He thought her so exquisitely rare that he was not above the poor, soggy device of drinking his dinner wine from the cup of her small crimson slipper, and she dangled on his knee like the dangerous little flame she none too subtly purported to be, and he spanked her quickly and softly across the wrists because she was too nervous to hold the match steadily enough for his cigar to take light, and then kissed away all the mock sting.
But the next morning, at the fateful four o’clock, and in spite of four sleeping-drops, Lottie on the cot at the foot of her bed, and the night light burning, she awoke on the crest of such a shriek that a stiletto might have slit the silence, the end of the sheet crammed up and into her mouth, and, ignoring all of Lottie’s calming, sat up on her knees, her streaming eyes on the jointure of wall and ceiling, where the open, accusing ones of Gerald looked down at her. It was not that they were terrible eyes. They were full of the sweet blue, and clear as lakes. It was only that they knew. Those eyes knew. They knew! She tried the device there at four o’clock in the morning of tearing up the still unpaid check to the Ivy Funeral Rooms, and then she curled up in bed with her hand in the negro maid’s and her face half buried in the pillow.
“Help me, Lottie!” she begged; “help me!”
“Law! Pore child! Gettin’ the horrors every night thisaway! I’ve been through it before with other ladies, but I never saw a case of the sober horrors befoh. Looks like they’s the worst of all. Go to sleep, child. I’s holdin’.”
You see, Lottie had looked in on life where you and I might not. A bird’s-eye view may be very, very comprehensive, but a domestic’s-eye view can sometimes be very, very close.
And then, one night, after Hester had beat her hands down into the mattress and implored Gerald to close his accusing eyes, she sat up in bed, waiting for the first streak of dawn to show itself, railing at the pain in her head.
“God! My head! Rub it, Lottie! My head! My eyes! The back of my neck!”
The next morning she did what you probably have been expecting she would do. She rose and dressed, sending Lottie to bed for a needed rest. Dressed herself in the little old blue-serge suit that had been hanging in the very back of a closet for four years, with a five-and two ten-dollar bills pinned into its pocket, and pressed the little blue sailor hat down on the smooth, winglike quality of her hair. She looked smaller, peculiarly, indescribably younger. She wrote Wheeler a note, dropping it down the mail-chute in the hall, and then came back, looking about rather aimlessly for something she might want to pack. There was nothing; so she went out quite bare and simply, with all her lovely jewels in the leather case on the upper shelf of the bedroom closet, as she had explained to Wheeler in the note.
That afternoon she presented herself to Lichtig. He was again as you would expect—round-bellied, and wore his cigar up obliquely from one corner of his mouth. He engaged her immediately at an increase of five dollars a week, and as she was leaving with the promise to report at eight-thirty the next morning he pinched her cheek, she pulling away angrily.