nothing more to be said. You might just as well have kept quiet. There’s only one best way to say anything. And what has made the picture of ‘The Toilers’ great is that the artist said in it the BEST that could be said on the subject.”
“I had never looked at it in just that light,” observed Presley. He was confused, all at sea, embarrassed. What he had expected to find in Shelgrim, he could not have exactly said. But he had been prepared to come upon an ogre, a brute, a terrible man of blood and iron, and instead had discovered a sentimentalist and an art critic. No standards of measurement in his mental equipment would apply to the actual man, and it began to dawn upon him that possibly it was not because these standards were different in kind, but that they were lamentably deficient in size. He began to see that here was the man not only great, but large; many-sided, of vast sympathies, who understood with equal intelligence, the human nature in an habitual drunkard, the ethics of a masterpiece of painting, and the financiering and operation of ten thousand miles of railroad.
“I had never looked at it in just that light,” repeated Presley. “There is a great deal in what you say.”
“If I am to listen,” continued Shelgrim, “to that kind of talk, I prefer to listen to it first hand. I would rather listen to what the great French painter has to say, than to what YOU have to say about what he has already said.”
His speech, loud and emphatic at first, when the idea of what he had to say was fresh in his mind, lapsed and lowered itself at the end of his sentences as though he had already abandoned and lost interest in that thought, so that the concluding words were indistinct, beneath the grey beard and mustache. Also at times there was the faintest suggestion of a lisp.
“I wrote that poem,” hazarded Presley, “at a time when I was terribly upset. I live,” he concluded, “or did live on the Los Muertos ranch in Tulare County—Magnus Derrick’s ranch.”
“The Railroad’s ranch LEASED to Mr. Derrick,” observed Shelgrim.
Presley spread out his hands with a helpless, resigned gesture.
“And,” continued the President of the P. and S. W. with grave intensity, looking at Presley keenly, “I suppose you believe I am a grand old rascal.”
“I believe,” answered Presley, “I am persuaded——” He hesitated, searching for his words.
“Believe this, young man,” exclaimed Shelgrim, laying a thick powerful forefinger on the table to emphasise his words, “try to believe this—to begin with—THAT RAILROADS BUILD THEMSELVES. Where there is a demand sooner or later there will be a supply. Mr. Derrick, does he grow his wheat? The Wheat grows itself. What does he count for? Does he supply the force? What do I count for? Do I build the Railroad? You are dealing with forces, young man, when you speak of Wheat and the Railroads, not with men. There is the Wheat, the supply. It must be carried to feed the People. There is the demand. The Wheat is one force, the Railroad, another, and there is the law that governs them—supply and demand. Men have only little to do in the whole business. Complications may arise, conditions that bear hard on the individual—crush him maybe—BUT THE WHEAT WILL BE CARRIED TO FEED THE PEOPLE as inevitably as it will grow. If you want to fasten the blame of the affair at Los Muertos on any one person, you will make a mistake. Blame conditions, not men.”
“But—but,” faltered Presley, “you are the head, you control the road.”
“You are a very young man. Control the road! Can I stop it? I can go into bankruptcy if you like. But otherwise if I run my road, as a business proposition, I can do nothing. I can not control it. It is a force born out of certain conditions, and I—no man—can stop it or control it. Can your Mr. Derrick stop the Wheat growing? He can burn his crop, or he can give it away, or sell it for a cent a bushel—just as I could go into bankruptcy—but otherwise his Wheat must grow. Can any one stop the Wheat? Well, then no more can I stop the Road.”
Presley regained the street stupefied, his brain in a whirl. This new idea, this new conception dumfounded him. Somehow, he could not deny it. It rang with the clear reverberation of truth. Was no one, then, to blame for the horror at the irrigating ditch? Forces, conditions, laws of supply and demand—were these then the enemies, after all? Not enemies; there was no malevolence in Nature. Colossal indifference only, a vast trend toward appointed goals. Nature was, then, a gigantic engine, a vast cyclopean power, huge, terrible, a leviathan with a heart of steel, knowing no compunction, no forgiveness, no tolerance; crushing out the human atom standing in its way, with nirvanic calm, the agony of destruction sending never a jar, never the faintest tremour through all that prodigious mechanism of wheels and cogs. He went to his club and ate his supper alone, in gloomy agitation. He was sombre, brooding, lost in a dark maze of gloomy reflections. However, just as he was rising from the table an incident occurred that for the moment roused him and sharply diverted his mind.
His table had been placed near a window and as he was sipping his after-dinner coffee, he happened to glance across the street. His eye was at once caught by the sight of a familiar figure. Was it Minna Hooven? The figure turned the street corner and was lost to sight; but it had been strangely like. On the moment, Presley had risen from the table and, clapping on his hat, had hurried into the streets, where the lamps were already beginning to shine.
But search though he would, Presley could not again come upon the young woman, in whom he fancied he had seen the daughter of the unfortunate German. At last, he gave up the hunt, and returning to his club—at this hour almost deserted—smoked a few cigarettes, vainly attempted to read from a volume of essays in the library, and at last, nervous, distraught, exhausted, retired to his bed.
But none the less, Presley had not been mistaken. The girl whom he had tried to follow had been indeed Minna Hooven.
When Minna, a week before this time, had returned to the lodging house on Castro Street, after a day’s unsuccessful effort to find employment, and was told that her mother and Hilda had gone, she was struck speechless with surprise and dismay. She had never before been in any town larger than Bonneville, and now knew not which way to turn nor how to account for the disappearance of her mother and little Hilda. That the landlady was on the point of turning them out, she understood, but it had been agreed that the family should be allowed to stay yet one more day, in the hope that Minna would find work. Of this she reminded the land-lady. But this latter at once launched upon her such a torrent of vituperation, that the girl was frightened to speechless submission.
“Oh, oh,” she faltered, “I know. I am sorry. I know we owe you money, but where did my mother go? I only want to find her.”
“Oh, I ain’t going to be bothered,” shrilled the other. “How do I know?”
The truth of the matter was that Mrs. Hooven, afraid to stay in the vicinity of the house, after her eviction, and threatened with arrest by the landlady if she persisted in hanging around, had left with the woman a note scrawled on an old blotter, to be given to Minna when she returned. This the landlady had lost. To cover her confusion, she affected a vast indignation, and a turbulent, irascible demeanour.
“I ain’t going to be bothered with such cattle as you,” she vociferated in Minna’s face. “I don’t know where your folks is. Me, I only have dealings with honest people. I ain’t got a word to say so long as the rent is paid. But when I’m soldiered out of a week’s lodging, then I’m done. You get right along now. I don’t know you. I ain’t going to have my place get a bad name by having any South of Market Street chippies hanging around. You get along, or I’ll call an officer.”
Minna sought the street, her head in a whirl. It was about five o’clock. In her pocket was thirty-five cents, all she had in the world. What now?
All at once, the Terror of the City, that blind, unreasoned fear that only the outcast knows, swooped upon her, and clutched her vulture-wise, by the throat.
