Infomotions, Inc.Gaslight Sonatas / Hurst, Fannie, 1889-1968



Author: Hurst, Fannie, 1889-1968
Title: Gaslight Sonatas
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): mama; charley; jimmie; honey; charley cox; harry; miss slayback; ann 'lisbeth; miss coblenz; jimmie batch; baby
Contributor(s): Cruz, Juan de la [Performer]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 68,002 words (short) Grade range: 6-7 (grade school) Readability score: 75 (easy)
Identifier: etext10025
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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Gaslight Sonatas, by Fannie  Hurst

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Title: Gaslight Sonatas

Author: Fannie  Hurst

Release Date: November 9, 2003 [EBook #10025]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK GASLIGHT SONATAS ***




Produced by Suzanne Shell, Josephine Paolucci
and PG Distributed Proofreaders




[Illustration: They walked, thus guided by an obsequious waiter, through a
light _confetti_ of tossed greetings.]



GASLIGHT SONATAS

BY

FANNIE HURST




1918




[Dedication: To my mother and my father]




CONTENTS


I.   BITTER-SWEET

II.  SIEVE OF FULFILMENT

III. ICE-WATER, PL--!

IV.  HERS _NOT_ TO REASON WHY

V.   GOLDEN FLEECE

VI.  NIGHTSHADE

VII. GET READY THE WREATHS




GASLIGHT SONATAS




I

BITTER-SWEET


Much of the tragical lore of the infant mortality, the malnutrition, and
the five-in-a-room morality of the city's poor is written in statistics,
and the statistical path to the heart is more figurative than literal.

It is difficult to write stylistically a per-annum report of 1,327
curvatures of the spine, whereas the poor specific little vertebra of Mamie
O'Grady, daughter to Lou, your laundress, whose alcoholic husband once
invaded your very own basement and attempted to strangle her in the
coal-bin, can instantly create an apron bazaar in the church vestry-rooms.

That is why it is possible to drink your morning coffee without nausea for
it, over the head-lines of forty thousand casualties at Ypres, but to
push back abruptly at a three-line notice of little Tony's, your corner
bootblack's, fatal dive before a street-car.

Gertie Slayback was statistically down as a woman wage-earner; a typhoid
case among the thousands of the Borough of Manhattan for 1901; and her
twice-a-day share in the Subway fares collected in the present year of our
Lord.

She was a very atomic one of the city's four millions. But after all, what
are the kings and peasants, poets and draymen, but great, greater, or
greatest, less, lesser, or least atoms of us? If not of the least, Gertie
Slayback was of the very lesser. When she unlocked the front door to her
rooming-house of evenings, there was no one to expect her, except on
Tuesdays, which evening it so happened her week was up. And when she left
of mornings with her breakfast crumblessly cleared up and the box of
biscuit and condensed-milk can tucked unsuspectedly behind her camisole in
the top drawer there was no one to regret her.

There are some of us who call this freedom. Again there are those for whom
one spark of home fire burning would light the world.

Gertie Slayback was one of these. Half a life-time of opening her door upon
this or that desert-aisle of hall bedroom had not taught her heart how not
to sink or the feel of daily rising in one such room to seem less like a
damp bathing-suit, donned at dawn.

The only picture--or call it atavism if you will--which adorned Miss
Slayback's dun-colored walls was a passe-partout snowscape, night closing
in, and pink cottage windows peering out from under eaves. She could
visualize that interior as if she had only to turn the frame for the smell
of wood fire and the snap of pine logs and for the scene of two high-back
chairs and the wooden crib between.

What a fragile, gracile thing is the mind that can leap thus from nine
bargain basement hours of hairpins and darning-balls to the downy business
of lining a crib in Never-Never Land and warming No Man's slippers before
the fire of imagination.

There was that picture so acidly etched into Miss Slayback's brain that she
had only to close her eyes in the slit-like sanctity of her room and in the
brief moment of courting sleep feel the pink penumbra of her vision begin
to glow.

Of late years, or, more specifically, for two years and eight months,
another picture had invaded, even superseded the old. A stamp-photograph
likeness of Mr. James P. Batch in the corner of Miss Slayback's mirror,
and thereafter No Man's slippers became number eight-and-a-half C, and the
hearth a gilded radiator in a dining-living-room somewhere between the
Fourteenth Street Subway and the land of the Bronx.

How Miss Slayback, by habit not gregarious, met Mr. Batch is of no
consequence, except to those snug ones of us to whom an introduction is the
only means to such an end.

At a six o'clock that invaded even Union Square with heliotrope dusk, Mr.
James Batch mistook, who shall say otherwise, Miss Gertie Slayback, as
she stepped down into the wintry shade of a Subway kiosk, for Miss
Whodoesitmatter. At seven o'clock, over a dish of lamb stew _a la_ White
Kitchen, he confessed, and if Miss Slayback affected too great surprise and
too little indignation, try to conceive six nine-hour week-in-and-week-out
days of hair-pins and darning-balls, and then, at a heliotrope dusk, James
P. Batch, in invitational mood, stepping in between it and the papered
walls of a dun-colored evening. To further enlist your tolerance, Gertie
Slayback's eyes were as blue as the noon of June, and James P. Batch, in a
belted-in coat and five kid finger-points protruding ever so slightly and
rightly from a breast pocket, was hewn and honed in the image of youth. His
the smile of one for whom life's cup holds a heady wine, a wrinkle or two
at the eye only serving to enhance that smile; a one-inch feather stuck
upright in his derby hatband.

It was a forelock once stamped a Corsican with the look of emperor. It was
this hat feather, a cock's feather at that and worn without sense of humor,
to which Miss Slayback was fond of attributing the consequences of that
heliotrope dusk.

"It was the feather in your cap did it, Jimmie. I can see you yet, stepping
up with that innocent grin of yours. You think I didn't know you were
flirting? Cousin from Long Island City! 'Say,' I says to myself, I says, 'I
look as much like his cousin from Long Island City, if he's got one, as my
cousin from Hoboken (and I haven't got any) would look like my sister if I
had one.' It was that sassy little feather in your hat!"

They would laugh over this ever-green reminiscence on Sunday Park benches
and at intermission at moving pictures when they remained through it to see
the show twice. Be the landlady's front parlor ever so permanently rented
out, the motion-picture theater has brought to thousands of young city
starvelings, if not the quietude of the home, then at least the warmth and
a juxtaposition and a deep darkness that can lave the sub-basement throb of
temples and is filled with music with a hum in it.

For two years and eight months of Saturday nights, each one of them a
semaphore dropping out across the gray road of the week, Gertie Slayback
and Jimmie Batch dined for one hour and sixty cents at the White Kitchen.
Then arm and arm up the million-candle-power flare of Broadway, content,
these two who had never seen a lake reflect a moon, or a slim fir pointing
to a star, that life could be so manifold. And always, too, on Saturday,
the tenth from the last row of the De Luxe Cinematograph, Broadway's Best,
Orchestra Chairs, fifty cents; Last Ten Rows, thirty-five. The give of
velvet-upholstered chairs, perfumed darkness, and any old love story moving
across it to the ecstatic ache of Gertie Slayback's high young heart.

On a Saturday evening that was already pointed with stars at the
six-o'clock closing of Hoffheimer's Fourteenth Street Emporium, Miss
Slayback, whose blondness under fatigue could become ashy, emerged from the
Bargain-Basement almost the first of its frantic exodus, taking the place
of her weekly appointment in the entrance of the Popular Drug Store
adjoining, her gaze, something even frantic in it, sifting the passing
crowd.

At six o'clock Fourteenth Street pours up from its basements, down from its
lofts, and out from its five-and-ten-cent stores, shows, and arcades, in
a great homeward torrent--a sweeping torrent that flows full flush to the
Subway, the Elevated, and the surface car, and then spreads thinly into the
least pretentious of the city's homes--the five flights up, the two rooms
rear, and the third floor back.

Standing there, this eager tide of the Fourteenth Street Emporium, thus
released by the six-o'clock flood-gates, flowed past Miss Slayback.
White-nosed, low-chested girls in short-vamp shoes and no-carat gold
vanity-cases. Older men resigned that ambition could be flayed by a
yard-stick; young men still impatient of their clerkship.

It was into the trickle of these last that Miss Slayback bored her glance,
the darting, eager glance of hot eyeballs and inner trembling. She was
not so pathetically young as she was pathetically blond, a treacherous,
ready-to-fade kind of blondness that one day, now that she had found that
very morning her first gray hair, would leave her ashy.

Suddenly, with a small catch of breath that was audible in her throat, Miss
Slayback stepped out of that doorway, squirming her way across the tight
congestion of the sidewalk to its curb, then in and out, brushing this
elbow and that shoulder, worming her way in an absolutely supreme anxiety
to keep in view a brown derby hat bobbing right briskly along with the
crowd, a greenish-black bit of feather upright in its band.

At Broadway, Fourteenth Street cuts quite a caper, deploying out into Union
Square, an island of park, beginning to be succulent at the first false
feint of spring, rising as it were from a sea of asphalt. Across this park
Miss Slayback worked her rather frenzied way, breaking into a run when
the derby threatened to sink into the confusion of a hundred others, and
finally learning to keep its course by the faint but distinguishing fact of
a slight dent in the crown. At Broadway, some blocks before that highway
bursts into its famous flare, Mr. Batch, than whom it was no other, turned
off suddenly at right angles down into a dim pocket of side-street and into
the illuminated entrance of Ceiner's Cafe Hungarian. Meals at all hours.
Lunch, thirty cents. Dinner, fifty cents. Our Goulash is Famous.

New York, which expresses itself in more languages to the square block
than any other area in the world, Babylon included, loves thus to dine
linguistically, so to speak. To the Crescent Turkish Restaurant for its
Business Men's Lunch comes Fourth Avenue, whose antique-shop patois reads
across the page from right to left. Sight-seeing automobiles on mission and
commission bent allow Altoona, Iowa City, and Quincy, Illinois, fifteen
minutes' stop-in at Ching Ling-Foo's Chinatown Delmonico's. Spaghetti and
red wine have set New York racing to reserve its table d'hotes. All except
the Latin race.

Jimmie Batch, who had first seen light, and that gaslight, in a block in
lower Manhattan which has since been given over to a milk-station for
a highly congested district, had the palate, if not the purse, of the
cosmopolite. His digestive range included _borsch_ and _chow maigne;
risotta_ and ham and.

To-night, as he turned into Cafe Hungarian, Miss Slayback slowed and drew
back into the overshadowing protection of an adjoining office-building. She
was breathing hard, and her little face, somehow smaller from chill, was
nevertheless a high pink at the cheek-bones.

The wind swept around the corner, jerking her hat, and her hand flew up to
it. There was a fair stream of passers-by even here, and occasionally
one turned for a backward glance at her standing there so frankly
indeterminate.

Suddenly Miss Slayback adjusted her tam-o'-shanter to its flop over her
right ear, and, drawing off a pair of dark-blue silk gloves from over
immaculately new white ones, entered Ceiner's Cafe Hungarian. In its light
she was not so obviously blonder than young, the pink spots in her
cheeks had a deepening value to the blue of her eyes, and a black velvet
tam-o'-shanter revealing just the right fringe of yellow curls is no mean
aid.

First of all, Ceiner's is an eating-place. There is no music except at five
cents in the slot, and its tables for four are perpetually set each with a
dish of sliced radishes, a bouquet of celery, and a mound of bread, half
the stack rye. Its menus are well thumbed and badly mimeographed. Who
enters Ceiner's is prepared to dine from barley soup to apple strudel. At
something after six begins the rising sound of cutlery, and already the
new-comer fears to find no table.

Off at the side, Mr. Jimmie Batch had already disposed of his hat and gray
overcoat, and tilting the chair opposite him to indicate its reservation,
shook open his evening paper, the waiter withholding the menu at this sign
of rendezvous.

Straight toward that table Miss Slayback worked quick, swift way, through
this and that aisle, jerking back and seating herself on the chair opposite
almost before Mr. Batch could raise his eyes from off the sporting page.

There was an instant of silence between them--the kind of silence that
can shape itself into a commentary upon the inefficacy of mere speech--a
widening silence which, as they sat there facing, deepened until, when she
finally spoke, it was as if her words were pebbles dropping down into a
well.

"Don't look so surprised, Jimmie," she said, propping her face calmly, even
boldly, into the white-kid palms. "You might fall off the Christmas tree."

Above the snug, four-inch collar and bow tie Mr. Batch's face was taking on
a dull ox-blood tinge that spread back, even reddening his ears. Mr. Batch
had the frontal bone of a clerk, the horn-rimmed glasses of the literarily
astigmatic, and the sartorial perfection that only the rich can afford not
to attain.

He was staring now quite frankly, and his mouth had fallen open. "Gert!" he
said.

"Yes," said Miss Slayback, her insouciance gaining with his discomposure,
her eyes widening and then a dolly kind of glassiness seeming to set in.
"You wasn't expecting me, Jimmie?"

He jerked up his head, not meeting her glance. "What's the idea of the
comedy?"

"You don't look glad to see me, Jimmie."

"If you--think you're funny."

She was working out of and then back into the freshly white gloves in a
betraying kind of nervousness that belied the toss of her voice. "Well, of
all things! Mad-cat! Mad, just because you didn't seem to be expecting me."

"I--There's some things that are just the limit, that's what they are.
Some things that are just the limit, that no fellow would stand from any
girl, and this--this is one of them."

Her lips were trembling now. "You--you bet your life there's some things
that are just the limit."

He slid out his watch, pushing back. "Well, I guess this place is too small
for a fellow and a girl that can follow him around town like a--like--"

She sat forward, grasping the table-sides, her chair tilting with her.
"Don't you dare to get up and leave me sitting here! Jimmie Batch, don't
you dare!"

The waiter intervened, card extended.

"We--we're waiting for another party," said Miss Slayback, her hands still
rigidly over the table-sides and her glance like a steady drill into Mr.
Batch's own.

There was a second of this silence while the waiter withdrew, and then Mr.
Batch whipped out his watch again, a gun-metal one with an open face.

"Now look here. I got a date here in ten minutes, and one or the other of
us has got to clear. You--you're one too many, if you got to know it."

"Oh, I do know it, Jimmie! I been one too many for the last four Saturday
nights. I been one too many ever since May Scully came into five hundred
dollars' inheritance and quit the Ladies' Neckwear. I been one too many
ever since May Scully became a lady."

"If I was a girl and didn't have more shame!"

"Shame! Now you're shouting, Jimmie Batch. I haven't got shame, and I don't
care who knows it. A girl don't stop to have shame when she's fighting for
her rights."

He was leaning on his elbow, profile to her. "That movie talk can't scare
me. You can't tell me what to do and what not to do. I've given you a
square deal all right. There's not a word ever passed between us that ties
me to your apron-strings. I don't say I'm not without my obligations to
you, but that's not one of them. No, sirree--no apron-strings."

"I know it isn't, Jimmie. You're the kind of a fellow wouldn't even talk to
himself for fear of committing hisself."

"I got a date here now any minute, Gert, and the sooner you--"

"You're the guy who passed up the Sixty-first for the Safety First
regiment."

"I'll show you my regiment some day."

"I--I know you're not tied to my apron-strings, Jimmie. I--I wouldn't have
you there for anything. Don't you think I know you too well for that?
That's just it. Nobody on God's earth knows you the way I do. I know you
better than you know yourself."

"You better beat it, Gertie. I tell you I'm getting sore."

Her face flashed from him to the door and back again, her anxiety almost
edged with hysteria. "Come on, Jimmie--out the side entrance before she
gets here. May Scully ain't the company for you. You think if she was,
honey, I'd--I'd see myself come butting in between you this way, like--like
a--common girl? She's not the girl to keep you straight. Honest to God
she's not, honey."

"My business is my business, let me tell you that."

"She's speedy, Jimmie. She was the speediest girl on the main floor, and
now that she's come into those five hundred, instead of planting it for a
rainy day, she's quit work and gone plumb crazy with it."

"When I want advice about my friends I ask for it."

"It's not her good name that worries me, Jimmie, because she 'ain't got
any. It's you. She's got you crazy with that five hundred, too--that's
what's got me scared."

"Gee! you ought to let the Salvation Army tie a bonnet under your chin."

"She's always had her eyes on you, Jimmie. 'Ain't you men got no sense for
seein' things? Since the day they moved the Gents' Furnishings across from
the Ladies' Neckwear she's had you spotted. Her goings-on used to leak down
to the basement, alrighty. She's not a good girl, May ain't, Jimmie. She
ain't, and you know it. Is she? Is she?"

"Aw!" said Jimmie Batch.

"You see! See! 'Ain't got the nerve to answer, have you?"

"Aw--maybe I know, too, that she's not the kind of a girl that would turn
up where she's not--"

"If you wasn't a classy-looking kind of boy, Jimmie, that a fly girl like
May likes to be seen out with, she couldn't find you with magnifying
glasses, not if you was born with the golden rule in your mouth and had
swallowed it. She's not the kind of girl, Jimmie, a fellow like you needs
behind him. If--if you was ever to marry her and get your hands on them
five hundred dollars--"

"It would be my business."

"It'll be your ruination. You're not strong enough to stand up under
nothing like that. With a few hundred unearned dollars in your pocket
you--you'd go up in spontaneous combustion, you would."

"It would be my own spontaneous combustion."

"You got to be drove, Jimmie, like a kid. With them few dollars you
wouldn't start up a little cigar-store like you think you would. You and
her would blow yourselves to the dogs in two months. Cigar-stores ain't the
place for you, Jimmie. You seen how only clerking in them was nearly your
ruination--the little gambling-room-in-the-back kind that you pick out.
They ain't cigar-stores; they're only false faces for gambling."

"You know it all, don't you?"

"Oh, I'm dealing it to you straight! There's too many sporty crowds loafing
around those joints for a fellow like you to stand up under. I found you in
one, and as yellow-fingered and as loafing as they come, a new job a week,
a--"

"Yeh, and there was some pep to variety, too."

"Don't throw over, Jimmie, what my getting you out of it to a decent job in
a department store has begun to do for you. And you're making good, too.
Higgins told me to-day, if you don't let your head swell, there won't be a
fellow in the department can stack up his sales-book any higher."

"Aw!"

"Don't throw it all over, Jimmie--and me--for a crop of dyed red hair and a
few dollars to ruin yourself with."

He shot her a look of constantly growing nervousness, his mouth pulled to
an oblique, his glance constantly toward the door.

"Don't keep no date with her to-night, Jimmie. You haven't got the
constitution to stand her pace. It's telling on you. Look at those fingers
yellowing again--looka--"

"They're my fingers, ain't they?"

"You see, Jimmie, I--I'm the only person in the world that likes you just
for what--you ain't--and hasn't got any pipe dreams about you. That's what
counts, Jimmie, the folks that like you in spite, and not because of."

"We will now sing psalm number two hundred and twenty-three."

"I know there's not a better fellow in the world if he's kept nailed to the
right job, and I know, too, there's not another fellow can go to the dogs
any easier."

"To hear you talk, you'd think I was about six."

"I'm the only girl that'll ever be willing to make a whip out of herself
that'll keep you going and won't sting, honey. I know you're soft and lazy
and selfish and--"

"Don't forget any."

"And I know you're my good-looking good-for-nothing, and I know, too, that
you--you don't care as much--as much for me from head to toe as I do for
your little finger. But I--I like you just the same, Jimmie. That--that's
what I mean about having no shame. I--do like you so--so terribly, Jimmie."

"Aw now--Gert!"

"I know it, Jimmie--that I ought to be ashamed. Don't think I haven't cried
myself to sleep with it whole nights in succession."

"Aw now--Gert!"

"Don't think I don't know it, that I'm laying myself before you pretty
common. I know it's common for a girl to--to come to a fellow like this,
but--but I haven't got any shame about it--I haven't got anything, Jimmie,
except fight for--for what's eating me. And the way things are between us
now is eating me."

"I--Why, I got a mighty high regard for you, Gert."

"There's a time in a girl's life, Jimmie, when she's been starved like I
have for something of her own all her days; there's times, no matter how
she's held in, that all of a sudden comes a minute when she busts out."

"I understand, Gert, but--"

"For two years and eight months, Jimmie, life has got to be worth while
living to me because I could see the day, even if we--you--never talked
about it, when you would be made over from a flip kid to--to the kind of a
fellow would want to settle down to making a little--two-by-four home for
us. A--little two-by-four all our own, with you steady on the job and
advanced maybe to forty or fifty a week and--"

"For God's sake, Gertie, this ain't the time or the place to--"

"Oh yes, it is! It's got to be, because it's the first time in four weeks
that you didn't see me coming first."

"But not now, Gert. I--"

"I'm not ashamed to tell you, Jimmie Batch, that I've been the making of
you since that night you threw the wink at me. And--and it hurts, this
does. God! how it hurts!"

He was pleating the table-cloth, swallowing as if his throat had
constricted, and still rearing his head this way and that in the tight
collar.

"I--never claimed not to be a bad egg. This ain't the time and the place
for rehashing, that's all. Sure you been a friend to me. I don't say
you haven't. Only I can't be bossed by a girl like you. I don't say May
Scully's any better than she ought to be. Only that's my business. You
hear? my business. I got to have life and see a darn sight more future for
myself than selling shirts in a Fourteenth Street department store."

"May Scully can't give it to you--her and her fast crowd."

"Maybe she can and maybe she can't."

"Them few dollars won't make you; they'll break you."

"That's for her to decide, not you."

"I'll tell her myself. I'll face her right here and--"

"Now, look here, if you think I'm going to be let in for a holy show
between you two girls, you got another think coming. One of us has got to
clear out of here, and quick, too. You been talking about the side door;
there it is. In five minutes I got a date in this place that I thought I
could keep like any law-abiding citizen. One of us has got to clear, and
quick, too. God! you wimmin make me sick, the whole lot of you!"

"If anything makes you sick, I know what it is. It's dodging me to fly
around all hours of the night with May Scully, the girl who put the tang in
tango. It's eating around in swell sixty-cent restaurants like this and--"

"Gad! your middle name ought to be Nagalene."

"Aw, now, Jimmie, maybe it does sound like nagging, but it ain't, honey.
It--it's only my--my fear that I'm losing you, and--and my hate for the
every-day grind of things, and--"

"I can't help that, can I?"

"Why, there--there's nothing on God's earth I hate, Jimmie, like I hate
that Bargain-Basement. When I think it's down there in that manhole I've
spent the best years of my life, I--I wanna die. The day I get out of it,
the day I don't have to punch that old time-clock down there next to the
Complaints and Adjustment Desk, I--I'll never put my foot below sidewalk
level again to the hour I die. Not even if it was to take a walk in my own
gold-mine."

"It ain't exactly a garden of roses down there."

"Why, I hate it so terrible, Jimmie, that sometimes I wake up nights
gritting my teeth with the smell of steam-pipes and the tramp of feet on
the glass sidewalk up over me. Oh. God! you dunno--you dunno!"

"When it comes to that the main floor ain't exactly a maiden's dream, or a
fellow's, for that matter."

"With a man it's different, It's his job in life, earning, and--and the
woman making the two ends of it meet. That's why, Jimmie, these last
two years and eight months, if not for what I was hoping for us,
why--why--I--why, on your twenty a week, Jimmie, there's nobody could run
a flat like I could. Why, the days wouldn't be long enough to putter in.
I--Don't throw away what I been building up for us, Jimmie, step by step!
Don't, Jimmie!"

"Good Lord, girl! You deserve better 'n me."

"I know I got a big job, Jimmie, but I want to make a man out of you,
temper, laziness, gambling, and all. You got it in you to be something more
than a tango lizard or a cigar-store bum, honey. It's only you 'ain't
got the stuff in you to stand up under a five-hundred-dollar windfall
and--a--and a sporty girl. If--if two glasses of beer make you as silly as
they do, Jimmie, why, five hundred dollars would land you under the table
for life."

"Aw-there you go again!"

"I can't help it, Jimmie. It's because I never knew a fellow had what's
he's cut out for written all over him so. You're a born clerk, Jimmie.

"Sure, I'm a slick clerk, but--"

"You're born to be a clerk, a good clerk, even a two-hundred-a-month clerk,
the way you can win the trade, but never your own boss. I know what I'm
talking about. I know your measure better than any human on earth can
ever know your measure. I know things about you that you don't even know
yourself."

"I never set myself up to nobody for anything I wasn't."

"Maybe not, Jimmie, but I know about you and--and that Central Street gang
that time, and--"

"You!"

"Yes, honey, and there's not another human living but me knows how little
it was your fault. Just bad company, that was all. That's how much I--I
love you, Jimmie, enough to understand that. Why, if I thought May Scully
and a set-up in business was the thing for you, Jimmie, I'd say to her, I'd
say, if it was like taking my own heart out in my hand and squashing it,
I'd say to her, I'd say, 'Take him, May.' That's how I--I love you, Jimmie.
Oh, ain't it nothing, honey, a girl can come here and lay herself this low
to you--"

"Well, haven't I just said you--you deserve better."

"I don't want better, Jimmie. I want you. I want to take hold of your life
and finish the job of making it the kind we can both be proud of. Us two,
Jimmie, in--in our own decent two-by-four. Shopping on Saturday nights.
Frying in our own frying-pan in our own kitchen. Listening to our own
phonograph in our own parlor. Geraniums and--and kids--and--and things.
Gas-logs. Stationary washtubs. Jimmie! Jimmie!"

Mr. James P. Batch reached up for his hat and overcoat, cramming the
newspaper into a rear pocket.

"Come on," he said, stalking toward the side door and not waiting to see
her to her feet.

Outside, a banner of stars was over the narrow street. For a chain of five
blocks he walked, with a silence and speed that Miss Slayback could only
match with a running quickstep. But she was not out of breath. Her head was
up, and her hand, where it hooked into Mr. Batch's elbow, was in a vise
that tightened with each block.

You who will mete out no other approval than that vouched for by the stamp
of time and whose contempt for the contemporary is from behind the easy
refuge of the classics, suffer you the shuddering analogy that between
Aspasia who inspired Pericles, Theodora who suggested the Justinian code,
and Gertie Slayback who commandeered Jimmie Batch, is a sistership which
rounds them, like a lasso thrown back into time, into one and the same
petticoat dynasty behind the throne.

True, Gertie Slayback's _mise en scene_ was a two-room kitchenette
apartment situated in the Bronx at a surveyor's farthest point between two
Subway stations, and her present state one of frequent red-faced forays
down into a packing-case. But there was that in her eyes which witchingly
bespoke the conquered, but not the conqueror. Hers was actually the
titillating wonder of a bird which, captured, closes its wings, that
surrender can be so sweet.

Once she sat on the edge of the packing-case, dallying a hammer, then laid
it aside suddenly, to cross the littered room and place the side of her
head to the immaculate waistcoat of Mr. Jimmie Batch, red-faced, too, over
wrenching up with hatchet-edge a barrel-top.

"Jimmie darling, I--I just never will get over your finding this place for
us."

Mr. Batch wiped his forearm across his brow, his voice jerking between the
squeak of nails extracted from wood.

"It was you, honey. You give me the to-let ad, and I came to look, that's
all."

"Just the samey, it was my boy found it. If you hadn't come to look we
might have been forced into taking that old dark coop over on Simpson
Street."

"What's all this junk in this barrel?"

"Them's kitchen utensils, honey."

"Kitchen what?"

"Kitchen things that you don't know nothing about except to eat good things
out of."

"What's this?"

"Don't bend it! That's a celery-brush. Ain't it cute?"

"A celery-brush! Why didn't you get it a comb, too?"

"Aw, now, honey-bee, don't go trying to be funny and picking through these
things you don't know nothing about! They're just cute things I'm going to
cook something grand suppers in, for my something awful bad boy."

He leaned down to kiss her at that. "Gee!"

She was standing, her shoulder to him and head thrown back against his
chest. She looked up to stroke his cheek, her face foreshortened.

"I'm all black and blue pinching myself, Jimmie."

"Me too."

"Every night when I get home from working here in the flat I say to
myself in the looking-glass, I say, 'Gertie Slayback, what if you're only
dreamin'?'"

"Me too."

"I say to myself, 'Are you sure that darling flat up there, with the new
pink-and-white wall-paper and the furniture arriving every day, is going to
be yours in a few days when you're Mrs. Jimmie Batch?'"

"Mrs. Jimmie Batch--say, that's immense."

"I keep saying it to myself every night, 'One day less.' Last night it was
two days. To-night it'll be--one day, Jimmie, till I'm--her."

She closed her eyes and let her hand linger up at his cheek, head still
back against him, so that, inclining his head, he could rest his lips in
the ash-blond fluff of her hair.

"Talk about can't wait! If to-morrow was any farther off they'd have to
sweep out a padded cell for me."

She turned to rumple the smooth light thatch of his hair. "Bad boy! Can't
wait! And here we are getting married all of a sudden, just like that. Up
to the time of this draft business, Jimmie Batch, 'pretty soon' was the
only date I could ever get out of you, and now here you are crying over one
day's wait. Bad honey boy!"

He reached back for the pink newspaper so habitually protruding from
his hip pocket. "You ought to see the way they're neck-breaking for the
marriage-license bureaus since the draft. First thing we know, tine whole
shebang of the boys will be claiming the exemption of sole support of
wife."

"It's a good thing we made up our minds quick, Jimmie. They'll be getting
wise. If too many get exemption from the army by marrying right away, it'll
be a give-away."

"I'd like to know who can lay his hands on the exemption of a little wife
to support."

"Oh, Jimmie, it--it sounds so funny. Being supported! Me that always did
the supporting, not only to me, but to my mother and great-grand-mother up
to the day they died."

"I'm the greatest little supporter you ever seen."

"Me getting up mornings to stay at home in my own darling little flat, and
no basement or time-clock. Nothing but a busy little hubby to eat him nice,
smelly, bacon breakfast and grab him nice morning newspaper, kiss him
wifie, and run downtown to support her. Jimmie, every morning for your
breakfast I'm going to fry--"

"You bet your life he's going to support her, and he's going to pay back
that forty dollars of his girl's that went into his wedding duds, that
hundred and ninety of his girl's savings that went into furniture--"

"We got to meet our instalments every month first, Jimmie. That's what we
want--no debts and every little darling piece of furniture paid up."

"We--I'm going to pay it, too."

"And my Jimmie is going to work to get himself promoted and quit being a
sorehead at his steady hours and all."

"I know more about selling, honey, than the whole bunch of dubs in that
store put together if they'd give me a chance to prove it."

She laid her palm to his lips.

"'Shh-h-h! You don't nothing of the kind. It's not conceit, it's work is
going to get my boy his raise."

"If they'd listen to me, that department would--"

"'Shh-h! J. G. Hoffheimer don't have to get pointers from Jimmie Batch how
to run his department store."

"There you go again. What's J. G. Hoffheimer got that I 'ain't? Luck and a
few dollars in his pocket that, if I had in mine, would--

"It was his own grit put those dollars there, Jimmie. Just put it out of
your head that it's luck makes a self-made man."

"Self-made! You mean things just broke right for him. That's two-thirds of
this self-made business."

"You mean he buckled right down to brass tacks, and that's what my boy is
going to do."

"The trouble with this world is it takes money to make money. Get your
first few dollars, I always say, no matter how, and then when you're on
your feet scratch your conscience if it itches. That's why I said in the
beginning, if we had took that hundred and ninety furniture money and
staked it on--"

"Jimmie, please--please! You wouldn't want to take a girl's savings of
years and years to gamble on a sporty cigar proposition with a card-room in
the rear. You wouldn't, Jimmie. You ain't that kind of fellow. Tell me you
wouldn't, Jimmie."

He turned away to dive down into the barrel. "Naw," he said, "I wouldn't."

The sun had receded, leaving a sudden sullen gray, the little square room,
littered with an upheaval of excelsior, sheet-shrouded furniture, and the
paperhanger's paraphernalia and inimitable smells, darkening and seeming to
chill.

"We got to quit now, Jimmie. It's getting dark and the gas ain't turned on
in the meter yet."

He rose up out of the barrel, holding out at arm's-length what might have
been a tinsmith's version of a porcupine.

"What in--What's this thing that scratched me?"

She danced to take it. "It's a grater, a darling grater for horseradish and
nutmeg and cocoanut. I'm going to fix you a cocoanut cake for our
honeymoon supper to-morrow night, honey-bee. Essie Wohlgemuth over in the
cake-demonstrating department is going to bring me the recipe. Cocoanut
cake! And I'm going to fry us a little steak in this darling little
skillet. Ain't it the cutest!"

"Cute she calls a tin skillet."

"Look what's pasted on it. 'Little Housewife's Skillet. The Kitchen Fairy.'
That's what I'm going to be, Jimmie, the kitchen fairy. Give me that. It's
a rolling-pin. All my life I've wanted a rolling-pin. Look, honey, a little
string to hang it up by. I'm going to hang everything up in rows. It's
going to look like Tiffany's kitchen, all shiny. Give me, honey; that's an
egg-beater. Look at it whiz. And this--this is a pan for war bread. I'm
going to make us war bread to help the soldiers."

"You're a little soldier yourself," he said.

"That's what I would be if I was a man, a soldier all in brass buttons."

"There's a bunch of the fellows going," said Mr. Batch, standing at the
window, looking out over roofs, dilly-dallying up and down on his heels
and breaking into a low, contemplative whistle. She was at his shoulder,
peering over it. "You wouldn't be afraid, would you, Jimmie?"

"You bet your life I wouldn't."

She was tiptoes now, her arms creeping up to him. "Only my boy's got a
wife--a brand-new wifie to support, 'ain't he?"

"That's what he has," said Mr. Batch, stroking her forearm, but still
gazing through and beyond whatever roofs he was seeing.

"Jimmie!"

"Huh?"

"Look! We got a view of the Hudson River from our flat, just like we lived
on Riverside Drive."

"All the Hudson River I can see is fifteen smoke-stacks and somebody's
wash-line out."

"It ain't so. We got a grand view. Look! Stand on tiptoe, Jimmie, like me.
There, between that water-tank on that black roof over there and them two
chimneys. See? Watch my finger. A little stream of something over there
that moves."

"No, I don't see."

"Look, honey-bee, close! See that little streak?"

"All right, then, if you see it I see it."

"To think we got a river view from our flat! It's like living in the
country. I'll peek out at it all day long. God! honey, I just never will be
over the happiness of being done with basements."

"It was swell of old Higgins to give us this half-Saturday. It shows where
you stood with the management, Gert--this and a five-dollar gold piece.
Lord knows they wouldn't pony up that way if it was me getting married by
myself."

"It's because my boy 'ain't shown them down there yet the best that's in
him. You just watch his little safety-first wife see to it that from now on
he keeps up her record of never in seven years punching the time-clock even
one minute late, and that he keeps his stock shelves O. K. and shows his
department he's a comer-on."

"With that bunch of boobs a fellow's got a swell chance to get anywheres."

"It's getting late, Jimmie. It don't look nice for us to stay here so late
alone, not till--to-morrow. Ruby and Essie and Charley are going to meet us
in the minister's back parlor at ten sharp in the morning. We can be
back here by noon and get the place cleared enough to give 'em a little
lunch--just a fun lunch without fixings."

"I hope the old guy don't waste no time splicing us. It's one of the things
a fellow likes to have over with."

"Jimmie! Why, it's the most beautiful thing in the world, like a garden of
lilies or--or something, a marriage ceremony is! You got the ring safe,
honey-bee, and the license?"

"Pinned in my pocket where you put 'em, Flirty Gertie."

"Flirty Gertie! Now you'll begin teasing me with that all our life--the
way I didn't slap your face that night when I should have. I just couldn't
have, honey. Goes to show we were just cut and dried for each other, don't
it? Me, a girl that never in her life let a fellow even bat his eyes at her
without an introduction. But that night when you winked, honey--something
inside of me just winked back."

"My girl!"

"You mean it, boy? You ain't sorry about nothing, Jimmie?"

"Sorry? Well, I guess not!"

"You saw the way--she--May--you saw for yourself what she was, when we saw
her walking, that next night after Ceiner's, nearly staggering, up Sixth
Avenue with Budge Evans."

"I never took any stock in her, honey. I was just letting her like me."

She sat back on the box edge, regarding him, her face so soft and wont to
smile that she could not keep her composure.

"Get me my hat and coat, honey. We'll walk down. Got the key?"

They skirmished in the gloom, moving through slit-like aisles of furniture
and packing-box.

"Ouch!"

"Oh, the running water is hot, Jimmie, just like the ad said! We got
red-hot running water in our flat. Close the front windows, honey. We don't
want it to rain in on our new green sofa. Not 'til it's paid for, anyways."

"Hurry."

"I'm ready."

They met at the door, kissing on the inside and the outside of it; at the
head of the fourth, third, and the second balustrade down.

"We'll always make 'em little love landings, Jimmie, so we can't ever get
tired climbing them."

"Yep."

Outside there was still a pink glow in a clean sky. The first flush of
spring in the air had died, leaving chill. They walked briskly, arm in arm,
down the asphalt incline of sidewalk leading from their apartment house, a
new street of canned homes built on a hillside--the sepulchral abode of the
city's trapped whose only escape is down the fire-escape, and then only
when the alternative is death. At the base of the hill there flows, in
constant hubbub, a great up-and-down artery of street, repeating
itself, mile after mile, in terms of the butcher, the baker, and the
"every-other-corner drug-store of a million dollar corporation". Housewives
with perambulators and oil-cloth shopping bags. Children on rollerskates.
The din of small tradesmen and the humdrum of every city block where the
homes remain unbearded all summer and every wife is on haggling terms with
the purveyor of her evening roundsteak and mess of rutabaga.

Then there is the soap-box provender, too, sure of a crowd, offering creed,
propaganda, patent medicine, and politics. It is the pulpit of the reformer
and the housetop of the fanatic, this soapbox. From it the voice to the
city is often a pious one, an impious one, and almost always a raucous one.
Luther and Sophocles, and even a Citizen of Nazareth made of the four winds
of the street corner the walls of a temple of wisdom. What more fitting
acropolis for freedom of speech than the great out-of-doors!

Turning from the incline of cross-street into this petty Baghdad of
the petty wise, the voice of the street corner lifted itself above
the inarticulate din of the thoroughfare. A youth, thewed like an ox,
surmounted on a stack of three self provided canned-goods boxes, his
in-at-the-waist silhouette thrown out against a sky that was almost ready
to break out in stars; a crowd tightening about him.

"It's a soldier boy talkin', Gert."

"If it ain't!" They tiptoed at the fringe of the circle, heads back.

"Look, Gert, he's a lieutenant; he's got a shoulder-bar. And those four
down there holding the flags are just privates. You can always tell a
lieutenant by the bar."

"Uh-huh."

"Say, them boys do stack up some for Uncle Sam."

"'Shh-h-h, Jimmie!"

"I'm here to tell you that them boys stack up some."

A banner stiffened out in the breeze, Mr. Batch reading: "Enlist before you
are drafted. Last chance to beat the draft. Prove your patriotism. Enlist
now! Your country calls!"

"Come on," said Mr. Batch.

"Wait. I want to hear what he's saying."

"... there's not a man here before me can afford to shirk his duty to his
country. The slacker can't get along without his country, but his country
can very easily get along without him."

Cheers.

"The poor exemption boobs are already running for doctors' certificates and
marriage licenses, but even if they get by with it--and it is ninety-nine
to one they won't--they can't run away from their own degradation and
shame."

"Come on, Jimmie."

"Wait."

"Men of America, for every one of you who tries to dodge his duty to his
country there is a yellow streak somewhere underneath the hide of you.
Women of America, every one of you that helps to foster the spirit of
cowardice in your particular man or men is helping to make a coward. It's
the cowards and the quitters and the slackers and dodgers that need this
war more than the patriotic ones who are willing to buckle on and go!

"Don't be a buttonhole patriot! A government that is good enough to live
under is good enough to fight under!"

Cheers.

"If there is any reason on earth has manifested itself for this devastating
and terrible war it is that it has been a maker of men.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I am back from four months in the trenches with the
French army, and I've come home, now that my own country is at war, to give
her every ounce of energy I've got to offer. As soon as a hole in my side
is healed up. I'm going back to those trenches, and I want to say to you
that them four months of mine face to face with life and with death have
done more for me than all my twenty-four civilian years put together."

Cheers.

"I'll be a different man, if I live to come back home after this war
and take up my work again as a draftsman. Why, I've seen weaklings and
self-confessed failures and even ninnies go into them trenches and come
out--oh yes, plenty of them do come out--men. Men that have got close
enough down to the facts of things to feel new realizations of what life
means come over them. Men that have gotten back their pep, their ambitions,
their unselfishness. That's what war can do for your men, you women who
are helping them to foster the spirit of holding back, of cheating their
government. That's what war can do for your men. Make of them the kind
of men who some day can face their children without having to hang their
heads. Men who can answer for their part in making the world a safe place
for democracy."

An hour they stood there, the air quieting but chilling, and lavishly sown
stars cropping out. Street lights had come out, too, throwing up in ever
darker relief the figure above the heads of the crowd. His voice had
coarsened and taken on a raw edge, but every gesture was flung from the
socket, and from where they had forced themselves into the tight circle
Gertie Slayback, her mouth fallen open and her head still back, could see
the sinews of him ripple under khaki and the diaphragm lift for voice.

There was a shift of speakers then, this time a private, still too rangy,
but his looseness of frame seeming already to conform to the exigency of
uniform.

"Come on, Jimmie. I--I'm cold."

They worked out into the freedom of the sidewalk, and for ten minutes, down
blocks of petty shops already lighted, walked in a silence that grew apace.

He was suddenly conscious that she was crying, quietly, her handkerchief
wadded against her mouth. He strode on with a scowl and his head bent.
"Let's sit down in this little park, Jimmie. I'm tired."

They rested on a bench on one of those small triangles of breathing space
which the city ekes out now and then; mill ends of land parcels.

He took immediately to roving the toe of his shoe in and out among the
gravel. She stole out her hand to his arm.

"Well, Jimmie?" Her voice was in the gauze of a whisper that hardly left
her throat.

"Well, what?" he said, still toeing.

"There--there's a lot of things we never thought about, Jimmie."

"Aw!"

"Eh, Jimmie?"

"You mean _you_ never thought about it?"

"What do you mean?"

"I know what I mean alrighty."

"I--I was the one that suggested it, Jimmie, but--but you fell in. I--I
just couldn't bear to think of it, Jimmie--your going and all. I suggested
it, but--but you fell in."

