The Breath of Scandal/Chapter 23


BILLY did not even start to bed until far into the night; for after leaving Clearedge Street he immediately sought Marjorie's father, who was neither at home nor in his club, where he had rooms. Billy waited at the club until after one o'clock and then, considering the possibility that Hale would not return at all, he went to his apartment, set his alarm clock for half-past six and got about an hour's sleep before the bell woke him. Before half-past seven, he was again at the club where Hale was now marked "in." Billy did not send up his name nor did he telephone; he went at once to Hale's door and rapped.

When Hale sleepily called, "What? Who is it?" Billy continued to knock until Hale unlocked the door, when Billy promptly pushed it open and entered. When Hale demanded, "What do you mean by——," Billy took the knob from his hand and shut the door.

"I've found Marjorie," he said. "I came here last night and waited till half-past one this morning to tell you so."

Hale retreated slightly. "Where was she?" he asked, coldly, or deliberately making his voice dull.

"She has been living on Clearedge Street."

Hale parted his lips and shut them silently. He had got up in pyjamas and come to the door without even dressing-gown or slippers, expecting—probably—to open the door only a crack to receive a telegram or special delivery letter. His hair, being disheveled, showed grayer than usual and his lips seemed thicker and his figure, in pyjamas, looked heavier, older. Billy, exaggerating this to himself, saw him as gross and contemptible and made Hale thoroughly aware that he was so seen.

"How is Marjorie?" Hale asked, still with an effort keeping his tone dull.

"I found her on Clearedge Street," Billy repeated.

"Well, what of that?" Hale shot sharply now. "Clearedge Street may be right enough; what do you mean? What do you mean about her, fool—fool?"

"I don't mean I found her living on Clearedge Street precisely as you were," Billy replied heavily, slowly and deliberately taunting him.

"Fool!" Hale murmured again; he half turned from Billy, staring away; then he clutched the foot of his bed. "Go on; tell me."

"You would not know her."

That was not true and Billy recognized it the moment he had it out; but, at that moment, he was not consciously describing Marjorie; he was accusing her father; and that did very well for an accusation, for Hale jerked about, his head lifting.

"Why wouldn't I?"

"Mentally, I mean, and in her character. Marjorie's physical health—if that is what you chiefly want to know——"

"Fool," muttered Hale to himself. "Oh, fool—fool," but he could do nothing but stand and take it.

"—is fairly good, I suppose," Billy continued. "She is somewhat thinner—not than she was when she left your home but much thinner than before you——"

Hale's eyes flashed at him and Billy omitted that. "It is when you come to talk with her and when you observe the company she chooses now—the company she deliberately chooses and clings to—that you appreciate what you've done to your daughter."

Nothing could make matters between them worse, both knew; each wholly hated the other.

"When I found her," Billy continued," she was with Rinderfeld—with attorney Felix Rinderfeld, whom we had to call in that night——"

"Where was she?"

"At a restaurant; a low restaurant called, I believe——"

"She was alone with him?"

"No; there were four at the table, her roommate——"

"Who's her roommate?"

"Was there with another companion. I found her by following Rinderfeld, after having had him watched for a week since I discovered that, when Marjorie left you, she gave Rinderfeld her address. All the time she has been living on Clearedge Street with a girl whom she found demonstrating face creams in some place around there. Her roommate's name is Clara Seeley—anglicized from something else, I believe Marjorie said. She is Polish-Italian and comes from the slums. Marjorie seems to have been supporting herself—or trying to—by peddling a tray of trash called Bostrock's Business Boosters to druggists and cheap clothing stores and garagemen on the west side. She chose the establishment in which she has been living by taking a list of places advertising rooms to rent to a reputable real-estate office and going to the place she was warned against."

"Who told you that?"

"She admitted it."

"Well," said Hale, "well, go on. What was against the place? What——" he stopped—— "Was she——" he started again and then tried, "Has anything——?"

Whittaker half circled him deliberately, abandoning his position between Hale and the door, and deliberately he kept Hale waiting. Hale's clothes lay over the back and upon the seat of a chair as if half flung, only half placed there; his socks had been flung at the chair, probably, but had missed and lay on the floor beyond it, in relation to the bed; his collar had been flung on his dressing stand, knocking over a tin of talcum powder. In a remission of Billy's intentness upon Marjorie's situation, these details caught his mind and told a story plain enough even for Billy. When Hale had returned to his room that morning, he had been in no satisfactory mood; he had got to bed and put the light out as quickly as possible; and this fixed in Billy's mind the interpretation he previously had placed upon Hale's absence last night. Billy let his mind dwell on that; then for another series of seconds he merely stood dully, hearing the street noises which came through the open windows, feeling the slight, warm current of morning air.