Her first few days’ experience in the matter of finding employment, had taught her just what she might expect from this new world upon which she had been thrown. What was to become of her? What was she to do, where was she to go? Unanswerable, grim questions, and now she no longer had herself to fear for. Her mother and the baby, little Hilda, both of them equally unable to look after themselves, what was to become of them, where were they gone? Lost, lost, all of them, herself as well. But she rallied herself, as she walked along. The idea of her starving, of her mother and Hilda starving, was out of all reason. Of course, it would not come to that, of course not. It was not thus that starvation came. Something would happen, of course, it would—in time. But meanwhile, meanwhile, how to get through this approaching night, and the next few days. That was the thing to think of just now.
The suddenness of it all was what most unnerved her. During all the nineteen years of her life, she had never known what it meant to shift for herself. Her father had always sufficed for the family; he had taken care of her, then, all of a sudden, her father had been killed, her mother snatched from her. Then all of a sudden there was no help anywhere. Then all of a sudden a terrible voice demanded of her, “Now just what can you do to keep yourself alive?” Life faced her; she looked the huge stone image squarely in the lustreless eyes.
It was nearly twilight. Minna, for the sake of avoiding observation—for it seemed to her that now a thousand prying glances followed her—assumed a matter-of-fact demeanour, and began to walk briskly toward the business quarter of the town.
She was dressed neatly enough, in a blue cloth skirt with a blue plush belt, fairly decent shoes, once her mother’s, a pink shirt waist, and jacket and a straw sailor. She was, in an unusual fashion, pretty. Even her troubles had not dimmed the bright light of her pale, greenish-blue eyes, nor faded the astonishing redness of her lips, nor hollowed her strangely white face. Her blue-black hair was trim. She carried her well-shaped, well-rounded figure erectly. Even in her distress, she observed that men looked keenly at her, and sometimes after her as she went along. But this she noted with a dim sub-conscious faculty. The real Minna, harassed, terrified, lashed with a thousand anxieties, kept murmuring under her breath:
“What shall I do, what shall I do, oh, what shall I do, now?”
After an interminable walk, she gained Kearney Street, and held it till the well-lighted, well-kept neighbourhood of the shopping district gave place to the vice-crowded saloons and concert halls of the Barbary Coast. She turned aside in avoidance of this, only to plunge into the purlieus of Chinatown, whence only she emerged, panic-stricken and out of breath, after a half hour of never-to-be-forgotten terrors, and at a time when it had grown quite dark.
On the corner of California and Dupont streets, she stood a long moment, pondering.
“I MUST do something,” she said to herself. “I must do SOMETHING.” She was tired out by now, and the idea occurred to her to enter the Catholic church in whose shadow she stood, and sit down and rest. This she did. The evening service was just being concluded. But long after the priests and altar boys had departed from the chancel, Minna still sat in the dim, echoing interior, confronting her desperate situation as best she might.
Two or three hours later, the sexton woke her. The church was being closed; she must leave. Once more, chilled with the sharp night air, numb with long sitting in the same attitude, still oppressed with drowsiness, confused, frightened, Minna found herself on the pavement. She began to be hungry, and, at length, yielding to the demand that every moment grew more imperious, bought and eagerly devoured a five-cent bag of fruit. Then, once more she took up the round of walking.
At length, in an obscure street that branched from Kearney Street, near the corner of the Plaza, she came upon an illuminated sign, bearing the inscription, “Beds for the Night, 15 and 25 cents.”
Fifteen cents! Could she afford it? It would leave her with only that much more, that much between herself and a state of privation of which she dared not think; and, besides, the forbidding look of the building frightened her. It was dark, gloomy, dirty, a place suggestive of obscure crimes and hidden terrors. For twenty minutes or half an hour, she hesitated, walking twice and three times around the block. At last, she made up her mind. Exhaustion such as she had never known, weighed like lead upon her shoulders and dragged at her heels. She must sleep. She could not walk the streets all night. She entered the door-way under the sign, and found her way up a filthy flight of stairs. At the top, a man in a blue checked “jumper” was filling a lamp behind a high desk. To him Minna applied.
“I should like,” she faltered, “to have a room—a bed for the night. One of those for fifteen cents will be good enough, I think.”
“Well, this place is only for men,” said the man, looking up from the lamp.
“Oh,” said Minna, “oh—I—I didn’t know.”
She looked at him stupidly, and he, with equal stupidity, returned the gaze. Thus, for a long moment, they held each other’s eyes.
“I—I didn’t know,” repeated Minna.
“Yes, it’s for men,” repeated the other. She slowly descended the stairs, and once more came out upon the streets.
And upon those streets that, as the hours advanced, grew more and more deserted, more and more silent, more and more oppressive with the sense of the bitter hardness of life towards those who have no means of living, Minna Hooven spent the first night of her struggle to keep her head above the ebb-tide of the city’s sea, into which she had been plunged.
Morning came, and with it renewed hunger. At this time, she had found her way uptown again, and towards ten o’clock was sitting upon a bench in a little park full of nurse-maids and children. A group of the maids drew their baby-buggies to Minna’s bench, and sat down, continuing a conversation they had already begun. Minna listened. A friend of one of the maids had suddenly thrown up her position, leaving her “madame” in what would appear to have been deserved embarrassment.
“Oh,” said Minna, breaking in, and lying with sudden unwonted fluency, “I am a nurse-girl. I am out of a place. Do you think I could get that one?”
The group turned and fixed her—so evidently a country girl—with a supercilious indifference.
“Well, you might try,” said one of them. “Got good references?”
“References?” repeated Minna blankly. She did not know what this meant.
“Oh, Mrs. Field ain’t the kind to stick about references,” spoke up the other, “she’s that soft. Why, anybody could work her.”
“I’ll go there,” said Minna. “Have you the address?” It was told to her.
“Lorin,” she murmured. “Is that out of town?”
“Well, it’s across the Bay.”
“Across the Bay.”
“Um. You’re from the country, ain’t you?”
“Yes. How—how do I get there? Is it far?”
“Well, you take the ferry at the foot of Market Street, and then the train on the other side. No, it ain’t very far. Just ask any one down there. They’ll tell you.”
It was a chance; but Minna, after walking down to the ferry slips, found that the round trip would cost her twenty cents. If the journey proved fruitless, only a dime would stand between her and the end of everything. But it was a chance; the only one that had, as yet, presented itself. She made the trip.
And upon the street-railway cars, upon the ferryboats, on the locomotives and way-coaches of the local trains, she was reminded of her father’s death, and of the giant power that had reduced her to her present straits, by the letters, P. and S. W. R. R. To her mind, they occurred everywhere. She seemed to see them in every direction. She fancied herself surrounded upon every hand by the long arms of the monster.
Minute after minute, her hunger gnawed at her. She could not keep her mind from it. As she sat on the boat, she found herself curiously scanning the faces of the passengers, wondering how long since such a one had breakfasted, how long before this other should sit down to lunch.
When Minna descended from the train, at Lorin on the other side of the Bay, she found that the place was one of those suburban towns, not yet become fashionable, such as may be seen beyond the outskirts of any large American city. All along the line of the railroad thereabouts, houses, small villas—contractors’ ventures—were scattered, the advantages of suburban lots and sites for homes being proclaimed in seven-foot letters upon mammoth bill-boards close to the right of way. Without much trouble, Minna found the house to which she had been directed, a pretty little cottage, set back from the street and shaded by palms, live oaks, and the inevitable eucalyptus. Her heart warmed at the sight of it. Oh, to find a little niche for herself here, a home, a refuge from those horrible city streets, from the rat of famine, with its relentless tooth. How she would work, how strenuously she would endeavour to please, how patient of rebuke she would be, how faithful, how conscientious. Nor were her pretensions altogether false; upon her, while at home, had devolved almost continually the care of the baby Hilda, her little sister. She knew the wants and needs of children.
