THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS

As the summer advanced she refused to accept the dealer’s verdict that
the demand for all sorts of hand-painted trifles languished in the
summer; painting was her one means of support, and with magnificent
courage, if with small practical sense, she continued to paint. But
when she carried her work to the dealer, though he admired it, he
refused to buy it, and she came home again and again as empty of pocket
as when she had started out.

She said nothing to Emily Short about her difficulties. Barring a
glimpse which she caught of her now and then she seldom saw the little
toy-maker, for during the hot weather Emily was unusually busy.

Emily was a famous nurse, and during the season when sickness was
rampant among the children of the slums, she put aside her toys and
hats and fought bravely for the little lives. She scrubbed faces and
cleaned floors and administered doses of medicine, and more than once
Rachel had met her at the edge of evening, bringing home an infant in
her arms. To see her depositing it where the breeze came in through
the open window, cooing to it, directing its wandering attention to the
sights and sounds of the church, was enough to bring tears to the eyes.
Fate, so prone to interfere with the plans of nature, wins at best but
a superficial victory when she attempts to extinguish the motherhood in
certain women. Deny them offspring she may, but dam up the love in
their hearts, she cannot. Fate makes spinsters, but God makes mothers.
And what is a mother but a being that looks with tenderness on all that
is weak, with delight on all that is young? To such a being, an infant
is ever a bud of promise to which she longs to be the sun. In the most
radiant and satisfying sense, Emily Short was a mother, and not a waif
in the quarter but knew it. Those who could walk, flocked after her on
their little bare feet, clinging to the folds of her dress with their
grimy fingers; and those who were too small to walk, looked at her with
fixed, unwinking eyes, apparently beholding nothing, while in reality
still seeing the something beyond this nothing, their state being one
of celestial preoccupation rather than one of dormant thought.

Rachel, aware of the burden Emily carried, hesitated to add to its
weight. If truth be told, as long as old David did not lack for
food,–and so far he had not gone hungry–as long as the rent was paid
for a week ahead, a subject more tyrannical than poverty engrossed her
thoughts. In some women the love that has once stirred them, never
becomes extinct; it is a flame that never completely dies, a fire of
which some sparks always linger among the dead ashes. At a breath from
that far-off source of all existence, a breath that quickens alike
grain and fruit and human hearts, this spark leaps to renewed life in
the sensitive, wounded and restless soul.

With the disingenuousness of a woman in love, with the timidity of a
little mouse, Rachel had established herself under the eaves of an
obscure garret in lower New York. For a time, following the change,
her heart had beat more tranquilly, for now the same sky covered her
that covered that egoistic remarkable being who had once played so
important a role in her life.

But gradually the sombreness of a storm was created within her; though
when she thought of the inventor she experienced little of the chagrin
of a woman whom a lover has deserted. Rather, what she felt was a
surprised resentment of soul. Emil St. Ives was ordained to understand
her, and behold he had forsaken her! With eyes as clear as a child’s,
though shadowed by indefinable emotions, she often watched from the
window the pigeons circling on pointed wings over the house-tops, and
they seemed to her like a flurry of white letters tossed by a derisive
hand through the sky.

“Why had he never written her?”

At the thought her melancholy was crossed by anger; but at other
moments she remembered that it was she herself who had sent him away.
Oh, if he had only looked at her with his mind as well as his eyes!
But, enlivened continually by the astonished happy perception of the
inventor’s mastery of the expedients he employs in his tests, joyful
with the joy of a creator, Emil had never really seen her. His love
for his mother carried him backward into the past, his love for his
work carried him forward into the future, until it actually seemed to
her he had no present, no to-day.

And she reflected that under one of those million roofs he was working
on some foolish instrument for which the world, as yet, did not
recognize its own need. The world, therefore, in all probability, was
leaving him alone, to live if he could, to starve if he must.
Meanwhile, the sound of his drilling, his hammering, above all, his
loud-voiced singing, was doubtless causing a commotion among the stars
where the important is recorded before it is heralded on this
commonplace earth.

