Buttered Side Down
by Edna Ferber
I. THE FROG AND
II.THE MAN WHO
III. WHAT SHE
IV. A BUSH
V. THE KITCHEN
SIDE OF THE DOOR
X. THE HOMELY
XI. SUN DRIED
XII. WHERE THE
CAR TURNS AT
"And so," the story writers used to say, "they lived happily ever
Um-m-m maybe. After the glamour had worn off, and the glass
slippers were worn out, did the Prince never find Cinderella's manner
redolent of the kitchen hearth; and was it never necessary that he
remind her to be more careful of her finger-nails and grammar? After
Puss in Boots had won wealth and a wife for his young master did not
that gentleman often fume with chagrin because the neighbors, perhaps,
refused to call on the lady of the former poor miller's son?
It is a great risk to take with one's book-children. These stories
make no such promises. They stop just short of the phrase of the old
story writers, and end truthfully, thus: And so they lived.
Any one who has ever written for the magazines (nobody could devise
a more sweeping opening; it includes the iceman who does a humorous
article on the subject of his troubles, and the neglected wife next
door, who journalizes) knows that a story the scene of which is not New
York is merely junk. Take Fifth Avenue as a framework, pad it out to
five thousand words, and there you have the ideal short story.
Consequently I feel a certain timidity in confessing that I do not
know Fifth Avenue from Hester Street when I see it, because I've never
seen it. It has been said that from the latter to the former is a
ten-year journey, from which I have gathered that they lie some miles
apart. As for Forty-second Street, of which musical comedians carol, I
know not if it be a fashionable shopping thoroughfare or a factory
A confession of this kind is not only good for the soul, but for
the editor. It saves him the trouble of turning to page two.
This is a story of Chicago, which is a first cousin of New York,
although the two are not on chummy terms. It is a story of that part of
Chicago which lies east of Dearborn Avenue and south of Division
Street, and which may be called the Nottingham curtain district.
In the Nottingham curtain district every front parlor window is
embellished with a "Rooms With or Without Board" sign. The curtains
themselves have mellowed from their original
department-store-basement-white to a rich, deep tone of Chicago smoke,
which has the notorious London variety beaten by several shades. Block
after block the two-story-and-basement houses stretch, all grimy and
gritty and looking sadly down upon the five square feet of mangy grass
forming the pitiful front yard of each. Now and then the monotonous
line of front stoops is broken by an outjutting basement delicatessen
shop. But not often. The Nottingham curtain district does not run
heavily to delicacies. It is stronger on creamed cabbage and bread
Up in the third floor back at Mis' Buck's (elegant rooms $2.50 and
up a week. Gents preferred) Gertie was brushing her hair for the night.
One hundred strokes with a bristle brush. Anyone who reads the beauty
column in the newspapers knows that. There was something heroic in the
sight of Gertie brushing her hair one hundred strokes before going to
bed at night. Only a woman could understand her doing it.
Gertie clerked downtown on State Street, in a gents' glove
department. A gents' glove department requires careful dressing on the
part of its clerks, and the manager, in selecting them, is particular
about choosing "lookers," with especial attention to figure, hair, and
finger nails. Gertie was a looker. Providence had taken care of that.
But you cannot leave your hair and finger nails to Providence. They
demand coaxing with a bristle brush and an orangewood stick.
Now clerking, as Gertie would tell you, is fierce on the feet. And
when your feet are tired you are tired all over. Gertie's feet were
tired every night. About eight-thirty she longed to peel off her
clothes, drop them in a heap on the floor, and tumble, unbrushed,
unwashed, unmanicured, into bed. She never did it.
Things had been particularly trying to-night. After washing out
three handkerchiefs and pasting them with practised hand over the
mirror, Gertie had taken off her shoes and discovered a hole the size
of a silver quarter in the heel of her left stocking. Gertie had a
country-bred horror of holey stockings. She darned the hole, yawning,
her aching feet pressed against the smooth, cool leg of the iron bed.
That done, she had had the colossal courage to wash her face, slap cold
cream on it, and push back the cuticle around her nails.
Seated huddled on the side of her thin little iron bed, Gertie was
brushing her hair bravely, counting the strokes somewhere in her
sub-conscious mind and thinking busily all the while of something else.
Her brush rose, fell, swept downward, rose, fell, rhythmically.
"Ninety-six, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety Oh, darn it!
What's the use!" cried Gertie, and hurled the brush across the room
with a crack.
She sat looking after it with wide, staring eyes until the brush
blurred in with the faded red roses on the carpet. When she found it
doing that she got up, wadded her hair viciously into a hard bun in the
back instead of braiding it carefully as usual, crossed the room (it
wasn't much of a trip), picked up the brush, and stood looking down at
it, her under lip caught between her teeth. That is the humiliating
part of losing your temper and throwing things. You have to come down
to picking them up, anyway.
Her lip still held prisoner, Gertie tossed the brush on the bureau,
fastened her nightgown at the throat with a safety pin, turned out the
gas and crawled into bed.
Perhaps the hard bun at the back of her head kept her awake. She
lay there with her eyes wide open and sleepless, staring into the
At midnight the Kid Next Door came in whistling, like one unused to
boarding-house rules. Gertie liked him for that. At the head of the
stairs he stopped whistling and came softly into his own third floor
back just next to Gertie's. Gertie liked him for that, too.
The two rooms had been one in the fashionable days of the
Nottingham curtain district, long before the advent of Mis' Buck. That
thrifty lady, on coming into possession, had caused a flimsy partition
to be run up, slicing the room in twain and doubling its rental.
Lying there Gertie could hear the Kid Next Door moving about
getting ready for bed and humming "Every Little Movement Has a Meaning
of Its Own" very lightly, under his breath. He polished his shoes
briskly, and Gertie smiled there in the darkness of her own room in
sympathy. Poor kid, he had his beauty struggles, too.
Gertie had never seen the Kid Next Door, although he had come four
months ago. But she knew he wasn't a grouch, because he alternately
whistled and sang off-key tenor while dressing in the morning. She had
also discovered that his bed must run along the same wall against which
her bed was pushed. Gertie told herself that there was something almost
immodest about being able to hear him breathing as he slept. He had
tumbled into bed with a little grunt of weariness.
Gertie lay there another hour, staring into the darkness. Then she
began to cry softly, lying on her face with her head between her arms.
The cold cream and the salt tears mingled and formed a slippery paste.
Gertie wept on because she couldn't help it. The longer she wept the
more difficult her sobs became, until finally they bordered on the
hysterical. They filled her lungs until they ached and reached her
throat with a force that jerked her head back.
"Rap-rap-rap!" sounded sharply from the head of her bed.
Gertie stopped sobbing, and her heart stopped ,beating. She lay
tense and still, listening. Everyone knows that spooks rap three times
at the head of one's bed. It's a regular high-sign with them.
Gertie's skin became goose-flesh, and coldwater effects chased up
and down her spine.
"What's your trouble in there?" demanded an unspooky voice so near
that Gertie jumped. "Sick?"
It was the Kid Next Door.
"N-no, I'm not sick," faltered Gertie, her mouth close to the wall.
Just then a belated sob that had stopped halfway when the raps began
hustled on to join its sisters. It took Gertie by surprise, and brought
prompt response from the other side of the wall.
"I'll bet I scared you green. I didn't mean to, but, on the square,
if you're feeling sick, a little nip of brandy will set you up. Excuse
my mentioning it, girlie, but I'd do the same for my sister. I hate
like sin to hear a woman suffer like that, and, anyway, I don't know
whether your're fourteen or forty, so it's perfectly respectable. I'll
get the bottle and leave it outside your door."
"No you don't!" answered Gertie in a hollow voice, praying
meanwhile that the woman in the room below might be sleeping. "I'm not
sick, honestly I'm not. I'm just as much obliged, and I'm dead sorry I
woke you up with my blubbering. I started out with the soft pedal on,
but things got away from me. Can you hear me?"
"Like a phonograph. Sure you couldn't use a sip of brandy where
it'd do the most good?"
"Well, then, cut out the weeps and get your beauty sleep, kid. He
ain't worth sobbing over, anyway, believe me."
"He!" snorted Gertie indignantly. "You're cold. There never was
anything in peg-tops that could make me carry on like the heroine of
the Elsie series."
"Lost your job?"
"No such luck."
"Well, then, what in Sam Hill could make a woman "
"Lonesome!" snapped Gertie. "And the floorwalker got fresh to-day.
And I found two gray hairs to-night. And I'd give my next week's pay
envelope to hear the double click that our front gate gives back home."
"Back home!" echoed the Kid Next Door in a dangerously loud voice.
"Say, I want to talk to you. If you'll promise you won't get sore and
think I'm fresh, I'll ask you a favor. Slip on a kimono and we'll sneak
down to the front stoop and talk it over. I'm as wide awake as a chorus
girl and twice as hungry. I've got two apples and a box of crackers.
Are you on?"
Gertie snickered. "It isn't done in our best sets, but I'm on. I've
got a can of sardines and an orange. I'll be ready in six minutes."
She was, too. She wiped off the cold cream and salt tears with a
dry towel, did her hair in a schoolgirl braid and tied it with a big
bow, and dressed herself in a black skirt and a baby blue dressing
sacque. The Kid Next Door was waiting outside in the hall. His gray
sweater covered a multitude of sartorial deficiencies. Gertie stared at
him, and he stared at Gertie in the sickly blue light of the
boarding-house hall, and it took her one-half of one second to discover
that she liked his mouth, and his eyes, and the way his hair was
"Why, you're only a kid!" whispered the Kid Next Door, in surprise.
Gertie smothered a laugh. "You're not the first man that's been
deceived by a pig-tail braid and a baby blue waist. I could locate
those two gray hairs for you with my eyes shut and my feet in a sack.
Come on, boy. These Robert W. Chambers situations make me nervous."
Many earnest young writers with a flow of adjectives and a passion
for detail have attempted to describe the quiet of a great city at
night, when a few million people within it are sleeping, or ought to
be. They work in the clang of a distant owl car, and the roar of an
occasional "L" train, and the hollow echo of the footsteps of the late
passer-by. They go elaborately into description, and are strong on the
brooding hush, but the thing has never been done satisfactorily.
Gertie, sitting on the front stoop at two in the morning, with her
orange in one hand and the sardine can in the other, put it this way:
"If I was to hear a cricket chirp now, I'd screech. This isn't
really quiet. It's like waiting for a cannon cracker to go off just
before the fuse is burned down. The bang isn't there yet, but you hear
it a hundred times in your mind before it happens."
"My name's Augustus G. Eddy," announced the Kid Next Door,
solemnly. "Back home they always called me Gus. You peel that orange
while I unroll the top of this sardine can. I'm guilty of having
interrupted you in the middle of what the girls call a good cry, and I
know you'll have to get it out of your system some way. Take a bite of
apple and then wade right in and tell me what you're doing in this burg
if you don't like it."
"This thing ought to have slow music," began Gertie. "It's
pathetic. I came to Chicago from Beloit, Wisconsin, because I thought
that little town was a lonesome hole for a vivacious creature like me.
Lonesome! Listen while I laugh a low mirthless laugh. I didn't know
anything about the three-ply, double-barreled, extra heavy brand of
lonesomeness that a big town like this can deal out. Talk about your
desert wastes! They're sociable and snug compared to this. I know
three-fourths of the people in Beloit, Wisconsin, by their first names.
I've lived here six months and I'm not on informal terms with anybody
except Teddy, the landlady's dog, and he's a trained rat-and-book-agent
terrier, and not inclined to overfriendliness. When I clerked at the
Enterprise Store in Beloit the women used to come in and ask for
something we didn't carry just for an excuse to copy the way the lace
yoke effects were planned in my shirtwaists. You ought to see the way
those same shirtwaist stack up here. Why, boy, the lingerie waists that
the other girls in my department wear make my best hand-tucked effort
look like a simple English country blouse. They're so dripping with
Irish crochet and real Val and Cluny insertions that it's a wonder the
girls don't get stoop-shouldered carrying 'em around."
"Hold on a minute," commanded Gus. "This thing is uncanny. Our
cases dovetail like the deductions in a detective story. Kneel here at
my feet, little daughter, and I'll tell you the story of my sad young
life. I'm no child of the city streets, either. Say, I came to this
town because I thought there was a bigger field for me in Gents'
Furnishings. Joke, what?"
But Gertie didn't smile. She gazed up at Gus, and Gus gazed down at
her, and his fingers fiddled absently with the big bow at the end of
"And isn't there?" asked Gertie, sympathetically.
"Girlie, I haven't saved twelve dollars since I came. I'm no
tightwad, and I don't believe in packing everything away into a white
marble mausoleum, but still a gink kind of whispers to himself that
some day he'll be furnishing up a kitchen pantry of his own."
"Oh!" said Gertie.
"And let me mention in passing," continued Gus, winding the ribbon
bow around his finger, "that in the last hour or so that whisper has
been swelling to a shout."
"Oh!" said Gertie again.
"You said it. But I couldn't buy a secondhand gas stove with what
I've saved in the last half-year here. Back home they used to think I
was a regular little village John Drew, I was so dressy. But here I
look like a yokel on circus day compared to the other fellows in the
store. All they need is a field glass strung over their shoulder to
make them look like a clothing ad in the back of a popular magazine.
Say, girlie, you've got the prettiest hair I've seen since I blew in
here. Look at that braid! Thick as a rope! That's no relation to the
piles of jute that the Flossies here stack on their heads. And shines!
"It ought to," said Gertrude, wearily. "I brush it a hundred
strokes every night. Sometimes I'm so beat that I fall asleep with my
brush in the air. The manager won't stand for any romping curls or
hooks-and-eyes that don't connect. It keeps me so busy being beautiful,
and what the society writers call `well groomed,' that I don't have
time to sew the buttons on my underclothes."
"But don't you get some amusement in the evening?" marveled Gus.
"What was the matter with you and the other girls in the store? Can't
you hit it off?"
"Me? No. I guess I was too woodsy for them. I went out with them a
couple of times. I guess they're nice girls all right; but they've got
what you call a broader way of looking at things than I have. Living in
a little town all your life makes you narrow. These girls! Well,
maybe I'll get educated up to their plane some day, but "
"No, you don't!" hissed Gus. "Not if I can help it."
"But you can't," replied Gertie, sweetly. "My, ain't this a grand
night! Evenings like this I used to love to putter around the yard
after supper, sprinkling the grass and weeding the radishes. I'm the
greatest kid to fool around with a hose. And flowers! Say, they just
grow for me. You ought to have seen my pansies and nasturtiums last
The fingers of the Kid Next Door wandered until they found
Gertie's. They clasped them.
"This thing just points one way, little one. It's just as plain as
a path leaing up to a cozy little three-room flat up here on the North
Side somewhere. See it? With me and you married, and playing at
housekeeping in a parlor and bedroom and kitchen? And both of us going
down town to work in the morning just the same as we do now. Only not
the same, either."
"Wake up, little boy," said Gertie, prying her fingers away from
those other detaining ones. "I'd fit into a three-room flat like a
whale in a kitchen sink. I'm going back to Beloit, Wisconsin. I've
learned my lesson all right. There's a fellow there waiting for me. I
used to think he was too slow. But say, he's got the nicest little
painting and paper-hanging business you ever saw, and making money.
He's secretary of the K. P.'s back home. They give some swell little
dances during the winter, especially for the married members. In five
years we'll own our home, with a vegetable garden in the back. I'm a
little frog, and it's me for the puddle."
Gus stood up slowly. Gertie felt a little pang of compunction when
she saw what a boy he was.
"I don't know when I've enjoyed a talk like this. I've heard about
these dawn teas, but I never thought I'd go to one," she said.
"Good-night, girlie," interrupted Gus, abruptly. "It's the
dreamless couch for mine. We've got a big sale on in tan and black
There are two ways of doing battle against Disgrace. You may live
it down; or you may run away from it and hide. The first method is
heart-breaking, but sure. The second cannot be relied upon because of
the uncomfortable way Disgrace has of turning up at your heels just
when you think you have eluded her in the last town but one.
Ted Terrill did not choose the first method. He had it thrust upon
him. After Ted had served his term he came back home to visit his
mother's grave, intending to take the next train out. He wore none of
the prison pallor that you read about in books, because he had been
shortstop on the penitentiary all-star baseball team, and famed for the
dexterity with which he could grab up red-hot grounders. The storied
lock step and the clipped hair effect also were missing. The
superintendent of Ted's prison had been one of the reform kind. You
never would have picked Ted for a criminal. He had none of those
interesting phrenological bumps and depressions that usually are shown
to such frank advantage in the Bertillon photographs. Ted had been
assistant cashier in the Citizens' National Bank. In a mad moment he
had attempted a little sleight-of-hand act in which certain Citizens'
National funds were to be transformed into certain glittering shares
and back again so quickly that the examiners couldn't follow it with
their eyes. But Ted was unaccustomed to these
now-you-see-it-and-now-you-don't feats and his hand slipped. The trick
dropped to the floor with an awful clatter.
Ted had been a lovable young kid, six feet high, and blonde, with a
great reputation as a dresser. He had the first yellow plush hat in our
town. It sat on his golden head like a halo. The women all liked Ted.
Mrs. Dankworth, the dashing widow (why will widows persist in being
dashing?), said that he was the only man in our town who knew how to
wear a dress suit. The men were forever slapping him on the back and
asking him to have a little something. Ted's good looks and his clever
tongue and a certain charming Irish way he had with him caused him to
be taken up by the smart set. Now, if you've never lived in a small
town you will be much amused at the idea of its boasting a smart set.
Which proves your ignorance. The small town smart set is deadly serious
about its smartness. It likes to take six-hour runs down to the city to
fit a pair of shoes and hear Caruso. Its clothes are as well made, and
its scandals as crisp, and its pace as hasty, and its golf club as dull
as the clothes, and scandals, and pace, and golf club of its city
The hasty pace killed Ted. He tried to keep step in a set of young
folks whose fathers had made our town. And all the time his pocketbook
was yelling, "Whoa!" The young people ran largely to
scarlet-upholstered touring cars, and country-club doings, and house
parties, as small town younger generations are apt to. When Ted went to
high school half the boys in his little clique spent their after-school
hours dashing up and down Main street in their big, glittering cars,
sitting slumped down on the middle of their spines in front of the
steering wheel, their sleeves rolled up, their hair combed a militant
pompadour. One or the other of them always took Ted along. It is
fearfully easy to develop a taste for that kind of thing. As he grew
older, the taste took root and became a habit.
Ted came out after serving his term, still handsome, spite of all
that story-writers may have taught to the contrary. But we'll make this
concession to the old tradition. There was a difference. His radiant
blondeur was dimmed in some intangible, elusive way. Birdie Callahan,
who had worked in Ted's mother's kitchen for years, and who had gone
back to her old job at the Haley House after her mistress's death, put
it sadly, thus:
"He was always th' han'some divil. I used to look forward to
ironin' day just for the pleasure of pressin' his fancy shirts for him.
I'm that partial to them swell blondes. But I dinnaw, he's changed.
Doin' time has taken the edge off his hair an' complexion. Not changed
his color, do yuh mind, but dulled it, like a gold ring, or the like,
that has tarnished."
Ted was seated in the smoker, with a chip on his shoulder, and a
sick horror of encountering some one he knew in his heart, when Jo
Haley, of the Haley House, got on at Westport, homeward bound. Jo Haley
is the most eligible bachelor in our town, and the slipperiest. He has
made the Haley House a gem, so that traveling men will cut half a dozen
towns to Sunday there. If he should say "Jump through this!" to any
girl in our town she'd jump.
