AN IMPERFECT CRIME
STIRLIHG BO WEN
With this book the publishers Ihtroduce to the public a new and jtital force in American Letters.
In Mr. Bowen's deeply etched •tudies of American life and character, many discerning critics will be inclined to find values as important as those in the best work of Sherwood Anderson, Willa Gather, Ernest Hemingway, Ring Lardner, Aldous Huxley, and A. £. Coppard.
The publishers take this occasion to point out the rapidly growing interest in the shorter prose forms, upon which Arnold Bennett commented in a recent article: "I am glad to observe that publishers are losing their hostility to short stories/'
This volume portrays decidedly interesting facets of city life; it
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An Imperfect Crime.....3
Some Go Away.......211
AN IMPERFECT CRIME
DEERHORN, two-thirds of the way north in Lower Michigan, is where Laura Irving lived before she married and became Mrs. Rood and moved away*
Pedestrians on the main street glancing into Robin Vogel's cobbler shop from the sidewalk could not see distinctly beyond Robin working near the window. The window extended lengthwise across the front of the shop and measured only four feet up and down, so that together with the awning in the summertime it prevented the full strength of the sunlight from penetrating very far into the shop. To identify loungers along the back wall a man looking in the window from the sidewalk had to lean over and stare into the half-shadow inside, refocusing his eyes. But almost everybody that went by looked in, seeing Robin in his chair half-turned away with his
hammer, knife or awl mending shoes.
A galvanized iron pail holding pieces of leather soaking in water was always standing on the floor near Robin's chair. The air smelled of leather. Boys usually lingered a few minutes to watch Robin guiding his keen narrow knife blade through a pliable piece of it, pulling the knife toward himself, clutching the leather against his aproned stomach, or driving brads decisively with quick blows around the circumference of a new sole. Robin was an exceptionally skilled craftsman and was able to make a shoe to order as well as repair one. He had learned shoe making from his father.
The Saturday afternoon Mrs. Fred Swope was buried several loungers were congregated in Robin's shop. One of them was Dr. Hugo Roach, who had been Mrs. Swope's physician. Mrs. Swope was the richest woman in Deerhorn and nearly everybody felt affected by her death. When the hearse containing her body moved past Robin's shop Fred Smith, a barber, leaned forward in his chair and said: "There goes Mrs. Swope." He pointed out the window and everybody looked out at the procession. Behind the hearse were the automobiles containing the mourners.
"I'll never forget the time when Mrs. Swope took the part of Laura Irving, that niece of old Zeke Barnes that he and his wife adopted when her father died," Dr. Roach said.
When the doctor mentioned the Irving girl, Robin's face got very red. Smith, whom everybody called "Fat," happened to be looking at him and saw him blush. Fat began to laugh. His body shook and his breath wheezed in his big chest.
"mat's the matter, Robin?" Fat said. "Did you cut your finger or something?" He looked around gaily at the others.
Before her marriage Robin and Laura Irving had been sweethearts and it was common knowledge in Deerhorn that Robin had not forgotten her. Dr. Roach saw Fat laughing and saw Robin blushing. He looked around and said: "Why, yes; did I mention something I shouldn't have?" He winked at Smith.
Robin laughed in confusion. "My face gets red when I laugh, that's all," he said.
Everybody began laughing at him then and Robin blushed more than ever.
"Well," Dr. Roach said, "this really is a nice kind of a story. And it happened a long time ago, Robin. So it's all right. Laura was about nine years old if I remember right. She wanted to take music lessons. She had a violin that Zeke's wife had bought for her. But Zeke, he didn't seem to have much of an ear for music. He told Laura he'd smash the violin with an ax if she didn't quit playing it around the house. Well, the Barneses and the Swopes were neighbors in those days. And Mrs. Swope heard about it. And do you know what Mrs. Swope did? Well sir, she put it right up to Zeke to let Laura practise in her house. She did it in a nice way, of course. Zeke, he couldn't get mad about it. She didn't give him any chance. I called at the Swopes' about an hour after it happened and she told me all about it. Her eyes were twinkling. I can see her yet. She was as tickled as Laura was."
Lemuel Curtis was sitting next to Dr. Roach. He was the editor and publisher of the Deerhorn County Weekly Courier, Curtis said to Robin: "You should have married that girl, Robin. That was a fine farm that Zeke's wife left to her."
"And Laura was a great little worker, too," Dr. Roach said. "That fellow Rood from Four Oaks that she married wasn't much of a hand to work, I guess, and they tell me she used to take a team into the field herself many a time, and put the team up herself afterward too."
"That's what I call a real wife," Fat Smith said.
Robin laid down his hammer and probed with his finger tips for nail points inside the shoe he was mending.
"I'd like to know who's got the farm now," Robin said. "She didn't keep it long after she got to Detroit."
"—some crooked work, was there?" Dr. Roach asked.
"—search me," Robin said. "All I know is that she borrowed money on a mortgage two or three times and loaned it to somebody else and never got it back and now hasn't got anything to show for it."
"She was too good-hearted," Dr. Roach said. "She wasn't any too strong physically, either. At least she wasn't when she had the baby."
Curtis said: "Besides, she didn't know very much about people, living here in Deerhorn all her life till then."
There had been stories around Deerhorn lately about Laura's life in Detroit. But now on account of Robin nobody said anything.
Robin might think of Laura in many ways. He might think of her as she was when she was a little girl, perhaps on the back of a galloping horse with her hair flying behind her. Or he might think of her in the class room in high school, reciting her lessons about the structure of a sentence or the campaigns of Caesar. She always recited clearly and accurately, according to the text book, he remembered, and she was never discourteous to the teacher. Yet there was always a careless ease about her recitations that made her seem far away. It seemed that she gave these recitations so easily that she might very well be thinking about something quite different up to the very moment when she got to her feet to describe, say, the crossing of the Rubicon. And it was easy enough to see that the names and dates always came to her mind so readily and in such bright and proper order that a recitation was not a very serious distraction to her. Whatever way Robin might be thinking of her at a given moment now —child, student or young mother—he always saw her life as divided into two parts. Laura had married Stanley Rood, a son of farming people near Four Oaks, not long after he arrived in Deerhorn to work in a store. Four Oaks, though not very much larger than Deerhorn, was nevertheless far enough away to represent change. It was a day's ride away by train. To Laura young^ Rood was noteworthy first of all as somebody from somewhere else. And thus she had identified herself with him, until such a time as he could no longer arouse in her this illusion of change by the mere fact of his comparatively distant origins. Nor did he keep alive very long his first willing promises to move on still another step to the city and take her with him. But it was not Laura's marriage to Rood that in Robin's patient but hopeful mind closed the first part of her life. It was her separation from Rood. Robin visualized the separation as a new beginning for Laura and thus relegated the marriage to the past. In this way and by a broad interpretation of the nature of her experiences, he contrived to give the course of Laura's life the appearance of moving closer, after all, to his own, even if she had not turned to him after leaving Rood but had taken her child and gone off alone to the city, where she arranged with her cousin, Anita Irving, for a place to stay on first arriving there. And Robin continued to hope that, some day she would come back to bimt
Curtis had to go back to his office and he got up to leave. Dr. Roach decided to go along too.
"Tell Speller I want to see him if he comes in," Curtis said. Curtis and the doctor went out the door and up the street.
Speller—Homer Speller—was the undertaker and was in charge of Mrs. Swope's funeral. After the services Speller drove his car along the street and stopped carefully at the curb in front of Robin's shop. Though he had driven a car several years he always acted as if he were learning. At the wheel he sat rigidly upright. Holding his arms straight ahead as if bracing himself, he gripped the wheel firmly half way up both sides and anybody who had never seen an automobile before would have thought to see him that there was (danger of the steering wheel spinning unexpectedly or plunging up and down. Speller was a fairly small man who had gained moderate financial success in a business which required much tip-toeing across floors. In so small a community he knew almost everybody and every year buried some old friend.
Looking at the steps quickly but accurately .before putting his feet on them, Speller entered
Robin's place. Smith was still sitting there with his fat round hands between his bulging knees. Robin told Speller that Curtis wanted to see him and Speller said: "What's he going to do, put my name in the paper?—print some scandal about me?"
"I don't know, but I imagine he wants to ask you the particulars about Mrs. Swope's funeral," Robin said.
"Yes, I suppose so," Speller said. "Well, 'twas a fine funeral. Robin, you should have been there, you irreverent rascal. 'Twould do your heart good to see so many people paying their last respects to somebody who had lived all her life among them."
Speller sat down beside Smith.
Fat said: "I'm afraid there won't be anybody at my funeral but yourself."
"And even he won't come unless you pay him'," Robin said.
Speller made a clucking sound with his tongue. "Why, say," he said; "I'd always go to Fat's funeral or his birthday party or his wedding or anything he invited me to." He tipped back in his chair. "Why don't you look at the bright side of life once in a while, Robin?" he asked. "Your father used to be a great one to argue on the dark side but he was never as bad as you, never."
Robin pushed back in his chair too and stretched the joints in his shoulders and elbows. The day was wearing on. "I've said for a long time I'd never go to another funeral," he said.
Smith said: "It does seem like a lot of nonsense after a man is in the ground. Doesn't it now?"
"Well, well, well!" Speller said. "If this isn't a fine nest of scoffers! I'll have to get some re-enforcements. I can see that."
"Is it scoffing," Robin asked, "to believe that the only reason we have funerals the way we do is because the undertaker and the casket manufacturer and the florist and the preacher make money out of them?"
"Nonsense!" Speller said. "See here now—. It's a sad thing when a woman like Mrs. Swope has to be taken from us. And it's a sort of silver lining to the cloud to have the relatives and the dear friends and the admiring acquaintances gather together for a final parting with the flown soul at the grave. And everybody comes away with a better feeling. It dries the tears, you might say. It's a reconciliation."
"—a reconciliation?" Robin said. "—of what? —of the undertaker with the bank?"
Smith laughed out loud.
"O, how can anybody argue with two men like you?" Speller said. "You're always picking out the gross material side."
"I pick out the gross material side?" Robin said. "O, no; the undertaker picks it out. He lives by it. Only he's such a blissful hypocrite. He doesn't want anybody to talk about it. The average family, Speller, simply can't afford funerals. Why, just stop to realize; there are families right here in Deerhorn that have trouble paying a dollar to have a pair of shoes half-soled. Do you realize that? Of course with a woman like Mrs. Swope it's a little different. She left plenty of money. But even there the money that went into this blow-out for her today would have bought all the carpenters in Deerhorn a new set of tools. 'Twould have bought me a new stove for next winter, too, come to think of it, God knows I need one."
"Dear, dear, dear," Speller said; "this is getting worse and worse!"
But it was time for Speller to be going.
"I've got one more pair of shoes to fix and then I'll be calling it a day myself," Robin said.
Speller said: "Lem will think I'm not coming. I suppose it's about the funeral he wants to see me." He turned in the door and said: "You know, people like to read about a funeral like the one today. Even if you don't like to, there are a good many that do."
"Tell Lem all about it," Robin said. "It's good advertising."
Speller said: "I suppose you like this hot weather. Nobody else likes it, so I suppose you do."
Robin and Fat Smith laughed.
After Smith had finally marched out too on the thick short columns of his legs and Robin was left to finish his day's work alone, he began thinking about how he had got red in the face when Dr. Roach mentioned Laura. It always angered him and at the same time puzzled him to have a spell of confusion like that over nothing. It made him feel foolish. He felt as if he had been surprised at something he did not want anybody to know about. And yet there was nothing to it at all. Laura was a fine beautiful girl and anybody who thought different was indecent and ignorant.
