And now Bibbs looked up. She stood before him, straight and tall, splendid in generous strength, her eyes shining and wet.
“If I mean that much to you,” she cried, “they can’t harm you! Go back to the shop—but come to me when your day’s work is done. Let the machines crash their sixty-eight times a minute, but remember each crash that deafens you is that much nearer the evening and me!”
He stumbled to his feet. “You say—” he gasped.
“Every evening, dear Bibbs!”
He could only stare, bewildered.
“Every evening. I want you. They sha’n’t hurt you again!” And she held out her hand to him; it was strong and warm in his tremulous clasp. “If I could, I’d go and feed the strips of zinc to the machine with you,” she said. “But all day long I’ll send my thoughts to you. You must keep remembering that your friend stands beside you. And when the work is done—won’t the night make up for the day?”
Light seemed to glow from her; he was blinded by that radiance of kindness. But all he could say was, huskily, “To think you’re there —with me—standing beside the old zinc-eater—”
And they laughed and looked at each other, and at last Bibbs found what it meant not to be alone in the world. He had a friend.
When he came into the New House, a few minutes later, he found his father sitting alone by the library fire. Bibbs went in and stood before him. “I’m cured, father,” he said. “When do I go back to the shop? I’m ready.”
The desolate and grim old man did not relax. “I was sittin’ up to give you a last chance to say something like that. I reckon it’s about time! I just wanted to see if you’d have manhood enough not to make me take you over there by the collar. Last night I made up my mind I’d give you just one more day. Well, you got to it before I did—pretty close to the eleventh hour! All right. Start in to-morrow. It’s the first o’ the month. Think you can get up in time?”
“Six o’clock,” Bibbs responded, briskly. “And I want to tell you— I’m going in a ‘cheerful spirit.’ As you said, I’ll go and I’ll ’like it’!”
“That’s your lookout!” his father grunted. “They’ll put you back on the clippin’-machine. You get nine dollars a week.”
“More than I’m worth, too,” said Bibbs, cheerily. “That reminds me, I didn’t mean you by ‘Midas’ in that nonsense I’d been writing. I meant—”
“Makes a hell of a lot o’ difference what you meant!”
“I just wanted you to know. Good night, father.”
The sound of the young man’s footsteps ascending the stairs became inaudible, and the house was quiet. But presently, as Sheridan sat staring angrily at the fire, the shuffling of a pair of slippers could be heard descending, and Mrs. Sheridan made her appearance, her oblique expression and the state of her toilette being those of a person who, after trying unsuccessfully to sleep on one side, has got up to look for burglars.