Jo Haley strolled leisurely up the car aisle toward Ted. Ted saw
him coming and sat very still, waiting.
"Hello, Ted! How's Ted?" said Jo Haley, casually. And dropped into
the adjoining seat without any more fuss.
Ted wet his lips slightly and tried to say something. He had been a
breezy talker. But the words would not come. Jo Haley made no effort to
cover the situation with a rush of conversation. He did not seem to
realize that there was any situation to cover. He champed the end of
his cigar and handed one to Ted.
"Well, you've taken your lickin', kid. What you going to do now?"
The rawness of it made Ted wince. "Oh, I don't know," he stammered.
"I've a job half promised in Chicago."
Ted laughed a short and ugly laugh. "Driving a brewery auto truck."
Jo Haley tossed his cigar dexterously to the opposite corner of his
mouth and squinted thoughtfully along its bulging sides.
"Remember that Wenzel girl that's kept books for me for the last
six years? She's leaving in a couple of months to marry a New York guy
that travels for ladies' cloaks and suits. After she goes it's nix with
the lady bookkeepers for me. Not that Minnie isn't a good, straight
girl, and honest, but no girl can keep books with one eye on a column
of figures and the other on a traveling man in a brown suit and a red
necktie, unless she's cross-eyed, and you bet Minnie ain't. The job's
yours if you want it. Eighty a month to start on, and board."
"I can't, Jo. Thanks just the same. I'm going to try to begin
all over again, somewhere else, where nobody knows me."
"Oh yes," said Jo. "I knew a fellow that did that. After he came
out he grew a beard, and wore eyeglasses, and changed his name. Had a
quick, crisp way of talkin', and he cultivated a drawl and went west
and started in business. Real estate, I think. Anyway, the second month
he was there in walks a fool he used to know and bellows: `Why if it
ain't Bill! Hello, Bill! I thought you was doing time yet.' That was
enough. Ted, you can black your face, and dye your hair, and squint,
and some fine day, sooner or later, somebody'll come along and blab the
whole thing. And say, the older it gets the worse it sounds, when it
does come out. Stick around here where you grew up, Ted."
Ted clasped and unclasped his hands uncomfortably. "I can't figure
out why you should care how I finish."
"No reason," answered Jo. "Not a darned one. I wasn't ever in love
with your ma, like the guy on the stage; and I never owed your pa a
cent. So it ain't a guilty conscience. I guess it's just pure
cussedness, and a hankerin' for a new investment. I'm curious to know
how'll you turn out. You've got the makin's of what the newspapers call
a Leading Citizen, even if you did fall down once. If I'd ever had time
to get married, which I never will have, a first-class hotel bein' more
worry and expense than a Pittsburg steel magnate's whole harem, I'd
have wanted somebody to do the same for my kid. That sounds slushy, but
"I don't seem to know how to thank you," began Ted, a little husky
as to voice. "Call around to-morrow morning," interrupted Jo Haley.,
briskly, "and Minnie Wenzel will show you the ropes. You and her can
work together for a couple of months. After then she's leaving to make
her underwear, and that. I should think she'd have a bale of it by this
time. Been embroidering them shimmy things and lunch cloths back of the
desk when she thought I wasn't lookin' for the last six months."
Ted came down next morning at 8 A.M. with his nerve between his
teeth and the chip still balanced lightly on his shoulder. Five minutes
later Minnie Wenzel knocked it off. When Jo Haley introduced the two
jocularly, knowing that they had originally met in the First Reader
room, Miss Wenzel acknowledged the introduction icily by lifting her
left eyebrow slightly and drawing down the corners of her mouth. Her
air of hauteur was a triumph, considering that she was handicapped by
black sateen sleevelets.
I wonder how one could best describe Miss Wenzel? There is one of
her in every small town. Let me think (business of hand on brow). Well,
she always paid eight dollars for her corsets when most girls in a
similar position got theirs for fifty-nine cents in the basement.
Nature had been kind to her. The hair that had been a muddy brown in
Minnie's schoolgirl days it had touched with a magic red-gold wand.
Birdie Callahan always said that Minnie was working only to wear out
her old clothes.
After the introduction Miss Wenzel followed Jo Haley into the
lobby. She took no pains to lower her voice.
"Well I must say, Mr. Haley, you've got a fine nerve! If my
gentleman friend was to hear of my working with an ex-con I wouldn't be
surprised if he'd break off the engagement. I should think you'd have
some respect for the feelings of a lady with a name to keep up, and
engaged to a swell fellow like Mr. Schwartz."
"Say, listen, m' girl," replied Jo Haley. "The law don't cover all
the tricks. But if stuffing an order was a criminal offense I'll bet
your swell traveling man would be doing a life term."
Ted worked that day with his teeth set so that his jaws ached next
morning. Minnie Wenzel spoke to him only when necessary and then in
terms of dollars and cents. When dinner time came she divested herself
of the black sateen sleevelets, wriggled from the shoulders down a la
Patricia O'Brien, produced a chamois skin, and disappeared in the
direction of the washroom. Ted waited until the dining-room was almost
deserted. Then he went in to dinner alone. Some one in white wearing an
absurd little pocket handkerchief of an apron led him to a seat in a
far corner of the big room. Ted did not lift his eyes higher than the
snowy square of the apron. The Apron drew out a chair, shoved it under
Ted's knees in the way Aprons have, and thrust a printed menu at him.
"Roast beef, medium," said Ted, without looking up.
"Bless your heart, yuh ain't changed a bit. I remember how yuh used
to jaw when it was too well done," said the Apron, fondly.
Ted's head came up with a jerk.
"So yuh will cut yer old friends, is it?" grinned Birdie Callahan.
"If this wasn't a public dining-room maybe yuh'd shake hands with a
poor but proud workin' girrul. Yer as good lookin' a divil as ever,
Ted's hand shot out and grasped hers. "Birdie! I could weep on your
apron! I never was so glad to see any one in my life. Just to look at
you makes me homesick. What in Sam Hill are you doing here?"
"Waitin'. After yer ma died, seemed like I didn't care t' work fer
no other privit fam'ly, so I came back here on my old job. I'll bet I'm
the homeliest head waitress in captivity."
Ted's nervous fingers were pleating the tablecloth. His voice sank
to a whisper. "Birdie, tell me the God's truth. Did those three years
cause her death?"
"Niver!" lied Birdie. "I was with her to the end. It started with a
cold on th' chest. Have some French fried with yer beef, Mr. Teddy.
They're illigent to-day."
Birdie glided off to the kitchen. Authors are fond of the word
"glide." But you can take it literally this time. Birdie had a face
that looked like a huge mistake, but she walked like a panther, and
they're said to be the last cry as gliders. She walked with her chin up
and her hips firm. That comes from juggling trays. You have to walk
like that to keep your nose out of the soup. After a while the walk
becomes a habit. Any seasoned dining-room girl could give lessons in
walking to the Delsarte teacher of an Eastern finishing school. From
the day that Birdie Callahan served Ted with the roast beef medium and
the elegant French fried, she appointed herself monitor over his food
and clothes and morals. I wish I could find words to describe his
bitter loneliness. He did not seek companionship. The men, although not
directly avoiding him, seemed somehow to have pressing business
whenever they happened in his vicinity. The women ignored him. Mrs.
Dankworth, still dashing and still widowed, passed Ted one day and
looked fixedly at a point one inch above his head. In a town like ours
the Haley House is like a big, hospitable clubhouse. The men drop in
there the first thing in the morning, and the last thing at night, to
hear the gossip and buy a cigar and jolly the girl at the cigar
counter. Ted spoke to them when they spoke to him. He began to develop
a certain grim line about the mouth. Jo Haley watched him from afar,
and the longer he watched the kinder and more speculative grew the look
in his eyes. And slowly and surely there grew in the hearts of our
townspeople a certain new respect and admiration for this boy who was
fighting his fight.
Ted got into the habit of taking his meals late, so that Birdie
Callahan could take the time to talk to him.
"Birdie," he said one day, when she brought his soup, "do you know
that you're the only decent woman who'll talk to me? Do you know what I
mean when I say that I'd give the rest of my life if I could just put
my head in my mother's lap and have her muss up my hair and call me
Birdie Callahan cleared her throat and said abruptly: "I was
noticin' yesterday your gray pants needs pressin' bad. Bring 'em down
tomorrow mornin' and I'll give 'em th' elegant crease in the laundry."
So the first weeks went by, and the two months of Miss Wenzel's
stay came to an end. Ted thanked his God and tried hard not to wish
that she was a man so that he could punch her head.
The day before the time appointed for her departure she was
closeted with Jo Haley for a long, long time. When finally she emerged
a bellboy lounged up to Ted with a message.
"Wenzel says th' Old Man wants t' see you. 'S in his office. Say,
Mr. Terrill, do yuh think they can play to-day? It's pretty wet." Jo
Haley was sunk in the depths of his big leather chair. He did not look
up as Ted entered. "Sit down," he said. Ted sat down and waited,
"As a wizard at figures," mused Jo Haley at last, softly as though
to himself, "I'm a frost. A column of figures on paper makes my head
swim. But I can carry a whole regiment of 'em in my head. I know every
time the barkeeper draws one in the dark. I've been watchin' this thing
for the last two weeks hopin' you'd quit and come and tell me." He
turned suddenly and faced Ted. "Ted, old kid," he said sadly,
"what'n'ell made you do it again?"
"What's the joke?" asked Ted.
"Now, Ted," remonstrated Jo Haley, "that way of talkin' won't help
matters none. As I said, I'm rotten at figures. But you're the first
investment that ever turned out bad, and let me tell you I've handled
some mighty bad smelling ones. Why, kid, if you had just come to me on
the quiet and asked for the loan of a hundred or so why "
"What's the joke, Jo?" said Ted again, slowly. "This ain't my
notion of a joke," came the terse answer. "We're three hundred short."
The last vestige of Ted Terrill's old-time radiance seemed to
flicker and die, leaving him ashen and old.
"Short?" he repeated. Then, "My God!" in a strangely colorless
voice "My God!" He looked down at his fingers impersonally, as
though they belonged to some one else. Then his hand clutched Jo
Haley's arm with the grip of fear. "Jo! Jo! That's the thing that has
haunted me day and night, till my nerves are raw. The fear of doing it
again. Don't laugh at me, will you? I used to lie awake nights going
over that cursed business of the bank over and over till the cold
sweat would break out all over me. I used to figure it all out again,
step by step, until Jo, could a man steal and not know it? Could
thinking of a thing like that drive a man crazy? Because if it could
if it could then "
"I don't know," said Jo Haley, "but it sounds darned fishy." He had
a hand on Ted's shaking shoulder, and was looking into the white, drawn
face. "I had great plans for you, Ted. But Minnie Wenzel's got it all
down on slips of paper. I might as well call her, in again, and we'll
have the whole blamed thing out."
Minnie Wenzel came. In her hand were slips of paper, and books with
figures in them, and Ted looked and saw things written in his own hand
that should not have been there. And he covered his shamed face with
his two hands and gave thanks that his mother was dead.
There came three sharp raps at the office door. The tense figures
within jumped nervously.
"Keep out!" called Jo Haley, "whoever you are." Whereupon the door
opened and Birdie Callahan breezed in.
"Get out, Birdie Callahan," roared Jo. "You're in the wrong pew."
Birdie closed the door behind her composedly and came farther into
the room. "Pete th' pasthry cook just tells me that Minnie Wenzel told
th' day clerk, who told the barkeep, who told th' janitor, who told th'
chef, who told Pete, that Minnie had caught Ted stealin' some three
Ted took a quick step forward. "Birdie, for Heaven's sake keep out
of this. You can't make things any better. You may believe in me, but
" "Where's the money?" asked Birdie.
Ted stared at her a moment, his mouth open ludicrously.
"Why I don't know," he articulated, painfully. "I never
thought of that."
Birdie snorted defiantly. "I thought so. D'ye know," sociably, "I
was visitin' with my aunt Mis' Mulcahy last evenin'."
There was a quick rustle of silks from Minnie Wenzel's direction.
"Say, look here " began Jo Haley, impatiently.
"Shut up, Jo Haley!" snapped Birdie. "As I was sayin', I was
visitin' with my aunt Mis' Mulcahy. She does fancy washin' an' ironin'
for the swells. An' Minnie Wenzel, there bein' none sweller, hires her
to do up her weddin' linens. Such smears av hand embridery an' Irish
crochet she never see th' likes, Mis' Mulcahy says, and she's seen a
lot. And as a special treat to the poor owld soul, why Minnie Wenzel
lets her see some av her weddin' clo'es. There never yet was a woman
who cud resist showin' her weddin' things to every other woman she cud
lay hands on. Well, Mis' Mulcahy, she see that grand trewsow and she
said she never saw th' beat. Dresses! Well, her going away suit alone
comes to eighty dollars, for it's bein' made by Molkowsky, the little
Polish tailor. An' her weddin' dress is satin, do yuh mind! Oh, it was
a real treat for my aunt Mis' Mulcahy."
Birdie walked over to where Minnie Wenzel sat, very white and
still, and pointed a stubby red finger in her face. "'Tis the grand
manager ye are, Miss Wenzel, gettin' satins an' tailor-mades on yer
salary. It takes a woman, Minnie Wenzel, to see through a woman's
"Well I'll be dinged!" exploded Jo Haley.
"Yuh'd better be!" retorted Birdie Callahan.
Minnie Wenzel stood up, her lip caught between her teeth.
"Am I to understand, Jo Haley, that you dare to accuse me of taking
your filthy money, instead of that miserable ex-con there who has done
"That'll do, Minnie," said Jo Haley, gently. "That's a-plenty."
"Prove it," went on Minnie, and then looked as though she wished
"A business college edjication is a grand foine thing," observed
Birdie. "Miss Wenzel is a graduate av wan. They teach you everything
from drawin' birds with tail feathers to plain and fancy penmanship. In
fact, they teach everything in the writin' line except forgery, an' I
ain't so sure they haven't got a coorse in that."
"I don't care," whimpered Minnie Wenzel suddenly, sinking in a limp
heap on the floor. "I had to do it. I'm marrying a swell fellow and a
girl's got to have some clothes that don't look like a Bird Center
dressmaker's work. He's got three sisters. I saw their pictures and
they're coming to the wedding. They're the kind that wear low-necked
dresses in the evening, and have their hair and nails done downtown. I
haven't got a thing but my looks. Could I go to New York dressed like a
rube? On the square, Jo, I worked here six years and never took a sou.
But things got away from me. The tailor wouldn't finish my suit unless
I paid him fifty dollars down. I only took fifty at first, intending to
pay it back. Honest to goodness, Jo, I did."
"Cut it out," said Jo Haley, "and get up. I was going to give you a
check for your wedding, though I hadn't counted on no three hundred.
We'll call it square. And I hope you'll be happy, but I don't gamble on
it. You'll be goin' through your man's pants pockets before you're
married a year. You can take your hat and fade. I'd like to know how
I'm ever going to square this thing with Ted and Birdie."
"An' me standin' here gassin' while them fool girls in the
dinin'-room can't set a table decent, and dinner in less than ten
minutes," cried Birdie, rushing off. Ted mumbled something
unintelligible and was after her.
"Birdie! I want to talk to you."
"Say it quick then," said Birdie, over her shoulder. "The doors
open in three minnits."
"I can't tell you how grateful I am. This is no place to talk to
you. Will you let me walk home with you to-night after your work's
"Will I?" said Birdie, turning to face him. "I will not. Th' swell
mob has shook you, an' a good thing it is. You was travelin' with a
bunch of racers, when you was only built for medium speed. Now you're
got your chance to a fresh start and don't you ever think I'm going to
be the one to let you spoil it by beginnin' to walk out with a
dinin'-room Lizzie like me." "Don't say that, Birdie," Ted put in.
"It's the truth," affirmed Birdie. "Not that I ain't a perfec'ly
respectable girrul, and ye know it. I'm a good slob, but folks would be
tickled for the chance to say that you had nobody to go with but the
likes av me. If I was to let you walk home with me to-night, yuh might
be askin' to call next week. Inside half a year, if yuh was lonesome
enough, yuh'd ask me to marry yuh. And b'gorra," she said softly,
looking down at her unlovely red hands, "I'm dead scared I'd do it. Get
back to work, Ted Terrill, and hold yer head up high, and when yuh say
your prayers to-night, thank your lucky stars I ain't a hussy."
Somewhere in your story you must pause to describe your heroine's
costume. It is a ticklish task. The average reader likes his heroine
well dressed. He is not satisfied with knowing that she looked like a
tall, fair lily. He wants to be told that her gown was of green crepe,
with lace ruffles that swirled at her feet. Writers used to go so far
as to name the dressmaker; and it was a poor kind of a heroine who
didn't wear a red velvet by Worth. But that has been largely abandoned
in these days of commissions. Still, when the heroine goes out on the
terrace to spoon after dinner (a quaint old English custom for the
origin of which see any novel by the "Duchess," page 179) the average
reader wants to know what sort of a filmy wrap she snatches up on the
way out. He demands a description, with as many illustrations as the
publisher will stand for, of what she wore from the bedroom to the
street,with full stops for the ribbons on her robe de nuit, and the
buckles on her ballroom slippers. Half the poor creatures one sees
flattening their noses against the shop windows are authors getting a
line on the advance fashions. Suppose a careless writer were to dress
his heroine in a full-plaited skirt only to find, when his story is
published four months later, that full-plaited skirts have been
relegated to the dim past!
I started to read a story once. It was a good one. There was in it
not a single allusion to brandy-and-soda, or divorce, or the stock
market. The dialogue crackled. The hero talked like a live man. It was
a shipboard story, and the heroine was charming so long as she wore her
heavy ulster. But along toward evening she blossomed forth in a yellow
gown, with a scarlet poinsettia at her throat. I quit her cold. Nobody
ever wore a scarlet poinsettia; or if they did, they couldn't wear it
on a yellow gown. Or if they did wear it with a yellow gown, they
didn't wear it at the throat. Scarlet poinsettias aren't worn, anyhow.
To this day I don't know whether the heroine married the hero or jumped
You see, one can't be too careful about clothing one's heroine. I
hesitate to describe Sophy Epstein's dress. You won't like it. In the
first place, it was cut too low, front and back, for a shoe clerk in a
downtown loft. It was a black dress, near-princess in style, very tight
as to fit, very short as to skirt, very sleazy as to material. It
showed all the delicate curves of Sophy's under-fed, girlish body, and
Sophy didn't care a bit. Its most objectionable feature was at the
throat. Collarless gowns were in vogue. Sophy's daring shears had gone
a snip or two farther. They had cut a startlingly generous V. To say
that the dress was elbow-sleeved is superfluous. I have said that Sophy
clerked in a downtown loft.
Sophy sold "sample" shoes at two-fifty a pair, and from where you
were standing you thought they looked just like the shoes that were
sold in the regular shops for six. When Sophy sat on one of the low
benches at the feet of some customer, tugging away at a refractory shoe
for a would-be small foot, her shameless little gown exposed more than
it should have. But few of Sophy's customers were shocked. They were
mainly chorus girls and ladies of doubtful complexion in search of
cheap and ultra footgear, and to use a health term hardened by
Have I told you how pretty she was? She was so pretty that you
immediately forgave her the indecency of her pitiful little gown. She
was pretty in a daringly demure fashion, like a wicked little Puritan,
or a poverty-stricken Cleo de Merode, with her smooth brown hair parted
in the middle, drawn severely down over her ears, framing the lovely
oval of her face and ending in a simple coil at the neck. Some
serpent's wisdom had told Sophy to eschew puffs. But I think her
prettiness could have triumphed even over those.