Mrs. Laura Irving Rood and Frank Bom-merito were standing side by side in front of the show case in the Crest Diamond Shop on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit. On the case was a tray of diamonds. Herman Burnbaum, the proprietor, stood facing them across the counter. The three were alone in the store.
Burnbaum liked to see customers coming in. He advertised for customers in the newspapers. But when certain types of customers came in he was nervous until he saw them going out again. His hair was prematurely gray from worrying and he worried more about his diamonds than anything else. Insurance agents had frightened him with their statistics of robbery and murder. Newspaper stories of holdups frightened him every day. His wife was always after him to go into the grocery or shoe business so that his show cases would be less attractive to bandits.
Burnbaum's loaded pistol was lying as usual on a shelf down low behind the show case where customers could not see it. Burnbaum always displayed his rings at that point on the counter.
In a touring car at the curb in front of the store Sam Bielman, Andy Jones and Tony Kulack sat talking. Bielman sat side wise at the wheel looking into the store at Laura and Frank. Jones and Kulack were in the back seat.
Inside the store Burnbaum was saying without enthusiasm: "Here's still another style of ring. You see, my stock is more complete than when you were in here before."
Laura slipped the ring on her finger. Burnbaum was glancing at Bommerito furtively without turning his head. Frank stood looking at the ring on Laura's finger.
"It's pretty all right," Laura said. "What do you think?"
Frank lounged against the show case. He looked casually around the store, glancing out the window, looking back at the ring.
"Try a different light on it," he said. "Hold it up."
Laura held her arm out horizontally across the show case.
"—up," he said. "Hold it up."
Laura raised her hand, turning the ring in the light before her face, holding it upward at arm's length, elevating and lowering it. "—like that?" she asked.
an impeefect crime 17
Frank nodded. He looked past her out the window and said: "That's better."
Bielman out in front straightened at the wheel. Jones and Kulack slipped out the car door. Leaning easily against the show case Frank watched them stealthily. Crossing the sidewalk without pausing, the two entered the Crest Diamond Shop. Laura was examining the ring on her finger minutely. She did not look up. But Burnbaum watched them coming in. He saw no pistols. Their hands were swinging empty at their sides. He saw the white rectangle of a folded newspaper in Jones' coat pocket. Momentarily he forgot Bommerito. At that moment Frank pulled a pistol from his belt, where he had car-, ried-it with the barrel stuck inside his pants.
"Up with the hands!" Frank said. "Be quick about it!"
Burnbaum's mouth opened, his arms springing up stiffly. His elbows were bent, bringing his hands even with his ears.
"—higher!" Frank said. He menaced him with his pistol, jabbing it toward him, pulling it back and jabbing it toward him again.
Burnbaum's arms straightened upward with military precision.
Laura stepped back quickly. She thought: Jesus! I hope he doesn't shoot!
She was nearly choked with excitement and surprise. She saw now why he had told her to hold up her hand.
As the action in the store quickened, Kulack took a position by the door, holding his pistol in his side coat pocket. Jones walked immediately to Frank's side.
"—this what we want?" Jones asked. He pointed at the tray of rings on the show case,
"Yes," Frank said. "Get busy." To Laura he said: "Get out of here."
Jones took the newspaper from his pocket. Folding the outspread paper over the tray he walked with the rings toward the door, saying to Burnbaum over his shoulder: "These better be good or we'll come back and plug you."
Kulack preceded him to the sidewalk, glancing both ways, calling to him: "Come on, come on!"
The motor in the car was running. Bielman sat with one hand on the gear shift, the other on the wheel.
Impulsively snatching from her finger the ring she had tried on for Frank and throwing it clattering across the floor, Laura went hurrying out behind Jones.
Still covering Burnbaum with his pistol, Frank began backing away just about the time Kulack, Jones and Laura were getting into the automobile.
Burnbaum's mood changed as he continued to stand behind his counter with his hands raised. Fury was rising in him, overcoming the lingering first pang of fright. He saw several thousand dollars worth of diamonds being taken away from under his very nose. The effrontery of this enraged him. And he was now facing only one man, whereas he had just been facing three men and a woman. The situation seemed comparatively advantageous to him. Burnbaum dropped on one knee. The back of the show case was panelled with wood and Burnbaum was therefore out of sight. Taking his pistol from the shelf he fired over the show case at'Frank, ducking out of sight again. Frank was fifteen feet away walking backward. The bullet missed him, boring into the door casing just behind him.
The shot was heard in the street, in the apartment upstairs and in the adjoining store. Frank broke for the door, seeing the automobile moving slowly away from the curb. He did not want to shoot Burnbaum if he could avoid it. Reaching for the door-knob he held his pistol close against his hip away from the street. Burnbaum's head and hand appeared over the show case again, Burnbaum firing, disappearing. The bullet tore into Frank's shoulder, whirling him half-way around, throwing him against the door frame. His arm went limp, his fingers falling away from the knob. Before he could use his other hand to turn the knob he had to reach inside his coat and slip his pistol back into his belt.
Frank was on the sidewalk, shoulder burning, eyes sharpening to the situation before him. The automobile was turning the corner a block east. He decided Bielman had driven slowly several yards thinking he would overtake them, Burn-baum's second shot frightening him into full speed.
Going slowly around the first corner, Laura looked back from the automobile and saw Frank going down the sidewalk in the other direction. She saw him turn into an alley several yards beyond the store. Kulack in the back seat with her saw him too. They told Jones and Bielman.
"Go on around the block and we'll try to pick him up," Kulack said to Bielman. : "He went down the alley," Laura said. "We've got to get him. We can't leave him like this."
"Shut your face," Bielman said. He turned his head part way around and spoke in an ugly way.
"Hey, you," Kulack said; "you're not talking to me, are you?"
"I was talking to that female that's with you," Bielman said.
"Just the same you can take a turn around the block here," Kulack said. "We'll pick him up if he's along here."
"Like hell I will," Bielman said.
Kulack leaned forward and jabbed the barrel of his pistol into Bielman's side, below and a little behind his arm pit. It hurt and Bielman squirmed and pulled away. "Yes," Kulack said, "like hell you will."
"Make him do it," Laura said to Kulack. "Please, Tony, make him."
She put her hand on Kulack's arm and leaned forward too, clenching her other hand tightly. She could not understand an attitude like Bielman's. It frightened her. She did not think of it as being weak and cowardly but as being brutish and monstrous, as if his brain were not that of a human being. Her feeling would not have been more intense if she had suddenly discovered that the man at the wheel of their car was a monstrosity in some terrible physical way. She did not know Kulack well. She had seen him only once before. But her hand closed tightly on his arm. She clung to him. Jones sat silently beside Bielman and looked straight ahead. They were at the corner. Kulack wrenched her hand away and tapped Bielman on the shoulder.
"Turn here," he said to Bielman.
Bielman turned the corner and drove toward the entrance of the alley on that street. Laura looked ahead along the side of the car toward the alley entrance but she could not see anything of Frank. When they came opposite the alley Frank was nowhere in sight.
"Maybe he's shot," Laura said. "Maybe he fell and he's up the alley somewhere."
Bielman looked part way around again. "Say, for Christ's sake," he said, "if you want to hop out here and go up that alley and look I'll let you out here."
Then several blocks behind them, apparently on St. Aubin Avenue, a siren began sounding. It was the siren on one of the police flyers. The flyers were as fast as any car in the city. Bielman sneered again and said: "How about it, there in the back seat? —want to ride around the block a couple times more?"
He had already given the car more gas, however, and they were making about thirty-five miles an hour. The speed limit in that district was twenty-five miles.
"Drive around by Laura's place," Kulack said.
The street they were on angled sharply into Gratiot Avenue just ahead of them but Bielman zig-zagged through one line of traffic and nosed the car into the traffic going their way without losing any time. Bielman had been taken along on the job because of his skill as a driver.
They had come back to Gratiot Avenue four blocks away from the Crest Diamond Shop and in the direction of the main business section of Detroit. Behind them in the direction of the diamond shop the police siren was growing louder. Then it stopped and they knew the detective's car had swung up to the curb in front of the store and that the detectives were getting their descriptions and possibly the number of their automobile from witnesses. As they swerved through
the traffic as fast as they dared go the three men and Laura wondered if Burnbaum had shot Frank or Frank had shot Burnbaum, or both.
Laura said: "Isn't there anything we can do about Frank?—anything at all?"
"Say, sister," Bielman said, "the less you think the better off we'll all be and the better off you'll be. You're lucky you didn't get one of those bullets way up there where they hurt worst."
J ones grinned and looked around. Kulack told Laura not to pay any attention to him.
"He just doesn't like women," Kulack said.
"They're all right in their place," Bielman said. "And you know what place that is."
Jones and Kulack laughed. There was a traffic policeman at the corner a block ahead so Bielman turned into a side street to avoid passing him. As he turned, the four heard another police siren farther away than the first one; a flyer was approaching the Crest Diamond Shop from a station in some adjoining precinct.
Laura thought now of her son, Neil; she felt very glad that she was being taken to him. He had been left with the janitor's wife.
The diamonds were in the car. The first thing to do was to conceal them somewhere. And the next thing was to abandon the car, which Biel-man had stolen from a downtown curb that afternoon for the occasion.
Most of the excitement Laura felt was due to the fact that she saw herself now in relation to her past. It was only a glimpse that she had of herself thus. Things were happening so fast. But it was such a glimpse as almost to constitute revelation.
The foreground had been, the store and was now the avenue, with the sound of police sirens coming through the turmoil of traffic. In the store there had been the characters leaning forward tensely toward each other. The action had been so close and clear; everything had the effect of seeming colossal and not quite real, due to a multiplicity, clarity and immediacy of stark detail. Here in the car, riding away, her perceptions were similar. Laura was in these scenes and of them. She was one of the characters. But she was not elementally so. For there had taken place in her mind a flash of identification with Deerhorn and with her family. She saw her foster father, Zeke Barnes, and her foster mother. She saw Mrs. Swope and Homer Speller and Dr. Roach. She saw her husband and she saw Robin too. She saw herself as one of them who was for the time being in this other kind of place.
This identification was primarily a defiant one. She was seeing and doing things nobody from Deerhorn had ever seen or done before. It was as if she said to herself: Maybe I was born in Deerhorn but my life is not bounded by Deer-horn. It was as if she said too: The world is bigger than Deerhorn.
She felt exultantly daring rather than merely sinister or wicked.
She had known Bommerito was a gunman but she had never before been with him when he had drawn a gun. He was the lover of her cousin, Anita Irving. Laura was living with Anita. And Laura had supposed that when Bommerito asked her to come with him he really wanted her to help him pick out a ring for Anita. Her cousin was in the hospital having her tonsils taken out and Laura thought the ring was to be a present for her and at the same time a symbol of marriage or betrothal. Laura had surmised that Frank might go back later to hold the place up, particularly since this was their second visit to the store in one day. But she would never have had the courage to come with him knowing she was to aid in an actual holdup.
Frank had guessed pretty accurately at all these things about Laura when he first considered taking her with him. Anita, now, was more experienced than Laura and in many ways therefore more reliable. But Anita was his sweetheart and besides she was in the hospital. He thought in spite of her limitations Laura was not the kind that would faint or get hysterical on the spot or talk afterward. He knew that in any emergency under circumstances like these she would do what he told her to. He brought her along with him partly to allay suspicion in the proprietor's mind in advance of the actual drawing of guns and partly to support his defense in case he was caught. He knew he could count on Laura to that extent. Besides that, though, since she was there for these other reasons, Frank found it to his taste to know that she must be startled and probably frightened. It amused him. It was an amusing diversion from the dangers he faced.