"Say, when a fellow's shoved he falls. I never gave a thought to sneaking
an exemption until it was put in my head. I'd smash the fellow in the face
that calls me coward, I will."

"You could have knocked me down with a feather, Jimmie, looking at it his
way all of a sudden."

"You couldn't knock me down. Don't think I was ever strong enough for the
whole business. I mean the exemption part. I wasn't going to say anything.
What's the use, seeing the way you had your heart set on--on things? But
the whole business, if you want to know it, went against my grain. I'll
smash the fellow in the face that calls me coward."

"I know, Jimmie; you--you're right. It was me suggested hurrying things
like this. Sneakin'! Oh, God! ain't I the messer-up!"

"Lay easy, girl. I'm going to see it through. I guess there's been fellows
before me and will be after me who have done worse. I'm going to see it
through. All I got to say is I'll smash up the fellow calls me coward. Come
on, forget it. Let's go."

She was close to him, her cheek crinkled against his with the frank kind of
social unconsciousness the park bench seems to engender.

"Come on, Gert. I got a hunger on."

'"Shh-h-h, Jimmie! Let me think. I'm thinking."

"Too much thinking killed a cat. Come on."

"Jimmie!"

"Huh?"

"Jimmie--would you--had you ever thought about being a soldier?"

"Sure. I came in an ace of going into the army that time after--after that
little Central Street trouble of mine. I've got a book in my trunk this
minute on military tactics. Wouldn't surprise me a bit to see me land in
the army some day."

"It's a fine thing, Jimmie, for a fellow--the army."

"Yeh, good for what ails him."

She drew him back, pulling at his shoulder so that finally he faced her.
"Jimmie!"

"Huh?"

"I got an idea."

"Shoot."

"You remember once, honey-bee, how I put it to you that night at Ceiner's
how, if it was for your good, no sacrifice was too much to make."

"Forget it."

"You didn't believe it."

"Aw, say now, what's the use digging up ancient history?"

"You'd be right, Jimmie, not to believe it. I haven't lived up to what I
said."

"Oh Lord, honey! What's eating you now? Come to the point."

She would not meet his eyes, turning her head from him to hide lips
that would quiver. "Honey, it--it ain't coming off--that's all. Not
now--anyways."

"What ain't?"

"Us."

"Who?"

"You know what I mean, Jimmie. It's like everything the soldier boy on the
corner just said. I--I saw you getting red clear behind your ears over it.
I--I was, too, Jimmie. It's like that soldier boy was put there on that
corner just to show me, before it was too late, how wrong I been in every
one of my ways. Us women who are helping to foster slackers. That's what
we're making of them--slackers for life. And here I been thinking it was
your good I had in mind, when all along it's been mine. That's what it's
been, mine!"

"Aw, now, Gert--"

"You got to go, Jimmie. You got to go, because you want to go and--because
I want you to go."

"Where?"

"To war."

He took hold of her two arms because they were trembling. "Aw, now, Gert, I
didn't say anything complaining. I--"

"You did, Jimmie, you did, and--and I never was so glad over you that you
did complain. I just never was so glad. I want you to go, Jimmie. I want
you to go and get a man made out of you. They'll make a better job out of
you than ever I can. I want you to get the yellow streak washed out. I want
you to get to be all the things he said you would. For every line he was
talking up there, I could see my boy coming home to me some day better than
anything I could make out of him, babying him the way I can't help doing. I
could see you, honey-bee, coming back to me with the kind of lift to your
head a fellow has when he's been fighting to make the world a safe place
for dem--for whatever it was he said. I want you to go, Jimmie. I want you
to beat the draft, too. Nothing on earth can make me not want you to go."

"Why, Gert--you're kiddin'!"

"Honey, you want to go, don't you? You want to square up those shoulders
and put on khaki, don't you? Tell me you want to go!"

"Why--why, yes, Gert, if--"

"Oh, you're going, Jimmie! You're going!"

"Why, girl--you're crazy! Our flat! Our furniture--our--"

"What's a flat? What's furniture? What's anything? There's not a firm in
business wouldn't take back a boy's furniture--a boy's everything--that's
going out to fight for--for dem-o-cracy! What's a flat? What's anything?"

He let drop his head to hide his eyes.

Do you know it is said that on the Desert of Sahara, the slope of Sorrento,
and the marble of Fifth Avenue the sun can shine whitest? There is an
iridescence to its glittering on bleached sand, blue bay, and Carrara
facade that is sheer light distilled to its utmost.

On one such day when, standing on the high slope of Fifth Avenue where it
rises toward the Park, and looking down on it, surging to and fro, it was
as if, so manifest the brilliancy, every head wore a tin helmet, parrying
sunlight at a thousand angles of refraction.

Parade-days, all this glittering midstream is swept to the clean sheen of
a strip of moire, this splendid desolation blocked on each side by crowds
half the density of the sidewalk.

On one of these sun-drenched Saturdays dedicated by a growing tradition to
this or that national expression, the Ninety-ninth Regiment, to a flare of
music that made the heart leap out against its walls, turned into a scene
thus swept clean for it, a wave of olive drab, impeccable row after
impeccable row of scissors-like legs advancing. Recruits, raw if you will,
but already caparisoned, sniffing and scenting, as it were, for the great
primordial mire of war.

There is no state of being so finely sensitized as national consciousness.
A gauntlet down and it surges up. One ripple of a flag defended can
goose-flesh a nation. How bitter and how sweet it is to give a soldier!

To the seething kinetic chemistry of such mingling emotions there were
women who stood in the frontal crowds of the sidewalks stifling hysteria,
or ran after in terror at sight of one so personally hers, receding in that
great impersonal wave of olive drab.

And yet the air was martial with banner and with shout. And the ecstasy of
such moments is like a dam against reality, pressing it back. It is in the
pompless watches of the night or of too long days that such dams break,
excoriating.

For the thirty blocks of its course Gertie Slayback followed that wave of
men, half run and half walk. Down from the curb, and at the beck and call
of this or that policeman up again, only to find opportunity for still
another dive out from the invisible roping off of the sidewalk crowds.

From the middle of his line, she could see, sometimes, the tail of Jimmie
Batch's glance roving for her, but to all purports his eye was solely for
his own replica in front of him, and at such times, when he marched, his
back had a little additional straightness that was almost swayback.

Nor was Gertie Slayback crying. On the contrary, she was inclined to
laughter. A little too inclined to a high and brittle sort of dissonance
over which she seemed to have no control.

"'By, Jimmie! So long! Jimmie! You-hoo!"

Tramp. Tramp. Tramp-tramp-tramp.

"You-hoo! Jimmie! So long, Jimmie!"

At Fourteenth Street, and to the solemn stroke of one from a tower, she
broke off suddenly without even a second look back, dodging under the very
arms of the crowd as she ran out from it.

She was one and three-quarter minutes late when she punched the time-clock
beside the Complaints and Adjustment Desk in the Bargain-Basement.




II

SIEVE OF FULFILMENT


How constant a stream is the runnel of men's small affairs!

Dynasties may totter and half the world bleed to death, but one or the
other corner _patisserie_ goes on forever.

At a moment when the shadow of world-war was over the country like a pair
of black wings lowering Mrs. Harry Ross, who swooned at the sight of blood
from a penknife scratch down the hand of her son, but yawned over the
head-line statistics of the casualties at Verdun, lifted a lid from a pot
that exuded immediate savory fumes, prodded with a fork at its content, her
concern boiled down to deal solely with stew.

An alarm-clock on a small shelf edged in scalloped white oilcloth ticked
with spick-and-span precision into a kitchen so correspondingly spick and
span that even its silence smelled scoured, rows of tins shining into it.
A dun-colored kind of dusk, soot floating in it, began to filter down the
air-shaft, dimming them.

Mrs. Ross lowered the shade and lighted the gas-jet. So short that in the
long run she wormed first through a crowd, she was full of the genial
curves that, though they bespoke three lumps in her coffee in an elevator
and escalator age, had not yet reached uncongenial proportions. In fact,
now, brushing with her bare forearm across her moistly pink face, she was
like Flora, who, rather than fade, became buxom.

A door slammed in an outer hall, as she was still stirring and looking down
into the stew.

"Edwin!"

"Yes, mother."

"Don't track through the parlor."

"Aw!"

"You hear me?"

"I yain't! Gee, can't a feller walk?"

"Put your books on the hat-rack."

"I am."

She supped up bird-like from the tip of her spoon, smacking for flavor.

"I made you an asafetida-bag, Edwin, it's in your drawer. Don't you leave
this house to-morrow without it on."

"Aw-w-w-w-w!"

"It don't smell."

"Where's my stamp-book?"

"On your table, where it belongs."

"Gee whiz! if you got my Argentine stamps mixed!"

"Get washed."

"Where's my batteries?"

"Under your bed, where they belong."

"I'm hungry."

"Your father'll be home any minute now. Don't spoil your appetite."

"I got ninety in manual training, mother."

"Did yuh, Edwin?"

"All the other fellows only got seventy and eighty."

"Mamma's boy leads 'em."

He entered at that, submitting to a kiss upon an averted cheek.

"See what mother's fixed for you!"

"M-m-m-m! fritters!"

"Don't touch!"

"M-m-m-m--lamb stew!"

"I shopped all morning to get okra to go in it for your father."

"M-m-m-m-m!"

She tiptoed up to kiss him again, this time at the back of the neck,
carefully averting her floury hands.

"Mamma's boy! I made you three pen-wipers to-day out of the old red
table-cover."

"Aw, fellers don't use pen-wipers!"

He set up a jiggling, his great feet coming down with a clatter.

"Stop!"

"Can't I jig?"

"No; not with neighbors underneath."

He flopped down, hooking his heels in the chair-rung.

At sixteen's stage of cruel hazing into man's estate Edwin Ross, whose
voice, all in a breath, could slip up from the quality of rock in the
drilling to the more brittle octave of early-morning milk-bottles, wore a
nine shoe and a thirteen collar. His first long trousers were let down and
taken in. His second taken up and let out. When shaving promised to become
a manly accomplishment, his complexion suddenly clouded, postponing that
event until long after it had become a hirsute necessity. When he smiled
apoplectically above his first waistcoat and detachable collar, his Adam's
apple and his mother's heart fluttered.

"Blow-cat Dennis is going to City College."

"Who's he?"

"A feller."

"Quit crackin' your knuckles."

"He only got seventy in manual training."

"Tell them things to your father, Edwin; I 'ain't got the say-so."

"His father's only a bookkeeper, too, and they live 'way up on a Hundred
and Forty-fourth near Third."

"I'm willing to scrimp and save for it, Edwin; but in the end I haven't got
the say-so, and you know it."

"The boys that are going to college got to register now for the High School
College Society."

"Your father, Edwin, is the one to tell that to."

"Other fellers' mothers put in a word for 'em."

"I do, Edwin; you know I do! It only aggravates him--There's papa now,
Edwin, coming in. Help mamma dish up. Put this soup at papa's place and
this at yours. There's only two plates left from last night."

In Mrs. Ross's dining-room, a red-glass dome, swung by a chain over the
round table, illuminated its white napery and decently flowered china.
Beside the window looking out upon a gray-brick wall almost within reach,
a canary with a white-fluted curtain about the cage dozed headless. Beside
that window, covered in flowered chintz, a sewing-machine that could
collapse to a table; a golden-oak sideboard laid out in pressed glassware.
A homely simplicity here saved by chance or chintz from the simply homely.

Mr. Harry Ross drew up immediately beside the spread table, jerking
open his newspaper and, head thrown back, read slantingly down at the
head-lines.

"Hello, pop!"

"Hello, son!"

"Watch out!"

"Hah--that's the stuff! Don't spill!"

He jammed the newspaper between his and the chair back, shoving in closer
to the table. He was blond to ashiness, so that the slicked-back hair might
or might not be graying. Pink-shaved, unlined, nose-glasses polished to
sparkle, he was ten years his wife's senior and looked those ten years
younger. Clerks and clergymen somehow maintain that youth of the flesh, as
if life had preserved them in alcohol or shaving-lotion. Mrs. Ross entered
then in her crisp but faded house dress, her round, intent face still
moistly pink, two steaming dishes held out.

He did not rise, but reached up to kiss her as she passed.

"Burnt your soup a little to-night, mother."

She sat down opposite, breathing deeply outward, spreading her napkin out
across her lap.

"It was Edwin coming in from school and getting me worked up with his talk
about--about--"

"What?"

"Nothing. Edwin, run out and bring papa the paprika to take the burnt taste
out. I turned all the cuffs on your shirts to-day, Harry."

"Lordy! if you ain't fixing at one thing, you're fixing another."

"Anything new?"

He was well over his soup now, drinking in long draughts from the tip of
his spoon.

"News! In A. E. Unger's office, a man don't get his nose far enough up from
the ledger to even smell news."

"I see Goldfinch & Goetz failed."

"Could have told 'em they'd go under, trying to put on a spectacular show
written in verse. That same show boiled down to good Forty-second Street
lingo with some good shapes and a proposition like Alma Zitelle to lift
it from poetry to punch has a world of money in it for somebody. A war
spectacular show filled with sure-fire patriotic lines, a bunch of
show-girl battalions, and a figure like Alma Zitelle's for the Goddess of
Liberty--a world of money, I tell you!"

"Honest, Harry?"

"That trench scene they built for that show is as fine a contrivance as
I've ever seen of the kind. What did they do? Set it to a lot of music
without a hum or a ankle in it. A few classy nurses like the Mercy Militia
Sextet, some live, grand-old-flag tunes by Harry Mordelle, and there's a
half a million dollars in that show. Unger thinks I'm crazy when I try to
get him interested, but I--"

"I got ninety in manual training to-day, pop."

"That's good, son. Little more of that stew, mother?"

"Unger isn't so smart, honey, he can't afford to take a tip off you once in
a while: you've proved that to him."

"Yes, but go tell him so."

"He'll live to see the day he's got to give you credit for being the first
to see money in 'Pan-America.'"

"Credit? Huh! to hear him tell it, he was born with that idea in his bullet
head."

"I'd like to hear him say it to me, if ever I lay eyes on him, that it
wasn't you who begged him to get into it."

"I'll show 'em some day in that office that I can pick the winners for
myself, as well as for the other fellow. Believe me, Unger hasn't raised
me to fifty a week for my fancy bookkeeping, and he knows it, and, what's
more, he knows I know he knows it."

"The fellers that are goin' to college next term have to register for the
High School College Society, pop--dollar dues."

"Well, you aren't going to college, and that's where you and I save a
hundred cents on the dollar. Little more gravy, mother."

The muscles of Edwin's face relaxed, his mouth dropping to a pout, the
crude features quivering.

"Aw, pop, a feller nowadays without a college education don't stand a
show."

"He don't, don't he? I know one who will."

Edwin threw a quivering glance to his mother and gulped through a
constricted throat.

"Mother says I--I can go if only you--"

"Your mother'd say you could have the moon, too, if she had to climb a
greased pole to get it. She'd start weaving door-mats for the Cingalese
Hottentots if she thought they needed 'em."

"But, Harry, he--"

"Your mother 'ain't got the bills of this shebang to worry about, and your
mother don't mind having a college sissy a-laying around the house to
support five years longer. I do."

"It's the free City College, pop."

"You got a better education now than nine boys out of ten. If you ain't man
enough to want to get out after four years of high school and hustle for
a living, you got to be shown the way out. I started when I was in short
pants, and you're no better than your father. Your mother sold notions and
axle-grease in an up-State general store up to the day she married. Now cut
out the college talk you been springing on me lately. I won't have it--you
hear? You're a poor man's son, and the sooner you make up your mind to it
the better. Pass the chow-chow, mother."

Nervousness had laid hold of her so that in and out among the dishes her
hand trembled.

"You see, Harry, it's the free City College, and--"

"I know that free talk. So was high school free when you talked me into
it, but if it ain't one thing it's been another. Cadet uniform, football
suit--"

"The child's got talent for invention, Harry; his manual-training teacher
told me his air-ship model was--"

"I got ninety in manual training when the other fellers only got seventy."

"I guess you're looking for another case like your father, sitting
penniless around the house, tinkering on inventions up to the day he died."

"Pa never had the business push, Harry. You know yourself his churn was
ready for the market before the Peerless beat him in on it."

"Well, your son is going to get the business push trained into him. No boy
of mine with a poor daddy eats up four years of his life and my salary
training to be a college sissy. That's for the rich men's sons. That's for
the Clarence Ungers."

"I'll pay it back some day, pop; I--."

"They all say that."

"If it's the money, Harry, maybe I can--"

"If it didn't cost a cent, I wouldn't have it. Now cut it out--you hear?
Quick!"

Edwin Ross pushed back from the table, struggling and choking against
impending tears. "Well, then, I--I--"

"And no shuffling of feet, neither!"

"He didn't shuffle, Harry; it's just his feet growing so fast he can't
manage them."

"Well, just the samey, I--I ain't going into the theayter business. I--I--"

Mr. Ross flung down his napkin, facing him. "You're going where I put you,
young man. You're going to get the right kind of a start that I didn't get
in the biggest money-making business in the world."

"I won't. I'll get me a job in an aeroplane-factory."

His father's palm came down with a small crash, shivering the china. "By
Gad! you take that impudence out of your voice to me or I'll rawhide it
out!"

"Harry!"

"Leave the table!"

"Harry, he's only a child--"

"Go to your room!"

His heavy, unformed lips now trembling frankly against the tears he tried
so furiously to resist, Edwin charged with lowered head from the room, sobs
escaping in raw gutturals.

Mr. Ross came back to his plate, breathing heavily, fist, with a knife
upright in it, coming down again on the table, his mouth open, to
facilitate labored breathing.

"By Heaven! I'll cowhide that boy to his senses! I've never laid hand on
him yet, but he ain't too old. I'll get him down to common sense, if I got
to break a rod over him."

Handkerchief against trembling lips, Mrs. Ross looked after the vanished
form, eyes brimming.

"Harry, you--you're so rough with him."

"I'll be rougher yet before I'm through."

"He's only a--"

"He's rewarding the way you scrimped to pay his expenses for nonsense clubs
and societies by asking you to do it another four years. You're getting
your thanks now. College! Well, not if the court knows it--"

"He's got talent, Harry; his teacher says he--"

"So'd your father have talent."

"If pa hadn't lost his eye in the Civil War--"

"I'm going to put my son's talent where I can see a future for it."

"He's ambitious, Harry."

"So'm I--to see my son trained to be something besides a looney inventor
like his grandfather before him."

"It's all I want in life, Harry, to see my two boys of you happy."

"It's your woman-ideas I got to blame for this. I want you to stop, Millie,
putting rich man's ideas in his head. You hear? I won't stand for it."

"Harry, if--if it's the money, maybe I could manage--"

"Yes--and scrimp and save and scrooge along without a laundress another
four years, and do his washing and--"

"I--could fix the money part, Harry--easy."

He regarded her with his jaw dropped in the act of chewing.

"By Gad! where do you plant it?"

"It--it's the way I scrimp, Harry. Another woman would spend it on clothes
or--a servant--or matinees. It ain't hard for a home body like me to save,
Harry."

He reached across the table for her wrist.

"Poor little soul," he said, "you don't see day-light."

"Let him go, Harry, if--if he wants it. I can manage the money."

His scowl returned, darkening him.

"No. A. E. Unger never seen the inside of a high school, much less a
college, and I guess he's made as good a pile as most. I've worked for the
butcher and the landlord all my life, and now I ain't going to begin being
a slave to my boy. There's been two or three times in my life where, for
want of a few dirty dollars to make a right start, I'd be, a rich man
to-day. My boy's going to get that right start."

"But, Harry, college will--"

"I seen money in 'Pan-America' long before Unger ever dreamed of producing
it. I sicked him onto 'The Official Chaperon' when every manager in town
had turned it down. I went down and seen 'em doing 'The White Elephant' in
a Yiddish theater and wired Unger out in Chicago to come back and grab it
for Broadway. Where's it got me? Nowhere. Because I whiled away the best
fifteen years of my life in an up-State burg, and then, when I came down
here too late in life, got in the rut of a salaried man. Well, where it
'ain't got me it's going to get my son. I'm missing a chance, to-day that,
mark my word, would make me a rich man but for want of a few--"

"Harry, you mean that?"

"My hunch never fails me."

She was leaning across the table, her hands clasping its edge, her small,
plump face even pinker.

He threw out his legs beneath the table and sat back, hands deep in
pockets, and a toothpick hanging limp from between lips that were sagging.

"Gad! if I had my life to live over again as a salaried man, I'd--I'd hang
myself first! The way to start a boy to a million dollars in this business
is to start him young in the producing-end of a strong firm."

"You--got faith in this Goldfinch & Goetz failure like you had in
'Pan-America' and 'The Chaperon,' Harry?"

"I said it five years ago and it come to pass. I say it now. For want of a
few dirty dollars I'm a poor man till I die."

"How--many dollars, Harry?"

"Don't make me say it, Millie--it makes me sick to my stummick. Three
thousand dollars would buy the whole spectacle to save it from the
storehouse. I tried Charley Ryan--he wouldn't risk a ten-spot on a
failure."

"Harry, I--oh, Harry--"

"Why, mother, what's the matter? You been overworking again, ironing my
shirts and collars when they ought to go to the laundry? You--"

"Harry, what would you say if--if I was to tell you something?"

"What is it, mother? You better get Annie in on Mondays. We 'ain't got any
more to show without her than with her."

"Harry, we--have!"

"Well, you just had an instance of the thanks you get."

"Harry, what--what would you say if I could let you have nearly all of that
three thousand?"

He regarded her above the flare of a match to his cigar-end.

"Huh?"

"If I could let you have twenty-six hundred seventeen dollars and about
fifty cents of it?"

He sat well up, the light reflecting in points off his polished glasses.

"Mother, you're joking!"

Her hands were out across the table now, almost reaching his, her face
close and screwed under the lights.

"When--when you lost out that time five years ago on 'Pan-America' and I
seen how Linger made a fortune out of it, I says to myself, 'It can never
happen again.' You remember the next January when you got your raise to
fifty and I wouldn't move out of this flat, and instead gave up having
Annie in, that was what I had in my head, Harry. It wasn't only for sending
Edwin to high school; it was for--my other boy, too, Harry, so it couldn't
happen again."

"Millie, you mean--"

"You ain't got much idea, Harry, of what I been doing. You don't know it,
honey, but, honest, I ain't bought a stitch of new clothes for five years.
You know I ain't, somehow--made friends for myself since we moved here."

"It's the hard shell town of the world!"

"You ain't had time, Harry, to ask yourself what becomes of the house
allowance, with me stinting so. Why, I--I won't spend car fare, Harry,
since 'Pan-America,' if I can help it. This meal I served up here t-night,
with all the high cost of living, didn't cost us two thirds what it
might if--if I didn't have it all figured up. Where do you think your
laundry-money that I've been saving goes, Harry? The marmalade-money I
made the last two Christmases? The velvet muff I made myself out of the
fur-money you give me? It's all in the Farmers' Trust, Harry. With the two
hundred and ten I had to start with five years ago, it's twenty-six hundred
and seventeen dollars and fifty cents now. I've been saving it for this
kind of a minute, Harry. When it got three thousand, I was going to tell
you, anyways. Is that enough, Harry, to do the Goldfinch-Goetz spectacle on
your own hook? Is it, Harry?"

He regarded her in a heavy-jawed kind of stupefaction.

"Woman alive!" he said. "Great Heavens, woman alive!"

"It's in the bank, waiting, Harry--all for you."

"Why, Millie, I--I don't know what to say."

"I want you to have it, Harry. It's yours. Out of your pocket, back into
it. You got capital to start with now."

"I--Why, I can't take that money, Millie, from you!"

"From your wife? When she stinted and scrimped and saved on shoe-leather
for the happiness of it?"

"Why, this is no sure thing I got on the brain."

"Nothing is."

"I got nothing but my own judgment to rely on."

"You been right three times, Harry."

"There's not as big a gamble in the world as the show business. I can't
take your savings, mother."

"Harry, if--if you don't, I'll tear it up. It's what I've worked for. I'm
too tired, Harry, to stand much. If you don't take it, I--I'm too tired,
Harry, to stand it."

"But, mother--"

"I couldn't stand it, I tell you," she said, the tears now bursting and
flowing down over her cheeks.

"Why, Millie, you mustn't cry! I 'ain't seen you cry in years. Millie! my
God! I can't get my thoughts together! Me to own a show after all these
years; me to--"

"Don't you think it means something to me, too, Harry?"

"I can't lose, Millie. Even if this country gets drawn into the war,
there's a mint of money in that show as I see it. It'll help the people.
The people of this country need to have their patriotism tickled."

"All my life, Harry, I've wanted a gold-mesh bag with a row of sapphires
and diamonds across the top--"

"I'm going to make it the kind of show that 'Dixie' was a song--"

"And a gold-colored bird-of-paradise for a black-velvet hat, all my life,
Harry--"

"With Alma Zitelle in the part--"

"Is it her picture I found in your drawer the other day, Harry, cut out
from a Sunday newspaper?"

"One and the same. I been watching her. There's a world of money in that
woman, whoever she is. She's eccentric and they make her play straight, but
if I could get hold of her--My God! Millie, I--I can't believe things!"

She rose, coming round to lay her arms across his shoulders.

"We'll be rich, maybe, Harry--"

"I've picked the winners for the other fellows every time, Mil."

"Anyhow, it's worth the gamble, Harry."

"I got a nose for what the people want. I've never been able to prove it
from a high stool, but I'll show 'em now--by God! I'll show 'em now!" He
sprang up, pulling the white table-cloth awry and folding her into his
embrace. "I'll show 'em."

She leaned from him, her two hands against his chest, head thrown back and
eyes up to him.

"We--can educate our boy, then, Harry, like--like a rich man's son."

"We ain't rich yet."

"Promise me, Harry, if we are--promise me that, Harry. It's the only
promise I ask out of it. Whatever comes, if we win or lose, our boy can
have college if he wants."

He held her close, his head up and gazing beyond her.

"With a rich daddy my boy can go to college like the best of 'em."

"Promise me that, Harry."

"I promise, Millie."

He released her then, feeling for an envelope in an inner pocket, and,
standing there above the disarrayed dinner-table, executed some rapid
figures across the back of it.

She stood for a moment regarding him, hands pressed against the sting of
her cheeks, tears flowing down over her smile. Then she took up the plate
of cloying fritters and tiptoed out, opening softly the door to a slit of
a room across the hall. In the patch of light let in by that opened door,
drawn up before a small table, face toward her ravaged with recent tears,
and lips almost quivering, her son lay in the ready kind of slumber youth
can bring to any woe. She tiptoed up beside him, placing the plate of
fritters back on a pile of books, let her hands run lightly over his hair,
kissed him on each swollen lid.

"My son! My little boy! My little boy!"

Where Broadway leaves off its roof-follies and its water-dancing, its
eighty-odd theaters and its very odd Hawaiian cabarets, upper Broadway,
widening slightly, takes up its macadamized rush through the city in
block-square apartment-houses, which rise off plate-glass foundations of
the de-luxe greengrocer shops, the not-so-green beauty-parlors, and the
dyeing-and-cleaning, automobile-supplies, and confectionery establishments
of middle New York.

In a no-children-allowed, swimming-pool, electric-laundry, roof-garden,
dogs'-playground, cold-storage apartment most recently erected on a
block-square tract of upper Broadway, belonging to and named after the
youngest scion of an ancestor whose cow-patches had turned to kingdoms, the
fifteenth layer of this gigantic honeycomb overlooked from its seventeen
outside windows the great Babylonian valley of the city, the wide blade
of the river shining and curving slightly like an Arabian dagger, and the
embankment of New Jersey's Palisades piled against the sky with the effect
of angry horizon.

Nights, viewed from one of the seventeen windows, it was as if the river
flowed under a sullen sheath which undulated to its curves. On clear days
it threw off light like parrying steel in sunshine.

Were days when, gazing out toward it, Mrs. Ross, whose heart was like a
slow ache of ever-widening area, could almost feel its laving quality and,
after the passage of a tug- or pleasure-boat, the soothing folding of the
water down over and upon itself. Often, with the sun setting pink and whole
above the Palisades, the very copper glow which was struck off the water
would beat against her own west windows, and, as if smarting under the
brilliance, tears would come, sometimes staggering and staggering down,
long after the glow was cold. With such a sunset already waned, and the
valley of unrest fifteen stories below popping out into electric signs and
the red danger-lanterns of streets constantly in the remaking, Mrs. Harry
Ross, from the corner window of her seventeen, looked down on it from under
lids that were rimmed in red.

Beneath the swirl of a gown that lay in an iridescent avalanche of sequins
about her feet, her foot, tilted to an unbelievable hypothenuse off a
cloth-of-silver heel, beat a small and twinkling tattoo, her fingers
tattooing, too, along the chair-sides.

How insidiously do the years nibble in! how pussy-footed and how cocksure
the crow's-feet! One morning, and the first gray hair, which has been
turning from the cradle, arrives. Another, the mirror shows back a
sag beneath the eyes. That sag had come now to Mrs. Ross, giving her
eye-sockets a look of unconquerable weariness. The streak of quicksilver
had come, too, but more successfully combated. The head lying back against
the brocade chair was guilty of new gleams. Brass, with a greenish alloy.
Sitting there with the look of unshed tears seeming to form a film over
her gaze, it was as if the dusk, flowing into a silence that was solemnly
shaped to receive it, folded her in, more and more obscuring her.

A door opened at the far end of the room, letting in a patch of hall light
and a dark figure coming into silhouette against it.

"You there?"

She sprang up.

"Yes, Harry--yes."

"Good Lord! sitting in the dark again!" He turned a wall key, three
pink-shaded lamps, a cluster of pink-glass grapes, and a center bowl of
alabaster flashing up the familiar spectacle of Louis Fourteenth and the
interior decorator's turpitude; a deep-pink brocade divan backed up by a
Circassian-walnut table with curly legs; a maze of smaller tables; a
marble Psyche holding out the cluster of pink grapes; a gilt grand piano,
festooned in rosebuds. Around through these Mr. Ross walked quickly,
winding his hands, rubbing them.

"Well, here I am!"

"Had your supper--dinner, Harry?"

"No. What's the idea calling me off when I got a business dinner on hand?
What's the hurry call this time? I have to get back to it."

She clasped her hands to her bare throat, swallowing with effort.

"I--Harry--I--"

"You've got to stop this kind of thing, Millie, getting nervous spells like
all the other women do the minute they get ten cents in their pocket. I
ain't got the time for it--that's all there is to it."

"I can't help it, Harry. I think I must be going crazy. I can't stop
myself. All of a sudden everything comes over me. I think I must be going
crazy."

Her voice jerked up to an off pitch, and he flung himself down on the
deep-cushioned couch, his stiff expanse of dress shirt bulging and
straining at the studs. A bit redder and stouter, too, he was constantly
rearing his chin away from the chafing edge of his collar.

"O Lord!" he said. "I guess I'm let in for some cutting-up again! Well,
fire away and have it over with! What's eating you this time?"

She was quivering so against sobs that her lips were drawn in against her
teeth by the great draught of her breathing.

"I can't stand it, Harry. I'm going crazy. I got to get relief. It's
killing me--the lonesomeness--the waiting. I can't stand no more."

He sat looking at a wreath of roses in the light carpet, lips compressed,
beating with fist into palm.

"Gad! I dunno! I give up. You're too much for me, woman."

"I can't go on this way--the suspense--can't--can't."

"I don't know what you want. God knows I give up!
Thirty-eight-hundred-dollar-a-year apartment--more spending-money in a
week than you can spend in a month. Clothes. Jewelry. Your son one of the
high-fliers at college--his automobile--your automobile. Passes to every
show in town. Gad! I can't help it if you turn it all down and sit up here
moping and making it hot for me every time I put my foot in the place. I
don't know what you want; you're one too many for me."

"I can't stand--"

"All of a sudden, out of a clear sky, she sends for me to come home. Second
time in two weeks. No wonder, with your long face, your son lives mostly
up at the college. I 'ain't got enough on my mind yet with the 'Manhattan
Revue' opening to-morrow night. You got it too good, if you want to know
it. That's what ails women when they get to cutting up like this."

She was clasping and unclasping her hands, swaying, her eyes closed.

"I wisht to God we was back in our little flat on a Hundred and
Thirty-seventh Street. We was happy then. It's your success has lost you
for me. I ought to known it, but--I--I wanted things so for you and the
boy. It's your success has lost you for me. Back there, not a supper we
didn't eat together like clockwork, not a night we didn't take a walk or--"

"There you go again! I tell you, Millie, you're going to nag me with
that once too often. Then ain't now. What you homesick for? Your
poor-as-a-church-mouse days? I been pretty patient these last two years,
feeling like a funeral every time I put my foot in the front door--"

"It ain't often you put it in."

"But, mark my word, you're going to nag me once too often!"

"O God! Harry, I try to keep in! I know how wild it makes you--how busy you
are, but--"

"A man that's give to a woman heaven on earth like I have you! A man that
started three years ago on nothing but nerve and a few dollars, and now
stands on two feet, one of the biggest spectacle-producers in the business!
By Gad! you're so darn lucky it's made a loon out of you! Get out more.
Show yourself a good time. You got the means and the time. Ain't there no
way to satisfy you?"

"I can't do things alone all the time, Harry. I--I'm funny that way. I
ain't a woman like that, a new-fangled one that can do things without her
husband. It's the nights that kill me--the nights. The--all nights sitting
here alone--waiting."

"If you 'ain't learned the demands of my business by now, I'm not going
over them again."

"Yes; but not all--"

"You ought to have some men to deal with. I'd like to see Mrs. Unger try to
dictate to him how to run his business."

"You've left me behind, Harry. I--try to keep up, but--I can't. I ain't
the woman to naturally paint my hair this way. It's my trying to keep up,
Harry, with you and--and--Edwin. These clothes--I ain't right in 'em,
Harry; I know that. That's why I can't stand it. The suspense. The waiting
up nights. I tell you I'm going crazy. Crazy with knowing I'm left behind."

"I never told you to paint up your hair like a freak."

"I thought, Harry--the color--like hers--it might make me seem younger--"

"You thought! You're always thinking."

She stood behind him now over the couch, her hand yearning toward but not
touching him.

"O God! Harry, ain't there no way I can please you no more--no way?"

"You can please me by acting like a human being and not getting me home on
wild-goose chases like this."

"But I can't stand it, Harry! The quiet. Nobody to do for. You always gone.
Edwin. The way the servants--laugh. I ain't smart enough, like some women.
I got to show it--that my heart's breaking."

"Go to matinees; go--"

"Tell me how to make myself like Alma Zitelle to you, Harry. For God's
sake, tell me!"

He looked away from her, the red rising up above the rear of his collar.

"You're going to drive me crazy desperate, too, some day, on that jealousy
stuff. I'm trying to do the right thing by you and hold myself in,
but--there's limits."

"Harry, it--ain't jealousy. I could stand anything if I only knew. If you'd
only come out with it. Not keep me sitting here night after night, when I
know you--you're with her. It's the suspense, Harry, as much as anything is
killing me. I could stand it, maybe, if I only knew. If I only knew!"

He sprang up, wheeling to face her across the couch.

"You mean that?"

"Harry!"

"Well, then, since you're the one wants it, since you're forcing me to
it--I'll end your suspense, Millie. Yes. Let me go, Millie. There's no use
trying to keep life in something that's dead. Let me go."

She stood looking at him, cheeks cased in palms, and her sagging
eye-sockets seeming to darken, even as she stared.

"You--her--"

"It happens every day, Millie. Man and woman grow apart, that's all. Your
own son is man enough to understand that. Nobody to blame. Just happens."

"Harry--you mean--"

"Aw, now, Millie, it's no easier for me to say than for you to listen. I'd
sooner cut off my right hand than put it up to you. Been putting it off all
these months. If you hadn't nagged--led up to it, I'd have stuck it out
somehow and made things miserable for both of us. It's just as well you
brought it up. I--Life's life, Millie, and what you going to do about it?"

A sound escaped her like the rising moan of a gale up a flue; then she
sat down against trembling that seized her and sent ripples along the
iridescent sequins.

"Harry--Alma Zitelle--you mean--Harry?"

"Now what's the use going into all that, Millie? What's the difference who
I mean? It happened."

"Harry, she--she's a common woman."

"We won't discuss that."

"She'll climb on you to what she wants higher up still. She won't bring you
nothing but misery, Harry. I know what I'm saying; she'll--"

"You're talking about something you know nothing about--you--"

"I do. I do. You're hypnotized, Harry. It's her looks. Her dressing like
a snake. Her hair. I can get mine fixed redder 'n hers, Harry. It takes a
little time. Mine's only started to turn, Harry, is why it don't look right
yet to you. This dress, it's from her own dressmaker. Harry--I promise you
I can make myself like--her--I promise you, Harry--"

"For God's sake, Millie, don't talk like--that! It's awful! What's those
things got to do with it? It's--awful!"

"They have, Harry. They have, only a man don't know it. She's a bad woman,
Harry--she's got you fascinated with the way she dresses and does--"

"We won't go into that."

"We will. We will. I got the right. I don't have to let you go if I don't
want to. I'm the mother of your son. I'm the wife that was good enough for
you in the days when you needed her. I--"

"You can't throw that up to me, Millie. I've squared that debt."

"She'll throw you over, Harry, when I'll stand by you to the crack of doom.
Take my word for it, Harry. O God! Harry, please take my word for it!"

She closed her streaming eyes, clutching at his sleeve in a state beyond
her control. "Won't you please? Please!"

He toed the carpet.

"I--I'd sooner be hit in the face, Millie, than--have this happen. Swear I
would! But you see for yourself we--we can't go on this way."

She sat for a moment, her stare widening above the palm clapped tightly
against her mouth.

"Then you mean, Harry, you want--you want a--a--"

"Now, now, Millie, try to keep hold of yourself. You're a sensible woman.
You know I'll do the right thing by you to any amount. You'll have the boy
till he's of age, and after that, too, just as much as you want him. He'll
live right here in the flat with you. Money's no object, the way I'm going
to fix things. Why, Millie, compared to how things are now--you're going to
be a hundred per cent, better off--without me."

She fell to rocking herself in the straight chair.

"Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"

"Now, Millie, don't take it that way. I know that nine men out of ten would
call me crazy to--to let go of a woman like you. But what's the use trying
to keep life in something that's dead? It's because you're too good for me,
Millie. I know that. You know that it's not because I think any less of
you, or that I've forgot it was you who gave me my start. I'd pay you back
ten times more if I could. I'm going to settle on you and the boy so that
you're fixed for life. When he's of age, he comes into the firm half
interest. There won't even be no publicity the way I'm going to fix things.
Money talks, Millie. You'll get your decree without having to show your
face to the public."

"O God--he's got it all fixed--he's talked it all over with her! She--"

"You--you wouldn't want to force something between you and me, Millie;
that--that's just played out--"

"I done it myself. I couldn't let well enough alone. I was ambitious for
'em. I dug my own grave. I done it myself. Done it myself!"

"Now, Millie, you mustn't look at things that way. Why, you're the kind of
a little woman all you got to have is something to mother over. I'm going
to see to it that the boy is right here at home with you all the time. He
can give up those rooms at the college--you got as fine a son as there is
in the country, Millie--I'm going to see to it that he is right here at
home with you--"

"O God--my boy--my little boy--my little boy!"

"The days are over, Millie, when this kind of thing makes any difference.
If it was--the mother--it might be different, but where the father is--to
blame--it don't matter with the boy. Anyways, he's nearly of age. I tell
you, Millie, if you'll just look at this thing sensible--"

"I--Let me think, let--me--think."

Her tears had quieted now to little dry moans that came with regularity.
She was still swaying in her chair, eyes closed.

"You'll get your decree, Millie, without--."

"Don't talk," she said, a frown lowering over her closed eyes and pressing
two fingers against each temple. "Don't talk."

He walked to the window in a state of great perturbation, stood pulling
inward his lips and staring down into the now brilliantly lighted flow of
Broadway. Turned into the room with short, hasty strides, then back again.
Came to confront her.

"Aw, now, Millie--Millie--" Stood regarding her, chewing backward and
forward along his fingertips. "You--you see for yourself, Millie, what's
dead can't be made alive--now, can it?"

She nodded, acquiescing, her lips bitterly wry.

"My lawyer, Millie, he'll fix it, alimony and all, so you won't--"

"O God!"

"Suppose I just slip away easy, Millie, and let him fix up things so it'll
be easiest for us both. Send the boy down to see me to-morrow. He's
old enough and got enough sense to have seen things coming. He knows.
Suppose--I just slip out easy, Millie, for--for--both of us. Huh, Millie?"

She nodded again, her lips pressed back against outburst.

"If ever there was a good little woman, Millie, and one that deserves
better than me, it's--"

"Don't!" she cried. "Don't--don't--don't!"

"I--"

"Go--quick--now!"

He hesitated, stood regarding her there in the chair, eyes squeezed closed
like Iphigenia praying for death when exiled in Tauris.

"Millie--I--"

"Go!" she cried, the wail clinging to her lips.

He felt round for his hat, his gaze obscured behind the shining glasses,
tiptoed out round the archipelago of too much furniture, groped for the
door-handle, turning it noiselessly, and stood for the instant looking back
at her bathed in the rosy light and seated upright like a sleeping Ariadne;
opened the door to a slit that closed silently after him.

She sat thus for three hours after, the wail still uppermost on the
silence.

At ten o'clock, with a gust that swayed the heavy drapes, her son burst in
upon the room, his stride kicking the door before he opened it. Six feet in
his gymnasium shoes, and with a ripple of muscle beneath the well-fitting,
well-advertised Campus Coat for College Men, he had emerged from the three
years into man's complete estate, which, at nineteen, is that patch of
territory at youth's feet known as "the world." Gray eyed, his dark lashes
long enough to threaten to curl, the lean line of his jaw squaring after
the manner of America's fondest version of her manhood, he was already in
danger of fond illusions and fond mommas.

"Hello, mother!" he said, striding quickly through the chairs and over to
where she sat.

"Edwin!"

"Thought I'd sleep home to-night, mother."

He kissed her lightly, perking up her shoulder butterflies of green
sequins, and standing off to observe.

"Got to hand it to my little mother for quiet and sumptuous el-e-gance!
Some classy spangy-wangles!" He ran his hand against the lay of the
sequins, absorbed in a conscious kind of gaiety.

