“Oh, he ain’t,” the woman was moaning, “say he ain’t! My man—he could not be so! There ain’t no truth in it—there can’t be no truth.... Say as he ain’t been done to so bad! Say it!”
Ella, with a movement that was all at once love-filled, stepped quickly to her mother’s side. As she faced the crowd—and Jim—her face was also drawn; drawn and apprehensive.
“What’s up?” she queried tersely of her brother. “What’s up?”
The face of Jim was calm and almost smiling as he answered. Behind him the shrill voices of the crowd sounded, like a background, to the blunt words that he spoke.
“Pa was comin’ home drunk,” he told Ella, “an’ he was ran inter by a truck. He was smashed up pretty bad; dead right away, th’ cop said. But they took him ter a hospital jus’ th’ same. Wonder why they’d take a stiff ter a hospital?”
Mrs. Volsky’s usually colourless voice was breaking into loud, almost weird lamentation. Ella stood speechless. But Rose-Marie, the horror of it all striking to her very soul, spoke.
“It can’t be true,” she cried, starting forward and—in the excitement of the moment—laying her hand upon Jim’s perfectly tailored coat sleeve. “It can’t be true.... It’s too terrible!”
Jim’s laugh rang out heartlessly, eerily, upon the air.
“It ain’t so terrible!” he told Rose-Marie. “Pa—he wasn’t no good! He wasn’t a reg’lar feller—like me.” All at once his well-manicured white hand crept down over her hand. “He wasn’t a reg’lar feller,” he repeated, “like me!”
As Rose-Marie left the Volsky flat—Ella had begged her to go; had assured her that it would be better to leave Mrs. Volsky to her inarticulate grief—her brain was in a whirl. Things had happened, in the last few hours, with a kaleidoscopic rapidity—the whirl of events had left her mind in a dazed condition. She told herself, over and over, that Ella was saved. But she found it hard to believe that Ella would ever find happiness, despite her salvation, in the grim tenement that was her home. She told herself that Bennie was learning to travel the right road—that the Scout Club would be the means of leading him to other clubs and that the other clubs would, in time, introduce him to Sunday-school and to the church. She told herself that Mrs. Volsky was willing to try; very willing to try! But of what avail would be Bennie’s growing faith and idealism if he had to come, night after night, to the home that was responsible for men like Jim—and like Pa?
Pa! Rose-Marie realized with a new sense of shock that Pa was no longer a force to reckon with. Pa was dead—had been crushed by a truck. Never again would he slouch drunkenly into the flat, never again would he throw soiled clothing and broken bottles and heavy shoes into newly tidied corners. He was dead and he had—after all—been the one link that tied the Volskys to their dingy quarters! With Pa gone the family could seek cleaner, sweeter rooms—rooms that would have been barred to the family of a drunkard! With Pa gone the air would clear, magically, of some of its heaviness.