Within the Law

Contents:
Author: Marvin Dana

Chapter XV. Aftermath of Tragedy.

The Gilders, both father and son, endured much suffering throughout the night and day that followed the scene in Mary Turner’s apartment, when she had made known the accomplishment of her revenge on the older man by her ensnaring of the younger. Dick had followed the others out of her presence at her command, emphasized by her leaving him alone when he would have pleaded further with her. Since then, he had striven to obtain another interview with his bride, but she had refused him. He was denied admission to the apartment. Only the maid answered the ringing of the telephone, and his notes were seemingly unheeded. Distraught by this violent interjection of torment into a life that hitherto had known no important suffering, Dick Gilder showed what mettle of man lay beneath his debonair appearance. And that mettle was of a kind worth while. In these hours of grief, the soul of him put out its strength. He learned beyond peradventure of doubt that the woman whom he had married was in truth an ex-convict, even as Burke and Demarest had declared. Nevertheless, he did not for an instant believe that she was guilty of the crime with which she had been originally charged and for which she had served a sentence in prison. For the rest, he could understand in some degree how the venom of the wrong inflicted on her had poisoned her nature through the years, till she had worked out its evil through the scheme of which he was the innocent victim. He cared little for the fact that recently she had devoted herself to devious devices for making money, to ingenious schemes for legal plunder. In his summing of her, he set as more than an offset to her unrighteousness in this regard the desperate struggle she had made after leaving prison to keep straight, which, as he learned, had ended in her attempt at suicide. He knew the intelligence of this woman whom he loved, and in his heart was no thought of her faults as vital flaws. It seemed to him rather that circumstances had compelled her, and that through all the suffering of her life she had retained the more beautiful qualities of her womanliness, for which he reverenced her. In the closeness of their association, short as it had been, he had learned to know something of the tenderer depths within her, the kindliness of her, the wholesomeness. Swayed as he was by the loveliness of her, he was yet more enthralled by those inner qualities of which the outer beauty was only the fitting symbol.

So, in the face of this catastrophe, where a less love must have been destroyed utterly, Dick remained loyal. His passionate regard did not falter for a moment. It never even occurred to him that he might cast her off, might yield to his father’s prayers, and abandon her. On the contrary, his only purpose was to gain her for himself, to cherish and guard her against every ill, to protect with his love from every attack of shame or injury. He would not believe that the girl did not care for him. Whatever had been her first purpose of using him only as an instrument through which to strike against his father, whatever might be her present plan of eliminating him from her life in the future, he still was sure that she had grown to know a real and lasting affection for himself. He remembered startled glances from the violet eyes, caught unawares, and the music of her voice in rare instants, and these told him that love for him stirred, even though it might as yet be but faintly, in her heart.

Out of that fact, he drew an immediate comfort in this period of his misery. Nevertheless, his anguish was a racking one. He grew older visibly in the night and the day. There crept suddenly lines of new feeling into his face, and, too, lines of new strength. The boy died in that time; the man was born, came forth in the full of his steadfastness and his courage, and his love.

The father suffered with the son. He was a proud man, intensely gratified over the commanding position to which he had achieved in the commercial world, proud of his business integrity, of his standing in the community as a leader, proud of his social position, proud most of all of the son whom he so loved. Now, this hideous disaster threatened his pride at every turn—worse, it threatened the one person in the world whom he really loved. Most fathers would have stormed at the boy when pleading failed, would have given commands with harshness, would have menaced the recalcitrant with disinheritance. Edward Gilder did none of these things, though his heart was sorely wounded. He loved his son too much to contemplate making more evil for the lad by any estrangement between them. Yet he felt that the matter could not safely be left in the hands of Dick himself. He realized that his son loved the woman—nor could he wonder much at that. His keen eyes had perceived Mary Turner’s graces of form, her loveliness of face. He had apprehended, too, in some measure at least, the fineness of her mental fiber and the capacities of her heart. Deep within him, denied any outlet, he knew there lurked a curious, subtle sympathy for the girl in her scheme of revenge against himself. Her persistent striving toward the object of her ambition was something he could understand, since the like thing in different guise had been back of his own business success. He would not let the idea rise to the surface of consciousness, for he still refused to believe that Mary Turner had suffered at his hand unjustly. He would think of her as nothing else than a vile creature, who had caught his son in the toils of her beauty and charm, for the purpose of eventually making money out of the intrigue.

Gilder, in his library this night, was pacing impatiently to and fro, eagerly listening for the sound of his son’s return to the house. He had been the guest of honor that night at an important meeting of the Civic Committee, and he had spoken with his usual clarity and earnestness in spite of the trouble that beset him. Now, however, the regeneration of the city was far from his thought, and his sole concern was with the regeneration of a life, that of his son, which bade fair to be ruined by the wiles of a wicked woman. He was anxious for the coming of Dick, to whom he would make one more appeal. If that should fail—well, he must use the influences at his command to secure the forcible parting of the adventuress from his son.

