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- The Rise of David Levinsky - 60/102 -
Get out of what? What on earth are you prating about?" I demanded, with a fine display of perplexity and sarcasm
We were attracting attention. Bystanders were eying us. An old woman, leading a boy by the hand, even paused to watch us, and then her example was followed by some others
"Come on, for God's sake!" he implored me. "All I want is a friendly talk with you. We might talk in your shop, but you have no private office."
"Whether I have one or not is none of your business" I retorted, with irrelevant resentment
We walked on. He proposed to take me to one of the ball and meeting-room places in which he did business, and I acquiesced
A few minutes later we were seated on a long cushion of red plush covering one of the benches in a long, narrow meeting-hall. We were close to the window, in the full glare of daylight. A few feet off the room was in semi-darkness which, still farther off, lapsed into night. As the plush cushions stretched their lengths into the deepening gloom their live red died away. There was a touch of weirdness to the scene, adding to the oppressiveness of the interview
"I want to ask you a plain question," he began, in a strange voice. "And I want you to answer it frankly. I assure you I sha'n't be angry. On the contrary, I shall be much obliged to you if you tell me the whole truth.
Tell me what happened between you and Dora." I was about to burst into laughter, but I felt that it would not do. Before I knew how to act he added, with a sort of solemnity: "She has confessed everything."
"Confessed everything!" I exclaimed, with a feigned compound of hauteur, indignation, and amusement, playing for time
"That's what she did."
A frenzy of hate took hold of me. I panted to be away from him, to be out of this room, semi-darkness, red cushions, and all, and let the future take care of itself. And so, jumping to my feet, I said, in a fury: "You always were a liar and an idiot. I don't want to have anything to do with you." With which I made for the door
"Oh, don't be excited. Don't go yet, Levinsky dear, please," he implored, hysterically, running after me. "I have the best of feelings for you. May the things that I wish you come to me. Levinsky! Dear friend! Darling!"
"What do you want of me?" I demanded, with quiet rancor, pausing at the door and half opening it, without moving on
"If you tell me it isn't true I'll believe you, even if she did confess. I don't know if she meant what she said. If only you were not excited! I want to tell you everything, everything."
I laughed sardonically. My desire to escape the ordeal gave way to strange curiosity. He seemed to be aware of it, for he boldly shut the door. lie begged me to take a seat again, and I did, a short distance from the door, where the gloom was almost thick enough to hide our faces from each other's view
"Why, you are simply crazy, Max!" I said. "You probably bothered the life out of her and she 'confessed' to put an end to it all. You might as well have made her confess to murder."
"That's what she says now. But I don't know. When she confessed she confessed. I could see it was the truth."
"You are crazy, Max! It is all nonsense. Ab-solutely."
"Is it?" he demanded, straining to make out the expression of my face through the dusk. "Do assure me it is all untrue. Take pity, dear friend. Do take pity."
"How can I assure you, seeing that you have taken that crazy notion into your head and don't seem to be able to get rid of it? Come, throw that stuff out of your mind!" I scolded him, mentorially. "It's enough to make one sick. Come to reason. Don't be a fool. I am no saint, but in this case you are absolutely mistaken. Why, Dora is such an absolutely respectable woman, a fellow would never dare have the slightest kind of fun with her. The idea!"--with a little laugh. "You are a baby, Max. Upon my word, you are.
Dora and I had some words over my bill and--well, she insulted me and I wouldn't take it from her. That's all there was to it. Why, look here, Max.
With your knowledge of men and women, do you mean to say that something was going on under your very nose and you never noticed anything? Don't you see how ridiculous it is?"
"Well, I believe you, Levinsky," he said, lukewarmly. "Now that you assure me you don't know anything about it, I believe you. I know you are not an enemy of mine. I have always considered you a true friend. You know I have.
That's why I am having this talk with you. I am feeling better already. But you have no idea what I have been through the last few weeks. She is so dear to me. I love her so." His voice broke
I was seized with a feeling of mixed abomination and sympathy
"You are a child," I said, taking him by the hand. As I did so every vestige of hostility faded out of me. My heart went out to him. "Come, Max, pull yourself together! Be a man!"
"I have always known you to be my friend. I believe all you say. I first began to think of this trouble a few days after you moved out. But at first I made no fuss about it. I thought she was not well. I came to see you a few times and you did not behave like a fellow who was guilty."
I gave a silent little laugh
He related certain intimate incidents which had aroused his first twinge of suspicion. He was revoltingly frank
"I spoke to her plainly," he said. "'What's the matter with you, Dora?' I asked her. 'Don't you like me any more?' And she got wild and said she hated me like poison. She never talked to me like that before. It was a different Dora. She was always downhearted, cranky. The slightest thing made her yell or cry with tears. It got worse and worse. Oh, it was terrible! We quarreled twenty times a day and the children cried and I thought I was going mad.
Maybe she was just missing you. You were like one of the family, don't you know. And, well, you are a good-looking fellow, Levinsky, and she is only a woman."
"Nonsense!" I returned, the hot color mounting to my cheeks. "I am sure Dora had not a bad thought in her mind--"
"But she confessed," he interrupted me. "She said she was crazy for you and I could do as I pleased."
"But you know she did not mean it. She said it just for spite, just to make you feel bad, because you were quarreling with her."
He quoted a brutal question which he had once put to her concerning her relations with me, and then he quoted Dora as answering: "Yes, yes, yes! And if you don't like it you can sue me for divorce."
I laughed, making my merriment as realistic as I could. "It's all ridiculous nonsense, Max," I said. "You made life miserable to her and she was ready to say anything. She may have been worried over something, and you imagined all sorts of things. Maybe it was something about her education that worried her. You know how ambitious she is to be educated, and how hard she takes these things."
Max shook his head pensively
"I am sure it is as I say," I continued. "Dora is a peculiar woman. The trouble is, you judge her as if she were like the other women you meet. Hers is a different character."
This point apparently interested him
"She is always taken up with her thoughts," I pursued. "She is not so easy to understand, anyway. I lived over a year in your house, and yet I'll be hanged if I know what kind of woman she is. Of course you're her husband, but still--can you say you know what she is thinking of most of the time?"
"There is something in what you say," he assented, half-heartedly
As we rose to go he said, timidly: "There is only one more question I want to ask of you, Levinsky. You won't be angry, will you?" "What is it?" I demanded, with a good-natured laugh. "What is bothering your head?"
"I mean if you meet her now, sometimes?"
"Now, look here, Max. You are simply crazy," I said, earnestly. "I swear to you by my mother that I have not seen Dora since I moved out of your house, and that all your suspicions are nonsense" (to keep the memory of my mother from desecration I declared mutely that my oath referred to the truthful part of my declaration only-- that is, exclusively to the fact that I no longer met Dora)
"I believe you, I believe you, Levinsky," he rejoined. We parted more than cordially, Max promising to call on me again and to spend an evening with me
I was left in a singular state of mind. I was eaten up with compunction, and yet the pain of my love reasserted itself with the tantalizing force of two months before
Max never called on me again
CHAPTER III AS a salesman Bender proved a dismal failure, but I retained him in my employ as a bookkeeper and a sort of general supervisor. I could offer him only ten dollars a week, with a
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