Her heart beating, her breath failing, she rang the bell set squarely in the middle of the front door.
The lady of the house herself, an elderly lady, with pleasant, kindly face, opened the door. Minna stated her errand.
“But I have already engaged a girl,” she said.
“Oh,” murmured Minna, striving with all her might to maintain appearances. “Oh—I thought perhaps—” She turned away.
“I’m sorry,” said the lady. Then she added, “Would you care to look after so many as three little children, and help around in light housework between whiles?”
“Yes, ma’am.” “Because my sister—she lives in North Berkeley, above here—she’s looking far a girl. Have you had lots of experience? Got good references?”
“Well, I’ll give you the address. She lives up in North Berkeley.”
She turned back into the house a moment, and returned, handing Minna a card.
“That’s where she lives—careful not to BLOT it, child, the ink’s wet yet—you had better see her.”
“Is it far? Could I walk there?”
“My, no; you better take the electric cars, about six blocks above here.”
When Minna arrived in North Berkeley, she had no money left. By a cruel mistake, she had taken a car going in the wrong direction, and though her error was rectified easily enough, it had cost her her last five-cent piece. She was now to try her last hope. Promptly it crumbled away. Like the former, this place had been already filled, and Minna left the door of the house with the certainty that her chance had come to naught, and that now she entered into the last struggle with life—the death struggle—shorn of her last pitiful defence, her last safeguard, her last penny.
As she once more resumed her interminable walk, she realised she was weak, faint; and she knew that it was the weakness of complete exhaustion, and the faintness of approaching starvation. Was this the end coming on? Terror of death aroused her.
“I MUST, I MUST do something, oh, anything. I must have something to eat.”
At this late hour, the idea of pawning her little jacket occurred to her, but now she was far away from the city and its pawnshops, and there was no getting back.
She walked on. An hour passed. She lost her sense of direction, became confused, knew not where she was going, turned corners and went up by-streets without knowing why, anything to keep moving, for she fancied that so soon as she stood still, the rat in the pit of her stomach gnawed more eagerly.
At last, she entered what seemed to be, if not a park, at least some sort of public enclosure. There were many trees; the place was beautiful; well-kept roads and walks led sinuously and invitingly underneath the shade. Through the trees upon the other side of a wide expanse of turf, brown and sear under the summer sun, she caught a glimpse of tall buildings and a flagstaff. The whole place had a vaguely public, educational appearance, and Minna guessed, from certain notices affixed to the trees, warning the public against the picking of flowers, that she had found her way into the grounds of the State University. She went on a little further. The path she was following led her, at length, into a grove of gigantic live oaks, whose lower branches all but swept the ground. Here the grass was green, the few flowers in bloom, the shade very thick. A more lovely spot she had seldom seen. Near at hand was a bench, built around the trunk of the largest live oak, and here, at length, weak from hunger, exhausted to the limits of her endurance, despairing, abandoned, Minna Hooven sat down to enquire of herself what next she could do.
But once seated, the demands of the animal—so she could believe—became more clamorous, more insistent. To eat, to rest, to be safely housed against another night, above all else, these were the things she craved; and the craving within her grew so mighty that she crisped her poor, starved hands into little fists, in an agony of desire, while the tears ran from her eyes, and the sobs rose thick from her breast and struggled and strangled in her aching throat.
But in a few moments Minna was aware that a woman, apparently of some thirty years of age, had twice passed along the walk in front of the bench where she sat, and now, as she took more notice of her, she remembered that she had seen her on the ferry-boat coming over from the city.
The woman was gowned in silk, tightly corseted, and wore a hat of rather ostentatious smartness. Minna became convinced that the person was watching her, but before she had a chance to act upon this conviction she was surprised out of all countenance by the stranger coming up to where she sat and speaking to her.
“Here is a coincidence,” exclaimed the new-comer, as she sat down; “surely you are the young girl who sat opposite me on the boat. Strange I should come across you again. I’ve had you in mind ever since.”
On this nearer view Minna observed that the woman’s face bore rather more than a trace of enamel and that the atmosphere about was impregnated with sachet. She was not otherwise conspicuous, but there was a certain hardness about her mouth and a certain droop of fatigue in her eyelids which, combined with an indefinite self-confidence of manner, held Minna’s attention.
“Do you know,” continued the woman, “I believe you are in trouble. I thought so when I saw you on the boat, and I think so now. Are you? Are you in trouble? You’re from the country, ain’t you?”
Minna, glad to find a sympathiser, even in this chance acquaintance, admitted that she was in distress; that she had become separated from her mother, and that she was indeed from the country.
“I’ve been trying to find a situation,” she hazarded in conclusion, “but I don’t seem to succeed. I’ve never been in a city before, except Bonneville.”
“Well, it IS a coincidence,” said the other. “I know I wasn’t drawn to you for nothing. I am looking for just such a young girl as you. You see, I live alone a good deal and I’ve been wanting to find a nice, bright, sociable girl who will be a sort of COMPANION to me. Understand? And there’s something about you that I like. I took to you the moment I saw you on the boat. Now shall we talk this over?”
Towards the end of the week, one afternoon, as Presley was returning from his club, he came suddenly face to face with Minna upon a street corner.
“Ah,” he cried, coming toward her joyfully. “Upon my word, I had almost given you up. I’ve been looking everywhere for you. I was afraid you might not be getting along, and I wanted to see if there was anything I could do. How are your mother and Hilda? Where are you stopping? Have you got a good place?”
“I don’t know where mamma is,” answered Minna. “We got separated, and I never have been able to find her again.”
Meanwhile, Presley had been taking in with a quick eye the details of Minna’s silk dress, with its garniture of lace, its edging of velvet, its silver belt-buckle. Her hair was arranged in a new way and on her head was a wide hat with a flare to one side, set off with a gilt buckle and a puff of bright blue plush. He glanced at her sharply.
“Well, but—but how are you getting on?” he demanded.
Minna laughed scornfully.
“I?” she cried. “Oh, I’VE gone to hell. It was either that or starvation.”
Presley regained his room at the club, white and trembling. Worse than the worst he had feared had happened. He had not been soon enough to help. He had failed again. A superstitious fear assailed him that he was, in a manner, marked; that he was foredoomed to fail. Minna had come—had been driven to this; and he, acting too late upon his tardy resolve, had not been able to prevent it. Were the horrors, then, never to end? Was the grisly spectre of consequence to forever dance in his vision? Were the results, the far-reaching results of that battle at the irrigating ditch to cross his path forever? When would the affair be terminated, the incident closed? Where was that spot to which the tentacle of the monster could not reach?
By now, he was sick with the dread of it all. He wanted to get away, to be free from that endless misery, so that he might not see what he could no longer help. Cowardly he now knew himself to be. He thought of himself only with loathing.
Bitterly self-contemptuous that he could bring himself to a participation in such trivialities, he began to dress to keep his engagement to dine with the Cedarquists.
