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Chapter 15 THE VISITOR

  • “Are you Miss Winifred Bartlett?” asked Mrs. Carshaw the next afternoon i_hat remote part of East Twenty-seventh Street which for the first time bor_he rubber tires of her limousine.
  • “Yes, madam,” said Winifred, who stood rather pale before that large an_legant presence. It was in the front room of the two which Winifred occupied.
  • “But—where have I seen you before?” asked Mrs. Carshaw suddenly, making pla_ith a pair of mounted eye-glasses.
  • “I cannot say, madam. Will you be seated?”
  • “What a pretty girl you are!” exclaimed the visitor, wholly unconscious of th_alm insolence which “society” uses to its inferiors. “I’m certain I have see_ou somewhere, for your face is perfectly familiar, but for the life of me _annot recall the occasion.”
  • Mrs. Carshaw was not mistaken. Some dim cell of memory was stirred by th_irl’s likeness to her mother. For once Senator Meiklejohn’s scheming ha_rought him to the edge of the precipice. But the dangerous moment passed.
  • Rex’s mother was thinking of other and more immediate matters. Winifred stoo_ilent, scared, with a foreboding of the meaning of this tremendous visit.
  • “Now, I am come to have a quiet chat with you,” said Mrs. Carshaw, “and I onl_ope that you will look on me as a friend, and be perfectly at your ease. I a_orry the nature of my visit is not of a quite pleasant nature, but no doub_e shall be able to understand each other, for you look good and sweet. Wher_ave I seen you before? You are a sweetly pretty girl, do you know? I can’_ltogether blame poor Rex, for men are not very rational creatures, are they?
  • Come, now, and sit quite near beside me on this chair, and let me talk t_ou.”
  • Winifred came and sat, with tremulous lip, not saying a word.
  • “First, I wish to know something about yourself,” said Mrs. Carshaw, tryin_onestly to adopt a motherly tone. “Do you live here all alone? Where are you_arents?”
  • “I have none—as far as I know. Yes, I live here alone, for the present.”
  • “But no relatives?”
  • “I have an aunt—a sort of aunt—but—”
  • “You are mysterious—‘a sort of aunt.’ And is this ‘sort of aunt’ with yo_ere?”
  • “No. I used to live with her, but within the last month we have—separated.”
  • “Is that my son’s doings?”
  • “No—that is—no.”
  • “So you are quite alone?”
  • “Yes.”
  • “And my son comes to see you?”
  • “He comes—yes, he comes.”
  • “But that is rather defiant of everything, is it not?”
  • A blush of almost intense carmine washed Winifred’s face and neck. Mrs.
  • Carshaw knew how to strike hard. Every woman knows how to hurt another woman.
  • “Miss Goodman, my landlady, usually stays in here when he comes,” said she.
  • “All the time?”
  • “Most of the time.”
  • “Well, I must not catechise you. No one woman has the right to do that t_nother, and you are sweet to have answered me at all. I think you are goo_nd true; and you will therefore find it all the easier to sympathize with m_otives, which have your own good at heart, as well as my son’s. First of all, do you understand that my son is very much in love with you?”
  • “I—you should not ask me—I may have thought that he liked me. Has—he—told yo_o?”
  • “He has never mentioned your name to me. I never knew of your existence til_esterday. But it is so; he is fond of you, to such an unusual extent, tha_uite a scandal has arisen in his social set—”
  • “Not about me?”
  • “Yes.”
  • “But there is nothing——”
  • “Yes; it is reported that he intends to marry you.”
  • “And is that what the scandal is about? I thought the scandal was when you di_ot marry, not when you did.”
  • Mrs. Carshaw permitted herself to be surprised. She had not looked for suc_eapons in Winifred’s armory. But she was there to carry out what she deeme_n almost sacred mission, and the righteous can be horribly unjust.
  • “Yes, in the middle classes, but not in the upper, which has its own mora_ode—not a strictly Biblical one, perhaps,” she retorted glibly. “With us th_candal is not that you and my son are friends, but that he should seriousl_hink of marrying you, since you are on such different levels. You see, _peak plainly.”
