“But, your ladyship, I’ve got something to tell you which—”
Martha stepped between them. “I think, Stephen, you’d better not talk to her ladyship any more. You might come some other night when she’s more rested. You see she’s had a very bad day and—”
Stephen’s voice rang out clear. “Not say anything more, when—”
Martha dug her fingers into his arm. “Hush!” she whispered hoarsely, her lips close against his hairy cheek. “She’ll be on the floor in a dead faint in a minute. Didn’t I tell you not to mention his name?”
She stepped quickly to the side of her charge, who had walked falteringly toward the window and now stood peering into the darkness through the panes of the dormer.
“It’s only Stephen’s way, child, and you mustn’t mind him. He doesn’t mean anything. He hasn’t seen much of women, living aboard ship half his life. It’s only his way of trying to be kind. And you see he’s known you from a baby, same as me—and that’s why he lets out.”
She had folded the pitiful figure in her arms, her hand patting the bent shoulders. “But we’ll get on together, my lamb—you and me. And we’ll have supper right away— And I must ask you, Stephen, to go, now, because her ladyship is worn out and I’m going to put her to bed.”
Carlin picked up his hat and stood fingering the rim, trying to make up his mind whether he should force the truth upon her then or obey orders and wait. The training of long years told.
“Well, just as you say, your ladyship, I won’t stay if you don’t want me, but don’t forget I’m within call, not more than a half-hour away. All Martha’s got to do is to send a postal card and I’m here. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. God knows I didn’t mean to! Martha knows what I wanted to tell you. You’ll have to come to it sooner or later. Good night. I hope your ladyship will be rested in the morning. Good night, Martha. You know you can write when you want me. Good night again, your ladyship.”
He opened the door softly, closed it behind him without a sound, placed his hat on his head, and, reaching out for the hand-rail, felt his way in the dark down the rickety stairs and out onto the sidewalk.
Once there, he looked up and down the street as if undecided, turned sharply, and bent his steps toward Second Avenue, muttering to himself over and over again as he walked: “I got to find Mr. Felix. I got to find Mr. Felix.”
Felix O’Day’s runaway wife, despite the many quiet hours spent in Martha’s room, near St. Mark’s Place, had not told her old nurse all her story. She had wept her heart out on the dear woman’s shoulder and had cuddled close in her arms, giving her scraps and bits of her unfortunate history, with side-lights here and there on a misery so abject and so terrifying that the dear nurse had hugged the frail figure all the tighter, seeing only the wound and knowing nothing of the steps that had led up to the final blow or the anger that hastened it.