He arrived at the house nearly half an hour late, but before he could take off his overcoat, Mrs. Cedarquist appeared in the doorway of the drawing-room at the end of the hall. She was dressed as if to go out.
“My DEAR Presley,” she exclaimed, her stout, over-dressed body bustling toward him with a great rustle of silk. “I never was so glad. You poor, dear poet, you are thin as a ghost. You need a better dinner than I can give you, and that is just what you are to have.”
“Have I blundered?” Presley hastened to exclaim. “Did not Mr. Cedarquist mention Friday evening?”
“No, no, no,” she cried; “it was he who blundered. YOU blundering in a social amenity! Preposterous! No; Mr. Cedarquist forgot that we were dining out ourselves to-night, and when he told me he had asked you here for the same evening, I fell upon the man, my dear, I did actually, tooth and nail. But I wouldn’t hear of his wiring you. I just dropped a note to our hostess, asking if I could not bring you, and when I told her who you WERE, she received the idea with, oh, empressement. So, there it is, all settled. Cedarquist and the girls are gone on ahead, and you are to take the old lady like a dear, dear poet. I believe I hear the carriage. Allons! En voiture!”
Once settled in the cool gloom of the coupe, odorous of leather and upholstery, Mrs. Cedarquist exclaimed:
“And I’ve never told you who you were to dine with; oh, a personage, really. Fancy, you will be in the camp of your dearest foes. You are to dine with the Gerard people, one of the Vice-Presidents of your bete noir, the P. and S. W. Railroad.”
Presley started, his fists clenching so abruptly as to all but split his white gloves. He was not conscious of what he said in reply, and Mrs. Cedarquist was so taken up with her own endless stream of talk that she did not observe his confusion.
“Their daughter Honora is going to Europe next week; her mother is to take her, and Mrs. Gerard is to have just a few people to dinner—very informal, you know—ourselves, you and, oh, I don’t know, two or three others. Have you ever seen Honora? The prettiest little thing, and will she be rich? Millions, I would not dare say how many. Tiens. Nous voici.”
The coupe drew up to the curb, and Presley followed Mrs. Cedarquist up the steps to the massive doors of the great house. In a confused daze, he allowed one of the footmen to relieve him of his hat and coat; in a daze he rejoined Mrs. Cedarquist in a room with a glass roof, hung with pictures, the art gallery, no doubt, and in a daze heard their names announced at the entrance of another room, the doors of which were hung with thick, blue curtains.
He entered, collecting his wits for the introductions and presentations that he foresaw impended.
The room was very large, and of excessive loftiness. Flat, rectagonal pillars of a rose-tinted, variegated marble, rose from the floor almost flush with the walls, finishing off at the top with gilded capitals of a Corinthian design, which supported the ceiling. The ceiling itself, instead of joining the walls at right angles, curved to meet them, a device that produced a sort of dome-like effect. This ceiling was a maze of golden involutions in very high relief, that adjusted themselves to form a massive framing for a great picture, nymphs and goddesses, white doves, golden chariots and the like, all wreathed about with clouds and garlands of roses. Between the pillars around the sides of the room were hangings of silk, the design—of a Louis Quinze type—of beautiful simplicity and faultless taste. The fireplace was a marvel. It reached from floor to ceiling; the lower parts, black marble, carved into crouching Atlases, with great muscles that upbore the superstructure. The design of this latter, of a kind of purple marble, shot through with white veinings, was in the same style as the design of the silk hangings. In its midst was a bronze escutcheon, bearing an undecipherable monogram and a Latin motto. Andirons of brass, nearly six feet high, flanked the hearthstone.
The windows of the room were heavily draped in sombre brocade and ecru lace, in which the initials of the family were very beautifully worked. But directly opposite the fireplace, an extra window, lighted from the adjoining conservatory, threw a wonderful, rich light into the apartment. It was a Gothic window of stained glass, very large, the centre figures being armed warriors, Parsifal and Lohengrin; the one with a banner, the other with a swan. The effect was exquisite, the window a veritable masterpiece, glowing, flaming, and burning with a hundred tints and colours—opalescent, purple, wine-red, clouded pinks, royal blues, saffrons, violets so dark as to be almost black.
Under foot, the carpet had all the softness of texture of grass; skins (one of them of an enormous polar bear) and rugs of silk velvet were spread upon the floor. A Renaissance cabinet of ebony, many feet taller than Presley’s head, and inlaid with ivory and silver, occupied one corner of the room, while in its centre stood a vast table of Flemish oak, black, heavy as iron, massive. A faint odour of sandalwood pervaded the air. From the conservatory near-by, came the splashing of a fountain. A row of electric bulbs let into the frieze of the walls between the golden capitals, and burning dimly behind hemispheres of clouded glass, threw a subdued light over the whole scene.
Mrs. Gerard came forward.
“This is Mr. Presley, of course, our new poet of whom we are all so proud. I was so afraid you would be unable to come. You have given me a real pleasure in allowing me to welcome you here.”
The footman appeared at her elbow.
“Dinner is served, madame,” he announced.
When Mrs. Hooven had left the boarding-house on Castro Street, she had taken up a position on a neighbouring corner, to wait for Minna’s reappearance. Little Hilda, at this time hardly more than six years of age, was with her, holding to her hand.
Mrs. Hooven was by no means an old woman, but hard work had aged her. She no longer had any claim to good looks. She no longer took much interest in her personal appearance. At the time of her eviction from the Castro Street boarding-house, she wore a faded black bonnet, garnished with faded artificial flowers of dirty pink. A plaid shawl was about her shoulders. But this day of misfortune had set Mrs. Hooven adrift in even worse condition than her daughter. Her purse, containing a miserable handful of dimes and nickels, was in her trunk, and her trunk was in the hands of the landlady. Minna had been allowed such reprieve as her thirty-five cents would purchase. The destitution of Mrs. Hooven and her little girl had begun from the very moment of her eviction.
While she waited for Minna, watching every street car and every approaching pedestrian, a policeman appeared, asked what she did, and, receiving no satisfactory reply, promptly moved her on.
Minna had had little assurance in facing the life struggle of the city. Mrs. Hooven had absolutely none. In her, grief, distress, the pinch of poverty, and, above all, the nameless fear of the turbulent, fierce life of the streets, had produced a numbness, an embruted, sodden, silent, speechless condition of dazed mind, and clogged, unintelligent speech. She was dumb, bewildered, stupid, animated but by a single impulse. She clung to life, and to the life of her little daughter Hilda, with the blind tenacity of purpose of a drowning cat.
Thus, when ordered to move on by the officer, she had silently obeyed, not even attempting to explain her situation. She walked away to the next street-crossing. Then, in a few moments returned, taking up her place on the corner near the boarding-house, spying upon the approaching cable cars, peeping anxiously down the length of the sidewalks.
Once more, the officer ordered her away, and once more, unprotesting, she complied. But when for the third time the policeman found her on the forbidden spot, he had lost his temper. This time when Mrs. Hooven departed, he had followed her, and when, bewildered, persistent, she had attempted to turn back, he caught her by the shoulder.
“Do you want to get arrested, hey?” he demanded. “Do you want me to lock you up? Say, do you, speak up?”