Laura was not literally a member of the underworld. She had become one of the many thousands who play along in this way until something happens to send them back home or to cast them more or less permanently over the line into a complete acceptance of an outlaw position. She would not be able indefinitely to remain in her present equivocal position both toward the underworld and the rest of society unless she found some way of capitalizing this position, perhaps as a liaison agent of some kind. She had recently quit her job and Frank would probably pay all the rent for the flat this month. But that single fact hardly gave her a professional status in the underworld. Neither in itself did her part in the holdup. These things were accidental and episodic. Something decisive had to happen.
When the city clock was striking five, Laura with her four-year-old son Neil was riding by taxicab through Detroit's western outskirts. They were going toward the homestead of her Uncle Edward, in Rawson Center. Neil sat pointing out the cab window at things and people in motion. Sometimes he said: "O look at that!" And sometimes he asked: "What are they doing, mama?" He pounded her arm and pulled her sleeve.
Laura without looking always answered: "Yes, I see, dear." At last she said: "Please just look out the window by yourself. I want to sit quiet a little while. When we get there you can tell me everything you've seen."
Nobody had followed her. Laura no longer feared detention. And she felt sure Frank had not been killed. She did not of course know whether he had been arrested but Kulack and Jones had promised her they would find him and would get a lawyer for him if he were in jail. She wondered if he had shot the proprietor, perhaps killing him, with one of the shots she had heard. She hoped not. Because she and Frank had entered the store alone as if to buy a ring, the circumstances, she thought, seemed favorable to him even if he were arrested. Her own unexpected part in the holdup still excited her but she was no longer afraid for herself. That she might be hunted, convicted of robbery, sentenced to prison, occurred to her only as a remote possibility.
As she passed the city limits, reaching the open country, her mood altered. She was going to revisit an old way of life. An exaggerated sense of alienation from all members of her family began troubling her. Retrospectively it seemed as if three years before in leaving Deerhorn she had fled from that kind of life even more desperately than she was at present fleeing from the police.
Along the paved highway she could smell ripening timothy hay, red clover. To these signs with her boy beside her Laura responded remi-niscently, with an emotion that seemed old to her, as if it had been a long time latent, an emotion deep and strange enough almost to seem of prenatal origin. She foresaw herself walking with the boy in the fields and woods or along a brook, finding flowers, telling him about country things. Then she foresaw herself buying him ice cream cones in the general store, herself arousing romantic yearnings in Rawson Center's young men, herself for a few days enjoying whatever parts of that life she unreservedly loved through being after all native to a village.
Rawson Center was thirty miles from Detroit as the crow flies. Two of its hundred inhabitants were Laura's Uncle Edward and his wife, Sarah, living their fortieth year as man and wife in the white clapboard house where he was born. Laura had gone visiting there several times as a girl. She had always been the favorite niece.
The paved trunk line highway passed within a few miles of Rawson Center. At a cross-roads gasoline station the attendant recommended an unpaved county road for the balance of the trip.
"Just before you get to Rawson Center you'll see a deep ravine to one side of the road," the attendant said. "They call it Willow Run. Raw-son Center is just around the hill from that. The road bends there but keep to it."
Dusk was gathering at Willow Run. Far below at the bottom of the winding ravine a brook caught a little of the last sunlight. Thin white wood smoke was rising from a farm-house chimney on the left. The spinning cab tires parted the loose gravel on the road with a hissing sound, pebbles occasionally clinking on the fenders. Curving widely around a sprawling green hill the road began descending. Rawson Center was beyond, below; roofs among trees.
"I remember it now," Laura said to the driver. The driver nodded and slowed down for a narrow plank bridge over a narrow gorge, the plank flooring rumbling under the cab wheels. The gorge cradled the noisy brook that had followed them down from Willow Run.
In Rawson Center the county road became
Congress Avenue for two blocks. Passing a white steepled church and then a general store with a wide sagging veranda, Laura said: "Turn to the right here." The cab swung into Rawson Center's only other street. "Keep on going," Laura said. "I think I'll know the house when we get to it." Laura felt a tickling sensation downward from her chest through her hips. Neil lay asleep in the seat corner beside her. They rode over hardly more than a path where buggy and wagon wheels and later automobile wheels had made a track across natural sod.
"There it is, I think," Laura said. Laura pointed to a house and the driver guided the car nearly to the gate in the white picket fence bordering the yard, stopping beside the foot-path. Darkness had come gradually but swiftly.
Opening the gate, Laura hurried up the flagstone entrance walk. Shades in two front windows were up. Lights were lit inside. Stepping off the walk Laura looked in a window. Her Aunt Sarah and Uncle Edward sat reading at a table. Going to the door, she knocked and heard voices inside, then footsteps. Then the door opened. It was her Uncle Edward, newspaper and spectacles in either hand.
"Hello Uncle Edward," she said. "This is Laura. Don't you know me?" The walk was two steps below the door sill. She smiled up at him.
"Who?" he asked. "Laura? Well, blest if 'tisn't!" He stood aside quickly, opening the door wider. "Come inl" he said. "Come inl"
Kissing him on the cheek Laura hurried past him saying: "Hello Aunt Sarah!"
"Well, for the land's sake Laura!" Uncle Edward's wife said. "How in the world did you get here?"
"I drove out in a taxicab," Laura said. "But wait; I've got somebody with me."
She returned outdoors and presently her uncle, whose full and also prideful name was Edward Everett Irving, saw her coming up the walk <rarrying Neil. The driver was carrying her bag. Irving, standing in the door, took the bag from the driver and said: "Well, well! So this is who is with you! Is this the Neil weVe heard so much about?"
"Yes, this is Neil," Laura said. "And he's a load."
Neil was waking up, blinking at the light.
"Set him right here," Mrs. Irving said. She patted her lap, smoothing out her gray gingham dress, and said to Neil: "Yes, sir; I rocked your mother to sleep right here on this lap when she was a little girl about as big as you."
Laura put Neil down on her aunt's lap and then sat on the floor at Mrs. Irving's feet, holding Neil's hand, reassuring him.
Bending over to take Neil's other hand, Irving said: "So this is Neil! Whom does he look like, Sarah? Do you think he favors Zeke? Or does he look like me?"
"Well, he certainly favors Laura," Mrs. Irving said. "I don't know as he resembles you any. You were never as handsome as that."
Neil looked seriously and dubiously at one and then the other of the old people. Then he reached for Laura.
The two old people asked her to tell them all about herself. They wanted to know where she worked and who her friends were and how she managed in the city with Neil.
"I'm a multigraph operator in an office," she said, "and I leave Neil with the janitor's wife in the apartment house where I live." She kissed Neil and said to him: "She takes good care of you too, doesn't she, dear?" She kissed him again and brushed his hair back and hugged him.
The questions made her feel uncomfortable and she wanted a cigaret. But her relief at being there was greater than this discomfort. She was nervous and now and then she jumped at a slight noise overhead or in the walls; yet she kept telling herself she was safe.
Back in Detroit at Receiving Hospital a patrolman stood guard near Frank Bommerito's bed.
The diamonds were in a box in. a cold air flue under the floor in Kulack's room on John R Street. The empty tray was hidden behind the radiator in the bath room in Laura's Brush Street flat. Within a few minutes after the holdup Bielman had abandoned the automobile at the curb on Farnsworth Avenue.
Stanley Kowalski, an assistant prosecuting attorney, had appeared at Frank's bedside three hours after the removal of the bullet. Kowalski sat in a chair on one side of the bed. A stenographer sat beside him and on the other side of the bed the patrolman and a hospital attendant stood.
"Mr. Burnbaum has postively identified you as the man who came into the store first with a young woman and drew a pistol," Kowalski said.
"—Burnbaum?" Frank said. "Who is Burnbaum?" His voice was hardly more than a whisper.
"Burnbaum is the man you held up and robbed," Kowalski said.
"—me? —not me," Frank said. "I can't help what he says. I went in there to buy a ring for my girl. She's in the hospital for an operation. I took along that girl that was with me just to help me pick it out. We were standing there looking at a particular ring when two guys walked in and stuck up the place." Frank relaxed, turning his head on the pillow, looking at the wall.
"Then how did it happen that Mr. Burnbaum shot you?" Kowalski asked.
"IIow do I know?" Frank said. He turned his head slowly back again to face the prosecutor.
"He shot me, didn't he?" .he said. "That ought to be enough. Have you got to come around here charging me with the stick-up besides? I've got mine, haven't I? Go and get the guys that did it" "Nevermind about that," Kowalski said. "Just tell me how it happened that Mr. Burnbaum shot you in his store."
"I suppose he was excited," Frank said. "You know how they get. lie was losing a tray of rocks and he lost his head too, that's all."
"He wasn't so excited he couldn't aim," the prosecutor said.
"Aw, he- shot three times and hit me once by accident," Frank said. "He wasn't shooting at me at all. He just naturally started shooting because he didn't know what else to do. Ail I can say is, that's a hell of a way to treat a customer." Kowalski repeated that Burnbaum had identified him, and Frank said: "Hell11 don't deny I was there. But I stepped back when a guy came up with a gun. The girl, she stepped back too. 'Twas all over in less than a minute."
"Where's the girl?" Kowalski asked.
"God knows," Frank said. "She was nearer the door than I was. I saw her go out just after the two guys went out. When I started out after her that boob back of the counter began shooting. I decided I'd better beat it on out of the store if I didn't want to go to Jesus."
"And you don't know where the girl went?" Kowalski asked.
"I tried to find her," Frank said. "I knew she'd be scared into the middle of next week.
But I couldn't. Besides, I had this shoulder to take care of. I had to get to a doctor, didn't I? Did you expect me to sit down on the curb and watch myself bleed to death just because there are cops in this town? I never had a gun in my life. I'm a box fighter. I'm not one of those guys you read about in the papers. Nobody ever found a gun on me."
"What do you do for a living?" Kowalski asked.
"I'm a boxer," Frank said.
"When did you work last?" Kowalski asked. "When was your last fight?"
"—quite a while ago," Frank said. "But how about yourself? When did you work last?"
"Just answer the question," Kowalski said.
Frank said: "Well, my last real fight was quite a while ago, but I've been giving private lessons."
"To whom?" Kowalski said.
"How do I know?" Frank said. "When a man comes to the club and wants a few lessons I don't ask him all the intimate questions you're asking me. When the manager sends somebody to me and says to teach him boxing, why, I just go ahead and teach him."
"What club is that?" Kowalski said.
"—the Eureka Athletic Club over here," Frank said.
Kowalski said: "—you call that a club?"
"Sure it's a club," Frank said.
Then Kowalski asked Frank for the name of the young woman who was with him at the holdup. Frank told him her name was Mrs. Mary J ones. "I don't know her age or address or where she came from or where she was going," he said. "So you needn't ask me."
"You don't know her address?" Kowalski asked.
"No," Frank said; "I met her the other evening with some friends. And I happened to mention I was going to buy a ring and she was interested and I asked her to go along with me to help pick one out. I didn't call for her at her home. I met her at a taxicab stand because we were going to drive out there. I guess after the shooting she must have run all the way home."
Kowalski asked: "And so you want me to understand that you don't know where she lives?"
"I didn't ask her," Frank said. "I would have if I'd thought you'd want to know." After each sentence Frank paused now. for breath and strength. His shoulder was aching badly.
"It looks like a clear case, Frank," Kowalski said. "Don't you think you'd better get it over with and tell me what happened?"
Frank smiled weakly at the attendant and said: "Send this guy away, will you? He kids me too much." The attendant smiled. The patrolman remained solemn, standing squarely with his hands behind him.
