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Were you married to my father?” She heaved a deep sigh. It was a
sigh of relief. The terrible moment, the moment that night and day,
for weeks and months, she had dreaded, had come at last, and yet
she felt no terror. Indeed in some measure it was a disappointment
The vulgar directness of the question called for a direct answer.
The situation had not been gradually led up to. It was crude. It
reminded her of a bad rehearsal.
“No,” she answered, wondering at the harsh simplicity of life.
“My father was a scoundrel then!” cried the lad, clenching his fists.
She shook her head. “I knew he was not free. We loved each other
If he had lived, he would have made provision for us. Don’t speak
against him, my son. He was your father, and a gentleman. Indeed
he was highly connected.” An oath broke from his lips. “I don’t
care for myself,” he exclaimed, “but don’t let Sibyl... It is a
gentleman, isn’t it, who is in love with her, or says he is? Highly
connected, too, I suppose.” For a moment a hideous sense of
humiliation came over the woman. Her head drooped. She wiped
her eyes with shaking hands. “Sibyl has a mother,” she murmured;
“I had none.” The lad was touched. He went towards her, and
stooping down he kissed her.
“I am sorry if I have pained you by asking about my father,” he
said, “but I could not help it. I must go now. Good-bye. Don’t
forget that you will have only one child now to look after, and
believe me that if this man wrongs my sister, I will find out who he
is, track him down, and kill him like a dog. I swear it.” The
exaggerated folly of the threat, the passionate gesture that
accompanied it, the mad melodramatic words, made life seem
more vivid to her. She was familiar with the atmosphere. She
breathed more freely, and for the first time in many months she
really admired her son. She would have liked to have continued
the scene on the same emotional scale, but he cut her short. Trunks
had to be carried down, and mufflers looked for. The lodging-
house drudge bustled in and out.
There was the bargaining with the cab-man. The moment was lost
in vulgar details. It was with a renewed feeling of disappointment
that she waved the tattered lace handkerchief from the window, as
her son drove away. She was conscious that a great opportunity
had been wasted. She consoled herself by telling Sibyl how
desolate she felt her life would be, now that she had only one child
to look after. She remembered the phrase. It had pleased her. Of
the threat she said nothing.