Although she did not wish to remember the inventor, the thought of him
constantly returned and gradually she began to extract a kind of
pleasure from this involuntary analysis which she carried on for hours
together. Then roused by some sound from the street, with the languor
which results from power held in abeyance, she would resume work on the
shades.

One heavy morning toward the end of August, Rachel made the unpleasant
discovery that there was scarcely money enough in the house to cover
the needs of the day. To increase her dismay her grandfather, leaning
his head on his hand, refused his breakfast. Even the newspaper with
its sensational headlines failed to arouse him. She brought him a
glass of water, but with a weak gesture he motioned her away.
Thoroughly frightened, Rachel flung her arm about him and coaxed him to
return to his bed. Old David grew first red, then white, but gradually
the natural look returned to his face and he fell into a sound sleep.

Instructing Nora Gage to keep a close watch over him, Rachel started
for the shop where she had formerly disposed of her wares. She was
intoxicated with her own resolution. Though it was the third time
within a fortnight that she had made her appearance there, she spread
the shades on the counter with confident movements; then she looked up.

The clerk with his delicate salesmen’s hand swept them toward her. “I
have told you that we have no call for these things,” he said and
impatiently turned on his heel.

For some moments she seemed not to comprehend these words; presently
his voice, bland and seductive, reached her from another part of the
shop. Then she gathered up the shades, returned them to her handbag,
and walked slowly to the door. She made a movement to open it, but at
that instant she heard a step behind her.

When he lifted his hat, she recognized Simon Hart. He was looking at
her attentively with his weary, enigmatic eyes.

The salesman had followed him in a little rush.

“Perhaps you’d better leave the shades after all, Miss Beckett,” he
began, “this gentleman–”

“I will give the young lady the order,” the other said. And he held
the door open for Rachel.

Once in the street, she looked at her companion in surprise. She
thought she detected in his face covert satisfaction.

“I beg your pardon, but you called to see my father several weeks
ago–Miss Beckett? Thank you. The maid wasn’t certain of the name.
Well, Miss Beckett,” he continued in an embarrassed voice, enunciating
his words with distinctness, “it happens that I have just been
requested by a relative to get her some candle shades,” and in a few
words he explained the commission, even producing from his pocket a
sample of the silk from which the shades were to be made. It was
essential that they should be finished in three days.

“And when you deliver them to Miss Burgdorf,” he said, scribbling an
address on a card which he took from his pocket, “you might speak to
her in a general way of your work, if you care to do so. For my part,”
he concluded, “I’m very glad to know of someone who does this kind of
thing.”

Before he left Rachel, he inquired where she and her grandfather were
living and the odd look of gratification deepened on his face.

“I needn’t have told him, I suppose,” she thought regretfully as she
walked home; “he may come there.”

A pompous-looking butler escorted Rachel through a vestibule, and
pointed her to a seat in the dining room. It was evident from his
manner that she should have applied at the basement entrance.

A group of workmen were busy setting up an immense table. They kept
pushing the sections together and drawing them apart. The polished
surfaces of the wood filled the room with reflected light. A maid who
stood by looked appealingly at the butler.

“It isn’t the table that was ordered,” she moaned. She glanced at a
clock which seemed, with its fluted columns and Gothic spires, a
sardonic spirit in that rich and disordered room. Its monotonous
tick-tock, tick-lock, scattered confusion, bewilderment, madness.

“Eleven!” she cried in tones of deepest tragedy, “and not a flower!”

Other servants entered bearing silver and glass. A footman came in
with a great palm, and bending, with shoulders on the strain, placed it
directly in the path of a hurrying maid. Some one dropped a goblet;
that showered into a million minute particles like shining tears.
Every movable object was shifted countless times and remained,
according to its nature, glittering, wavering, quivering for some
instants thereafter. A bronze Narcissus exhibited his grace at an
unusual angle. In such a time of rearrangement who has not observed
how art objects gain in beauty?

“Miss Burgdorf will see you now. Please step this way.”

