A Poor Wise Man
Lily Cardew inspected curiously the east side neighborhood through which the
taxi was passing. She knew vaguely that she was in the vicinity of one of the
Cardew mills, but she had never visited any of the Cardew plants. She had never
been permitted to do so. Perhaps the neighborhood would have impressed her
more had she not seen, in the camp, that life can be stripped sometimes to its
essentials, and still have lost very little. But the dinginess depressed her. Smoke
was in the atmosphere, like a heavy fog. Soot lay on the window-sills, and
mingled with street dust to form little black whirlpools in the wind. Even the white
river steamers, guiding their heavy laden coal barges with the current, were gray
with soft coal smoke. The foam of the river falling in broken cataracts from their
stern wheels was oddly white in contrast.
Everywhere she began to see her own name. "Cardew" was on the ore hopper
cars that were moving slowly along a railroad spur. One of the steamers bore
"Anthony Cardew" in tall black letters on its side. There was a narrow street
called "Cardew Way."
Aunt Elinor lived on Cardew Way. She wondered if Aunt Elinor found that
curious, as she did. Did she resent these ever-present reminders of her lost
family? Did she have any bitterness because the very grayness of her skies was
making her hard old father richer and more powerful?
Yet there was comfort, stability and a certain dignity about Aunt Elinor's house
when she reached it. It stood in the district, but not of it, withdrawn from the street
in a small open space which gave indication of being a flower garden in summer.
There were two large gaunt trees on either side of a brick walk, and that walk had
been swept to the last degree of neatness. The steps were freshly scoured, and
a small brass door-plate, like a doctor's sign, was as bright as rubbing could
make it. "James Doyle," she read.
Suddenly she was glad she had come. The little brick house looked anything but
tragic, with its shining windows, its white curtains and its evenly drawn shades.
Through the windows on the right came a flickering light, warm and rosy. There
must be a coal fire there. She loved a coal fire.
She had braced herself to meet Aunt Elinor at the door, but an elderly woman
"Mrs. Doyle is in," she said; "just step inside."