Stella Dallas (Prouty, 1923, Houghton Mifflin)/Chapter 24

CHAPTER XXIV

1

This was Stella's fifth week in the shirt-waist factory. She must be getting used to it, she guessed. She didn't feel a bit tired to-night. If it wasn't so late, she wouldn't have minded walking the whole way. Laurel would be all dressed now. People would be just beginning to arrive. Gracious, she must hustle. But she'd simply got to go over to the room a jiffy first. It wouldn't take long. She had locked the door on Ed, but she always got feeling nervous after a whole day's absence during the times he was bad.

Stella was pretty sure that this landlady guessed what was the matter with Ed, but she could never feel certain how many of the roomers were "on." There are roomers who find it helps to pass away the time to make a fuss over a thing in the house like Ed. Stella didn't want to have to move again. This landlady had been awfully decent about the rent since she had got a job. Gracious, but it hadn't taken that thousand dollars long to fade away. It cost something to keep yourself and a sick man—who has to have a "particular kind of medicine"—going these days, though you didn't buy yourself a single rag, nor spend a cent on theaters, or the movies, or desserts.

Everything was all right at the room, thank heaven! Stella stopped only long enough to light the candle placed upon a chair by the door, hold it aloft a moment, and gaze down upon the double bed. Ed was still there, still harmless, breathing heavily, inert and consciousless.

There wasn't much furniture in the room besides the bed—a commode, a table, and three chairs. One of the chairs was an old Morris chair. It was worth all the rest of the furniture put together to Stella. It was Stella's bed. The back of it was let down so that it extended on the same level as the seat. There was a blanket folded over one arm, and Laurel's old worn-out, out-grown coon coat over the other. There was Ed's cheap suitcase and a pillow piled up on one of the remaining chairs, and this was shoved up close to the end of the makeshift bed to lengthen it. Surprising how well you can sleep on an old Morris chair if you work hard daytimes, or even on the floor if you get cramped. It's all a matter of getting used to it.

The candle spit and sputtered as if it objected to the scene it lighted. Stella didn't blame it. It wasn't especially beautiful. Stella would be busy in the room till midnight "redding it up," when she got back. She did like a neat room to sleep in. It looked like somebody's back yard just at present, with all Ed's clothes and a few of her own hanging up to dry on a cord she'd stretched back and forth from wall to wall. Ed's unwashed breakfast dishes were on the floor beside the bed. He'd roused enough to take the nourishment she'd left for him apparently.

She blew the candle out, put it back upon the chair, closed the door and locked it, descended four flights of bare stairway, and went out again beneath the stars.

2

Stella could have spoken to Laurel if the window had been open. She was as near to her as that! She could see her as clearly as if she had been inside. How lucky the curtains had been forgotten again. How lucky this particular window had been selected in which to stand to meet the guests! Gracious, but the flowers were lovely. Stella had never seen so many in one room in her life. They must smell like a funeral. Those flowers had been sent to Laurel by her friends and admirers. She certainly had a few! The papers hadn't exaggerated any, Stella guessed. Laurel, standing in the midst of her garden, was like a great big flower herself.

Stella had never seen her look more beautiful. Her dress was white, chiffon, she thought, made over something silvery, that made her shine as if there was dew all over her. No dress Stella had ever provided for Laurel could touch this. One of those artists, whose address only the few and fortunate possess, had made this fairy gown for Laurel, Stella guessed. My, how she became it! Gosh! She looked like a regular queen to-night!

She carried a sheaf of white orchids on her left arm. Through the chiffon ribbon that tied the flowers Stella caught a glimpse of something that looked like diamonds sparkling on Laurel's wrist! A moment later, as Laurel turned a little, she caught a glimpse of what was clasped about her throat. Pearls! A string of pearls! "Oh, Lollie! Oh, dear, dear Lollie!" She had come into her own! She was being crowned in her rightful kingdom at last!

Stella left the window for a moment and stole to the front corner of the house. Yes. There was an awning running from the front door to the street; there was a man in livery at the curbing, shouting numbers; there was a long row of automobiles on both sides of the street, reaching far away in both directions. All for Lollie!

Stella glanced up. Every window was faintly aglow. Through one of them that must have been open she could hear music, dance music—piano, violins, saxophone, and drum. All for Lollie! She went back again to her window in the alley.

Everything was as it ought to be. Even Lollie's mother was as she ought to be—also wearing a gown made by an artist, also wearing pearls, also beautiful, also queenly. My! Mrs. Morrison was made for the part. As the guests approached her, Stella observed that there was that look of high approval and homage in their eyes that should be in the eyes of everybody who shook hands with Laurel's mother. Stella observed, too, that when the guests shook hands with Laurel—with the little queen herself—there was more than high approval in their eyes. There was sudden and spontaneous pleasure, and afterwards murmured words of praise.

For more than an hour Stella stood in the shadow of an electric pole, and feasted and feasted. A policeman finally discovered her and told her to move along.

"All right," she replied cheerfully, "I will. I'm ready now. I've seen enough." For the instant before she had seen straight into Laurel's heart for a fleeting ten seconds!

Laurel didn't know it. Laurel had no idea that her mother's eyes were in the depth of the mirror she had gazed into, at her own reflection.

It had happened like this. Stella had seen it all. She had observed the first faint flush of color creep down the back of Laurel's neck as a young man had rushed up to her, and eagerly taken her hand in his, in greeting. Apparently the young man had asked Laurel to dance with him. As yet she hadn't left her post in the bay-window. She hesitated, glanced around the room—the guests were beginning to thin out—then accepted the invitation.

Still flushed, her neck was still pink beneath her pearls, she looked about her for a place to lay her flowers, spied the window-sill, took three steps toward Stella, and laid her flowers down, almost as if in Stella's lap; paused, raised her eyes. The window was just in front of her. The clear plate-glass with the light behind it was a perfect mirror. Laurel gave herself a long look. Six feet away Stella caught that look, hugged it to her close. She had never seen anything so dazzling, so luminous, in all her life before! It wasn't meant for her. It wasn't meant for any one on earth. It was like catching a bit of shooting star—of shooting heaven.

The young man to whom Laurel gave her hand a moment later—the young god who had made Laurel look at herself like that—was none other than Richard Grosvenor. Stella would have known him anywhere.

"That's all right, then, too," she murmured.

3

"Didn't I tell you to get along there?"

"Yes, sir. I'm going. I was only seeing how pretty the young lady was."

THE END