"All right, Frank," Kowalski said; "just one more question: Who is this sweetheart you say you were going to buy a ring for?"
"What do you mean?" Frank said. "—you mean you're going over to the hospital to get her all jumpy after her operation? No sir! You don't get her name from me. Aren't you satisfied coming over here playing hell with me without going after a woman? She doesn't know anything about any ring, anyhow. I was going to surprise her with it. —nothing doing. You don't get it from me. —not that name."
Frank was breathing slowly, noticeably with difficulty. Kowalski looked at the attendant and the attendant shook his head. Frank was nearing exhaustion.
"I give you my word, Frank," Kowalski said. "We may not need to ask her any questions at all.
We won't go near her in any event till she's fully recovered. You can trust me on that. But I think 'twould be better for everybody concerned if you told me. 'Twould certainly look better for you if you answered this one last question. Give me her name and tell me what hospital she's in and I won't bother you any more."
"You won't go near her till she's well if I tell you?" Frank asked.
"You can depend on it," Kowalski said.
Frank looked at him with half-closed eyes. He sighed, letting his eyes close altogether. "—Anita Irving," he said. His lips hardly opened. Kowalski asked him for the name of the hospital and he said it was St. Mary's.
Kowalski got up and said: "—very well." He picked up his hat and thanked the attendant. The stenographer followed him out the door.
Taking a glass of water with a glass tube in it from the table, the attendant held the tube to Frank's lips.
The patrolman sat down in the chair the prosecutor had used, tilting it backward against the white wall. Folding his hands in his lap he twirled his thumbs. Frank's eyes remained shut. He was unconscious. He would hardly try to escape now. But he would live.
Detective-lieutenants Michael Stack and William Brace stopped at the Rawsori Center gasoline station the sixth evening of Laura's visit at the Irvings'.
"Where does Irving live around here, Edward Everett Irving?" Brace asked the station attendant.
The attendant said: "Turn to your right at the corner there. It's the third, fourth, fifth, the fifth house on this side."
Stack started the car, driving slowly toward the corner. He stopped again, though, and said he thought they ought to park the car there instead of driving to the house. Brace thought so too. After parking their car they walked along the path counting the houses, turning finally through the Irving gate. Brace by prearrange-ment strolled along the side of the house, following a path he found leading to the rear. He halted in the deep shadow opposite a side door. Stack knocked at the front door.
The front door opened, light spreading out over the front yard, flagstones and pansy bed. Irving stood in the door holding his newspaper and spectacles, just as when Laura arrived.
"Good evening," Stack said. "I'm here to see Mrs. Rood."
"—certainly," Irving said. "Come in." After Stack had walked in, Irving said: "She's just upstairs putting her little boy to bed."
Stack took off his derby hat. Taking the detective's hat from him Irving hung it on the rack behind the door. "Won't you sit down?" Irving said. He dragged a rocking chair toward the table. "This is my wife, Mrs. Irving," he said.
Sarah Irving, sitting by the table, laid her newspaper across her lap and said: "I'm pleased to meet you, sir."
"How do you do?" Stack said."—nice weather we're having."
Irving told him the country needed rain.
Footsteps sounded overhead. Laura was crossing the room, opening a creaking drawer, returning across the room. Looking at her husband over her spectacles Mrs. Irving said: "Edward, maybe you'd better tell Laura somebody is here to see her. I think the boy is asleep. She may be tending to something else, not knowing." She said to Stack: "She probably thinks it's just one of the neighbors dropped in, you know."
Irving got up. But Stack leaned over and put his hand on his arm. Stack said: "No; sit down. I'll wait. She'll be down in a minute." Irving sat down again. He said he expected she would be down soon.
"Was Laura expecting you?" Mrs. Irving asked.
"No," Stack said; "we're not acquainted. I just came out to see her on a private matter."
After a few moments they heard footsteps at the top of the stairs. Irving said: "Here she comes now." Noting the direction of the sound, Stack concluded a closed door behind him opened out from the stairs. He got up and stood facing this door, turning his back to Mr. and Mrs. Irving. The door knob rattled and turned. Then the door opened and Laura stood there.
Mrs. Irving said: "This is someone to see you, Laura."
Stack pulled back his coat on one side with a casual movement, showing his police badge on his vest to Laura without the Irvings seeing it. On first seeing him Laura guessed he was a detective. But the badge startled her. "O," she said. And then she said: "O, how do you do?" She judged from the way he flashed his badge that he had not identified himself to her aunt and uncle.
"How do you do?" Stack said. "I've come to see you on a little private business that I think you know about." He still stood with his back to the Irvings. He looked at Laura warningly.
"Yes," Laura said. "Why, yes—." She looked past Stack at her aunt and uncle and said: "This is a man from Detroit. I think he wants to talk privately with me a minute." She was going to suggest that she take Stack into the next room, which was the dining room. But Irving interrupted her. He said: "Yes, you stay right here. Take this room. Your aunt and I'll go in the dining room. Sit down here and we won't bother you. We'll close the door and you'll be all by yourselves."
"If you please," Stack said. "Thank you."
"I'm sorry to trouble you, Aunt Sarah," Laura said. She put her arm around Mrs. Irving's waist, kissed her cheek and walked with her as far as the dining room door.
"My goodness," Mrs. Irving said; "it's no trouble."
The dining room door closed on the Irvings. Motioning Laura to a chair, Stack went to the front door, opened it and called in a low voice: "Bill—" Brace appeared at the door and came in with Stack. He looked at Laura.
"Take off your hat, Bill," Stack said. "There's no use in the old people here getting all stirred up over this now. They're in there." Stack jerked his thumb toward the dining room. "—fine old couple," he said. Then he said to Laura: "What did you want to come down here for anyway? You ought to be back in Detroit holding Bom-merito's hand and bringing him flowers."
Laura said: "Sh-sh-sh!" She held her finger over her lips and nodded sidewise toward the dining room. Then she said: "What do you mean? Why flowers? What are you talking about?" Stack looked at Brace and smiled. Laura was going to ask if Frank had been shot. But she caught herself. She said instead: "Was he, is he sick?" Stack smiled at Brace again and said: "O, just a little accident—. But he's probably wondering why you don't come to see him." Laura wondered what could have happened. "If you want to come along quietly," Stack said, "you can explain it all right some way to the old folks in there. Otherwise they're going to know all about it. You don't want that to happen."
The men were standing. Laura sat looking first at the floor and then at the dining room door. She said: "But I've got my little boy here. He's just a baby. He's upstairs sleeping."
"You can bring him along or leave him here," Stack said. "—just as you say."
"But what would happen to him?" she asked.
Stack said: "If you want to bring him they'll take good care of him in Detroit."
"—sure," Brace said; "you needn't worry about that."
Laura looked up at Stack. "O this is terrible," she said. "It's too terrible. Can't I tell you here what you want to know? Can't I, please? I didn't do anything. I don't know anything. Frank and I were in the store looking at some rings and 'twas held up. That's all I know. Honest, it is. I was so scared I didn't know what to do. There was shooting. And I'm only a woman. I just went as fast as I could to get the baby and beat it out here. Please, that's all I know about it. Is Frank very bad? What's the matter with him? Won't you tell me?"
"Come on," Stack said; "get your hat and coat. It's getting late."
She got up and walked over to the dining room door and stood with her hand on the knob thinking. Stack motioned to Brace. He nodded and went out the door again, closing it noiselessly behind him. Then Laura opened the dining room door and looked in at her aunt and uncle. She said: "I've got to go back to the city tonight."
"—tonight?" Mrs. Irving asked. "—so late?" Mr. and Mrs. Irving turned around in their chairs to. look at her.
"Something has come up," Laura said.. "I'm so sorry-"
Irving said: "Neil was having such a good time too."
"I know," Laura said. "It's too bad. But it can't be helped. I'd tell you what it is now only 'twould take too long. I'll have to write to you."
Mrs. Irving looked past Laura at Stack and said: "Is this gentleman taking you back?"
"I'll get her to town in good time," Stack said. He stepped forward into the doorway and smiled. "I'll take good care of her," he said.
"Yes; it's bad driving at night," Mrs. Irving said.
Laura said she would have to wake Neil up and started across the living room to go upstairs. But Irving called after her: "Don't you think you'd better leave Neil here?"
"To be sure!" Mrs. Irving called. "Can't you come back for him when you've finished whatever 'tis you're going to the city for? He's sleeping so sound. It's too bad to disturb him."
Laura stopped part way upstairs. She wondered if Neil might not create sympathy for her if she took him along. But she decided it was not likely that she would be held. She started back downstairs again. "It might be best not to try to take him," she said. "It's so late and all."
"Well, I should say so," Irving said. "Why, I promised to take him to the woods to show him a woodchuck tomorrow."
Laura decided to leave Neil in Rawson Center. Mrs. Irving went upstairs with her to help her pack her bag. Stack sat down near the living room table, smoking a cigar and holding his hat, which he had taken from the hook. Irving sat down next to him. He crossed his legs and began to teeter his foot.
"It must be something pretty important," Irving said.
"Yes," Stack said. Stack flipped cigar ashes off his trousers.
"Well," Irving said, "the boy will be all right here with us. I hope it's nothing serious. I mean I hope there's no trouble."
Stack said: "O no; O no; —nothing like that."
Through the open stairway door the two women were heard packing Laura's bag, tiptoeing back and forth, talking in subdued voices. Then they came down. Stack got up and took Laura's bag from her.
Laura kissed the Irvings. And then Stack and Laura went outside and down to the flagstone walk. Stack explained that his automobile was around the corner.
"We'll leave the door wide till you find the path all right," Irving called after them. "And don't worry about Neil."
The door of the Irving home closed when Laura and Stack had gone a few yards along the fence. Then Brace joined them from the shadows, following close behind them, with Stack walking in front. Their feet fell almost noiselessly on the path, the procession marching single-file under the maples and elms. Nobody else was on the street. Lighted windows in the houses and one electric light bulb gleaming overhead at the corner before them showed them the way to the automobile.
"Now how old are you, did you say?"
"—twenty three years old," Laura said.
"—twenty three years old. —and you're married?"
"Yes, sir," she said.
Judge Julius Case asked her to talk louder.
"The jury must hear everything you say," the judge said.
Judge Case sat to Laura's right and slightly behind her. The witness chair where she sat was an elevated seat at the end of the judge's large flat-topped desk. It was a seat of dark red wood built heavy and plain, conforming to the woodwork and other furniture in the court room. In a similar room upstairs Bommerito had been sentenced to serve from fifteen to twenty-five years in the State Prison at Jackson. Laura had dreaded the cross-examination. She knew in the difficulties it held for her that the direct examination, just completed by her own attorney, was merely a rehearsal.
In front of her there was a large table with men and women sitting around it. On one side of the table were Detectives Stack and Brace and the proprietor of the Crest Diamond Shop, which Laura was formally charged with helping to rob. Because guns were used in the holdup she herself was specifically charged with robbery while armed. At the far end of the table were Laura's cousin, Anita Irving, and Mrs. Margaret Tubbs. Mrs. Tubbs was the housekeeper at the Brush Street apartment house where Laura lived at the time of the holdup. Opposite the detectives sat Simon Kinnane, Laura's attorney. Behind Kin-nane was the chair where Laura sat when she was not on the stand.
Roscoe England, Wayne County's chief assistant prosecuting attorney, stood before her.
"Are you divorced from your husband?" England asked. While he asked the question he gazed out the window.
"No, sir," Laura said.
England asked: "How long have you been separated from him?"
"—three years next January."
"And you have a child, haven't you?"
"Your husband has been here several times to get the child, hasn't he?" England was looking directly at her now. "He's been here to get him?"