The room in which he paced to and fro was of a solid dignity, well fitted to serve as an environment for its owner. It was very large, and lofty. There was massiveness in the desk that stood opposite the hall door, near a window. This particular window itself was huge, high, jutting in octagonal, with leaded panes. In addition, there was a great fireplace set with tiles, around which was woodwork elaborately carved, the fruit of patient questing abroad. On the walls were hung some pieces of tapestry, where there were not bookcases. Over the octagonal window, too, such draperies fell in stately lines. Now, as the magnate paced back and forth, there was only a gentle light in the room, from a reading-lamp on his desk. The huge chandelier was unlighted.... It was even as Gilder, in an increasing irritation over the delay, had thrown himself down on a couch which stood just a little way within an alcove, that he heard the outer door open and shut. He sprang up with an ejaculation of satisfaction.

"Dick, at last!" he muttered.

It was, in truth, the son. A moment later, he entered the room, and went at once to his father, who was standing waiting, facing the door.

"I’m awfully sorry I’m so late, Dad," he said simply.

"Where have you been?" the father demanded gravely. But there was great affection in the flash of his gray eyes as he scanned the young man’s face, and the touch of the hand that he put on Dick’s shoulder was very tender. "With that woman again?"

The boy’s voice was disconsolate as he replied:

"No, father, not with her. She won’t see me."

The older man snorted a wrathful appreciation.

"Naturally!" he exclaimed with exceeding bitterness in the heavy voice. "She’s got all she wanted from you —my name!" He repeated the words with a grimace of exasperation: "My name!"

There was a novel dignity in the son’s tone as he spoke.

"It’s mine, too, you know, sir," he said quietly.

The father was impressed of a sudden with the fact that, while this affair was of supreme import to himself, it was, after all, of still greater significance to his son. To himself, the chief concerns were of the worldly kind. To this boy, the vital thing was something deeper, something of the heart: for, however absurd his feeling, the truth remained that he loved the woman. Yes, it was the son’s name that Mary Turner had taken, as well as that of his father. In the case of the son, she had taken not only his name, but his very life. Yes, it was, indeed, Dick’s tragedy. Whatever he, the father, might feel, the son was, after all, more affected. He must suffer more, must lose more, must pay more with happiness for his folly.

Gilder looked at his son with a strange, new respect, but he could not let the situation go without protest, protest of the most vehement.

"Dick," he cried, and his big voice was shaken a little by the force of his emotion; "boy, you are all I have in the world. You will have to free yourself from this woman somehow." He stood very erect, staring steadfastly out of his clear gray eyes into those of his son. His heavy face was rigid with feeling; the coarse mouth bent slightly in a smile of troubled fondness, as he added more softly: "You owe me that much."

The son’s eyes met his father’s freely. There was respect in them, and affection, but there was something else, too, something the older man recognized as beyond his control. He spoke gravely, with a deliberate conviction.

"I owe something to her, too, Dad."

But Gilder would not let the statement go unchallenged. His heavy voice rang out rebukingly, overtoned with protest.

"What can you owe her?" he demanded indignantly. "She tricked you into the marriage. Why, legally, it’s not even that. There’s been nothing more than a wedding ceremony. The courts hold that that is only a part of the marriage actually. The fact that she doesn’t receive you makes it simpler, too. It can be arranged. We must get you out of the scrape."

He turned and went to the desk, as if to sit, but he was halted by his son’s answer, given very gently, yet with a note of finality that to the father’s ear rang like the crack of doom.

"I’m not sure that I want to get out of it, father."

That was all, but those plain words summed the situation, made the issue a matter not of advice, but of the heart.

Gilder persisted, however, in trying to evade the integral fact of his son’s feeling. Still he tried to fix the issue on the known unsavory reputation of the woman.

"You want to stay married to this jail-bird!" he stormed.

A gust of fury swept the boy. He loved the woman, in spite of all; he respected her, even reverenced her. To hear her thus named moved him to a rage almost beyond his control. But he mastered himself. He remembered that the man who spoke loved him; he remembered, too, that the word of opprobrium was no more than the truth, however offensive it might be to his sensitiveness. He waited a moment until he could hold his voice even. Then his words were the sternest protest that could have been uttered, though they came from no exercise of thought, only out of the deeps of his heart.

"I’m very fond of her."

That was all. But the simple sincerity of the saying griped the father’s mood, as no argument could have done. There was a little silence. After all, what could meet such loving loyalty?

When at last he spoke, Gilder’s voice was subdued, a little husky.

"Now, that you know?" he questioned.

There was no faltering in the answer.

