A half-hour she lay so in the warm bath of light, her little body so quickly fallen into vagrancy not without litheness beneath the moldy skirt.
* * * * *
Some time after eight she rose, letting the warm water in the bathroom lave over her hands, limbering them, and from a bottle of eau de Cologne in a small medicine-chest sprinkled herself freely and touched up the corners of her eyes with it. A thick robe of Turkish toweling hung from the bathroom door. She unhooked it, looping it over one arm.
A key scraped in the lock. From where she stood a rigidity raced over Ann ’Lisbeth, locking her every limb in paralysis. Her mouth moved to open and would not.
The handle turned, and, with a sudden release of faculties, darting this way and that, as if at bay, she tore the white-enameled medicine-chest from its moorings, and, with a yell sprung somewhere from the primordial depths of her, stood with it swung to hurl.
The door opened and she lunged, then let it fall weakly and with a small crash.
The chambermaid, white with shock at that cry, dropped her burden of towels in the open doorway and fled. Ann ’Lisbeth fled, too, down the two flights of stairs her frenzy found out for her, and across the flare of Broadway.
The fog from East River was blowing in grandly as she ran into its tulle. It closed around and around her.
How saving a dispensation it is that men do not carry in their hearts perpetual ache at the pain of the world, that the body-thuds of the drink-crazed, beating out frantic strength against cell doors, cannot penetrate the beatitude of a mother bending, at that moment, above a crib. Men can sit in club windows while, even as they sit, are battle-fields strewn with youth dying, their faces in mud. While men are dining where there are mahogany and silver and the gloss of women’s shoulders, are men with kick-marks on their shins, ice gluing shut their eyes, and lashed with gale to some ship-or-other’s crow’s-nest. Women at the opera, so fragrant that the senses swim, sit with consciousness partitioned against a sweating, shuddering woman in some forbidding, forbidden room, hacking open a wall to conceal something red-stained. One-half of the world does not know or care how the other half lives or dies.
When, one summer, July came in like desert wind, West Cabanne Terrace and that part of residential St. Louis that is set back in carefully conserved, grove-like lawns did not sip its iced limeades with any the less refreshment because, down-town at the intersection of Broadway and West Street, a woman trundling a bundle of washing in an old perambulator suddenly keeled of heat, saliva running from her mouth-corners.
At three o’clock, that hour when so often a summer’s day reaches its stilly climax and the heat-dance becomes a thing visible, West Cabanne Terrace and its kind slip into sheerest and crepiest de Chine, click electric fans to third speed, draw green shades, and retire for siesta.