She moistened her lips, trying to smile.

"Oh, boy," she said--"Edwin!"--holding to his forearm with fingers that
tightened into it.

"Mother," he said, pulling at his coat lapels with a squaring of shoulders,
"you--you going to be a dead game little sport?"

She was looking ahead now, abstraction growing in her white face.

"Huh?"

He fell into short strides up and down the length of the couch front.

"I--I guess I might have mentioned it before, mother, but--but--oh,
hang!--when a fellow's a senior it--it's all he can do to get home once in
a while and--and--what's the use talking about a thing anyway before
it breaks right, and--well, everybody knows it's up to us college
fellows--college men--to lead the others and show our country what we're
made of now that she needs us--eh, little dressed-up mother?"

She looked up at him with the tremulous smile still trying to break
through.

"My boy can mix with the best of 'em."

"That's not what I mean, mother."

"You got to be twice to me what you been, darling--twice to me. Listen,
darling. I--Oh, my God!"

She was beating softly against his hand held in hers, her voice rising
again, and her tears.

"Listen, darling--"

"Now, mother, don't go into a spell. The war is going to help you out
on these lonesome fits, mother. Like Slawson put it to-day in Integral
Calculus Four, war reduces the personal equation to its lowest terms--it's
a matter of--."

"I need you now, Edwin--O God! how I need you! There never was a minute in
all these months since you've grown to understand how--it is between your
father and me that I needed you so much--"

"Mother, you mustn't make it harder for me to--tell you what I--"

"I think maybe something has happened to me, Edwin. I can feel myself
breathe all over--it's like I'm outside of myself somewhere--"

"It's nervousness, mother. You ought to get out more. I'm going to get you
some war-work to do, mother, that 'll make you forget yourself. Service is
what counts these days!"

"Edwin, it's come--he's leaving me--it--"

"Speaking of service, I--I guess I might have mentioned it before, mother,
but--but--when war was declared the other day, a--a bunch of us fellows
volunteered for--for the university unit to France, and--well, I'm
accepted, mother--to go. The lists went up to-night. I'm one of the twenty
picked fellows."

"France?"

"We sail for Bordeaux for ambulance service the twentieth, mother. I was
the fourth accepted with my qualifications--driving my own car and--and
physical fitness. I'm going to France, mother, among the first to do my
bit. I know a fellow got over there before we were in the war and worked
himself into the air-fleet. That's what I want, mother, air service!
They're giving us fellows credit for our senior year just the same. Bob
Vandaventer and Clarence Unger and some of the fellows like that are in the
crowd. Are you a dead-game sport, little mother, and not going to make a
fuss--"

"I--don't know. What--is--it--I--"

"Your son at the front, mother, helping to make the world a safer place for
democracy. Does a little mother with something like that to bank on have
time to be miserable over family rows? You're going to knit while I'm gone.
The busiest little mother a fellow ever had, doing her bit for her country!
There's signs up all over the girls' campus: 'A million soldiers "out
there" are needing wool jackets and chest-protectors. How many will you
take care of?' You're going to be the busiest little mother a fellow ever
had. You're going to stop making a fuss over me and begin to make a fuss
over your country. We're going into service, mother!"

"Don't leave me, Edwin! Baby darling, don't leave me! I'm alone! I'm
afraid."

"There, there, little mother," he said, patting at her and blinking,
"I--Why--why, there's men come back from every war, and plenty of them.
Good Lord! just because a fellow goes to the front, he--"

"I got nothing left. Everything I've worked for has slipped through my life
like sand through a sieve. My hands are empty. I've lost your father on
the success I slaved for. I'm losing my boy on the fine ideas and college
education I've slaved for. I--Don't leave me, Edwin. I'm afraid--Don't--"

"Mother--I--Don't be cut up about it. I--"

"Why should I give to this war? I ain't a fine woman with the fine ideas
you learn at college. I ask so little of life--just some one who needs me,
some one to do for. I 'ain't got any fine ideas about a son at war. Why
should I give to what they're fighting for on the other side of the ocean?
Don't ask me to give up my boy to what they're fighting for in a country
I've never seen--my little boy I raised--my all I've got--my life! No! No!"

"It's the women like you, mother--with guts--with grit--that send their
sons to war."

"I 'ain't got grit!"

"You're going to have your hands so full, little mother, taking care of the
Army and Navy, keeping their feet dry and their chests warm, that before
you know it you'll be down at the pier some fine day watching us fellows
come home from victory."

"No--no--no!"

"You're going to coddle the whole fighting front, making 'em sweaters and
aviation sets out of a whole ton of wool I'm going to lay in the house for
you. Time's going to fly for my little mother."

"I'll kill myself first!"

"You wouldn't have me a quitter, little mother. You wouldn't have the other
fellows in my crowd at college go out and do what I haven't got the guts to
do. You want me to hold up my head with the best of 'em."

"I don't want nothing but my boy! I--"

"Us college men got to be the first to show that the fighting backbone of
the country is where it belongs. If us fellows with education don't set the
example, what can we expect from the other fellows? Don't ask me to be a
quitter, mother. I couldn't! I wouldn't! My country needs us, mother--you
and me--"

"Edwin! Edwin!"

"Attention, little mother--stand!"

She lay back her head, laughing, crying, sobbing, choking.

"O God--take him and bring him back--to me!"


On a day when sky and water were so identically blue that they met in
perfect horizon, the S. S. _Rowena_, sleek-flanked, mounted fore and aft
with a pair of black guns that lifted snouts slightly to the impeccable
blue, slipped quietly, and without even a newspaper sailing-announcement
into a frivolous midstream that kicked up little lace edged wavelets,
undulating flounces of them. A blur of faces rose above deck-rails, faces
that, looking back, receded finally. The last flag and the last kerchief
became vapor. Against the pier-edge, frantically, even perilously forward,
her small flag thrust desperately beyond the rail, Mrs. Ross, who had
lost a saving sense of time and place, leaned after that ship receding in
majesty, long after it had curved from view.

The crowd, not a dry-eyed one, women in spite of themselves with lips
whitening, men grim with pride and an innermost bleeding, sagged suddenly,
thinning and trickling back into the great, impersonal maw of the city.
Apart from the rush of the exodus, a youth remained at the rail, gazing
out and quivering for the smell of war. Finally, he too, turned back
reluctantly.

Now only Mrs. Ross. An hour she stood there, a solitary figure at the rail,
holding to her large black hat, her skirts whipped to her body and snapping
forward in the breeze. The sun struck off points from the water, animating
it with a jewel-dance. It found out in a flash the diamond-and-sapphire top
to her gold-mesh hand-bag, hoppity-skippiting from facet to facet.

"My boy--my little boy!"

A pair of dock-hands, wiping their hands on cotton-waste, came after a
while to the door of the pier-house to observe and comment. Conscious of
that observation, she moved then through the great dank sheds in and among
the bales and boxes, down a flight of stairs and out to the cobbled
street. Her motor-car, the last at the entrance, stood off at a slant,
the chauffeur lopping slightly and dozing, his face scarcely above the
steering-wheel. She passed him with unnecessary stealth, her heels
occasionally wedging between the cobbles and jerking her up. Two hours she
walked thus, invariably next to the water's edge or in the first street
running parallel to it. Truck-drivers gazed at and sang after her. Deck-
and dock-hands, stretched out in the first sun of spring, opened their eyes
to her passing, often staring after her under lazy lids. Behind a drawn
veil her lips were moving, but inaudibly now. Motor-trucks, blocks of them,
painted the gray of war, stood waiting shipment, engines ready to throb
into no telling what mire. Once a van of knitted stuffs, always the gray,
corded and bound into bales, rumbled by, close enough to graze and send her
stumbling back. She stood for a moment watching it lumber up alongside a
dock.

It was dusk when she emerged from the rather sinister end of West Street
into Battery Park, receding in a gracious new-green curve from the water.
Tier after tier of lights had begun to prick out in the back-drop of
skyscraping office-buildings. The little park, after the six-o'clock
stampede, settled back into a sort of lamplit quiet, dark figures, the
dregs of a city day, here and there on its benches. The back-drop of
office-lights began to blink out then, all except the tallest tower in the
world, rising in the glory of its own spotlight into a rococo pinnacle of
man's accomplishment.

Strolling the edge of that park so close to the water that she could hear
it seethe in the receding, a policeman finally took to following Mrs. Ross,
his measured tread behind hers, his night-stick rapping out every so often.
She found out a bench then, and never out of his view, sat looking out
across the infinitude of blackness to where the bay so casually meets the
sea. Night dampness had sent her shivering, the plumage of her hat, the
ferny feathers of the bird-of-paradise, drooping almost grotesquely over
the brim.

A small detachment of Boy Scouts, sturdy with an enormous sense of uniform
and valor, marched through the asphalt alleys of the park with trained,
small-footed, regimental precision--small boys with clean, lifted faces. A
fife and drum came up the road.

Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat!

High over the water a light had come out--Liberty's high-flung torch.
Watching it, and quickened by the fife and drum to an erect sitting
posture, Mrs. Ross slid forward on her bench, lips opening. The policeman
standing off, rapped twice, and when she rose, almost running toward the
lights of the Elevated station, followed.

Within her apartment on upper Broadway, not even a hall light burned
when she let herself in with her key. At the remote end of the aisle of
blackness a slit of yellow showed beneath the door, behind it the babble of
servants' voices.

She entered with a stealth that was well under cover of those voices,
groping into the first door at her right, feeling round for the wall key,
switching the old rose-and-gold room into immediate light. Stood for a
moment, her plumage drooping damply to her shoulders, blue foulard dress
snagged in two places, her gold mesh bag with the sapphire-and-diamond top
hanging low from the crook of her little finger. A clock ticked with almost
an echo into the rather vast silence.

She entered finally, sidling in among the chairs.

A great mound of gray yarn, uncut skein after uncut skein of it, rose off
the brocade divan, more of them piled in systematic pyramids on three
chairs. She dropped at sight of it to the floor beside the couch, burying
her face in its fluff, grasping it in handfuls, writhing into it. Surges of
merciful sobs came sweeping through and through her.

After a while, with a pair of long amber-colored needles, she fell to
knitting with a fast, even furious ambidexterity, her mouth pursing up with
a driving intensity, her boring gaze so concentrated on the thing in hand
that her eyes seemed to cross.

Dawn broke upon her there, her hat still cockily awry, tears dried in
a vitrified gleaming down her cheeks. Beneath her flying fingers, a
sleeveless waistcoat was taking shape, a soldier's inner jacket against the
dam of trenches. At sunup it lay completed, spread out as if the first of
a pile. The first noises of the city began to rise remotely. A bell pealed
off somewhere. Day began to raise its conglomerate voice. On her knees
beside the couch there, the second waistcoat was already taking shape
beneath the cocksure needles.

The old pinkly moist look had come out in her face.

One million boys "out there" were needing chest-protectors!




III

ICE-WATER, PL--!


When the two sides of every story are told, Henry VIII. may establish an
alibi or two, Shylock and the public-school system meet over and melt that
too, too solid pound of flesh, and Xantippe, herself the sturdier man than
Socrates, give ready, lie to what is called the shrew in her. Landladies,
whole black-bombazine generations of them--oh, so long unheard!--may
rise in one Indictment of the Boarder: The scarred bureau-front and
match-scratched wall-paper; the empty trunk nailed to the floor in security
for the unpaid bill; cigarette-burnt sheets and the terror of sudden fire;
the silent newcomer in the third floor back hustled out one night in
handcuffs; the day-long sobs of the blond girl so suddenly terrified of
life-about-to-be and wringing her ringless hands in the fourth-floor
hall-room; the smell of escaping gas and the tightly packed keyhole; the
unsuspected flutes that lurk in boarders' trunks; towels, that querulous
and endless paean of the lodger; the high cost of liver and dried peaches,
of canned corn and round steak!

Tired bombazine procession, wrapped in the greasy odors of years of
carpet-sweeping and emptying slops, airing the gassy slit of room after the
coroner; and padding from floor to floor on a mission of towels and towels
and towels!

Sometimes climbing from floor to floor, a still warm supply of them looped
over one arm, Mrs. Kaufman, who wore bombazine, but unspotted and with
crisp net frills at the throat, and upon whose soft-looking face the years
had written their chirography in invisible ink, would sit suddenly, there
in the narrow gloom of her halls, head against the balustrade. Oftener than
not the Katz boy from the third floor front would come lickety-clapping
down the stairs and past her, jumping the last four steps of each flight.

"Irving, quit your noise in the hall."

"Aw!"

"Ain't you ashamed, a big boy like you, and Mrs. Suss with her neuralgia?"

"Aw!"--the slam of a door clipping off this insolence.

After a while she would resume her climb.

And yet in Mrs. Kaufman's private boarding-house in West Eighty-ninth
Street, one of a breastwork of brownstone fronts, lined up stoop for stoop,
story for story, and ash-can for ash-can, there were few enough greasy
odors except upon the weekly occasion of Monday's boiled dinner; and,
whatever the status of liver and dried peaches, canned corn and round
steak, her menus remained static--so static that in the gas-lighted
basement dining-room and at a remote end of the long, well-surrounded table
Mrs. Katz, with her napkin tucked well under her third chin, turned _sotto_
from the protruding husband at her right to her left neighbor, shielding
her remark with her hand.

"Am I right, Mrs. Finshriber? I just said to my husband in the five years
we been here she should just give us once a change from Friday-night lamb
and noodles."

"Say, you should complain yet! With me it's six and a half years day after
to-morrow, Easter Day, since I asked myself that question first."

"Even my Irving says to me to-night up in the room; jumping up and down on
the hearth like he had four legs--"

"I heard him, Mrs. Katz, on my ceiling like he had eight legs."

"'Mamma,' he says, 'guess why I feel like saying "Baa."'"

"Saying what?"

"Sheep talk, Mrs. Finshriber. B-a-a, like a sheep goes."

"Oh!"

"'Cause I got so many Friday nights' lamb in me, mamma,' he said. Quick
like a flash that child is."

Mrs. Finshriber dipped her head and her glance, all her drooping features
pulled even farther down at their corners. "I ain't the one to complain,
Mrs. Katz, and I always say, when you come right down to it maybe Mrs.
Kaufman's house is as good as the next one, but--"

"I wish, though, Mrs. Finshriber, you would hear what Mrs. Spritz says at
her boarding-house they get for breakfast: fried--"

"You can imagine, Mrs. Katz, since my poor husband's death, how much
appetite I got left; but I say, Mrs. Katz, just for the principle of the
thing, it would not hurt once if Mrs. Kaufman could give somebody else
besides her own daughter and Vetsburg the white meat from everything,
wouldn't it?"

"It's a shame before the boarders! She knows, Mrs. Pinshriber, how my
husband likes breast from the chicken. You think once he gets it? No. I
always tell him, not 'til chickens come doublebreasted like overcoats can
he get it in this house, with Vetsburg such a star boarder."

"Last night's chicken, let me tell you, I don't wish it to a dog! Such a
piece of dark meat with gizzard I had to swallow."

Mrs. Katz adjusted with greater security the expanse of white napkin across
her ample bosom. Gold rings and a quarter-inch marriage band flashed in
and out among the litter of small tub-shaped dishes surrounding her, and a
pouncing fork of short, sure stab. "Right away my husband gets mad when I
say the same thing. 'When we don't like it we should move,' he says."

"Like moving is so easy, if you got two chairs and a hair mattress to take
with you. But I always say, Mrs. Katz, I don't blame Mrs. Kaufman herself
for what goes on; there's _one_ good woman if there ever was one!"

"They don't come any better or any better looking, my husband always says.
'S-ay,' I tell him, 'she can stand her good looks.'"

"It's that big-ideaed daughter who's to blame. Did you see her new white
spats to-night?" Right away the minute they come out she has to have 'em.
I'm only surprised she 'ain't got one of them red hats from Gimp's what is
all the fad. Believe me, if not for such ideas, her mother could afford
something better as succotash for us for supper."

"It's a shame, let me tell you, that a woman like Mrs. Kaufman can't see
for herself such things. God forbid I should ever be so blind to my
Irving. I tell you that Ruby has got it more like a queen than a
boarding-housekeeper's daughter. Spats, yet!"

"Rich girls could be glad to have it always so good."

"I don't say nothing how her mother treats Vetsburg, her oldest boarder,
and for what he pays for that second floor front and no lunches she can
afford to cater a little; but that such a girl shouldn't be made to take up
a little stenography or help with the housework!"

"S-ay, when that girl even turns a hand, pale like a ghost her mother
gets."

"How girls are raised nowadays, even the poor ones!"

"I ain't the one to complain, Mrs. Katz, but just look down there, that red
stuff."

"Where?"

"Ain't it cranberry between Ruby and Vetsburg?"

"Yes, yes, and look such a dish of it!"

"Is it right extras should be allowed to be brought on a table like this
where fourteen other boarders got to let their mouth water and look at it?"

"You think it don't hurt like a knife! For myself I don't mind, but my
Irving! How that child loves 'em, and he should got to sit at the same
table without cranberries."

From the head of the table the flashing implements of carving held in
askance for stroke, her lips lifted to a smile and a simulation of interest
for display of further carnivorous appetites, Mrs. Kaufman passed her nod
from one to the other.

"Miss Arndt, little more? No? Mr. Krakower? Gravy? Mrs. Suss? Mr. Suss?
So! Simon? Mr. Schloss? Miss Horowitz? Mr. Vetsburg, let me give you this
little tender--No? Then, Ruby, here let mama give you just a little
more--"

"No, no, mama, please!" She caught at the hovering wrist to spare the
descent of the knife.

By one of those rare atavisms by which a poet can be bred of a peasant
or peasant be begot of poet, Miss Ruby Kaufman, who was born in Newark,
posthumous, to a terrified little parent with a black ribbon at the throat
of her gown, had brought with her from no telling where the sultry eyes and
tropical-turned skin of spice-kissed winds. The corpuscles of a shah
might have been running in the blood of her, yet Simon Kaufman, and Simon
Kaufman's father before him, had sold wool remnants to cap-factories on
commission.

"Ruby, you don't eat enough to keep a bird alive. Ain't it a shame, Mr.
Vetsburg, a girl should be so dainty?"

Mr. Meyer Vetsburg cast a beetling glance down upon Miss Kaufman, there so
small beside him, and tinked peremptorily against her plate three times
with his fork. "Eat, young lady, like your mama wants you should, or, by
golly! I'll string you up for my watch-fob--not, Mrs. Kaufman?"

A smile lay under Mr. Vetsburg's gray-and-black mustache. Gray were his
eyes, too, and his suit, a comfortable baggy suit with the slouch of the
wearer impressed into it, the coat hiking center back, the pocket-flaps
half in, half out, and the knees sagging out of press.

"That's right, Mr. Vetsburg, you should scold her when she don't eat."

Above the black-bombazine basque, so pleasantly relieved at the throat by a
V of fresh white net, a wave of color moved up Mrs. Kaufman's face into her
architectural coiffure, the very black and very coarse skein of her hair
wound into a large loose mound directly atop her head and pierced there
with a ball-topped comb of another decade.

"I always say, Mr. Vetsburg, she minds you before she minds anybody else in
the world."

"Ma," said Miss Kaufman, close upon that remark, "some succotash, please."

From her vantage down-table, Mrs. Katz leaned a bit forward from the line.

"Look, Mrs. Finshriber, how for a woman her age she snaps her black eyes
at him. It ain't hard to guess when a woman's got a marriageable
daughter--not?"

"You can take it from me she'll get him for her Ruby yet! And take it from
me, too, almost any girl I know, much less Ruby Kaufman, could do worse as
get Meyer Vetsburg."

"S-say, I wish it to her to get him. For why once in a while shouldn't a
poor girl get a rich man except in books and choruses?"

"Believe me, a girl like Ruby can manage what she wants. Take it from me,
she's got it behind her ears."

"I should say so."

"Without it she couldn't get in with such a crowd of rich girls like she
does. I got it from Mrs. Abrams in the Arline Apartments how every week she
plays five hundred with Nathan Shapiro's daughter."

"No! Shapiro & Stein?"

"And yesterday at matinee in she comes with a box of candy and laughing
with that Rifkin girl! How she gets in with such swell girls, I don't know,
but there ain't a nice Saturday afternoon I don't see that girl walking on
Fifth Avenue with just such a crowd of fine-dressed girls, all with their
noses powdered so white and their hats so little and stylish."

"I wouldn't be surprised if her mother don't send her down to Atlantic City
over Easter again if Vetsburg goes. Every holiday she has to go lately like
it was coming to her."

"Say, between you and me, I don't put it past her it's that Markovitch boy
down there she's after. Ray Klein saw 'em on the boardwalk once together,
and she says it's a shame for the people how they sat so close in a
rolling-chair."

"I wouldn't be surprised she's fresh with the boys, but, believe me, if she
gets the uncle she don't take the nephew!"

"Say, a clerk in his own father's hotel like the Markovitches got in
Atlantic City ain't no crime."

"Her mother has got bigger thoughts for her than that. For why I guess she
thinks her daughter should take the nephew when maybe she can get the uncle
herself. Nowadays it ain't nothing no more that girls marry twice their own
age."

"I always say I can tell when Leo Markovitch comes down, by the way her
mother's face gets long and the daughter's gets short."

"Can you blame her? Leo Markovitch, with all his monograms on his
shirt-sleeves and such black rims on his glasses, ain't the Rosenthal
Vetsburg Hosiery Company, not by a long shot! There ain't a store in this
town you ask for the No Hole Guaranteed Stocking, right away they don't
show it to you. Just for fun always I ask."

"Cornstarch pudding! Irving, stop making that noise at Mrs. Kaufman! Little
boys should be seen and not heard even at cornstarch pudding."

"_Gott_! Wouldn't you think, Mrs. Katz, how Mrs. Kaufman knows how I hate
desserts that wabble, a little something extra she could give me."

"How she plays favorite, it's a shame. I wish you'd look, too, Mrs.
Finshriber, how Flora Proskauer carries away from the table her glass of
milk with slice bread on top. I tell you it don't give tune to a house the
boarders should carry away from the table like that. Irving, come and
take with you that extra piece cake. Just so much board we pay as Flora
Proskauer."

The line about the table broke suddenly, attended with a scraping of chairs
and after-dinner chirrupings attended with toothpicks. A blowsy maid
strained herself immediately across the strewn table and cloying lamb
platter, and turned off two of the three gas jets.

In the yellow gloom, the odors of food permeating it, they filed out and up
the dim lit stairs into dim-lit halls, the line of conversation and short
laughter drifting after.

A door slammed. Then another. Irving Katz leaped from his third floor
threshold to the front hearth, quaking three layers of chandeliers. From
Morris Krakower's fourth floor back the tune of a flute began to wind down
the stairs. Out of her just-closed door Mrs. Finshriber poked a frizzled
gray head.

"Ice-water, ple-ase, Mrs. Kauf-man."

At the door of the first floor back Mrs. Kaufman paused with her hand on
the knob.

"Mama, let me run and do it."

"Don't you move, Ruby. When Annie goes up to bed it's time enough. Won't
you come in for a while, Mr. Vetsburg?"

"Don't care if I do".

She opened the door, entering cautiously. "Let me light up, Mrs. Kaufman."
He struck a phosphorescent line on the sole of his shoe, turning up three
jets.

"You must excuse, Mr. Vetsburg, how this room looks. All day we've been
sewing Ruby her new dress."

She caught up a litter of dainty pink frills in the making, clearing a
chair for him.

"Sit down, Mr. Vetsburg."

They adjusted themselves around the shower of gaslight. Miss Kaufman
fumbling in her flowered work-bag, finally curling her foot up under her,
her needle flashing and shirring through one of the pink flounces.

"Ruby, in such a light you shouldn't strain your eyes."

"All right, ma," stitching placidly on.

"What'll you give me, Ruby, if I tell you whose favorite color is pink?"

"Aw, Vetsy!" she cried, her face like a rose, "_your_ color's pink!"

From the depths of an inverted sewing-machine top Mrs. Kaufman fished out
another bit of the pink, ruffling it with deft needle.

The flute lifted its plaintive voice, feeling for high C.

Mr. Vetsburg lighted a loosely wrapped cigar and slumped in his chair.

"If anybody," he observed, "should ask right this minute where I'm at, tell
'em for me, Mrs. Kaufman, I'm in the most comfortable chair in the house."

"You should keep it, then, up in your room, Mr. Vetsburg, and not always
bring it down again when I get Annie to carry it up to you."

"Say, I don't give up so easy my excuse for dropping in evenings."

"Honest, you--you two children, you ought to have a fence built around you
the way you like always to be together."

He sat regarding her, puffing and chewing his live cigar. Suddenly he
leaped forward, his hand closing rigidly over hers.

"Mrs. Kaufman!"

"What?"

"Quick, there's a hole in your chin."

"_Gott_! a--a--what?"

At that he relaxed at his own pleasantry, laughing and shrugging. With
small white teeth Miss Kaufman bit off an end of thread.

"Don't let him tease you, ma; he's after your dimple again."

"_Ach, du_--tease, you! Shame! Hole in my chin he scares me with!"

She resumed her work with a smile and a twitching at her lips that she was
unable to control. A warm flow of air came in, puffing the lace curtains.
A faint odor of departed splendor lay in that room, its high calcimined
ceiling with the floral rosette in the center, the tarnished pier-glass
tilted to reflect a great pair of walnut folding-doors which cut off the
room where once it had flowed on to join the great length of _salon_
parlor. A folding-bed with an inlay of mirror and a collapsible desk
arrangement backed up against those folding-doors. A divan with a winding
back and sleek with horsehair was drawn across a corner, a marble-topped
bureau alongside. A bronze clock ticked roundly from the mantel, balanced
at either side by a pair of blue-glass cornucopias with warts blown into
them.

Mrs. Kaufman let her hands drop idly in her lap and her head fell back
against the chair. In repose the lines of her mouth turned up, and her
throat, where so often the years eat in first, was smooth and even slender
above the rather round swell of bosom.

"Tired, mommy?"

"Always around Easter spring fever right away gets hold of me!"

Mr. Vetsburg bit his cigar, slumped deeper; and inserted a thumb in the arm
of his waistcoat.

"Why, Mrs. Kaufman, don't you and Ruby come down by Atlantic City with me
to-morrow over Easter? Huh? A few more or less don't make no difference to
my sister the way they get ready for crowds."

Miss Kaufman shot forward, her face vivid.

"Oh, Vetsy," she cried, and a flush rushed up, completely dyeing her face.
His face lit with hers, a sunburst of fine lines radiating from his eyes.

"Eh?"

"Why--why, we--we'd just love it, wouldn't we, ma? Atlantic City, Easter
Day! Ma!"

Mrs. Kaufman sat upright with a whole procession of quick emotions flashing
their expressions across her face. They ended in a smile that trembled as
she sat regarding the two of them.

"I should say so, yes! I--You and Ruby go, Mr. Vetsburg. Atlantic City,
Easter Day, I bet is worth the trip. I--You two go, I should say so, but
you don't want an old woman to drag along with you."

"Ma! Just listen to her, Vetsy! Ain't she--ain't she just the limit? Half
the time when we go in stores together they take us for sisters, and then
she--she begins to talk like that to get out of going!"

"Ruby don't understand; but it ain't right, Mr. Vetsburg, I should be away
over Saturday and Sunday. On Easter always they expect a little extra, and
with Annie's sore ankle, I--I--"

"Oh, mommy, can't you leave this old shebang for only two days just for an
Easter Sunday down at Atlantic, where--where everybody goes?"

"You know yourself, Ruby, how always on Annie's Sunday out--"

"Well, what of it? It won't hurt all of them old things upstairs that let
you wait on them hand and foot all year to go without a few frills for
their Easter dinner."

"Ruby!"

"I mean it. The old gossip-pots! I just sat and looked at them there at
supper, and I said to myself, I said, to think they drown kittens and let
those poor lumps live!"

"Ruby, aren't you ashamed to talk like that?"

"Sat there and looked at poor old man Katz with his ear all ragged like it
had been chewed off, and wondered why he didn't just go down to Brooklyn
Bridge for a high jump."

"Ruby, I--"

"If all those big, strapping women, Suss and Finshriber and the whole gang
of them, were anything but vegetables, they'd get out and hustle with
keeping house, to work some of their flabbiness off and give us a chance to
get somebody in besides a chocolate-eating, novel-reading crowd of useless
women who think, mommy, you're a dumbwaiter, chambermaid, lady's maid, and
French chef rolled in one! Honest, ma, if you carry that ice-water up to
Katz to-night on the sly, with that big son of hers to come down and get
it, I--I'll go right up and tell her what I think of her if she leaves
to-morrow."

"Mr. Vetsburg, you--you mustn't listen to her."

"Can't take a day off for a rest at Atlantic City, because their old Easter
dinner might go down the wrong side. Honest, mama, to--to think how you're
letting a crowd of old, flabby women that aren't fit even to wipe your
shoes make a regular servant out of you! Mommy!"

There were tears in Miss Kaufman's voice, actual tears, big and bright, in
her eyes, and two spots of color had popped out in her cheeks.

"Ruby, when--when a woman like me makes her living off her boarders, she
can't afford to be so particular. You think it's a pleasure I can't slam
the door right in Mrs. Katz's face when six times a day she orders towels
and ice-water? You think it's a pleasure I got to take sass from such a bad
boy like Irving? I tell you, Ruby, it's easy talk from a girl that doesn't
understand. _Ach_, you--you make me ashamed before Mr. Vetsburg you should
run down to the people we make our living off of."

Miss Kaufman flashed her vivid face toward Mr. Vetsburg, still low there in
his chair. She was trembling. "Vetsy knows! He's the only one in this house
does know! He 'ain't been here with us ten years, ever since we started in
this big house, not--not to know he's the only one thinks you're here for
anything except impudence and running stairs and standing sass from the bad
boys of lazy mothers. You know, don't you, Vetsy?"

"Ruby! Mr. Vetsburg, you--you must excuse--"

From the depths of his chair Mr. Vetsburg's voice came slow and carefully
weighed. "My only complaint, Mrs. Kaufman, with what Ruby has got to say is
it ain't strong enough. It maybe ain't none of my business, but always I
have told you that for your own good you're too _gemuetlich_. No wonder
every boarder what you got stays year in and year out till even the biggest
kickers pay more board sooner as go. In my business, Mrs. Kaufman, it's the
same, right away if I get too easy with--"

"But, Mr. Vetsburg, a poor woman can't afford to be so independent. I got
big expenses and big rent; I got a daughter to raise--"

"Mama, haven't I begged you a hundred times to let me take up stenography
and get out and hustle so you can take it easy--haven't I?"

A thick coating of tears sprang to Mrs. Kaufman's eyes and muddled the gaze
she turned toward Mr. Vetsburg. "Is it natural, Mr. Vetsburg, a mother
should want her only child should have always the best and do always the
things she never herself could afford to do? All my life, Mr. Vetsburg, I
had always to work. Even when I was five months married to a man what it
looked like would some day do big things in the wool business, I was left
all of a sudden with nothing but debts and my baby."

"But, mama--"

"Is it natural, Mr. Vetsburg, I should want to work off my hands my
daughter should escape that? Nothing, Mr. Vetsburg, gives me so much
pleasure she should go with all those rich girls who like her well enough
poor to be friends with her. Always when you take her down to Atlantic City
on holidays, where she can meet 'em, it--it--"

"But, mommy, is it any fun for a girl to keep taking trips like that
with--with her mother always at home like a servant? What do people think?
Every holiday that Vetsy asks me, you--you back out. I--I won't go without
you, mommy, and--and I _want_ to go, ma, I--I _want_ to!"

"My Easter dinner and--"

"You, Mrs. Kaufman, with your Easter dinner! Ruby's right. When your mama
don't go this time not one step we go by ourselves--ain't it?"

"Not a step."

"But--"

"To-morrow, Mrs. Kaufman, we catch that one-ten train. Twelve o'clock I
call in for you. Put ginger in your mama, Ruby, and we'll open her eyes on
the boardwalk--not?"

"Oh, Vetsy!"

He smiled, regarding her.

Tears had fallen and dried on Mrs. Kaufman's cheeks; she wavered between a
hysteria of tears and laughter.

"I--children--" She succumbed to tears, daubing her eyes shamefacedly.

He rose kindly. "Say, when such a little thing can upset her it's high time
she took for herself a little rest. If she backs out, we string her up by
the thumbs--not, Ruby?"

"We're going, ma. Going! You'll love the Markovitchs' hotel, ma dearie,
right near the boardwalk, and the grandest glassed-in porch and--and
chairs, and--and nooks, and things. Ain't they, Vetsy?"

"Yes, you little Ruby, you," he said, regarding her with warm, insinuating
eyes, even crinkling an eyelid in a wink.

She did not return the glance, but caught her cheeks in the vise of her
hands as if to stem the too quick flush. "Now you--you quit!" she cried,
flashing her back upon him in quick pink confusion.

"She gets mad yet," he said, his shoulders rising and falling in silent
laughter.

"Don't!"

"Well," he said, clicking the door softly after him, "good night and sleep
tight."

"'Night, Vetsy."

Upon the click of that door Mrs. Kaufman leaned softly forward in her
chair, speaking through a scratch in her throat. "Ruby!"

With her flush still high, Miss Kaufman danced over toward her parent, then
as suddenly ebbed in spirit, the color going. "Why, mommy, what--what you
crying for, dearie? Why, there's nothing to cry for, dearie, that we're
going off on a toot to-morrow. Honest, dearie, like Vetsy says, you're all
nerves. I bet from the way Suss hollered at you to-day about her extra milk
you're upset yet. Wouldn't I give her a piece of my mind, though! Here,
move your chair, mommy, and let me pull down the bed."

"I--I'm all right, baby. Only I just tell you it's enough to make anybody
cry we should have a friend like we got in Vetsburg. I--I tell you, baby,
they just don't come better than him. Not, baby? Don't be ashamed to say so
to mama."

"I ain't, mama! And, honest, his--his whole family is just that way.
Sweet-like and generous. Wait till you see the way his sister and
brother-in-law will treat us at the hotel to-morrow. And--and Leo, too."

"I always say the day what Meyer Vetsburg, when he was only a clerk in the
firm, answered my furnished-room advertisement was the luckiest day in my
life."

"You ought to heard, ma. I was teasing him the other day, telling him that
he ought to live at the Savoy, now that he's a two-thirds member of the
firm."

"Ruby!"

"I was only teasing, ma. You just ought to seen his face. Any day he'd
leave us!"

Mrs. Kaufman placed a warm, insinuating arm around her daughter's slim
waist, drawing her around the chair-side and to her. "There's only one way,
baby, Meyer Vetsburg can ever leave me and make me happy when he leaves."

"Ma, what you mean?"

"You know, baby, without mama coming right out in words."

"Ma, honest I don't. What?"

"You see it coming just like I do. Don't fool mama, baby."

The slender lines of Miss Kaufman's waist stiffened, and she half slipped
from the embrace.

"Now, now, baby, is it wrong a mother should talk to her own baby about
what is closest in both their hearts?"

"I--I--mama, I--I don't know!"

"How he's here in this room every night lately, Ruby, since you--you're a
young lady. How right away he follows us up-stairs. How lately he invited
you every month down at Atlantic City. Baby, you ain't blind, are you?"

"Why, mama--why, mama, what is Meyer Vetsburg to--to me? Why, he--he's got
gray hair, ma; he--he's getting bald. Why, he--he don't know I'm on earth.
He--he's--"

"You mean, baby, he don't know anybody else is on earth. What's, nowadays,
baby, a man forty? Why--why, ain't mama forty-one, baby, and didn't you
just say yourself for sisters they take us?"

"I know, ma, but he--he--. Why, he's got an accent, ma, just like old man
Katz and--and all of 'em. He says 'too-sand' for thousand. He--"

"Baby, ain't you ashamed like it makes any difference how a good man
talks?" She reached out, drawing her daughter by the wrists down into her
lap. "You're a bad little flirt, baby, what pretends she don't know what a
blind man can see."

Miss Kaufman's eyes widened, darkened, and she tugged for the freedom of
her wrists. "Ma, quit scaring me!"

"Scaring you! That such a rising man like Vetsburg, with a business he
worked himself into president from clerk, looks every day more like he's
falling in love with you, should scare you!"

"Ma, not--not him!"

In reply she fell to stroking the smooth black plaits, wound coronet
fashion about Miss Kaufman's small head. Large, hot tears sprang to her
eyes. "Baby, when you talk like that it's you that scares mama!"

"He--he--"

"Why, you think, Ruby, I been making out of myself a servant like you call
it all these years except for your future? For myself a smaller house
without such a show and maybe five or six roomers without meals, you think
ain't easier as this big barn? For what, baby, you think I always want you
should have extravagances maybe I can't afford and should keep up with the
fine girls what you meet down by Atlantic City if it ain't that a man like
Meyer Vetsburg can be proud to choose you from the best?"

"Mama! mama!"

"Don't think, Ruby, when the day comes what I can give up this
white-elephant house that it won't be a happy one for me. Every night when
I hear from up-stairs how Mrs. Katz and all of them hollers down 'towels'
and 'ice-water' to me like I--I was their slave, don't think, baby, I won't
be happiest woman in this world the day what I can slam the door, bang,
right on the words."

"Mama, mama, and you pretending all these years you didn't mind!"

"I don't, baby. Not one minute while I got a future to look forward to
with you. For myself, you think I ask anything except my little girl's
happiness? Anyways, when happiness comes to you with a man like Meyer
Vetsburg, don't--don't it come to me, too, baby?"

"Please, I--"

"That's what my little girl can do for mama, better as stenography. Set
herself down well. That's why, since we got on the subject, baby, I--I hold
off signing up the new lease, with every day Shulif fussing so. Maybe,
baby, I--well, just maybe--eh, baby?"

For answer a torrent of tears so sudden that they came in an avalanche
burst from Miss Kaufman, and she crumpled forward, face in hands and red
rushing up the back of her neck and over her ears.

"Ruby!"

"No, no, ma! No, no!"

"Baby, the dream what I've dreamed five years for you!"

"No, no, no!"

She fell back, regarding her.

"Why, Ruby. Why, Ruby, girl!"

"It ain't fair. You mustn't!"

"Mustn't?"

"Mustn't! Mustn't!" Her voice had slipped up now and away from her.

"Why, baby, it's natural at first maybe a girl should be so scared. Maybe
I shouldn't have talked so soon except how it's getting every day plainer,
these trips to Atlantic City and--"

"Mama, mama, you're killing me." She fell back against her parent's
shoulder, her face frankly distorted.

A second, staring there into space, Mrs. Kaufman sat with her arm still
entwining the slender but lax form. "Ruby, is--is it something you ain't
telling mama?"

"Oh, mommy, mommy!"

"Is there?"

"I--I don't know."

"Ruby, should you be afraid to talk to mama, who don't want nothing but her
child's happiness?"

"You know, mommy. You know!"

"Know what, baby?"

"I--er--"

"Is there somebody else you got on your mind, baby?"

"You know, mommy."

"Tell mama, baby. It ain't a--a crime if you got maybe somebody else on
your mind."

"I can't say it, mommy. It--it wouldn't be--be nice."

"Nice?"

"He--he--We ain't even sure yet."

"He?"

"Not--yet."

"Who?"

"You know."

"So help me, I don't."

"Mommy, don't make me say it. Maybe if--when his uncle Meyer takes him in
the business, we--"

"Baby, not Leo?"

"Oh, mommy, mommy!" And she buried her hot, revealing face into the fresh
net V.

"Why--why, baby, a--a _boy_ like that!"

"Twenty-three, mama, ain't a boy!"

"But, Ruby, just a clerk in his father's hotel, and two older brothers
already in it. A--a boy that 'ain't got a start yet."

"That's just it, ma. We--we're waiting! Waiting before we talk even--even
much to each other yet. Maybe--maybe his uncle Meyer is going to take him
in the business, but it ain't sure yet. We--"

"A little yellow-haired boy like him that--that can't support you, baby,
unless you live right there in his mother's and father's hotel away--away
from me!"

"Ma!"

"Ruby, a smart girl like you. A little snip what don't make salt yet, when
you can have the uncle hisself!"

"I can't help it, ma! If--if--the first time Vetsy took me down to--to the
shore, if--if Leo had been a king or a--or just what he is, it wouldn't
make no difference. I--I can't help my--my feelings, ma. I can't!"

A large furrow formed between Mrs. Kaufman's eyes, darkening her.

"You wouldn't, Ruby!" she said, clutching her.

"Oh, mommy, mommy, when a--a girl can't help a thing!"

"He ain't good enough for you, baby!"

"He's ten times too good; that--that's all you know about it. Mommy,
please! I--I just can't help it, dearie. It's just like when I--I saw him
a--a clock began to tick inside of me. I--"

"O my God!" said Mrs. Kaufman, drawing her hand across her brow.

"His uncle Meyer, ma, 's been hinting all along he--he's going to give
Leo his start and take him in the business. That's why we--we're waiting
without saying much, till it looks more like--like we can all be together,
ma."

"All my dreams! My dreams I could give up the house! My baby with a
well-to-do husband maybe on Riverside Drive. A servant for herself, so I
could pass, maybe, Mrs. Suss and Mrs. Katz by on the street. Ruby, you--you
wouldn't, Ruby. After how I've built for you!"

"Oh, mama, mama, mama!"

"If you 'ain't got ambitions for yourself, Ruby, think once of me and this
long dream I been dreaming for--us."

"Yes, ma. Yes."

"Ruby, Ruby, and I always thought when you was so glad for Atlantic City,
it was for Vetsburg; to show him how much you liked his folks. How could I
know it was--."

"I never thought, mommy. Why--why, Vetsy he's just like a relation or
something."

"I tell you, baby, it's just an idea you got in your head."

"No, no, mama. No, no."

Suddenly Mrs. Kaufman threw up her hands, clasping them tight against her
eyes, pressing them in frenzy. "O my God!" she cried. "All for nothing!"
and fell to moaning through her laced fingers. "All for nothing! Years.
Years. Years."

"Mommy darling!"

"Oh--don't, don't! Just let me be. Let me be. O my God! My God!"

"Mommy, please, mommy! I didn't mean it. I didn't mean it, mommy darling."

"I can't go on all the years, Ruby. I'm tired. Tired, girl."

"Of course you can't, darling. We--I don't want you to. 'Shh-h-h!"

"It's only you and my hopes in you that kept me going all these years. The
hope that, with some day a good man to provide for you, I could find a
rest, maybe."