  • Winifred suddenly covered her face with her hands. For the first time sh_easured the great gulf yawning between her and that dear hope growing up i_er heart.
  • “That is how the matter stands before marriage,” went on Mrs. Carshaw, sur_hat she was kind in being merciless. “You can conceive how it would b_fterwards. And society is all nature—it never forgives; or, if it forgives, it may condone sins, but never an indiscretion. Nor must you think that you_ove would console my son for the great social loss which his connection wit_ou threatens to bring on him. It will console him for a month, but a wife i_ot a world, nor, however beloved, does she compensate for the loss of th_orld. If, therefore, you love my son, as I take it that you do—do you?”
  • Winifred’s face was covered. She did not answer.
  • “Tell me in confidence. I am a woman, too, and know—”
  • A sob escaped from the poor bowed head. Mrs. Carshaw was moved. She had no_ounted on so hard a task. She had even thought of money!
  • “Poor thing! That will make your duty very hard. I wish—but there is no use i_ishing! Necessity knows no pity. Winifred, you must summon all your strengt_f mind, and get out of this false position.”
  • “What am I to do? What can I do?” wailed Winifred. She was without means o_ccupation, and could not fly from the house.
  • “You can go away,” said Mrs. Carshaw, “without letting him know whither yo_ave gone, and till you go you can throw cold water on his passion b_retending dislike or indifference—”
  • “But could I do such a thing, even if I tried?” came the despairing cry.
  • “It will be hard, certainly, but a woman should be able to accomplis_verything for the man she loves. Remember for whose sake you will be doin_t, and promise me before I leave you.”
  • “Oh, you should give me time to think before I promise anything,” sobbe_inifred. “I believe I shall go mad. I am the most unfortunate girl that eve_ived. I did not seek him—he sought me; and now, when I—Have you no pity?”
  • “You see that I have—not only pity, but confidence. It is hard, but I fee_hat you will rise to it. I, and you, are acting for Rex’s sake, and I hope, _elieve, you will do your share in saving him. And now I must go, leaving m_ting behind me. I am so sorry! I never dreamed that I should like you s_ell. I have seen you before somewhere—it seems to me in an old dream. Good- by, good-by! It had to be done, and I have done it, but not gladly. Heave_elp us women, and especially all mothers!”
  • Winifred could not answer. She was choked with sobs, so Mrs. Carshaw took he_eparture in a kind of stealthy haste. She was far more unhappy now than whe_he entered that quiet house. She came in bristling with resolution. She wen_ut, seemingly victorious, but feeling small and mean.
  • When she was gone Winifred threw herself on a couch with buried head, and wa_till there an hour later when Miss Goodman brought up a letter. It was from _ramatic agent whom she had often haunted for work—or rather it was a lette_n his office paper, making an appointment between her and a “manager” at som_igh-sounding address in East Orange, New Jersey, when, the writer said, “business might result.”
  • She had hardly read it when Rex Carshaw’s tap came to the door.
  • About that same time Steingall threw a note across his office table to Clancy, who was there to announce that in a house in Brooklyn a fine haul of coiners, dies, presses, and other illicit articles, human and inanimate, had just bee_ade.
  • “Ralph V. Voles and his bad man from the West have come back to New Yor_gain,” said the chief. “You might give ’em an eye.”
  • “Why on earth doesn’t Carshaw marry the girl?” said Clancy.
  • “I dunno. He’s straight, isn’t he?”
  • “Strikes me that way.”
  • “Me, too. Anyhow, let’s pick up a few threads. I’ve a notion that Senato_eiklejohn thinks he has side-stepped the Bureau.”
  • Clancy laughed. His mirth was grotesque as the grin of one of those carve_vories of Japan, and to the effect of the crinkled features was added _hrill cackle. The chief glanced up.
  • “Don’t do that,” he said sharply. “You get my goat when you make that beastl_oise!”
  • These two were beginning again to snap at each other about the Senator and hi_ffairs, and their official quarrels usually ended badly for the other fellow.