If Sophy's boss had been any other sort of man he would have
informed Sophy, sternly, that black princess effects, cut low, were not
au fait in the shoe-clerk world. But Sophy's boss had a rhombic nose,
and no instep, and the tail of his name had been amputated. He didn't
care how Sophy wore her dresses so long as she sold shoes.
Once the boss had kissed Sophy not on the mouth, but just where
her shabby gown formed its charming but immodest V. Sophy had slapped
him, of course. But the slap had not set the thing right in her mind.
She could not forget it. It had made her uncomfortable in much the same
way as we are wildly ill at ease when we dream of walking naked in a
crowded street. At odd moments during the day Sophy had found herself
rubbing the spot furiously with her unlovely handkerchief, and
shivering a little. She had never told the other girls about that kiss.
So there you have Sophy and her costume. You may take her or
leave her. I purposely placed these defects in costuming right at the
beginning of the story, so that there should be no false pretenses. One
more detail. About Sophy's throat was a slender, near-gold chain from
which was suspended a cheap and glittering La Valliere. Sophy had not
intended it as a sop to the conventions. It was an offering on the
shrine of Fashion, and represented many lunchless days.
At eleven o'clock one August morning, Louie came to Chicago from
Oskaloosa, Iowa. There was no hay in his hair. The comic papers have
long insisted that the country boy, on his first visit to the city, is
known by his greased boots and his high-water pants. Don't you believe
them. The small-town boy is as fastidious about the height of his heels
and the stripe of his shift and the roll of his hat-brim as are his
city brothers. He peruses the slangily worded ads of the "classy
clothes" tailors, and when scarlet cravats are worn the small-town boy
is not more than two weeks late in acquiring one that glows like a
Louie found a rooming-house, shoved his suitcase under the bed,
changed his collar, washed his hands in the gritty water of the wash
bowl, and started out to look for a job.
Louie was twenty-one. For the last four years he had been employed
in the best shoe store at home, and he knew shoe leather from the
factory to the ash barrel. It was almost a religion with him.
Curiosity, which plays leads in so many life dramas, led Louie to
the rotunda of the tallest building. It was built on the hollow center
plan, with a sheer drop from the twenty-somethingth to the main floor.
Louie stationed himself in the center of the mosaic floor, took off his
hat, bent backward almost double and gazed, his mouth wide open. When
he brought his muscles slowly back into normal position he tried hard
not to look impressed. He glanced about, sheepishly, to see if any one
was laughing at him, and his eye encountered the electric-lighted glass
display case of the shoe company upstairs. The case was filled with
pink satin slippers and cunning velvet boots, and the newest thing in
bronze street shoes. Louie took the next elevator up. The shoe display
had made him feel as though some one from home had slapped him on the
The God of the Jobless was with him. The boss had fired two boys
the day before.
"Oskaloosa!" grinned the boss, derisively. "Do they wear shoes
there? What do you know about shoes, huh boy?"
Louie told him. The boss shuffled the papers on his desk, and
chewed his cigar, and tried not to show his surprise. Louie, quite
innocently, was teaching the boss things about the shoe business.
When Louie had finished "Well, I try you, anyhow," the boss
grunted, grudgingly. "I give you so-and-so much." He named a wage that
would have been ridiculous if it had not been so pathetic.
"All right, sir," answered Louie, promptly, like the boys in the
Alger series. The cost of living problem had never bothered Louie in
The boss hid a pleased smile.
"Miss Epstein!" he bellowed, "step this way! Miss Epstein, kindly
show this here young man so he gets a line on the stock. He is from
Oskaloosa, Ioway. Look out she don't sell you a gold brick, Louie."
But Louie was not listening. He was gazing at the V in Sophy
Epstein's dress with all his scandalized Oskaloosa, Iowa, eyes.
Louie was no mollycoddle. But he had been in great demand as usher
at the Young Men's Sunday Evening Club service at the Congregational
church, and in his town there had been no Sophy Epsteins in too-tight
princess dresses, cut into a careless V. But Sophy was a city product
I was about to say pure and simple, but I will not wise, bold,
young, old, underfed, overworked, and triumphantly pretty.
"How-do!" cooed Sophy in her best baby tones. Louie's disapproving
eyes jumped from the objectionable V in Sophy's dress to the lure of
Sophy's face, and their expression underwent a lightning change. There
was no disapproving Sophy's face, no matter how long one had dwelt in
"I won't bite you," said Sophy. "I'm never vicious on Tuesdays.
We'll start here with the misses' an' children's, and work over to the
Whereupon Louie was introduced into the intricacies of the sample
shoe business. He kept his eyes resolutely away from the V, and learned
many things. He learned how shoes that look like six dollar values may
be sold for two-fifty. He looked on in wide-eyed horror while Sophy
fitted a No. 5 C shoe on a 6 B foot and assured the wearer that it
looked like a made-to-order boot. He picked up a pair of dull kid shoes
and looked at them. His leather-wise eyes saw much, and I think he
would have taken his hat off the hook, and his offended business
principles out of the shop forever if Sophy had not completed her
purchase and strolled over to him at the psychological moment.
She smiled up at him, impudently. "Well, Pink Cheeks," she said,
"how do you like our little settlement by the lake, huh?"
"These shoes aren't worth two-fifty," said Louie, indignation in
his voice. "Well, sure," replied Sophy. "I know it. What do you think
this is? A charity bazaar?"
"But back home " began Louie, hotly.
"Ferget it, kid," said Sophy. "This is a big town, but it ain't got
no room for back-homers. Don't sour on one job till you've got another
nailed. You'll find yourself cuddling down on a park bench if you do.
Say, are you honestly from Oskaloosa?"
"I certainly am," answered Louie, with pride.
"My goodness!" ejaculated Sophy. "I never believed there was no
such place. Don't brag about it to the other fellows."
"What time do you go out for lunch?" asked Louie.
"What's it to you?" with the accent on the "to."
"When I want to know a thing, I generally ask," explained Louie,
Sophy looked at him a long, keen, knowing look. "You'll learn,"
she observed, thoughtfully.
Louie did learn. He learned so much in that first week that when
Sunday came it seemed as though aeons had passed over his head. He
learned that the crime of murder was as nothing compared to the crime
of allowing a customer to depart shoeless; he learned that the lunch
hour was invented for the purpose of making dates; that no one had ever
heard of Oskaloosa, Iowa; that seven dollars a week does not leave much
margin for laundry and general recklessness; that a madonna face above
a V-cut gown is apt to distract one's attention from shoes; that a
hundred-dollar nest egg is as effective in Chicago as a pine stick
would be in propping up a stone wall; and that all the other men clerks
called Sophy "sweetheart."
Some of his newly acquired knowledge brought pain, as knowledge is
apt to do.
He saw that State Street was crowded with Sophys during the noon
hour; girls with lovely faces under pitifully absurd hats. Girls who
aped the fashions of the dazzling creatures they saw stepping from
limousines. Girls who starved body and soul in order to possess a set
of false curls, or a pair of black satin shoes with mother-o'-pearl
buttons. Girls whose minds were bounded on the north by the nickel
theatres; on the cast by "I sez to him"; on the south by the gorgeous
shop windows; and on the west by "He sez t' me." Oh, I can't tell you
how much Louie learned in that first week while his eyes were getting
accustomed to the shifting, jostling, pushing, giggling, walking,
talking throng. The city is justly famed as a hot house of forced
One thing Louie could not learn. He could not bring himself to
accept the V in Sophy's dress. Louie's mother had been one of the
old-fashioned kind who wore a blue-and-white checked gingham apron from
6 A.M. to 2 P.M., when she took it off to go downtown and help the
ladies of the church at the cake sale in the empty window of the gas
company's office, only to don it again when she fried the potatoes for
supper. Among other things she had taught Louie to wipe his feet before
coming in, to respect and help women, and to change his socks often.
After a month of Chicago Louie forgot the first lesson; had more
difficulty than I can tell you in reverencing a woman who only said,
"Aw, don't get fresh now!" when the other men put their arms about her;
and adhered to the third only after a struggle, in which he had to do a
small private washing in his own wash-bowl in the evening. Sophy
called him a stiff. His gravely courteous treatment of her made her
vaguely uncomfortable. She was past mistress in the art of parrying
insults and banter, but she had no reply ready for Louie's boyish air
of deference. It angered her for some unreasonable woman-reason.
There came a day when the V-cut dress brought them to open battle.
I think Sophy had appeared that morning minus the chain and La
Valliere. Frail and cheap as it was, it had been the only barrier that
separated Sophy from frank shamelessness. Louie's outraged sense of
propriety asserted itself.
"Sophy," he stammered, during a quiet half-hour, "I'll call for you
and take you to the nickel show to-night if you'll promise not to wear
that dress. What makes you wear that kind of a get-up, anyway?"
"Dress?" queried Sophy, looking down at the shiny front breadth of
her frock. "Why? Don't you like it?"
"Like it! No!" blurted Louie.
"Don't yuh, rully! Deah me! Deah me! If I'd only knew that this
morning. As a gen'ral thing I wear white duck complete down t' work,
but I'm savin' my last two clean suits f'r gawlf." Louie ran an
uncomfortable finger around the edge of his collar, but he stood his
ground. "It it shows your neck so," he objected, miserably.
Sophy opened her great eyes wide. "Well, supposin' it does?" she
inquired, coolly. "It's a perfectly good neck, ain't it?"
Louie, his face very red, took the plunge. "I don't know. I guess
so. But, Sophy, it looks so so you know what I mean. I hate to
see the way the fellows rubber at you. Why don't you wear those plain
shirtwaist things, with high collars, like my mother wears back home?"
Sophy's teeth came together with a click. She laughed a short cruel
little laugh. "Say, Pink Cheeks, did yuh ever do a washin' from seven
to twelve, after you got home from work in the evenin'? It's great!
'Specially when you're living in a six-by-ten room with all the modern
inconveniences, includin' no water except on the third floor down.
Simple! Say, a child could work it. All you got to do, when you get
home so tired your back teeth ache, is to haul your water, an' soak
your clothes, an' then rub 'em till your hands peel, and rinse 'em, an'
boil 'em, and blue 'em, an' starch 'em. See? Just like that. Nothin' to
it, kid. Nothin' to it."
Louie had been twisting his fingers nervously. Now his hands shut
themselves into fists. He looked straight into Sophy's angry eyes.
"I do know what it is," he said, quite simply. "There's been a lot
written and said about women's struggle with clothes. I wonder why
they've never said anything about the way a man has to fight to keep up
the thing they call appearances. God knows it's pathetic enough to
think of a girl like you bending over a tubful of clothes. But when a
man has to do it, it's a tragedy."
"That's so," agreed Sophy. "When a girl gets shabby, and her
clothes begin t' look tacky she can take a gore or so out of her skirt
where it's the most wore, and catch it in at the bottom, and call it a
hobble. An' when her waist gets too soiled she can cover up the front
of it with a jabot, an' if her face is pretty enough she can carry it
off that way. But when a man is seedy, he's seedy. He can't sew no
ruffles on his pants."
"I ran short last week, continued Louie. "That is, shorter than
usual. I hadn't the fifty cents to give to the woman. You ought to see
her! A little, gray-faced thing, with wisps of hair, and no chest to
speak of, and one of those mashed-looking black hats. Nobody could have
the nerve to ask her to wait for her money. So I did my own washing. I
haven't learned to wear soiled clothes yet. I laughed fit to bust while
I was doing it. But I'll bet my mother dreamed of me that night. The
way they do, you know, when something's gone wrong."
Sophy, perched on the third rung of the sliding ladder, was gazing
at him. Her lips were parted slightly, and her cheeks were very pink.
On her face was a new, strange look, as of something half forgotten. It
was as though the spirit of Sophy-as-she-might-have-been were
inhabiting her soul for a brief moment. At Louie's next words the look
"Can't you sew something a lace yoke or whatever you call 'em
in that dress?" he persisted.
"Aw, fade!" jeered Sophy. "When a girl's only got one dress it's
got to have some tong to it. Maybe this gown would cause a wave of
indignation in Oskaloosa, Iowa, but it don't even make a ripple on
State Street. It takes more than an aggravated Dutch neck to make a
fellow look at a girl these days. In a town like this a girl's got to
make a showin' some way. I'm my own stage manager. They look at my
dress first, an' grin. See? An' then they look at my face. I'm like the
girl in the story. Muh face is muh fortune. It's earned me many a
square meal; an' lemme tell you, Pink Cheeks, eatin' square meals is
one of my favorite pastimes."
"Say looka here!" bellowed the boss, wrathfully. "Just cut out this
here Romeo and Juliet act, will you! That there ladder ain't for no
balcony scene, understand. Here you, Louie, you shinny up there and get
down a pair of them brown satin pumps, small size."
Sophy continued to wear the black dress. The V-cut neck seemed more
flaunting than ever.
It was two weeks later that Louie came in from lunch, his face
radiant. He was fifteen minutes late, but he listened to the boss's
ravings with a smile.
"You grin like somebody handed you a ten-case note," commented
Sophy, with a woman's curiosity. "I guess you must of met some rube
from home when you was out t' lunch." "Better than that! Who do you
think I bumped right into in the elevator going down?"
"Well, Brothah Bones," mimicked Sophy, who did you meet in the
elevator going down?"
"I met a man named Ames. He used to travel for a big Boston shoe
house, and he made our town every few months. We got to be good
friends. I took him home for Sunday dinner once, and he said it was the
best dinner he'd had in months. You know how tired those traveling men
get of hotel grub."
"Cut out the description and get down to action," snapped Sophy.
"Well, he knew me right away. And he made me go out to lunch with
him. A real lunch, starting with soup. Gee! It went big. He asked me
what I was doing. I told him I was working here, and he opened his
eyes, and then he laughed and said: `How did you get into that joint?'
Then he took me down to a swell little shoe shop on State Street, and
it turned out that he owns it. He introduced me all around, and I'm
going there to work next week. And wages! Why say, it's almost a
salary. A fellow can hold his head up in a place like that."
"When you leavin'?" asked Sophy, slowly. "Monday. Gee! it seems a
Sophy was late Saturday morning. When she came in, hurriedly, her
cheeks were scarlet and her eyes glowed. She took off her hat and coat
and fell to straightening boxes and putting out stock without looking
up. She took no part in the talk and jest that was going on among the
other clerks. One of the men, in search of the missing mate to the shoe
in his hand, came over to her, greeting her carelessly. Then he stared.
"Well, what do you know about this!" he called out to the others,
and laughed coarsely, "Look, stop, listen! Little Sophy Bright Eyes
here has pulled down the shades."
Louie turned quickly. The immodest V of Sophy's gown was filled
with a black lace yoke that came up to the very lobes of her little
pink ears. She had got some scraps of lace from Where do they get
those bits of rusty black? From some basement bargain counter, perhaps,
raked over during the lunch hour. There were nine pieces in the front,
and seven in the back. She had sat up half the night putting them
together so that when completed they looked like one, if you didn't
come too close. There is a certain strain of Indian patience and
ingenuity in women that no man has ever been able to understand.
Louie looked up and saw. His eyes met Sophy's. In his there crept a
certain exultant gleam, as of one who had fought for something great
and won. Sophy saw the look. The shy questioning in her eyes was
replaced by a spark of defiance. She tossed her head, and turned to the
man who had called attention to her costume.
"Who's loony now?" she jeered. "I always put in a yoke when it gets
along toward fall. My lungs is delicate. And anyway, I see by the
papers yesterday that collarless gowns is slightly passay f'r winter."
This is not a baseball story. The grandstand does not rise as one
man and shout itself hoarse with joy. There isn't a three-bagger in the
entire three thousand words, and nobody is carried home on the
shoulders of the crowd. For that sort of thing you need not squander
fifteen cents on your favorite magazine. The modest sum of one cent
will make you the possessor of a Pink 'Un. There you will find the
season's games handled in masterly fashion by a six-best-seller artist,
an expert mathematician, and an original-slang humorist. No mere short
story dub may hope to compete with these.
In the old days, before the gentry of the ring had learned the
wisdom of investing their winnings in solids instead of liquids, this
used to be a favorite conundrum: When is a prize-fighter not a
Chorus: When he is tending bar.
I rise to ask you Brothah Fan, when is a ball player not a ball
player? Above the storm of facetious replies I shout the answer:
When he's a shoe clerk.
Any man who can look handsome in a dirty baseball suit is an
Adonis. There is something about the baggy pants, and the
Micawber-shaped collar, and the skull-fitting cap, and the foot or so
of tan, or blue, or pink undershirt sleeve sticking out at the arms,
that just naturally kills a man's best points. Then too, a baseball
suit requires so much in the matter of leg. Therefore, when I say that
Rudie Schlachweiler was a dream even in his baseball uniform, with a
dirty brown streak right up the side of his pants where he had slid for
base, you may know that the girls camped on the grounds during the
During the summer months our ball park is to us what the Grand Prix
is to Paris, or Ascot is to London. What care we that Evers gets seven
thousand a year (or is it a month?); or that Chicago's new South-side
ball park seats thirty-five thousand (or is it million?). Of what
interest are such meager items compared with the knowledge that "Pug"
Coulan, who plays short, goes with Undine Meyers, the girl up there in
the eighth row, with the pink dress and the red roses on her hat? When
"Pug" snatches a high one out of the firmament we yell with delight,
and even as we yell we turn sideways to look up and see how Undine is
taking it. Undine's shining eyes are fixed on "Pug," and he knows it,
stoops to brush the dust off his dirt-begrimed baseball pants, takes an
attitude of careless grace and misses the next play.
Our grand-stand seats almost two thousand, counting the boxes. But
only the snobs, and the girls with new hats, sit in the boxes. Box
seats are comfortable, it is true, and they cost only an additional ten
cents, but we have come to consider them undemocratic, and unworthy of
true fans. Mrs. Freddy Van Dyne, who spends her winters in Egypt and
her summers at the ball park, comes out to the game every afternoon in
her automobile, but she never occupies a box seat; so why should we?
She perches up in the grand-stand with the rest of the enthusiasts, and
when Kelly puts one over she stands up and clinches her fists, and
waves her arms and shouts with the best of 'em. She has even been known
to cry, "Good eye! Good eye!" when things were at fever heat. The only
really blase individual in the ball park is Willie Grimes, who peddles
ice-cream cones. For that matter, I once saw Willie turn a languid head
to pipe, in his thin voice, "Give 'em a dark one, Dutch! Give 'em a
Well, that will do for the firsh dash of local color. Now for the
Ivy Keller came home June nineteenth from Miss Shont's select
school for young ladies. By June twenty-first she was bored limp. You
could hardly see the plaits of her white tailored shirtwaist for
fraternity pins and secret society emblems, and her bedroom was ablaze
with college banners and pennants to such an extent that the maid gave
notice every Thursday which was upstairs cleaning day.
For two weeks after her return Ivy spent most of her time writing
letters and waiting for them, and reading the classics on the front
porch, dressed in a middy blouse and a blue skirt, with her hair done
in a curly Greek effect like the girls on the covers of the Ladies'
Magazine. She posed against the canvas bosom of the porch chair with
one foot under her, the other swinging free, showing a tempting thing
in beaded slipper, silk stocking, and what the story writers call "slim
On the second Saturday after her return her father came home for
dinner at noon, found her deep in Volume Two of "Les Miserables."