"Yes, yes."

"Every time what I think of that long envelope laying there on that desk
with its lease waiting to be signed to-morrow, I--I could squeeze my eyes
shut so tight and wish I didn't never have to open them again on this--this
house and this drudgery. If you marry wrong, baby, I'm caught. Caught in
this house like a rat in a trap."

"No, no, mommy. Leo, he--his uncle--"

"Don't make me sign that new lease, Ruby. Shulif hounds me every day now.
Any day I expect he says is my last. Don't make me saddle another five
years with the house. He's only a boy, baby, and years it will take,
and--I'm tired, baby. Tired! Tired!" She lay back with her face suddenly
held in rigid lines and her neck ribbed with cords.

At sight of her so prostrate there, Ruby Kaufman grasped the cold face in
her ardent young hands, pressing her lips to the streaming eyes.

"Mommy, I didn't mean it. I didn't! I--We're just kids, flirting a little,
Leo and me. I didn't mean it, mommy!"

"You didn't mean it, Ruby, did you? Tell mama you didn't."

"I didn't, ma. Cross my heart. It's only I--I kinda had him in my head.
That's all, dearie. That's all!"

"He can't provide, baby."

"'Shh-h-h, ma! Try to get calm, and maybe then--then things can come like
you want 'em. 'Shh-h-h, dearie! I didn't mean it. 'Course Leo's only a kid.
I--We--Mommy dear, don't. You're killing me. I didn't mean it. I didn't."

"Sure, baby? Sure?"

"Sure."

"Mama's girl," sobbed Mrs. Kaufman, scooping the small form to her bosom
and relaxing. "Mama's own girl that minds."

They fell quiet, cheek to cheek, staring ahead into the gaslit quiet, the
clock ticking into it.

The tears had dried on Mrs. Kaufman's cheeks, only her throat continuing to
throb and her hand at regular intervals patting the young shoulder pressed
to her. It was as if her heart lay suddenly very still in her breast.

"Mama's own girl that minds."

"It--it's late, ma. Let me pull down the bed."

"You ain't mad at mama, baby? It's for your own good as much as mine. It is
unnatural a mother should want to see her--"

"No, no, mama. Move, dearie. Let me pull down the bed. There you are. Now!"

With a wrench Mrs. Kaufman threw off her recurring inclination to tears,
moving casually through the processes of their retirement.

"To-morrow, baby, I tighten the buttons on them new spats. How pretty they
look."

"Yes, dearie."

"I told Mrs. Katz to-day right out her Irving can't bring any more his
bicycle through my front hall. Wasn't I right?"

"Of course you were, ma."

"Miss Flora looked right nice in that pink waist to-night--not?
Four-eighty-nine only, at Gimp's sale."

"She's too fat for pink."

"You get in bed first, baby, and let mama turn out the lights."

"No, no, mama; you."

In her white slip of a nightdress, her coronet braids unwound and falling
down each shoulder, even her slightness had waned. She was like Juliet who
at fourteen had eyes of maid and martyr.

They crept into bed, grateful for darkness.

The flute had died out, leaving a silence that was plaintive.

"You all right, baby?"

"Yes, ma." And she snuggled down into the curve of her mother's arm. "Are
you, mommy?"

"Yes, baby."

"Go to sleep, then."

"Good night, baby."

"Good night, mommy."

Silence.

Lying there, with her face upturned and her eyes closed, a stream of quiet
tears found their way from under Miss Kaufman's closed lids, running down
and toward her ears like spectacle frames.

An hour ticked past, and two damp pools had formed on her pillow.

"Asleep yet, baby?"

"Almost, ma."

"Are you all right?"

"Fine."

"You--you ain't mad at mama?"

"'Course not, dearie."

"I--thought it sounded like you was crying."

"Why, mommy, 'course not! Turn over now and go to sleep."

Another hour, and suddenly Mrs. Kaufman shot out her arm from the coverlet,
jerking back the sheet and feeling for her daughter's dewy, upturned face
where the tears were slashing down it.

"Baby!"

"Mommy, you--you mustn't!"

"Oh, my darling, like I didn't suspicion it!"

"It's only--"

"You got, Ruby, the meanest mama in the world. But you think, darling, I
got one minute's happiness like this?"

"I'm all right, mommy, only--"

"I been laying here half the night, Ruby, thinking how I'm a bad mother
what thinks only of her own--"

"No, no, mommy. Turn over and go to sl--"

"My daughter falls in love with a fine, upright young man like Leo
Markovitch, and I ain't satisfied yet! Suppose maybe for two or three years
you ain't so much on your feet. Suppose even his uncle Meyer don't take him
in. Don't any young man got to get his start slow?"

"Mommy!"

"Because I got for her my own ideas, my daughter shouldn't have in life the
man she wants!"

"But, mommy, if--"

"You think for one minute, Ruby, after all these years without this house
on my hands and my boarders and their kicks, a woman like me would be
satisfied? Why, the more, baby, I think of such a thing, the more I see it
for myself! What you think, Ruby, I do all day without steps to run, and
my gedinks with housekeeping and marketing after eighteen years of it? At
first, Ruby, ain't it natural it should come like a shock that you and that
rascal Leo got all of a sudden so--so thick? I--It ain't no more, baby.
I--I feel fine about it."

"Oh, mommy, if--if I thought you did!"

"I do. Why not? A fine young man what my girl is in love with. Every mother
should have it so."

"Mommy, you mean it?"

"I tell you I feel fine. You don't need to feel bad or cry another minute.
I can tell you I feel happy. To-morrow at Atlantic City if such a rascal
don't tell me for himself, I--I ask him right out!"

"Ma!"

"For why yet he should wait till he's got better prospects, so his
mother-in-law can hang on? I guess not!"

"Mommy darling. If you only truly feel like that about it. Why, you can
keep putting off the lease, ma, if it's only for six months, and then
we--we'll all be to--"

"Of course, baby. Mama knows. Of course!"

"He--I just can't begin to tell you, ma, the kind of a fellow Leo is till
you know him better, mommy dear."

"Always Vetsburg says he's a wide-awake one!"

"That's just what he is, ma. He's just a prince if--if there ever was one.
One little prince of a fellow." She fell to crying softly, easy tears that
flowed freely.

"I--I can tell you, baby, I'm happy as you."

"Mommy dear, kiss me."

They talked, huddled arm in arm, until dawn flowed in at the window and
dirty roofs began to show against a clean sky. Footsteps began to clatter
through the asphalt court and there came the rattle of milk-cans.

"I wonder if Annie left out the note for Mrs. Suss's extra milk!"

"Don't get up, dearie; it's only five--"

"Right away, baby, with extra towels I must run up to Miss Flora's room.
That six o'clock-train for Trenton she gets."

"Ma dear, let me go."

"Lay right where you are! I guess you want you should look all worn out
when a certain young man what I know walks down to meet our train at
Atlantic City this afternoon, eh?"

"Oh, mommy, mommy!" And Ruby lay back against the luxury of pillows.

At eleven the morning rose to its climax--the butcher, the baker, and every
sort of maker hustling in and out the basementway; the sweeping of upstairs
halls; windows flung open and lace curtains looped high; the smell of
spring pouring in even from asphalt; sounds of scrubbing from various
stoops; shouts of drivers from a narrow street wedged with its
Saturday-morning blockade of delivery wagons, and a crosstown line of
motor-cars, tops back and nosing for the speedway of upper Broadway. A
homely bouquet of odors rose from the basement kitchen, drifting up through
the halls, the smell of mutton bubbling as it stewed.

After a morning of up-stairs and down-stairs and in and out of chambers,
Mrs. Kaufman, enveloped in a long-sleeved apron still angular with starch,
hung up the telephone receiver in the hall just beneath the staircase and
entered her bedroom, sitting down rather heavily beside the open shelf of
her desk. A long envelope lay uppermost on that desk, and she took it up
slowly, blinking her eyes shut and holding them squeezed tight as if she
would press back a vision, even then a tear oozing through. She blinked it
back, but her mouth was wry with the taste of tears.

A slatternly maid poked her head in through the open door. "Mrs. Katz broke
'er mug!"

"Take the one off Mr. Krakow's wash-stand and give it to her, Tillie."

She was crying now frankly, and when the door swung closed, even though it
swung back again on its insufficient hinge, she let her head fall forward
into the pillow of her arms, the curve of her back rising and falling.

But after a while the greengrocer came on his monthly mission, in his white
apron and shirt-sleeves, and she compared stubs with him from a file on her
desk and balanced her account with careful squinted glance and a keen eye
for an overcharge on a cut of breakfast bacon.

On the very heels of him, so that they met and danced to pass each other in
the doorway, Mr. Vetsburg entered, with an overcoat flung across his right
arm and his left sagging to a small black traveling-bag.

"Well," he said, standing in the frame of the open door, his derby well
back on his head and regarding her there beside the small desk, "is this
what you call ready at twelve?"

She rose and moved forward in her crackly starched apron. "I--Please, Mr.
Vetsburg, it ain't right, I know!"

"You don't mean you're not going!" he exclaimed, the lifted quality
immediately dropping from his voice.

"You--you got to excuse me again, Mr. Vetsburg. It ain't no use I should
try to get away on Saturdays, much less Easter Saturday."

"Well, of all things!"

"Right away, the last minute, Mr. Vetsburg, right one things after
another."

He let his bag slip to the floor.

"Maybe, Mrs. Kaufman," he said, "it ain't none of my business, but ain't it
a shame a good business woman like you should let herself always be tied
down to such a house like she was married to it?"

"But--"

"Can't get away on Saturdays, just like it ain't the same any other day in
the week, I ask you! Saturday you blame it on yet!"

She lifted the apron from her hem, her voice hurrying. "You can see for
yourself, Mr. Vetsburg, how in my brown silk all ready I was. Even--even
Ruby don't know yet I don't go. Down by Gimp's I sent her she should buy
herself one of them red straw hats is the fad with the girls now. She meets
us down by the station."

"That's a fine come-off, ain't it, to disappoint--"

"At the last minute, Mr. Vetsburg, how things can happen. Out of a clear
sky Mrs. Finshriber has to-morrow for Easter dinner that skin doctor,
Abrams, and his wife she's so particular about. And Annie with her sore
ankle and--"

"A little shyster doctor like Abrams with his advertisements all over the
newspapers should sponge off you and your holiday! By golly! Mrs. Kaufman,
just like Ruby says, how you let a whole houseful of old hens rule this
roost it's a shame!"

"When you go down to station, Mr. Vetsburg, so right away she ain't so
disappointed I don't come, tell her maybe to-morrow I--."

"I don't tell her nothing!" broke in Mr. Vetsburg and moved toward her with
considerable strengthening of tone. "Mrs. Kaufman, I ask you, do you think
it right you should go back like this on Ruby and me, just when we want
most you should--"

At that she quickened and fluttered. "Ruby and you! Ach, it's a old saying,
Mr. Vetsburg, like the twig is bent so the tree grows. That child won't be
so surprised her mother changes her mind. Just so changeable as her mother,
and more, is Ruby herself. With that girl, Mr. Vetsburg, it's--it's hard to
know what she does one minute from the next. I always say no man--nobody
can ever count on a little harum-scarum like--like she is."

He took up her hat, a small turban of breast feathers, laid out on the
table beside him, and advanced with it clumsily enough. "Come," he said,
"please now, Mrs. Kaufman. Please."

"I--"

"I--I got plans made for us to-morrow down by the shore that's--that's just
fine! Come now, Mrs. Kaufman."

"Please, Mr. Vetsburg, don't force. I--I can't! I always say nobody can
ever count on such a little harum-scarum as--"

"You mean to tell me, Mrs. Kaufman, that just because a little shyster
doctor--"

Her hand closed over the long envelope again, crunching it. "No, no,
that--that ain't all, Mr. Vetsburg. Only I don't want you should tell Ruby.
You promise me? How that child worries over little things. Shulif from the
agency called up just now. He don't give me one more minute as two this
afternoon I--I should sign. How I been putting them off so many weeks with
this lease it's a shame. Always you know how in the back of my head I've
had it to take maybe a smaller place when this lease was done, but, like I
say, talk is cheap and moving ain't so easy done--ain't it? If he puts in
new plumbing in the pantry and new hinges on the doors and papers my second
floor and Mrs. Suss's alcove, like I said last night, after all I could do
worse as stay here another five year--ain't it, Mr. Vetsburg?"

"I--"

"A house what keeps filled so easy, and such a location, with the Subway
less as two blocks. I--So you see, Mr. Vetsburg, if I don't want I come
back and find my house on the market, maybe rented over my head, I got to
stay home for Shulif when he comes to-day."

A rush of dark blood had surged up into Mr. Vetsburg's face, and he
twiddled his hat, his dry fingers moving around inside the brim.

"Mrs. Kaufman," he cried--"Mrs. Kaufman, sometimes when for years a man
don't speak out his mind, sometimes he busts all of a sudden right out.
I--Oh--e-e-e!" and, immediately and thickly inarticulate, made a tremendous
feint at clearing his throat, tossed up his hat and caught it; rolled his
eyes.

"Mr. Vetsburg?"

"A man, Mrs. Kaufman, can bust!"

"Bust?"

He was still violently dark, but swallowing with less labor. "Yes, from
holding in. Mrs. Kaufman, should a woman like you--the finest woman in the
world, and I can prove it--a woman, Mrs. Kaufman, who in her heart and
my heart and--Should such a woman not come to Atlantic City when I got
everything fixed like a stage set!"

She threw out an arm that was visibly trembling. "Mr. Vetsburg, for God's
sake, 'ain't I just told you how that she--harum-scarum--she--."

"Will you, Mrs. Kaufman, come or won't you? Will you, I ask you, or won't
you?"

"I--I can't, Mr.--"

"All right, then, I--I bust out now. To-day can be as good as to-morrow!
Not with my say in a t'ousand years, Mrs. Kaufman, you sign that lease! I
ain't a young man any more with fine speeches, Mrs. Kaufman, but not in a
t'ousand years you sign that lease."

"Mr. Vetsburg, Ruby--I--"

"If anybody's got a lease on you, Mrs. Kaufman, I--I want it! I want it!
That's the kind of a lease would suit me. To be leased to you for always,
the rest of your life!"

She could not follow him down the vista of fancy, but stood interrogating
him with her heartbeats at her throat. "Mr. Vetsburg, if he puts on the
doors and hinges and new plumbing in--."

"I'm a plain man, Mrs. Kaufman, without much to offer a woman what can give
out her heart's blood like it was so much water. But all these years I been
waiting, Mrs. Kaufman, to bust out, until--till things got riper. I know
with a woman like you, whose own happiness always is last, that first your
girl must be fixed--."

"She's a young girl, Mr. Vetsburg. You--you mustn't depend--. If I had my
say--."

"He's a fine fellow, Mrs. Kaufman. With his uncle to help 'em, they got,
let me tell you, a better start as most young ones!"

She rose, holding on to the desk.

"I--I--" she said. "What?"

"Lena," he uttered, very softly.

"Lena, Mr. Vetsburg?"

"It 'ain't been easy, Lenie, these years while she was only growing up, to
keep off my lips that name. A name just like a leaf off a rose. Lena!" he
reiterated and advanced.

Comprehension came quietly and dawning like a morning.

"I--I--. Mr. Vetsburg, you must excuse me," she said, and sat down
suddenly.

He crossed to the little desk and bent low over her chair, his hand not on
her shoulder, but at the knob of her chair. His voice had a swift rehearsed
quality.

"Maybe to-morrow, if you didn't back out, it would sound finer by the
ocean, Lenie, but it don't need the ocean a man should tell a woman when
she's the first and the finest woman in the world. Does it, Lenie?"

"I--I thought Ruby. She--"

"He's a good boy, Leo is, Lenie. A good boy what can be good to a woman
like his father before him. Good enough even for a fine girl like our Ruby,
Lenie--_our_ Ruby!"

"_Gott im Himmel_! then you--"

"Wide awake, too. With a start like I can give him in my business, you
'ain't got to worry Ruby 'ain't fixed herself with the man what she
chooses. To-morrow at Atlantic City all fixed I had it I should tell--"

"You!" she said, turning around in her chair to face him. "You--all along
you been fixing--"

He turned sheepish. "Ain't it fair, Lenie, in love and war and business a
man has got to scheme for what he wants out of life? Long enough it took
she should grow up. I knew all along once those two, each so full of life
and being young, got together it was natural what should happen. Mrs.
Kaufman! Lenie! Lenie!"

Prom two flights up, in through the open door and well above the harsh
sound of scrubbing, a voice curled down through the hallways and in. "Mrs.
Kaufman, ice-water--ple-ase!"

"Lenie," he said, his singing, tingling fingers closing over her wrist.

"Mrs. Kauf-man, ice-water, pl--"

With her free arm she reached and slammed the door, let her cheek lie to
the back of his hand, and closed her eyes.




IV

HERS _NOT_ TO REASON WHY


In the third winter of a world-madness, with Europe guzzling blood and wild
with the taste of it, America grew flatulent, stenching winds from the
battle-field blowing her prosperity.

Granaries filled to bursting tripled in value, and, in congested districts,
men with lean faces rioted when bread advanced a cent a loaf. Munition
factories, the fires of destruction smelting all night, worked three
shifts. Millions of shells for millions of dollars. Millions of lives for
millions of shells. A country feeding into the insatiable maw of war with
one hand, and with the other pouring relief-funds into coffers bombarded by
guns of its own manufacture--quelling the wound with a finger and widening
it with a knife up the cuff.

In France, women with blue faces and too often with the pulling lips of
babes at dry breasts, learned the bitter tasks of sewing closed the coat
sleeves and of cutting off and hemming the trousers leg at the knee.

In America, women new to the feel of fur learned to love it and not
question whence it came. Men of small affairs, suddenly earthquaked to the
crest of the great tidal wave of new market-values, went drunk with wealth.

In New York, where so many great forces of a great country coagulate, the
face of the city photographed would have been a composite of fat and jowl,
rouge and heavy lip--satiated yet insatiate, the head double-chinned and
even a little loggy with too many satisfactions.

But that is the New York of the Saturnite and of Teufelsdroeckh alone with
his stars.

Upon Mrs. Blutch Connors, gazing out upon the tide of West Forty-seventh
Street, life lay lightly and as unrelated as if ravage and carnage and the
smell of still warm blood were of another planet.

A shower of white light from an incandescent tooth-brush sign opposite
threw a pallid reflection upon Mrs. Connors; it spun the fuzz of frizz
rising off her blond coiffure into a sort of golden fog and picked out the
sequins of her bodice.

The dinner-hour descends glitteringly upon West Forty-seventh Street, its
solid rows of long, lanky hotels, actors' clubs, and sixty-cent _tables
d'hote_ adding each its candle-power.

From her brace of windows in the Hotel Metropolis, the street was not
unlike a gully cut through mica, a honking tributary flowing into the great
sea of Broadway. A low, high-power car, shaped like an ellipse, cut through
the snarl of traffic, bleating. A woman, wrapped in a greatcoat of "baby"
pelts and an almost undistinguishable dog in the cove of her arm, walked
out from the Hotel Metropolis across the sidewalk and into a taxicab. An
army of derby hats, lowered slightly into the wind, moved through the white
kind of darkness. Standing there, buffeting her pink nails across her pink
palms, Mrs. Connors followed the westward trend of that army. Out from it,
a face lying suddenly back flashed up at her, a mere petal riding a swift
current. But at sight of it Mrs. Blutch Connors inclined her entire body,
pressing a smile and a hand against the cold pane, then turned inward,
flashing on an electrolier--a bronze Nydia holding out a cluster of frosted
bulbs. A great deal of the strong breath of a popular perfume and a great
deal of artificial heat lay sweet upon that room, as if many flowers had
lived and died in the same air, leaving insidious but slightly stale
memories.

The hotel suite has become the brocaded tomb of the old-fashioned garden.
The kitchen has shrunk into the chafing-dish, and all the dear old
concoctions that mother used to try to make now come tinned, condensed,
and predigested in sixty-seven varieties. Even the vine-covered threshold
survives only in the booklets of promoters of suburban real estate. In
New York, the home-coming spouse arrives on the vertical, shunted out
at whatever his layer. Yet, when Mrs. Connors opened the door of her
pink-brocaded sitting-room, her spirit rose with the soughing rise of the
elevator, and Romance--hardy fellow--showed himself within a murky hotel
corridor.

"Honeybunch!"

"Babe!" said Mr. Blutch Connors, upon the slam of the lift door.

And there, in the dim-lit halls, with its rows of closed doors in
blank-faced witness thereof, they embraced, these two, despising, as
Flaubert despised, to live in the reality of things.

"My boy's beau-ful cheeks all cold!"

"My girl's beau-ful cheeks all warm and full of some danged good cologne,"
said Mr. Connors, closing the door of their rooms upon them, pressing her
head back against the support of his arm, and kissing her throat as the
chin flew up.

He pressed a button, and the room sprang into more light, coming out pinkly
and vividly--the brocaded walls pliant to touch with every so often a
gilt-framed engraving; a gilt table with an onyx top cheerfully cluttered
with the sauciest short-story magazines of the month; a white mantelpiece
with an artificial hearth and a pink-and-gilt _chaise-longue_ piled high
with small, lacy pillows, and a very green magazine open and face downward
on the floor beside it.

"Comin' better, honeybunch?"

"I dunno, Babe. The town's mad with money, but I don't feel myself going
crazy with any of it."

"What ud you bring us, honey?"

He slid out of his silk-lined greatcoat, placing his brown derby atop.

"Three guesses, Babe," he said, rubbing his cold hands in a dry wash, and
smiling from five feet eleven of sartorial accomplishment down upon her.

"Honey darlin'!" said Mrs. Connors, standing erect and placing her cheek
against the third button of his waistcoat.

"Wow! how I love the woman!" he cried, closing his hands softly about her
throat and tilting her head backward again.

"Darlin', you hurt!"

"Br-r-r--can't help it!"

When Mr. Connors moved, he gave off the scent of pomade freely; his
slightly thinning brown hair and the pointy tips to a reddish mustache
lay sleek with it. There was the merest suggestion of _embonpoint_ to the
waistcoat, but not so that, when he dropped his eyes, the blunt toes of his
russet shoes were not in evidence. His pin-checked suit was pressed to a
knife-edge, and his brocaded cravat folded to a nicety; there was an air
of complete well-being about him. Men can acquire that sort of eupeptic
well-being in a Turkish bath. Young mothers and life-jobbers have it
naturally.

Suddenly, Mrs. Connors began to foray into his pockets, plunging her hand
into the right, the left, then stopped suddenly, her little face flashing
up at him.

"It's round and furry--my honeybunch brought me a peach! Beau-ful pink
peach in December! Nine million dollars my hubby pays to bring him wifey a
beau-ful pink peach." She drew it out--a slightly runty one with a forced
blush--and bit small white teeth immediately into it.

"M-m-m!"--sitting on the _chaise-longue_ and sucking inward. He sat down
beside her, a shade graver.

"Is my babe disappointed I didn't dig her coat and earrings out of hock?"

She lay against him.

"I should worry!"

"There just ain't no squeal in my girl."

"Wanna bite?"

"Any one of 'em but you would be hollering for their junk out of pawn.
But, Lord, the way she rigs herself up without it! Where'd you dig up the
spangles, Babe? Gad! I gotta take you out to-night and buy you the right
kind of a dinner. When I walks my girl into a cafe, they sit up and take
notice, all righty. Spangles she rigs herself up in when another girl, with
the way my luck's been runnin', would be down to her shimmy-tail."

She stroked his sleeve as if it had the quality of fur.

"Is the rabbit's foot still kicking my boy?"

"Never seen the like, honey. The cards just won't come. This afternoon I
even played the wheel over at Chuck's, and she spun me dirt."

"It's gotta turn, Blutch."

"Sure!"

"Remember the run of rotten luck you had that year in Cincinnati, when the
ponies was runnin' at Latonia?"

"Yeh."

"Lost your shirt, hon, and the first day back in New York laid a hundred on
the wheel and won me my seal coat. You--we--We couldn't be no lower than
that time we got back from Latonia, hon?"

He laid his hand over hers.

"Come on, Babe. Joe'll be here directly, and then we're going and blow them
spangles to a supper."

"Blutch, answer!"

"Now there's nothin' to worry about, Babe. Have I ever landed anywhere
but on my feet? We'll be driving a racer down Broadway again before the
winter's over. There's money in motion these wartimes, Babe. They can't
keep my hands off it."

"Blutch, how--how much did you drop to-day?

"I could tell clear down on the street you lost, honey, the way you walked
so round-shouldered."

"What's the difference, honey? Come; just to show you I'm a sport, I'm
going to shoot you and Joe over to Jack's in one of them new white
taxi-cabs."

"Blutch, how much?"

"Well, if you gotta know it, they laid me out to-day, Babe. Dropped that
nine hundred hock-money like it was a hot potato, and me countin' on
bringin' you home your coat and junk again to-night. Gad! Them cards
wouldn't come to me with salt on their tails."

"Nine hundred! Blutch, that--that leaves us bleached!"

"I know it, hon. Just never saw the like. Wouldn't care if it wasn't my
girl's junk and fur coat. That's what hurts a fellow. If there's one thing
he ought to look to, it's to keep his wimmin out of the game."

"It--it ain't that, Blutch; but--but where's it comin' from?"

He struck his thigh a resounding whack.

"With seventy-five bucks in my jeans, girl, the world is mine. Why, before
I had my babe for my own, many's the time I was down to shoe-shine money.
Up to 'leven years ago it wasn't nothing, honey, for me to sleep on a
pool-table one night and _de luxe_ the next. If life was a sure thing for
me, I'd ask 'em to put me out of my misery. It's only since I got my girl
that I ain't the plunger I used to be. Big Blutch has got his name from the
old days, honey, when a dime, a dollar, and a tire-rim was all the same
size."

She sat hunched up in the pink-satinet frock, the pink sequins dancing, and
her small face smaller because of the way her light hair rose up in the
fuzzy aura.

"Blutch, we--we just never was down to the last seventy-five before. That
time at Latonia, it was a hundred and more."

"Why, girl, once, at Hot Springs, I had to hock my coat and vest, and I got
started on a run of new luck playin' in my shirt-sleeves, pretending I was
a summer boy."

"That was the time you gave Lenny Gratz back his losings and got him back
to his wife."

"Right-o! Seen him only to-night. He's traveling out of Cleveland for an
electric house and has forgot how aces up looks. That boy had as much
chance in the game as a deacon."

Mrs. Connors laid hold of Mr. Connors's immaculate coat lapel, drawing him
toward her.

"Oh, Blutch--honey--if only--if only--"

"If only what, Babe?"

"If you--you--"

"Why, honey, what's eatin' you? I been down pretty near this low many a
time; only, you 'ain't known nothing about it, me not wanting to worry your
pretty head. You ain't afraid, Babe, your old hubby can't always take care
of his girl A1, are you?"

"No, no, Blutch; only--"

"What, Babe?"

"I wish to God you was out of it, Blutch! I wish to God!"

"Out of what, Babe?"

"The game, Blutch. You're too good, honey, and too--too honest to be in it.
What show you got in the end against your playin' pals like Joe Kirby and
Al Flexnor? I know that gang, Blutch. I've tried to tell you so often how,
when I was a kid livin' at home, that crowd used to come to my mother's--"

"Now, now, girl; business is--"

"You're too good, Blutch, and too honest to be in it. The game'll break you
in the end. It always does. Blutch darling, I wish to God you was out of
it!"

"Why, Ann 'Lisbeth, I never knew you felt this way about it."

"I do, Blutch, I do! For years, it's been here in me--here, under my
heart--eatin' me, Blutch, eatin' me!" And she placed her hands flat to her
breast.

"Why, Babe!"

"I never let on. You--I--You been too good, Blutch, to a girl like--like
I was for me to let out a whimper about anything. A man that took a girl
like--like me that had knocked around just like--my mother and even--even
my grandmother before me had knocked around--took and married me, no
questions asked. A girl like me 'ain't got the right to complain to no man,
much less to one like you. The heaven you've given me for eleven years,
Blutch! The heaven! Sometimes, darlin', just sittin' here in a room like
this, with no--no reason for bein' here--it's just like I--"

"Babe, Babe, you mustn't!"

"Sittin' here, waiting for you to come and not carin' for nothing or nobody
except that my boy's comin' home to me--it's like I was in a dream, Blutch,
and like I was going to wake up and find myself back in my mother's house,
and--"

"Babe, you been sittin' at home alone too much. I always tell you, honey,
you ought to make friends. Chuck De Roy's wife wants the worst way to get
acquainted with you--a nice, quiet girl. It ain't right, Babe, for you
not to have no friends at all to go to the matinee with or go buyin'
knickknacks with. You're gettin' morbid, honey."

She worked herself out of his embrace, withholding him with her palms
pressed out against his chest.

"I 'ain't got nothing in life but you, honey. There ain't nobody else under
the sun makes any difference. That's why I want you to get out of it,
Blutch. It's a dirty game--the gambling game. You ain't fit for it. You're
too good. They've nearly got you now, Blutch. Let's get out, honey,
while the goin's good. Let's take them seventy-five bucks and buy us a
peanut-stand or a line of goods. Let's be regular folks, darlin'! I'm
willin' to begin low down. Don't stake them last seventy-five, Blutch.
Break while we're broke. It ain't human nature to break while your luck's
with you."

He was for folding her in his arms, but she still withheld him.

"Blutch darlin', it's the first thing I ever asked of you."

He grew grave, looking long into her blue eyes with the tears forming over
them.

"Why, Ann 'Lisbeth, danged if I know what to say! You sure you're feelin'
well, Babe? 'Ain't took cold, have you, with your fur coat in hock?"

"No, no, no!"

"Well, I--I guess, honey, if the truth was told, your old man ain't cut out
for nothing much besides the gamin'-table--a fellow that's knocked around
the world the way I have."

"You are, Blutch; you are! You're an expert accountant. Didn't you run the
Two Dollar Hat Store that time in Syracuse and get away with it?"

"I know, Babe; but when a fellow's once used to makin' it easy and spendin'
it easy, he can't be satisfied lopin' along in a little business. Why, just
take to-night, honey! I only brought home my girl a peach this evening,
but that ain't sayin' that before morning breaks I can't be bringin' her a
couple of two-carat stones."

"No, no, Blutch; I don't want 'em. I swear to God I don't want 'em!"

"Why, Babe, I just can't figure out what's got into you. I never heard you
break out like this. Are you scared, honey, because we happen to be lower
than--"

"No, no, darlin'; I ain't scared because we're low. I'm scared to get high
again. It's the first run of real luck you've had in three years, Blutch.
There was no hope of gettin' you out while things was breakin' good for
you; but now--"

"I ain't sayin' it's the best game in the world. I'd see a son of mine laid
out before I'd let him get into it. But it's what I'm cut out for, and what
are you goin' to do about it? 'Ain't you got everything your little heart
desires? Ain't we going down to Sheepshead when the first thaw sets in?
Ain't we just a pair of love-birds that's as happy as if we had our right
senses? Come, Babe; get into your jacket. Joe'll be here any minute, and I
got that porterhouse at Jack's on the brain. Come kiss your hubby."

She held up her face with the tears rolling down it, and he kissed a dry
spot and her yellow frizzed bangs.

"My girl! My cry-baby girl!"

"You're all I got in the world, Blutch! Thinkin' of what's best for you has
eat into me."

"I know! I know!"

"We'll never get nowheres in this game, hon. We ain't even sure enough of
ourselves to have a home like--like regular folks."

"Never you mind, Babe. Startin' first of the year, I'm going to begin to
look to a little nest-egg."

"We ought to have it, Blutch. Just think of lettin' ourselves get down to
the last seventy-five! What if a rainy day should come--where would we be
at? If you--or me should get sick or something."

"You ain't all wrong, girl."

"You'd give the shirt off your back, Blutch; that's why we can't ever have
a nest-egg as long as you're playin' stakes. There's too many hard-luck
stories lying around loose in the gamblin' game."

"The next big haul I make I'm going to get out, girl, so help me!"

"Blutch!"

"I mean it. We'll buy a chicken-farm."

"Why not a little business, Blutch, in a small town with--"

"There's a great future in chicken-farmin'. I set Boy Higgins up with a
five-hundred spot the year his lung went back on him, and he paid me back
the second year."

"Blutch darlin', you mean it?"

"Why not, Babe--seein' you want it? There ain't no string tied to me and
the green-felt table. I can go through with anything I make up my mind to."

"Oh, honey baby, you promise! Darling little fuzzy chickens!"

"Why, girl, I wouldn't have you eatin' yourself thisaway. The first
ten-thou' high-water mark we hit I'm quits. How's that?"

"Ten thousand! Oh, Blutch, we--"

"What's ten thou', girl! I made the Hot Springs haul with a twenty-dollar
start. If you ain't careful, we'll be buyin' that chicken-farm next week.
That's what can happen to my girl if she starts something with her hubby."

Suddenly Mrs. Connors crumpled in a heap upon the lacy pillows, pink
sequins heaving.

"Why, Babe--Babe, what is it? You're sick or something to-night, honey." He
lifted her to his arms, bent almost double over her.

"Nothin', Blutch, only--only I just never was so happy."

"Lord!" said Blutch Connors. "All these years, and I never knew anything
was eatin' her."

"I--I never was, Blutch."

"Was what?"

"So--happy."

"Lord bless my soul! The poor little thing was afraid to say it was a
chicken-farm she wanted!"

He patted her constantly, his eyes somewhat glazy.

"Us two, Blutch, livin' regular."

"You ain't all wrong, girl."

"You home evenings, Blutch, regular like."

"You poor little thing!"

"You'll play safe, Blutch? Play safe to win!"

"I wish I'd have went into the farmin' three years ago, Babe, the week I
hauled down eleven thou'."

"You was too fed up with luck then, Blutch. I knew better 'n to ask."

"Lord bless my soul! and the poor little thing was afraid to say it was a
chicken-farm she wanted!"

"Promise me, Blutch, you'll play 'em close--to win!"

"Al's openin' up his new rooms to-night. Me and Joe are goin' to play 'em
fifty-fifty. It looks to me like a haul, Babe."

"He's crooked, Blutch, I tell you."

"No more 'n all of 'em are, Babe. Your eyes open and your pockets closed is
my motto. What you got special against Joe? You mustn't dig up on a fellow,
Babe."

"I--. Why ain't he livin' in White Plains, where his wife and kids are?"

"What I don't know about the private life of my card friends don't hurt
me."

"It's town talk the way he keeps them rooms over at the Liberty. 'Way back
when I was a kid, Blutch, I remember how he used to--"

"I know there ain't no medals on Joe, Babe, but if you don't stop listenin'
to town talk, you're going to get them pretty little ears of yours all
sooty."

"I know, Blutch; but I could tell you things about him back in the days
when my mother--"

"Me and him are goin' over to Al's to-night and try to win my babe the
first chicken for her farm. Whatta you bet? Us two ain't much on the
sociability end, but we've played many a lucky card fifty-fifty. Saturday
is our mascot night, too. Come, Babe; get on your jacket, and--"

"Honeybunch, you and Joe go. I ain't hungry."

"But--"

"I'll have 'em send me up a bite from the grill."

"You ain't sore because I asked Joe? It's business, Babe."

"Of course I ain't, honey; only, with you and him goin' right over to Al's
afterward, what's the sense of me goin'? I wanna stay home and think. It's
just like beginnin' to-night I could sit here and look right into the time
when there ain't goin' to be no more waitin' up nights for my boy. I--They
got all little white chickens out at Denny's roadhouse, Blutch--white with
red combs. Can we have some like them?"

"You betcher life we can! I'm going to win the beginnings of that farm
before I'm a night older. Lordy! Lordy! and to think I never knew anything
was eatin' her!"

"Blutch, I--I don't know what to say. I keep cryin' when I wanna laugh. I
never was so happy, Blutch, I never was."

"My little kitty-puss!"

       *       *       *       *       *

At seven o'clock came Mr. Joe Kirby, dark, corpulent, and black of cigar.

"Come right in, Joe! I'm here and waitin' for you."

"Ain't the missis in on this killin'?"

"She--Not this--"

"No, Joe; not--to-night."

"Sorry to hear it," said Mr. Kirby, flecking an inch of cigar-ash to the
table-top. "Fine rig-up, with due respect to the lady, your missis is
wearing to-night."

"The wife ain't so short on looks, is she?"

"Blutch!"

"You know my sentiments about her. They don't come no ace-higher."

She colored, even quivered, standing there beside the bronze Nydia.

"I tell her we're out for big business to-night, Joe."

"Sky's the limit. Picked up a pin pointin' toward me and sat with my back
to a red-headed woman. Can't lose."

"Well, good-night, Babe. Take care o' yourself."

"Good night, Blutch. You'll play 'em close, honey?"

"You just know I will, Babe."

An hour she sat there, alone on the _chaise-longue_, staring into space and
smiling at what she saw there. Finally she dropped back into the lacy mound
of pillows, almost instantly asleep, but still smiling.

       *       *       *       *       *

At four o'clock, that hour before dawn cracks, even the West Forties, where
night is too often cacophonous with the sound of revelry, drop into long
narrow aisles of gloom. Thin, high-stooped houses with drawn shades recede
into the mouse-colored mist of morning, and, as through quagmire, this mist
hovering close to ground, figures skulk--that nameless, shapeless race of
many bloods and one complexion, the underground complexion of paste long
sour from standing.

At somewhat after that hour Mr. Blutch Connors made exit from one of these
houses, noiseless, with scarcely a click after him, and then, without
pause, passed down the brownstone steps and eastward. A taxicab slid by,
its honk as sorrowful as the cry of a plover in a bog. Another--this one
drawing up alongside, in quest of fare. He moved on, his breath clouding
the early air, and his hands plunged deep in his pockets as if to plumb
their depth. There was a great sag to the silhouette of him moving thus
through the gloom, the chest in and the shoulders rounding and lessening
their front span. Once he paused to remove the brown derby and wipe at his
brow. A policeman struck his stick. He moved on.

An all-night drug-store, the modern sort of emporium where the capsule
and the herb have become side line to the ivoritus toilet-set and the
pocket-dictionary, threw a white veil of light across the sidewalk. Well
past that window, but as if its image had only just caught up with him,
Mr. Connors turned back, retracing ten steps. A display-window, denuded of
frippery but strewn with straw and crisscrossed with two large strips of
poster, proclaimed Chicklet Face Powder to the cosmetically concerned. With
an eye to fidelity, a small brood of small chickens, half dead with bad
air and not larger than fists, huddled rearward and out of the grilling
light--puny victims to an indorsed method of correspondence-school
advertising.

Mr. Connors entered, scouting out a dozy clerk.

"Say, bo, what's one of them chicks worth?"

"Ain't fer sale."

Mr. Connors lowered his voice, nudging.

"I gotta sick wife, bo. Couldn't you slip me one in a 'mergency?"

"What's the idea--chicken broth? You better go in the park and catch her a
chippie."

"On the level, friend, one of them little yellow things would cheer her up.
She's great one for pets."

"Can't you see they're half-dead now? What you wanna cheer her up with--a
corpse? If I had my way, I'd wring the whole display's neck, anyhow."

"What'll you take for one, bo?"

"It'll freeze to death."

"Look! This side pocket is lined with velvet."

"Dollar."

"Aw, I said one, friend, not the whole brood."

"Leave or take."

Mr. Connors dug deep.

"Make it sixty cents and a poker-chip, bo. It's every cent I got in my
pocket."

"Keep the poker-chip for pin-money."

When Mr. Connors emerged, a small, chirruping bunch of fuzz, cupped in his
hand, lay snug in the velvet-lined pocket.

At Sixth Avenue, where the great skeleton of the Elevated stalks
mid-street, like a prehistoric _pithecanthropus erectus_, he paused for an
instant in the shadow of a gigantic black pillar, readjusting the fragile
burden to his pocket.

Stepping out to cross the street, simultaneously a great silent motor-car,
noiseless but wild with speed, tore down the surface-car tracks, blacker in
the hulking shadow of the Elevated trellis.

A quick doubling up of the sagging silhouette, and the groan of a clutch
violently thrown. A woman's shriek flying thin and high like a javelin of
horror. A crowd sprung full grown out of the bog of the morning. White,
peering faces showing up in the brilliant paths of the acetylene lamps. A
uniform pushing through. A crowbar and the hard breathing of men straining
to lift. A sob in the dark. Stand back! Stand back!

       *       *       *       *       *

Dawn--then a blue, wintry sky, the color and hardness of enamel; and
sunshine, bright, yet so far off the eye could stare up to it unsquinting.
It lay against the pink-brocaded window-hangings of the suite in the Hotel
Metropolis; it even crept in like a timid hand reaching toward, yet not
quite touching, the full-flung figure of Mrs. Blutch Connors, lying, her
cheek dug into the harshness of the carpet, there at the closed door to the
bedroom--prone as if washed there, and her yellow hair streaming back like
seaweed. Sobs came, but only the dry kind that beat in the throat and then
come shrilly, like a sheet of silk swiftly torn.

How frail are human ties, have said the _beaux esprits_ of every age in one
epigrammatic fashion or another. But frailty can bleed; in fact, it's first
to bleed.

Lying there, with her face swollen and stamped with the carpet-nap,
squirming in a grief that was actually abashing before it was
heartbreaking, Ann 'Lisbeth Connors, whose only epiphany of life was love,
and shut out from so much else that helps make life sweet, was now shut out
from none of its pain.

Once she scratched at the door, a faint, dog-like scratch for admission,
and then sat back on her heels, staring at the uncompromising panel,
holding back the audibility of her sobs with her hand.

Heart-constricting silence, and only the breath of ether seeping out to
her, sweet, insidious. She took to hugging herself violently against a
sudden chill that rushed over her, rattling her frame.

The bedroom door swung noiselessly back, fanning out the etheric fumes, and
closed again upon an emerging figure.

"Doctor--quick--God!--What?"

He looked down upon her with the kind of glaze over his eyes that Bellini
loved to paint, compassion for the pain of the world almost distilled to
tears.

"Doctor--he ain't--"

"My poor little lady!"