"Yes, he's been here," Laura said. "He said he'd get him after this, after this^was over with." England was glaring at her and she clenched her fist in her lap.
"There isn't anything the matter with your mind, is there?" England asked. "You aren't addicted to the use of drugs or intoxicating liquors, are you?"
"And your mentality has been so good," he said, "that for nine months you were employed as an instructor in the telephone office?"
Laura said: "Yes, sir."
The jury was sitting in two rows of chairs in the jury box to her left. The faces of the nine male and three female jurors were expressionless. Laura had now been on trial four days.
In answer to England's questions she told of finding work with the telephone company two weeks after first coming to the city, of becoming instructor there, of going to work as a multigraph operator for a railroad company nine months later. She also explained why she had moved to the Brush Street flat. England had brought out that gunmen, prostitutes and bootleggers were among the residents of the apartment house where she had lived and Detective Brace had testified the day before that the missing tray from the jewelry store was found behind the radiator in the bathroom of Laura's flat there.
"I was taken sick sometime in December," Laura said. "A month and a half later when I was well enough I went looking for work and met my cousin on the street the first day. She suggested that we take an apartment somewhere and go together again. So I consented and moved into that place on Brush Street with her."
England asked: "And you've lived here in this city unmarried for three years, haven't you?"
"Yes, sir," Laura said.
"So you're what might be called sophisticated, aren't you?"
Attorney Kinnane got up to object to the question. He told the judge he thought it called for a conclusion. England withdrew the question before Judge Case could rule on it. But as soon as Laura's counsel had sat down he asked: "In other words, you know the ways of the world, don't you?"
Kinnane did not object this time so Laura answered the question. "No, I don't," she said.
"Now, your defense in this case is that you were intrigued into this affair, is it?" England asked. lie tilted his head back and looked at the ceiling over her head. When she answered yes England said: "I see. And what are we to presume you mean by that?"
Laura blushed. "I mean I was used as a dupe by someone," she said. She told England she did not know the names of the men who had so used her and England said: "You don't know. Well, then, how long have you known Frank Bom-merito?"
"I've known Frank Bommerito personally for the last two months," she said. She told him she had known him as Anita Irving's fiance.
"He has lived with you, hasn't he?" England asked. Laura told him no. England said: "What's that?" Laura looked at the rows of men and women in the spectators' benches and then looked back at England. "No, sir," she said. England said: "Are you sure about that?" Laura said she was sure.
Kinnane got up again to address Judge Case. He said: "If your honor please, I object to the attitude of counsel in examining this young lady. Where I sit I can hear comments under his breath after the answers of this witness are given. I submit, it's not fair to this witness and she's entitled to a fair trial at the hands of the prosecutor."
"I've seen nothing out of the way in the prosecutor's attitude thus far," Judge Case said. "Proceed."
England said: "Bommerito lived right up at your apartment, didn't he?"
"No, sir," Laura said.
"And the proposition was," England said, "that you were to select an engagement ring for Miss Irving?" When Laura answered yes England said: "I see."
Kinnane rose again. "Now, if your honor please," he said, "I renew the same objection; after the answers of this witness are given counsel makes a statement such as, 'I see,' or grunts under his breath."
England said: "I haven't grunted yet." The jury and the spectators laughed and the bailiff rapped with his gavel on the clerk's desk.
"If I heard anything out of the way on the part of the prosecutor I should certainly reprimand him for doing it," Judge Case said. "Proceed."
Once Kinnane spoke up to advise Laura to give an unqualified answer to the prosecutor. England had asked: "You knew at the very-time you went out of the store that you were going out with thieves, didn't you?"
"I was so excited I hardly knew what I was doing," Laura said.
"But you went out?" England asked.
Laura said: "Frank told me-"
England interrupted her and said: "You went out?"
Kinnane then spoke to her from his seat at the table. "Answer the question, Mrs. Rood," he said.
"Yes, sir," Laura said.
And then England asked her why she had changed her clothes when she returned to her apartment after the holdup and Laura told him she was afraid. "I was afraid I'd be recognized some place," she said. "I knew they'd done this thing to me as soon as that fellow said, 'If you don't keep your mouth shut I'll kill you.' I knew I'd been made a goat, a dupe. I knew I'd been intrigued in some way and I wanted to get away from it all. I didn't want to be recognized. I was afraid of being taken into custody and I was afraid for my child. I was afraid of the threats that had been made. I was afraid that if I told what I knew those men would kill me for it."
"The police had you inside of a week even if you did skip town, didn't they?" England asked. "—-way down in the country where you thought nobody'd look?"
"Yes, sir," Laura said.
"And you tried to talk the police out of it, didn't you?" England said. "Didn't you, Mrs. Rood?"
"No, I didn't," Laura said.
"You tried to baby-stare them right out of it, didn't you?"
Kinnane objected. But he did not stand up this time.
England said: "You did, didn't you?"
Kinnane did not say anything more and Laura was confused.
"Yes, sir," she said.
Judge Case interrupted. He said to the stenographer: "That last answer of the witness may be stricken out."
This made Laura more confused than ever.
"That's just what happened, isn't it?" England asked.
Laura said: "No, sir."
"But the loot," England said, "was divided right in your apartment, wasn't it? The diamonds were divided and distributed right in your apartment, weren't they?" Laura said they were not so far as she knew.
"You knew all about it, didn't you?" he asked. "—didn't you?"
"No, sir," Laura said.
England asked her if that was the way she wanted to leave it and Laura said it was. He said he thought that was all and went back to his chair at the table in front of the two detectives.
Kinnane then walked over and stood in front of her and asked her why she had changed her mind. "You say you decided to tell the truth at this trial," he asked, "in spite of the threat of death you received?"
"Because I'd rather die," she said, "I'd rather be killed by a bullet from one of those gangs or one of the bandits than to have to serve time in the House of Correction and have my boy pointed at with a finger of shame because his mother was serving time on a charge of this kind."
England said: "If you feel that way about it why don't you tell the truth then ?"
"The question is objected to," Kinnane said; •"There's no showing that she hasn't told the truth."
The judge said: "I think that's a question the jury will have to decide."
The noon recess was announced. In the afternoon would follow the closing arguments, Judge Case's charge to the jury and then probably by night-fall the verdict.
After lunch Laura was the first of the principals in the trial to return to her place in the court room. Several men and women spectators had decided not to risk their seats by going out for lunch and they sat whispering among themselves beyond the railing behind her. But at one-thirty o'clock everybody was in his place.
One of the newspapermen at the press table sat looking at Laura. He looked at her legs, which were crossed, and then looked at her face and smiled. She looked away. Kinnane was sitting in front of her and she leaned over and said to him across his shoulder: "Say, didn't my skirt look too short when I was up there on the witness stand?"
"No," Kinnane said; "Why?"
"I was just thinking about it," Laura said.
"No; believe me, you looked mighty attractive up there. That's what I wanted you to get all dolled up for."
"I thought some of the jurors might be against me on account of such a short skirt."
"Forget it," Kinnane said. "Don't worry about that. Those old codgers over there on the jury will like you all the better for it. If you get off they'll probably try to date you up. You looked fine up there. I was proud of you." Laura mentioned that three of the jurors were women and Kinnane said: "Forget it."
Laura looked across at the jury and thought of Deerhorn's older generation. Then the chief assistant prosecuting attorney began to speak.
After both lawyers had finished their arguments Judge Case looked across and down at the jurors and told them theirs was the most important duty of all. Many in Detroit and in other places reached by Detroit newspapers were to comment, later, on the way Judge Case charged his jury this day. He began by analyzing the statute under which Laura had been brought to trial, proceeding then to describe a variety of actions which would constitute a violation of the statute. Next he called attention to the numerous holdups and robberies which had taken place in Detroit recently.
Moreover, he said, bandits, or gunmen of any kind, were never entirely isolated human beings preying single-handed or in strictly limited gangs upon respectable persons. They were surrounded by groups of men and women as dependent on the spoils of banditry as the bandits themselves. These men and women he called parasites upon parasitism, who gave encouragement to bandits, praising them for their depredations, collecting their share of the loot in the form of expensive clothes, costly food and high living. Often, he assured the jury, they were more despicable characters than the bandits, lacking even the questionable courage to go out with a gun to rob, terrorize or kill decent citizens.
"Sometimes I wonder," he said, "whether the visible underworld, typified by the man with the gun, is a greater enemy of society than the invisible underworld, typified by the woman with the baby-stare, the painted lips and the expensive clothes, to whom he hands out his bloody money.
"But that is the moral, the philosophical aspect of this general question of crime," he said. Jle rested his arms on the desk, folding his hands, gazing now at the jurors, now at the spectators. "We must confine ourselves here," he said, "to the specific case of Laura Rood, whom the officers investigating the case allege has been not only a member of the invisible underworld but at least in this instance a participant herself in a bloody crime. Note that the defense does not maintain that the defendant was not present at the scene of the crime or that she did not accompany three of the other participants to her own apartment afterward. The defense concedes that these are the facts. The defense contends instead that she participated unwittingly in this outrage. The defense contends that she was used as a dupe. Here, though, you must consider a further question in this connection, namely, was she used as a dupe by strangers or by friends, by associates, men with whom she had knowingly and wittingly cast her lot in life. That you must weigh as a very important point in considering the whole question of her guilt or innocence fundamentally. The defense claims that of the four men in this holdup she knew only Frank Bommerito, who has already been found guilty. The prosecution claims on the other hand that she was acquainted with all four of the men, the inference being that she is shielding the other three, perhaps partly because of fear and partly because of what passes for loyalty in the underworld, those three being still at large, undoubtedly committing other crimes, perhaps at this very moment.
"Well, the question of law may seem difficult here but I have analyzed the language of the law for you. I have told you exactly how it may apply to specific cases and I have also told you what it is intended to accomplish for society. The statute itself is unmistakably clear. It remains for you men and women of the jury to decide among yourselves, as reputable citizens having the welfare of the community at heart, whether the State has proved sufficient facts against Laura Rood to bring her under penalty of this law. In considering all this of course you must keep in mind the mitigating circumstances claimed by the defense.
"Before closing, however, I must caution you against one thing. Do not let the fact that the defendant is a woman carry any weight whatever in your deliberations, nor the fact that she is also a mother. If the things charged by the State are true she is not fit to be a mother. Her child then might far better have a stranger for a parent and guide. It is notorious not only in this city but throughout this great country of ours that juries are reluctant to convict women, especially young and presumably pretty women. But I don't want ever to have it said that in a trial before me her sex gave a guilty woman immunity from just punishment. The courts and the law must not be corrupted through a baby-stare. If that were to happen the foundations of law and justice as established in this country would be fatally endangered.
"Consider the law and all the facts. Now go and, in the language of one of the greatest of Americans, dare to do your duty as you understand it."
Laura had scarcely moved while hearing him through. Sometimes she glanced at faces near her, particularly noticing how Burnbaum across the table was listening eagerly. In the course of her imprisonment and trial she had come to look upon the detective bureau, the prosecuting attorney's office and the court as three inter-related subdivisions of one agency, with the three divisions collaborating in her prosecution. This was not in the spirit of disillusionment and Laura was not aroused to protest. As her situation became clearer to her she rather took it for granted, adding it to the sum of her knowledge. Therefore she was not shocked by what Judge Case said. It was to be expected that he would say those things. First the detectives told the prosecuting attorney she was guilty. Next the prosecuting attorney and the detectives told the judge she was guilty. And then the judge and the prosecutor told the jury. That was the way it worked. For so simple a process it all seemed to take a long time. The jury appeared to be a body apart. She could not quite place the jury in this scheme of things. But she remembered how the jurors answered questions while being empanelled and how they looked while they were listening to Judge Case. They impressed her as being persons who in a different way felt themselves somehow on trial also. Now for the first' time she began speculating definitely about the verdict. When the twelve returned through the heavy door of the jury room it would be all over. She seemed to have lost. As she looked back it seemed to have been a losing fight all the way.
