She wished she could have seen him; the slightest, the most momentary, contact with such a spirit would have ennobled her own character and made ignoble thoughts and ignoble acts thereafter impossible to her forever.
"Have they found the body, Rossmore?" asked the wife.
"Yes, that is, they've found several. It must be one of them, but none of them are recognizable."
"What are you going to do?"
"I am going down there and identify one of them and send it home to the stricken father."
"But papa, did you ever see the young man?"
"How will you identify it?"
"I--well, you know it says none of them are recognizable. I'll send his father one of them--there's probably no choice."
Gwendolen knew it was not worth while to argue the matter further, since her father's mind was made up and there was a chance for him to appear upon that sad scene down yonder in an authentic and official way. So she said no more--till he asked for a basket.
"A basket, papa? What for?"
"It might be ashes."
The earl and Washington started on the sorrowful errand, talking as they walked.
"And as usual!"
"Seven of them in that hotel. Actresses. And all burnt out, of course."
"Any of them burnt up?"
"Oh, no they escaped; they always do; but there's never a one of them that knows enough to fetch out her jewelry with her."
"Strange--it's the most unaccountable thing in the world. Experience teaches them nothing; they can't seem to learn anything except out of a book. In some uses there's manifestly a fatality about it. For instance, take What's-her-name, that plays those sensational thunder and lightning parts. She's got a perfectly immense reputation--draws like a dog-fight--and it all came from getting burnt out in hotels."
"Why, how could that give her a reputation as an actress?"
"It didn't--it only made her name familiar. People want to see her play because her name is familiar, but they don't know what made it familiar, because they don't remember. First, she was at the bottom of the ladder, and absolutely obscure wages thirteen dollars a week and find her own pads."
"Yes-things to fat up her spindles with so as to be plump and attractive. Well, she got burnt out in a hotel and lost $30,000 worth of diamonds."
"She? Where'd she get them?"
"Goodness knows--given to her, no doubt, by spoony young flats and sappy old bald-heads in the front row. All the papers were full of it. She struck for higher pay and got it. Well, she got burnt out again and lost all her diamonds, and it gave her such a lift that she went starring."
"Well, if hotel fires are all she's got to depend on to keep up her name, it's a pretty precarious kind of a reputation I should think."
"Not with her. No, anything but that. Because she's so lucky; born lucky, I reckon. Every time there's a hotel fire she's in it. She's always there--and if she can't be there herself, her diamonds are. Now you can't make anything out of that but just sheer luck."
"I never heard of such a thing. She must have lost quarts of diamonds."
"Quarts, she's lost bushels of them. It's got so that the hotels are superstitious about her. They won't let her in. They think there will be a fire; and besides, if she's there it cancels the insurance. She's been waning a little lately, but this fire will set her up. She lost $60,000 worth last night."
"I think she's a fool. If I had $60,000 worth of diamonds I wouldn't trust them in a hotel."
"I wouldn't either; but you can't teach an actress that. This one's been burnt out thirty-five times. And yet if there's a hotel fire in San Francisco to-night she's got to bleed again, you mark my words. Perfect ass; they say she's got diamonds in every hotel in the country."
When they arrived at the scene of the fire the poor old earl took one glimpse at the melancholy morgue and turned away his face overcome by the spectacle. He said:
"It is too true, Hawkins--recognition is impossible, not one of the five could be identified by its nearest friend.