"O God--no--no--no! No, Doctor, no! You wouldn't! Please! Please! You
wouldn't let him leave me here all alone, Doctor! O God! you wouldn't! I'm
all alone, Doctor! You see, I'm all alone. Please don't take him from me.
He's mine! You can't! Promise me, Doctor! My darlin' in there--why are you
hurtin' him so? Why has he stopped hollerin'? Cut me to pieces to give him
what he needs to make him live. Don't take him from me, Doctor. He's all I
got! O God--God--please!" And fell back swooning, with an old man's tear
splashing down as if to revivify her.

       *       *       *       *       *

The heart has a resiliency. Strained to breaking, it can contract again.
Even the waiting women, Iseult and Penelope, learned, as they sat sorrowing
and watching, to sing to the swing of the sea.

When, out of the slough of dark weeks, Mrs. Connors took up life again,
she was only beaten, not broken--a reed lashed down by storm and then
resilient, daring to lift its head again. A wan little head, but the eyes
unwashed of their blue and the irises grown large. The same hard sunshine
lay in its path between the brocade curtains of a room strangely denuded.
It was as if spring had died there, when it was only the _chaise-longue_,
barren of its lacy pillows, a glass vase and silver-framed picture gone
from the mantel, a Mexican afghan removed from a divan and showing its
bulges.

It was any hotel suite now--uncompromising; leave me or take me.

In taking leave of it, Mrs. Connors looked about her even coldly, as if
this barren room were too denuded of its memories.

"You--you been mighty good to me, Joe. It's good to
know--everything's--paid up."

Mr. Joe Kirby sat well forward on a straight chair, knees well apart in the
rather puffy attitude of the uncomfortably corpulent.

"Now, cut that! Whatever I done for you, Annie, I done because I wanted to.
If you'd 'a' listened to me, you wouldn't 'a' gone and sold out your last
dud to raise money. Whatcha got friends for?"

"The way you dug down for--for the funeral, Joe. He--he couldn't have had
the silver handles or the gray velvet if--if not for you, Joe. He--he
always loved everything the best. I can't never forget that of you,
Joe--just never."

She was pinning on her little crepe-edged veil over her decently black hat,
and paused now to dab up under it at a tear.

"I'd 'a' expected poor old Blutch to do as much for me."

"He would! He would! Many's the pal he buried."

"I hate, Annie, like anything to see you actin' up like this. You ain't
fit to walk out of this hotel on your own hook. Where'd you get that
hand-me-down?"

She looked down at herself, quickly reddening.

"It's a warm suit, Joe."

"Why, you 'ain't got a chance! A little thing like you ain't cut out for
but one or two things. Coddlin'--that's your line. The minute you're
nobody's doll you're goin' to get stepped on and get busted."

"Whatta you know about--"

"What kind of a job you think you're gonna get? Adviser to a corporation
lawyer? You're too soft, girl. What chance you think you got buckin' up
against a town that wants value received from a woman. Aw, you know what I
mean, Annie. You can't pull that baby stuff all the time."

"You," she cried, beating her small hands together, "oh, you--you--" and
then sat down, crying weakly. "Them days back there! Why, I--I was such a
kid it's just like they hadn't been! With her and my grandmother dead and
gone these twelve years, if it wasn't for you it's--it's like they'd never
been."

"Nobody was gladder 'n me, girl, to see how you made a bed for yourself.
I'm commendin' you, I am. That's just what I'm tryin' to tell you now,
girl. You was cut out to be somebody's kitten, and--"

"O God!" she sobbed into her handkerchief, "why didn't you take me when you
took him?"

"Now, now, Annie, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. A good-lookin' woman
like you 'ain't got nothing to worry about. Lemme order you up a drink.
You're gettin' weak again."

"No, no; I'm taking 'em too often. But they warm me. They warm me, and I'm
cold, Joe--cold."

"Then lemme--"

"No! No!"

He put out a short, broad hand toward her.

"Poor little--"

"I gotta go now, Joe. These rooms ain't mine no more."

He barred her path.

"Go where?"

'"Ain't I told you? I'm going out. Anybody that's willin' to work can get
it in this town. I ain't the softy you think I am."

He took her small black purse up from the table.

"What's your capital?"

"You--quit!"

"Ten--'leven--fourteen dollars and seventy-four cents."

"You gimme!"

"You can't cut no capers on that, girl."

"I--can work."

He dropped something in against the coins.

It clinked.

She sprang at him.

"No, no; not a cent from you--for myself. I--I didn't know you in them
days for nothing. I was only a kid, but I--I know you! I know. You gimme!
Gimme!"

He withheld it from her.

"Hold your horses, beauty! What I was then I am now, and I ain't ashamed of
it. Human, that's all. The best of us is only human before a pretty woman."

"You gimme!"

She had snatched up her small hand-satchel from the divan and stood
flashing now beside him, her small, blazing face only level with his
cravat.

"What you spittin' fire for? That wa'n't nothin' I slipped in but my
address, girl. When you need me call on me. 'The Liberty, 96.' Go right up
in the elevator, no questions asked. Get me?" he said, poking the small
purse into the V of her jacket. "Get me?"

"Oh, you--Woh--woh--woh!"

With her face flung back and twisted, and dodging his outflung arm, she was
down four flights of narrow, unused stairs and out. Once in the streets,
she walked with her face still thrust up and a frenzy of haste in her
stride. Red had popped out in her cheeks. There was voice in each
breath--moans that her throat would not hold.

That night she slept in the kind of fifty-cent room the city offers its
decent poor. A slit of a room with a black-iron bed and a damp mattress.
A wash-stand gaunt with its gaunt mission. A slop-jar on a zinc mat. A
caneless-bottom chair. The chair she propped against the door, the top slat
of it beneath the knob. Through a night of musty blackness she lay in a
rigid line along the bed-edge.

You who love the city for its million pulses, the beat of its great heart,
and the terrific symphony of its soul, have you ever picked out from its
orchestra the plaintive rune of the deserving poor?

It is like the note of a wind instrument--an oboe adding its slow note to
the boom of the kettle-drum, the clang of gold-colored cymbals, and the
singing ecstasy of violins.

One such small voice Ann 'Lisbeth Connors added to the great threnody of
industry. Department stores that turned from her services almost before
they were offered. Offices gleaned from penny papers, miles of them, and
hours of waiting on hard-bottom chairs in draughty waiting-rooms. Faces,
pasty as her own, lined up alongside, greedy of the morsel about to fall.

When the pinch of poverty threatens men and wolves, they grow long-faced.
In these first lean days, a week of them, Ann 'Lisbeth's face lengthened a
bit, too, and with the fuzz of yellow bangs tucked well up under her not so
decent black hat, crinkles came out about her eyes.

Nights she supped in a family-entrance cafe beneath her room--veal stew and
a glass of beer.

She would sit over it, not unpleasantly muzzy. She slept of nights now, and
not so rigidly.

Then followed a week of lesser department stores as she worked her way
down-town, of offices tucked dingily behind lithograph and small-ware
shops, and even an ostrich-feather loft, with a "Curlers Wanted" sign hung
out.

In what school does the great army of industry earn its first experience?
Who first employs the untaught hand? Upon Ann 'Lisbeth, untrained in any
craft, it was as if the workaday world turned its back, nettled at a
philistine.

Once she sat resting on a stoop beneath the sign of a woman's-aid bureau.
She read it, but, somehow, her mind would not register. The calves of her
legs and the line where her shoe cut into her heel were hurting.

She supped in the family-entrance cafe again--the bowl of veal stew and two
glasses of beer. Some days following, her very first venture out into the
morning, she found employment--a small printing-shop off Sixth Avenue just
below Twenty-third Street. A mere pocket in the wall, a machine champing in
its plate-glass front.

  VISITING-CARDS WHILE YOU WAIT
  THIRTY-FIVE CENTS A HUNDRED

She entered.

"The sign says--'girl wanted.'"

A face peered down at her from a high chair behind the champing machine.

"'Goil wanted,' is what it says. Goil!"

"I--I ain't old," she faltered.

"Cut cards?"

"I--Try me."

"Five a week."

"Why--yes."

"Hang your coat and hat behind the sink."

Before noon, a waste of miscut cards about her, she cut her hand slightly,
fumbling at the machine, and cried out.

"For the love of Mike--you want somebody to kiss it and make it well?
Here's a quarter for your time. With them butter-fingers, you better get a
job greasin' popcorn."

Out in the sun-washed streets the wind had hauled a bit. It cut as she bent
into it. With her additional quarter, she still had two dollars and twenty
cents, and that afternoon, in lower Sixth Avenue, at the instance of
another small card fluttering out in the wind, she applied as dishwasher
in a lunch-room and again obtained--this time at six dollars a week and
suppers.

The Jefferson Market Lunch Room, thick with kicked-up sawdust and the fumes
of hissing grease, was sunk slightly below the level of the sidewalk, a
fitting retreat for the mole-like humanity that dined furtively at its
counter. Men with too short coat-sleeves and collars turned up; women with
beery eyes and uneven skirt-hems dank with the bilge-water of life's lower
decks.

Lower Sixth Avenue is the abode of these shadows. Where are they from, and
whither going--these women without beauty, who walk the streets without
handkerchiefs, but blubbering with too much or too little drink? What is
the terrible riddle? Why, even as they blubber, are there women whose
bodies have the quality of cream, slipping in between scented sheets?

Ann 'Lisbeth, hers not to argue, but accept, dallied with no such question.
Behind the lunch-room, a sink of unwashed dishes rose to a mound. She
plunged her hands into tepid water that clung to her like fuzz.

"Ugh!"

"Go to it!" said the proprietor, who wore a black flap over one eye. "Dey
won't bite. If de grease won't cut, souse 'em wit' lye. Don't try to muzzle
no breakage on me, neither, like the slut before you. I kin hear a cup
crack."

"I won't," said Ann 'Lisbeth, a wave of the furry water slopping out and
down her dress-front.

Followed four days spent in the grease-laden heat of the kitchen, the smell
of strong foods, raw meat, and fish stews thick above the sink. She had
moved farther down-town, against car fare; but because she talked now
constantly in her sleep and often cried out, there were knockings from the
opposite side of the partitions and oaths. For two evenings she sat until
midnight in a small rear cafe, again pleasantly muzzy over three glasses
of beer and the thick warmth of the room. Another night she carried home a
small bottle, tucking it beneath her coat as she emerged to the street. She
was grease-stained now, in spite of precautions, and her hat, with her hair
uncurled to sustain it, had settled down over her ears, grotesquely large.

The week raced with her funds. On the sixth day she paid out her last fifty
cents for room-rent, and, without breakfast, filched her lunch from a
half-eaten order of codfish balls returned to the kitchen.

Yes, reader; but who are you to turn away sickened and know no more of
this? You who love to bask in life's smile, but shudder at its drool! A
Carpenter did not sicken at a leper. He held out a hand.

That night, upon leaving, she asked for a small advance on her week's wage,
retreating before the furiously stained apron-front and the one eye of the
proprietor cast down upon her.

"Lay off! Lay off! Who done your bankin' last year? To-morrow's your day,
less four bits for breakage. Speakin' o' breakage, if you drop your jacket,
it'll bust. Watch out! That pint won't last you overnight. Layoff!"

She reddened immediately, clapping her hand over the small protruding
bottle in her pocket. She dared not return to her room, but sat out the
night in a dark foyer behind a half-closed storm-door. No one found her
out, and the wind could not reach her. Toward morning she even slept
sitting. But the day following, weak and too soft for the lift, straining
to remove the great dish-pan high with crockery from sink to table, she let
slip, grasping for a new hold.

There was a crash and a splintered debris--plates that rolled like hoops
to the four corners of the room, shivering as they landed; a great ringing
explosion of heavy stoneware, and herself drenched with the webby water.

"O God!" she cried in immediate hysteria. "O God! O God!" and fell to her
knees in a frenzy of clearing-up.

A raw-boned Minerva, a waitress with whom she had had no previous word,
sprang to her succor, a big, red hand of mercy jerking her up from the
debris.

"Clear out! He's across the bar. Beat it while the going's good. Your
week's gone in breakage, anyways, and he'll split up the place when he
comes. Clear out, girl, and here--for car fare."

Out in the street, her jacket not quite on and her hat clapped askew, Ann
'Lisbeth found herself quite suddenly scuttling down a side-street.

In her hand a dime burnt up into the palm.

For the first time in these weeks, except when her pint or the evening beer
had vivified her, a warmth seemed to flow through Ann 'Lisbeth. Chilled,
and her wet clothing clinging in at the knees, a fever
nevertheless quickened her. She was crying as she walked, but not
blubbering--spontaneous hot tears born of acute consciousness of pain.

A great shame at her smelling, grease-caked dress-front smote her, too, and
she stood back in a doorway, scraping at it with a futile forefinger.

February had turned soft and soggy, the city streets running mud, and the
damp insidious enough to creep through the warmth of human flesh. A day
threatened with fog from East River had slipped, without the interim of
dusk, into a heavy evening. Her clothing dried, but sitting in a small
triangle of park in Grove Street, chill seized her again, and, faint for
food, but with nausea for it, she tucked her now empty pint bottle beneath
the bench. She was crying incessantly, but her mind still seeming to
revive. Her small black purse she drew out from her pocket. It had a
collapsed look. Yet within were a sample of baby-blue cotton crepe, a
receipt from a dyeing-and-cleaning establishment, and a bit of pink
chamois; in another compartment a small assortment of keys.

She fumbled among them, blind with tears. Once she drew out, peering
forward toward a street-lamp to inspect it. It clinked as she touched it, a
small metal tag ringing.

HOTEL LIBERTY 96

An hour Ann 'Lisbeth sat there, with the key in her lax hand. Finally she
rubbed the pink chamois across her features and adjusted her hat, pausing
to scrape again with forefinger at the front of her, and moved on through
the gloom, the wind blowing her skirt forward.

She boarded a Seventh Avenue street-car, extracting the ten-cent piece
from her purse with a great show of well-being, sat back against the
carpet-covered, lengthwise seat, her red hands, with the cut forefinger
bound in rag, folded over her waist.

At Fiftieth Street she alighted, the white lights of the whitest street in
the world forcing down through the murk, and a theater crowd swarming to be
turned from reality.

The incandescent sign of the Hotel Liberty jutted out ahead.

She did not pause. She was in and into an elevator even before a lackey
turned to stare.

She found "Ninety-six" easily enough, inserting the key and opening the
door upon darkness--a warm darkness that came flowing out scented. She
found the switch, pressed it.

A lamp with a red shade sprang up and a center chandelier. A warm-toned,
well-tufted room, hotel chromos well in evidence, but a turkey-red air of
solid comfort.

Beyond, a white-tiled bathroom shining through the open door, and another
room hinted at beyond that.

She dropped, even in her hat and jacket, against the divan piled with
fat-looking satin cushions. Tears coursed out from her closed eyes, and she
relaxed as if she would swoon to the luxury of the pillows, burrowing and
letting them bulge up softly about her.

A half-hour she lay so in the warm bath of light, her little body so
quickly fallen into vagrancy not without litheness beneath the moldy skirt.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some time after eight she rose, letting the warm water in the bathroom lave
over her hands, limbering them, and from a bottle of eau de Cologne in a
small medicine-chest sprinkled herself freely and touched up the corners of
her eyes with it. A thick robe of Turkish toweling hung from the bathroom
door. She unhooked it, looping it over one arm.

A key scraped in the lock. From where she stood a rigidity raced over Ann
'Lisbeth, locking her every limb in paralysis. Her mouth moved to open and
would not.

The handle turned, and, with a sudden release of faculties, darting this
way and that, as if at bay, she tore the white-enameled medicine-chest from
its moorings, and, with a yell sprung somewhere from the primordial depths
of her, stood with it swung to hurl.

The door opened and she lunged, then let it fall weakly and with a small
crash.

The chambermaid, white with shock at that cry, dropped her burden of towels
in the open doorway and fled. Ann 'Lisbeth fled, too, down the two flights
of stairs her frenzy found out for her, and across the flare of Broadway.

The fog from East River was blowing in grandly as she ran into its tulle.
It closed around and around her.




V

GOLDEN FLEECE


How saving a dispensation it is that men do not carry in their hearts
perpetual ache at the pain of the world, that the body-thuds of the
drink-crazed, beating out frantic strength against cell doors, cannot
penetrate the beatitude of a mother bending, at that moment, above a crib.
Men can sit in club windows while, even as they sit, are battle-fields
strewn with youth dying, their faces in mud. While men are dining where
there are mahogany and silver and the gloss of women's shoulders, are men
with kick-marks on their shins, ice gluing shut their eyes, and lashed with
gale to some ship-or-other's crow's-nest. Women at the opera, so fragrant
that the senses swim, sit with consciousness partitioned against a
sweating, shuddering woman in some forbidding, forbidden room, hacking open
a wall to conceal something red-stained. One-half of the world does not
know or care how the other half lives or dies.

When, one summer, July came in like desert wind, West Cabanne Terrace and
that part of residential St. Louis that is set back in carefully conserved,
grove-like lawns did not sip its iced limeades with any the less
refreshment because, down-town at the intersection of Broadway and West
Street, a woman trundling a bundle of washing in an old perambulator
suddenly keeled of heat, saliva running from her mouth-corners.

At three o'clock, that hour when so often a summer's day reaches its stilly
climax and the heat-dance becomes a thing visible, West Cabanne Terrace and
its kind slip into sheerest and crepiest de Chine, click electric fans to
third speed, draw green shades, and retire for siesta.

At that same hour, in the Popular Store, where Broadway and West Street
intersect, one hundred and fifty salesgirls--jaded sentinels for a
public that dares not venture down, loll at their counters and after the
occasional shopper, relax deeper to limpidity.

At the jewelry counter, a crystal rectangle facing broadside the main
entrance and the bleached and sun-grilled street without, Miss Lola
Hassiebrock, salient among many and with Olympian certainty of self, lifted
two Junoesque arms like unto the handles of a vase, held them there in the
kind of rigidity that accompanies a yawn, and then let them flop.

"Oh-h-h-h, God bless my soul!" she said.

Miss Josie Beemis, narrowly constricted between shoulders that barely
sloped off from her neck, with arms folded flat to her flat bosom and her
back a hypothenuse against the counter, looked up.

"Watch out, Loo! I read in the paper where a man up in Alton got caught in
the middle of one of those gaps and couldn't ungap."

Miss Hassiebrock batted at her lips and shuddered.

"It's my nerves, dearie. All the doctors say that nine gaps out of ten are
nerves."

Miss Beemis hugged herself a bit flatter, looking out straight ahead into a
parasol sale across the aisle.

"Enough sleep ain't such a bad cure for gaps," she said.

"I'll catch up in time, dearie; my foot's been asleep all day."

"Huh!"--sniffling so that her thin nose quirked sidewise. "I will now
indulge in hollow laughter--"

"You can't, dearie," said Miss Hassiebrock, driven to vaudevillian
extremities, "you're cracked."

"Well, I may be cracked, but my good name ain't."

A stiffening of Miss Hassiebrock took place, as if mere verbiage had
suddenly flung a fang. From beneath the sternly and too starched white
shirtwaist and the unwilted linen cravat wound high about her throat and
sustained there with a rhinestone horseshoe, it was as if a wave of color
had started deep down, rushing up under milky flesh into her hair.

"Is that meant to be an in-sinuating remark, Josie?"

"'Tain't how it's meant; it's how it's took."

"There's some poor simps in this world, maybe right here in this store,
ought to be excused from what they say because they don't know any better."

"I know this much: To catch the North End street-car from here, I don't
have to walk every night down past the Stag Hotel to do it."

At that Miss Hassiebrock's ears, with the large pearl blobs in them,
tingled where they peeped out from the scallops of yellow hair, and she
swallowed with a forward movement as if her throat had constricted.

"I--take the street-car where I darn please, and it's nobody's darn
business."

"Sure it ain't! Only, if a poor working-girl don't want to make it
everybody's darn business, she can't run around with the fast rich boys of
this town and then get invited to help hem the altar-cloth."

"Anything I do in this town I'm not ashamed to do in broad daylight."

"Maybe; but just the samey, I notice the joy rides out to Claxton don't
take place in broad daylight. I notice that 'tall, striking blonde' and
Charley Cox's speed-party in the morning paper wasn't exactly what you'd
call a 'daylight' affair."

"No, it wasn't; it was--my affair."

"Say, if you think a girl like you can run with the black sheep of every
rich family in town and make a noise like a million dollars with the horsy
way she dresses, it ain't my grave you're digging."

"Maybe if some of the girls in this store didn't have time to nose so much,
they'd know why I can make them all look like they was caught out in the
rain and not pressed the next morning. While they're snooping in what
don't concern them I'm snipping. Snipping over my last year's
black-and-white-checked jacket into this year's cutaway. If you girls had
as much talent in your needle as you've got in your conversation, you might
find yourselves somewheres."

"Maybe what you call 'somewheres' is what lots of us would call
'nowheres.'"

Miss Hassiebrock drew herself up and, from the suzerainty of sheer height,
looked down upon Miss Beemis there, so brown and narrow beside the
friendship-bracelet rack.

"I'll have you know, Josie Beemis, that if every girl in this store watched
her step like me, there'd be a darn sight less trouble in the world."

"I know you don't go beyond the life-line, Loo, but, gee! you--you do swim
out some!"

"Little Loo knows her own depth, all righty."

"Not the way you're cuttin' up with Charley Cox."

Miss Hassiebrock lowered her flaming face to scrutinize a tray of
rhinestone bar pins.

"I'd like to see any girl in this store turn down a bid with Charley Cox. I
notice there are plenty of you go out to the Highland dances hoping to meet
even his imitation."

"The rich boys that hang around the Stag and out to the Highlands don't get
girls like us anywheres."

"I don't need them to get me anywhere. It's enough when a fellow takes
me out that he can tuck me up in a six-cylinder and make me forget my
stone-bruise. Give me a fellow that smells of gasolene instead of bay rum
every time. Trolley-car Johnnies don't mean nothing in my life."

"You let John Simeon out of this conversation!"

"You let Charley Cox out!"

"Maybe he don't smell like a cleaned white glove, but John means something
by me that's good."

"Well, since you're so darn smart, Josie Beemis, and since you got so much
of the English language to spare, I'm going to tell you something. Three
nights in succession, and I can prove it by the crowd, Charley Cox has
asked me to marry him. Begged me last night out at Claxton Inn, with Jess
Turner and all that bunch along, to let them roust out old man Gerber there
in Claxton and get married in poetry. Put that in your pipe and smoke it
awhile, Josie; it may soothe your nerve."

"Y-aw," said Miss Beemis.

The day dwindled. Died.


At West Street, where Broadway intersects, the red sun at its far end
settled redly and cleanly to sink like a huge coin into the horizon. The
Popular Store emptied itself into this hot pink glow, scurried for the open
street-car and, oftener than not, the overstuffed rear platform, nose to
nose, breath to breath.

Fortunately the Popular Store took its semi-annual inventory of yards and
not of souls. Such a stock-taking, that of the human hearts which beat from
half after eight to six behind six floors of counters, would have revealed
empty crannies, worn thin in places with the grind of routine. The
eight-thirty-to-six business of muslin underwear, crash toweling, and
skirt-binding. The great middle class of shoppers who come querulous with
bunions and babies. The strap-hanging homeward ride. Supper, but usually
within range of the range that boils it. The same smells of the same foods.
The, cinematograph or front-stoop hour before bed. Or, if Love comes,
and he will not be gainsaid, a bit of wooing at the fountain--the
soda-fountain. But even he, oftener than not, comes moist-handed, and in a
ready-tied tie. As if that matters, and yet somehow, it does. Leander wore
none, or had he, would have worn it flowing. Then bed, and the routine
of its unfolding and coaxing the pillow from beneath the iron clamp. An
alarm-clock crashing through the stuff of dreams. Coffee within reach of
the range. Another eight-thirty-to-six reality of muslin underwearing,
crash toweling, and skirt-binding.

But, not given to self-inventory, the Popular Store emptied itself
with that blessed elasticity of spirit which, unappalled, stretches to
to-morrows as they come.

At Ninth Street Miss Lola Hassiebrock loosed her arm where Miss Beemis
had linked into it. Wide-shouldered and flat-hipped, her checked suit so
pressed that the lapels lay entirely flat to the swell of her bosom, her
red sailor-hat well down over her brow, and the high, swathing cravat
rising to inclose her face like a wimple, she was Fashion's apotheosis in
tailor-made mood. When Miss Hassiebrock walked, her skirt, concealing yet
revealing an inch glimmer of gray-silk stocking above gray-suede spats,
allowed her ten inches of stride. She turned now, sidestepping within those
ten inches.

"See you to-morrow, Josie."

"Ain't you taking the car?"

"No, dearie," said Miss Hassiebrock, stepping down to cross the street;
"you take it, but not for keeps."

And so, walking southward on Ninth Street in a sartorial glory that was of
her own making-over from last season, even St. Louis, which at the stroke
of six rushes so for the breeze of its side yards, leaving darkness to
creep into down-town streets that are as deserted as canons, turned its
feminine head to bear in mind the box-plaited cutaway, the male eye
appraising its approval with bold, even quirking eye.

Through this, and like Diana, who, so aloof from desire, walked in the path
of her own splendor, strode Miss Hassiebrock, straight and forward of eye.
Past the Stag Hotel, in an aisle formed by lounging young bloods and a curb
lined with low, long-snouted motor-cars, the gaze beneath the red sailor
and above the high, horsy stock a bit too rigidly conserved.

Slightly by, the spoken word and the whistled innuendo followed her like
a trail of bubbles in the wake of a flying-fish. A youth still wearing a
fraternity pin pretended to lick his downy chops. The son of the president
of the Mound City Oil Company emitted a long, amorous whistle. Willie
Waxter--youngest scion, scalawag, and scorcher of one of the oldest
families--jammed down his motorgoggles from the visor of his cap, making
the feint of pursuing. Mr. Charley Cox, of half a hundred first-page
exploits, did pursue, catching up slightly breathless.

"What's your hurry, honey?"

She spun about, too startled.

"Charley Cox! Well, of all the nerve! Why didn't you scare me to death and
be done with it?"

"Did I scare you, sweetness? Cross my heart, I didn't mean to."

"Well, I should say you did!"

He linked his arm into hers.

"Come on; I'll buy you a drink."

She unlinked.

"Honest, can't a girl go home from work in this town without one of you
fellows getting fresh with her?"

"All right, then; I'll buy you a supper. The car is back there, and we'll
shoot out to the inn. What do you say? I feel like a house afire this
evening, kiddo. What does your speedometer register?"

"Charley, aren't you tired painting this old town yet? Ain't there just
nothing will bring you to your senses? Honest, this morning's papers are a
disgrace. You--you won't catch me along again."

He slid his arm, all for ingratiating, back into hers.

"Come now, honey; you know you like me for my speed."

She would not smile.

"Honest, Charley, you're the limit."

"But you like me just the same. Now don't you, Loo?"

She looked at him sidewise.

"You've been drinking, Charley."

He felt of his face.

"Not a drop, Loo. I need a shave, that's all."

"Look at your stud--loose."

He jammed a diamond whip curling back upon itself into his maroon scarf. He
was slightly heavy, so that his hands dimpled at the knuckle, and above
the soft collar, joined beneath the scarf with a goldbar pin, his chin
threatened but did not repeat itself.

"I got to go now, Charley; there's a North End car coming."

"Aw, now, sweetness, what's the idea? Didn't you walk down here to pick me
up?"

An immediate flush stung her face.

"Well, of all the darn conceit! Can't a girl walk down to the loop to catch
her car and stretch her legs after she's been cooped up all day, without a
few of you boys throwing a bouquet or two at yourselves?"

"I got to hand it you, Loo; when you walk down this street, you make every
girl in town look warmed over."

"Do you like it, Charley? It's that checked jacket I bought at Hamlin's
sale last year made over."

"Say, it's classy! You look like all the money in the world, honey."

"Huh, two yards of coat-lining, forty-four cents, and Ida Bell's last
year's office-hat reblocked, sixty-five."

"You're the show-piece of the town, all right. Come on; let's pick up a
crowd and muss-up Claxton Road a little."

"I meant what I said, Charley. After the cuttings-up of last night and the
night before I'm quits. Maybe Charley Cox can afford to get himself talked
about because he's Charley Cox, but a girl like me with a job to hold down,
and the way ma and Ida Bell were sitting up in their nightgowns, green
around the gills, when I got home last night--nix! I'm getting myself
talked about, if you want to know it, running with--your gang, Charley."

"I'd like to see anybody let out so much as a grunt about you in front of
me. A fellow can't do any more, honey, to show a girl where she stands with
him than ask her to marry him--now can he? If I'd have had my way last
night, I'd--"

"You was drunk when you asked me, Charley."

"You mean you got cold feet?"

"Thank God, I did!"

"I don't blame you, girl. You might do worse--but not much."

"That's what you'd need for your finishing-touch, a girl like me dragging
you down."

"You mean pulling me up."

"Yes, maybe, if you didn't have a cent."

"I'd have enough sense then to know better than to ask you, honey. You
'ain't got that fourteen-carat look in your eye for nothing. You're the
kind that's going to bring in a big fish, and I wish it to you."

"Lots you know."

"Come on; let me ride you around the block, then."

"If--if you like my company so much, can't you just take a walk with me or
come out and sit on our steps awhile?"

"Lord, girl, Flamm Avenue is hot enough to fry my soul to-night!"

"We can't all have fathers that live in thirty-room houses out in
Kingsmoreland Place."

"Thank God for that! I sneaked home this morning to change my clothes, and
thought maybe I'd got into somebody's mausoleum by mistake."

"Was--was your papa around, Charley?"

"In the library, shut up with old man Brookes."

"Did he--did he see the morning papers? You know what he said last time,
Charley, when the motor-cycle cop chased you down an embankment."

"Honey, if my old man was to carry out every threat he utters, I'd be
disinherited, murdered, hong-konged, shanghaied, and cremated every day in
the year."

"I got to go now, Charley."

"Not let a fellow even spin you home?"

"You know I want to, Charley, but--but it don't do you any good, boy, being
seen with me in that joy-wagon of yours. It--it don't do you any good,
Charley, ever--ever being seen with me."

"There's nothing or nobody in this town can hurt my reputation, honey, and
certainly not my ace-spot girl. Turn your mind over, and telephone down for
me to come out and pick you up about eight."

"Don't hit it up to-night, Charley. Can't you go home one evening?"

He juggled her arm.

"You're a nice little girl, all righty."

"There's my car."

He elevated her by the elbow to the step, swinging up half-way after her to
drop a coin into the box.

"Take care of this little lady there, conductor, and don't let your car
skid."

"Oh, Charley--silly!"

She forced her way into the jammed rear platform, the sharp brim of the red
sailor creating an area for her.

"S'long, Charley!"

"S'long, girl!"

Wedged there in the moist-faced crowd, she looked after him, at his broad
back receding. An inclination to cry pressed at her eyeballs.

Flamm Avenue, which is treeless and built up for its entire length with
two-story, flat-roofed buildings, stares, window for window, stoop for
stoop, at its opposite side, and, in summer, the strip of asphalt street,
unshaded and lying naked to the sun, gives off such an effluvium of heat
and hot tar that the windows are closed to it and night descends like a
gas-mask to the face.

Opening the door upon the Hassiebrock front room, convertible from bed- to
sitting-room by the mere erect-position-stand of the folding-bed, a wave
of this tarry heat came flowing out, gaseous, sickening. Miss Hassiebrock
entered with her face wry, made a diagonal cut of the room, side-stepping a
patent rocker and a table laid out with knickknacks on a lace mat, slammed
closed two windows, and, turning inward, lifted off her hat, which left a
brand across her forehead and had plastered down her hair in damp scallops.

"Whew!"

"Lo-o, that you?"

"Yes, ma."

"Come out to your supper. I'll warm up the kohlrabi."

Miss Hassiebrock strode through a pair of chromatic portieres, with them
swinging after her, and into an unlit kitchen, gray with dusk. A table
drawn out center and within range of the gas-range was a blotch in the
gloom, three figures surrounding it with arms that moved vaguely among a
litter of dishes.

"I wish to Heaven somebody in this joint would remember to keep those front
windows shut!"

Miss Ida Bell Hassiebrock, at the right of the table, turned her head so
that, against the window, her profile, somewhat thin, cut into the gloom.

"There's a lot of things I wish around here," she said, without a ripple to
her lips.

"Hello, ma!"

"I'll warm up the kohlrabi, Loo."

Mrs. Hassiebrock, in the green black of a cotton umbrella and as sparse of
frame, moved around to the gas-range, scraping a match and dragging a pot
over the blue flame.

"Never mind, ma; I ain't hungry."

At the left of the table Genevieve Hassiebrock, with thirteen's crab-like
silhouette of elbow, rigid plaits, and nose still hitched to the star of
her nativity, wound an exceedingly long arm about Miss Hassiebrock's trim
waist-line.

"I got B in de-portment to-day, Loo. You owe me the wear of your spats
Sunday."

Miss Hassiebrock squeezed the hand at her waist.

"All right, honey. Cut Loo a piece of bread."

"Gussie Flint's mother scalded her leg with the wash-boiler."

"Did she? Aw!"

Mrs. Hassiebrock came then, limping around, tilting the contents of the
steaming pot to a plate.

"Sit down, ma; don't bother."

Miss Hassiebrock drew up, pinning a fringed napkin that stuck slightly in
the unfolding across her shining expanse of shirtwaist. Broke a piece of
bread. Dipped.

Silence.

"Paula Krausnick only got C in de-portment. When the monitor passed the
basin, she dipped her sponge soppin'-wet."

"Anything new, ma?"

Mrs. Hassiebrock, now at the sink, swabbed a dish with gray water.

"My feet's killin' me," she said.

Miss Ida Bell, who wore her hair in a coronet wound twice round her small
head, crossed her knife and fork on her plate, folded her napkin, and tied
it with a bit of blue ribbon.

"I think it's a shame, ma, the way you keep thumping around in your
stocking feet like this was backwoods."

"I can't get my feet in shoes--the joints--"

"You thump around as much as you darn please, ma. If Ida Bell don't like
the looks of you, let her go home with some of her swell stenog friends.
You let your feet hurt you any old way you want 'em to. I'm going to buy
you some arnica. Pass the kohlrabi."

"Well, my swell 'stenog friends,' as you call them, keep themselves
self-respecting girls without getting themselves talked about, and that's
more than I can say of my sister. If ma had the right kind of gumption with
you, she'd put a stop to it, all right."

Mrs. Hassiebrock leaned her tired head sidewise into the moist palm of her
hand.

"She's beyond me and the days when a slipper could make her mind. I wisht
to God there was a father to rule youse!"

"I tell you, ma--mark my word for it--if old man Brookes ever finds out I'm
sister to any of the crowd that runs with Charley Cox and Willie Waxter and
those boys whose fathers he's lawyer for, it'll queer me for life in
that office--that's what it will. A girl that's been made confidential
stenographer after only one year in an office to have to be afraid, like I
am, to pick up the morning's paper."

"Paula Krausnick's lunch was wrapped in the paper where Charley Cox got
pinched for speedin'--speedin'--speedin'--"

"Shut up, Genevieve! Just don't you let my business interfere with
yours, Ida Bell. Brookes don't know you're on earth outside of your
dictation-book. Take it from me, I bet he wouldn't know you if he met you
on the street."

"That's about all you know about it! If you found yourself confidential
stenographer to the biggest lawyer in town, he'd know you, all right--by
your loud dressing. A blind man could see you coming."

"Ma, are you going to stand there and let her talk to me thataway? I notice
she's willing to borrow my loud shirtwaists and my loud gloves and my loud
collars."

"If ma had more gumption with you, maybe things would be different."

Mrs. Hassiebrock limped to the door, dangling a pail.

"I 'ain't got no more strength against her. My ears won't hold no more. I'm
taking this hot oil down to Mrs. Flint's scalds. She's, beyond my control,
and the days when a slipper could make her mind. I wisht to God there was a
father! I wisht to God!"

Her voice trailed off and down a rear flight of stairs.

"Yes _sir_," resumed Miss Hassiebrock, her voice twanging in her effort at
suppression, "I notice you're pretty willing to borrow some of my loud
dressing when you get a bid once in a blue moon to take a boat-ride up to
Alton with that sad-faced Roy Brownell. If Charley didn't have a cent to
his name and a harelip, he'd make Roy Brownell look like thirty cents."

"If Roy Brownell was Charley Cox, I'd hate to leave him laying around loose
where you could get your hands on him."

"Genevieve, you run out and play."

"If--if you keep running around till all hours of the night, with me and ma
waiting up for you, kicking up rows and getting your name insinuated in the
newspapers as 'the tall, handsome blonde,' I--I'm going to throw up my job,
I am, and you can pay double your share for the running of this flat. Next
thing we know, with that crowd that don't mean any good to you, this family
is going to find itself with a girl in trouble on its hands."

"You--"

"And if you want to know it, and if I wasn't somebody's confidential
stenographer, I could tell you that you're on the wrong scent. Boys like
Charley Cox don't mean good by your kind of a girl. If you're not speedy,
you look it, and that's almost the same as inviting those kind of boys
to--"

Miss Lola Hassiebrock sprang up then, her hand coming down in a small crash
to the table.

"You cut out that talk in front of that child!"

Thus drawn into the picture, Genevieve, at thirteen, crinkled her face for
not uncalculating tears.

"In this house it's fuss and fuss and fuss. Other children can go to the
'movies' after supper, only me-e-e--"

"Here, honey; Loo's got a dime for you."

"Sending that child out along your own loose ways, instead of seeing to it
she stays home to help ma do the dishes!"

"I'll do the dishes for ma."

"It's bad enough for one to have the name of being gay without starting
that child running around nights with--"

"Ida Bell!"

"You dry up, Ida Bell! I'll do what I pl--ease with my di--uhm--di--uhm."

"If you say another word about such stuff in front of that child, I'll--"

"Well, if you don't want her to hear what she sees with her eyes all around
her, come into the bedroom, then, and I can tell you something that'll
bring you to your senses."

"What you can tell me I don't want to hear."

"You're afraid."

"I am, am I?"

"Yes."

With a wrench of her entire body, Miss Lola Hassiebrock was across the room
at three capacity strides, swung open a door there, and stood, head flung
up and pressing back tears, her lips turned inward.

"All right, then--tell--"

After them, the immediately locked door resisting, Genevieve fell to
batting the panels.

"Let me in! Let me in! You're fussin' about your beaux. Ray Brownell has a
long face, and Charley Cox has a red face--red face--red face! Let me in!
In!"

After a while the ten-cent piece rolled from her clenched and knocking
fist, scuttling and settling beneath the sink. She rescued it and went out,
lickety-clapping down the flight of rear stairs.

Silence descended over that kitchen, and a sooty dusk that almost
obliterated the table, drawn out and cluttered after the manner of those
who dine frowsily; the cold stove, its pots cloying, and a sink piled high
with a task whose only ending is from meal to meal.

Finally that door swung open again; the wide-shouldered, slim-hipped
silhouette of Miss Hassiebrock moved swiftly and surely through the kind
of early darkness, finding out for itself a wall telephone hung in a small
patch of hallway separating kitchen and front room. Her voice came tight,
as if it were a tense coil in her throat that she held back from bursting
into hysteria.

"Give me Olive, two-one-o." The toe of her boot beat a quick tattoo.
"Stag?... Say, get me Charley Cox. He's out in front or down in the grill
or somewhere around. Page him quick! Important!" She grasped the nozzle of
the instrument as she waited, breathing into it with her head thrown back.
"Hello--Charley? That you? It's me. Loo ... _Loo_! Are you deaf, honey?
What you doing?... Oh, I got the blues, boy; honest I have. Blue as a
cat.... I don't know--just the indigoes. Nothing much. Ain't lit up, are
you, honey?... Sure I will. Don't bring a crowd. Just you and me. I'll walk
down to Gessler's drug-store and you can pick me up there.... Quit your
kidding.... Ten minutes. Yeh. Good-by."

       *       *       *       *       *

Claxton Inn, slightly outside the city limits and certain of its decorums,
stands back in a grove off a macadamized highway that is so pliant to tire
that of summer nights, with tops thrown back and stars sown like lavish
grain over a close sky and to a rushing breeze that presses the ears like
an eager whisper, motor-cars, wild to catch up with the horizon, tear out
that road--a lightning-streak of them--fearing neither penal law nor Dead
Man's Curve.

Slacking only to be slacked, cars dart off the road and up a gravel
driveway that encircles Claxton Inn like a lariat swung, then park
themselves among the trees, lights dimmed. Placid as a manse without, what
was once a private and now a public house maintains through lowered
lids its discreet white-frame exterior, shades drawn, and only slightly
revealing the parting of lace curtains. It is rearward where what was
formerly a dining-room that a huge, screened-in veranda, very whitely
lighted, juts suddenly out, and a showy hallway, bordered in potted palms,
leads off that. Here Discretion dares lift her lids to rove the gravel
drive for who comes there.

In a car shaped like a motor-boat and as low to the ground Mr. Charley Cox
turned in and with a great throttling and choking of engine drew up among
the dim-eyed monsters of the grove and directly alongside an eight-cylinder
roadster with a snout like a greyhound.

"Aw, Charley, I thought you promised you wasn't going to stop!"

"Honey, sweetness, I just never was so dry."

Miss Hassiebrock laid out a hand along his arm, sitting there in the quiet
car, the trees closing over them.

"There's Yiddles Farm a little farther out, Charley; let's stop there for
some spring water."

He was peeling out of his gauntlets, and cramming them into spacious side
pockets.

"Water, honey, can wash me, but it can't quench me."

"No high jinks to-night, though, Charley?"

"Sure--no."

They high-stepped through the gloom, and finally, with firmer step, up the
gravel walk and into the white-lighted, screened-in porch.

Three waiters ran toward their entrance. A woman with a bare V of back
facing them, and three plumes that dipped to her shoulders, turned square
in her chair.

"Hi, Charley. Hi, Loo!"

"H'lo, Jess!"

They walked, thus guided by two waiters, through a light _confetti_ of
tossed greetings, sat finally at a table half concealed by an artificial
palm.

"You don't feel like sitting with Jess and the crowd, Loo?"

"Charley, hasn't that gang got you into enough mix-ups?"

"All right, honey; anything your little heart desires."

She leaned on her elbows across the table from him, smiling and twirling a
great ring of black onyx round her small finger.

"Love me?"

"Br-r-r--to death!"

"Sure?"

"Sure. What'll you have, hon?"

"I don't care."

"Got any my special Gold Top on ice for me, George? Good. Shoot me a bottle
and a special layout of _hors-d'oeuvre_. How's that, sweetness?"

