For the first time in these weeks, except when her pint or the evening beer had vivified her, a warmth seemed to flow through Ann ’Lisbeth. Chilled, and her wet clothing clinging in at the knees, a fever nevertheless quickened her. She was crying as she walked, but not blubbering—spontaneous hot tears born of acute consciousness of pain.
A great shame at her smelling, grease-caked dress-front smote her, too, and she stood back in a doorway, scraping at it with a futile forefinger.
February had turned soft and soggy, the city streets running mud, and the damp insidious enough to creep through the warmth of human flesh. A day threatened with fog from East River had slipped, without the interim of dusk, into a heavy evening. Her clothing dried, but sitting in a small triangle of park in Grove Street, chill seized her again, and, faint for food, but with nausea for it, she tucked her now empty pint bottle beneath the bench. She was crying incessantly, but her mind still seeming to revive. Her small black purse she drew out from her pocket. It had a collapsed look. Yet within were a sample of baby-blue cotton crepe, a receipt from a dyeing-and-cleaning establishment, and a bit of pink chamois; in another compartment a small assortment of keys.
She fumbled among them, blind with tears. Once she drew out, peering forward toward a street-lamp to inspect it. It clinked as she touched it, a small metal tag ringing.
HOTEL LIBERTY 96
An hour Ann ’Lisbeth sat there, with the key in her lax hand. Finally she rubbed the pink chamois across her features and adjusted her hat, pausing to scrape again with forefinger at the front of her, and moved on through the gloom, the wind blowing her skirt forward.
She boarded a Seventh Avenue street-car, extracting the ten-cent piece from her purse with a great show of well-being, sat back against the carpet-covered, lengthwise seat, her red hands, with the cut forefinger bound in rag, folded over her waist.
At Fiftieth Street she alighted, the white lights of the whitest street in the world forcing down through the murk, and a theater crowd swarming to be turned from reality.
The incandescent sign of the Hotel Liberty jutted out ahead.
She did not pause. She was in and into an elevator even before a lackey turned to stare.
She found “Ninety-six” easily enough, inserting the key and opening the door upon darkness—a warm darkness that came flowing out scented. She found the switch, pressed it.
A lamp with a red shade sprang up and a center chandelier. A warm-toned, well-tufted room, hotel chromos well in evidence, but a turkey-red air of solid comfort.
Beyond, a white-tiled bathroom shining through the open door, and another room hinted at beyond that.
She dropped, even in her hat and jacket, against the divan piled with fat-looking satin cushions. Tears coursed out from her closed eyes, and she relaxed as if she would swoon to the luxury of the pillows, burrowing and letting them bulge up softly about her.