The ominous words at length reached Mrs. Hooven’s comprehension. Arrested! She was to be arrested. The countrywoman’s fear of the Jail nipped and bit eagerly at her unwilling heels. She hurried off, thinking to return to her post after the policeman should have gone away. But when, at length, turning back, she tried to find the boarding-house, she suddenly discovered that she was on an unfamiliar street. Unwittingly, no doubt, she had turned a corner. She could not retrace her steps. She and Hilda were lost.
“Mammy, I’m tired,” Hilda complained.
Her mother picked her up.
“Mammy, where’re we gowun, mammy?”
Where, indeed? Stupefied, Mrs. Hooven looked about her at the endless blocks of buildings, the endless procession of vehicles in the streets, the endless march of pedestrians on the sidewalks. Where was Minna; where was she and her baby to sleep that night? How was Hilda to be fed?
She could not stand still. There was no place to sit down; but one thing was left, walk.
Ah, that via dolorosa of the destitute, that chemin de la croix of the homeless. Ah, the mile after mile of granite pavement that MUST be, MUST be traversed. Walk they must. Move, they must; onward, forward, whither they cannot tell; why, they do not know. Walk, walk, walk with bleeding feet and smarting joints; walk with aching back and trembling knees; walk, though the senses grow giddy with fatigue, though the eyes droop with sleep, though every nerve, demanding rest, sets in motion its tiny alarm of pain. Death is at the end of that devious, winding maze of paths, crossed and re-crossed and crossed again. There is but one goal to the via dolorosa; there is no escape from the central chamber of that labyrinth. Fate guides the feet of them that are set therein. Double on their steps though they may, weave in and out of the myriad corners of the city’s streets, return, go forward, back, from side to side, here, there, anywhere, dodge, twist, wind, the central chamber where Death sits is reached inexorably at the end.
Sometimes leading and sometimes carrying Hilda, Mrs. Hooven set off upon her objectless journey. Block after block she walked, street after street. She was afraid to stop, because of the policemen. As often as she so much as slackened her pace, she was sure to see one of these terrible figures in the distance, watching her, so it seemed to her, waiting for her to halt for the fraction of a second, in order that he might have an excuse to arrest her.
Hilda fretted incessantly.
“Mammy, where’re we gowun? Mammy, I’m tired.” Then, at last, for the first time, that plaint that stabbed the mother’s heart:
“Mammy, I’m hungry.”
“Be qui-ut, den,” said Mrs. Hooven. “Bretty soon we’ll hev der subber.”
Passers-by on the sidewalk, men and women in the great six o’clock homeward march, jostled them as they went along. With dumb, dull curiousness, she looked into one after another of the limitless stream of faces, and she fancied she saw in them every emotion but pity. The faces were gay, were anxious, were sorrowful, were mirthful, were lined with thought, or were merely flat and expressionless, but not one was turned toward her in compassion. The expressions of the faces might be various, but an underlying callousness was discoverable beneath every mask. The people seemed removed from her immeasurably; they were infinitely above her. What was she to them, she and her baby, the crippled outcasts of the human herd, the unfit, not able to survive, thrust out on the heath to perish?
To beg from these people did not yet occur to her. There was no pride, however, in the matter. She would have as readily asked alms of so many sphinxes.
She went on. Without willing it, her feet carried her in a wide circle. Soon she began to recognise the houses; she had been in that street before. Somehow, this was distasteful to her; so, striking off at right angles, she walked straight before her for over a dozen blocks. By now, it was growing darker. The sun had set. The hands of a clock on the power-house of a cable line pointed to seven. No doubt, Minna had come long before this time, had found her mother gone, and had—just what had she done, just what COULD she do? Where was her daughter now? Walking the streets herself, no doubt. What was to become of Minna, pretty girl that she was, lost, houseless and friendless in the maze of these streets? Mrs. Hooven, roused from her lethargy, could not repress an exclamation of anguish. Here was misfortune indeed; here was calamity. She bestirred herself, and remembered the address of the boarding-house. She might inquire her way back thither. No doubt, by now the policeman would be gone home for the night. She looked about. She was in the district of modest residences, and a young man was coming toward her, carrying a new garden hose looped around his shoulder.
“Say, Meest’r; say, blease——”
The young man gave her a quick look and passed on, hitching the coil of hose over his shoulder. But a few paces distant, he slackened in his walk and fumbled in his vest pocket with his fingers. Then he came back to Mrs. Hooven and put a quarter into her hand.
Mrs. Hooven stared at the coin stupefied. The young man disappeared. He thought, then, that she was begging. It had come to that; she, independent all her life, whose husband had held five hundred acres of wheat land, had been taken for a beggar. A flush of shame shot to her face. She was about to throw the money after its giver. But at the moment, Hilda again exclaimed:
“Mammy, I’m hungry.”
With a movement of infinite lassitude and resigned acceptance of the situation, Mrs. Hooven put the coin in her pocket. She had no right to be proud any longer. Hilda must have food.
That evening, she and her child had supper at a cheap restaurant in a poor quarter of the town, and passed the night on the benches of a little uptown park.
Unused to the ways of the town, ignorant as to the customs and possibilities of eating-houses, she spent the whole of her quarter upon supper for herself and Hilda, and had nothing left wherewith to buy a lodging.
The night was dreadful; Hilda sobbed herself to sleep on her mother’s shoulder, waking thereafter from hour to hour, to protest, though wrapped in her mother’s shawl, that she was cold, and to enquire why they did not go to bed. Drunken men snored and sprawled near at hand. Towards morning, a loafer, reeking of alcohol, sat down beside her, and indulged in an incoherent soliloquy, punctuated with oaths and obscenities. It was not till far along towards daylight that she fell asleep.
She awoke to find it broad day. Hilda—mercifully—slept. Her mother’s limbs were stiff and lame with cold and damp; her head throbbed. She moved to another bench which stood in the rays of the sun, and for a long two hours sat there in the thin warmth, till the moisture of the night that clung to her clothes was evaporated.
A policeman came into view. She woke Hilda, and carrying her in her arms, took herself away.
“Mammy,” began Hilda as soon as she was well awake; “Mammy, I’m hungry. I want mein breakfest.”
“Sure, sure, soon now, leedle tochter.”
She herself was hungry, but she had but little thought of that. How was Hilda to be fed? She remembered her experience of the previous day, when the young man with the hose had given her money. Was it so easy, then, to beg? Could charity be had for the asking? So it seemed; but all that was left of her sturdy independence revolted at the thought. SHE beg! SHE hold out the hand to strangers!
“Mammy, I’m hungry.”
There was no other way. It must come to that in the end. Why temporise, why put off the inevitable? She sought out a frequented street where men and women were on their way to work. One after another, she let them go by, searching their faces, deterred at the very last moment by some trifling variation of expression, a firm set mouth, a serious, level eyebrow, an advancing chin. Then, twice, when she had made a choice, and brought her resolution to the point of speech, she quailed, shrinking, her ears tingling, her whole being protesting against the degradation. Every one must be looking at her. Her shame was no doubt the object of an hundred eyes.
“Mammy, I’m hungry,” protested Hilda again.
She made up her mind. What, though, was she to say? In what words did beggars ask for assistance?