Rachel followed the servant up the staircase. The woman lifted long
strings of motley-hued beads strung in such a manner as to form a
semi-transparent curtain, passed through a sitting room and tapped on a
door. Julia Burgdorf was seated before her dressing-table in a robe of
flowing silk. She was having her face manipulated by a slim masseuse
in a long apron. The faces of the two women, as they rolled their eyes
inquiringly toward the door, were exceedingly feminine. Woman is ever
most natural when engaged in making herself artificial.

Julia Burgdorf extended her hand with an imperious gesture. “Let me
see the shades,” she cried.

She was a powerful, dark-skinned, handsome woman, with her mind in her
eyes. Forty years of life had polished and embellished her until now
she resembled a jewel of many facets. Her throat suggested a singing
bird’s, her shoulders were beautifully curved, her hands and arms
perfect. She scarcely glanced at Rachel but examined the shades
intently. Then once more she yielded her face to the masseuse.

“Thank goodness, child!” she sighed, “they’re lovely! and I’d just
given you up. All these lights will be very hot, but they’ll look like
a forest of tropical blossoms; that’s what I wanted. Here, give me
that purse.”

She counted out thirty dollars in bills, and handed them to Rachel and
then rang for the butler.

“Has the sherbet come?–Bring this young lady some. Here, sit down,”
she added, “you look tired.”

Rachel seated herself on a brocaded divan, still holding in her fingers
a shade which had been slightly crushed and which she had repaired.
She held the shade like a flower, and her face above it was severe and
pale.

“Heavens, child! someone ought to catch your pose just as you sit now.
She doesn’t need any of your cream, does she, Henley?”

The masseuse looked at Rachel and her face quaked into an hundred
little wrinkles. These played round her eyes like forked lightning,
then instantly and miraculously disappeared, leaving the skin like an
infant’s.

“It wouldn’t do her any harm, Miss Burgdorf,” she said, bridling. “Our
cream is such a preservative. Sister and I think ladies can’t begin
too early.”

Her voice and manner suggested lotions; and this persistent artificial
youthfulness, superadded to the tiny creature’s evident acumen, was not
without charm. In her long apron, tied behind with strings like a
pinafore, she would have passed very well for a child had it not been
for the lightning.

Julia Burgdorf rose and stretched her arms above her head, then let
them drop heavily while she stood for an instant in a listening
attitude. Though no word was brought to her of the perturbed state of
affairs below stairs, there was knowledge of it in the very air.

“The butler has broken the last cup,” she declared with conviction,
“and the cook has gone off in a rage. I can see everything. Oh, what
a fool I was to leave the cool country and bother with that club of
cackling women at this season of the year! But charity before comfort.
Leave your address, please. My cousin, Mr. Hart,” she went on, with a
droll screwing of the lips “wrote me about you. I may be able to get
you more orders.” And with these words she passed on to her bath.

Now that the work which had engaged her for three days and a night was
finished, Rachel felt disinclined to move. She lingered over the
sherbet the butler had brought her and watched the masseuse putting
away the little delicate instruments of coquetry. All at once it
seemed to her that through the cool silence she heard the malicious
ticking of the great clock in the dining-room, and she recognized the
timepiece as a remorseless tyrant dominating not only the servants, but
the beautiful mistress of the house. Though instinctively conscious of
Julia Burgdorf’s fear of age, Rachel was too young to experience any
real sympathy for her. Instead, what she did feel was a keen sense of
her own triumphant youth. A miniature of a young man stood on a
dressing-table. “He looks like Emil,” she thought; and, to quiet her
agitation she fixed her attention on the masseuse, who, with a little
silver pencil, was marking the date on an illuminated calendar. Rachel
stared at this calendar, and the blood slowly left her cheek.

Nothing so conclusively proves the existence of an intelligent, if
somewhat perverse Fate, acting in the affairs of human beings, as these
potent stirrings of the memory, which she causes by the simplest means.
Does a woman require a bit of information? Incidentally Fate
enlightens her at the most opportune moment. Rachel attempted to avert
her eyes from the bit of cardboard, but the two names which were almost
lost in the design of the border and which certainly would have escaped
the casual glance of another, in a moment had evoked all the sweet and
irritating scenes of her past:

“_Benjamin Just & Richard Lawless, Art Lithographers, Lafayette
Street._”

Symbolizing all the events of her meagre romance, these names, with all
the accompanying address of which she had hitherto been ignorant, had
the effect of maturing in Rachel all that is most imperious in human
love. How little is required to move a woman’s heart. The longing to
see Emil took possession of Rachel like a fever.