"Whew! This is a scorcher!" he exclaimed, and dropped down on a
wicker chair next to Ivy. Ivy looked at her father with languid
interest, and smiled a daughterly smile. Ivy's father was an insurance
man, alderman of his ward, president of the Civic Improvement club,
member of five lodges, and an habitual delegate. It generally was he
who introduced distinguished guests who spoke at the opera house on
Decoration Day. He called Mrs. Keller "Mother," and he wasn't above
noticing the fit of a gown on a pretty feminine figure. He thought Ivy
was an expurgated edition of Lillian Russell, Madame De Stael, and Mrs.
"Aren't you feeling well, Ivy?" he asked. "Looking a little pale.
It's the heat, I suppose. Gosh! Something smells good. Run in and tell
Mother I'm here."
Ivy kept one slender finger between the leaves of her book. "I'm
perfectly well," she replied. "That must be beefsteak and onions. Ugh!"
And she shuddered, and went indoors.
Dad Keller looked after her thoughtfully. Then he went in, washed
his hands, and sat down at table with Ivy and her mother.
"Just a sliver for me," said Ivy, "and no onions."
Her father put down his knife and fork, cleared his throat, and
"You get on your hat and meet me at the 2:45 inter-urban. You're
going to the ball game with me."
"Ball game!" repeated Ivy. "I? But I'd "
"Yes, you do," interrupted her father. "You've been moping around
here looking a cross between Saint Cecilia and Little Eva long enough.
I don't care if you don't know a spitball from a fadeaway when you see
it. You'll be out in the air all afternoon, and there'll be some
excitement. All the girls go. You'll like it. They're playing
Ivy went, looking the sacrificial lamb. Five minutes after the game
was called she pointed one tapering white finger in the direction of
the pitcher's mound. "Who's that?" she asked.
"Pitcher," explained Papa Keller, laconically. Then, patiently: "He
throws the ball."
"Oh," said Ivy. "What did you say his name was?"
"I didn't say. But it's Rudie Schlachweiler. The boys call him
Dutch. Kind of a pet, Dutch is."
"Rudie Schlachweiler!" murmured Ivy, dreamily. "What a strong
"Want some peanuts?" inquired her father.
"Does one eat peanuts at a ball game?"
"It ain't hardly legal if you don't," Pa Keller assured her.
"Two sacks," said Ivy. "Papa, why do they call it a diamond, and
what are those brown bags at the corners, and what does it count if you
hit the ball, and why do they rub their hands in the dust and then
er spit on them, and what salary does a pitcher get, and why does
the red-haired man on the other side dance around like that between the
second and third brown bag, and doesn't a pitcher do anything but
pitch, and wh ?"
"You're on," said papa.
After that Ivy didn't miss a game during all the time that the team
played in the home town. She went without a new hat, and didn't care
whether Jean Valjean got away with the goods or not, and forgot whether
you played third hand high or low in bridge. She even became chummy
with Undine Meyers, who wasn't her kind of a girl at all. Undine was
thin in a voluptuous kind of way, if such a paradox can be, and she had
red lips, and a roving eye, and she ran around downtown without a hat
more than was strictly necessary. But Undine and Ivy had two subjects
in common. They were baseball and love. It is queer how the limelight
will make heroes of us all.
Now "Pug" Coulan, who was red-haired, and had shoulders like an ox,
and arms that hung down to his knees, like those of an orang-outang,
slaughtered beeves at the Chicago stockyards in winter. In the summer
he slaughtered hearts. He wore mustard colored shirts that matched his
hair, and his baseball stockings generally had a rip in them somewhere,
but when he was on the diamond we were almost ashamed to look at
Undine, so wholly did her heart shine in her eyes.
Now, we'll have just another dash or two of local color. In a small
town the chances for hero worship are few. If it weren't for the
traveling men our girls wouldn't know whether stripes or checks were
the thing in gents' suitings. When the baseball season opened the girls
swarmed on it. Those that didn't understand baseball pretended they
did. When the team was out of town our form of greeting was changed
from, "Good-morning!" or "Howdy-do!" to "What's the score?" Every night
the results of the games throughout the league were posted up on the
blackboard in front of Schlager's hardware store, and to see the way in
which the crowd stood around it, and streamed across the street toward
it, you'd have thought they were giving away gas stoves and hammock
Going home in the street car after the game the girls used to gaze
adoringly at the dirty faces of their sweat-begrimed heroes, and then
they'd rush home, have supper, change their dresses, do their hair, and
rush downtown past the Parker Hotel to mail their letters. The baseball
boys boarded over at the Griggs House, which is third-class, but they
used their tooth-picks, and held the postmortem of the day's game out
in front of the Parker Hotel, which is our leading hostelry. The
postoffice receipts record for our town was broken during the months of
June, July, and August.
Mrs. Freddy Van Dyne started the trouble by having the team over to
dinner, "Pug" Coulan and all. After all, why not? No foreign and
impecunious princes penetrate as far inland as our town. They get only
as far as New York, or Newport, where they are gobbled up by
many-moneyed matrons. If Mrs. Freddy Van Dyne found the supply of
available lions limited, why should she not try to content herself with
a jackal or so?
Ivy was asked. Until then she had contented herself with gazing at
her hero. She had become such a hardened baseball fan that she followed
the game with a score card, accurately jotting down every play, and
keeping her watch open on her knee.
She sat next to Rudie at dinner. Before she had nibbled her second
salted almond, Ivy Keller and Rudie Schlachweiler understood each
other. Rudie illustrated certain plays by drawing lines on the
table-cloth with his knife and Ivy gazed, wide-eyed, and allowed her
soup to grow cold.
The first night that Rudie called, Pa Keller thought it a great
joke. He sat out on the porch with Rudie and Ivy and talked baseball,
and got up to show Rudie how he could have got the goat of that Keokuk
catcher if only he had tried one of his famous open-faced throws. Rudie
looked politely interested, and laughed in all the right places. But
Ivy didn't need to pretend. Rudie Schlachweiler spelled baseball to
her. She did not think of her caller as a good-looking young man in a
blue serge suit and a white shirtwaist. Even as he sat there she saw
him as a blonde god standing on the pitcher's mound, with the scars of
battle on his baseball pants, his left foot placed in front of him at
right angles with his right foot, his gaze fixed on first base in a
cunning effort to deceive the man at bat, in that favorite attitude of
pitchers just before they get ready to swing their left leg and h'ist
The second time that Rudie called, Ma Keller said:
"Ivy, I don't like that ball player coming here to see you. The
The third time Rudie called, Pa Keller said: "What's that guy doing
The fourth time Rudie called, Pa Keller and Ma Keller said, in
unison: "This thing has got to stop."
But it didn't. It had had too good a start. For the rest of the
season Ivy met her knight of the sphere around the corner. Theirs was a
walking courtship. They used to roam up as far as the State road, and
down as far as the river, and Rudie would fain have talked of love, but
Ivy talked of baseball.
"Darling," Rudie would murmur, pressing Ivy's arm closer, "when did
you first begin to care?"
"Why I liked the very first game I saw when Dad "
"I mean, when did you first begin to care for me?"
"Oh! When you put three men out in that game with Marshalltown when
the teams were tied in the eighth inning. Remember? Say, Rudie dear,
what was the matter with your arm to-day? You let three men walk, and
Albia's weakest hitter got a home run out of you."
"Oh, forget baseball for a minute, Ivy! Let's talk about something
else. Let's talk about us."
"Us? Well, you're baseball, aren't you?" retorted Ivy. "And if you
are, I am. Did you notice the way that Ottumwa man pitched yesterday?
He didn't do any acting for the grandstand. He didn't reach up above
his head, and wrap his right shoulder with his left toe, and swing his
arm three times and then throw seven inches outside the plate. He just
took the ball in his hand, looked at it curiously for a moment, and
fired it zing! like that, over the plate. I'd get that ball if I
"Isn't this a grand night?" murmured Rudie.
"But they didn't have a hitter in the bunch," went on Ivy. "And not
a man in the team could run. That's why they're tail-enders. Just the
same, that man on the mound was a wizard, and if he had one decent
player to give him some support "
Well, the thing came to a climax. One evening, two weeks before the
close of the season, Ivy put on her hat and announced that she was
going downtown to mail her letters.
"Mail your letters in the daytime," growled Papa Keller. "I didn't
have time to-day," answered Ivy. "It was a thirteen inning game, and it
lasted until six o'clock."
It was then that Papa Keller banged the heavy fist of decision down
on the library table.
"This thing's got to stop!" he thundered. "I won't have any girl of
mine running the streets with a ball player, understand? Now you quit
seeing this seventy-five-dollars-a-month bush leaguer or leave this
house. I mean it."
"All right," said Ivy, with a white-hot calm. "I'll leave. I can
make the grandest kind of angel-food with marshmallow icing, and you
know yourself my fudges can't be equaled. He'll be playing in the major
leagues in three years. Why just yesterday there was a strange man at
the game a city man, you could tell by his hat-band, and the way his
clothes were cut. He stayed through the whole game, and never took his
eyes off Rudie. I just know he was a scout for the Cubs."
"Probably a hardware drummer, or a fellow that Schlachweiler owes
Ivy began to pin on her hat. A scared look leaped into Papa
Keller's eyes. He looked a little old, too, and drawn, at that minute.
He stretched forth a rather tremulous hand.
"Ivy-girl," he said.
"What?" snapped Ivy.
"Your old father's just talking for your own good. You're breaking
your ma's heart. You and me have been good pals, haven't we?"
"Yes," said Ivy, grudgingly, and without looking up.
"Well now, look here. I've got a proposition to make to you. The
season's over in two more weeks. The last week they play out of town.
Then the boys'll come back for a week or so, just to hang around town
and try to get used to the idea of leaving us. Then they'll scatter to
take up their winter jobs-cutting ice, most of 'em," he added, grimly.
"Mr. Schlachweiler is employed in a large establishment in
Slatersville, Ohio," said Ivy, with dignity. "He regards baseball as
his profession, and he cannot do anything that would affect his
Pa Keller put on the tremolo stop and brought a misty look into his
"Ivy, you'll do one last thing for your old father, won't you?"
"Maybe," answered Ivy, coolly.
"Don't make that fellow any promises. Now wait a minute! Let me get
through. I won't put any crimp in your plans. I won't speak to
Schlachweiler. Promise you won't do anything rash until the ball
season's over. Then we'll wait just one month, see? Till along about
November. Then if you feel like you want to see him "
"But how "
"Hold on. You mustn't write to him, or see him, or let him write to
you during that time, see? Then, if you feel the way you do now, I'll
take you to Slatersville to see him. Now that's fair, ain't it? Only
don't let him know you're coming."
M-m-m-yes, said Ivy.
"Shake hands on it." She did. Then she left the room with a rush,
headed in the direction of her own bedroom. Pa Keller treated himself
to a prodigious wink and went out to the vegetable garden in search of
The team went out on the road, lost five games, won two, and came
home in fourth place. For a week they lounged around the Parker Hotel
and held up the street corners downtown, took many farewell drinks,
then, slowly, by ones and twos, they left for the packing houses,
freight depots, and gents' furnishing stores from whence they came.
October came in with a blaze of sumac and oak leaves. Ivy stayed
home and learned to make veal loaf and apple pies. The worry lines
around Pa Keller's face began to deepen. Ivy said that she didn't
believe that she cared to go back to Miss Shont's select school for
October thirty-first came.
"We'll take the eight-fifteen to-morrow," said her father to Ivy.
"All right," said Ivy.
"Do you know where he works?" asked he.
"No," answered Ivy.
"That'll be all right. I took the trouble to look him up last
The short November afternoon was drawing to its close (as our best
talent would put it) when Ivy and her father walked along the streets
of Slatersville. (I can't tell you what streets, because I don't know.)
Pa Keller brought up before a narrow little shoe shop.
"Here we are," he said, and ushered Ivy in. A short, stout,
proprietary figure approached them smiling a mercantile smile.
"What can I do for you?" he inquired.
Ivy's eyes searched the shop for a tall, golden-haired form in a
soiled baseball suit.
"We'd like to see a gentleman named Schlachweiler Rudolph
Schlachweiler," said Pa Keller.
"Anything very special?" inquired the proprietor. "He's rather
busy just now. Wouldn't anybody else do? Of course, if "
"No," growled Keller.
The boss turned. "Hi! Schlachweiler!" he bawled toward the rear of
the dim little shop.
"Yessir," answered a muffled voice.
"Front!" yelled the boss, and withdrew to a safe listening
A vaguely troubled look lurked in the depths of Ivy's eyes. >From
behind the partition of the rear of the shop emerged a tall figure. It
was none other than our hero. He was in his shirt- sleeves, and he
struggled into his coat as he came forward, wiping his mouth with the
back of his hand, hurriedly, and swallowing.
I have said that the shop was dim. Ivy and her father stood at one
side, their backs to the light. Rudie came forward, rubbing his hands
together in the manner of clerks.
"Something in shoes?" he politely inquired. Then he saw.
"Ivy! ah Miss Keller!" he exclaimed. Then, awkwardly: "Well,
how-do, Mr. Keller. I certainly am glad to see you both. How's the old
town? What are you doing in Slatersville?"
"Why Ivy " began Pa Keller, blunderingly.
But Ivy clutched his arm with a warning hand. The vaguely troubled
look in her eyes had become wildly so.
"Schlachweiler!" shouted the voice of the boss. "Customers!" and he
waved a hand in the direction of the fitting benches.
"All right, sir," answered Rudie. "Just a minute."
"Dad had to come on business," said Ivy, hurriedly. "And he brought
me with him. I'm I'm on my way to school in Cleveland, you know.
Awfully glad to have seen you again. We must go. That lady wants her
shoes, I'm sure, and your employer is glaring at us. Come, dad."
At the door she turned just in time to see Rudie removing the shoe
from the pudgy foot of the fat lady customer.
We'll take a jump of six months. That brings us into the lap of
Pa Keller looked up from his evening paper. Ivy, home for the
Easter vacation, was at the piano. Ma Keller was sewing.
Pa Keller cleared his throat. "I see by the paper," he announced,
"that Schlachweiler's been sold to Des Moines. Too bad we lost him. He
was a great little pitcher, but he played in bad luck. Whenever he was
on the slab the boys seemed to give him poor support."
"Fudge!" exclaimed Ivy, continuing to play, but turning a spirited
face toward her father. "What piffle! Whenever a player pitches rotten
ball you'll always hear him howling about the support he didn't get.
Schlachweiler was a bum pitcher. Anybody could hit him with a willow
wand, on a windy day, with the sun in his eyes."
The City was celebrating New Year's Eve.
Spelled thus, with a capital C, know it can mean but New York. In
the Pink Fountain room of the Newest Hotel all those grand old forms
and customs handed down to us for the occasion were being rigidly
observed in all their original quaintness. The Van Dyked man who looked
like a Russian Grand Duke (he really was a chiropodist) had drunk
champagne out of the pink satin slipper of the lady who behaved like an
actress (she was forelady at Schmaus' Wholesale Millinery, eighth
floor). The two respectable married ladies there in the corner had been
kissed by each other's husbands. The slim, Puritan-faced woman in
white, with her black hair so demurely parted and coiled in a sleek
knot, had risen suddenly from her place and walked indolently to the
edge of the plashing pink fountain in the center of the room, had stood
contemplating its shallows with a dreamy half-smile on her lips, and
then had lifted her slim legs slowly and gracefully over its
fern-fringed basin and had waded into its chilling midst, trailing her
exquisite white satin and chiffon draperies after her, and scaring the
goldfish into fits. The loudest scream of approbation had come from the
yellow-haired, loose-lipped youth who had made the wager, and lost it.
The heavy blonde in the inevitable violet draperies showed signs of
wanting to dance on the table. Her companion a structure made up of
layer upon layer, and fold upon fold of flabby tissue knew all the
waiters by their right names, and insisted on singing with the
orchestra and beating time with a rye roll. The clatter of dishes was
giving way to the clink of glasses.
In the big, bright kitchen back, of the Pink Fountain room Miss
Gussie Fink sat at her desk, calm, watchful, insolent-eyed, a goddess
sitting in judgment. On the pay roll of the Newest Hotel Miss Gussie
Fink's name appeared as kitchen checker, but her regular job was
goddessing. Her altar was a high desk in a corner of the busy kitchen,
and it was an altar of incense, of burnt-offerings, and of showbread.
Inexorable as a goddess of the ancients was Miss Fink, and ten times as
difficult to appease. For this is the rule of the Newest Hotel, that no
waiter may carry his laden tray restaurantward until its contents have
been viewed and duly checked by the eye and hand of Miss Gussie Fink,
or her assistants. Flat upon the table must go every tray, off must go
each silver dish-cover, lifted must be each napkin to disclose its
treasure of steaming corn or hot rolls. Clouds of incense rose before
Miss Gussie Fink and she sniffed it unmoved, her eyes, beneath level
brows, regarding savory broiler or cunning ice with equal indifference,
appraising alike lobster cocktail or onion soup, traveling from blue
points to brie. Things a la and things glace were all one to her.
Gazing at food was Miss Gussie Fink's occupation, and just to see the
way she regarded a boneless squab made you certain that she never ate.
In spite of the I-don't-know-how-many (see ads) New Year's Eve
diners for whom food was provided that night, the big, busy kitchen was
the most orderly, shining, spotless place imaginable. But Miss Gussie
Fink was the neatest, most immaculate object in all that great, clean
room. There was that about her which suggested daisies in a field, if
you know what I mean. This may have been due to the fact that her eyes
were brown while her hair was gold, or it may have been something about
the way her collars fitted high, and tight, and smooth, or the way her
close white sleeves came down to meet her pretty hands, or the way her
shining hair sprang from her forehead. Also the smooth creaminess of
her clear skin may have had something to do with it. But privately, I
think it was due to the way she wore her shirtwaists. Miss Gussie Fink
could wear a starched white shirtwaist under a close-fitting winter
coat, remove the coat, run her right forefinger along her collar's edge
and her left thumb along the back of her belt and disclose to the
admiring world a blouse as unwrinkled and unsullied as though it had
just come from her own skilful hands at the ironing board. Miss Gussie
Fink was so innately, flagrantly, beautifully clean-looking that
well, there must be a stop to this description. She was the kind of
girl you'd like to see behind the counter of your favorite
delicatessen, knowing that you need not shudder as her fingers touch
your Sunday night supper slices of tongue, and Swiss cheese, and ham.
No girl had ever dreamed of refusing to allow Gussie to borrow her
chamois for a second.
To-night Miss Fink had come on at 10 P.M., which was just two hours
later than usual. She knew that she was to work until 6 A.M., which may
have accounted for the fact that she displayed very little of what the
fans call ginger as she removed her hat and coat and hung them on the
hook behind the desk. The prospect of that all-night, eight-hour
stretch may have accounted for it, I say. But privately, and entre
nous, it didn't. For here you must know of Heiny. Heiny, alas! now
Until two weeks ago Henri had been Heiny and Miss Fink had been
Kid. When Henri had been Heiny he had worked in the kitchen at many
things, but always with a loving eye on Miss Gussie Fink. Then one wild
night there had been a waiters' strike wages or hours or tips or all
three. In the confusion that followed Heiny had been pressed into
service and a chopped coat. He had fitted into both with unbelievable
nicety, proving that waiters are born, not made. Those little tricks
and foibles that are characteristic of the genus waiter seemed to
envelop him as though a fairy garment had fallen upon his shoulders.