And still she could not twist the loud denunciatory words she had heard so that they made sense when applied to her. She felt harmless and kind toward everybody.
Yet the question probably was not so much what the verdict would be as what the sentence would be. She thought she would as soon be sentenced by either of the detectives as by Judge Case. She told herself, however, that there were alternatives. She might be placed on probation. Or the sentence might even be suspended, since she had already spent several weeks in the County Jail. She doubted this. Frank had been sentenced to from fifteen to twenty-five years. Frank was a man and had had a gun. She said to herself: But what if I should get a year?—a whole year? A year seemed like a long, long time in prison. She was tired and so put off the task of preparing herself for a severe penalty.
With the nine men and three women deliberating behind the jury room door, Kinnane had been walking back and forth past the table where she sat. "If you're found guilty—and you must be prepared for that, of course"—he said," the judge will ask you if you've got anything to say for yourself." Kinnane sat down beside her. "If that happens," he said, "just say briefly but earnestly that you hope for the sake of your child he'll be lenient."
Laura nodded. "Will he want me to stand up ?" she asked. "And where will I stand?"
"He'll ask you to stand," Kinnane said. "And probably he'll want you to come forward near the bench."
The jury room door opened and the jury entered the court room, walking solemnly to the jury box. The nine men and three women stood before their chairs and Judge Case asked them if they had arrived at a verdict.
"We have," the foreman said. "We find the defendant guilty as charged."
There was subdued movement and sound throughout the court room followed by silence again. Reporters tip-toed out to telephone their offices that Laura Rood was guilty. Then the judge summoned her and Laura walked up to within a few feet of the bench, Kinnane following at her side. England stood near.
"Laura Rood," Judge Case said, "have you anything to say for yourself before the court pronounces sentence upon you?"
Everything seemed to move swiftly now. "I wish," Laura said, "I hope for the sake of my child you'll be lenient." Her own voice sounded loud to her in the hushed room.
Judge Case said: "Laura Rood, you yourself did not think of your child when it was time to think of him. And now it is I that you ask to think of him, now that you've betrayed the trust of motherhood. And I will think of him, Laura Rood. I will give you time to think too. The sentence of the court is that you serve from eight to fifteen years in the Detroit House of Correction, with a recommendation of eight years."
The judge scribbled the sentence in ink on the folder of the complete file of her case. He tossed the file forward on his desk for the clerk. Laura was taken back to the County Jail to await transfer to the House of Correction on the following day, the prisoners to be taken up that day having already gone.
Laura from the very beginning was considered one of the most important of the women prisoners, partly because of the serious charge and sentence but partly also because so much had been published in the newspapers about her trial and her life. Prisoners and attendants at the House of Correction knew all the details of her case when she arrived.
In the several months in Detroit prior to her arrest Laura had felt far removed from Deer-horn and all her old associations. But in the life in Deerhorn that she had left she had continued to see, or feel, certain virtues. Especially in connection with the responsibilities she realized toward Neil she had felt strengthened and somehow safeguarded in being able to identify herself even remotely with Deerhorn, its people and its ways. Although she had never taken Neil back to Deerhorn to visit or to live she was always inclined to relate her motherhood to her own mother's old home town and all the things that Deerhorn from a distance seemed to represent. Now, though, she could not see how Deerhorn had anything to do with her any more.
Neil's father, Stanley Rood, she had been told, had applied for a divorce and the custody of Neil, intending to marry someone else. Neil, she knew, would be taught to forget her and Laura felt that she had lost her identity. Surges in her of grief or anger were quick and deep and did not arouse her to speech, out-cry or gesture and she did not think of the future.
Cells in the women's section like those on the men's side were arranged in tiers. Behind the uppermost tier, reached by a narrow hall and stairway, were three small rooms known as the psychopathic ward. When Laura arrived to begin her term this ward was occupied by a few women and the infant daughter of one of them. The child had been born after the woman became an inmate. As part of her daily tasks Laura was required to clean these rooms.
It became night in the psychopathic ward earlier than in the main section of the prison, due to the size and position of the windows. One afternoon Laura was delayed in her other work and climbed the stairs to do her sweeping and dusting there about three-thirty o'clock. The >vard was almost dark.
The name of the woman who had been sent to prison pregnant was Briggs. Laura saw Mrs. Briggs sitting in a corner of one of the rooms in front of one of the little windows with her baby. The baby was crying frantically but Laura paid little attention to it. She supposed it might have the colic and decided to suggest when she went back downstairs that somebody take up some hot water for it. As she worked toward the corner where the mother and child were sitting huddled in the faint light she saw Mrs. Briggs' arm moving back and forth over the child and thought probably Mrs. Briggs was massaging it to try to bring up some of the gas. The baby was screaming. "What's the matter, Mrs. Briggs?" Laura said. "Is it the colic?"
Mrs. Briggs looked over her shoulder and grinned foolishly. Laura could make out the distortion of her mouth in the growing darkness. Then Laura's foot struck something. She picked it up and found it was a box of scouring powder used for porcelain or enamel ware.
"What's this for?" Laura asked. "Were you cleaning something today?" She leaned over to look at the baby and found that Mrs. Briggs was scouring it. "What's the matter?" she asked. "What are you doing?" Mrs. Briggs handed her a cloth that was wadded tight in her fist and laughed. Powder fell to the floor when Laura shook the cloth out. The baby kept on screaming. It was kicking and tossing its clenched hands convulsively. Laura turned on a light. The baby's arms and back were bleeding in places. Laura
rushed out to report to the woman in charge.
Attendants assured Laura that Mrs. Briggs would never become really violent toward the child or another prisoner and merely needed fairly careful watching. But sometimes at night when everybody else in the prison was quiet Laura could hear Mrs. Briggs' baby crying and it always made her worry or shudder. Always at such times her feeling was definitely connected with Neil.
She thought of Neil a great deal of the time. But it seemed to her that she would not be able to bear looking at him if anybody ever brought him there to see her. And she imagined that if he came and then clung to her in a blind refusal to go away, innocently indifferent to the conditions he was pleading to share with her, she would faint on the spot. Whenever tears filled her eyes and flowed down her face in thinking of things like this she always kept her eyes open. And she put her tongue out the corner of her mouth to taste the tears, licking them in and letting them disappear in her throat.
She did not feel that she was enduring imprisonment for a purpose or that she had been sentenced for a purpose. Judge Case had spoken of enemies of society, of punishment and of correction. The name of the prison was House of Correction. But Laura was not aware of any social force in her imprisonment. It was rather like a long sickness, a sickness that would end in death or prolonged, perhaps life-long convalescence, a sickness that must be allowed to run its course. It was the last and the worst thing that had happened to her. All of the human values of her life were destroyed for her. Only the mechanism of life remained. She went about the rounds of her daily tasks automatically, responding to pressure on the mind communicated through certain habitual words. And in all of this she was growing weaker physically.
Twice her cousin Anita called to see her. Once her attorney called to ask her to sign some papers relative, to the farm at Deerhorn. Then Robin Vogel came. It was in the second year.
She had received letters from him. In these letters he had told her he was still her friend and he always asked her if there was anything he could do for her. But he had never mentioned coming all the way from Deerhorn to see her. When she saw him standing at the grating where the prisoners always received their visitors, Laura drew in her breath. And they were both quite embarrassed when they shook hands.
Robin said: "Here's a little candy I brought you and some handkerchiefs and some other things." Before Laura could tell him about the prison rules Robin began sliding through the grating the box he had brought.
A uniformed guard was standing near him and the guard reached out and grabbed his arm. "Here, you," the guard said; "what are you trying to do there! Give me that box." The guard swung Robin half way around and took the box away from him.
Laura said to Robin: "They have to inspect everything that's brought in here, Robin."
"You can sit here a few minutes," the guard said to Laura. He unlocked the iron door. "Sit right here," he said. He pointed to a bench against the wall. Then he said to Robin: "You see, we've got to look everything over that comes in here. You're all right, though. Sit down here with her and talk a while."
Robin and Laura sat down beside each other on the bench. Robin crossed his legs and hung his hat over his knee. Laura told him he could smoke if he wanted to and Robin took a pack of cigarets and a box of matches out of his pocket. He tapped a cigaret endwise on the package quite a while to give the guard a chance to say something if he was going to. But the guard did not say anything. Overhead in the center of the ceiling of the corridor was a heavy ornate chandelier but it was unlighted. The only light that fell on their faces came from a small unshaded electric bulb attached to the wall a few feet away. They could hear typewriters clicking in the office.
"How's everything back home?" Laura asked.
Robin said things were about the same as ever. "Deerhorn doesn't change much," he said. Laura said she supposed not.
"You remember Mr. Speller, of course," Robin said; "Speller the undertaker? He sent you his best regards. So did Dr. Roach and Fat Smith and a few others."
"That's very nice of them," Laura said.
"Yes," Robin said, "I thought I'd just take a rim down here to see you." He turned toward her and put his elbow on the back of the bench so that his wrist hung down against her shoulder.
"How's your shop getting along?" she asked. "Is it still in the same place?"
"Yes; it's still in the same place," Robin said.
"And things are just about the same. But don't let's talk about that. I want to talk about you. I've been wondering and thinking about you all this time."
"No; don't talk about me."
"my not?" Robin asked. "You musn't take that attitude."
"You say you've thought about me," she said. "Well, I've thought about myself day and night, day and night. There's nothing more to think and there's nothing more to say. And there's nothing left in here or in here either." She put her hand on her head and then put it against her breast.
"What do you mean?" Robin asked. "You don't mean you've given up, do you?"
"There's nothing left," she said. "There's nothing left inside of me or outside of me."
Robin disputed this. But the words he thought of did not seem to answer her words. He wondered if this proved that what she said was true. He was afraid. He wanted to destroy her mood and her thoughts but the only way to do it seemed to be to pick her up and carry her out the door, with her head crushed against his shoulder to stifle any protest. He thought of taking her hands in one of his own and putting his other arm around her. Her hands lay in her lap. The impulse was so strong that he lifted his hands and strained a little closer to her. But he ended by patting her shoulder.
Then the guard spoke. "I can only give you a few minutes longer," he said. Robin glanced at him and nodded.
"By Christ, Laura," Robin said; "I wish—" Robin stopped because it seemed like too much to say. But he wanted to say it. "I wish to hell you'd stayed in Deerhorn," he said.
Laura said: "What difference does it make now?"
"Doesn't it make a difference if I wish that?"
"But I didn't stay," she said.
"Then I wish I'd come to Detroit with you."
"You didn't, though," she said.
"I don't understand what you're driving at."
"It's no use to wish," she said.
"No," Robin said; "I was thinking, that's all. I guess I've loved you all the time. I know I love you now. That's why I said I wished you'd stayed in Deerhorn or I'd come to Detroit with you. Don't you think it makes a difference?" She did not answer. "Don't you?" he said. He called her by name twice and she did not answer even then.
He squeezed her shoulder and spoke to her rather sharply and said: "Laura, don't you? Why don't you answer me?"
"Perhaps," Laura said. She looked at him but looked away again.
"Look at me," he said. She looked at him again and he said: "Don't you know 'twould have made a difference?"
She nodded. "I guess so," she said. "—maybe. But promise me something. Promise me you'll not go away feeling sorry for me. I don't want that. Just forget me. I'd like a letter once in a while. But I mean don't love me."