The one o’clock whistle sounded a last melancholy note, and she
inspected eagerly every figure that entered the factory. Why had she
assumed that Emil was still employed there? As the stream of men grew
less and presently ceased, the curve of her mouth became scornful.
“How idiotic!” she whispered. She was turning away when a young girl
emerged from a side door over which appeared the word “_Office_.” She
came out impetuously. The fact that she was weeping arrested Rachel’s
attention. Her slight frame shook with sobs. She took a few steps,
then paused to extract a handkerchief from a bag she wore at her belt.
She pulled out the handkerchief and a letter fell from the reticule,
but in the excess of her grief she went on without perceiving her loss.

Rachel crossed the street and as she picked up the letter, she
involuntarily noticed its superscription. Written carelessly on the
blue envelope was the name “Mrs. E. A. St. Ives.” She
faltered–staring at it. She stood still and something seemed to
strike her in the breast. Yet she was conscious that surprise had no
part in her feeling. After a few seconds, she forced herself to walk
on. At the next corner she overtook the girl.

“Is this yours?” she asked. And her voice sounded strange in her ears.

The girl wheeled, showing a face disfigured with tears. “Oh, yes,” she
said, “it’s mine! Did I drop it?”

Rachel continued to look at her without stirring. She passed her hand
once or twice across her forehead. “You are Mrs. Emil St. Ives?”

“Why yes, I’m Mrs. St. Ives.” The other was now gazing at her with
curiosity.

So this was the girl who had helped Emil in the past, who helped him
now,–the girl he preferred to her. Disdainful, she swept round. As
she moved, she lifted her shoulders as if she would rid herself of
something, but the action spoke forlornness.

“Why do you ask?” questioned the other, pursuing.

Rachel paused. “Nothing made me ask,” she said, “only the name was
familiar.”

She was walking on when the girl caught her arm.

“Perhaps you know my husband?” she persisted. “Do you?”

Once more Rachel stood still. “Yes I know him–slightly.”

“I knew you did,” and a note of incipient jealousy sounded in the
other’s voice. “When did you know him?” she asked, and she fixed sharp
eyes on Rachel’s face.

“It was last summer in Maine,” Rachel answered. “I took him out a few
times in a boat to make some experiments. When I saw the name I
recognized it.” Her indifference, the sudden cold and remote
expression of her eye, which was like a thrust of the arm, deceived her
questioner.

“Oh, I see,” she said, meekly. “Was it the _depth indicator_! Oh I
know it was,” and at the mention of this instrument, she returned to
her original grievance. “It’s that _depth indicator_ that’s been at
the bottom of all our troubles,” she explained; “if it hadn’t been for
that, Alexander would have finished the lithographing press and then
everything would have come out different. But now Father–Oh, I can
talk to you, can’t I?” she interpolated. “I must talk to someone.
I’ve been treated so–you don’t know!” and she began to sob again in a
helpless, childish fashion, with the unrestrained grief of a nature,
hysterical, feverish.

But one thought burned in Rachel: Emil’s marriage. Her pain, however,
was not new; she felt that she had lived through it before, for it is a
characteristic of suffering that it never comes as a novel experience
and herein it differs from joy. The disconnected explanations of her
companion, mingled with the repeated request to be allowed to confide
in her, gradually roused Rachel. Her eyes travelled over Annie. She
noticed the once tasteful dress, which was now badly worn, the little
pear-shaped face with its peaked nose and babyish eyes.

She was about to reply haughtily, then, moved by Annie’s beseeching
look, altered her intention.

“Yes, you can tell me if you want to,” she answered softly and dully.