The folded napkin under his left arm seemed to have been placed there
by nature, so perfectly did it fit into place. The ghostly tread, the
little whisking skip, the half-simper, the deferential bend that had in
it at the same time something of insolence, all were there; the very
"Yes, miss," and "Very good, sir," rose automatically and correctly to
his untrained lips. Cinderella rising resplendent from her ash-strewn
hearth was not more completely transformed than Heiny in his role of
Henri. And with the transformation Miss Gussie Fink had been left
behind her desk disconsolate.
Kitchens are as quick to seize upon these things and gossip about
them as drawing rooms are. And because Miss Gussie Fink had always worn
a little air of aloofness to all except Heiny, the kitchen was the more
eager to make the most of its morsel. Each turned it over under his
tongue Tony, the Crook, whom Miss Fink had scorned; Francois, the
entree cook, who often forgot he was married; Miss Sweeney, the
bar-checker, who was jealous of Miss Fink's complexion. Miss Fink
heard, and said nothing. She only knew that there would be no dear
figure waiting for her when the night's work was done. For two weeks
now she had put on her hat and coat and gone her way at one o'clock
alone. She discovered that to be taken home night after night under
Heiny's tender escort had taught her a ridiculous terror of the streets
at night now that she was without protection. Always the short walk
from the car to the flat where Miss Fink lived with her mother had been
a glorious, star-lit, all too brief moment. Now it was an endless and
terrifying trial, a thing of shivers and dread, fraught with horror of
passing the alley just back of Cassidey's buffet. There had even been
certain little half-serious, half-jesting talks about the future into
which there had entered the subject of a little delicatessen and
restaurant in a desirable neighborhood, with Heiny in the kitchen, and
a certain blonde, neat, white-shirtwaisted person in charge of the desk
and front shop.
She and her mother had always gone through a little formula upon
Miss Fink's return from work. They never used it now. Gussie's mother
was a real mother the kind that wakes up when you come home.
"That you, Gussie?" Ma Fink would call from the bedroom, at the
sound of the key in the lock.
"It's me, ma."
"Heiny bring you home?"
"There's a bit of sausage left, and some pie if "
"Oh, I ain't hungry. We stopped at Joey's downtown and had a cup of
coffee and a ham on rye. Did you remember to put out the milk bottle?"
For two weeks there had been none of that. Gussie had learned to
creep silently into bed, and her mother, being a mother, feigned sleep.
To-night at her desk Miss Gussie Fink seemed a shade cooler, more
self-contained, and daisylike than ever. From somewhere at the back of
her head she could see that Heiny was avoiding her desk and was using
the services of the checker at the other end of the room. And even as
the poison of this was eating into her heart she was tapping her
forefinger imperatively on the desk before her and saying to Tony, the
"Down on the table with that tray, Tony flat. This may be a busy
little New Year's Eve, but you can't come any of your sleight-of-hand
stuff on me." For Tony had a little trick of concealing a
dollar-and-a-quarter sirloin by the simple method of slapping the
platter close to the underside of his tray and holding it there with
long, lean fingers outspread, the entire bit of knavery being concealed
in the folds of a flowing white napkin in the hand that balanced the
tray. Into Tony's eyes there came a baleful gleam. His lean jaw jutted
"You're the real Weissenheimer kid, ain't you?" he sneered. "Never
mind. I'll get you at recess."
"Some day," drawled Miss Fink, checking the steak, "the house'll
get wise to your stuff and then you'll have to go back to the coal
wagon. I know so much about you it's beginning to make me
uncomfortable. I hate to carry around a burden of crime."
"You're a sorehead because Heiny turned you down and now "
"Move on there!" snapped Miss Fink, "or I'll call the steward to
settle you. Maybe he'd be interested to know that you've been counting
in the date and your waiter's number, and adding 'em in at the bottom
of your check."
Tony, the Crook, turned and skimmed away toward the dining-room,
but the taste of victory was bitter in Miss Fink's mouth.
Midnight struck. There came from the direction of the Pink Fountain
Room a clamor and din which penetrated the thickness of the padded
doors that separated the dining-room from the kitchen beyond. The sound
rose and swelled above the blare of the orchestra. Chairs scraped on
the marble floor as hundreds rose to their feet. The sound of clinking
glasses became as the jangling of a hundred bells. There came the sharp
spat of hand-clapping, then cheers, yells, huzzas. Through the swinging
doors at the end of the long passageway Miss Fink could catch glimpses
of dazzling color, of shimmering gowns, of bare arms uplifted, of
flowers, and plumes, and jewels, with the rosy light of the famed pink
fountain casting a gracious glow over all. Once she saw a tall young
fellow throw his arm about the shoulder of a glorious creature at the
next table, and though the door swung shut before she could see it,
Miss Fink knew that he had kissed her.
There were no New Year's greetings in the kitchen back of the Pink
Fountain Room. It was the busiest moment in all that busy night. The
heat of the ovens was so intense that it could be felt as far as Miss
Fink's remote corner. The swinging doors between dining-room and
kitchen were never still. A steady stream of waiters made for the steam
tables before which the white-clad chefs stood ladling, carving,
basting, serving, gave their orders, received them, stopped at the
checking-desk, and sped dining-roomward again. Tony, the Crook, was
cursing at one of the little Polish vegetable girls who had not been
quick enough about the garnishing of a salad, and she was saying, over
and over again, in her thick tongue:
"Aw, shod op yur mout'!"
The thud-thud of Miss Fink's checking-stamp kept time to flying
footsteps, but even as her practised eye swept over the tray before her
she saw the steward direct Henri toward her desk, just as he was about
to head in the direction of the minor checking-desk. Beneath downcast
lids she saw him coming. There was about Henri to-night a certain
radiance, a sort of electrical elasticity, so nimble, so tireless, so
exuberant was he. In the eyes of Miss Gussie Fink he looked
heartbreakingly handsome in his waiter's uniform handsome,
distinguished, remote, and infinitely desirable. And just behind him,
revenge in his eye, came Tony.
The flat surface of the desk received Henri's tray. Miss Fink
regarded it with a cold and business-like stare. Henri whipped his
napkin from under his left arm and began to remove covers, dexterously.
Off came the first silver, dome-shaped top.
"Guinea hen," said Henri.
"I seen her lookin' at you when you served the little necks," came
from Tony, as though continuing a conversation begun in some past
moment of pause, "and she's some lovely doll, believe me."
Miss Fink scanned the guinea hen thoroughly, but with a detached
air, and selected the proper stamp from the box at her elbow. Thump! On
the broad pasteboard sheet before her appeared the figures $1.75 after
"Think so?" grinned Henri, and removed another cover. "One candied
"I bet some day we'll see you in the Sunday papers, Heiny," went on
Tony, "with a piece about handsome waiter runnin' away with beautiful
s'ciety girl. Say; you're too perfect even for a waiter." Thump!
"Quit your kiddin'," said the flattered Henri. "One endive, French
Thump!" Next!" said Miss Fink, dispassionately, yawned, and smiled
fleetingly at the entree cook who wasn't looking her way. Then, as Tony
slid his tray toward her: "How's business, Tony? H'm? How many two-bit
cigar bands have you slipped onto your own private collection of nickel
straights and made a twenty-cent rake-off?"
But there was a mist in the bright brown eyes as Tony the Crook
turned away with his tray. In spite of the satisfaction of having had
the last word, Miss Fink knew in her heart that Tony had "got her at
recess," as he had said he would.
Things were slowing up for Miss Fink. The stream of hurrying
waiters was turned in the direction of the kitchen bar now. From now on
the eating would be light, and the drinking heavy. Miss Fink, with time
hanging heavy, found herself blinking down at the figures stamped on
the pasteboard sheet before her, and in spite of the blinking, two
marks that never were intended for a checker's report splashed down
just over the $1.75 after Henri's number. A lovely doll! And she had
gazed at Heiny. Well, that was to be expected. No woman could gaze
unmoved upon Heiny. "A lovely doll "
"Hi, Miss Fink!" it was the steward's voice. "We need you over in
the bar to help Miss Sweeney check the drinks. They're coming too swift
for her. The eating will be light from now on; just a little something
salty now and then."
So Miss Fink dabbed covertly at her eyes and betook herself out of
the atmosphere of roasting, and broiling, and frying, and stewing; away
from the sight of great copper kettles, and glowing coals and hissing
pans, into a little world fragrant with mint, breathing of orange and
lemon peel, perfumed with pineapple, redolent of cinnamon and clove,
reeking with things spirituous. Here the splutter of the broiler was
replaced by the hiss of the siphon, and the pop-pop of corks, and the
tinkle and clink of ice against glass.
"Hello, dearie!" cooed Miss Sweeney, in greeting, staring hard at
the suspicious redness around Miss Fink's eyelids. "Ain't you sweet to
come over here in the headache department and help me out! Here's the
wine list. You'll prob'ly need it. Say, who do you suppose invented New
Year's Eve? They must of had a imagination like a Greek 'bus boy. I'm
limp as a rag now, and it's only two-thirty. I've got a regular cramp
in my wrist from checkin' quarts. Say, did you hear about Heiny's
"No," said Miss Fink, evenly, and began to study the first page of
the wine list under the heading "Champagnes of Noted Vintages."
"Well," went on Miss Sweeney's little thin, malicious voice, "he's
fell in soft. There's a table of three, and they're drinkin' 1874
Imperial Crown at twelve dollars per, like it was Waukesha ale. And
every time they finish a bottle one of the guys pays for it with a
brand new ten and a brand new five and tells Heiny to keep the change.
Can you beat it?"
"I hope," said Miss Fink, pleasantly, "that the supply of 1874 will
hold out till morning. I'd hate to see them have to come down to ten
dollar wine. Here you, Tony! Come back here! I may be a new hand in
this department but I'm not so green that you can put a gold label over
on me as a yellow label. Notice that I'm checking you another fifty
cents." "Ain't he the grafter!" laughed Miss Sweeney. She leaned
toward Miss Fink and lowered her voice discreetly. "Though I'll say
this for'm. If you let him get away with it now an' then, he'll split
even with you. H'm? O, well, now, don't get so high and mighty. The
management expects it in this department. That's why they pay
An unusual note of color crept into Miss Gussie Fink's smooth
cheek. It deepened and glowed as Heiny darted around the corner and up
to the bar. There was about him an air of suppressed excitement
suppressed, because Heiny was too perfect a waiter to display emotion.
"Not another!" chanted the bartenders, in chorus.
"Yes," answered Henri, solemnly, and waited while the wine cellar
was made to relinquish another rare jewel.
"O, you Heiny!" called Miss Sweeney, "tell us what she looks like.
If I had time I'd take a peek myself. From what Tony says she must look
something like Maxine Elliot, only brighter."
Henri turned. He saw Miss Fink. A curious little expression came
into his eyes a Heiny look, it might have been called, as he
regarded his erstwhile sweetheart's unruffled attire, and clear skin,
and steady eye and glossy hair. She was looking past him in that
baffling, maddening way that angry women have. Some of Henri's poise
seemed to desert him in that moment. He appeared a shade less debonair
as he received the precious bottle from the wine man's hands. He made
for Miss Fink's desk and stood watching her while she checked his
order. At the door he turned and looked over his shoulder at Miss
"Some time," he said, deliberately, "when there's no ladies around,
I'll tell you what I think she looks like."
And the little glow of color in Miss Gussic Fink's smooth cheek
became a crimson flood that swept from brow to throat.
"Oh, well," snickered Miss Sweeney, to hide her own discomfiture,
"this is little Heiny's first New Year's Eve in the dining-room.
Honest, I b'lieve he's shocked. He don't realize that celebratin' New
Year's Eve is like eatin' oranges. You got to let go your dignity t'
really enjoy 'em." Three times more did Henri enter and demand a
bottle of the famous vintage, and each time he seemed a shade less
buoyant. His elation diminished as his tips grew greater until, as he
drew up at the bar at six o'clock, he seemed wrapped in impenetrable
"Them hawgs sousin' yet?" shrilled Miss Sweeney. She and Miss Fink
had climbed down from their high stools, and were preparing to leave.
Henri nodded, drearily, and disappeared in the direction of the Pink
Miss Fink walked back to her own desk in the corner near the
dining-room door. She took her hat off the hook, and stood regarding
it, thoughtfully. Then, with a little air of decision, she turned and
walked swiftly down the passageway that separated dining-room from
kitchen. Tillie, the scrub-woman, was down on her hands and knees in
one corner of the passage. She was one of a small army of cleaners that
had begun the work of clearing away the debris of the long night's
revel. Miss Fink lifted her neat skirts high as she tip-toed through
the little soapy pool that followed in the wake of Tillie, the
scrub-woman. She opened the swinging doors a cautious little crack and
peered in.What she saw was not pretty. If the words sordid and
bacchanalian had been part of Miss Fink's vocabulary they would have
risen to her lips then. The crowd had gone. The great room contained
not more than half a dozen people. Confetti littered the floor. Here
and there a napkin, crushed and bedraggled into an unrecognizable ball,
lay under a table. From an overturned bottle the dregs were dripping
drearily. The air was stale, stifling, poisonous.
At a little table in the center of the room Henri's three were
still drinking. They were doing it in a dreadful and businesslike way.
There were two men and one woman. The faces of all three were mahogany
colored and expressionless. There was about them an awful sort of
stillness. Something in the sight seemed to sicken Gussie Fink. It came
to her that the wintry air outdoors must be gloriously sweet, and cool,
and clean in contrast to this. She was about to turn away, with a last
look at Heiny yawning behind his hand, when suddenly the woman rose
unsteadily to her feet, balancing herself with her finger tips on the
table. She raised her head and stared across the room with dull,
unseeing eyes, and licked her lips with her tongue. Then she turned and
walked half a dozen paces, screamed once with horrible shrillness, and
crashed to the floor. She lay there in a still, crumpled heap, the
folds of her exquisite gown rippling to meet a little stale pool of
wine that had splashed from some broken glass. Then this happened.
Three people ran toward the woman on the floor, and two people ran past
her and out of the room. The two who ran away were the men with whom
she had been drinking, and they were not seen again. The three who ran
toward her were Henri, the waiter, Miss Gussie Fink, checker, and
Tillie, the scrub-woman. Henri and Miss Fink reached her first. Tillie,
the scrub-woman, was a close third. Miss Gussie Fink made as though to
slip her arm under the poor bruised head, but Henri caught her wrist
fiercely (for a waiter) and pulled her to her feet almost roughly.
"You leave her alone, Kid," he commanded.
Miss Gussie Fink stared, indignation choking her utterance. And as
she stared the fierce light in Henri's eyes was replaced by the light
"We'll tend to her," said Henri; "she ain't fit for you to touch. I
wouldn't let you soil your hands on such truck." And while Gussie still
stared he grasped the unconscious woman by the shoulders, while another
waiter grasped her ankles, with Tillie, the scrub-woman, arranging her
draperies pityingly around her, and together they carried her out of
the dining-room to a room beyond.
Back in the kitchen Miss Gussie Fink was preparing to don her hat,
but she was experiencing some difficulty because of the way in which
her fingers persisted in trembling. Her face was turned away from the
swinging doors, but she knew when Henri came in. He stood just behind
her, in silence. When she turned to face him she found Henri looking at
her, and as he looked all the Heiny in him came to the surface and
shone in his eyes. He looked long and silently at Miss Gussie Fink
at the sane, simple, wholesomeness of her, at her clear brown eyes, at
her white forehead from which the shining hair sprang away in such a
delicate line, at her immaculately white shirtwaist, and her smooth,
snug-fitting collar that came up to the lobes of her little pink ears,
at her creamy skin, at her trim belt. He looked as one who would rest
his eyes eyes weary of gazing upon satins, and jewels, and rouge,
and carmine, and white arms, and bosoms.
"Gee, Kid! You look good to me," he said.
"Do I Heiny?" whispered Miss Fink.
"Believe me!" replied Heiny, fervently. "It was just a case of
swelled head. Forget it, will you? Say, that gang in there to-night
why, say, that gang "
"I know," interrupted Miss Fink.
"Going home?" asked Heiny.
"Suppose we have a bite of something to eat first," suggested
Miss Fink glanced round the great, deserted kitchen. As she gazed a
little expression of disgust wrinkled her pretty nose the nose that
perforce had sniffed the scent of so many rare and exquisite dishes.
"Sure," she assented, joyously, "but not here. Let's go around the
corner to Joey's. I could get real chummy with a cup of good hot coffee
and a ham on rye."
He helped her on with her coat, and if his hands rested a moment on
her shoulders who was there to see it? A few sleepy, wan-eyed waiters
and Tillie, the scrub-woman. Together they started toward the door.
Tillie, the scrubwoman, had worked her wet way out of the passage and
into the kitchen proper. She and her pail blocked their way. She was
sopping up a soapy pool with an all-encompassing gray scrub-rag. Heiny
and Gussie stopped a moment perforce to watch her. It was rather
fascinating to see how that artful scrub-rag craftily closed in upon
the soapy pool until it engulfed it. Tillie sat back on her knees to
wring out the water-soaked rag. There was something pleasing in the
sight. Tillie's blue calico was faded white in patches and at the knees
it was dark with soapy water. Her shoes were turned up ludicrously at
the toes, as scrub-women's shoes always are. Tillie's thin hair was
wadded back into a moist knob at the back and skewered with a
gray-black hairpin. From her parboiled, shriveled fingers to her ruddy,
perspiring face there was nothing of grace or beauty about Tillie. And
yet Heiny found something pleasing there. He could not have told you
why, so how can I, unless to say that it was, perhaps, for much the
same reason that we rejoice in the wholesome, safe, reassuring feel of
the gray woolen blanket on our bed when we wake from a horrid dream.
"A Happy New Year to you," said Heiny gravely, and took his hand
out of his pocket.
Tillie's moist right hand closed over something. She smiled so that
one saw all her broken black teeth.
"The same t' you," said Tillie. "The same t' you." ONE OF THE OLD
All of those ladies who end their conversation with you by wearily
suggesting that you go down to the basement to find what you seek, do
not receive a meager seven dollars a week as a reward for their
efforts. Neither are they all obliged to climb five weary flights of
stairs to reach the dismal little court room which is their home, and
there are several who need not walk thirty-three blocks to save
carfare, only to spend wretched evenings washing out handkerchiefs and
stockings in the cracked little washbowl, while one ear is cocked for
the stealthy tread of the Lady Who Objects.
The earnest compiler of working girls' budgets would pass Effie
Bauer hurriedly by. Effie's budget bulged here and there with such
pathetic items as hand-embroidered blouses, thick club steaks, and
parquet tickets for Maude Adams. That you may visualize her at once I
may say that Effie looked twenty-four from the rear (all women do in
these days of girlish simplicity in hats and tailor-mades); her skirts
never sagged, her shirtwaists were marvels of plainness and fit, and
her switch had cost her sixteen dollars, wholesale (a lady friend in
the business). Oh, there was nothing tragic about Effie. She had a
plump, assured style, a keen blue eye, a gift of repartee, and a way of
doing her hair so that the gray at the sides scarcely showed at all.
Also a knowledge of corsets that had placed her at the buying end of
that important department at Spiegel's. Effie knew to the minute when
coral beads went out and pearl beads came in, and just by looking at
her blouses you could tell when Cluny died and Irish was born. Meeting
Effie on the street, you would have put her down as one of the many
well-dressed, prosperous-looking women shoppers if you hadn't looked
at her feet. Veteran clerks and policemen cannot disguise their feet.