"Yep."

"Poor little girl," he said, patting the black onyx, "with the bad old
blues! I know what they are, honey; sometimes I get crazy with 'em myself."

Her lips trembled.

"It's you makes me blue, Charley."

"Now, now; just don't worry that big, nifty head of yours about me."

"The--the morning papers and all. I--I just hate to see you going so to--to
the dogs, Charley--a--fellow like you--with brains."

"I'm a bad egg, girl, and what you going to do about it? I was raised like
one, and I'll die like one."

"You ain't a bad egg. You just never had a chance. You been killed with
coin."

"Killed with coin! Why, Loo, do you know, I haven't had to ask my old man
for a cent since my poor old granny died five years ago and left me a world
of money? While he's been piling it up like the Rocky Mountains I've been
getting down to rock-bottom. What would you say, sweetness, if I told you I
was down to my last few thousands? Time to touch my old man, eh?"

He drank off his first glass with a quaff, laughing and waving it empty
before her face to give off its perfume.

"My old man is going to wake up in a minute and find me on his
checking-account again. Charley boy better be making connections with
headquarters or he won't find himself such a hit with the niftiest doll in
town, eh?"

"Charley, you--you haven't run through those thousands and thousands and
thousands the papers said you got from your granny that time?"

"It was slippery, hon; somebody buttered it."

"Charley, Charley, ain't there just no limit to your wildness?"

"You're right, girl; I've been killed with coin. My old man's been too busy
all these years sitting out there in that marble tomb in Kingsmoreland
biting the rims off pennies to hold me back from the devil. Honey, that old
man, even if he is my father, didn't know no more how to raise a boy like
me than that there salt-cellar. Every time I got in a scrape he bought me
out of it, filled up the house with rough talk, and let it go at that. It's
only this last year, since he's short on health, that he's kicking up the
way he should have before it got too late. My old man never used to talk it
out with me, honey. He used to lash it out. I got a twelve-year-old welt on
my back now, high as your finger. Maybe it'll surprise you, girl, but now,
since he can't welt me up any more, me and him don't exchange ten words a
month."

"Did--did he hear about last night, Charley? You know what came out in
the paper about making a new will if--if you ever got pulled in again for
rough-housing?"

"Don't you worry that nifty head of yours about my old man ever making a
new will. He's been pulling that ever since they fired me from the academy
for lighting a cigarette with a twenty-dollar bill."

"Charley!"

"Next to taking it with him, he'll leave it to me before he'll see a penny
go out of the family. I've seen his will, hon."

"Charley, you--you got so much good in you. The way you sent that wooden
leg out to poor old lady Guthrie. The way you made Jimmy Ball go home, and
the blind-school boys and all. Why can't you get yourself on the right
track where you belong, Charley? Why don't you clear--out--West where it's
clean?"

"I used to have that idea, Loo. West, where a fellow's got to stand on his
own. Why, if I'd have met a girl like you ten years ago, I'd have made you
the baby doll of the Pacific Coast. I like you, Loo. I like your style and
the way you look like a million dollars. When a fellow walks into a cafe
with you he feels like he's wearing the Hope diamond. Maybe the society in
this town has given me the cold shoulder, but I'd like to see any of the
safety-first boys walk in with one that's got you beat. That's what I think
of you, girl."

"Aw, now, you're lighting up. Charley. That's four glasses you've taken."

"Thought I was kidding you last night--didn't you--about wedding-bells?"

"You were lit up."

"I know. You're going to watch your step, little girl, and I don't know as
I blame you. You can get plenty of boys my carat, and a lot of other things
thrown in I haven't got to offer you."

"As if I wouldn't like you, Charley, if you were dead broke!"

"Of course you would! There, there, girl, I don't blame any of you for
feathering your nest." He was flushed now and above the soft collar, his
face had relaxed into a not easily controllable smile. "Feather your nest,
girl; you got the looks to do it. It's a far cry from Flamm Avenue to where
a classy girl like you can land herself if she steers right. And I wish it
to you, girl; the best isn't good enough."

"I--I dare you to ask me again, Charley!"

"Ask what?"

"You know. Throw your head up the way you do when you mean what you say
and--ask."

He was wagging his head now insistently, but pinioning his gaze with the
slightly glassy stare of those who think none too clearly.

"Honest, I don't know, beauty. What's the idea?"

"Didn't you say yourself--Gerber, out here in Claxton that--magistrate that
marries you in verse--"

"By gad, I did!"

"Well--I--I--dare you to ask me again, Charley."

He leaned forward.

"You game, girl?"

"Sure."

"No kidding?"

"Try me."

"I'm serious, girl."

"So'm I."

"There's Jess over there can get us a special license from his
brother-in-law. Married in verse in Claxton sounds good to me, honey."

"But not--the crowd, Charley; just you--and--"

"How're we going to get the license, honey, this time of night without
Jess? Let's make it a million-dollar wedding. We're not ashamed of nobody
or nothing."

"Of course not, Charley."

"Now, you're sure, honey? You're drawing a fellow that went to the dogs
before he cut his canines."

"You're not all to the canines yet, Charley."

"I may be a black sheep, honey, but, thank God, I got my golden fleece to
offer you!"

"You're not--black."

"You should worry, girl! I'm going to make you the million-dollar baby doll
of this town, I am. If they turn their backs, we'll dazzle 'em from behind.
I'm going to buy you every gewgaw this side of the Mississippi. I'm going
to show them a baby doll that can make the high-society bunch in this town
look like Subway sports. Are you game, girl? Now! Think well! Here goes.
Jess!"

"Charley--I--You--"

"Jess--over here! Quick!"

"Charley--honey--"

       *       *       *       *       *

At eleven o'clock a small, watery moon cut through a sky that was fleecily
clouded--a swift moon that rode fast as a ship. It rode over but did
not light Squire Gerber's one-and-a-half-storied, weathered-gray, and
set-slightly-in-a-hollow house on Claxton countryside.

Three motor-cars, their engines chugging out into wide areas of stillness,
stood processional at the curb. A red hall light showed against the
door-pane and two lower-story windows were widely illuminated.

Within that room of chromos and the cold horsehair smell of unaired years,
silence, except for the singing of three gas-jets, had momentarily fallen,
a dozen or so flushed faces, grotesquely sobered, staring through the
gaseous fog, the fluttering lids of a magistrate whose lips habitually
fluttered, just lifting from his book.

A hysterical catch of breath from Miss Vera de Long broke the ear-splitting
silence. She reached out, the three plumes dipping down the bare V of her
back, for the limp hand of the bride.

"Gawd bless you, dearie; it's a big night's work!"

       *       *       *       *       *

In the tallest part of St. Louis, its busiest thoroughfares inclosing it
in a rectangle, the Hotel Sherman, where traveling salesmen with real
alligator bags and third-finger diamonds habitually shake their first
Pullman dust, rears eighteen stories up through and above an aeriality of
soft-coal smoke, which fits over the rim of the city like a skull-cap.

In the Louis Quinze, gilt-bedded, gilt-framed, gilt-edged bridal-suite _de
luxe_ on the seventeenth floor, Mrs. Charley Cox sat rigid enough and in
shirt-waisted incongruity on the lower curl of a gilt divan that squirmed
to represent the letter S.

"Charley--are you--sorry?"

He wriggled out of his dust-coat, tossing it on the gilt-canopied bed and
crossed to her, lifting off her red sailor.

"Now that's a fine question for a ten-hours' wifey to ask her hubby, ain't
it? Am I sorry, she asks me before the wedding crowd has turned the corner.
Lord, honey, I never expected anything like you to happen to me!"

She stroked his coat-sleeve, mouthing back tears.

"Now everybody'll say--you're a goner--for sure--marrying a--Popular Store
girl."

"If anybody got the worst of this bargain, it's my girl."

"My own boy," she said, still battling with tears.

"You drew a black sheep, honey, but I say again and again, 'Thank God, you
drew one with golden fleece!'"

"That--that's the trouble, Charley--there's just no way to make a boy with
money know you married him for any other reason."

"I'm not blaming you, honey. Lord! what have I got besides money to talk
for me?"

"Lots. Why--like Jess says, Charley, when you get to squaring your lips and
jerking up your head, there's nothing in the world you can't do that you
set out to do."

"Well, I'm going to set out to make the stiff-necks of this town turn
to look at my girl, all right. I'm going to buy you a chain of diamonds
that'll dazzle their eyes out; I'm--"

"Charley, Charley, that's not what I want, boy. Now that I've got you,
there ain't a chain of diamonds on earth I'd turn my wrist for."

"Yes, there is, girl; there's a string of pear-shaped ones in--"

"I want you to buck up, honey; that's the finest present you can give me. I
want you to buck up like you didn't have a cent to your name. I want you
to throw up your head the way you do when you mean business, and show that
Charley Cox, without a cent to his name, would be--"

"Would be what, honey?"

"A winner. You got brains, Charley--if only you'd have gone through school
and shown them. If you'd only have taken education, Charley, and not got
fired out of all the academies, my boy would beat 'em all. Lord! boy,
there's not a day passes over my head I don't wish for education. That's
why I'm so crazy my little sister Genevieve should get it. I'd have took to
education like a fish to water if I'd have had the chance, and there you
were, Charley, with every private school in town and passed 'em up."

"I know, girl, just looks like every steer I gave myself was the wrong
steer till it was too late to get in right again. Bad egg, I tell you,
honey."

"Too late! Why, Charley--and you not even thirty-one yet? With your brains
and all--too late! You make me laugh. If only you will--why, I'm game to go
out West, Charley, on a ranch, where you can find your feet and learn to
stand on them. You got stuff in you, you have. Jess Turner says you was
always first in school, and when you set your jaw there wasn't nothing you
couldn't get on top of. If you'd have had a mother and--and a father that
wasn't the meanest old man in town, dear, and had known how to raise a
hot-headed boy like you, you'd be famous now instead of notorious--that's
what you'd be."

He patted her yellow hair, tilting her head back against his arm, pinching
her cheeks together and kissing her puckered mouth.

"Dream on, honey. I like you crazy, too."

"But, honey, I--"

"You married this millionaire kid, and, bless your heart, he's going to
make good by showing you the color of his coin!"

"Charley!"

She sprang back from the curve of his embrace, unshed tears immediately
distilled.

"Why, honey--I didn't mean it that way! I didn't mean to hurt your
feelings. What I meant was--'sh-h-h-h, Loo--all I meant was, it's coming to
you. Where'd the fun be if I couldn't make this town point up its ears at
my girl? Nobody knows any better than your hubby what his Loo was cut out
for. She was cut out for queening it, and I'm going to see that she gets
what's her due. Wouldn't be surprised if the papers have us already. Let's
see what we'll give them with their coffee this morning."

He unfolded his fresh sheet, shaking it open with one hand and still
holding her in the cove of his arm.

"Guess we missed the first edition, but they'll get us sure."

She peered at the sheet over his shoulder, her cheek against his and still
sobbing a bit in her throat. The jerking of her breath stopped then; in
fact, it was as if both their breathing had let down with the oneness of a
clock stopped.

It was she who moved first, falling back from him, her mouth dropping open
slightly.

He let the paper fall between his wide-spread knees, the blood flowing down
from his face and seeming to leave him leaner.

"Charley--Charley--darling!"

"My--poor old man!" he said in a voice that might have been his echo in a
cave.

"He--his heart must have give out on him, Charley, while he slept in the
night."

"My--poor--old--man!"

She stretched out her hand timidly to his shoulder.

"Charley--boy--my poor boy!"

He reached up to cover her timid touch, still staring ahead, as if a mental
apathy had clutched him.

"He died like--he--lived. Gad--it's--tough!"

"It--it wasn't your fault, darling. God forgive me for speaking against the
dead, but--everybody knows he was a hard man, Charley--the way he used to
beat you up instead of showing you the right way. Poor old man, I guess he
didn't know--"

"My old man--dead!"

She crept closer, encircling his neck, and her wet cheek close to his dry
one.

"He's at peace now, darling--and all your sins are forgiven--like you
forgive--his."

His lips were twisting.

"There was no love lost there, girl. God knows there wasn't. There was once
nine months we didn't speak. Never could have been less between a father
and son. You see he--he hated me from the start, because my mother died
hating him--but--_dead_--that's another matter. Ain't it, girl--ain't it?"

She held her cheek to his so that her tears veered out of their course,
zigzagging down to his waistcoat, stroked his hair, placing her rich, moist
lips to his eyelids.

"My darling! My darling boy! My own poor darling!"

Sobs rumbled up through him, the terrific sobs that men weep.

"You--married a rotter, Loo--that couldn't even live decent with his--old
man. He--died like a dog--alone."

"'Sh-h-h, Charley! Just because he's dead don't mean he was any better
while he lived."

"I'll make it up to you, girl, for the rotter I am. I'm a rich man now,
Loo."

"'Sh-h-h!"

"I'll show you, girl. I can make somebody's life worth living. I'm going to
do something for somebody to prove I'm worth the room I occupy, and that
somebody's going to be you, Loo. I'm going to build you a house that'll go
down in the history of this town. I'm going to wind you around with pearls
to match that skin of yours. I'm going to put the kind of clothes on you
that you read of queens wearing. I've seen enough of the kind of meanness
money can breed. I'm going to make those Romans back there look like
pikers. I'm--"

She reached out, placing her hand pat across his mouth, and, in the languid
air of the room, shuddering so that her lips trembled.

"Charley--for God's sake--it--it's a sin to talk that way!"

"O God, I know it, girl! I'm all muddled--muddled."

He let his forehead drop against her arm, and in the long silence that
ensued she sat there, her hand on his hair.

The roar of traffic, seventeen stories below, came up through the open
windows like the sound of high seas, and from where she sat, staring out
between the pink-brocade curtains, it was as if the close July sky dipped
down to meet that sea, and space swam around them.

"O God!" he said, finally. "What does it all mean--this living and dying--"

"Right living, Charley, makes dying take care of itself."

"God! how he must have died, then! Like a dog--alone."

"'Sh-h-h, Charley; don't get to thinking."

Without raising his head, he reached up to stroke her arm.

"Honey, you're shivering."

"No-o."

"Everything's all right, girl. What's the use me trying to sham it's not.
I--I'm bowled over for the minute, that's all. If it had to come, after
all, it--it came right for my girl. With that poor old man out there,
honey, living alone like a dog all these years, it's just like putting him
from one marble mausoleum out there on Kingsmoreland Place into one where
maybe he'll rest easier. He's better off, Loo, and--we--are too. Hand me
the paper, honey; I--want to see--just how my--poor old man--breathed out."

Then Mrs. Cox rose, her face distorted with holding back tears, her small
high heels digging into and breaking the newspaper at his feet.

"Charley--Charley--"

"Why, girl, what?"

"You don't know it, but my sister, Charley--Ida Bell!"

"Why, Loo, I sent off the message to your mama. They know it by now."

"Charley--Charley--"

"Why, honey, you're full of nerves! You mustn't go to pieces like this.
Your sister's all right. I sent them a--"

"You--you don't know, Charley. My sister--I swore her an oath on my
mother's prayer-book. I wouldn't tell, but, now that he's dead, that--lets
me out. The will--Charley, he made it yesterday, like he always swore he
would the next time you got your name on the front page."

"Made what, honey? Who?"

"Charley, can't you understand? My sister Ida Bell and Brookes--your
father's lawyer. She's his private stenographer--Brookes's, honey. You know
that. But she told me last night, honey, when I went home. You're cut off,
Charley! Your old man sent for Brookes yesterday at noon. I swear to God,
Charley! My sister Ida Bell she broke her confidence to tell me. He's give
a million alone to the new college hospital. Half a million apiece to
four or five old people's homes. He's give his house to the city with the
art-gallery. He's even looked up relations to give to. He kept his word,
honey, that all those years he kept threatening. He--he kept it the day
before he died. He must have had a hunch--your poor old man. Charley
darling, don't look like that! If your wife ain't the one to break it to
you you're broke, who is? You're not 'Million Dollar Charley' no more,
honey. You're just my own Charley, with his chance come to him--you hear,
_my_ Charley, with the best thing that ever happened to him in his life
happening right now."

He regarded her as if trying to peer through something opaque, his hands
spread rather stupidly on his wide knees.

"Huh?"

"Charley, Charley, can't you understand? A dollar, that puts him within the
law, is all he left you."

"He never did. He never did. He wouldn't. He couldn't. He never did. I
saw--his will. I'm the only survivor. I saw his will."

"Charley, I swear to God! I swear as I'm standing here you're cut off.
My sister copied the new will on her typewriter three times and seen the
sealed and stamped one. He kept his word. He wrote it with his faculties
and witnesses. We're broke, Charley--thank God, we're flat broke!"

"He did it? He did it? My old man did it?"

"As sure as I'm standing here, Charley."

He fell to blinking rapidly, his face puckering to comprehend.

"I never thought it could happen. But I--I guess it could happen. I think
you got me doped, honey."

"Charley, Charley!" she cried, falling down on her knees beside him,
holding his face in the tight vise of her hands and reading with such
closeness into his eyes that they seemed to merge into one. "Haven't you
got your Loo? Haven't you got her?"

He sprang up at that, jerking her backward, and all the purple-red gushed
up into his face again.

"Yes, by God, I've got you! I'll break the will. I'll--"

"Charley, no--no! He'd rise out of his grave at you. It's never been known
where a will was broke where they didn't rise out of the grave to haunt."

He took her squarely by the shoulders, the tears running in furrows down
his face.

"I'll get you out of this, Loo. No girl in God's world will have to find
herself tied up to me without I can show her a million dollars every time
she remembers that she's married to a rotter. I'll get you out of this,
girl, so you won't even show a scratch. I'll--"

"Charley," she said, lifting herself by his coat lapels, and her eyes again
so closely level with his, "you're crazy with the heat--stark, raving
crazy! You got your chance, boy, to show what you're made of--can't you see
that? We're going West, where men get swept out with clean air and clean
living. We'll break ground in this here life for the kind of pay-dirt
that'll make a man of you. You hear? A man of you!"

He lifted her arms, and because they were pressing insistently down,
squirmed out from beneath them.

"You're a good sport, girl; nobody can take that from you. But just the
same, I'm going to let you off without a scratch."

"'Good sport'! I'd like to know, anyways, where I come in with all your
solid-gold talk. Me that's stood behind somebody-or-other's counter ever
since I had my working-papers."

"I'll get you out of--"

"Have I ever lived anywheres except in a dirty little North St. Louis flat
with us three girls in a bed? Haven't I got my name all over town for
speed, just because I've always had to rustle out and try to learn how
to flatten out a dime to the size of a dollar? Where do I come in on the
solid-gold talk, I'd like to know. I'm the penny-splitter of the world, the
girl that made the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store millinery department famous. I
can look tailor-made on a five-dollar bill and a tissue-paper pattern. Why,
honey, with me scheming for you, starting out on your own is going to make
a man of you. You got stuff in you. I knew it, Charley, the first night
you spied me at the Highlands dance. Somewhere out West Charley Cox is now
going to begin to show 'em the stuff in Charley Cox--that's what Charley
Cox & Co. are going to do!"

He shook his head, turning away his eyes to hide their tears.

"You been stung, Loo. Nothing on earth can change that."

She turned his face back to her, smiling through her own tears.

"You're not adding up good this morning, Mr. Cox. When do you think I
called you up last night? When could it have been if not after my sister
broke her confidence to tell me? Why do you think all of a sudden last
night I seen your bluff through about Gerber? It was because I knew I had
you where you needed me, Charley--I never would have dragged you down the
other way in a million years, but when I knew I had you where you needed
me--why, from that minute, honey, you didn't have a chance to dodge me!"

She wound her arms round him, trembling between the suppressed hysteria of
tears and laughter.

"Not a chance, Charley!"

He jerked her so that her face fell back from him, foreshortened.

"Loo--oh, girl! Oh, girl!"

Her throat was tight and would not give her voice for coherence.

"Charley--we--we'll show 'em--you--me!"

Looking out above her head at the vapory sky showing through the parting of
the pink-brocade curtains, rigidity raced over Mr. Cox, stiffening his hold
of her.

The lean look had come out in his face; the flanges of his nose quivered;
his head went up.




VI

NIGHTSHADE


Over the silent places of the world flies the vulture of madness, pausing
to wheel above isolated farm-houses, where a wife, already dizzy with the
pressure of rarefied silence, looks up, magnetized. Then across the flat
stretches, his shadow under him moving across moor and the sand of desert,
slowing at the perpetually eastern edge of a mirage, brushing his actual
wings against the brick of city walls; the garret of a dreamer, brain-sick
with reality. Flopping, until she comes to gaze, outside the window of one
so alone in a crowd that her four hall-bedroom walls are closing in upon
her. Lowering over a childless house on the edge of a village.

Were times when Mrs. Hanna Burkhardt, who lived on the edge of a village
in one such childless house, could in her fancy hear the flutter of wings,
too. There had once been a visit to a doctor in High Street because of
those head-noises and the sudden terror of not being able to swallow. He
had stethoscoped and prescribed her change of scene. Had followed two weeks
with cousins fifty miles away near Lida, Ohio, and a day's stop-over in
Cincinnati allowed by her railroad ticket. But six months after, in the
circle of glow from a tablelamp that left the corners of the room in a
chiaroscuro kind of gloom, there were again noises of wings rustling and
of water lapping and the old stricture of the throat. Across the table, a
Paisley cover between them, Mr. John Burkhardt, his short spade of beard
already down over his shirt-front, arm hanging lax over his chair-side and
newspaper fallen, sat forward in a hunched attitude of sleep, whistling
noises coming occasionally through his breathing. A china clock, the
centerpiece of the mantel, ticked spang into the silence, enhancing it.

Hands in lap, head back against the mat of her chair, Mrs. Burkhardt looked
straight ahead of her into this silence--at a closed door hung with a
newspaper rack, at a black-walnut horsehair divan, a great sea-shell on
the carpet beside it. A nickelplated warrior gleamed from the top of a
baseburner that showed pink through its mica doors. He stood out against
the chocolate-ocher wallpaper and a framed Declaration of Independence,
hanging left. A coal fell. Mr. Burkhardt sat up, shook himself of sleep.

"Little chilly," he said, and in carpet slippers and unbuttoned waistcoat
moved over to the base-burner, his feet, to avoid sloughing, not leaving
the floor. He was slightly stooped, the sateen back to his waistcoat hiking
to the curve of him. But he swung up the scuttle with a swoop, rattling
coal freely down into the red-jowled orifice.

"Ugh, don't!" she said. "I'm burnin' up."

He jerked back the scuttle, returning to his chair, and, picking up the
fallen newspaper, drew down his spectacles from off his brow and fell
immediately back into close, puckered scrutiny of the printed page.

"What time is it, Burkhardt? That old thing on the mantel's crazy."

He drew out a great silver watch.

"Seven-forty."

"O God!" she said. "I thought it was about ten."

The clock ticked in roundly again except when he rustled his paper in the
turning. The fire was crackling now, too, in sharp explosions. Beyond
the arc of lamp the room was deeper than ever in shadow. Finally John
Burkhardt's head relaxed again to his shirt-front, the paper falling gently
away to the floor. She regarded his lips puffing out as he breathed. Hands
clasped, arms full length on the table, it was as if the flood of words
pressing against the walls of her, to be shrieked rather than spoken, was
flowing over to him. He jerked erect again, regarding her through blinks.

"Must 'a' dozed off," he said, reaching down for his newspaper.

She was winding her fingers now in and out among themselves.

"Burkhardt?"

"Eh?"

"What--does a person do that's smotherin'?"

"Eh?"

"I know. That's what I'm doing. Smotherin'!"

"A touch of the old trouble, Hanna?"

She sat erect, with her rather large white hands at the heavy base to her
long throat. They rose and fell to her breathing. Like Heine, who said so
potently, "I am a tragedy," so she, too, in the sulky light of her eyes
and the pulled lips and the ripple of shivers over her, proclaimed it of
herself.

"Seven-forty! God! what'll I do, Burkhardt? What'll I do?"

"Go lay down on the sofa a bit, Hanna. I'll cover you with a plaid. It's
the head-noises again bothering you."

"Seven-forty! What'll I do? Seven-forty and nothing left but bed."

"I must 'a' dozed off, Hanna."

"Yes; you must 'a' dozed off," she laughed, her voice eaten into with the
acid of her own scorn. "Yes; you must 'a' dozed off. The same way as you
dozed off last night and last month and last year and the last eight years.
The best years of my life--that's what you've dozed off, John Burkhardt.
He 'must 'a' dozed off,'" she repeated, her lips quivering and lifting to
reveal the white line of her large teeth. "Yes; I think you must 'a' dozed
off!"

He was reading again in stolid profile.

She fell to tapping the broad toe of her shoe, her light, dilated eyes
staring above his head. She was spare, and yet withal a roundness left
to the cheek and forearm. Long-waisted and with a certain swing where it
flowed down into straight hips, there was a bony, Olympian kind of bigness
about her. Beneath the washed-out blue shirtwaist dress her chest was high,
as if vocal. She was not without youth. Her head went up like a stag's to
the passing of a band in the street, or a glance thrown after her, or the
contemplation of her own freshly washed yellow hair in the sunlight. She
wore a seven glove, but her nails had great depth and pinkness, and each a
clear half-moon. They were dug down now into her palms.

"For God's sake, talk! Say something, or I'll go mad!"

He laid his paper across his knee, pushing up his glasses.

"Sing a little something, Hanna. You're right restless this evening."

"'Restless'!" she said, her face wry. "If I got to sit and listen to that
white-faced clock ticking for many more evenings of this winter, you'll
find yourself with a raving maniac on your hands. That's how restless I
am!" He rustled his paper again. "Don't read!" she cried. "Don't you dare
read!"

He sat staring ahead, in a heavy kind of silence, breathing outward and
passing his hand across his brow.

Her breathing, too, was distinctly audible.

"Lay down a bit, Hanna. I'll cover you--"

"If they land me in the bug-house, they can write on your tombstone when
you die, 'Hanna Long Burkhardt went stark raving mad crazy with hucking at
home because I let her life get to be a machine from six-o'clock breakfast
to eight-o'clock bed, and she went crazy from it.' If that's any
satisfaction to you, they can write that on your tombstone."

He mopped his brow this time, clearing his throat.

"You knew when we married, Hanna, they called me 'Silent' Burkhardt. I
never was a great one for talking unless there was something I wanted to
say."

"I knew nothin' when I married you. Nothin' except that along a certain
time every girl that can gets married. I knew nothin' except--except--"

"Except what?"

"Nothin'."

"I've never stood in your light, Hanna, of having a good time. Go ahead.
I'm always glad when you go up-town with the neighbor women of a Saturday
evening. I'd be glad if you'd have 'em in here now and then for a little
sociability. Have 'em. Play the graphophone for 'em. Sing. You 'ain't done
nothin' with your singin' since you give up choir."

"Neighbor women! Old maids' choir! That's fine excitement for a girl not
yet twenty-seven!"

"Come; let's go to a moving picture, Hanna. Go wrap yourself up warm."

"Movie! Oh no; no movie for me with you snorin' through the picture till
I'm ashamed for the whole place. If I was the kind of girl had it in me to
run around with other fellows, that's what I'd be drove to do, the deal
you've given me. Movie! That's a fine enjoyment to try to foist off on a
woman to make up for eight years of being so fed up on stillness that she's
half-batty!"

"Maybe there's something showin' in the op'ry-house to-night."

"Oh, you got a record to be proud of, John Burkhardt: Not a foot in that
opera-house since we're married. I wouldn't want to have your feelin's!"

His quietude was like a great, impregnable, invisible wall inclosing him.

"I'm not the man can change his ways, Hanna. I married at forty, too late
for that."

"I notice you liked my pep, all righty, when I was workin' in the feed-yard
office. I hadn't been in it ten days before you were hangin' on my laughs
from morning till night."

"I do yet, Hanna--only you don't laugh no more. There's nothin' so fine in
a woman as sunshine."

"Provided you don't have to furnish any of it."

"Because a man 'ain't got it in him to be light in his ways don't mean he
don't enjoy it in others. Why, there just ain't nothin' to equal a happy
woman in the house! Them first months, Hanna, showed me what I'd been
missin'. It was just the way I figured it--somebody around like you,
singin' and putterin'. It was that laugh in the office made me bring it
here, where I could have it always by me."

"It's been knocked out of me, every bit of laugh I ever had in me; lemme
tell you that."

"I can remember the first time I ever heard you, Hanna. You was standin"
at the office window lookin' out in the yards at Jerry Sims unloadin' a
shipment of oats; and little Old Cocker was standin' on top of one of the
sacks barkin' his head off. I--"

"Yeh; I met Clara Sims on the street yesterday, back here for a visit, and
she says to me, she says: 'Hanna Burkhardt, you mean to tell me you never
done nothing with your voice! You oughta be ashamed. If I was your husband,
I'd spend my last cent trainin' that contralto of yours. You oughtn't to
let yourself go like this. Women don't do it no more.' That, from the
tackiest girl that ever walked this town. I wished High Street had opened
up and swallowed me."

"Now, Hanna, you mustn't--"

"In all these years never so much as a dance or a car-ride as far as
Middletown. Church! Church! Church! Till I could scream at the sight of
it. Not a year of my married life that 'ain't been a lodestone on my neck!
Eight of' 'em! Eight!"

"I'm not sayin' I'm not to blame, Hanna. A woman like you naturally likes
life. I never wanted to hold you back. If I'm tired nights and dead on my
feet from twelve hours on 'em, I never wanted you to change your ways."

"Yes; with a husband at home in bed, I'd be a fine one chasin' around
this town alone, wouldn't I? That's the thanks a woman gets for bein'
self-respectin'."

"I always kept hopin', Hanna, I could get you to take more to the home."

"The home--you mean the tomb!"

"Why, with the right attention, we got as fine an old place here as there
is in this part of town, Hanna. If only you felt like giving it a few more
touches that kinda would make a woman-place out of it! It 'ain't changed a
whit from the way me and my old father run it together. A little touch here
and there, Hanna, would help to keep you occupied and happier if--"

"I know. I know what's comin'."

"The pergola I had built. I used to think maybe you'd get to putter out
there in the side-yard with it, trailin' vines; the china-paintin' outfit
I had sent down from Cincinnati when I seen it advertised in the _Up-State
Gazette_; a spaniel or two from Old Cocker's new litter, barkin' around;
all them things, I used to think, would give our little place here a
feelin' that would change both of us for the better. With a more home-like
feelin' things might have been different between us, Hanna."

"Keepin" a menagerie of mangy spaniels ain't my idea of livin'."

"Aw, now, Hanna, what's the use puttin' it that way? Take, for instance,
it's been a plan of mine to paint the house, with the shutters green and a
band of green shingles runnin' up under the eaves. A little encouragement
from you and we could perk the place up right smart. All these years it's
kinda gone down--even more than when I was a bachelor in it. Sunk in,
kinda, like them iron jardinieres I had put in the front yard for you to
keep evergreen in. It's them little things, Hanna. Then that--that old idea
of mine to take a little one from the orphanage--a young 'un around the--"

"O Lord!"

"I ain't goin' to mention it if it aggravates you, but--but makin' a home
out of this gray old place would help us both, Hanna. There's no denyin'
that. It's what I hoped for when I brought you home a bride here. Just had
it kinda planned. You putterin' around the place in some kind of a pink
apron like you women can rig yourselves up in and--"

"There ain't a girl in Adalia has dropped out of things the way I have, I
had a singin' voice that everybody in this town said--"

"There's the piano, Hanna, bought special for it."

"I got a contralto that--"

"There never was anything give me more pleasure than them first years you
used it. I ain't much to express myself, but it was mighty fine, Hanna, to
hear you."

"Yes, I know; you snored into my singin' with enjoyment, all right."

"It's the twelve hours on my feet that just seem to make me dead to the
world, come evening."

"A girl that had the whole town wavin' flags at her when she sung 'The Holy
City' at the nineteen hundred street-carnival! Kittie Scogin Bevins, one of
the biggest singers in New York to-day, nothing but my chorus! Where's it
got me these eight years? Nowheres! She had enough sense to cut loose from
Ed Bevins, who was a lodestone, too, and beat it. She's singing now in New
York for forty a week with a voice that wasn't strong enough to be more
than chorus to mine."

"Kittie Scogin, Hanna, is a poor comparison for any woman to make with
herself."

"It is, is it? Well, I don't see it thataway. When she stepped off the
train last week, comin' back to visit her old mother, I wished the whole
depot would open up and swallow me--that's what I wished. Me and her that
used to be took for sisters. I'm eight months younger, and I look eight
years older. When she stepped off that train in them white furs and a
purple face-veil, I just wished to God the whole depot would open and
swallow me. That girl had sense. O God! didn't she have sense!"

"They say her sense is what killed Ed Bevins of shame and heartbreak."

"Say, don't tell me! It was town talk the way he made her toady to his
folks, even after he'd been cut off without a cent. Kittie told me herself
the very sight of the old Bevins place over on Orchard Street gives her the
creeps down her back. If not for old lady Scogin, 'way up in the seventies,
she'd never put her foot back in this dump. That girl had sense."

"There's not a time she comes back here it don't have an upsettin'
influence on you, Hanna."

"I know what's upsettin' me, all right. I know!"

He sighed heavily.

"I'm just the way I am, Hanna, and there's no teachin' an old dog new
tricks. It's a fact I ain't much good after eight o'clock evenin's. It's a
fact--a fact!"

They sat then in a further silence that engulfed them like fog. A shift of
wind blew a gust of dry snow against the window-pane with a little sleety
noise. And as another evidence of rising wind, a jerk of it came down the
flue, rattling the fender of a disused grate.

"We'd better keep the water in the kitchen runnin' to-night. The pipes'll
freeze."

Tick-tock. Tick. Tock. She had not moved, still sitting staring above the
top of his head. He slid out his watch, yawning.

"Well, if you think it's too raw for the movin' pictures, Hanna, I guess
I'll be movin' up to bed. I got to be down to meet a five-o'clock shipment
of fifty bales to-morrow. I'll be movin' along unless there's anything you
want?"

"No--nothing."

"If--if you ain't sleepy awhile yet, Hanna, why not run over to Widow
Dinninger's to pass the time of evenin'? I'll keep the door on the latch."

She sprang up, snatching a heavy black shawl, throwing it over her and
clutching it closed at the throat.

"Where you goin', Hanna?"

"Walkin'," she said, slamming the door after her.

In Adalia, chiefly remarkable for the Indestructo Safe Works and a river
which annually overflows its banks, with casualties, the houses sit well
back from tree-bordered streets, most of them frame, shingle-roofed
veterans that have lived through the cycle-like years of the bearing, the
marrying, the burying of two, even three, generations of the same surname.

A three-year-old, fifteen-mile traction connects the court-house with the
Indestructo Safe Works. High Street, its entire length, is paved. During a
previous mayoralty the town offered to the Lida Tool Works a handsome bonus
to construct branch foundries along its river-banks, and, except for the
annual flood conditions, would have succeeded.

In spring Adalia is like a dear old lady's garden of marigold and
bleeding-heart. Flushes of sweetpeas ripple along its picket fences and
off toward the backyards are long grape-arbors, in autumn their great
fruit-clusters ripening to purple frost. Come winter there is almost an
instant shriveling to naked stalk, and the trellis-work behind vines comes
through. Even the houses seem immediately to darken of last spring's paint,
and, with windows closed, the shades are drawn. Oftener than not Adalia
spends its evening snugly behind these drawn shades in great scoured
kitchens or dining-rooms, the house-fronts dark.

When Mrs. Burkhardt stepped out into an evening left thus to its stilly
depth, shades drawn against it, a light dust of snow, just fallen, was
scurrying up-street before the wind, like something phantom with its skirts
blowing forward. Little drifts of it, dry as powder, had blown up against
the porch. She sidestepped them, hurrying down a wind-swept brick walk and
out a picket gate that did not swing entirely after. Behind her, the house
with its wimple of shingle roof and unlighted front windows seemed to
recede somewhere darkly. She stood an undecided moment, her face into the
wind. Half down the block an arc-light swayed and gave out a moving circle
of light. Finally she turned her back and went off down a side-street, past
a lighted corner grocer, crossed a street to avoid the black mouth of an
alley, then off at another right angle. The houses here were smaller,
shoulder to shoulder and directly on the sidewalk.

Before one of these, for no particular reason distinguishable from the
others, Mrs. Burkhardt stepped up two shallow steps and turned a key in
the center of the door, which set up a buzz on its reverse side. Her hand,
where it clutched the shawl at her throat, was reddening and roughening,
the knuckles pushing up high and white. Waiting, she turned her back to the
wind, her body hunched up against it.

There was a moving about within, the scrape of a match, and finally the
door opening slightly, a figure peering out.

"It's me, Mrs. Scogin--Hanna Burkhardt!"

The door swung back then, revealing a just-lighted parlor, opening, without
introduction of hall, from the sidewalk.

"Well, if it ain't Hanna Burkhardt! What you doin' out this kind of a
night? Come in. Kittie's dryin' her hair in the kitchen. Used to be she
could sit on it, and it's ruint from the scorchin' curlin'-iron. I'll call
her. Sit down, Hanna. How's Burkhardt? I'll call her. Oh, Kittie! Kit-tie,
Hanna Burkhardt's here to see you."

In the wide flare of the swinging lamp, revealing Mrs. Scogin's parlor
of chromo, china plaque, and crayon enlargement, sofa, whatnot, and wax
bouquet embalmed under glass, Mrs. Burkhardt stood for a moment, blowing
into her cupped hands, unwinding herself of shawl, something Niobian in her
gesture.

"Yoo-hoo--it's only me, Kit! Shall I come out?"

"Naw--just a minute; I'll be in."

Mrs. Scogin seated herself on the edge of the sofa, well forward, after the
manner of those who relax but ill to the give of upholstery. She was like a
study of what might have been the grandmother of one of Rembrandt's studies
of a grandmother. There were lines crawling over her face too manifold for
even the etcher's stroke, and over her little shriveling hands that were
too bird-like for warmth. There is actually something avian comes with the
years. In the frontal bone pushing itself forward, the cheeks receding, and
the eyes still bright. There was yet that trenchant quality in Mrs. Scogin,
in the voice and gaze of her.

"Sit down, Hanna."

"Don't care if I do."

"You can lean back against that chair-bow."

"Hate to muss it."

"How's Burkhardt?"

"All right."

"He's been made deacon--not?"

"Yeh."

"If mine had lived, he'd the makin' of a pillar. Once label a man with hard
drinkin', and it's hard to get justice for him. There never was a man had
more the makin' of a pillar than mine, dead now these sixteen years and
molderin' in his grave for justice."

"Yes, Mrs. Scogin."

"You can lean back against that bow."

"Thanks."

"So Burkhardt's been made deacon."

"Three years already--you was at the church."

"A deacon. Mine went to his grave too soon."

"They said down at market to-day, Mrs. Scogin, that Addie Fitton knocked
herself against the woodbin and has water on the knee."

"Let the town once label a man with drinkin', and it's hard to get justice
for him."

"It took Martha and Eda and Gessler's hired girl to hold her in bed with
the pain."

"Yes, yes," said Mrs. Scogin, sucking in her words and her eyes seeming to
strain through the present; "once label a man with drinkin'."

Kittie Scogin Bevins entered then through a rain of bead portieres.
Insistently blond, her loosed-out hair newly dry and flowing down over a
very spotted and very baby-blue kimono, there was something soft-fleshed
about her, a not unappealing saddle of freckles across her nose, the eyes
too light but set in with a certain feline arch to them.

"Hello, Han!"

"Hello, Kittie!"

"Snowing?"

"No."

"Been washing my hair to show it a good time. One month in this dump and
they'd have to hire a hearse to roll me back to Forty-second Street in."

"This ain't nothing. Wait till we begin to get snowed in!"

"I know. Say, you c'n tell me nothing about this tank I dunno already. I
was buried twenty-two years in it. Move over, ma."

She fitted herself into the lower curl of the couch, crossing her hands at
the back of her head, drawing up her feet so that, for lack of space, her
knees rose to a hump.

"What's new in Deadtown, Han?"

"'New'! This dump don't know we got a new war. They think it's the old
Civil one left over."

"Burkhardt's been made a deacon, Kittie."

"O Lord! ma, forget it!" Mrs. Scogin Bevins threw out her hands to Mrs.
Burkhardt in a wide gesture, indicating her mother with a forefinger, then
with it tapping her own brow. "Crazy as a loon! Bats!"

"If your father had--"

"Ma, for Gossakes--"

"You talk to Kittie, Hanna. My girls won't none of 'em listen to me no
more. I tell 'em they're fightin' over my body before it's dead for this
house and the one on Ludlow Street. It's precious little for 'em to be
fightin' for before I'm dead, but if not for it, I'd never be gettin' these
visits from a one of 'em."

"Ma!"

"I keep tellin' her, Kittie, to stay home. New York ain't no place for a
divorced woman to set herself right with the Lord."

"Ma, if you don't quit raving and clear on up to bed, I'll pack myself out
to-night yet, and then you'll have a few things to set right with the Lord.
Go on up, now."

"I--"

"Go on--you hear?"

Mrs. Scogin went then, tiredly and quite bent forward, toward a flight of
stairs that rose directly from the parlor, opened a door leading up into
them, the frozen breath of unheated regions coming down.

"Quick--close that door, ma!"

"Come to see a body, Hanna, when she ain't here. She won't stay at home,
like a God-fearin' woman ought to."

"Light the gas-heater up there, if you expect me to come to bed. I'm used
to steam-heated flats, not barns."

"She's a sassy girl, Hanna. Your John a deacon and hers lies molderin' in
his grave, a sui--"

Mrs. Scogin Bevins flung herself up, then, a wave of red riding up her
face.

"If you don't go up--if you--don't! Go--now! Honest, you're gettin' so luny
you need a keeper. Go--you hear?"

The door shut slowly, inclosing the old figure. She relaxed to the couch,
trying to laugh.

"Luny!" she said. "Bats! Nobody home!"

"I like your hair like that, Kittie. It looks swell."

"It's easy. I'll fix it for you some time. It's the vampire swirl. All the
girls are wearing it."

"Remember the night, Kit, we was singin' duets for the Second Street
Presbyterian out at Grody's Grove and we got to hair-pullin' over whose
curls was the longest?"

"Yeh. I had on a blue dress with white polka-dots."

