He waited half an hour before she came into the boarding-house parlor. Fifty times he opened the book of photographs of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, fifty times he looked at the picture of the Court of Honor.
He was startled to find Zilla in the room. She wore a black streaky gown which she had tried to brighten with a girdle of crimson ribbon. The ribbon had been torn and patiently mended. He noted this carefully, because he did not wish to look at her shoulders. One shoulder was lower than the other; one arm she carried in contorted fashion, as though it were paralyzed; and behind a high collar of cheap lace there was a gouge in the anemic neck which had once been shining and softly plump.
“Yes?” she said.
“Well, well, old Zilla! By golly, it’s good to see you again!”
“He can send his messages through a lawyer.”
“Why, rats, Zilla, I didn’t come just because of him. Came as an old friend.”
“You waited long enough!”
“Well, you know how it is. Figured you wouldn’t want to see a friend of his for quite some time and—Sit down, honey! Let’s be sensible. We’ve all of us done a bunch of things that we hadn’t ought to, but maybe we can sort of start over again. Honest, Zilla, I’d like to do something to make you both happy. Know what I thought to-day? Mind you, Paul doesn’t know a thing about this—doesn’t know I was going to come see you. I got to thinking: Zilla’s a fine? big-hearted woman, and she’ll understand that, uh, Paul’s had his lesson now. Why wouldn’t it be a fine idea if you asked the governor to pardon him? Believe he would, if it came from you. No! Wait! Just think how good you’d feel if you were generous.”
“Yes, I wish to be generous.” She was sitting primly, speaking icily. “For that reason I wish to keep him in prison, as an example to evil-doers. I’ve gotten religion, George, since the terrible thing that man did to me. Sometimes I used to be unkind, and I wished for worldly pleasures, for dancing and the theater. But when I was in the hospital the pastor of the Pentecostal Communion Faith used to come to see me, and he showed me, right from the prophecies written in the Word of God, that the Day of Judgment is coming and all the members of the older churches are going straight to eternal damnation, because they only do lip-service and swallow the world, the flesh, and the devil—”
For fifteen wild minutes she talked, pouring out admonitions to flee the wrath to come, and her face flushed, her dead voice recaptured something of the shrill energy of the old Zilla. She wound up with a furious:
“It’s the blessing of God himself that Paul should be in prison now, and torn and humbled by punishment, so that he may yet save his soul, and so other wicked men, these horrible chasers after women and lust, may have an example.”
Babbitt had itched and twisted. As in church he dared not move during the sermon so now he felt that he must seem attentive, though her screeching denunciations flew past him like carrion birds.