Effie Bauer's reason for not marrying when a girl was the same as
that of most of the capable, wise-eyed, good-looking women one finds at
the head of departments. She had not had a chance. If Effie had been as
attractive at twenty as she was at there, we won't betray
confidences. Still, it is certain that if Effie had been as attractive
when a young girl as she was when an old girl, she never would have
been an old girl and head of Spiegel's corset department at a salary of
something very comfortably over one hundred and twenty-five a month
(and commissions). Effie had improved with the years, and ripened with
experience. She knew her value. At twenty she had been pale, anaemic
and bony, with a startled-faun manner and bad teeth. Years of
saleswomanship had broadened her, mentally and physically, until she
possessed a wide and varied knowledge of that great and diversified
subject known as human nature. She knew human nature all the way from
the fifty-nine-cent girdles to the twenty-five-dollar made-to-orders.
And if the years had brought, among other things, a certain hardness
about the jaw and a line or two at the corners of the eyes, it was not
surprising. You can't rub up against the sharp edges of this world and
expect to come out without a scratch or so.
So much for Effie. Enter the hero. Webster defines a hero in
romance as the person who has the principal share in the transactions
related. He says nothing which would debar a gentleman just because he
may be a trifle bald and in the habit of combing his hair over the thin
spot, and he raises no objections to a matter of thickness and color in
the region of the back of the neck. Therefore Gabe I. Marks qualifies.
Gabe was the gentleman about whom Effie permitted herself to be guyed.
He came to Chicago on business four times a year, and he always took
Effie to the theater, and to supper afterward. On those occasions,
Effie's gown, wrap and hat were as correct in texture, lines, and
paradise aigrettes as those of any of her non-working sisters about
her. On the morning following these excursions into Lobsterdom, Effie
would confide to her friend, Miss Weinstein, of the lingeries and
"l was out with my friend, Mr. Marks, last evening. We went to
Rector's after the show. Oh, well, it takes a New Yorker to know how.
Honestly, I feel like a queen when I go out with him. H'm? Oh, nothing
like that, girlie. I never could see that marriage thing. Just good
Gabe had been coming to Chicago four times a year for six years.
Six times four are twenty- four. And one is twenty-five. Gabe's last
visit made the twenty-fifth.
"Well, Effie," Gabe said when the evening's entertainment had
reached the restaurant stage, "this is our twenty-fifth anniversary.
It's our silver wedding, without the silver and the wedding. We'll have
a bottle of champagne. That makes it almost legal. And then suppose we
finish up by having the wedding. The silver can be omitted."
Effie had been humming with the orchestra, holding a lobster claw
in one hand and wielding the little two-pronged fork with the other.
She dropped claw, fork, and popular air to stare open-mouthed at Gabe.
Then a slow, uncertain smile crept about her lips, although her eyes
were still unsmiling.
Stop your joking, Gabie," she said. "Some day you'll say those
things to the wrong lady, and then you'll have a breach-of-promise suit
on your hands."
"This ain't no joke, Effie," Gabe had replied. Not with me it
ain't. As long as my mother selig lived I wouldn't ever marry a Goy. It
would have broken her heart. I was a good son to her, and good sons
make good husbands, they say. Well, Effie, you want to try it out?"
There was something almost solemn in Effie's tone and expression.
"Gabie," she said slowly, "you're the first man that's ever asked me to
"That goes double," answered Gabe.
"Thanks," said Effie. "That makes it all the nicer."
"Then " Gabe's face was radiant. But Effie shook her head
"You're just twenty years late," she said.
"Late!" expostulated Gabe. "I ain't no dead one yet."
Effie pushed her plate away with a little air of decision, folded
her plump arms on the table, and, leaning forward, looked Gabe I. Marks
squarely in the eyes.
"Gabie," she said gently, "I'll bet you haven't got a hundred
dollars in the bank "
"But " interrupted Gabe.
"Wait a minute. I know you boys on the road. Besides your diamond
scarf pin and your ring and watch, have you got a cent over your
salary? Nix. You carry just about enough insurance to bury you, don't
you? You're fifty years old if you're a minute, Gabie, and if I ain't
mistaken you'd have a pretty hard time of it getting ten thousand
dollars' insurance after the doctors got through with you. Twenty-five
years of pinochle and poker and the fat of the land haven't added up
any bumps in the old stocking under the mattress."
"Say, looka here," objected Gabe, more red-faced than usual, "I
didn't know was proposing to no Senatorial investigating committee.
Say, you talk about them foreign noblemen being mercenary! Why, they
ain't in it with you girls to-day. A feller is got to propose to you
with his bank book in one hand and a bunch of life-insurance policies
in the other. You're right; I ain't saved much. But Ma selig always had
everything she wanted. Say, when a man marries it's different. He
begins to save."
"There!" said Effie quickly. "That's just it. Twenty years ago I'd
have been glad and willing to start like that, saving and scrimping and
loving a man, and looking forward to the time when four figures showed
up in the bank account where but three bloomed before. I've got what
they call the home instinct. Give me a yard or so of cretonne, and a
photo of my married sister down in Iowa, and I can make even a
boarding-house inside bedroom look like a place where a human being
could live. If I had been as wise at twenty as I am now, Gabie, I could
have married any man I pleased. But I was what they call capable. And
men aren't marrying capable girls. They pick little yellow-headed,
blue-eyed idiots that don't know a lamb stew from a soup bone when they
see it. Well, Mr. Man didn't show up, and I started in to clerk at six
per. I'm earning as much as you are now. More. Now, don't misunderstand
me, Gabe. I'm not throwing bouquets at myself. I'm not that kind of a
girl. But I could sell a style 743 Slimshape to the Venus de Milo
herself. The Lord knows she needed one, with those hips of hers. I
worked my way up, alone. I'm used to it. I like the excitement down at
the store. I'm used to luxuries. I guess if I was a man I'd be the kind
thy call a good provider the kind that opens wine every time there's
half an excuse for it, and when he dies his widow has to take in
boarders. And, Gabe, after you've worn tailored suits every year for a
dozen years, you can't go back to twenty-five-dollar ready-mades and be
happy." "You could if you loved a man," said Gabe stubbornly.
The hard lines around the jaw and the experienced lines about the
eyes seemed suddenly to stand out on Effie's face.
"Love's young dream is all right. But you've reached the age when
you let your cigar ash dribble down onto your vest. Now me, I've got a
kimono nature but a straight-front job, and it's kept me young. Young!
I've got to be. That's my stock in trade. You see, Gabie, we're just
twenty years late, both of us. They're not going to boost your salary.
These days they're looking for kids on the road live wires, with a
lot of nerve and a quick come-back. They don't want old-timers. Why,
say, Gabie, if I was to tell you what I spend in face powder and
toilette water and hairpins alone, you'd think I'd made a mistake and
given you the butcher bill instead. And I'm no professional beauty,
either. Only it takes money to look cleaned and pressed in this town."
In the seclusion of the cafe corner, Gabe laid one plump, highly
manicured hand on Effie's smooth arm. "You wouldn't need to stay young
for me, Effie. I like you just as you are, without the powder, or the
toilette water, or the hair-pins."
His red, good-natured face had an expression upon it that was
touchingly near patient resignation as he looked up into Effie's
sparkling countenance. "You never looked so good to me as you do this
minute, old girl. And if the day comes when you get lonesome or
change your mind or "
Effie shook her head, and started to draw on her long white gloves.
"I guess I haven't refused you the way the dames in the novels do it.
Maybe it's because I've had so little practice. But I want to say this,
Gabe. Thank God I don't have to die knowing that no man ever wanted me
to be his wife. Honestly, I'm that grateful that I'd marry you in a
minute if I didn't like you so well."
"I'll be back in three months, like always," was all that Gabe
said. "I ain't going to write. When I get here we'll just take in a
show, and the younger you look the better I'll like it."
But on the occasion of Gabe's spring trip he encountered a
statuesque blonde person where Effie had been wont to reign.
"Miss er Bauer out of town?" The statue melted a trifle in the
sunshine of Gabe's ingratiating smile.
"Miss Bauer's ill," the statue informed him, using a heavy Eastern
accent. "Anything I can do for you? I'm taking her place."
"Why ah not exactly; no," said Gabe. "Just a temporary
indisposition, I suppose?"
"Well, you wouldn't hardly call it that, seeing that she's been
sick with typhoid for seven weeks."
"Typhoid!" shouted Gabe.
"While I'm not in the habit of asking gentlemen their names, I'd
like to inquire if yours happens to be Marks Gabe I. Marks?"
"Sure," said Gabe. "That's me."
"Miss Bauer's nurse telephones down last week that if a gentleman
named Marks Gabe I. Marks drops in and inquires for Miss Bauer,
I'm to tell him that she's changed her mind."
On the way from Spiegel's corset department to the car, Gabe
stopped only for a bunch of violets. Effie's apartment house reached,
he sent up his card, the violets, and a message that the gentleman was
waiting. There came back a reply that sent Gabie up before the violets
were relieved of their first layer of tissue paper. Effie was sitting
in a deep chair by the window, a flowered quilt bunched about her
shoulders, her feet in gray knitted bedroom slippers. She looked every
minute of her age, and she knew it, and didn't care. The hand that she
held out to Gabe was a limp, white, fleshless thing that seemed to bear
no relation to the plump, firm member that Gabe had pressed on so many
Gabe stared at this pale wraith in a moment of alarm and dismay.
"You're looking great!" he stammered. "Great! Nobody'd believe
you'd been sick a minute. Guess you've just been stalling for a beauty
Effie smiled a tired little smile, and shook her head slowly.
"You're a good kid, Gabie, to lie like that just to make me feel
good. But my nurse left yesterday and I had my first real squint at
myself in the mirror. She wouldn't let me look while she was here.
After what I saw staring back at me from that glass a whole ballroom
full of French courtiers whispering sweet nothings in my ear couldn't
make me believe that I look like anything but a hunk of Roquefort,
green spots included. When I think of how my clothes won't fit it makes
"Oh, you'll soon be back at the store as good as new. They fatten
up something wonderful after typhoid. Why, I had a friend "
"Did you get my message?" interrupted Effie.
"I was only talking to hide my nervousness," said Gabe, and started
forward. But Effie waved him away.
"Sit down," she said. "I've got something to say." She looked
thoughtfully down at one shining finger nail. Her lower lip was caught
between her teeth. When she looked up again her eyes were swimming in
tears. Gabe started forward again. Again Effie waved him away.
"It's all right, Gabie. I don't blubber as a rule. This fever
leaves you as weak as a rag, and ready to cry if any one says `Boo!'
I've been doing some high-pressure thinking since nursie left. Had
plenty of time to do it in, sitting here by this window all day. My
land! I never knew there was so much time. There's been days when I
haven't talked to a soul, except the nurse and the chambermaid.
Lonesome! Say, the amount of petting I could stand would surprise you.
Of course, my nurse was a perfectly good nurse at twenty-five per.
But I was just a case to her. You can't expect a nurse to ooze sympathy
over an old maid with the fever. I tell you I was dying to have some
one say `Sh-sh-sh!' when there was a noise, just to show they were
interested. Whenever I'd moan the nurse would come over and stick a
thermometer in my mouth and write something down on a chart. The boys
and girls at the store sent flowers. They'd have done the same if I'd
died. When the fever broke I just used to lie there and dream, not
feeling anything in particular, and not caring much whether it was day
or night. Know what I mean?"
Gabie shook a sympathetic head.
There was a little silence. Then Effie went on. "I used to think I
was pretty smart, earning my own good living, dressing as well as the
next one, and able to spend my vacation in Atlantic City if I wanted
to. I didn't know I was missing anything. But while I was sick I got to
wishing that there was somebody that belonged to me. Somebody to worry
about me, and to sit up nights somebody that just naturally felt
they had to come tiptoeing into my room every three or four minutes to
see if I was sleeping, or had enough covers on, or wanted a drink, or
something. I got to thinking what it would have been like if I had a
husband and a home. You'll think I'm daffy, maybe."
Gabie took Effie's limp white hand in his, and stroked it gently.
Effie's face was turned away from him, toward the noisy street.
"I used to imagine how he'd come home at six, stamping his feet,
maybe, and making a lot of noise the way men do. And then he'd
remember, and come creaking up the steps, and he'd stick his head in at
the door in the funny, awkward, pathetic way men have in a sick room.
And he'd say, `How's the old girl to-night? I'd better not come near
you now, puss, because I'll bring the cold with me. Been lonesome for
your old man?'
"And I'd say, `Oh, I don't care how cold you are, dear. The nurse
is downstairs, getting my supper ready.'
"And then he'd come tiptoeing over to my bed, and stoop down, and
kiss me, and his face would be all cold, and rough, and his mustache
would be wet, and he'd smell out-doorsy and smoky, the way husbands do
when they come in. And I'd reach up and pat his cheek and say, `You
need a shave, old man.'
`I know it,' he'd say, rubbing his cheek up against mine.
"`Hurry up and wash, now. Supper'll be ready.'
"`Where are the kids?' he'd ask. `The house is as quiet as the
grave. Hurry up and get well, kid. It's darn lonesome without you at
the table, and the children's manners are getting something awful, and
I never can find my shirts. Lordy, I guess we won't celebrate when you
get up! Can't you eat a little something nourishing for supper
beefsteak, or a good plate of soup, or something?'
"Men are like that, you know. So I'd say then: `Run along, you old
goose! You'll be suggesting sauerkraut and wieners next. Don't you let
Millie have any marmalade to-night. She's got a spoiled stomach.'
"And then he'd pound off down the hall to wash up, and I'd shut my
eyes, and smile to myself, and everything would be all right, because
he was home."
There was a long silence. Effie's eyes were closed. But two great
tears stole out from beneath each lid and coursed their slow way down
her thin cheeks. She did not raise her hand to wipe them away.
Gabie's other hand reached over and met the one that already
"Effie," he said, in a voice that was as hoarse as it was gentle.
"H'm?" said Effie.
"Will you marry me?"
"I shouldn't wonder," replied Effie, opening her eyes. "No, don't
kiss me. You might catch something. But say, reach up and smooth my
hair away from my forehead, will you, and call me a couple of fool
names. I don't care how clumsy you are about it. I could stand an awful
fuss being made over me, without being spoiled any."
Three weeks later Effie was back at the store. Her skirt didn't fit
in the back, and the little hollow places in her cheeks did not take
the customary dash of rouge as well as when they had been plumper. She
held a little impromptu reception that extended down as far as the
lingeries and up as far as the rugs. The old sparkle came back to
Effie's eye. The old assurance and vigor seemed to return. By the time
that Miss Weinstein, of the French lingeries, arrived, breathless, to
greet her Effie was herself again.
"Well, if you're not a sight for sore eyes, dearie," exclaimed Miss
Weinstein. "My goodness, how grand and thin you are! I'd be willing to
take a course in typhoid myself, if I thought I could lose twenty-five
"I haven't a rag that fits me," Effie announced proudly.
Miss Weinstein lowered her voice discreetly. "Dearie, can you come
down to my department for a minute? We're going to have a sale on
imported lawnjerie blouses, slightly soiled, from nine to eleven
to-morrow. There's one you positively must see. Hand-embroidered, Irish
motifs, and eyeleted from soup to nuts, and only eight-fifty."
"I've got a fine chance of buying hand-made waists, no matter how
slightly soiled," Effie made answer, "with a doctor and nurse's bill as
long as your arm."
"Oh, run along!" scoffed Miss Weinstein. "A person would think you
had a husband to get a grouch every time you get reckless to the extent
of a new waist. You're your own boss. And you know your credit's good.
Honestly, it would be a shame to let this chance slip. You're not
getting tight in your old age, are you?"
"N-no," faltered Effie, "but "
"Then come on," urged Miss Weinstein energetically. "And be
thankful you haven't got a man to raise the dickens when the bill comes
"Do you mean that?" asked Effie slowly, fixing Miss Weinstein with
a thoughtful eye.
"Surest thing you know. Say, girlie, let's go over to Klein's for
lunch this noon. They have pot roast with potato pfannkuchen on
Tuesdays, and we can split an order between us."
"Hold that waist till to-morrow, will you?" said Effie. "I've made
an arrangement with a friend that might make new clothes impossible
just now. But I'm going to wire my party that the arrangement is all
off. I've changed my mind. I ought to get an answer to-morrow. Did you
say it was a thirty-six?"
There is nothing new in this. It has all been done before. But tell
me, what is new? Does the aspiring and perspiring summer vaudeville
artist flatter himself that his stuff is going big? Then does the stout
man with the oyster-colored eyelids in the first row, left, turn his
bullet head on his fat-creased neck to remark huskily to his companion:
"The hook for him. R-r-r-rotten! That last one was an old Weber'n
Fields' gag. They discarded it back in '91. Say, the good ones is all
dead, anyhow. Take old Salvini, now, and Dan Rice. Them was actors.
Come on out and have something."
Does the short-story writer felicitate himself upon having
discovered a rare species in humanity's garden? The Blase Reader flips
the pages between his fingers, yawns, stretches, and remarks to his
"That's a clean lift from Kipling or is it Conan Doyle? Anyway,
I've read something just like it before. Say, kid, guess what these
magazine guys get for a full page ad.? Nix. That's just like a woman.
Three thousand straight. Fact."
To anticipate the delver into the past it may be stated that the
plot of this one originally appeared in the Eternal Best Seller, under
the heading, "He Asked You For Bread, and Ye Gave Him a Stone." There
may be those who could not have traced my plagiarism to its source.
Although the Book has had an unprecedentedly long run it is said to
be less widely read than of yore.
Even with this preparation I hesitate to confess that this is the
story of a hungry girl in a big city. Well, now, wait a minute.
Conceding that it has been done by every scribbler from tyro to best
seller expert, you will acknowledge that there is the possibility of a
fresh viewpoint twist what is it the sporting editors call it?
Oh, yes slant. There is the possibility of getting a new slant on an
old idea. That may serve to deflect the line of the deadly parallel.
Just off State Street there is a fruiterer and
importer who ought to be arrested for cruelty. His window is the
most fascinating and the most heartless in Chicago. A line of
open-mouthed, wide-eyed gazers is always to be found before it.
Despair, wonder, envy, and rebellion smolder in the eyes of those
gazers. No shop window show should be so diabolically set forth as to
arouse such sensations in the breast of the beholder. It is a work of
art, that window; a breeder of anarchism, a destroyer of contentment, a
second feast of Tantalus. It boasts peaches, dewy and golden, when
peaches have no right to be; plethoric, purple bunches of English
hothouse grapes are there to taunt the ten-dollar-a-week clerk whose
sick wife should be in the hospital; strawberries glow therein when
shortcake is a last summer's memory, and forced cucumbers remind us
that we are taking ours in the form of dill pickles. There is, perhaps,
a choice head of cauliflower, so exquisite in its ivory and green
perfection as to be fit for a bride's bouquet; there are apples so
flawless that if the garden of Eden grew any as perfect it is small
wonder that Eve fell for them. There are fresh mushrooms, and jumbo
cocoanuts, and green almonds; costly things in beds of cotton nestle
next to strange and marvelous things in tissue, wrappings. Oh, that
window is no place for the hungry, the dissatisfied, or the man out of
a job. When the air is filled with snow there is that in the sight of
muskmelons which incites crime.
Queerly enough, the gazers before that window foot up the same,
year in, and year out, something after this fashion:
Item: One anemic little milliner's apprentice in coat and shoes
that even her hat can't redeem.
Item: One sandy-haired, gritty-complexioned man, with a drooping
ragged mustache, a tin dinner bucket, and lime on his boots.
Item: One thin mail carrier with an empty mail sack, gaunt cheeks,
and an habitual droop to his left shoulder.
