XVIII. What Berry Found
Had not Berry's years of prison life made him forget what little he knew of reading, he might have read the name Gibson on the door-plate where they told him to ring for his wife. But he knew nothing of what awaited him as he confidently pulled the bell. Fannie herself came to the door. The news the papers held had not escaped her, but she had suffered in silence, hoping that Berry might be spared the pain of finding her. Now he stood before her, and she knew him at a glance, in spite of his haggard countenance.
"Fannie," he said, holding out his arms to her, and all of the pain and pathos of long yearning was in his voice, "don't you know me?"
She shrank away from him, back in the hall-way.
"Yes, yes, Be'y, I knows you. Come in."
She led him through the passage-way and into her room, he following with a sudden sinking at his heart. This was not the reception he had expected from Fannie.
When they were within the room he turned and held out his arms to her again, but she did not notice them. "Why, is you 'shamed o' me?" he asked brokenly.
"'Shamed? No! Oh, Be'y," and she sank into a chair and began rocking to and fro in her helpless grief.
"What 's de mattah, Fannie? Ain't you glad to see me?"
"Yes, yes, but you don't know nothin', do you? Dey lef' me to tell you?"
"Lef' you to tell me? What 's de mattah? Is Joe or Kit daid? Tell me."
"No, not daid. Kit dances on de stage fu' a livin', an', Be'y, she ain't de gal she ust to be. Joe--Joe--Joe--he 's in pen'tentiary fu' killin' a ooman."
Berry started forward with a cry, "My Gawd! my Gawd! my little gal! my boy!"
"Dat ain't all," she went on dully, as if reciting a rote lesson; "I ain't yo' wife no mo'. I 's ma'ied ag'in. Oh Be'y, Be'y, don't look at me lak dat. I could n't he'p it. Kit an' Joe lef' me, an' dey said de pen'tentiary divo'ced you an' me, an' dat you 'd nevah come out nohow. Don't look at me lak dat, Be'y."
"You ain't my wife no mo'? Hit 's a lie, a damn lie! You is my wife. I 's a innocent man. No pen'tentiay kin tek you erway f'om me. Hit 's enough what dey 've done to my chillen." He rushed forward and seized her by the arm. "Dey sha'n't do no mo', by Gawd! dey sha'n't, I say!" His voice had risen to a fierce roar, like that of a hurt beast, and he shook her by the arm as he spoke.
"Oh, don't, Be'y, don't, you hu't me. I could n't he'p it."
He glared at her for a moment, and then the real force of the situation came full upon him, and he bowed his head in his hands and wept like a child. The great sobs came up and stuck in his throat.
She crept up to him fearfully and laid her hand on his head.
"Don't cry, Be'y," she said; "I done wrong, but I loves you yit."
He seized her in his arms and held her tightly until he could control himself. Then he asked weakly, "Well, what am I goin' to do?"
"I do' know, Be'y, 'ceptin' dat you 'll have to leave me."
"I won't! I 'll never leave you again," he replied doggedly.
"But, Be'y, you mus'. You 'll only mek it ha'der on me, an' Gibson 'll beat me ag'in."
She hung her head: "Yes."
He gripped himself hard.
"Why cain't you come on off wid me, Fannie? You was mine fus'."
"I could n't. He would fin' me anywhaih I went to."
"Let him fin' you. You 'll be wid me, an' we 'll settle it, him an' me."
"I want to, but oh, I can't, I can't," she wailed. "Please go now, Be'y, befo' he gits home. He 's mad anyhow, 'cause you 're out."
Berry looked at her hard, and then said in a dry voice, "An' so I got to go an' leave you to him?"
"Yes, you mus'; I 'm his'n now."
He turned to the door, murmuring, "My wife gone, Kit a nobody, an' Joe, little Joe, a murderer, an' then I--I--ust to pray to Gawd an' call him 'Ouah Fathah.'" He laughed hoarsely. It sounded like nothing Fannie had ever heard before.
"Don't, Be'y, don't say dat. Maybe we don't un'erstan'."
Her faith still hung by a slender thread, but his had given way in that moment.
"No, we don't un'erstan'," he laughed as he went out of the door. "We don't un'erstan'."
He staggered down the steps, blinded by his emotions, and set his face towards the little lodging that he had taken temporarily. There seemed nothing left in life for him to do. Yet he knew that he must work to live, although the effort seemed hardly worth while. He remembered now that the Universe had offered him the under janitorship in its building. He would go and take it, and some day, perhaps--He was not quite sure what the "perhaps" meant. But as his mind grew clearer he came to know, for a sullen, fierce anger was smouldering in his heart against the man who through lies had stolen his wife from him. It was anger that came slowly, but gained in fierceness as it grew.
Yes, that was it, he would kill Gibson. It was no worse than his present state. Then it would be father and son murderers. They would hang him or send him back to prison. Neither would be hard now. He laughed to himself.
And this was what they had let him out of prison for? To find out all this. Why had they not left him there to die in ignorance? What had he to do with all these people who gave him sympathy? What did he want of their sympathy? Could they give him back one tithe of what he had lost? Could they restore to him his wife or his son or his daughter, his quiet happiness or his simple faith?
He went to work for the Universe, but night after night, armed, he patrolled the sidewalk in front of Fannie's house. He did not know Gibson, but he wanted to see them together. Then he would strike. His vigils kept him from his bed, but he went to the next morning's work with no weariness. The hope of revenge sustained him, and he took a savage joy in the thought that he should be the dispenser of justice to at least one of those who had wounded him.
Finally he grew impatient and determined to wait no longer, but to seek his enemy in his own house. He approached the place cautiously and went up the steps. His hand touched the bell-pull. He staggered back.
"Oh, my Gawd!" he said.
There was crape on Fannie's bell. His head went round and he held to the door for support. Then he turned the knob and the door opened. He went noiselessly in. At the door of Fannie's room he halted, sick with fear. He knocked, a step sounded within, and his wife's face looked out upon him. He could have screamed aloud with relief.
"It ain't you!" he whispered huskily.
"No, it 's him. He was killed in a fight at the race-track. Some o' his frinds are settin' up. Come in."
He went in, a wild, strange feeling surging at his heart. She showed him into the death-chamber.
As he stood and looked down upon the face of his enemy, still, cold, and terrible in death, the recognition of how near he had come to crime swept over him, and all his dead faith sprang into new life in a glorious resurrection. He stood with clasped hands, and no word passed his lips. But his heart was crying, "Thank God! thank God! this man's blood is not on my hands."
The gamblers who were sitting up with the dead wondered who the old fool was who looked at their silent comrade and then raised his eyes as if in prayer.
When Gibson was laid away, there were no formalities between Berry and his wife; they simply went back to each other. New York held nothing for them now but sad memories. Kit was on the road, and the father could not bear to see his son; so they turned their faces southward, back to the only place they could call home. Surely the people could not be cruel to them now, and even if they were, they felt that after what they had endured no wound had power to give them pain.
Leslie Oakley heard of their coming, and with her own hands re-opened and refurnished the little cottage in the yard for them. There the white-haired woman begged them to spend the rest of their days and be in peace and comfort. It was the only amend she could make. As much to satisfy her as to settle themselves, they took the cottage, and many a night thereafter they sat together with clasped hands listening to the shrieks of the madman across the yard and thinking of what he had brought to them and to himself.
It was not a happy life, but it was all that was left to them, and they took it up without complaint, for they knew they were powerless against some Will infinitely stronger than their own.