She tried to remember how tramps who had appeared at her back door on Los Muertos had addressed her; how and with what formula certain mendicants of Bonneville had appealed to her. Then, having settled upon a phrase, she approached a whiskered gentleman with a large stomach, walking briskly in the direction of the town.
“Say, den, blease hellup a boor womun.”
The gentleman passed on.
“Perhaps he doand hear me,” she murmured.
Two well-dressed women advanced, chattering gayly.
“Say, say, den, blease hellup a boor womun.”
One of the women paused, murmuring to her companion, and from her purse extracted a yellow ticket which she gave to Mrs. Hooven with voluble explanations. But Mrs. Hooven was confused, she did not understand. What could the ticket mean? The women went on their way.
The next person to whom she applied was a young girl of about eighteen, very prettily dressed.
“Say, say, den, blease hellup a boor womun.”
In evident embarrassment, the young girl paused and searched in her little pocketbook. “I think I have—I think—I have just ten cents here somewhere,” she murmured again and again.
In the end, she found a dime, and dropped it into Mrs. Hooven’s palm.
That was the beginning. The first step once taken, the others became easy. All day long, Mrs. Hooven and Hilda followed the streets, begging, begging. Here it was a nickel, there a dime, here a nickel again. But she was not expert in the art, nor did she know where to buy food the cheapest; and the entire day’s work resulted only in barely enough for two meals of bread, milk, and a wretchedly cooked stew. Tuesday night found the pair once more shelterless.
Once more, Mrs. Hooven and her baby passed the night on the park benches. But early on Wednesday morning, Mrs. Hooven found herself assailed by sharp pains and cramps in her stomach. What was the cause she could not say; but as the day went on, the pains increased, alternating with hot flushes over all her body, and a certain weakness and faintness. As the day went on, the pain and the weakness increased. When she tried to walk, she found she could do so only with the greatest difficulty. Here was fresh misfortune. To beg, she must walk. Dragging herself forward a half-block at a time, she regained the street once more. She succeeded in begging a couple of nickels, bought a bag of apples from a vender, and, returning to the park, sank exhausted upon a bench.
Here she remained all day until evening, Hilda alternately whimpering for her bread and milk, or playing languidly in the gravel walk at her feet. In the evening, she started out again. This time, it was bitter hard. Nobody seemed inclined to give. Twice she was “moved on” by policemen. Two hours’ begging elicited but a single dime. With this, she bought Hilda’s bread and milk, and refusing herself to eat, returned to the bench—the only home she knew—and spent the night shivering with cold, burning with fever.
From Wednesday morning till Friday evening, with the exception of the few apples she had bought, and a quarter of a loaf of hard bread that she found in a greasy newspaper—scraps of a workman’s dinner—Mrs. Hooven had nothing to eat. In her weakened condition, begging became hourly more difficult, and such little money as was given her, she resolutely spent on Hilda’s bread and milk in the morning and evening.
By Friday afternoon, she was very weak, indeed. Her eyes troubled her. She could no longer see distinctly, and at times there appeared to her curious figures, huge crystal goblets of the most graceful shapes, floating and swaying in the air in front of her, almost within arm’s reach. Vases of elegant forms, made of shimmering glass, bowed and courtesied toward her. Glass bulbs took graceful and varying shapes before her vision, now rounding into globes, now evolving into hour-glasses, now twisting into pretzel-shaped convolutions.
“Mammy, I’m hungry,” insisted Hilda, passing her hands over her face. Mrs. Hooven started and woke. It was Friday evening. Already the street lamps were being lit.
“Gome, den, leedle girl,” she said, rising and taking Hilda’s hand. “Gome, den, we go vind subber, hey?”
She issued from the park and took a cross street, directly away from the locality where she had begged the previous days. She had had no success there of late. She would try some other quarter of the town. After a weary walk, she came out upon Van Ness Avenue, near its junction with Market Street. She turned into the avenue, and went on toward the Bay, painfully traversing block after block, begging of all whom she met (for she no longer made any distinction among the passers-by).
“Say, say, den, blease hellup a boor womun.”
“Mammy, mammy, I’m hungry.”
It was Friday night, between seven and eight. The great deserted avenue was already dark. A sea fog was scudding overhead, and by degrees descending lower. The warmth was of the meagerest, and the street lamps, birds of fire in cages of glass, fluttered and danced in the prolonged gusts of the trade wind that threshed and weltered in the city streets from off the ocean.
Presley entered the dining-room of the Gerard mansion with little Miss Gerard on his arm. The other guests had preceded them—Cedarquist with Mrs. Gerard; a pale-faced, languid young man (introduced to Presley as Julian Lambert) with Presley’s cousin Beatrice, one of the twin daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Cedarquist; his brother Stephen, whose hair was straight as an Indian’s, but of a pallid straw color, with Beatrice’s sister; Gerard himself, taciturn, bearded, rotund, loud of breath, escorted Mrs. Cedarquist. Besides these, there were one or two other couples, whose names Presley did not remember.
The dining-room was superb in its appointments. On three sides of the room, to the height of some ten feet, ran a continuous picture, an oil painting, divided into long sections by narrow panels of black oak. The painting represented the personages in the Romaunt de la Rose, and was conceived in an atmosphere of the most delicate, most ephemeral allegory. One saw young chevaliers, blue-eyed, of elemental beauty and purity; women with crowns, gold girdles, and cloudy wimples; young girls, entrancing in their loveliness, wearing snow-white kerchiefs, their golden hair unbound and flowing, dressed in white samite, bearing armfuls of flowers; the whole procession defiling against a background of forest glades, venerable oaks, half-hidden fountains, and fields of asphodel and roses.
Otherwise, the room was simple. Against the side of the wall unoccupied by the picture stood a sideboard of gigantic size, that once had adorned the banquet hall of an Italian palace of the late Renaissance. It was black with age, and against its sombre surfaces glittered an array of heavy silver dishes and heavier cut-glass bowls and goblets.
The company sat down to the first course of raw Blue Point oysters, served upon little pyramids of shaved ice, and the two butlers at once began filling the glasses of the guests with cool Haut Sauterne.
Mrs. Gerard, who was very proud of her dinners, and never able to resist the temptation of commenting upon them to her guests, leaned across to Presley and Mrs. Cedarquist, murmuring, “Mr. Presley, do you find that Sauterne too cold? I always believe it is so bourgeois to keep such a delicate wine as Sauterne on the ice, and to ice Bordeaux or Burgundy—oh, it is nothing short of a crime.”
“This is from your own vineyard, is it not?” asked Julian Lambert. “I think I recognise the bouquet.”
He strove to maintain an attitude of fin gourmet, unable to refrain from comment upon the courses as they succeeded one another.
Little Honora Gerard turned to Presley:
“You know,” she explained, “Papa has his own vineyards in southern France. He is so particular about his wines; turns up his nose at California wines. And I am to go there next summer. Ferrieres is the name of the place where our vineyards are, the dearest village!” She was a beautiful little girl of a dainty porcelain type, her colouring low in tone. She wore no jewels, but her little, undeveloped neck and shoulders, of an exquisite immaturity, rose from the tulle bodice of her first decollete gown.
“Yes,” she continued; “I’m to go to Europe for the first time. Won’t it be gay? And I am to have my own bonne, and Mamma and I are to travel—so many places, Baden, Homburg, Spa, the Tyrol. Won’t it be gay?”