Item: One errand boy troubled with a chronic sniffle, a shrill and
piping whistle, and a great deal of shuffling foot-work.
Item: One negro wearing a spotted tan topcoat, frayed trousers and
no collar. His eyes seem all whites as he gazes.
Enough of the window. But bear it in mind while we turn to Jennie.
Jennie's real name was Janet, and she was Scotch. Canny? Not
necessarily, or why should she have been hungry and out of a job in
Jennie stood in the row before the window, and stared. The longer
she stared the sharper grew the lines that fright and under-feeding had
chiseled about her nose, and mouth, and eyes. When your last meal is an
eighteen-hour-old memory, and when that memory has only near-coffee and
a roll to dwell on, there is something in the sight of January peaches
and great strawberries carelessly spilling out of a tipped box, just
like they do in the fruit picture on the dining-room wall, that is apt
to carve sharp lines in the corners of the face.
The tragic line dwindled, going about its business. The man with
the dinner pail and the lime on his boots spat, drew the back of his
hand across his mouth, and turned away with an ugly look. (Pork was up
to $14.25, dressed.)
The errand boy's blithe whistle died down to a mournful dirge. He
was window-wishing. His choice wavered between the juicy pears, and the
foreign-looking red things that looked like oranges, and weren't. One
hand went into his coat pocket, extracting an apple that was to have
formed the piece de resistance of his noonday lunch. Now he regarded it
with a sort of pitying disgust, and bit into it with the
middle-of-the-morning contempt that it deserved.
The mail carrier pushed back his cap and reflectively scratched his
head. How much over his month's wage would that green basket piled high
with exotic fruit come to?
Jennie stood and stared after they had left, and another line had
formed. If you could have followed her gaze with dotted lines, as they
do in the cartoons, you would have seen that it was not the peaches, or
the prickly pears, or the strawberries, or the muskmelon or even the
grapes, that held her eye. In the center of that wonderful window was
an oddly woven basket. In the basket were brown things that looked like
sweet potatoes. One knew that they were not. A sign over the basket
informed the puzzled gazer that these were maymeys from Cuba.
Maymeys from Cuba. The humor of it might have struck Jennie if she
had not been so Scotch, and so hungry. As it was, a slow, sullen, heavy
Scotch wrath rose in her breast. Maymeys from Cuba.
The wantonness of it! Peaches? Yes. Grapes, even, and pears and
cherries in snow time. But maymeys from Cuba why, one did not even
know if they were to be eaten with butter, or with vinegar, or in the
hand, like an apple. Who wanted maymeys from Cuba? They had gone all
those hundreds of miles to get a fruit or vegetable thing a thing so
luxurious, so out of all reason that one did not know whether it was to
be baked, or eaten raw. There they lay, in their foreign-looking
basket, taunting Jennie who needed a quarter.
Have I told you how Jennie happened to be hungry and jobless? Well,
then I sha'n't. It doesn't really matter, anyway. The fact is enough.
If you really demand to know you might inquire of Mr. Felix Klein. You
will find him in a mahogany office on the sixth floor. The door is
marked manager. It was his idea to import Scotch lassies from
Dunfermline for his Scotch linen department. The idea was more fetching
There are people who will tell you that no girl possessing a grain
of common sense and a little nerve need go hungry, no matter how great
the city. Don't you believe them. The city has heard the cry of wolf so
often that it refuses to listen when he is snarling at the door,
particularly when the door is next door.
Where did we leave Jennie? Still standing on the sidewalk before
the fruit and fancy goods shop, gazing at the maymeys from Cuba.
Finally her Scotch bump of curiosity could stand it no longer. She dug
her elbow into the arm of the person standing next in line.
"What are those?" she asked.
The next in line happened to be a man. He was a man without an
overcoat, and with his chin sunk deep into his collar, and his hands
thrust deep into his pockets. It looked as though he were trying to
crawl inside himself for warmth.
"Those? That sign says they're maymeys from Cuba."
"I know," persisted Jennie, "but what are they?"
"Search me. Say, I ain't bothering about maymeys from Cuba. A
couple of hot murphies from Ireland, served with a lump of butter,
would look good enough to me."
"Do you suppose any one buys them?" marveled Jennie. "Surest thing
you know. Some rich dame coming by here, wondering what she can have
for dinner to tempt the jaded palates of her dear ones, see? She sees
them Cuban maymeys. `The very thing!' she says. `I'll have 'em served
just before the salad.' And she sails in and buys a pound or two. I
wonder, now, do you eat 'em with a fruit knife, or with a spoon?"
Jennie took one last look at the woven basket with its foreign
contents. Then she moved on, slowly. She had been moving on for hours
Most people have acquired the habit of eating three meals a day. In
a city of some few millions the habit has made necessary the
establishing of many thousands of eating places. Jennie would have told
you that there were billions of these. To her the world seemed composed
of one huge, glittering restaurant, with myriads of windows through
which one caught maddening glimpses of ketchup bottles, and nickel
coffee heaters, and piles of doughnuts, and scurrying waiters in white,
and people critically studying menu cards. She walked in a maze of
restaurants, cafes, eating-houses. Tables and diners loomed up at every
turn, on every street, from Michigan Avenue's rose-shaded Louis the
Somethingth palaces, where every waiter owns his man, to the white tile
mausoleums where every man is his own waiter. Everywhere there were
windows full of lemon cream pies, and pans of baked apples swimming in
lakes of golden syrup, and pots of baked beans with the pink and crispy
slices of pork just breaking through the crust. Every dairy lunch
mocked one with the sign of "wheat cakes with maple syrup and country
sausage, 20 cents."
There are those who will say that for cases like Jennie's there are
soup kitchens, Y. W. C. A.'s, relief associations, policemen, and
things like that. And so there are. Unfortunately, the people who need
them aren't up on them. Try it. Plant yourself, penniless, in the
middle of State Street on a busy day, dive into the howling,
scrambling, pushing maelstrom that hurls itself against the mountainous
and impregnable form of the crossing policeman, and see what you'll get
out of it, provided you have the courage.
Desperation gave Jennie a false courage. On the strength of it she
made two false starts. The third time she reached the arm of the
crossing policeman, and clutched it. That imposing giant removed the
whistle from his mouth, and majestically inclined his head without
turning his gaze upon Jennie, one eye being fixed on a red automobile
that was showing signs of sulking at its enforced pause, the other
being busy with a cursing drayman who was having an argument with his
Jennie mumbled her question.
Said the crossing policeman:
"Getcher car on Wabash, ride to 'umpty-second, transfer, get off at
Blank Street, and walk three blocks south."
Then he put the whistle back in his mouth, blew two shrill blasts,
and the horde of men, women, motors, drays, trucks, cars, and horses
swept over him, through him, past him, leaving him miraculously
Jennie landed on the opposite curbing, breathing hard. What was
that street? Umpty-what? Well, it didn't matter, anyway. She hadn't the
nickel for car fare.
What did you do next? You begged from people on the street. Jennie
selected a middle-aged, prosperous, motherly looking woman. She framed
her plea with stiff lips. Before she had finished her sentence she
found herself addressing empty air. The middle-aged, prosperous,
motherly looking woman had hurried on.
Well, then you tried a man. You had to be careful there. He mustn't
be the wrong kind. There were so many wrong kinds. Just an ordinary
looking family man would be best. Ordinary looking family men are
strangely in the minority. There are so many more bull-necked,
tan-shoed ones. Finally Jennie's eye, grown sharp with want, saw one.
Not too well dressed, kind-faced, middle-aged. She fell into step
"Please, can you help me out with a shilling?"
Jennie's nose was red, and her eyes watery. Said the middle-aged
family man with the kindly face:
"Beat it. You've had about enough I guess."
Jennie walked into a department store, picked out the oldest and
most stationary looking floorwalker, and put it to him. The floorwalker
bent his head, caught the word "food," swung about, and pointed over
"Grocery department on the seventh floor. Take one of those
Any one but a floorwalker could have seen the misery in jennie's
face. But to floorwalkers all women's faces are horrible.
Jennie turned and walked blindly toward the elevators. There was no
fight left in her. If the floorwalker had said, "Silk negligees on the
fourth floor. Take one of those elevators up," Jennie would have ridden
up to the fourth floor, and stupidly gazed at pink silk and val lace
negligees in glass cases.
Tell me, have you ever visited the grocery department of a great
store on the wrong side of State Street? It's a mouth-watering
experience. A department store grocery is a glorified mixture of
delicatessen shop, meat market, and vaudeville. Starting with the live
lobsters and crabs you work your hungry way right around past the
cheeses, and the sausages, and the hams, and tongues, and head-cheese,
past the blonde person in white who makes marvelous and uneatable
things out of gelatine, through a thousand smells and scents smells
of things smoked, and pickled, and spiced, and baked and preserved, and
Jennie stepped out of the elevator, licking her lips. She sniffed
the air, eagerly, as a hound sniffs the scent. She shut her eyes when
she passed the sugar-cured hams. A woman was buying a slice from one,
and the butcher was extolling its merits. Jennie caught the words
"juicy" and "corn-fed."
That particular store prides itself on its cheese department. It
boasts that there one can get anything in cheese from the simple
cottage variety to imposing mottled Stilton. There are cheeses from
France, cheeses from Switzerland, cheeses from Holland. Brick and
parmesan, Edam and limburger perfumed the atmosphere.
Behind the counters were big, full-fed men in white aprons, and
coats. They flourished keen bright knives. As Jennie gazed, one of
them, in a moment of idleness, cut a tiny wedge from a rich yellow
Swiss cheese and stood nibbling it absently, his eyes wandering toward
the blonde gelatine demonstrator. Jennie swayed, and caught the
counter. She felt horribly faint and queer. She shut her eyes for a
moment. When she opened them a woman a fat, housewifely, comfortable
looking woman was standing before the cheese counter. She spoke to
the cheese man. Once more his sharp knife descended and he was offering
the possible customer a sample. She picked it off the knife's sharp
tip, nibbled thoughtfully, shook her head, and passed on. A great,
glorious world of hope opened out before Jennie.
Her cheeks grew hot, and her eyes felt dry and bright as she
approached the cheese counter.
"A bit of that," she said, pointing. "It doesn't look just as I
"Very fine, madam," the man assured her, and turned the knife point
toward her, with the infinitesimal wedge of cheese reposing on its
blade. Jennie tried to keep her hand steady as she delicately picked it
off, nibbled as she had seen that other woman do it, her head on one
side, before it shook a slow negative. The effort necessary to keep
from cramming the entire piece into her mouth at once left her weak and
trembling. She passed on as the other woman had done, around the
corner, and into a world of sausages. Great rosy mounds of them filled
counters and cases. Sausage! Sneer, you pate de foies grasers! But may
you know the day when hunger will have you. And on that day may you run
into linked temptation in the form of Braunschweiger Metwurst. May you
know the longing that causes the eyes to glaze at the sight of
Thuringer sausage, and the mouth to water at the scent of Cervelat
wurst, and the fingers to tremble at the nearness of smoked liver.
Jennie stumbled on, through the smells and the sights. That nibble
of cheese had been like a drop of human blood to a man-eating tiger. It
made her bold, cunning, even while it maddened. She stopped at this
counter and demanded a slice of summer sausage. It was paper-thin, but
delicious beyond belief. At the next counter there was corned beef,
streaked fat and lean. Jennie longed to bury her teeth in the succulent
meat and get one great, soul-satisfying mouthful. She had to be content
with her judicious nibbling. To pass the golden-brown, breaded pig's
feet was torture. To look at the codfish balls was agony. And so Jennie
went on, sampling, tasting, the scraps of food acting only as an
aggravation. Up one aisle, and down the next she went. And then, just
around the corner, she brought up before the grocery department's pride
and boast, the Scotch bakery. It is the store's star vaudeville
feature. All day long the gaping crowd stands before it, watching David
the Scone Man, as with sleeves rolled high above his big arms, he
kneads, and slaps, and molds, and thumps and shapes the dough into
toothsome Scotch confections. There was a crowd around the white
counters now, and the flat baking surface of the gas stove was just hot
enough, and David the Scone Man (he called them Scuns) was whipping
about here and there, turning the baking oat cakes, filling the shelf
above the stove when they were done to a turn, rolling out fresh ones,
waiting on customers. His nut-cracker face almost allowed itself a
pleased expression but not quite. David, the Scone Man, was Scotch
(I was going to add, d'ye ken, but I will not).
Jennie wondered if she really saw those things. Mutton pies!
Scones! Scotch short bread! Oat cakes! She edged closer, wriggling her
way through the little crowd until she stood at the counter's edge.
David, the Scone Man, his back to the crowd, was turning the last batch
of oat cakes. Jennie felt strangely light-headed, and unsteady, and
airy. She stared straight ahead, a half-smile on her lips, while a hand
that she knew was her own, and that yet seemed no part of her, stole
out, very, very slowly, and cunningly, and extracted a hot scone from
the pile that lay in the tray on the counter. That hand began to steal
back, more quickly now. But not quickly enough. Another hand grasped
her wrist. A woman's high, shrill voice (why will women do these things
to each other?) said, excitedly:
"Say, Scone Man! Scone Man! This girl is stealing something!"
A buzz of exclamations from the crowd a closing in upon her a
whirl of faces, and counter, and trays, and gas stove. Jennie dropped
with a crash, the warm scone still grasped in her fingers.
Just before the ambulance came it was the blonde lady of the
impossible gelatines who caught the murmur that came from Jennie's
white lips. The blonde lady bent her head closer. Closer still. When
she raised her face to those other faces crowded near, her eyes were
round with surprise.
"'S far's I can make out, she says her name's Mamie, and she's from
Cuba. Well, wouldn't that eat you! I always thought they was dark
The leading lady lay on her bed and wept.
Not as you have seen leading ladies weep, becomingly, with eyebrows
pathetically V-shaped, mouth quivering, sequined bosom heaving. The
leading lady lay on her bed in a red-and-blue-striped kimono and wept
as a woman weeps, her head burrowing into the depths of the lumpy hotel
pillow, her teeth biting the pillow-case to choke back the sounds so
that the grouch in the next room might not hear.
Presently the leading lady's right hand began to grope about on the
bedspread for her handkerchief. Failing to find it, she sat up wearily,
raising herself on one elbow and pushing her hair back from her
forehead not as you have seen a leading lady pass a lily hand across
her alabaster brow, but as a heart-sick woman does it. Her tears and
sniffles had formed a little oasis of moisture on the pillow's white
bosom so that the ugly stripe of the ticking showed through. She gazed
down at the damp circle with smarting, swollen eyes, and another lump
came up into her throat.
Then she sat up resolutely, and looked about her. The leading lady
had a large and saving sense of humor. But there is nothing that blunts
the sense of humor more quickly than a few months of one-night stands.
Even O. Henry could have seen nothing funny about that room.
The bed was of green enamel, with fly-specked gold trimmings. It
looked like a huge frog. The wall-paper was a crime. It represented an
army of tan mustard plasters climbing up a chocolate-fudge wall. The
leading lady was conscious of a feeling of nausea as she gazed at it.
So she got up and walked to the window. The room faced west, and the
hot afternoon sun smote full on her poor swollen eyes. Across the
street the red brick walls of the engine-house caught the glare and
sent it back. The firemen, in their blue shirt-sleeves, were seated in
the shade before the door, their chairs tipped at an angle of sixty.
The leading lady stared down into the sun-baked street, turned abruptly
and made as though to fall upon the bed again, with a view to forming
another little damp oasis on the pillow. But when she reached the
center of the stifling little bedroom her eye chanced on the electric
call-button near the door. Above the electric bell was tacked a printed
placard giving information on the subjects of laundry, ice-water,
bell-boys and dining-room hours.
The leading lady stood staring at it a moment thoughtfully. Then
with a sudden swift movement she applied her forefinger to the button
and held it there for a long half-minute. Then she sat down on the edge
of the bed, her kimono folded about her, and waited.
She waited until a lank bell-boy, in a brown uniform that was some
sizes too small for him, had ceased to take any interest in the game of
chess which Bauer and Merkle, the champion firemen chess-players, were
contesting on the walk before the open doorway of the engine-house. The
proprietor of the Burke House had originally intended that the brown
uniform be worn by a diminutive bell-boy, such as one sees in musical
comedies. But the available supply of stage size bell-boys in our town
is somewhat limited and was soon exhausted. There followed a succession
of lank bell-boys, with arms and legs sticking ungracefully out of
sleeves and trousers.
"Come!" called the leading lady quickly, in answer to the lank
youth's footsteps, and before he had had time to knock.
"Ring?" asked the boy, stepping into the torrid little room.
The leading lady did not reply immediately. She swallowed something
in her throat and pushed back the hair from her moist forehead again.
The brown uniform repeated his question, a trifle irritably. Whereupon
the leading lady spoke, desperately:
"Is there a woman around this place? I don't mean dining-room
girls, or the person behind the cigar-counter."
Since falling heir to the brown uniform the lank youth had heard
some strange requests. He had been interviewed by various ladies in
varicolored kimonos relative to liquid refreshment, laundry and the
cost of hiring a horse and rig for a couple of hours. One had even
summoned him to ask if there was a Bible in the house. But this latest
question was a new one. He stared, leaning against the door and
thrusting one hand into the depths of his very tight breeches pocket.
"Why, there's Pearlie Schultz," he said at last, with a grin.
"Who's she?" The leading lady sat up expectantly.
The expectant figure drooped. "Blonde? And Irish crochet collar
with a black velvet bow on her chest?"
"Who? Pearlie? Naw. You mustn't get Pearlie mixed with the common
or garden variety of stenos. Pearlie is fat, and she wears specs and
she's got a double chin. Her hair is skimpy and she don't wear no rat.
W'y no traveling man has ever tried to flirt with Pearlie yet.
Pearlie's what you'd call a woman, all right. You wouldn't never make a
mistake and think she'd escaped from the first row in the chorus."
The leading lady rose from the bed, reached out for her
pocket-book, extracted a dime, and held it out to the bell-boy.
"Here. Will you ask her to come up here to me? Tell her I said
After he had gone she seated herself on the edge of the bed again,
with a look in her eyes like that which you have seen in the eyes of a
dog that is waiting for a door to be opened.
Fifteen minutes passed. The look in the eyes of the leading lady
began to fade. Then a footstep sounded down the hall. The leading lady
cocked her head to catch it, and smiled blissfully. It was a heavy,
comfortable footstep, under which a board or two creaked. There came a
big, sensible thump-thump-thump at the door, with stout knuckles. The
leading lady flew to answer it. She flung the door wide and stood
there, clutching her kimono at the throat and looking up into a red,
Pearlie Schultz looked down at the leading lady kindly and
benignantly, as a mastiff might look at a terrier.
"Lonesome for a bosom to cry on?" asked she, and stepped into the
room, walked to the west windows, and jerked down the shades with a
zip-zip, shutting off the yellow glare. She came back to where the
leading lady was standing and patted her on the cheek, lightly.
"You tell me all about it," said she, smiling.
The leading lady opened her lips, gulped, tried again, gulped again
Pearlie Schultz shook a sympathetic head.
"Ain't had a decent, close-to-nature powwow with a woman for weeks
and weeks, have you?"
"How did you know?" cried the leading lady.
"You've got that hungry look. There was a lady drummer here last
winter, and she had the same expression. She was so dead sick of eating
her supper and then going up to her ugly room and reading and sewing
all evening that it was a wonder she'd stayed good. She said it was
easy enough for the men. They could smoke, and play pool, and go to a
show, and talk to any one that looked good to 'em. But if she tried to
amuse herself everybody'd say she was tough. She cottoned to me like a
burr to a wool skirt. She traveled for a perfumery house, and she said
she hadn't talked to a woman, except the dry-goods clerks who were nice
to her trying to work her for her perfume samples, for weeks an' weeks.