Involuntarily the two girls turned their steps in the direction of a
square, a triangular breathing place in this densely populated section.
They seated themselves on one of the benches and Annie poured out her
story. But her words scarcely penetrated Rachel’s brain. She stared
at some clothing drying on a fire-escape, and it struck her that the
antics of the clothing fastened to a line were no more grotesque and
absurd than the antics of human creatures fastened to life. Inwardly
she rocked on the wide sea of misery.

The dramatic features of her situation were not lost on Emil’s wife.
As she described her life in her parent’s home, contrasting it with her
present mode of existence, it was clear that Annie viewed herself in a
romantic light. Never the less her misery was real, and more than once
she had recourse to her small damp handkerchief.

“When once we were married I felt sure Father would forgive us,” she
concluded, “but he says I shall never, never come home until I leave
Alexander. Father’s terrible when he’s angry. All the same, this
isn’t the first time I’ve been to him,” she explained. “At first he
wouldn’t see me, and when he did, he wouldn’t listen to a word. He
said Alexander was utterly irresponsible and the lithographing press
and the rest of it had been as good as made over on an entirely
different principle. But finally when I teased and teased he said if
Alexander wanted to accept the position of expert examiner with the
firm, they’d take him back at a salary. Not a very big salary, but
still something regular. And I was so pleased,” she added, “I felt
there was a chance for him if he worked hard and didn’t make trouble; I
thought he’d soon rise to something better. But what do you think?
Alexander refused! He roared like a madman when I told him. He said
he wanted to do independent work, and never again would he sell his
brain, his soul, his very life-blood to my father. And I went to the
factory this afternoon to tell Father, and though I toned down
Alexander’s words and explained just how he felt as tactfully as I
could, Father not only refused to make him another offer, but he threw
open the door and pointed for me to go.” And at the memory of the
indignity, she covered her face with her hands. “Oh, whatever is going
to become of us?” she wailed.

Rachel said nothing, and this continued silence quieted the other.
Presently with an air of finality she lifted her head.

Opening her bag she returned the handkerchief to its depths.

“But I promised to stand by Alexander and I’m going to,” she said in a
low voice. “Somehow, he makes you feel that you want to stand by him.”

Still Rachel said nothing.

“I must go now,” Annie cried, tipping her face back, “see, it’s going
to storm, and I’m so afraid of lightning.”

And indeed black, threatening clouds were coming up rapidly.

“I’d ask you to come and see us,” she added as they fled from the
square, “only the place is so horrid. You see, Alexander not only
works there, but we live there, too,” she continued, while they stood
waiting for a car with the wind whipping their dresses about them.
“Alexander has a workshop, that’s all he cares for, and I have a room
about three feet square; and then he has a horrid deaf and dumb
creature who helps him. Oh, if I’d known he was going to have _him_
live with us!” and her voice broke. “You’ve been so good to let me go
on in this way,” she cried, as the car stopped. “I’ll tell my husband
I met you. What name shall I say?”

But Rachel did not answer. She merely nodded as the other, in a
tremour of fright, stepped on the car.

“You’ll get caught in the rain!” Annie called after her.

Rachel smiled grimly.

The rain descended at first thin and fine as if poured through a sieve;
then it increased in volume till the gutters ran yellow torrents, till
the sordid brick buildings looked like drenched, warty frogs of a giant
growth, till the slender trees in the squares fairly bent to the
ground. But Rachel was caught in the vortex of a storm even wilder.

It was two hours later when she slowly climbed the steps of the
tenement house. Emily Short’s voice reached her from an upper landing:

“There, don’t you go looking him up again, will you, Betty? There
ain’t a man in the world worth running after.”

Rachel halted and a fierce denunciatory light flamed in her eyes. Then
she pulled herself together.

When she opened the door of the outer room Simon Hart rose to greet
her. He felt that he had taken her by surprise and, in embarrassment,
smoothed his hair.

“It’s going to clear,” he said and glanced toward the window which let
into the tiny room the slowly increasing light.

Rachel swept a look in the same direction. “Yes,” she repeated,
“it’s–clearing.”

In the sky, visible beyond the clutter of wet roofs, appeared a strange
arrangement of gold bars, and above the bars huddled the thunder clouds
like a herd of newly-tamed animals.