Presley assented in meaningless words. He sipped his wine mechanically, looking about that marvellous room, with its subdued saffron lights, its glitter of glass and silver, its beautiful women in their elaborate toilets, its deft, correct servants; its array of tableware—cut glass, chased silver, and Dresden crockery. It was Wealth, in all its outward and visible forms, the signs of an opulence so great that it need never be husbanded. It was the home of a railway “Magnate,” a Railroad King. For this, then, the farmers paid. It was for this that S. Behrman turned the screw, tightened the vise. It was for this that Dyke had been driven to outlawry and a jail. It was for this that Lyman Derrick had been bought, the Governor ruined and broken, Annixter shot down, Hooven killed.
The soup, puree a la Derby, was served, and at the same time, as hors d’oeuvres, ortolan patties, together with a tiny sandwich made of browned toast and thin slices of ham, sprinkled over with Parmesan cheese. The wine, so Mrs. Gerard caused it to be understood, was Xeres, of the 1815 vintage.
Mrs. Hooven crossed the avenue. It was growing late. Without knowing it, she had come to a part of the city that experienced beggars shunned. There was nobody about. Block after block of residences stretched away on either hand, lighted, full of people. But the sidewalks were deserted.
“Mammy,” whimpered Hilda. “I’m tired, carry me.”
Using all her strength, Mrs. Hooven picked her up and moved on aimlessly.
Then again that terrible cry, the cry of the hungry child appealing to the helpless mother:
“Mammy, I’m hungry.”
“Ach, Gott, leedle girl,” exclaimed Mrs. Hooven, holding her close to her shoulder, the tears starting from her eyes. “Ach, leedle tochter. Doand, doand, doand. You praik my hairt. I cen’t vind any subber. We got noddings to eat, noddings, noddings.”
“When do we have those bread’n milk again, Mammy?”
“To-morrow—soon—py-and-py, Hilda. I doand know what pecome oaf us now, what pecome oaf my leedle babby.”
She went on, holding Hilda against her shoulder with one arm as best she might, one hand steadying herself against the fence railings along the sidewalk. At last, a solitary pedestrian came into view, a young man in a top hat and overcoat, walking rapidly. Mrs. Hooven held out a quivering hand as he passed her.
“Say, say, den, Meest’r, blease hellup a boor womun.”
The other hurried on.
The fish course was grenadins of bass and small salmon, the latter stuffed, and cooked in white wine and mushroom liquor.
“I have read your poem, of course, Mr. Presley,” observed Mrs. Gerard. “‘The Toilers,’ I mean. What a sermon you read us, you dreadful young man. I felt that I ought at once to ‘sell all that I have and give to the poor.’ Positively, it did stir me up. You may congratulate yourself upon making at least one convert. Just because of that poem Mrs. Cedarquist and I have started a movement to send a whole shipload of wheat to the starving people in India. Now, you horrid reactionnaire, are you satisfied?”
“I am very glad,” murmured Presley.
“But I am afraid,” observed Mrs. Cedarquist, “that we may be too late. They are dying so fast, those poor people. By the time our ship reaches India the famine may be all over.”
“One need never be afraid of being ‘too late’ in the matter of helping the destitute,” answered Presley. “Unfortunately, they are always a fixed quantity. ‘The poor ye have always with you.’”
“How very clever that is,” said Mrs. Gerard.
Mrs. Cedarquist tapped the table with her fan in mild applause.
“Brilliant, brilliant,” she murmured, “epigrammatical.”
“Honora,” said Mrs. Gerard, turning to her daughter, at that moment in conversation with the languid Lambert, “Honora, entends-tu, ma cherie, l’esprit de notre jeune Lamartine.”
Mrs. Hooven went on, stumbling from street to street, holding Hilda to her breast. Famine gnawed incessantly at her stomach; walk though she might, turn upon her tracks up and down the streets, back to the avenue again, incessantly and relentlessly the torture dug into her vitals. She was hungry, hungry, and if the want of food harassed and rended her, full-grown woman that she was, what must it be in the poor, starved stomach of her little girl? Oh, for some helping hand now, oh, for one little mouthful, one little nibble! Food, food, all her wrecked body clamoured for nourishment; anything to numb those gnawing teeth—an abandoned loaf, hard, mouldered; a half-eaten fruit, yes, even the refuse of the gutter, even the garbage of the ash heap. On she went, peering into dark corners, into the areaways, anywhere, everywhere, watching the silent prowling of cats, the intent rovings of stray dogs. But she was growing weaker; the pains and cramps in her stomach returned. Hilda’s weight bore her to the pavement. More than once a great giddiness, a certain wheeling faintness all but overcame her. Hilda, however, was asleep. To wake her would only mean to revive her to the consciousness of hunger; yet how to carry her further? Mrs. Hooven began to fear that she would fall with her child in her arms. The terror of a collapse upon those cold pavements glistening with fog-damp roused her; she must make an effort to get through the night. She rallied all her strength, and pausing a moment to shift the weight of her baby to the other arm, once more set off through the night. A little while later she found on the edge of the sidewalk the peeling of a banana. It had been trodden upon and it was muddy, but joyfully she caught it up.
“Hilda,” she cried, “wake oop, leedle girl. See, loog den, dere’s somedings to eat. Look den, hey? Dat’s goot, ain’t it? Zum bunaner.”
But it could not be eaten. Decayed, dirty, all but rotting, the stomach turned from the refuse, nauseated.
“No, no,” cried Hilda, “that’s not good. I can’t eat it. Oh, Mammy, please gif me those bread’n milk.”
By now the guests of Mrs. Gerard had come to the entrees—Londonderry pheasants, escallops of duck, and rissolettes a la pompadour. The wine was Chateau Latour.
All around the table conversations were going forward gayly. The good wines had broken up the slight restraint of the early part of the evening and a spirit of good humour and good fellowship prevailed. Young Lambert and Mr. Gerard were deep in reminiscences of certain mutual duck-shooting expeditions. Mrs. Gerard and Mrs. Cedarquist discussed a novel—a strange mingling of psychology, degeneracy, and analysis of erotic conditions—which had just been translated from the Italian. Stephen Lambert and Beatrice disputed over the merits of a Scotch collie just given to the young lady. The scene was gay, the electric bulbs sparkled, the wine flashing back the light. The entire table was a vague glow of white napery, delicate china, and glass as brilliant as crystal. Behind the guests the serving-men came and went, filling the glasses continually, changing the covers, serving the entrees, managing the dinner without interruption, confusion, or the slightest unnecessary noise.
But Presley could find no enjoyment in the occasion. From that picture of feasting, that scene of luxury, that atmosphere of decorous, well-bred refinement, his thoughts went back to Los Muertos and Quien Sabe and the irrigating ditch at Hooven’s. He saw them fall, one by one, Harran, Annixter, Osterman, Broderson, Hooven. The clink of the wine glasses was drowned in the explosion of revolvers. The Railroad might indeed be a force only, which no man could control and for which no man was responsible, but his friends had been killed, but years of extortion and oppression had wrung money from all the San Joaquin, money that had made possible this very scene in which he found himself. Because Magnus had been beggared, Gerard had become Railroad King; because the farmers of the valley were poor, these men were rich.