"—time is up," the guard said.
"Will you kiss me good-bye?" Robin said. "And I'll write to you as soon as I get back home. Promise you'll answer. And don't think all you've been telling me. Wait till we get some sunshine on you. Everything will be all right. But I've got to go. Kiss me good-bye."
She turned her face to him and they kissed each other. Robin shut his eyes but Laura kept her eyes open and looked straight ahead. When he got up from the bench he kept hold of one of her hands and patted it rapidly. And when he turned away he held it until their arms could not reach any farther.
Laura took from the guard the box Itobin had brought and walked back through the grated door to her cell block.
All the rest of that day she kept recalling Robin's appearance and his words. She thought of* Neil too. When Neil appeared in her thoughts his father and step-mother were not with him. The boy was there alone. He seemed a long way off and she did not try to bring him any closer. But there did not seem to be any torture in her realization that she was his mother.
Four days later she got a long letter. She took it to her cell to read it in private and sat a while looking at the fat envelope before she opened it. Without any animation, as if she were preoccupied with an envelope addressed to somebody else, she studied the post-mark, the stamp and Robin's writing. In the upper left-hand corner were Robin's own name and address. She began coupling the two names, reading them over to herself: Robin Vogel, Laura Rood, Robin Vogel, Laura Rood. Then she inserted her forefinger under the flap and tore the envelope open. At the top of the first page Robin had written not only
Deerhorn, Mich., and the date but the hour of the night when the letter was composed—one-thirty a.m. She realized this indicated intimacy and devotion.
The letter began: "Dear Laura." She observed that he did not address her as "Dearest" or call her by some other obviously endearing name. She read on so slowly that fully twenty minutes had passed before she reached the end. He signed himself, "Yours, Robin." After everything he had told her in his letter this simple pledging of himself to her struck her as being straightforward and unaffected and stirred a faint response in her. Incapable now of wonder or exultation, she dwelt on meanings that she did not really feel.
"I have seen the place you are in," the letter said. "I have seen you there. And now I know I have much to learn. I had supposed there were a few things that were impossible among us human beings but now I realize that anything can happen—anything."
In the next paragraph he said: "If it can happen that you are where you are then it can happen that you can come out to find happiness."
He said he would send her books that would enable her to understand more clearly his position toward society, toward prisons and indirectly though not secondarily toward herself.
"There is some viewpoint," he said, "that will revive your spirits, that will make you anxious to come outside those walls to continue living. It might be one viewpoint, it might be another. But before long your mind will hit on it. Keep yourself as well as you can. Sleep, eat and exercise. By all means do not let yourself believe your life is no longer worth living or that you are unimportant. Perhaps now you are not much interested in life just for the pleasure that is in it, for your own sake. But if at any time before you die you can mean much to a single person, whether man, woman or child, you are important, Laura. Isn't there someone even now, some one person you can think of, to whom you have reason to believe your life means a good deal? There is. I know there is. It merely remains for you to realize it and to realize just what that means.
"Don't hold the idea, either, that you have anything to live down. Understand instead that you have much to live up to. Your beginning, lasting for many years, was fine. You can not dispute me. And you are not through yet. It is too bad to lose a few years. But it is not fatal. You are not through, Laura. You are not beaten. And do not think I am getting off the subject when I remark, just as I used to remark so often long ago, that you are beautiful. You have not lost that, Laura. I understand more about beauty now than I used to. It ought to be satisfying to you to know that others can get a really genuine pleasure just out of your being around where they can look at you. Your beauty lasts. It grows."
Laura stopped reading from time to time and let the letter rest in her lap. When she read the part where he spoke of the possibility of her being important to someone else she thought of Neil. And she remembered that Robin had told her he loved her.
Farther along in the letter Robin said: "I do not know what importance you place on the opinions of others. But I do know that most of us resent being misjudged. Certainly we dislike the kind of ego that attains an illusion of superiority by condemning others when the slightest chance is offered. But in case it means anything at all to you—and I do not at all necessarily mean I think it should—I might say here that
I have not heard anyone in Deerhorn speak unkindly or unpleasantly about you. I am really quite surprised at Deerhorn. No one has a hammer out for you. It has never been necessary for me to defend you. When we were talking together on the bench you acted as if you felt everyone was against you. And I did not have time to tell you all this when I saw you. I thought you might like to hear it, though. And when you come out—as you will! I would like to see you visit Deerhorn. I would like to see you come here after you were thoroughly rested, with your head up and a healthy light in your eyes. And what is more, I would like to be with you when you do it. It would do Deerhorn good and do you good and do me good. And people like Mr. Speller would certainly want you to come to their homes to visit them.
"Write to me, Laura," the letter said. "I can not tell you to write as if nothing had happened. Inasmuch as something has happened we will have to be honest about it and talk and think and act accordingly. But keep in mind every day that when you come out you will still be young. And so will I."
Then he signed himself: "Yours, Robin."
Laura was not able to realize at the time what this letter meant to her. But she was to read it again more than once. After this first reading she kept on sitting in her cell with the sheets of paper in her hands, keeping alive her impressions. At last she reached across to the drawer of the small table opposite her bunk and slid the letter under a pile of handkerchiefs.
The women's side of the prison in particular became repeatedly over-crowded. The police in three or four precincts of the city arrested scores of prostitutes in periodical campaigns. And many of the women were sentenced to from ten to ninety days in the House of Correction. And then one day due to unusual police activity of this nature the women's division became more over-crowded than ever in its history. Attendants could not find room for all the women, although cots were borrowed from the police department and from the county authorities and set up across the cell block floor.
Mattresses were even unrolled and spread on the floor of one of the corridors. But, because it was possible to escape from this corridor, only such prisoners as presumably would not try to escape were assigned to sleep on these mattresses. And Laura was one of these.
It was October and in the change from summer to winter some of the days and nights were rainy and cold. The second night Laura spent on her new bed on the floor was particularly cold and preparations were not made for such weather. Laura several times woke up chilled. She decided to ask for more covers the next night but by morning her throat was sore and she was feverish and dizzy.
Customary first aid was administered but it did not appear to help her any. The following night all the extra blankets were in use but she was given an overcoat and a sweater for further covering. And two nights later she was removed to a cell at one end of the uppermost tier of cells. By that time she was delirious. She did not ask for anybody and except in delirious sleep she did not talk. Belle Sanson, the operator of a Charlotte Avenue flat, and Stella Nugent, a prostitute from Beaubien Street, often stopped at her cell door. When she opened her eyes to one or both of them she appeared to see them but she did not seem to distinguish between dream and reality. She dozed or slept almost all of the time.
Another letter from Robin came but she could not read it nor hear it read and it was placed in the table drawer in her new cell.
The weather continued raw and the prison temperature was uneven. Laura was at last taken to Receiving Hospital very sick with pleural pneumonia.
Neil's father had divorced Laura and he now lived in Detroit with Neil and his second wife. Rood was persuaded by a newspaper reporter to take Neil to the hospital. It was intended that the boy be taken to Laura's bedside. The reporter was able to make special arrangements with the hospital superintendent for the visit, other visitors being told she was too sick to be seen. But Laura was unconscious when Rood took Neil up the elevator to the door of her ward, accompanied by the reporter and a newspaper photographer. She was breathing with difficulty behind the white screen where she had lain without moving since being brought there. The reporter and photographer wanted the boy to pose beside the bed but permission was refused and Neil was taken downstairs and outdoors again to be photographed with his father on the hospital steps.
Robin knew of Laura's sickness through the press reports. He did not visit her but tried instead to content himself with hoping she would get well.
Robin in his shop moved across to another chair before a new electrically operated stitching machine. Adjusting a new sole to an old shoe, he turned on the current, sewing where formerly he had nailed. He shifted his chair, bending close over his work, hindered by the graying light.
Two days ago news of Laura's death had reached Deerhorn.
Outside the window accumulations of snow covered roofs and window sills and almost everything but the sidewalks. Robin's fellow townsmen and townswomen were going along bundled to their noses in coat collars, scarves and furs. And Robin could hear the whining of wagon wheels on the packed snow on the pavement when a farmer passed with his team.
On the low, wide inner window sill of the shop Speller sat watching Robin working. Cloudy
January afternoon light fell somberly on Speller's bending shoulders.
A farmer in a long heavy black bearskin coat was driving his team slowly past the shop, vapor clouding around the horses' nostrils. Looking shapeless and huge in the shaggy fur, the farmer was walking beside the wagon keeping his feet warm. Cord wood was piled in the wagon box and the heavy wheels turning slowly on the hard snow were creaking noisily.
"—sounds cold, doesn't it?" Robin said. Speller said it certainly did and looked around out the window.
Robin finished his work at the machine, the tip of his tongue from habit showing in the corner of his mouth as he cut the thread. He returned to his accustomed chair. The darkened leather seat from long use was concave like a saucer in the wooden frame and a pad covered with faded cretonne was hanging at the back to protect Robin's back from the rungs.
Speller was thinking of arrangements he was making for Laura's funeral.
Again and again in recent years Robin had become enraged at internal and external influences which he assumed were affecting Laura's life. It was his habit to picture her companions with hatred and an averted ineffectual jealousy. While Laura was in the House of Correction Robin had sometimes lain awake at night until from lack of sleep his eyelids smarted in the morning. At such times a cigaret smarted his lips and tongue when he lit one while dressing. His skin tightened all over and hurt at the slightest chill in the early morning air. And these were only the superficial physical results of a mood acute with misery.
A question often came to him that he had never before felt called upon to answer. It was the old question of the value or the desirability of living, a question he had touched upon in his first letter to Laura after his visit to the prison. Robin had been willing to withstand his share of the suffering that came to all men as members of a species undergoing normal development, without resentment, and had always shrugged his shoulders at the question of the value of life. He had considered it an academic question for professional cynics or a romantic question for weak-spirited women. But this misery could not be explained away. It was in him and of him.
And where was there anything in life ahead of him to compensate for enduring it?
Those moods always passed. But sometimes afterward there was the further question in Robin's mind whether they had not left him changed. He was sometimes afraid that much had been destroyed in him. Alone in his room after hearing of Laura's death he had been especially frightened. Was it true then, he had asked himself, that of all things possible in the world every man by nature was most affected by a woman's death and the image in his mind of her face in death?
Apparently no manner of living or attitude toward the life process constituted an immunity or a fortification against this effect of a woman's death in the man who loved her. Robin considered he had lived rationally. "I've been socially minded without losing my identity," he had said to himself. "Carefully and sincerely I've studied the common delusions and disillusionments both of the crowd and the individual, supposedly making myself thereby a better and happier person. But nothing I've learned or seen can help me. Laura is dead. And her death overcomes me to the point where nothing I've enjoyed or hoped to enjoy has any further meaning for me."
lie concluded therefore that since these things had taken place in him a like transformation must similarly take place at such a time in all men.
"It feels a little chilly. —guess I'd better look at the fire," Robin said to Speller. He put down his leather and his knife and without straightening from his sitting position he walked, bending forward at the waist, to the stove in the middle of the room. Protecting his hand with a corner of his leather apron he opened the fire door. Forms of wood flames were projected in rapid motion on ceiling and walls. The flickering light played warmly on Robin's face, roughened with two days' growth of brown beard. "I like to watch a fire," he said, "especially when it's beginning to die down." Hands on knees, he bent looking into the stove. "Yes," Speller said, "there seems to be something hypnotic in it. Animals are affected by fire that way." Robin said he had often noticed that. He took a chunk of oak wood from the wood-box, sliding it through the door endwise, moving it into place with the poker.
Sitting down again he began shaping a sole in the light that still came through the window.
