* * * * *
It is doubtful, from the way he waited with his soft hat dangling from soft fingers, if Morton had ever really expected anything else. Momentary unease gone, he was quiet and Southern and even indolent about it.
“We’ll go to Greenwich first thing in the morning and be married,” he said.
“Sh-h-h!” she whispered to his quietness. “Don’t wake Marcia.”
“Hattie—” he said, and started to touch her.
“Don’t!” she sort of cried under her whisper, but not without noting that his hand was ready enough to withdraw. “Please—go—now—”
“To-morrow at the station, then. Eleven. There’s a train every hour for Greenwich.”
He was all tan to her now, standing there like a blur.
“Yes, Morton, I’ll be there. If—please—you’ll go now.”
“Of course,” he said. “Late. Only I—Well, paying the taxi—strapped me—temporarily. A ten spot—old Hat—would help.”
She gave him her purse, a tiny leather one with a patent clasp. Somehow her fingers were not flexible enough to open it.
There were a few hours of darkness left, and she sat them out, exactly as he had left her, on the piano stool, looking at the silence.
Toward morning quite an equinoctial storm swept the city, banging shutters and signs, and a steeple on 122d Street was struck by lightning.
And so it was that Hattie’s wedding day came up like thunder.
To the swift hiss of rain down soot-greasy window panes and through a medley of the smells of steam off wet overcoats and a pale stench of fish, a judge turned rather tired Friday-afternoon eyes upon the prisoner at the bar, a smallish man in a decent-enough salt-and-pepper suit and more salt than pepper in his hair and mustache.
“You have heard the charge against you,” intoned the judge in the holy and righteous key of justice about to be administered. “Do you plead guilty or not guilty?”
“I—I plead guilty of not having told her facts that would have helped her to struggle against the—the thing—her inheritance.”
“You must answer the Court directly. Do you—”
“You see, Your Honor—my little girl—so little—my promise. Yes, yes, I—I plead guilty of keeping her in ignorance of what she should have known, but you see, Your Honor, my little gi—”
“Order! Answer to the point. Do you,” began the judge again, “plead guilty or not guilty?” his tongue chiming the repetition into the waiting silence like a clapper into a bell.
The prisoner at the bar thumbed his derby hat after the immemorial dry-fingered fashion of the hunted meek, his mouth like an open wound puckering to close.
“Guilty or not guilty, my man? Out with it.”
Actually it was not more than a minute or two before the prisoner found reply, but it was long enough for his tortured eye to flash inward and backward with terrible focus....