The fancy grew big in his mind, distorted, caricatured, terrible. Because the farmers had been killed at the irrigation ditch, these others, Gerard and his family, fed full. They fattened on the blood of the People, on the blood of the men who had been killed at the ditch. It was a half-ludicrous, half-horrible “dog eat dog,” an unspeakable cannibalism. Harran, Annixter, and Hooven were being devoured there under his eyes. These dainty women, his cousin Beatrice and little Miss Gerard, frail, delicate; all these fine ladies with their small fingers and slender necks, suddenly were transfigured in his tortured mind into harpies tearing human flesh. His head swam with the horror of it, the terror of it. Yes, the People WOULD turn some day, and turning, rend those who now preyed upon them. It would be “dog eat dog” again, with positions reversed, and he saw for one instant of time that splendid house sacked to its foundations, the tables overturned, the pictures torn, the hangings blazing, and Liberty, the red-handed Man in the Street, grimed with powder smoke, foul with the gutter, rush yelling, torch in hand, through every door.
At ten o’clock Mrs. Hooven fell.
Luckily she was leading Hilda by the hand at the time and the little girl was not hurt. In vain had Mrs. Hooven, hour after hour, walked the streets. After a while she no longer made any attempt to beg; nobody was stirring, nor did she even try to hunt for food with the stray dogs and cats. She had made up her mind to return to the park in order to sit upon the benches there, but she had mistaken the direction, and following up Sacramento Street, had come out at length, not upon the park, but upon a great vacant lot at the very top of the Clay Street hill. The ground was unfenced and rose above her to form the cap of the hill, all overgrown with bushes and a few stunted live oaks. It was in trying to cross this piece of ground that she fell. She got upon her feet again.
“Ach, Mammy, did you hurt yourself?” asked Hilda.
“Is that house where we get those bread’n milk?”
Hilda pointed to a single rambling building just visible in the night, that stood isolated upon the summit of the hill in a grove of trees.
“No, no, dere aindt no braid end miluk, leedle tochter.”
Hilda once more began to sob.
“Ach, Mammy, please, PLEASE, I want it. I’m hungry.”
The jangled nerves snapped at last under the tension, and Mrs. Hooven, suddenly shaking Hilda roughly, cried out: “Stop, stop. Doand say ut egen, you. My Gott, you kill me yet.”
But quick upon this came the reaction. The mother caught her little girl to her, sinking down upon her knees, putting her arms around her, holding her close.
“No, no, gry all so mudge es you want. Say dot you are hongry. Say ut egen, say ut all de dime, ofer end ofer egen. Say ut, poor, starfing, leedle babby. Oh, mein poor, leedle tochter. My Gott, oh, I go crazy bretty soon, I guess. I cen’t hellup you. I cen’t ged you noddings to eat, noddings, noddings. Hilda, we gowun to die togedder. Put der arms roundt me, soh, tighd, leedle babby. We gowun to die, we gowun to vind Popper. We aindt gowun to be hongry eny more.”
“Vair we go now?” demanded Hilda.
“No places. Mommer’s soh tiredt. We stop heir, leedle while, end rest.”
Underneath a large bush that afforded a little shelter from the wind, Mrs. Hooven lay down, taking Hilda in her arms and wrapping her shawl about her. The infinite, vast night expanded gigantic all around them. At this elevation they were far above the city. It was still. Close overhead whirled the chariots of the fog, galloping landward, smothering lights, blurring outlines. Soon all sight of the town was shut out; even the solitary house on the hilltop vanished. There was nothing left but grey, wheeling fog, and the mother and child, alone, shivering in a little strip of damp ground, an island drifting aimlessly in empty space.
Hilda’s fingers touched a leaf from the bush and instinctively closed upon it and carried it to her mouth.
“Mammy,” she said, “I’m eating those leaf. Is those good?”
Her mother did not reply.
“You going to sleep, Mammy?” inquired Hilda, touching her face.
Mrs. Hooven roused herself a little.
“Hey? Vat you say? Asleep? Yais, I guess I wass asleep.”
Her voice trailed unintelligibly to silence again. She was not, however, asleep. Her eyes were open. A grateful numbness had begun to creep over her, a pleasing semi-insensibility. She no longer felt the pain and cramps of her stomach, even the hunger was ceasing to bite.
“These stuffed artichokes are delicious, Mrs. Gerard,” murmured young Lambert, wiping his lips with a corner of his napkin. “Pardon me for mentioning it, but your dinner must be my excuse.”
“And this asparagus—since Mr. Lambert has set the bad example,” observed Mrs. Cedarquist, “so delicate, such an exquisite flavour. How do you manage?”
“We get all our asparagus from the southern part of the State, from one particular ranch,” explained Mrs. Gerard. “We order it by wire and get it only twenty hours after cutting. My husband sees to it that it is put on a special train. It stops at this ranch just to take on our asparagus. Extravagant, isn’t it, but I simply cannot eat asparagus that has been cut more than a day.”
“Nor I,” exclaimed Julian Lambert, who posed as an epicure. “I can tell to an hour just how long asparagus has been picked.”
“Fancy eating ordinary market asparagus,” said Mrs. Gerard, “that has been fingered by Heaven knows how many hands.”
“Mammy, mammy, wake up,” cried Hilda, trying to push open Mrs. Hooven’s eyelids, at last closed. “Mammy, don’t. You’re just trying to frighten me.”
Feebly Hilda shook her by the shoulder. At last Mrs. Hooven’s lips stirred. Putting her head down, Hilda distinguished the whispered words:
“I’m sick. Go to schleep....Sick....Noddings to eat.”
The dessert was a wonderful preparation of alternate layers of biscuit glaces, ice cream, and candied chestnuts.
“Delicious, is it not?” observed Julian Lambert, partly to himself, partly to Miss Cedarquist. “This Moscovite fouette—upon my word, I have never tasted its equal.”
“And you should know, shouldn’t you?” returned the young lady.
“Mammy, mammy, wake up,” cried Hilda. “Don’t sleep so. I’m frightenedt.”
Repeatedly she shook her; repeatedly she tried to raise the inert eyelids with the point of her finger. But her mother no longer stirred. The gaunt, lean body, with its bony face and sunken eye-sockets, lay back, prone upon the ground, the feet upturned and showing the ragged, worn soles of the shoes, the forehead and grey hair beaded with fog, the poor, faded bonnet awry, the poor, faded dress soiled and torn. Hilda drew close to her mother, kissing her face, twining her arms around her neck. For a long time, she lay that way, alternately sobbing and sleeping. Then, after a long time, there was a stir. She woke from a doze to find a police officer and two or three other men bending over her. Some one carried a lantern. Terrified, smitten dumb, she was unable to answer the questions put to her. Then a woman, evidently a mistress of the house on the top of the hill, arrived and took Hilda in her arms and cried over her.
“I’ll take the little girl,” she said to the police officer.
“But the mother, can you save her? Is she too far gone?”
“I’ve sent for a doctor,” replied the other.
Just before the ladies left the table, young Lambert raised his glass of Madeira. Turning towards the wife of the Railroad King, he said:
“My best compliments for a delightful dinner.”
The doctor who had been bending over Mrs. Hooven, rose.
“It’s no use,” he said; “she has been dead some time—exhaustion from starvation.”