The sky was like a curving lens of unbroken gray. The light coming through it whitened on the snowy earth.
"I've picked out a very fine casket, Robin," Speller said.
"Yes?" Robin said.
"Yes, it's a very handsome one," Speller said. "It's light gray. And there are quite a few flowers and wreaths, too. A surprising number have sent tributes, more than I thought would. There were little messages with most of the flowers, nice little sentiments, you know. And say! The inmates of the prison even sent seven dollars and a half for flowers. I was just in at the telegraph office and they told me about it."
"Yes?" Robin said.
"She was away seven years, wasn't she?"
Robin nodded. He let his hands rest in his lap, holding knife and leather. "—about that long," he said.
"—seven unfortunate years," Speller said. "And now she's coming back home."
Robin puckered up his mouth and shook his head.
Studying Robin's face, Speller had hardly altered his position on the window sill. Now he crossed his legs and sat up a little straighter. He had called for a purpose but was hesitating to state it, knowing Robin's beliefs, fearing he would be unsympathetic. He saw Robin make a face when he spoke of Laura as somebody who was coming back home. But he knew Robin had loved Laura and he hoped that would influence him. "Just the same, Robin," he said, "she is coming back."
Robin smiled slyly at him.
"I know, I know," Speller said; "you can say she's dead and doesn't know and all that. But just the same there's something else to be considered."
"Well, it's true, isn't it?" Robin said. She is dead, isn't she? And she doesn't know, does she?"
Speller shook his head. "I'll agree with a lot you say, I'll admit," he said. "But there's a lot you haven't said. For one thing, you know everybody is going to think of it that way. Everybody is thinking of Laura as coming back home."
"O, well," Robin said; "perhaps they are."
"Yes, and you should consider that," Speller said. "Your ideas are extreme. People in Deerhorn think of Laura as still belonging to them. They think of her as coming back in death among her own people again. Can't you see?" Robin smiled. And Speller began describing the sentiments people in Deerhorn had toward their dead. He even described to Robin some of the memorable funerals of his career and he ended by saying that Laura's funeral should bring out the finer feelings of the Deerhorn people as never before. No funeral just like it had ever been held. " 'Twill bring out all their charitableness," he said.
Robin waved his hand and turned his head away.
Speller said: "I wish you could forget one or two of your prejudices and look at things as I do this once. You know all of Laura's old friends, all those of her own age, have left Deerhorn except you. And Ed Irving and his wife from that little town down near Detroit, they're coming. And I was just wondering how they were going to feel if there wasn't anybody to carry Laura to her grave except my own men, fellows that work for me. 'Twould be more like a county burial, wouldn't it? Of course there are old friends of the family here still. But they're all as old as I am. And under the circumstances you can't ask men past middle age to be pallbearers. 'Twould be commented on. It might cause very embarrassing comment. We've got to be frank with ourselves, Robin."
Robin smiled. "Yes," he said, "I suppose sympathy can be carried too far in practice for a man's own good in Deerhorn. Sympathy in Deer-
horn is conversation in a certain tone of voice."
"O, come now," Speller said; "Deerhorn isn't any worse than anywhere else. Suppose we say I'm a representative Deerhorn citizen. Do you really mean to say you think my sympathies are only as deep as the tone of my voice? You're too cynical. Isn't this funeral for poor misguided Laura a case in point?" Speller's eyes widened and his hand went out toward Robin. He was holding a lighted pipe in his hand and smoke rising from the bowl clouded hazily between the two men.
"Yes, I know you're conducting the funeral for her," Robin said. "But that happens to be your business."
"What is?" Speller asked. "I don't understand."
"—the funeral business," Robin said.
"But I didn't have to do it, did I?" Speller asked.
"No," Robin said; "you didn't have to. But you are, after all, in the business. And won't Curtis mention your undertaking establishment in his account of the funeral?" Speller protested but Robin said: "In other words, Speller, and you know it as well as I do, that's the way the wheels go round. Maybe, as you say, you didn't think of Curtis' paper till now. But 'twasn't necessary that you think of it in advance. That's the point. It's well-oiled, it runs by itself, this sympathy we're talking about. Isn't that so, Speller? Come on, admit it for once."
Speller shrugged his shoulders. He got up from the window sill, pipe in mouth, and stood looking into the shop's dark corner. "Have it that way if you must," he said. Robin felt sorry that it was Laura's funeral he was discussing this way. But he said to himself: "Don't soften. Don't weaken. She's dead. What's the difference?"
Speller said: "You get off some funny things sometimes." He sat down again. His pipe was drawing badly and he pulled on it hard three or four times, sucking his cheeks in. The street lights came on outside the window and cast a little more light on their faces. The long low window bore an irregular margin of sparkling frost.
Speller thought he was letting the conversation drive them far apart. Robin, he thought, was so quick to flare up. He said: "Well, let's let it go at that for this time. After all, as you know, I'm glad to see you thinking for yourself. You wouldn't be Ludwig Vogel's son if you didn't. But tomorrow we're going to do the last thing for Laura that we'll have a chance to do, at least on this earth. I'd like to have it done right, Robin. And supposing I got six old friends of the family to be pallbearers, six men old enough to be Laura's father. I don't want to argue with you about whether it's right or wrong, narrow or broad, but wouldn't it look funny to most people now, for men of that age?"
"You mean because of her having gone to prison?" Robin asked.
"I mean that and I mean other things too," Speller said; "things we don't like to think about but that people, gosh darn it all, are bound to think about, more than is good for them, if there is the least little thing about the funeral that could cause comment. And what I wanted you to see was, there's only one man who could get five other clean young men to be pallbearers with him and keep the whole thing kind of nice, the way it should be. 'Twouldn't be necessary, at all, that more than the one be somebody who'd known Laura. The one would be enough."
"I know you're thinking of me," Robin said. "But I can't do it." He lit a cigaret and afterward watched the flame curling down the match until it licked his thumb and finger.
"You're always theorizing," Speller said. "But this seemed to me to be more of a personal thing I asked you to do. Aren't you being just a little inhuman?"
"Well, and what if I were?" Robin said. "We're dealing with death now. What's human about a person that's dead?"
Invectives were in Robin's mouth but tears threatened to fill his eyes. A spot as big as a dollar on the top of his head was burning as if a handful of hair were being pulled lightly but steadily. The pain penetrated far below the scalp.
Again he wondered what the use was of continuing along his own way if Laura's death could do to him all it had done. He had believed his view of life and death would safeguard him from the demoralizing emotion he had seen others suffer. He had lived without the prospect of life hereafter. He had thought the conventional view of life and love was the source of most of the grief over death. But what had been the use, he wondered, in his laborious gradual arrival at such an attitude? Might he not then conclude that all his thinking in other fields would prove equally ineffectual when put to such a test? How was he better off, he wondered, than Silas Parsons, who went every year on the anniversary of his wife's death to put a fresh wreath on her grave, or Mrs. Minnie Nestor, who on the anniversary of her husband's death sent a stanza entitled, "In Memoriam," to the paper for publication among the notices of new deaths in the countryside? For such as they, death seemed to have its glory and satisfactions, aspects worth perpetuating until their own death. They could go to church. They could lay their wreaths and publish their memorial stanzas on those passionate anniversaries. They could hope for the re-union of their souls with.the souls of their loved ones hereafter.
Robin could not hope thus. And now he found himself feeling there might be consolation in a submergence of his sorrow in the funeral service, in the ritualistic prophecy of a common blessed fate, in the music, in the gathering at Laura's grave with sympathetic spectators and mourners, in the frank admission in this communal manner that the seeming dependence of his mind and body on another was really the affinity of two souls. His participation in the service would inspire warm friendly expressions from persons who had sometimes seemed unfriendly. They would shake his hand and speak comforting words to him, welcoming him thereby into their company after a long and sometimes difficult alienation.
Robin saw himself as a social being whose spirit extended beyond his cobbler shop and its limited circle. Speller especially would be pleased. It would be worth something to make old Speller happy. And in a measure the people of Deerhorn would take Laura's place in his life. His father and mother had known them. He had grown up among them.
Speller coughed significantly, breaking the silence. "I'm wondering," he said, "how thoroughly you understand your own feelings. 'Twould be easier for me to talk if I was sure you knew how sincere I am. I'm your friend, Robin. I was your father's best friend." Robin said he always knew he was his friend. "Well, then," Speller said, "how much do you feel that you were, what shall I say? I don't like the word very well, but let's say cheated? I didn't know but maybe you thought sometime you'd marry Laura."
"I'd have married her any time," Robin said.
"I felt I knew that," Speller said, "from little things I noticed and kept to myself. So can't you see what I mean? You loved Laura. You waited for her. A great many things happened that we needn't speak about. For her sake we can leave certain things unsaid. And still you waited for her. Perhaps you were the only one of all the young men she knew who. believed in her ultimate goodness. And then before she could come to you she died."
"O," Robin said; "so that's what you're driving at! I understand now. I get it all. Don't worry."
Speller said: "Don't put it that way, Robin. I only wanted to be sure you weren't acting' impulsively in refusing to do as I asked. I thought perhaps 'twas because Laura never came back, was never able to come back to be your wife, to be yours."
"Ha!" Robin said. "I knew that was what you were thinking." Speller pleaded with him not to misunderstand him. "—sure!" Robin said* "You're thinking I'm sore because some of those guys are said to have, well, been with Laura and she never came back to me."
Speller called Robin by name affectionately.
"O don't say any more," Robin said. He pitched his face forward into his hands but soon took his hands away and drew back his lips, baring his teeth. It was too dark for Speller to see him do it, especially now since it had begun to snow and the light from the street lamps was somewhat dimmed. "Listen," Robin said; "I love life. But when a life is ended, when the blood doesn't beat through the brain any more and when the eyes can't see any more and the mouth can't talk any more, why, then there's nothing more to do but turn away. Can you get that? What satisfaction would I get out of helping to carry her casket knowing all the time what was inside it?"
"That seems to me like a pretty hard thing to say," Speller said.
"I've sat here working and talking with you men who drop in here day after day," Robin said. "But it seems as if I've always been thinking of her. When I've sat down to my meals I've thought of her at the long prison table. When
I've gone to bed at night I've thought of her, crawling into a bunk in a cell and at the last lying there on that stinking mattress on the cement floor. Who and what are those judges and policemen that they should be allowed to do that to her and me? What is this society that you think is so good and holy if it can torture and kill a girl like that?" Robin stood up. "Answer me!" he said. "Who are they? Who are they?"
Speller said: "It's all more than we can say or account for, Robin."
"You can't say!" Robin said. "You can't account for it! But you come wanting me to join in your funeral service. You want me to sit there and hear your tenor sing his simpering hymns and hear your preacher make his nauseating excuses for this girl that I've seen driven to death. And is it her body all dressed up in death that you want me to parade with in public in your mock ceremony?"
Robin sat down again.
Speller said: "I'm sorry, Robin. I'm very sorry I brought it up."
He walked a few steps and put his hand on Robin's shoulder. Then he began walking toward the door.
"I'll go away and leave you alone," he said. "Probably you'd rather be alone. I'm sorry I brought it up."
The snow now was falling fast, swirling* in gusts around the heavy-coated men and women who went by. They hurried along hunching their shoulders and drew their heads into their high collars, turning their bodies sidewise against the wind. Eddies of wind hurled the snow forward in clouds past the street lamps.
Surprised at the turn in the weather, Speller readjusted his muffler and turned his overcoat collar up higher. He thought: "I hope this doesn't last long; it'll make it hard getting to the cemetery if it keeps up at this rate till tomorrow." Deciding Robin was not going to answer he went the rest of the way to the door and stepped outside into the storm.