“What’s the matter?” asked he, in a gentle voice. “If you’re in trouble, let me help you.”
Renewed sobs were her only answer.
“If you’ll only tell me what’s the matter,” Gabriel went on, “I’m sure I can do something for you.”
“You—you can’t!” choked the woman, without raising her head from the corner of the ragged shawl that she was holding over her eyes. “Nobody can’t! Bill, he’s gone, and Eddy’s gone, and Mr. Micolo says he won’t let me in. So there ain’t nothin’ to do. Let me alone—oh dear, oh dear, dear!”
Fresh tears and grief. The little knot of spectators, still growing, nodded with approval, and figuratively licked its lips, in satisfaction. Somewhere a boy snickered.
“Come, come,” said Gabriel, bending close over the grief-stricken woman, “pull together, and let’s hear what the trouble is! Who’s Bill, and who’s Eddy—and what about Mr. Micolo? Come, tell me. I’m sure I can do something to straighten things out.”
No answer. Gabriel turned to the increasing crowd, again.
“Any of you people know what about it?” he asked.
Again no answer, save that one elderly man, standing on the steps beside the woman, remarked casually:
“I guess she’s got fired out of her room. That’s all I know.”
Gabriel took her by the arm, and drew her up.
“Come, now!” said he, a sterner note in his voice. “This won’t do! You mustn’t sit here, and draw a crowd. First thing you know an officer will be along, and you may get into trouble. Tell me what’s wrong, and I promise to see you through it, as far as I can.”
She raised her face, now, and looked at him, a moment. Tear-stained and dishevelled though she was, and soiled by marks of drink and debauchery, Gabriel saw she must once have been very beautiful and still was comely.
“Well,” he asked. “Aren’t you going to tell me?”
“Tell you?” she repeated. “I—oh, I can’t! Not in front of all them men!”
“Very well!” said he, “walk with me, and give me your story. Will you do that? At all events, you mustn’t stay here, making a disturbance on the highway. If you knew the police as well as I do, you’d understand that!”
“You’re right, friend,” said she, hoarsely. “I’m on, now. Come along then—I’ll tell you. It ain’t much to tell; but it’s a lot to me!”
She glanced at the curious faces of the watchers, then turned and followed Gabriel, who was already walking up the alley, toward the brighter lights of Stuart Street. For a moment, one or two of the men hesitated as though undecided whether or not to follow after; but one backward look by Gabriel instantly dispelled any desire to intrude. And as Gabriel and the woman turned into the street, the little knot of curiosity-seekers dissolved into its component atoms, and vanished.