The Little Woman
THE LITTLE WOMAN
By E. Hough
AT the supper party were the prima donna of the Traumerei Opera Company; two lesser lights of the stage; Barrington, of the Age; Hopkinson, of the Voice; Casper Long, of the Star Theatre; J. Cortez De Lancy and a reporter for the Elite News.
J. Cortez was the worse for his cups. For the second time he rose, leaned across the table and touched the diva's shoulder. Up to that time no one had paid any attention to his increasing familiarity. Now Barrington flushed and, extending his hand, forced J. Cortez down into his seat. The young man sprang up, striking out blindly. Barrington lost his patience.
"Well, then!" he exclaimed, frowning, and pushed J. Cortez back into his chair with such suddenness that he sat dazed.
Of all at the table but two were cool. The diva came over and sat at Barrington's side.
"Come," she said, laying a hand upon his sleeve, "you're going to be angry. Take me out. Get a carriage."
"I'm not angry," said Barrington, still frowning, the veins in his neck beating. "I've got to take care of this little beast."
"Think of me," said the diva. "Come. Get my coat."
"You're strong," said she, as he assisted her with the wrap. Barrington smiled and shook her playfully by the lapels. She was a large woman, but felt herself move under his hand as if it cost him no effort. "I'm disposed to be afraid of you," she added, irrelevantly. "I've always had such a contempt for men."
"Afraid of me?" said Barrington. "I hardly——"
"Oh, dear me, not afraid of your temper. Only afraid you might learn my secret."
Barrington looked at her for a moment. "I know it now," he said, quietly. The diva flushed for the first time.
"Oh, no, you don't," said she. They had drawn aside and were now able to step away from the confused group without attracting attention.
"I know your secret," said Barrington. "It's this: You pass as a cynical woman, a woman not to be impressed by any man, able and content to get along in the world without any affection or any assistance from any man in the world. That's what you seem, or what you wish to seem. What you are is quite a different thing."
"And what am I, please?"
"You are, properly and exactly speaking, a great blonde baby."
They stood in silence for a time. At last she said, slowly:
"I shouldn't wonder if you were right. You've come near guessing it—too near guessing it—for us all."
"And you want to lean, and to be petted, and to be taken care of, and to be freed of thinking."
"No man ever did," said she, ungrammatically but unmistakably. "But some man will."
They were at the door facing the curb, at which stood the line of carriages. Barrington flushed, fumbled and paused.
"I—ah, well, the best way is the straightest," he said. "I've not a cent."
"Nor I," said the diva, like a gentleman, seeing that it would be easy to embarrass him. "It's lovely. Let us walk."
So they passed on up the crowded, garish street, actors in the comedy of life.
"So you're 'broke?' " said the diva.
"Yes, I spent my last silver for my rose," and he touched the flower in his lapel.
"Glad you got it," said his companion. "I hate a man who wears a white flower. It's like the white feather to me." She bent over, her hand upon the sleeve of his coat.
"You've got on a patched glove, haven't you?" she said.
"Yes," said he, shortly.
"By a woman?"
"It's like you to be truthful," said the diva, sighing, after a little pause. "The old story, I suppose. The city is so full of it. Yet you wonder that I have never cared for a man. Why should I? Why should any woman? Why does she?"
"She's so little," said Barrington, his voice changing. "And I—well——"
"You love her," said the diva, finishing for him, after a pause.
Barrington remained silent.
"Yet you go out for an evening like this, with all sorts of persons, with Kittie Graves, with that fool De Lancy—with me," she added, bitterly.
"Oh, now, be fair, at least with yourself," said Barrington.
"Be fair!" said the diva, slowly. "That is just what I am. That is just what I have always tried to be. If I had not, I might at least have married again, and to advantage. Or I might have had a larger salary."
"I know," said Barrington. "You've been one among a thousand. Don't think I never knew, or that I did not admire you for it. It's rare enough."
They walked on along the city street through a hectic hour, talking little, but not needing to talk much. At length it became a question of parting.
"You've learned my secret," said the diva, sighing. "You can understand a woman, it seems. I might as well tell you, or you would see it, anyway—I should learn to love you if I saw much of you. So we must not meet. You're strong; that's what a woman likes, first. Now, be fair. That's what a woman likes, too. Be fair to us all—to the other woman. We're all alike. We're all babies, wanting to be comforted. God knows, a woman needs comforting, the way life runs!
"Now, we can't be together," she resumed, slowly and evenly; "we mustn't, dear boy. If you had me to love you, you wouldn't be any better off, and you wouldn't be any nearer the end of the problem. We women are much alike. Now, I'm sending you back to her, where you belong. You seem a grand fellow, you're so strong; and I like you so much. I'm a good fellow myself, you know.
"Remember, dear boy, we may all be full of the primeval passions—being a woman, I neither affirm nor deny—but to-day is to-day. We're in the wagon of to-day, and if we fall out, it is into the mire, whether the mire be naturally or only artificially muddy. Fall out, if you must. You're savage, and I admit I love you for being so, as women always have loved and always will love the savage—though no woman would onfess it, except when parting. Fall out of the wagon, my boy, if you will. But do you want to pull a weak, warm-hearted little woman with you? Would you?
"Yes, we're all alike. We're all babies—we always will be, God help us! Well always be that way. But you love this little woman—I know you do, from what you do not say. Go back to her and be a man, and I'll—I'll love you all the more. Go and marry this little woman, and if God ever sends you a baby, I think I shall love it to death, for you, because you were a man."
"You're pretty plain," said Barrington. To this she paid no attention. He groaned in a hoarse, suppressed way, his face set.
"Yes?" said she, waiting.
"It's—it's partly the money," said he. "How can a man marry——?"
"Now you make me angry with you," said the other. "It is not the part of a man like you to talk that way. There is just as much sky and just as much earth to-day as there was when the first sweet woman loved the first strong man. Of course, you've been foolish with your money."
"I've no capital——"
"Oh, you coward! Here, then, I'll give you all the capital you need. See!"
She had fumbled in her muff and fallen upon a pencil, which she tore from its tablet and handed to him.
"Take it," said she. "I know very well it's capital enough for you."
The man began to straighten up as he listened.
"You—you're a good fellow, that's what you are," said he, chokingly. "I can't begin to pay you for—for——"
"Yes," said she, "you can. Wait."
She loosened the rose from his coat.
"We must go," said she, softly. "Tell me when it's going to be?"
"To-morrow," said he, with a snap of his jaws. "To-morrow, if the little woman will, and as soon as we can find the minister. Good-bye."
"Good-bye, old boy."