"A girl took poison at that place a few days before Marjorie went there; she tried to kill herself," Billy told at last. "The man who also had passed himself as her husband, picked up somebody else and had left her. If you want the exact address where your daughter lives, ask the police for the number where they went for an ambulance call on a poison case on Clearedge Street during the second week you were at Fursten's." And Billy, without circling, started for the door; he intended to pass; perhaps he would have passed without other words, but Hale stopped him.

"Has any one hurt her?" he demanded savagely. "Answer me straight, you fool! Has any one hurt her?"

But Billy was not in the least cowed by him. "Not in the sense which alone seems to disturb you in relation to a girl and then only when she is your daughter. No, not yet."

Hale let go of him and in a moment was alone, staring at the shut door; mechanically he went over and locked it. From his dressing stand he picked up a cigarette, lit it and stared in the glass; mechanically he picked up his brushes and smoothed his hair, diminishing the grayness. He felt his chin and, in the bathroom, he set to shaving.

"What did she ask about me?" he thought. "Did she ask?" He had not been able to bring himself to inquire that of Whittaker. Then he thought, "If she asked, what did he tell of me? If she asked me about myself, what could I say?" His anger at Whittaker rose hotter. "Fool; fool; the fool!" Then he thought about Marjorie on Clearedge Street. "She went there to watch me." And with a rise of defiance for her, his fears again were less and he returned to fury at Whittaker and at his own helplessness before him, at his own helplessness now to go to his daughter.

"Ask the police for the address of the poison case!" he rehearsed the contempt of Billy's reply. Hale had no idea of inquiring anything of the police; now he could trace Marjorie otherwise; but for what result to her or to him? What when he found her? For it was certain that Billy had done everything in his power to take Marjorie away from that place and the companions to whom she clung.

Probably she would like her father to come and beg her to go, Hale thought; and he recalled, with a wince, her, "Don't touch me, father." Well, what might she have for him now?

He shaved himself unsatisfactorily, but he finished with it and came back into the bedroom and started gathering up his clothes.

"'Also.'" That had been cast in his face by Whittaker. "'The man, who also passed himself as her husband, picked up somebody else.'" That bit sharper than Whittaker guessed; or did Billy guess? Probably not; almost surely not; what Whittaker meant was that a man had passed as that girl's husband as Hale had passed as Sybil Russell's. But there was more to guess and Hale was feeling the drag of it; Sybil Russell was trying to make herself more to him than she could be.

She was not asking him to make her his wife, in a legal, recognized way; always—or at least ever since he met her—she had spoken fine scorn for the bonds by law; and she was too clever, if she was not too consistent, to ask those bonds now. But she was forever endeavoring to make herself his companion more constantly, more completely to fill the place of his wife; and there was something about it which offended Hale unreasonably; he didn't try to think it out; it was enough that sometimes a thing she said or did—an assumption of equality with his wife or with his daughter—set his teeth on edge. She never once criticized either of them; oh, she was not stupid; she simply assumed to love him too much. And though they avoided meeting on Clearedge Street, yet to be with her anywhere became too much like being again in that flat where the man, who had been her husband, threatened him and shot him, and where his daughter, with her friends, had come and found him.

So, sometimes, he did not want to seek Sybil Russell or even think about her at all; and when his thoughts, thus driven from her, found lodging, they rested—he became increasingly aware—with a woman whom only recently he had met, a woman who set his pulses throbbing fuller, alluring him, daring him; she had not a previous husband to make trouble and she was no one whom his daughter ever had seen.

Yet when Charles Hale found his thoughts dwelling with her, he caught himself up sharply, for he realized this meant he was desiring not love of a mate, but woman; and he swore to himself he would not let himself go on that road. No; to turn from his wife to the truer love—or what he could at least call the truer love of Sybil Russell—that was one thing; but to become a common follower of women was another. Yet, as matters lay, it was this or Sybil Russell for him now; and in either case, no home; no honor for him where he rested, no clasp and kiss of his child and her voice full of love for him, and admiration, "Father, you're so fine! I love you so!"

That which echoed in his ear was what Marjorie had cried to him as he left his home that night,—the last night it was anything like a home for him. And for it all, he had exchanged—he would not let himself reckon. The scar on his body, bare for an instant as he dressed, showed where Russell's bullet had gone through and Grantham's knife had entered afterwards; he covered it as quickly as possible.