"That was fifteen years ago. Remember Joe Claiborne promised us a real
stage-job, and we opened a lemonade-stand on our front gate to pay his
commission in advance?"

They laughed back into the years.

"O Lord! them was days! Seems to me like fifty years ago."

"Not to me, Kittie. You've done things with your life since then. I
'ain't."

"You know what I've always told you about yourself, Hanna. If ever there
was a fool girl, that was Hanna Long. Lord! if I'm where I am on my voice,
where would you be?"

"I was a fool."

"I could have told you that the night you came running over to tell me."

"There was no future in this town for me, Kit. Stenoggin' around from one
office to another. He was the only real provider ever came my way."

"I always say if John Burkhardt had shown you the color of real money! But
what's a man to-day on just a fair living? Not worth burying yourself in
a dump like this for. No, sirree. When I married Ed, anyways I thought I
smelled big money. I couldn't see ahead that his father'd carry out his
bluff and cut him off. But what did you have to smell--a feed-yard in a
hole of a town! What's the difference whether you live in ten rooms like
yours or in four like this as long as you're buried alive? A girl can
always do that well for herself after she's took big chances. You could be
Lord knows where now if you'd 'a' took my advice four years ago and lit out
when I did."

"I know it, Kit. God knows I've eat out my heart with knowin' it!
Only--only it was so hard--a man givin' me no more grounds than he does.
What court would listen to his stillness for grounds? I 'ain't got
grounds."

"Say, you could 'a' left that to me. My little lawyer's got a factory where
he manufactures them. He could 'a' found a case of incompatibility between
the original turtle-doves."

"God! His stillness, Kittie--like--"

"John Burkhardt would give me the razzle-dazzle jimjams overnight, he
would. That face reminds me of my favorite funeral."

"I told him to-night, Kittie, he's killin' me with his deadness. I ran out
of the house from it. It's killin' me."

"Why, you poor simp, standing for it!"

"That's what I come over for, Kit. I can't stand no more. If I don't talk
to some one, I'll bust. There's no one in this town I can open up to. Him
so sober--and deacon. They don't know what it is to sit night after night
dyin' from his stillness. Whole meals, Kit, when he don't open his mouth
except, 'Hand me this; hand me that'--and his beard movin' up and down so
when he chews. Because a man don't hit you and gives you spending-money
enough for the little things don't mean he can't abuse you with--with just
gettin' on your nerves so terrible. I'm feelin' myself slip--crazy--ever
since I got back from Cincinnati and seen what's goin' on in the big towns
and me buried here; I been feelin' myself slip--slip, Kittie."

"Cincinnati! Good Lord! if you call that life! Any Monday morning on
Forty-second Street makes Cincinnati look like New-Year's Eve. If you call
Cincinnati life!"

"He's small, Kittie. He's a small potato of a man in his way of livin'. He
can live and die without doin' anything except the same things over and
over again, year out and year in."

"I know. I know. Ed was off the same pattern. It's the Adalia brand. Lord!
Hanna Long, if you could see some of the fellows I got this minute paying
attentions to me in New York, you'd lose your mind. Spenders! Them New
York guys make big and spend big, and they're willing to part with the
spondoolaks. That's the life!"

"I--You look it, Kit. I never seen a girl get back her looks and keep 'em
like you. I says to him to-night, I says, 'When I look at myself in the
glass, I wanna die.'"

"You're all there yet, Hanna. Your voice over here the other night was
something immense. Big enough to cut into any restaurant crowd, and that's
what counts in cabaret. I don't tell anybody how to run his life, but if
I had your looks and your contralto, I'd turn 'em into money, I would.
There's forty dollars a week in you this minute."

Mrs. Burkhardt's head went up. Her mouth had fallen open, her eyes
brightening as they widened.

"Kit--when you goin' back?"

"To-morrow a week, honey--if I live through it."

"Could--you help me--your little lawyer--your--"

"Remember, I ain't advising--"

"Could you, Kit, and to--to get a start?"

"They say it of me there ain't a string in the Bijou Cafe that I can't pull
my way."

"Could you, Kit? Would you?"

"I don't tell nobody how to run his life, Hanna. It's mighty hard to advise
the other fellow about his own business. I don't want it said in this town,
that's down on me, anyways, that Kit Scogin put ideas in Hanna Long's
head."

"You didn't, Kit. They been there. Once I answered an ad. to join a county
fair. I even sent money to a vaudeville agent in Cincinnati. I--"

"Nothing doing in vaudeville for our kind of talent. It's cabaret where the
money and easy hours is these days. Just a plain little solo act--contralto
is what you can put over. A couple of 'Where Is My Wandering Boy To-night'
sob-solos is all you need. I'll let you meet Billy Howe of the Bijou.
Billy's a great one for running in a chaser act or two."

"I--How much would it cost, Kittie, to--to--"

"Hundred and fifty done it for me, wardrobe and all."

"Kittie, I--Would you--"

"Sure I would! Only, remember, I ain't responsible. I don't tell anybody
how to run his life. That's something everybody's got to decide for
herself."

"I--have--decided, Kittie."

At something after that stilly one-o'clock hour when all the sleeping
noises of lath and wainscoting creak out, John Burkhardt lifted his head to
the moving light of a lamp held like a torch over him, even the ridge
of his body completely submerged beneath the great feather billow of an
oceanic walnut bedstead.

"Yes, Hanna?"

"Wake up!"

"I been awake--"

She set the lamp down on the brown-marble top of a wash-stand, pushed back
her hair with both hands, and sat down on the bed-edge, heavily breathing
from a run through deserted night's streets.

"I gotta talk to you, Burkhardt--now--to-night."

"Now's no time, Hanna. Come to bed."

"Things can't go on like this, John."

He lay back slowly.

"Maybe you're right, Hanna. I been layin' up here and thinkin' the same
myself. What's to be done?"

"I've got to the end of my rope."

"With so much that God has given us, Hanna--health and prosperity--it's a
sin before Him that unhappiness should take root in this home."

"If you're smart, you won't try to feed me up on gospel to-night!"

"I'm willin' to meet you, Hanna, on any proposition you say. How'd it be
to move down to Schaefer's boardin'-house for the winter, where it'll be
a little recreation for you evenings, or say we take a trip down to
Cincinnati for a week. I--"

"Oh no," she said, looking away from him and her throat throbbing. "Oh no,
you don't! Them things might have meant something to me once, but you've
come too late with 'em. For eight years I been eatin' out my heart with
'em. Now you couldn't pay me to live at Schaefer's. I had to beg too long
for it. Cincinnati! Why, its New-Year's Eve is about as lively as a real
town's Monday morning. Oh no, you don't! Oh no!"

"Come on to bed, Hanna. You'll catch cold. Your breath's freezin'."

"I'm goin'--away, for good--that's where--I'm goin'!"

Her words threatened to come out on a sob, but she stayed it, the back of
her hand to her mouth.

Her gaze was riveted, and would not move, from a little curtain above the
wash-stand, a guard against splashing crudely embroidered in a little
hand-in-hand boy and girl.

"You--you're sayin' a good many hasty things to-night, Hanna."

"Maybe."

He plucked at a gray-wool knot in the coverlet.

"Mighty hasty things."

She turned, then, plunging her hands into the great suds of feather bed,
the whole thrust of her body toward him.

"'Hasty'! Is eight years hasty? Is eight years of buried-alive hasty? I'm
goin', John Burkhardt; this time I'm goin' sure--sure as my name is Hanna
Long."

"Goin' where, Hanna?"

"Goin' where each day ain't like a clod of mud on my coffin. Goin' where
there's a chance for a woman like me to get a look-in on life before she's
as skinny a hex at twenty-seven as old lady Scog--as--like this town's full
of. I'm goin' to make my own livin' in my own way, and I'd like to see
anybody try to stop me."

"I ain't tryin', Hanna."

She drew back in a flash of something like surprise.

"You're willin', then?"

"No, Hanna, not willin'."

"You can't keep me from it. Incompatibility is grounds!"

The fires of her rebellion, doused for the moment, broke out again, flaming
in her cheeks.

He raised himself to his elbow, regarding her there in her flush, the
white line of her throat whiter because of it. She was strangely, not
inconsiderably taller.

"Why, Hanna, what you been doin' to yourself?"

Her hand flew to a new and elaborately piled coiffure, a half-fringe of
curling-iron, little fluffed out tendrils escaping down her neck.

"In--incompatibility is grounds."

"It's mighty becomin', Hanna. Mighty becomin'."

"It's grounds, all right!"

"'Grounds'? Grounds for what, Hanna?"

She looked away, her throat distending as she swallowed.

"Divorce."

There was a pause, then so long that she had a sense of falling through its
space.

"Look at me, Hanna!"

She swung her gaze reluctantly to his. He was sitting erect now, a kind of
pallor setting in behind the black beard.

"Leggo!" she said, loosening his tightening hand from her wrists. "Leggo;
you hurt!"

"I--take it when a woman uses that word in her own home, she means it."

"This one does."

"You're a deacon's wife. Things--like this are--are pretty serious with
people in our walk of life. We--'ain't learned in our communities yet not
to take the marriage law as of God's own makin'. I'm a respected citizen
here."

"So was Ed Bevins. It never hurt his hide."

"But it left her with a black name in the town."

"Who cares? She don't."

"It's no good to oppose a woman, Hanna, when she's made up her mind; but
I'm willin' to meet you half-way on this thing. Suppose we try it again.
I got some plans for perkin' things up a bit between us. Say we join the
Buckeye Bowling Club, and--"

"No! No! No! That gang of church-pillars! I can't stand it, I tell you; you
mustn't try to keep me! You mustn't! I'm a rat in a trap here. Gimme a few
dollars. Hundred and fifty is all I ask. Not even alimony. Lemme apply.
Gimme grounds. It's done every day. Lemme go. What's done can't be undone.
I'm not blamin' you. You're what you are and I'm what I am. I'm not blamin'
anybody. You're what you are, and God Almighty can't change you. Lemme go,
John; for God's sake, lemme go!"

"Yes," he said, finally, not taking his eyes from her and the chin
hardening so that it shot out and up. "Yes, Hanna; you're right. You got to
go."

       *       *       *       *       *

The skeleton of the Elevated Railway structure straddling almost its entire
length, Sixth Avenue, sullen as a clayey stream, flows in gloom and crash.
Here, in this underworld created by man's superstructure, Mrs. Einstein,
Slightly Used Gowns, nudges Mike's Eating-Place from the left, and on the
right Stover's Vaudeville Agency for Lilliputians divides office-space
and rent with the Vibro Health Belt Company. It is a kind of murky drain,
which, flowing between, catches the refuse from Fifth Avenue and the
leavings from Broadway. To Sixth Avenue drift men who, for the first time
in a Miss-spending life, are feeling the prick of a fraying collar. Even
Fifth Avenue is constantly feeding it. A _couturier's_ model gone hippy; a
specialty-shop gone bankrupt; a cashier's books gone over. Its shops are
second-hand, and not a few of its denizens are down on police records as
sleight-of-hand. At night women too weary to be furtive turn in at its
family entrances. It is the cauldron of the city's eye of newt, toe of
frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog. It is the home of the most daring
all-night eating-places, the smallest store, the largest store, the
greatest revolving stage, the dreariest night court, and the drabest night
birds in the world.

War has laid its talons and scratched slightly beneath the surface of Sixth
Avenue. Hufnagel's Delicatessen, the briny hoar of twenty years upon it,
went suddenly into decline and the hands of a receiver. Recruiting
stations have flung out imperious banners. Keeley's Chop-House--Open
All Night--reluctantly swings its too hospitable doors to the
one-o'clock-closing mandate.

To the New-Yorker whose nights must be filled with music, preferably jazz,
to pass Keeley's and find it dark is much as if Bacchus, emulating the
newest historical rogue, had donned cassock and hood. Even that half of
the evening east of the cork-popping land of the midnight son has waned at
Keeley's. No longer a road-house on the incandescent road to dawn, there is
something hangdog about its very waiters, moving through the easy maze of
half-filled tables; an orchestra, sheepish of its accomplishment, can lift
even a muted melody above the light babel of light diners. There is a
cabaret, too, bravely bidding for the something that is gone.

At twelve o'clock, five of near-Broadway's best breed, in woolly anklets
and wristlets and a great shaking of curls, execute the poodle-prance to
half the encores of other days. May Deland, whose ripple of hip and droop
of eyelid are too subtle for censorship, walks through her hula-hula dance,
much of her abandon abandoned. A pair of _apaches_ whirl for one hundred
and twenty consecutive seconds to a great bang of cymbals and seventy-five
dollars a week. At shortly before one Miss Hanna de Long, who renders
ballads at one-hour intervals, rose from her table and companion in
the obscure rear of the room, to finish the evening and her cycle with
"Darling, Keep the Grate-Fire Burning," sung in a contralto calculated to
file into no matter what din of midnight dining.

In something pink, silk, and conservatively V, she was a careful
management's last bland ingredient to an evening that might leave too
Cayenne a sting to the tongue.

At still something before one she had finished, and, without encore,
returned to her table.

"Gawd!" she said, and leaned her head on her hand. "I better get me a job
hollerin' down a well!"

Her companion drained his stemless glass with a sharp jerking back of the
head. His was the short, stocky kind of assurance which seemed to say,
"Greater securities hath no man than mine, which are gilt-edged."
Obviously, Mr. Lew Kaminer clipped his coupons.

"Not so bad," he said. "The song ain't dead; the crowd is."

"Say, they can't hurt my feelin's. I been a chaser-act ever since I hit the
town."

"Well, if I can sit and listen to a song in long skirts twelve runnin'
weeks, three or four nights every one of 'em, take it from me, there's a
whistle in it somewhere."

"Just the same," she said, pushing away her glass, "my future in this
business is behind me."

He regarded her, slumped slightly in his chair, celluloid toothpick
dangling. There was something square about his face, abetted by a
parted-in-the-middle toupee of great craftsmanship, which revealed itself
only in the jointure over the ears of its slightly lighter hair with the
brown of his own. There was a monogram of silk on his shirt-sleeve, of gold
on his bill-folder, and of diamonds on the black band across the slight
rotundity of his waistcoat.

"Never you mind, I'm for you, girl," he said.

There was an undeniable taking-off of years in Miss de Long. Even the very
texture of her seemed younger and the skin massaged to a new creaminess,
the high coiffure blonder, the eyes quicker to dart.

"Lay off, candy kid," she said. "You're going to sugar."

"Have another fizz," he said, clicking his fingers for a waiter.

"Anything to please the bold, bad man," she said.

"You're a great un," he said. "Fellow never knows how to take you from one
minute to the next."

"You mean a girl never knows how to take you."

"Say," he said, "any time anybody puts anything over on you!"

"And you?"

"There you are!" he cried, eying her fizz. "Drink it down; it's good for
what ails you."

"Gawd!" she said. "I wish I knew what it was is ailin' me!"

"Drink 'er down!"

"You think because you had me goin' on these things last night that
to-night little sister ain't goin' to watch her step. Well, watch her watch
her step," Nevertheless, she drank rather thirstily half the contents of
the glass. "I knew what I was doin' every minute of the time last night,
all righty. I was just showin' us a good time."

"Sure!"

"It's all right for us girls to take what we want, but the management don't
want nothing rough around--not in war-time."

"Right idea!"

"There's nothing rough about me, Lew. None of you fellows can't say that
about me. I believe in a girl havin' a good time, but I believe in her
always keepin' her self-respect. I always say it never hurt no girl to keep
her self-respect."

"Right!"

"When a girl friend of mine loses that, I'm done with her. That don't get a
girl nowheres. That's why I keep to myself as much as I can and don't mix
in with the girls on the bill with me, if--"

"What's become of the big blond-looker used to run around with you when you
was over at the Bijou?"

"Me and Kit ain't friends no more."

"She was some looker."

"The minute I find out a girl ain't what a self-respectin' girl ought to be
then that lets me out. There's nothin' would keep me friends with her. If
ever I was surprised in a human, Lew, it was in Kittie Scogin. She got me
my first job here in New York. I give her credit for it, but she done it
because she didn't have the right kind of a pull with Billy Howe. She done
a lot of favors for me in her way, but the minute I find out a girl ain't
self-respectin' I'm done with that girl every time."

"That baby had some pair of shoulders!"

"I ain't the girl to run a friend down, anyway, when she comes from my home
town; but I could tell tales--Gawd! I could tell tales!" There was new
loquacity and a flush to Miss de Long. She sipped again, this time almost
to the depth of the glass. "The way to find out about a person, Lew, is to
room with 'em in the same boardin'-house. Beware of the baby stare is all I
can tell you. Beware of that."

"That's what _you_ got," he said, leaning across to top her hand with his,
"two big baby stares."

"Well, Lew Kaminer," she said, "you'd kid your own shadow. Callin' me a
baby-stare. Of all things! Lew Kaminer!" She looked away to smile.

"Drink it all down, baby-stare," he said, lifting the glass to her lips.
They were well concealed and back away from the thinning patter of the
crowd, so that, as he neared her, he let his face almost graze--indeed
touch, hers.

She made a great pretense of choking.

"O-oh! burns!"

"Drink it down-like a major."

She bubbled into the glass, her eyes laughing at him above its rim.

"Aw gone!"

He clicked again with his fingers.

"Once more, Charlie!" he said, shoving their pair of glasses to the
table-edge.

"You ain't the only money-bag around the place!" she cried, flopping down
on the table-cloth a bulky wad tied in one corner of her handkerchief.

"Well, whatta you know about that? Pay-day?"

"Yeh-while it lasts. I hear there ain't goin' to be no more cabarets or
Camembert cheese till after the war."

"What you going to do with it--buy us a round of fizz?"

She bit open the knot, a folded bill dropping to the table, uncurling.

"Lord!" she said, contemplating and flipping it with her finger-tip. "Where
I come from that twenty-dollar bill every week would keep me like a queen.
Here it ain't even chicken feed."

"You know where there's more chicken feed waitin' when you get hard up,
sister. You're slower to gobble than most. You know what I told you last
night, kiddo--you need lessons."

"What makes me sore, Lew, is there ain't an act on this bill shows under
seventy-five. It goes to show the higher skirts the higher the salary in
this business."

"You oughta be singin' in grand op'ra."

"Yeh--sure! The diamond horseshoe is waitin' for the chance to land me one
swift kick. It only took me twelve weeks and one meal a day to land this
after Kittie seen to it that they let me out over at the Bijou. Say, I know
where I get off in this town, Lew. If there's one thing I know, it's where
I get off. I ain't a squab with a pair of high-priced ankles. I'm down on
the agencies' books as a chaser-act, and I'm down with myself for that. If
there's one thing I ain't got left, it's illusions. Get me? Illusions."

She hitched sidewise in her chair, dipped her forefinger into her fresh
glass, snapped it at him so that he blinked under the tiny spray.

"That for you!" she said, giggling. She was now repeatedly catching herself
up from a too constant impulse to repeat that giggle.

"You little devil!" he said, reaching back for his handkerchief.

She dipped again, this time deeper, and aimed straighter.

"Quit!" he said, catching her wrist and bending over it. "Quit it, or I'll
bite!"

"Ow! Ouch!"

Her mouth still resolute not to loosen, she jerked back from him. There
was only the high flush which she could not control, and the gaze, heavy
lidded, was not so sure as it might have been. She was quietly, rather
pleasantly, dizzy.

"I wish--" she said. "I--wi-ish--"

"What do you wi-ish?"

"Oh, I--I dunno what I wish!"

"If you ain't a card!"

He had lighted a cigar, and, leaning toward her, blew out a fragrant puff
to her.

"M-m-m!" she said; "it's a Cleopatra."

"Nop."

"A El Dorado."

"Guess again."

"A what, then?"

"It's a Habana Queen. Habana because it reminds me of Hanna."

"Aw--you!"

At this crowning puerility Mr. Kaminer paused suddenly, as if he had
detected in his laughter a bray.

"Is Habana in the war, Lew?"

"Darned if I know exactly."

"Ain't this war just terrible, Lew?"

"Don't let it worry you, girl. If it puts you out of business, remember,
it's boosted my stocks fifty per cent. You know what I told you about
chicken feed."

She buried her nose in her handkerchief, turning her head. Her eyes had
begun to crinkle.

"It--it's just awful! All them sweet boys!"

"Now, cryin' ain't goin' to help. You 'ain't got no one marchin' off."

"That's just it. I 'ain't got no one. Everything is something awful, ain't
it?" Her sympathies and her risibilities would bubble to the surface to
confuse her. "Awful!"

He scraped one forefinger against the other.

"Cry-baby! Cry-baby, stick your little finger in your little eye!"

She regarded him wryly, her eyes crinkled now quite to slits.

"You can laugh!"

"Look at the cry-baby!"

"I get so darn blue."

"Now--now--"

"Honest to Gawd, Lew, I get so darn blue I could die."

"You're a nice girl, and I'd like to see anybody try to get fresh with
you!"

"Do you--honest, Lew--like me?"

"There's something about you, girl, gets me every time. Cat-eyes!
Kitty-eyes!"

"Sometimes I get so blue--get to thinkin' of home and the way it all
happened. You know the way a person will. Home and the--divorce and the
way it all happened with--him--and how I come here and--where it's got me,
and--and I just say to myself, 'What's the use?' You know, Lew, the way a
person will. Back there, anyways, I had a home. There's something in just
havin' a home, lemme tell you. Bein' a somebody in your own home."

"You're a somebody any place they put you."

"You never seen the like the way it all happened, Lew. So quick! The day I
took the train was like I was walkin' for good out of a dream. Not so much
as a post-card from there since--"

"Uh--uh--now--cry-baby!"

"I--ain't exactly sorry, Lew; only God knows, more'n once in those twelve
weeks out of work I was for goin' back and patchin' it up with him. I ain't
exactly sorry, Lew, but--but there's only one thing on God's earth that
keeps me from being sorry."

"What?"

"You."

He flecked his cigar, hitching his arm up along the chair-back, laughed,
reddened slightly.

"That's the way to talk! These last two nights you been lightin' up with a
man so he can get within ten feet of you. Now you're shoutin'!"

She drained her glass, blew her nose, and wiped her eyes.

She was sitting loosely forward now, her hand out on his.

"You're the only thing on God's earth that's kept me from--sneakin" back
there--honest. Lew, I'd have gone back long ago and eat dirt to make it
up with him--if not for you. I--ain't built like Kittie Scogin and those
girls. I got to be self-respectin' with the fellows or nothing. They think
more of you in the end--that's my theory."

"Sure!"

"A girl's fly or--she just naturally ain't that way. That's where all my
misunderstanding began with Kittie--when she wanted me to move over in them
rooms on Forty-ninth Street with her--a girl's that way or she just ain't
that way!"

"Sure!"

"Lew--will you--are you--you ain't kiddin' me all these weeks? Taxicabbin'
me all night in the Park and--drinkin' around this way all the time
together. You 'ain't been kiddin' me, Lew?"

He shot up his cigar to an oblique.

"Now you're shoutin'!" he repeated. "It took three months to get you down
off your high horse, but now we're talkin' the same language."

"Lew!"

"It ain't every girl I take up with; just let that sink in. I like 'em
frisky, but I like 'em cautious. That's where you made a hit with me.
Little of both. Them that nibble too easy ain't worth the catch."

She reached out the other hand, covering his with her both.

"You're--talkin' weddin'-bells, Lew?"

He regarded her, the ash of his cigar falling and scattering down his
waistcoat.

"What bells?"

"Weddin', Lew." Her voice was as thin as a reed.

"O Lord!" he said, pushing back slightly from the table. "Have another
fizz, girl, and by that time we'll be ready for a trip in my underground
balloon. Waiter!"

She drew down his arm, quickly restraining it. She was not so sure now of
controlling the muscles of her mouth.

"Lew!"

"Now--now--"

"Please, Lew! It's what kept me alive. Thinkin' you meant that. Please,
Lew! You ain't goin' to turn out like all the rest in this town? You--the
first fellow I ever went as far as--last night with. I'll stand by you,
Lew, through thick and thin. You stand by me. You make it right with me,
Lew, and--"

He cast a quick glance about, grasped at the sides of the table, and leaned
toward her, _sotto_.

"For God's sake, hush! Are you crazy?"

"No," she said, letting the tears roll down over the too frank gyrations of
her face--"no, I ain't crazy. I only want you to do the right thing by me,
Lew. I'm--blue. I'm crazy afraid of the bigness of this town. There ain't a
week I don't expect my notice here. It's got me. If you been stringin' me
along like the rest of 'em, and I can't see nothing ahead of me but the
struggle for a new job--and the tryin' to buck up against what a decent
girl has got to--"

"Why, you're crazy with the heat, girl! I thought you and me was talking
the same language. I want to do the right thing by you. Sure I do! Anything
in reason is yours for the askin'. That's what I been comin' to."

"Then, Lew, I want you to do by me like you'd want your sister done by."

"I tell you you're crazy. You been hitting up too many fizzes lately."

"I--"

"You ain't fool enough to think I'm what you'd call a free man? I don't
bring my family matters down here to air 'em over with you girls. You're
darn lucky that I like you well enough to--well, that I like you as much as
I do. Come, now; tell you what I'm goin' to do for you: You name your idea
of what you want in the way of--"

"O God! Why don't I die? I ain't fit for nothing else!"

He cast a glance around their deserted edge of the room. A waiter,
painstakingly oblivious, stood two tables back.

"Wouldn't I be better off out of it? Why don't I die?"

He was trembling down with a suppression of rage and concern for the rising
gale in her voice.

"You can't make a scene in public with me and get away with it. If that's
your game, it won't land you anywhere. Stop it! Stop it now and talk sense,
or I'll get up. By God! if you get noisy, I'll get up and leave you here
with the whole place givin' you the laugh. You can't throw a scare in me."

But Miss de Long's voice and tears had burst the dam of control. There was
an outburst that rose and broke on a wave of hysteria.

"Lemme die--that's all I ask! What's there in it for me? What has there
ever been? Don't do it, Lew! Don't--don't!"

It was then Mr. Kaminer pushed back his chair, flopped down his napkin, and
rose, breathing heavily enough, but his face set in an exaggerated kind of
quietude as he moved through the maze of tables, exchanged a check for his
hat, and walked out.

For a stunned five minutes her tears, as it were, seared, she sat after
him.

The waiter had withdrawn to the extreme left of the deserted edge of the
room, talking behind his hand to two colleagues in servility, their faces
listening and breaking into smiles.

Finally Miss de Long rose, moving through the zigzag paths of empty tables
toward a deserted dressing-room. In there she slid into black-velvet
slippers and a dark-blue walking-skirt, pulled on over the pink silk,
tucking it up around the waist so that it did not sag from beneath the hem,
squirmed into a black-velvet jacket with a false dicky made to emulate
a blouse-front, and a blue-velvet hat hung with a curtain-like purple
face-veil.

As she went out the side, Keeley's was closing its front doors.

Outside, not even to be gainsaid by Sixth Avenue, the night was like a
moist flower held to the face. A spring shower, hardly fallen, was already
drying on the sidewalks, and from the patch of Bryant Park across the maze
of car-tracks there stole the immemorial scent of rain-water and black
earth, a just-set-out crescent of hyacinths giving off their light steam of
fragrance. How insidious is an old scent! It can creep into the heart like
an ache. Who has not loved beside thyme or at the sweetness of dusk? Dear,
silenced laughs can come back on a whiff from a florist's shop. Oh, there
is a nostalgia lurks in old scents!

Even to Hanna de Long, hurrying eastward on Forty-second Street, huggingly
against the shadow of darkened shop-windows, there was a new sting of tears
at the smell of earth, daring, in the lull of a city night, to steal out.

There are always these dark figures that scuttle thus through the first
hours of the morning.

Whither?

Twice remarks were flung after her from passing figures in
slouch-hats--furtive remarks through closed lips.

At five minutes past one she was at the ticket-office grating of a
train-terminal that was more ornate than a rajah's dream.

"Adalia--please. Huh? Ohio. Next train."

"Seven-seven. Track nine. Round trip?"

"N-no."

"Eighteen-fifty."

She again bit open the corner knot of her handkerchief.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Hanna de Long, freshly train-washed of train dust, walked down Third
Street away from the station, old man Rentzenauer, for forty-odd springs
coaxing over the same garden, was spraying a hose over a side-yard of
petunias, shirt-sleeved, his waistcoat hanging open, and in the purpling
light his old head merging back against a story-and-a-half house the color
of gray weather and half a century of service.

At sight of him who had shambled so taken-for-granted through all of her
girlhood, such a trembling seized hold of Hanna de Long that she turned
off down Amboy Street, making another wide detour to avoid a group on the
Koerner porch, finally approaching Second Street from the somewhat straggly
end of it farthest from the station.

She was trembling so that occasionally she stopped against a vertigo that
went with it, wiped up under the curtain of purple veil at the beads of
perspiration which would spring out along her upper lip. She was quite
washed of rouge, except just a swift finger-stroke of it over the
cheek-bones.

She had taken out the dicky, too, and for some reason filled in there with
a flounce of pink net ripped off from the little ruffles that had flowed
out from her sleeves. She was without baggage.

At Ludlow Street she could suddenly see the house, the trees meeting before
it in a lace of green, the two iron jardinieres empty. They had been
painted, and were drying now of a clay-brown coat.

When she finally went up the brick walk, she thought once that she could
not reach the bell with the strength left to pull it. She did, though,
pressing with her two hands to her left side as she waited. The house was
in the process of painting, too, still wet under a first wash of gray. The
pergola, also.

The door swung back, and then a figure emerged full from a background of
familiarly dim hallway and curve of banister. She was stout enough to be
panting slightly, and above the pink-and-white-checked apron her face was
ruddy, forty, and ever so inclined to smile.

"Yes?"

"Is--is--"

Out from the hallway shot a cocker spaniel, loose-eared, yapping.

"Queenie, Queenie--come back. She won't bite--Queenie--bad girl!--come back
from that nasturtium-bed--bad girl!--all washed and combed so pretty for a
romp with her favver when him come home so tired. Queenie!"

She caught her by a rear leg as she leaped back, wild to rollick, tucking
her under one arm, administering three diminutive punishments on the shaggy
ears.

"Bad! Bad!"

"Is Mr.--Burkhardt--home?"

"Aw, now, he ain't! I sent him down by Gredel's nurseries on his way home
to-night, for some tulip-bulbs for my iron jardinieres. He ought to be
back any minute if he 'ain't stopped to brag with old man Gredel that our
arbutus beats his." Then, smiling and rubbing with the back of her free
hand at a flour-streak across her cheek: "If--if it's the lady from the
orphan asylum come to see about the--the little kid we want--is there
anything I can do for you? I'm his wife. Won't you come in?"

"Oh no!" said Miss de Long, now already down two of the steps. "I--I--Oh
no, no!--thank you! Oh no--no!--thank you!"

She walked swiftly, the purple veil blown back and her face seeming to look
out of it whitely, so whitely that she became terrible.

Night was at hand, and Adalia was drawing down its front shades.




VII

GET READY THE WREATHS


Where St. Louis begins to peter out into brick- and limestone-kilns and
great scars of unworked and overworked quarries, the first and more
unpretentious of its suburbs take up--Benson, Maplehurst, and Ridgeway
Heights intervening with one-story brick cottages and two-story
packing-cases--between the smoke of the city and the carefully parked Queen
Anne quietude of Glenwood and Croton Grove.

Over Benson hangs a white haze of limestone, gritty with train and foundry
smoke. At night the lime-kilns, spotted with white deposits, burn redly,
showing through their open doors like great, inflamed diphtheretic throats,
tongues of flame bursting and licking out.

Winchester Road, which runs out from the heart of the city to string these
towns together, is paved with brick, and its traffic, for the most part,
is the great, tin-tired dump-carts of the quarries and steel interurban
electric cars which hum so heavily that even the windows of outlying
cottages titillate.

For blocks, from Benson to Maplehurst and from Maplehurst to Ridgeway
Heights, Winchester Road repeats itself in terms of the butcher, the
baker, the corner saloon. A feed-store. A monument- and stone-cutter. A
confectioner. A general-merchandise store, with a glass case of men's
collars outside the entrance. The butcher, the baker, the corner saloon.

At Benson, where this highway cuts through, the city, wreathed in smoke,
and a great oceanic stretch of roofs are in easy view, and at closer
range, an outlying section of public asylums for the city's discard of its
debility and its senility.

Jutting a story above the one-storied march of Winchester Road, The
Convenience Merchandise Corner, Benson, overlooks, from the southeast
up-stairs window, a remote view of the City Hospital, the Ferris-wheel of
an amusement park, and on clear days the oceanic waves of roof. Below,
within the store, that view is entirely obliterated by a brace of shelves
built across the corresponding window and brilliantly stacked with ribbons
of a score of colors and as many widths. A considerable flow of daylight
thus diverted, The Convenience Merchandise Corner, even of early afternoon,
fades out into half-discernible corners; a rear-wall display of overalls
and striped denim coats crowded back into indefinitude, the haberdashery
counter, with a giant gilt shirt-stud suspended above, hardly more
outstanding.

Even the notions and dry-goods, flanking the right wall in stacks and
bolts, merge into blur, the outline of a white-sateen and corseted woman's
torso surmounting the topmost of the shelves with bold curvature.

With spring sunshine even hot against the steel rails of Winchester Road,
and awnings drawn against its inroads into the window display, Mrs. Shila
Coblenz, routing gloom, reached up tiptoe across the haberdashery counter
for the suspended chain of a cluster of bulbs, the red of exertion rising
up the taut line of throat and lifted chin.

"A little light on the subject, Milt."

"Let me, Mrs. C."

Facing her from the outer side of the counter, Mr. Milton Bauer stretched
also, his well-pressed, pin-checked coat crawling up.

All things swam out into the glow. The great suspended stud; the background
of shelves and boxes; the scissors-like overalls against the wall; a
clothesline of children's factory-made print frocks; a center-bin of
women's untrimmed hats; a headless dummy beside the door, enveloped in a
long-sleeved gingham apron.

Beneath the dome of the wooden stud, Mrs. Shila Coblenz, of not too fulsome
but the hour-glass proportions of two decades ago, smiled, her black eyes,
ever so quick to dart, receding slightly as the cheeks lifted.

"Two twenty-five, Milt, for those ribbed assorted sizes and reinforced
heels. Leave or take. Bergdorff & Sloan will quote me the whole mill at
that price."

With his chest across the counter and legs out violently behind, Mr. Bauer
flung up a glance from his order-pad.

"Have a heart, Mrs. C. I'm getting two-forty for that stocking from every
house in town. The factory can't turn out the orders fast enough at that
price. An up-to-date woman like you mustn't make a noise like before the
war."

"Leave or take."

"You could shave an egg," he said.

"And rush up those printed lawns. There was two in this morning, sniffing
around for spring dimities."

"Any more cotton goods? Next month, this time, you'll be paying an advance
of four cents on percales."

"Stocked."

"Can't tempt you with them wash silks, Mrs. C.? Neatest little article on
the market to-day."

"No demand. They finger it up, and then buy the cotton stuffs. Every time I
forget my trade hacks rock instead of clips bonds for its spending-money I
get stung."

"This here wash silk, Mrs. C., would--"

"Send me up a dress-pattern off this coral-pink sample for Selene."

"This here dark mulberry, Mrs. C., would suit you something immense."

"That'll be about all."

He flopped shut his book, snapping a rubber band about it and inserting it
in an inner coat pocket.

"You ought to stick to them dark, winy shades, Mrs. C. With your coloring
and black hair and eyes, they bring you out like a gipsy. Never seen you
look better than at the Y.M.H.A. entertainment."

Quick color flowed down her open throat and into her shirtwaist. It was as
if the platitude merged with the very corpuscles of a blush that sank down
into thirsty soil.

"You boys," she said, "come out here and throw in a jolly with every bill
of goods. I'll take a good fat discount instead."

"Fact. Never seen you look better. When you got out on the floor in that
stamp-your-foot kind of dance with old man Shulof, your hand on your hip
and your head jerking it up, there wasn't a girl on the floor, your own
daughter included, could touch you, and I'm giving it to you straight."

"That old thing! It's a Russian folk-dance my mother taught me the first
year we were in this country. I was three years old then, and, when she got
just crazy with homesickness, we used to dance it to each other evenings on
the kitchen floor."

"Say, have you heard the news?"

"No."

"Guess."

"Can't."

"Hammerstein is bringing over the crowned heads of Europe for vaudeville."

Mrs. Coblenz moved back a step, her mouth falling open.

"Why, Milton Bauer, in the old country a man could be strung up for saying
less than that!"

"That didn't get across. Try another. A Frenchman and his wife were
traveling in Russia, and--"

"If--if you had an old mother like mine up-stairs, Milton, eating out her
heart and her days and her weeks and her months over a husband's grave
somewhere in Siberia and a son's grave somewhere in Kishinef, you wouldn't
see the joke neither."

Mr. Bauer executed a self-administered pat sharply against the back of his
hand.

"Keeper," he said, "put me in the brain ward. I--I'm sorry, Mrs. C., so
help me! Didn't mean to. How is your mother, Mrs. C.? Seems to me, at the
dance the other night, Selene said she was fine and dandy."

"Selene ain't the best judge of her poor old grandmother. It's hard for a
young girl to have patience for old age sitting and chewing all day over
the past. It's right pitiful the way her grandmother knows it, too, and
makes herself talk English all the time to please the child and tries to
perk up for her. Selene, thank God, 'ain't suffered, and can't sympathize!"

"What's ailing her, Mrs. C.? I kinda miss seeing the old lady sitting down
here in the store."

"It's the last year or so, Milt. Just like all of a sudden a woman as
active as mama always was, her health and--her mind kind of went off with a
pop."

"Thu! Thu!"

"Doctor says with care she can live for years, but--but it seems terrible
the way her--poor mind keeps skipping back. Past all these thirty years in
America to--even weeks before I was born. The night they--took my father
off to Siberia, with his bare feet in the snow--for distributing papers
they found on him--papers that used the word 'svoboda'--'freedom.' And the
time, ten years later--they shot down my brother right in front of her
for--the same reason. She keeps living it over--living it over till
I--could die."

"Say, ain't that just a shame, though!"

"Living it, and living it, and living it! The night with me, a heavy
three-year-old, in her arms that she got us to the border, dragging a pack
of linens with her! The night my father's feet were bleeding in the snow,
when they took him! How with me a kid in the crib, my--my brother's face
was crushed in--with a heel and a spur. All night, sometimes, she cries in
her sleep--begging to go back to find the graves. All day she sits making
raffia wreaths to take back--making wreaths--making wreaths!"

"Say, ain't that tough!"

"It's a godsend she's got the eyes to do it. It's wonderful the way she
reads--in English, too. There ain't a daily she misses. Without them and
the wreaths--I dunno--I just dunno. Is--is it any wonder, Milt, I--I can't
see the joke?"

"My God, no!"

"I'll get her back, though."

"Why, you--she can't get back there, Mrs. C."

"There's a way. Nobody can tell me there's not. Before the war--before she
got like this, seven hundred dollars would have done it for both of us--and
it will again, after the war. She's got the bank-book, and every week that
I can squeeze out above expenses, she sees the entry for herself. I'll get
her back. There's a way lying around somewhere. God knows why she should
eat out her heart to go back--but she wants it. God, how she wants it!"

"Poor old dame!"

"You boys guy me with my close-fisted buying these last two years. It's up
to me, Milt, to squeeze this old shebang dry. There's not much more than a
living in it at best, and now, with Selene grown up and naturally wanting
to have it like other girls, it ain't always easy to see my way clear. But
I'll do it, if I got to trust the store for a year to a child like Selene.
I'll get her back."

"You can call on me, Mrs. C., to keep my eye on things while you're gone."

"You boys are one crowd of true blues, all right. There ain't a city
salesman comes out here I wouldn't trust to the limit."

"You just try me out."

"Why, just to show you how a woman don't know how many real friends she has
got, why--even Mark Haas, of the Mound City Silk Company, a firm I don't
do a hundred dollars' worth of business with a year, I wish you could have
heard him the other night at the Y.M.H.A., a man you know for yourself just
goes there to be sociable with the trade."

"Fine fellow, Mark Haas!"

"'When the time comes, Mrs. Coblenz,' he says, 'that you want to make that
trip, just you let me know. Before the war there wasn't a year I didn't
cross the water twice, maybe three times, for the firm. I don't know
there's much I can do; it ain't so easy to arrange for Russia, but, just
the same, you let me know when you're ready to make that trip.' Just like
that he said it. That from Mark Haas!"

"And a man like Haas don't talk that way if he don't mean it."

"Mind you, not a hundred dollars a year business with him. I haven't got
the demands for silks."

"That wash silk I'm telling you about, though, Mrs. C., does up like a--"

"There's ma thumping with the poker on the up-stairs floor. When it's
closing-time she begins to get restless. I--I wish Selene would come in.
She went out with Lester Goldmark in his little flivver, and I get nervous
about automobiles."

Mr. Bauer slid an open-face watch from his waistcoat.

"Good Lord! five-forty, and I've just got time to sell the Maplehurst
Emporium a bill of goods!"

"Good-night, Milt; and mind you put up that order of assorted neckwear
yourself. Greens in ready-tieds are good sellers for this time of the year,
and put in some reds and purples for the teamsters."

"No sooner said than done."

"And come out for supper some Sunday night, Milt. It does mama good to have
young people around."

"I'm yours."

"Good-night, Milt."

He reached across the counter, placing his hand over hers.

"Good-night, Mrs. C.," he said, a note lower in his throat; "and remember
that call-on-me stuff wasn't all conversation."

"Good-night, Milt," said Mrs. Coblenz, a coating of husk over her own voice
and sliding her hand out from beneath, to top his. "You--you're all right!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Up-stairs, in a too tufted and too crowded room directly over the frontal
half of the store, the window overlooking the remote sea of city was
turning taupe, the dusk of early spring, which is faintly tinged with
violet, invading. Beside the stove, a base-burner with faint fire showing
through its mica, the identity of her figure merged with the fat upholstery
of the chair, except where the faint pink through the mica lighted up old
flesh, Mrs. Miriam Horowitz, full of years and senile with them, wove with
grasses, the ecru of her own skin, wreaths that had mounted to a great
stack in a bedroom cupboard.

A clock, with a little wheeze and burring attached to each chime, rang six,
and upon it Mrs. Coblenz, breathing from a climb, opened the door.

"Ma, why didn't you rap for Katie to come up and light the gas? You'll ruin
your eyes, dearie."