"Now, that I know," Dick said distinctly. Then abruptly, the young man spoke with the energy of perfect faith in the woman. "Don’t you see, father? Why, she is justified in a way, in her own mind anyhow, I mean. She was innocent when she was sent to prison. She feels that the world owes her----"

But the older man would not permit the assertion to go uncontradicted. That reference to the woman’s innocence was an arraignment of himself, for it had been he who sent her to the term of imprisonment.

"Don’t talk to me about her innocence!" he said, and his voice was ominous. "I suppose next you will argue that, because she’s been clever enough to keep within the law, since she’s got out of State Prison, she’s not a criminal. But let me tell you—crime is crime, whether the law touches it in the particular case, or whether it doesn’t."

Gilder faced his son sternly for a moment, and then presently spoke again with deeper earnestness.

"There’s only one course open to you, my boy. You must give this girl up."

The son met his father’s gaze with a level look in which there was no weakness.

"I’ve told you, Dad----" he began.

"You must, I tell you," the father insisted. Then he went on quickly, with a tone of utmost positiveness. "If you don’t, what are you going to do the day your wife is thrown into a patrol wagon and carried to Police Headquarters—for it’s sure to happen? The cleverest of people make mistakes, and some day she’ll make one."

Dick threw out his hands in a gesture of supreme denial. He was furious at this supposition that she would continue in her irregular practices.

But the father went on remorselessly.

"They will stand her up where the detectives will walk past her with masks on their faces. Her picture, of course, is already in the Rogues’ Gallery, but they will take another. Yes, and the imprints of her fingers, and the measurements of her body."

The son was writhing under the words. The woman of whom these things were said was the woman whom he loved. It was blasphemy to think of her in such case, subjected to the degradation of these processes. Yet, every word had in it the piercing, horrible sting of truth. His face whitened. He raised a supplicating hand.

"Father!"

"That’s what they will do to your wife," Gilder went on harshly; "to the woman who bears your name and mine." There was a little pause, and the father stood rigid, menacing. The final question came rasping. "What are you going to do about it?"

Dick went forward until he was close to his father. Then he spoke with profound conviction.

"It will never happen. She will go straight, Dad. That I know. You would know it if you only knew her as I do."

Gilder once again put his hand tenderly on his son’s shoulder. His voice was modulated to an unaccustomed mildness as he spoke.

"Be sensible, boy," he pleaded softly. "Be sensible!"

Dick dropped down on the couch, and made his answer very gently, his eyes unseeing as he dwelt on the things he knew of the woman he loved.

"Why, Dad," he said, "she is young. She’s just like a child in a hundred ways. She loves the trees and the grass and the flowers—and everything that’s simple and real! And as for her heart—" His voice was low and very tender: "Why, her heart is the biggest I’ve ever known. It’s just overflowing with sweetness and kindness. I’ve seen her pick up a baby that had fallen in the street, and mother it in a way that—well, no one could do it as she did it, unless her soul was clean."

The father was silent, a little awed. He made an effort to shake off the feeling, and spoke with a sneer.

"You heard what she said yesterday, and you still are such a fool as to think that."

The answer of the son came with an immutable finality, the sublime faith of love.

"I don’t think—I know!"

Gilder was in despair. What argument could avail him? He cried out sharply in desperation.

"Do you realize what you’re doing? Don’t go to smash, Dick, just at the beginning of your life. Oh, I beg you, boy, stop! Put this girl out of your thoughts and start fresh."

The reply was of the simplest, and it was the end of argument.

"Father," Dick said, very gently, "I can’t."

There followed a little period of quiet between the two. The father, from his desk, stood facing his son, who thus denied him in all honesty because the heart so commanded. The son rested motionless and looked with unflinching eyes into his father’s face. In the gaze of each was a great affection.

"You’re all I have, my boy," the older man said at last. And now the big voice was a mildest whisper of love.

"Yes, Dad," came the answer—another whisper, since it is hard to voice the truth of feeling such as this. "If I could avoid it, I wouldn’t hurt you for anything in the world. I’m sorry, Dad, awfully sorry----" He hesitated, then his voice rang out clearly. There was in his tone, when he spoke again, a recognition of that loneliness which is the curse and the crown of being:

"But," he ended, "I must fight this out by myself—fight it out in my own way.... And I’m going to do it!"

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Chicago: Marvin Dana, "Chapter XV. Aftermath of Tragedy.," Within the Law in Within the Law (New York: George E. Wood, 1850), Original Sources, accessed October 4, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L9JEWRSA6L171H4.

MLA: Dana, Marvin. "Chapter XV. Aftermath of Tragedy." Within the Law, in Within the Law, Vol. 22, New York, George E. Wood, 1850, Original Sources. 4 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L9JEWRSA6L171H4.

Harvard: Dana, M, 'Chapter XV. Aftermath of Tragedy.' in Within the Law. cited in 1850, Within the Law, George E. Wood, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 4 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L9JEWRSA6L171H4.