She found out a match, immediately lighting two jets of a
center-chandelier, turning them down from singing, drawing the shades of
the two front and the southeast windows, stooping over the upholstered
chair to imprint a light kiss.

"A fine day, mama. There'll be an entry this week. Thirty dollars and
thirteen cents and another call for garden implements. I think I'll lay in
a hardware line after we--we get back. I can use the lower shelf of the
china-table, eh, ma?"

Mrs. Horowitz, whose face, the color of old linen in the yellowing, emerged
rather startling from the still black hair strained back from it, lay back
in her chair, turning her profile against the upholstered back, half a
wreath and a trail of raffia sliding to the floor. Age had sapped from
beneath the skin, so that every curve had collapsed to bagginess, the
cheeks and the underchin sagging with too much skin. Even the hands were
crinkled like too large gloves, a wide, curiously etched marriage band
hanging loosely from the third finger.

Mrs. Goblenz stooped, recovering the wreath.

"Say, mama, this one is a beauty! That's a new weave, ain't it? Here, work
some more, dearie--till Selene comes with your evening papers."

With her profile still to the chair-back, a tear oozed down the corrugated
face of Mrs. Horowitz's cheek. Another.

"Now, mama! Now, mama!"

"I got a heaviness--here--inside. I got a heaviness--"

Mrs. Coblenz slid down to her knees beside the chair.

"Now, mama; shame on my little mama! Is that the way to act when Shila
comes up after a good day? 'Ain't we got just lots to be thankful for--the
business growing and the bank-book growing, and our Selene on top? Shame on
mama!"

"I got a heaviness--here--inside--here."

Mrs. Coblenz reached up for the old hand, patting it.

"It's nothing, mama--a little nervousness."

"I'm an old woman. I--"

"And just think, Shila's mama, Mark Haas is going to get us letters and
passports and--"

"My son--my boy--his father before him--"

"Mama--mama, please don't let a spell come on! It's all right. Shila's
going to fix it. Any day now, maybe--"

"You'm a good girl. You'm a good girl, Shila." Tears were coursing down to
a mouth that was constantly wry with the taste of them.

"And you're a good mother, mama. Nobody knows better than me how good."

"You'm a good girl, Shila."

"I was thinking last night, mama, waiting up for Selene--just thinking how
all the good you've done ought to keep your mind off the spells, dearie."

"My son--"

"Why, a woman with as much good to remember as you've got oughtn't to have
time for spells. I got to thinking about Coblenz, mama, how--you never did
want him, and when I--I went and did it, anyway, and made my mistake, you
stood by me to--to the day he died. Never throwing anything up to me! Never
nothing but my good little mother, working her hands to the bone after
he got us out here to help meet the debts he left us. Ain't that a
satisfaction for you to be able to sit and think, mama, how you helped--"

"His feet--blood from my heart in the snow--blood from my heart!"

"The past is gone, darling. What's the use tearing yourself to pieces with
it? Them years in New York when it was a fight even for bread, and them
years here trying to raise Selene and get the business on a footing, you
didn't have time to brood then, mama. That's why, dearie, if only you'll
keep yourself busy with something--the wreaths--the--"

"His feet--blood from my--"

"But I'm going to take you back, mama. To papa's grave. To Aylorff's. But
don't eat your heart out until it comes, darling. I'm going to take you
back, mama, with every wreath in the stack; only, you mustn't eat out your
heart in spells. You mustn't, mama; you mustn't."

Sobs rumbled up through Mrs. Horowitz, which her hand to her mouth tried to
constrict.

"For his people he died. The papers--I begged he should burn them--he
couldn't--I begged he should keep in his hate--he couldn't--in the square
he talked it--the soldiers--he died for his people--they got him--the
soldiers--his feet in the snow when they took him--the blood in the snow--O
my God!--my--God!"

"Mama darling, please don't go over it all again. What's the use making
yourself sick? Please!"

She was well forward in her chair now, winding her dry hands one over the
other with a small rotary motion.

"I was rocking--Shila-baby in my lap--stirring on the fire black lentils
for my boy--black lentils--he--"

"Mama!"

"My boy. Like his father before him. My--"

"Mama, please! Selene is coming any minute now. You know how she hates it.
Don't let yourself think back, mama. A little will-power, the doctor says,
is all you need. Think of to-morrow, mama; maybe, if you want, you can come
down and sit in the store awhile and--"

"I was rocking. O my God! I was rocking, and--"

"Don't get to it--mama, please! Don't rock yourself that way! You'll get
yourself dizzy! Don't, ma; don't!"

"Outside--my boy--the holler--O God! in my ears all my life! My boy--the
papers--the swords--Aylorff--Aylorff--"

"'Shh-h-h--mama--"

"It came through his heart out the back--a blade with two sides--out the
back when I opened the door; the spur in his face when he fell, Shila--the
spur in his face--the beautiful face of my boy--my Aylorff--my husband
before him--that died to make free!" And fell back, bathed in the sweat of
the terrific hiccoughing of sobs.

"Mama, mama! My God! What shall we do? These spells! You'll kill yourself,
darling. I'm going to take you back, dearie--ain't that enough? I promise.
I promise. You mustn't, mama! These spells--they ain't good for a young
girl like Selene to hear. Mama, 'ain't you got your own Shila--your own
Selene? Ain't that something? Ain't it? Ain't it?"

Large drops of sweat had come out and a state of exhaustion that swept
completely over, prostrating the huddled form in the chair.

"Bed--my bed!"

With her arms twined about the immediately supporting form of her daughter,
her entire weight relaxed, and footsteps that dragged without lift, one
after the other, Mrs. Horowitz groped out, one hand feeling in advance,
into the gloom of a room adjoining.

"Rest! O my God! rest!"

"Yes, yes, mama; lean on me."

"My--bed."

"Yes, yes, darling."

"Bed."

Her voice had died now to a whimper that lay on the room after she had
passed out of it.

When Selene Coblenz, with a gust that swept the room, sucking the lace
curtains back against the panes, flung open the door upon that chromatic
scene, the two jets of gas were singing softly into its silence, and within
the nickel-trimmed baseburner the pink mica had cooled to gray. Sweeping
open that door, she closed it softly, standing for the moment against it,
her hand crossed in back and on the knob. It was as if--standing there
with her head cocked and beneath a shadowy blue sailor-hat, a smile coming
out--something within her was playing, sweetly insistent to be heard.
Philomela, at the first sound of her nightingale self, must have stood
thus, trembling with melody. Opposite her, above the crowded mantelpiece
and surmounted by a raffia wreath, the enlarged-crayon gaze of her deceased
maternal grandfather, abetted by a horrible device of photography, followed
her, his eyes focusing the entire room at a glance. Impervious to that
scrutiny, Miss Coblenz moved a tiptoe step or two farther into the room,
lifting off her hat, staring and smiling through a three-shelved cabinet
of knickknacks at what she saw far and beyond. Beneath the two jets, high
lights in her hair came out, bronze showing through the brown waves and the
patches of curls brought out over her cheeks.

In her dark-blue dress, with the row of silver buttons down what was hip
before the hipless age, the chest sufficiently concave and the silhouette a
mere stroke of a hard pencil, Miss Selene Coblenz measured up and down
to America's Venus de Milo, whose chief curvature is of the spine.
Slim-etched, and that slimness enhanced by a conscious kind of collapse
beneath the blue-silk girdle that reached up half-way to her throat, hers
were those proportions which strong women, eschewing the sweet-meat, would
earn by the sweat of the Turkish bath.

When Miss Coblenz caught her eye in the square of mirror above the
mantelpiece, her hands flew to her cheeks to feel of their redness. They
were soft cheeks, smooth with the pollen of youth, and hands still casing
them, she moved another step toward the portiered door.

"Mama!"

Mrs. Coblenz emerged immediately, finger up for silence, kissing her
daughter on the little spray of cheek-curls.

"'Shh-h-h! Gramaw just had a terrible spell."

She dropped down into the upholstered chair beside the base-burner, the
pink and moisture of exertion out in her face, took to fanning herself with
the end of a face-towel flung across her arm.

"Poor gramaw!" she said. "Poor gramaw!"

Miss Coblenz sat down on the edge of a slim, home-gilded chair, and took to
gathering the blue-silk dress into little plaits at her knee.

"Of course, if you don't want to know where I've been--or anything--"

Mrs. Coblenz jerked herself to the moment.

"Did mama's girl have a good time? Look at your dress, all dusty! You
oughtn't to wear your best in that little flivver."

Suddenly Miss Coblenz raised her glance, her red mouth bunched, her eyes
all iris.

"Of course--if you don't want to know--anything."

At that large, brilliant gaze, Mrs. Coblenz leaned forward, quickened.

"Why, Selene!"

"Well, why--why don't you ask me something?"

"Why, I--I dunno, honey. Did--did you and Lester have a nice ride?"

There hung a slight pause, and then a swift moving and crumpling-up of Miss
Coblenz on the floor beside her mother's knee.

"You know--only, you won't ask."

With her hand light upon her daughter's hair, Mrs. Coblenz leaned forward,
her bosom rising to faster breathing.

"Why--Selene--I--Why--"

"We--we were speeding along, and--all of a sudden, out of a clear sky,
he--he popped. He wants it in June, so we can make it our honeymoon to his
new territory out in Oklahoma. He knew he was going to pop, he said, ever
since that first night he saw me at the Y.M.H.A. He says to his uncle Mark,
the very next day in the store, he says to him, 'Uncle Mark,' he says,
'I've met _the_ little girl.' He says he thinks more of my little finger
than all of his regular crowd of girls in town put together. He wants to
live in one of the built-in-bed flats on Wasserman Avenue, like all the
swell young marrieds. He's making twenty-six hundred now, mama, and if he
makes good in the new Oklahoma territory, his Uncle Mark is--is going to
take care of him better. Ain't it like a dream, mama--your little Selene
all of a sudden in with--the somebodies?"

Immediate tears were already finding staggering procession down Mrs.
Coblenz's face, her hovering arms completely encircling the slight figure
at her feet.

"My little girl! My little Selene! My all!"

"I'll be marrying into one of the best families in town, ma. A girl who
marries a nephew of Mark Haas can hold up her head with the best of them.
There's not a boy in town with a better future than Lester. Like Lester
says, everything his Uncle Mark touches turns to gold, and he's already
touched Lester. One of the best known men on Washington Avenue for his
blood-uncle, and on his poor dead father's side related to the Katz &
Harberger Harbergers. Was I right, mama, when I said if you'd only let me
stop school I'd show you? Was I right, momsie?"

"My baby! It's like I can't realize it. So young!"

"He took the measure of my finger, mama, with a piece of string. A diamond,
he says, not too flashy, but neat."

"We have 'em, and we suffer for 'em, and we lose 'em."

"He's going to trade in the flivver for a chummy roadster, and--"

"Oh, darling, it's like I can't bear it!"

At that Miss Coblenz sat back on her tall wooden heels, mauve spats
crinkling.

"Well, you're a merry little future mother-in-law, momsie!"

"It ain't that, baby. I'm happy that my girl has got herself up in the
world with a fine upright boy like Lester; only--you can't understand,
babe, till you've got something of your own flesh and blood that belongs to
you, that I--I couldn't feel anything except that a piece of my heart was
going if--if it was a king you was marrying."

"Now, momsie, it's not like I was moving a thousand miles away. You can
be glad I don't have to go far, to New York or to Cleveland, like Alma
Yawitz."

"I am! I am!"

"Uncle--Uncle Mark, I guess, will furnish us up like he did Leon and
Irma--only, I don't want mahogany; I want Circassian walnut. He gave them
their flat-silver, too, Puritan design, for an engagement present. Think of
it, mama, me having that stuck-up Irma Sinsheimer for a relation! It always
made her sore when I got chums with Amy at school and got my nose in it
with the Acme crowd, and--and she'll change her tune now, I guess, me
marrying her husband's second cousin."

"Didn't Lester want to--to come in for a while, Selene, to--to see--me?"

Sitting there on her heels, Miss Coblenz looked away, answering with her
face in profile.

"Yes; only--I--well, if you want to know it, mama, it's no fun for a girl
to bring a boy like Lester up here in--in this crazy room, all hung up
with gramaw's wreaths and half the time her sitting out there in the dark,
looking in at us through the door and talking to herself."

"Gramaw's an old--"

"Is it any wonder I'm down at Amy's half the time? How do you think a girl
feels to have gramaw keep hanging onto that old black wig of hers and not
letting me take the crayons or wreaths down off the wall? In Lester's crowd
they don't know nothing about revolutionary stuff and persecutions. Amy's
grandmother don't even talk with an accent, and Lester says his grandmother
came from Alsace-Lorraine. That's French. They think only tailors and
old-clothes men and--."

"Selene!"

"Well, they do. You--you're all right, mama, as up to date as any of them,
but how do you think a girl feels, with gramaw always harping right in
front of everybody the way granpa was a revolutionist and was hustled off
barefooted to Siberia like a tramp? And the way she was cooking black beans
when my uncle died. Other girls' grandmothers don't tell everything they
know. Alma Yawitz's grandmother wears lorgnettes, and you told me yourself
they came from nearly the same part of the Pale as gramaw. But you don't
hear them remembering it. Alma Yawitz says she's Alsace-Lorraine on both
sides. People don't tell everything they know. Anyway where a girl's got
herself as far as I have!"

Through sobs that rocked her, Mrs. Coblenz looked down upon her daughter.

"Your poor old grandmother don't deserve that from you! In her day she
worked her hands to the bone for you. With the kind of father you had we
might have died in the gutter but for how she helped to keep us out, you
ungrateful girl--your poor old grandmother, that's suffered so terrible!"

"I know it, mama, but so have other people suffered."

"She's old, Selene--old."

"I tell you it's the way you indulge her, mama. I've seen her sitting here
as perk as you please, and the minute you come in the room down goes her
head like--like she was dying."

"It's her mind, Selene--that's going. That's why I feel if I could only get
her back. She ain't old, gramaw ain't. If I could only get her back where
she--could see for herself--the graves--is all she needs. All old people
think of--the grave. It's eating her--eating her mind. Mark Haas is going
to fix it for me after the war--maybe before--if he can. That's the only
way poor gramaw can live--or die--happy, Selene. Now--now that my--my
little girl ain't any longer my responsibility, I--I'm going to take her
back--my little--girl"--her hand reached out, caressing the smooth head,
her face projected forward and the eyes yearning down--"my all."

"It's you will be my responsibility now, ma."

"No! No!"

"The first thing Lester says was a flat on Wasserman and a spare room for
Mother Coblenz when she wants to come down. Wasn't it sweet for him to put
it that way right off, ma? 'Mother Coblenz,' he says."

"He's a good boy, Selene. It'll be a proud day for me and gramaw. Gramaw
mustn't miss none of it. He's a good boy and a fine family."

"That's why, mama, we--got to--to do it up right."

"Lester knows, child, he's not marrying a rich girl."

"A girl don't have to--be rich to get married right."

"You'll have as good as mama can afford to give it to her girl."

"It--it would be different if Lester's uncle and all wasn't in the Acme
Club crowd, and if I hadn't got in with all that bunch. It's the last
expense I'll ever be to you, mama."

"Oh, baby, don't say that!"

"I--me and Lester--Lester and me were talking, mama--when the engagement's
announced next week--a reception--"

"We can clear out this room, move the bed out of gramaw's room into ours,
and serve the ice-cream and cake in--"

"Oh, mama, I don't mean--that!"

"What?"

"Who ever heard of having a reception _here_! People won't come from town
'way out to this old--cabbage-patch. Even Gertie Wolf, with their big
house on West Pine Boulevard, had her reception at the Walsingham Hotel.
You--We--can't expect Mark Haas and all the relations--the Sinsheimers--
and--all to come out here. I'd rather not have any."

"But, Selene, everybody knows we ain't millionaires, and that you got in
with that crowd through being friends at school with Amy Rosen. All the
city salesmen and the boys on Washington Avenue, even Mark Haas himself,
that time he was in the store with Lester, knows the way we live. You don't
need to be ashamed of your little home, Selene, even if it ain't on West
Pine Boulevard."

"It'll be--your last expense, mama. The Walsingham, that's where the girl
that Lester Goldmark marries is expected to have her reception."

"But, Selene, mama can't afford nothing like that."

Pink swam up into Miss Coblenz's face, and above the sheer-white collar
there was a little beating movement at the throat, as if something were
fluttering within.

"I--I'd just as soon not get married as--as not to have it like other
girls."

"But, Selene--"

"If I--can't have a trousseau like other girls and the things that go with
marrying into a--a family like Lester's--I--then--there's no use. I--I
can't! I--wouldn't!"

She was fumbling, now, for a handkerchief, against tears that were
imminent.

"Why, baby, a girl couldn't have a finer trousseau than the old linens back
yet from Russia that me and gramaw got saved up for our girl--linen that
can't be bought these days. Bed-sheets that gramaw herself carried to the
border, and--"

"Oh, I know! I knew you'd try to dump that stuff on me. That old,
worm-eaten stuff in gramaw's chest."

"It's hand-woven, Selene, with--"

"I wouldn't have that yellow old stuff--that old-fashioned junk--if I
didn't have any trousseau. If I can't afford monogrammed up-to-date linens,
like even Alma Yawitz, and a--a pussy-willow-taffeta reception dress, I
wouldn't have any. I wouldn't." Her voice, crowded with passion and tears,
rose to the crest of a sob. "I--I'd die first!"

"Selene, Selene, mama 'ain't got the money. If she had it, wouldn't she be
willing to take the very last penny to give her girl the kind of a wedding
she wants? A trousseau like Alma's cost a thousand dollars, if it cost a
cent. Her table-napkins alone, they say, cost thirty-six dollars a dozen,
un-monogrammed. A reception at the Walsingham costs two hundred dollars,
if it costs a cent. Selene, mama will make for you every sacrifice she can
afford, but she 'ain't got the money!"

"You--have got the money!"

"So help me God, Selene! You know, with the quarries shut down, what
business has been. You know how--sometimes even to make ends meet it is a
pinch. You're an ungrateful girl, Selene, to ask what I ain't able to do
for you. A child like you, that's been indulged, that I 'ain't even asked
ever in her life to help a day down in the store. If I had the money, God
knows you should be married in real lace, with the finest trousseau a girl
ever had. But I 'ain't got the money--I 'ain't got the money."

"You have got the money! The book in gramaw's drawer is seven hundred and
forty. I guess I ain't blind. I know a thing or two."

"Why, Selene! That's gramaw's--to go back--"

"You mean the bank-book's hers?"

"That's gramaw's, to go back--home on. That's the money for me to take
gramaw and her wreaths back home on."

"There you go--talking luny."

"Selene!"

"Well, I'd like to know what else you'd call it, kidding yourself along
like that."

"You--"

"All right. If you think gramaw, with her life all lived, comes first
before me, with all my life to live--all right!"

"Your poor old--"

"It's always been gramaw first in this house, anyway. I couldn't even have
company since I'm grown up because the way she's always allowed around.
Nobody can say I ain't good to gramaw; Lester says it's beautiful the way I
am with her, remembering always to bring the newspapers and all, but just
the same, I know when right's right and wrong's wrong. If my life ain't
more important than gramaw's, with hers all lived, all right. Go ahead!"

"Selene, Selene, ain't it coming to gramaw, after all her years' hard work
helping us that--she should be entitled to go back with her wreaths for the
graves? Ain't she entitled to die with that off her poor old mind? You bad,
ungrateful girl, you, it's coming to a poor old woman that's suffered as
terrible as gramaw that I should find a way to take her back."

"Take her back. Where--to jail? To prison in Siberia herself--"

"There's a way--"

"You know gramaw's too old to take a trip like that. You know in your own
heart she won't ever see that day. Even before the war, much less now,
there wasn't a chance for her to get passports back there. I don't say it
ain't all right to kid her along, but when it comes to--to keeping me out
of the--the biggest thing that can happen to a girl--when gramaw wouldn't
know the difference if you keep showing her the bank-book--it ain't right.
That's what it ain't. It ain't right!"

In the smallest possible compass, Miss Coblenz crouched now upon the floor,
head down somewhere in her knees, and her curving back racked with rising
sobs.

"Selene--but some day--"

"Some day nothing! A woman like gramaw can't do much more than go down-town
once a year, and then you talk about taking her to Russia! You can't get in
there, I--tell you--no way you try to fix it after--the way gramaw--had--to
leave. Even before the war Ray Letsky's father couldn't get back on
business. There's nothing for her there, even after she gets there. In
thirty years, do you think you can find those graves? Do you know the size
of Siberia? No! But I got to pay--I got to pay for gramaw's nonsense. But I
won't. I won't go to Lester if I can't go right. I--."

"Baby, don't cry so--for God's sake, don't cry so!"

"I wish I was dead!"

"'Sh-h-h! You'll wake gramaw."

"I do!"

"O God, help me to do the right thing!"

"If gramaw could understand, she'd be the first one to tell you the right
thing. Anybody would."

"No! No! That little bank-book and its entries are her life--her life."

"She don't need to know, mama. I'm not asking that. That's the way they
always do with old people to keep them satisfied. Just humor 'em. Ain't I
the one with life before me--ain't I, mama?"

"O God, show me the way!"

"If there was a chance, you think I'd be spoiling things for gramaw? But
there ain't, mama--not one."

"I keep hoping if not before, then after the war. With the help of Mark
Haas--"

"With the book in her drawer, like always, and the entries changed once in
a while, she'll never know the difference. I swear to God she'll never know
the difference, mama!"

"Poor gramaw!"

"Mama, promise me--your little Selene. Promise me?"

"Selene, Selene, can we keep it from her?"

"I swear we can, mama."

"Poor, poor gramaw!"

"Mama? Mama darling?"

"O God, show me the way!"

"Ain't it me that's got life before me? My whole life?"

"Yes--Selene."

"Then, mama, please--you will--you will--darling?"

"Yes, Selene."

In a large, all-frescoed, seventy-five-dollar-an-evening-with-lights and
cloak-room-service ballroom of the Hotel Walsingham, a family hostelry in
that family circle of St. Louis known as its West End, the city holds not
a few of its charity-whists and benefit musicales; on a dais which can be
carried in for the purpose, morning readings of "Little Moments from
Little Plays," and with the introduction of a throne-chair, the monthly
lodge-meetings of the Lady Mahadharatas of America. For weddings and
receptions, a lane of red carpet leads up to the slight dais; and lined
about the brocade and paneled walls, gilt-and-brocade chairs, with the
crest of Walsingham in padded embroidery on the backs. Crystal chandeliers,
icicles of dripping light, glow down upon a scene of parquet floor, draped
velours, and mirrors wreathed in gilt.

At Miss Selene Coblenz's engagement reception, an event properly festooned
with smilax and properly jostled with the elbowing figures of waiters
tilting their plates of dark-meat chicken salad, two olives, and a
finger-roll in among the crowd, a stringed three-piece orchestra, faintly
seen and still more faintly heard, played into the babel.

Light, glitteringly filtered through the glass prisms, flowed down upon the
dais; upon Miss Selene Coblenz, in a taffeta that wrapped her flat waist
and chest like a calyx and suddenly bloomed into the full-inverted petals
of a skirt; upon Mr. Lester Goldmark, his long body barely knitted yet
to man's estate, and his complexion almost clear, standing omnivorous,
omnipotent, omnipresent, his hair so well brushed that it lay like black
japanning, a white carnation at his silk lapel, and his smile slightly
projected by a rush of very white teeth to the very front. Next in line,
Mrs. Coblenz, the red of a fervent moment high in her face, beneath the
maroon-net bodice the swell of her bosom, fast, and her white-gloved hand
constantly at the opening and shutting of a lace-and-spangled fan. Back,
and well out of the picture, a potted hydrangea beside the Louis Quinze
armchair, her hands in silk mitts laid out along the gold-chair sides, her
head quavering in a kind of mild palsy, Mrs. Miriam Horowitz, smiling and
quivering her state of bewilderment.

With an unfailing propensity to lay hold of to whomsoever he spake, Mr.
Lester Goldmark placed his white-gloved hand upon the white-gloved arm of
Mrs. Coblenz.

"Say, Mother Coblenz, ain't it about time this little girl of mine was
resting her pink-satin double A's? She's been on duty up here from four to
seven. No wonder Uncle Mark bucked."

Mrs. Coblenz threw her glance out over the crowded room, surging with a
wave of plumes and clipped heads like a swaying bucket of water which
crowds but does not lap over its sides.

"I guess the crowd is finished coming in by now. You tired, Selene?"

Miss Coblenz turned her glowing glance.

"Tired! This is the swellest engagement-party I ever had."

Mrs. Coblenz shifted her weight from one slipper to the other, her
maroon-net skirts lying in a swirl around them.

"Just look at gramaw, too! She holds up her head with the best of them. I
wouldn't have had her miss this, not for the world."

"Sure one fine old lady! Ought to have seen her shake my hand, Mother
Coblenz. I nearly had to holler, 'Ouch!'"

"Mama, here comes Sara Suss and her mother. Take my arm, Lester honey.
People mama used to know." Miss Coblenz leaned forward beyond the dais with
the frail curve of a reed.

"Howdado, Mrs. Suss.... Thank you. Thanks. Howdado, Sara? Meet my _fiance_,
Lester Haas Goldmark; Mrs. Suss and Sara Suss, my _fiance_.... That's
right, better late than never. There's plenty left.... We think he is, Mrs.
Suss. Aw, Lester honey, quit! Mama, here's Mrs. Suss and Sadie."

"Mrs. Suss! Say--if you hadn't come, I was going to lay it up against you.
If my new ones can come on a day like this, it's a pity my old friends
can't come, too. Well, Sadie, it's your turn next, eh?... I know better
than that. With them pink cheeks and black eyes, I wish I had a dime
for every chance." (_Sotto_.) "Do you like it, Mrs. Suss? Pussy-willow
taffeta.... Say, it ought to be. An estimate dress from Madame
Murphy--sixty-five with findings. I'm so mad, Sara, you and your mama
couldn't come to the house that night to see her things. If I say so
myself, Mrs. Suss, everybody who seen it says Jacob Sinsheimer's daughter
herself didn't have a finer. Maybe not so much, but every stitch, Mrs.
Suss, made by the same sisters in the same convent that made hers....
Towels! I tell her it's a shame to expose them to the light, much less wipe
on them. Ain't it?... The goodness looks out from his face. And such a
love-pair! Lunatics, I call them. He can't keep his hands off. It ain't
nice, I tell him.... Me? Come close. I dyed the net myself. Ten cents'
worth of maroon color. Don't it warm your heart, Mrs. Suss? This morning,
after we got her in Lester's Uncle Mark's big automobile, I says to her, I
says, 'Mama, you sure it ain't too much?' Like her old self for a minute,
Mrs. Suss, she hit me on the arm. 'Go 'way,' she said; 'on my grandchild's
engagement day anything should be too much?' Here, waiter, get these two
ladies some salad. Good measure, too. Over there by the window, Mrs. Suss.
Help yourselves."

"Mama, 'sh-h-h! the waiters know what to do."

Mrs. Coblenz turned back, the flush warm to her face.

"Say, for an old friend I can be my own self."

"Can we break the receiving-line now, Lester honey, and go down with
everybody? The Sinsheimers and their crowd over there by themselves, we
ought to show we appreciate their coming."

Mr. Goldmark twisted high in his collar, cupping her small bare elbow in
his hand.

"That's what I say, lovey; let's break. Come, Mother Coblenz, let's step
down on high society's corns."

"Lester!"

"You and Selene go down with the crowd, Lester. I want to take gramaw to
rest for a while before we go home. The manager says we can have room
fifty-six by the elevator for her to rest in."

"Get her some newspapers, ma, and I brought her a wreath down to keep her
quiet. It's wrapped in her shawl."

Her skirts delicately lifted, Miss Coblenz stepped down off the dais. With
her cloud of gauze-scarf enveloping her, she was like a tulle-clouded
"Springtime," done in the key of Botticelli.

"Oop-si-lah, lovey-dovey!" said Mr. Goldmark, tilting her elbow for the
downward step.

"Oop-si-lay, dovey-lovey!" said Miss Coblenz, relaxing to the support.

Gathering up her plentiful skirts, Mrs. Coblenz stepped off, too, but back
toward the secluded chair beside the potted hydrangea. A fine line of pain,
like a cord tightening, was binding her head, and she put up two fingers to
each temple, pressing down the throb.

"Mrs. Coblenz, see what I got for you!" She turned, smiling. "You don't
look like you need salad and green ice-cream. You look like you needed what
I wanted--a cup of coffee."

"Aw, Mr. Haas--now where in the world--Aw, Mr. Haas!"

With a steaming cup outheld and carefully out of collision with the crowd,
Mr. Haas unflapped a napkin with his free hand, inserting his foot in the
rung of a chair and dragging it toward her.

"Now," he cried, "sit and watch me take care of you!"

There comes a tide in the affairs of men when the years lap softly, leaving
no particular inundations on the celebrated sands of time. Between forty
and fifty, that span of years which begin the first slight gradations from
the apex of life, the gray hair, upstanding like a thick-bristled brush off
Mr. Haas's brow, had not so much as whitened, or the slight paunchiness
enhanced even the moving-over of a button. When Mr. Haas smiled, his
mustache, which ended in a slight but not waxed flourish, lifted to reveal
a white-and-gold smile of the artistry of careful dentistry, and when, upon
occasion, he threw back his head to laugh, the roof of his mouth was his
own.

He smiled now, peering through gold-rimmed spectacles attached by a chain
to a wire-encircled left ear.

"Sit," he cried, "and let me serve you!"

Standing there with a diffidence which she could not crowd down, Mrs.
Coblenz smiled through closed lips that would pull at the corners.

"The idea, Mr. Haas--going to all that trouble!"

"'Trouble'! she says. After two hours' handshaking in a swallow-tail, a man
knows what real trouble is!"

She stirred around and around the cup, supping up spoonfuls gratefully.

"I'm sure much obliged. It touches the right spot."

He pressed her down to the chair, seating himself on the low edge of the
dais.

"Now you sit right there and rest your bones."

"But my mother, Mr. Haas. Before it's time for the ride home she must rest
in a quiet place."

"My car'll be here and waiting five minutes after I telephone."

"You--sure have been grand, Mr. Haas!"

"I shouldn't be grand yet to my--Let's see--what relation is it I am to
you?"

"Honest, you're a case, Mr. Haas--always making fun!"

"My poor dead sister's son marries your daughter. That makes you
my--nothing-in-law."

"Honest, Mr. Haas, if I was around you, I'd get fat laughing."

"I wish you was."

"Selene would have fits. 'Never get fat, mama,' she says, 'if you don't
want--'"

"I don't mean that."

"What?"

"I mean I wish you was around me."

She struck him then with her fan, but the color rose up into the mound of
her carefully piled hair.

"I always say I can see where Lester gets his comical ways. Like his uncle,
that boy keeps us all laughing."

"Gad! look at her blush! I know women your age would give fifty dollars a
blush to do it that way."

She was looking away again, shoulders heaving to silent laughter, the blush
still stinging.

"It's been so--so long, Mr. Haas, since I had compliments made to me. You
make me feel so--silly."

"I know it, you nice, fine woman, you; and it's a darn shame!"

"Mr.--Haas!"

"I mean it. I hate to see a fine woman not get her dues. Anyways, when
she's the finest woman of them all!"

"I--the woman that lives to see a day like this--her daughter the happiest
girl in the world, with the finest boy in the world--is getting her dues,
all right, Mr. Haas."

"She's a fine girl, but she ain't worth her mother's little finger-nail."

"Mr.--Haas!"

"No, sir-ree!"

"I must be going now, Mr. Haas. My mother--"

"That's right. The minute a man tries to break the ice with this little
lady, it's a freeze-out. Now what did I say so bad? In business, too. Never
seen the like. It's like trying to swat a fly to come down on you at the
right minute. But now, with you for a nothing-in-law, I got rights."

"If--you ain't the limit, Mr. Haas!"

"Don't mind saying it, Mrs. C., and, for a bachelor, they tell me I'm not
the worst judge in the world, but there's not a woman on the floor stacks
up like you do."

"Well--of all things!"

"Mean it."

"My mother, Mr. Haas, she--"

"And if anybody should ask you if I've got you on my mind or not, well,
I've already got the letters out on that little matter of the passports you
spoke to me about. If there's a way to fix that up for you, and leave it to
me to find it, I--"

She sprang now, trembling, to her feet, all the red of the moment receding.

"Mr. Haas, I--I must go now. My--mother--"

He took her arm, winding her in and out among crowded-out chairs behind the
dais.

"I wish it to every mother to have a daughter like you, Mrs. C."

"No! No!" she said, stumbling rather wildly through the chairs. "No! No!
No!"

He forged ahead, clearing her path of them.

Beside the potted hydrangea, well back and yet within an easy view, Mrs.
Horowitz, her gilt armchair well cushioned for the occasion, and her
black grenadine spread decently about her, looked out upon the scene, her
slightly palsied head well forward.

"Mama, you got enough? You wouldn't have missed it, eh? A crowd of people
we can be proud to entertain. Not? Come; sit quiet in another room for a
while, and then Mr. Haas, with his nice big car, will drive us all home
again. You know Mr. Haas, dearie--Lester's uncle that had us drove so
careful in his fine car. You remember, dearie--Lester's uncle?"

Mrs. Horowitz looked up, her old face crackling to smile.

"My grandchild! My grandchild! She'm a fine one. Not? My grandchild! My
grandchild!"

"You--mustn't mind, Mr. Haas. That's--the way she's done since--since
she's--sick. Keeps repeating--"

"My grandchild! From a good mother and a bad father comes a good
grandchild. My grandchild! She'm a good one. My--"

"Mama dearie, Mr. Haas is in a hurry. He's come to help me walk you into a
little room to rest before we go home in Mr. Haas's big, fine auto. Where
you can go and rest, mama, and read the newspapers. Come."

"My back--_ach_--my back!"

"Yes, yes, mama; we'll fix it. Up! So--la!"

They raised her by the crook of each arm, gently.

"So! Please, Mr. Haas, the pillows. Shawl. There!"

Around a rear hallway, they were almost immediately into a blank, staring
hotel bedroom, fresh towels on the furniture-tops only enhancing its
staleness.

"Here we are. Sit her here, Mr. Haas, in this rocker."

They lowered her, almost inch by inch, sliding down pillows, against the
chair-back.

"Now, Shila's little mama want to sleep?"

"I got--no rest--no rest."

"You're too excited, honey; that's all."

"No rest."

"Here--here's a brand-new hotel Bible on the table, dearie. Shall Shila
read it to you?"

"Aylorff--"

"Now, now, mama. Now, now; you mustn't! Didn't you promise Shila? Look!
See, here's a wreath wrapped in your shawl for Shila's little mama to work
on. Plenty of wreaths for us to take back. Work awhile, dearie, and then
we'll get Selene and Lester, and, after all the nice company goes away,
we'll go home in the auto."

"I begged he should keep in his hate--his feet in the--"

"I know! The papers! That's what little mama wants. Mr. Haas, that's what
she likes better than anything--the evening papers."

"I'll go down and send 'em right up with a boy, and telephone for the car.
The crowd's beginning to pour out now. Just hold your horses there, Mrs.
C., and I'll have those papers up here in a jiffy."

He was already closing the door after him, letting in and shutting out a
flare of music.

"See, mama, nice Mr. Haas is getting us the papers. Nice evening papers for
Shila's mama." She leaned down into the recesses of the black grenadine,
withdrawing from one of the pockets a pair of silver-rimmed spectacles,
adjusting them with some difficulty to the nodding head. "Shila's--little
mama! Shila's mama!"

"Aylorff, the littlest wreath for--Aylorff--_Meine Kraentze_--"

"Yes, yes."

"_Mem Mann. Mein Suehn_."

"'Shh-h-h, dearie!"

"Aylorff--_der klenste Kranz far ihm_!"

"'Shh-h-h, dearie! Talk English, like Selene wants. Wait till we get on the
ship--the beautiful ship to take us back. Mama, see out the window! Look!
That's the beautiful Forest Park, and this is the fine Hotel Walsingham
just across. See out! Selene is going to have a flat on--"

"_Sey hoben gestorben far Freiheit. Sey hoben_--"

"There! That's the papers!"

To a succession of quick knocks, she flew to the door, returning with the
folded evening editions under her arm.

"Now," she cried, unfolding and inserting the first of them into the
quivering hands--"now, a shawl over my little mama's knees and we're
fixed!"

With a series of rapid movements she flung open one of the black-cashmere
shawls across the bed, folding it back into a triangle. Beside the table,
bare except for the formal, unthumbed Bible, Mrs. Horowitz rattled out a
paper, her near-sighted eyes traveling back and forth across the page.

Music from the ferned-in orchestra came in drifts, faint, not so faint.
From somewhere, then immediately from everywhere--beyond, below, without,
the fast shouts of newsboys mingling.

Suddenly and of her own volition, and with a cry that shot up through the
room, rending it like a gash, Mrs. Horowitz, who moved by inches, sprang to
her supreme height, her arms, the crooks forced out, flung up.

"My darlings--what died--for it! My darlings what died for it! My
darlings--Aylorff, my husband!" There was a wail rose up off her words,
like the smoke of incense curling, circling around her. "My darlings what
died to make free!"

"Mama! Darling! Mama! Mr. Haas! Help! Mama! My God!"

"Aylorff--my husband--I paid with my blood to make free--my blood--. My
son--my--own--" Immovable there, her arms flung up and tears so heavy that
they rolled whole from her face down to the black grenadine, she was as
sonorous as the tragic meter of an Alexandrine line; she was like Ruth,
ancestress of heroes and progenitor of kings.

"My boy--my own! They died for it! _Mein Mann! Mein Suehn_!"

On her knees, frantic to press her down once more into the chair, terrified
at the rigid immobility of the upright figure, Mrs. Coblenz paused then,
too, her clasp falling away, and leaned forward to the open sheet of the
newspaper, its black head-lines facing her:

RUSSIA FREE

BANS DOWN 100,000 SIBERIAN PRISONERS LIBERATED

In her ears a ringing silence, as if a great steel disk had clattered down
into the depths of her consciousness. There on her knees, trembling seized
her, and she hugged herself against it, leaning forward to corroborate her
gaze.

MOST RIGID AUTOCRACY IN THE WORLD OVERTHROWN

RUSSIA REJOICES

"Mama! Mama! My God! Mama!"

"Home, Shila; home! My husband who died for it--Aylorff! Home now, quick!
My wreaths! My wreaths!"

"O my God! Mama!"

"Home!"

"Yes, darling--yes--"

"My wreaths!"

"Yes, yes, darling; your wreaths. Let--let me think. Freedom! O my God!
help me to find a way! O my God!"

"My wreaths!"

"Here, darling, here!"

From the floor beside her, the raffia wreath half in the making, Mrs.
Coblenz reached up, pressing it flat to the heaving old bosom.

"There, darling, there!"

"I paid with my blood--"

"Yes, yes, mama; you--paid with your blood. Mama--sit, please. Sit
and--let's try to think. Take it slow, darling; it's like we can't take it
in all at once. I--We--Sit down, darling. You'll make yourself terrible
sick. Sit down, darling; you--you're slipping."

"My wreaths--"

Heavily, the arm at the waist gently sustaining, Mrs. Horowitz sank rather
softly down, her eyelids fluttering for the moment. A smile had come out on
her face, and, as her head sank back against the rest, the eyes resting at
the downward flutter, she gave out a long breath, not taking it in again.

"Mama! You're fainting!" She leaned to her, shaking the relaxed figure by
the elbows, her face almost touching the tallow-like one with the smile
lying so deeply into it. "Mama! My God! darling, wake up! I'll take you
back. I'll find a way to take you. I'm a bad girl, darling, but I'll find a
way to take you. I'll take you if--if I kill for it! I promise before God
I'll take you. To-morrow--now--nobody can keep me from taking you. The
wreaths, mama! Get ready the wreaths! Mama darling, wake up! Get ready the
wreaths! The wreaths!" Shaking at that quiet form, sobs that were full of
voice tearing raw from her throat, she fell to kissing the sunken face,
enclosing it, stroking it, holding her streaming gaze closely and burningly
against the closed lids. "Mama, I swear to God I'll take you! Answer me,
mama! The bank-book--you've got it! Why don't you wake up, mama? Help!"

Upon that scene, the quiet of the room so raucously lacerated, burst Mr.
Haas, too breathless for voice.

"Mr. Haas--my mother! Help--my mother! It's a faint, ain't it? A faint?"

He was beside her at two bounds, feeling of the limp wrists, laying his ear
to the grenadine bosom, lifting the reluctant lids, touching the flesh that
yielded so to touch.

"It's a faint, ain't it, Mr. Haas? Tell her I'll take her back. Wake her
up, Mr. Haas! Tell her I'm a bad girl, but I--I'm going to take her back.
Now! Tell her! Tell her, Mr. Haas, I've got the bank-book. Please! Please!
O my God!"

He turned to her, his face working to keep down compassion.

"We must get a doctor, little lady."

She threw out an arm.

"No! No! I see! My old mother--my old mother--all her life a nobody--She
helped--she gave it to them--my mother--a poor little widow nobody--She
bought with her blood that freedom--she--"

"God! I just heard it down-stairs--it's the tenth wonder of the world. It's
too big to take in. I was afraid--"

"Mama darling, I tell you, wake up! I'm a bad girl, but I'll take you back.
Tell her, Mr. Haas, I'll take her back. Wake up, darling! I swear to God
I'll take you!"

"Mrs. Coblenz, my--poor little lady, your mother don't need you to take
her back. She's gone back where--where she wants to be. Look at her face,
little lady. Can't you see she's gone back?"

"No! No! Let me go. Let me touch her. No! No! Mama darling!"

"Why, there wasn't a way, little lady, you could have fixed it for that
poor--old body. She's beyond any of the poor fixings we could do for her.
You never saw her face like that before. Look!"

"The wreaths--the wreaths!"

He picked up the raffia circle, placing it back again against the quiet
bosom.

"Poor little lady!" he said. "Shila--that's left for us to do. You and me,
Shila--we'll take the wreaths back for her."

"My darling--my darling mother! I'll take them back for you! I'll take them
back for you!"

"_We'll_ take them back for her--Shila."

"I'll--"

"_We'll_ take them back for her--Shila."

"_We'll_ take them back for you, mama. We'll take them back for you,
darling!"

THE END








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