Why, that woman made crochet by the bolt, and mended her clothes
evenings whether they needed it or not, and read till her eyes come
near going back on her."
The leading lady seized Pearlie's hand and squeezed it. "That's
it! Why, I haven't talked really talked to a real woman since the
company went out on the road. I'm leading lady of the `Second Wife'
company, you know. It's one of those small cast plays, with only five
people in it. I play the wife, and I'm the only woman in the cast. It's
terrible. I ought to be thankful to get the part these days. And I was,
too. But I didn't know it would be like this. I'm going crazy. The men
in the company are good kids, but I can't go trailing around after them
all day. Besides, it wouldn't be right. They're all married, except
Billy, who plays the kid, and he's busy writing a vawdeville skit that
he thinks the New York managers are going to fight for when he gets
back home. We were to play Athens, Wisconsin, to-night, but the house
burned down night before last, and that left us with an open date. When
I heard the news you'd have thought I had lost my mother. It's bad
enough having a whole day to kill but when I think of to-night," the
leading lady's voice took on a note of hysteria, "it seems as though
"Say," Pearlie interrupted, abruptly, "you ain't got a real good
corset-cover pattern, have you? One that fits smooth over the bust and
don't slip off the shoulders? I don't seem able to get my hands on the
kind I want."
"Have I!" yelled the leading lady. And made a flying leap from the
bed to the floor.
She flapped back the cover of a big suit-case and began burrowing
into its depths, strewing the floor with lingerie, newspaper clippings,
blouses, photographs and Dutch collars. Pearlie came over and sat down
on the floor in the midst of the litter. The leading lady dived once
more, fished about in the bottom of the suit-case and brought a
crumpled piece of paper triumphantly to the surface.
"This is it. It only takes a yard and five-eighths. And fits! Like
Anna Held's skirts. Comes down in a V front and back like this. See?
And no fulness. Wait a minute. I'll show you my princess slip. I made
it all by hand, too. I'll bet you couldn't buy it under fifteen
dollars, and it cost me four dollars and eighty cents, with the lace
Before an hour had passed, the leading lady had displayed all her
treasures, from the photograph of her baby that died to her new Blanche
Ring curl cluster, and was calling Pearlie by her first name. When a
bell somewhere boomed six o'clock Pearlie was being instructed in a new
exercise calculated to reduce the hips an inch a month.
"My land!" cried Pearlie, aghast, and scrambled to her feet as
nimbly as any woman can who weighs two hundred pounds. "Supper-time,
and I've got a bunch of letters an inch thick to get out! I'd better
reduce that some before I begin on my hips. But say, I've had a lovely
The leading lady clung to her. "You've saved my life. Why, I forgot
all about being hot and lonely and a couple of thousand miles from New
York. Must you go?"
"Got to. But if you'll promise you won't laugh, I'll make a date
for this evening that'll give you a new sensation anyway. There's going
to be a strawberry social on the lawn of the parsonage of our church.
I've got a booth. You shed that kimono, and put on a thin dress and
those curls and some powder, and I'll introduce you as my friend, Miss
Evans. You don't look Evans, but this is a Methodist church strawberry
festival, and if I was to tell them that you are leading lady of the
`Second Wife' company they'd excommunicate my booth."
"A strawberry social!" gasped the leading lady. "Do they still have
them?" She did not laugh. "Why, I used to go to strawberry festivals
when I was a little girl in "
"Careful! You'll be giving away your age, and, anyway, you don't
look it. Fashions in strawberry socials ain't changed much. Better
bathe your eyes in eau de cologne or whatever it is they're always
dabbing on 'em in books. See you at eight."
At eight o'clock Pearlie's thump-thump sounded again, and the
leading lady sprang to the door as before. Pearlie stared. This was no
tear-stained, heat-bedraggled creature in an unbecoming red-striped
kimono. It was a remarkably pretty woman in a white lingerie gown over
a pink slip. The leading lady knew a thing or two about the gentle art
"That just goes to show," remarked Pearlie, "that you must never
judge a woman in a kimono or a bathing suit. You look nineteen. Say, I
forgot something down-stairs. Just get your handkerchief and chamois
together and meet in my cubbyhole next to the lobby, will you? I'll be
ready for you."
Down-stairs she summoned the lank bell-boy. "You go outside and
tell Sid Strang I want to see him, will you? He's on the bench with the
Pearlie had not seen Sid Strang outside. She did not need to. She
knew he was there. In our town all the young men dress up in their pale
gray suits and lavender-striped shirts after supper on summer evenings.
Then they stroll down to the Burke House, buy a cigar and sit down on
the benches in front of the hotel to talk baseball and watch the girls
go by. It is astonishing to note the number of our girls who have
letters to mail after supper. One would think that they must drive
their pens fiercely all the afternoon in order to get out such a mass
The obedient Sid reached the door of Pearlie's little office just
off the lobby as the leading lady came down the stairs with a spangled
scarf trailing over her arm. It was an effective entrance.
"Why, hello!" said Pearlie, looking up from her typewriter as
though Sid Strang were the last person in the world she expected to
see. "What do you want here? Ethel, this is my friend, Mr. Sid Strang,
one of our rising young lawyers. His neckties always match his socks.
Sid, this is my friend, Miss Ethel Evans, of New York. We're going over
to the strawberry social at the M. E. parsonage. I don't suppose you'd
care about going?"
Mr. Sid Strang gazed at the leading lady in the white lingerie
dress with the pink slip, and the V-shaped neck, and the spangled
scarf, and turned to Pearlie.
"Why, Pearlie Schultz!" he said reproachfully. "How can you ask?
You know what a strawberry social means to me! I haven't missed one in
"I know it," replied Pearlie, with a grin. "You feel the same way
about Thursday evening prayer-meeting too, don't you? You can walk over
with us if you want to. We're going now. Miss Evans and I have got a
Sid walked. Pearlie led them determinedly past the rows of gray
suits and lavender and pink shirts on the benches in front of the
hotel. And as the leading lady came into view the gray suits stopped
talking baseball and sat up and took notice. Pearlie had known all
those young men inside of the swagger suits in the days when their
summer costume consisted of a pair of dad's pants cut down to a
doubtful fit, and a nondescript shirt damp from the swimming-hole. So
she called out, cheerily:
"We're going over to the strawberry festival. I expect to see all
you boys there to contribute your mite to the church carpet."
The leading lady turned to look at them, and smiled. They were such
a dapper, pink-cheeked, clean-looking lot of boys, she thought. At that
the benches rose to a man and announced that they might as well stroll
over right now. Whenever a new girl comes to visit in our town our boys
make a concerted rush at her, and develop a "case" immediately, and the
girl goes home when her visit is over with her head swimming, and
forever after bores the girls of her home town with tales of her
The ladies of the First M. E. Church still talk of the money they
garnered at the strawberry festival. Pearlie's out-of-town friend was
garnerer-in-chief. You take a cross-eyed, pock-marked girl and put her
in a white dress, with a pink slip, on a green lawn under a string of
rose- colored Japanese lanterns, and she'll develop an almost Oriental
beauty. It is an ideal setting. The leading lady was not cross-eyed or
pock-marked. She stood at the lantern-illumined booth, with Pearlie in
the background, and dispensed an unbelievable amount of strawberries.
Sid Strang and the hotel bench brigade assisted. They made engagements
to take Pearlie and her friend down river next day, and to the ball
game, and planned innumerable picnics, gazing meanwhile into the
leading lady's eyes. There grew in the cheeks of the leading lady a
flush that was not brought about by the pink slip, or the Japanese
lanterns, or the skillful application of rouge.
By nine o'clock the strawberry supply was exhausted, and the
president of the Foreign Missionary Society was sending wildly
down-town for more ice-cream.
"I call it an outrage," puffed Pearlie happily, ladling ice-cream
like mad. "Making a poor working girl like me slave all evening! How
many was that last order? Four? My land! that's the third dish of
ice-cream Ed White's had! You'll have something to tell the villagers
about when you get back to New York." The leading lady turned a
flushed face toward Pearlie. "This is more fun than the Actors' Fair. I
had the photograph booth last year, and I took in nearly as much as Lil
Russell; and goodness knows, all she needs to do at a fair is to wear
her diamond-and-pearl stomacher and her set-piece smile, and the men
just swarm around her like the pictures of a crowd in a McCutcheon
When the last Japanese lantern had guttered out, Pearlie Schultz
and the leading lady prepared to go home. Before they left, the M. E.
ladies came over to Pearlie's booth and personally congratulated the
leading lady, and thanked her for the interest she had taken in the
cause, and the secretary of the Epworth League asked her to come to the
tea that was to be held at her home the following Tuesday. The leading
lady thanked her and said she'd come if she could.
Escorted by a bodyguard of gray suits and lavender-striped shirts
Pearlie and her friend, Miss Evans, walked toward the hotel. The
attentive bodyguard confessed itself puzzled.
"Aren't you staying at Pearlie's house?" asked Sid tenderly, when
they reached the Burke House. The leading lady glanced up at the
windows of the stifling little room that faced west.
"No," answered she, and paused at the foot of the steps to the
ladies' entrance. The light from the electric globe over the doorway
shone on her hair and sparkled in the folds of her spangled scarf.
"I'm not staying at Pearlie's because my name isn't Ethel Evans.
It's Aimee Fox, with a little French accent mark over the double E. I'm
leading lady of the `Second Wife' company and old enough to be well,
your aunty, anyway. We go out at one-thirty to-morrow morning."
We all have our ambitions. Mine is to sit in a rocking-chair on the
sidewalk at the corner of Clark and Randolph Streets, and watch the
crowds go by. South Clark Street is one of the most interesting and
cosmopolitan thoroughfares in the world (New Yorkers please sniff). If
you are from Paris, France, or Paris, Illinois, and should chance to be
in that neighborhood, you will stop at Tony's news stand to buy your
home-town paper. Don't mistake the nature of this story. There is
nothing of the shivering-newsboy-waif about Tony. He has the voice of a
fog-horn, the purple-striped shirt of a sport, the diamond scarf-pin of
a racetrack tout, and the savoir faire of the gutter-bred. You'd never
pick him for a newsboy if it weren't for his chapped hands and the
eternal cold-sore on the upper left corner of his mouth.
It is a fascinating thing, Tony's stand. A high wooden structure
rising tier on tier, containing papers from every corner of the world.
I'll defy you to name a paper that Tony doesn't handle, from Timbuctoo
to Tarrytown, from South Bend to South Africa. A paper marked
Christiania, Norway, nestles next to a sheet from Kalamazoo, Michigan.
You can get the War Cry, or Le Figaro. With one hand, Tony will give
you the Berlin Tageblatt, and with the other the Times from Neenah,
Wisconsin. Take your choice between the Bulletin from Sydney,
Australia, or the Bee from Omaha.
But perhaps you know South Clark Street. It is honeycombed with
good copy man-size stuff. South Clark Street reminds one of a
slatternly woman, brave in silks and velvets on the surface, but
ragged, and rumpled and none too clean as to nether garments. It begins
with a tenement so vile, so filthy, so repulsive, that the municipal
authorities deny its very existence. It ends with a brand-new hotel,
all red brick, and white tiling, and Louise Quinze furniture, and
sour-cream colored marble lobby, and oriental rugs lavishly scattered
under the feet of the unappreciative guest from Kansas City. It is a
street of signs, is South Clark. They vary all the way from "Banca
Italiana" done in fat, fly- specked letters of gold, to "Sang Yuen"
scrawled in Chinese red and black. Spaghetti and chop suey and dairy
lunches nestle side by side. Here an electric sign blazons forth the
tempting announcement of lunch. Just across the way, delicately
suggesting a means of availing one's self of the invitation, is another
which announces "Loans." South Clark Street can transform a winter
overcoat into hamburger and onions so quickly that the eye can't follow
Do you gather from this that you are being taken slumming? Not at
all. For the passer-by on Clark Street varies as to color, nationality,
raiment, finger-nails, and hair-cut according to the locality in which
you find him.
At the tenement end the feminine passer-by is apt to be shawled,
swarthy, down-at-the-heel, and dragging a dark-eyed, fretting baby in
her wake. At the hotel end you will find her blonde of hair, velvet of
boot, plumed of head-gear, and prone to have at her heels a white,
woolly, pink-eyed dog.
The masculine Clark Streeter? I throw up my hands. Pray remember
that South Clark Street embraces the dime lodging house, pawnshop,
hotel, theater, chop-suey and railway office district, all within a few
blocks. From the sidewalk in front of his groggery, "Bath House John"
can see the City Hall. The trim, khaki-garbed enlistment officer rubs
elbows with the lodging house bum. The masculine Clark Streeter may be
of the kind that begs a dime for a bed, or he may loll in manicured
luxury at the marble-lined hotel. South Clark Street is so splendidly
Copy-hunting, I approached Tony with hope in my heart, a smile on
my lips, and a nickel in my hand.
"Philadelphia er Inquirer?" I asked, those being the city and
paper which fire my imagination least.
Tony whipped it out, dexterously.
I looked at his keen blue eye, his lean brown face, and his
punishing jaw, and I knew that no airy persiflage would deceive him.
Boldly I waded in.
"I write for the magazines," said I.
"Do they know it?" grinned Tony.
"Just beginning to be faintly aware. Your stand looks like a story
to me. Tell me, does one ever come your way? For instance, don't they
come here asking for their home-town paper sobs in their voice
grasp the sheet with trembling hands type swims in a misty haze
before their eyes turn aside to brush away a tear all that kind
of stuff, you know?"
Tony's grin threatened his cold-sore. You can't stand on the corner
of Clark and Randolph all those years without getting wise to
everything there is.
"I'm on," said he, "but I'm afraid I can't accommodate, girlie. I
guess my ear ain't attuned to that sob stuff. What's that? Yessir.
Nossir, fifteen cents. Well, I can't help that; fifteen's the reg'lar
price of foreign papers. Thanks. There, did you see that? I bet that
gink give up fifteen of his last two bits to get that paper. O, well,
sometimes they look happy, and then again sometimes they Yes'm.
Mississippi? Five cents. Los Vegas Optic right here. Heh there! You're
forgettin' your change! an' then again sometimes they look all to
the doleful. Say, stick around. Maybe somebody'll start something. You
can't never tell."
And then this happened.
A man approached Tony's news stand from the north, and a woman
approached Tony's news stand from the south. They brought my story with
The woman reeked of the city. I hope you know what I mean. She bore
the stamp, and seal, and imprint of it. It had ground its heel down on
her face. At the front of her coat she wore a huge bunch of violets,
with a fleshly tuberose rising from its center. Her furs were
voluminous. Her hat was hidden beneath the cascades of a green willow
plume. A green willow plume would make Edna May look sophisticated. She
walked with that humping hip movement which city women acquire. She
carried a jangling handful of useless gold trinkets. Her heels were too
high, and her hair too yellow, and her lips too red, and her nose too
white, and her cheeks too pink. Everything about her was "too," from
the black stitching on her white gloves to the buckle of brilliants in
her hat. The city had her, body and soul, and had fashioned her in its
metallic cast. You would have sworn that she had never seen flowers
growing in a field.
Said she to Tony:
"Got a Kewaskum Courier?"
As she said it the man stopped at the stand and put his question.
To present this thing properly I ought to be able to describe them both
at the same time, like a juggler keeping two balls in the air at once.
Kindly carry the lady in your mind's eye. The man was tall and
rawboned, with very white teeth, very blue eyes and an open-faced
collar that allowed full play to an objectionably apparent Adam's
apple. His hair and mustache were sandy, his gait loping. His manner,
clothes, and complexion breathed of Waco, Texas (or is it Arizona?)
Said he to Tony:
"Let me have the London Times."
Well, there you are. I turned an accusing eye on Tony.
"And you said no stories came your way," I murmured, reproachfully.
"Help yourself," said Tony.
The blonde lady grasped the Kewaskum Courier. Her green plume
appeared to be unduly agitated as she searched its columns. The sheet
rattled. There was no breeze. The hands in the too-black stitched
gloves were trembling.
I turned from her to the man just in time to see the Adam's apple
leaping about unpleasantly and convulsively. Whereupon I jumped to two
Conclusion one: Any woman whose hands can tremble over the Kewaskum
Courier is homesick.
Conclusion two: Any man, any part of whose anatomy can become
convulsed over the London Times is homesick.
She looked up from her Courier. He glanced away from his Times. As
the novelists have it, their eyes met. And there, in each pair of eyes
there swam that misty haze about which I had so earnestly consulted
Tony. The Green Plume took an involuntary step forward. The Adam's
Apple did the same. They spoke simultaneously.
"They're going to pave Main Street," said the Green Plume, "and
Mrs. Wilcox, that was Jeri Meyers, has got another baby girl, and the
ladies of the First M. E. made seven dollars and sixty-nine cents on
their needle-work bazaar and missionary tea. I ain't been home in
"Hallem is trying for Parliament in Westchester and the King is
back at Windsor. My mother wears a lace cap down to breakfast, and the
place is famous for its tapestries and yew trees and family ghost. I
haven't been home in twelve years."
The great, soft light of fellow feeling and sympathy glowed in the
eyes of each. The Green Plume took still another step forward and laid
her hand on his arm (as is the way of Green Plumes the world over).
"Why don't you go, kid?" she inquired, softly.
Adam's Apple gnawed at his mustache end. "I'm the black sheep. Why
The blonde lady looked down at her glove tips. Her lower lip was
caught between her teeth.
"What's the feminine for black sheep? I'm that. Anyway, I'd be
afraid to go home for fear it would be too much of a shock for them
when they saw my hair. They wasn't in on the intermediate stages when
it was chestnut, auburn, Titian, gold, and orange colored. I want to
spare their feelings. The last time they saw me it was just plain
brown. Where I come from a woman who dyes her hair when it is beginning
to turn gray is considered as good as lost. Funny, ain't it? And yet I
remember the ministers wife used to wear false teeth the kind that
clicks. But hair is different."
"Dear lady," said the blue-eyed man, "it would make no difference
to your own people. I know they would be happy to see you, hair and
all. One's own people "
"My folks? That's just it. If the Prodigal Son had been a daughter
they'd probably have handed her one of her sister's mother hubbards,
and put her to work washing dishes in the kitchen. You see, after Ma
died my brother married, and I went to live with him and Lil. I was an
ugly little mug, and it looked all to the Cinderella for me, with the
coach, and four, and prince left out. Lil was the village beauty when
my brother married her, and she kind of got into the habit of leaving
the heavy role to me, and confining herself to thinking parts. One day
I took twenty dollars and came to the city. Oh, I paid it back long
ago, but I've never been home since. But say, do you know every time I
get near a news stand like this I grab the home-town paper. I'll bet
I've kept track every time my sister-in-law's sewing circle has met for
the last ten years, and the spring the paper said they built a new
porch I was just dying to write and ask'em what they did with the
Virginia creeper that used to cover the whole front and sides of the
"Look here," said the man, very abruptly, "if it's money you need,
"Me! Do I look like a touch? Now you "
"Finest stock farm and ranch in seven counties. I come to Chicago
once a year to sell. I've got just thirteen thousand nestling next to
my left floating rib this minute."
The eyes of the woman with the green plume narrowed down to two
glittering slits. A new look came into her face a look that matched
her hat, and heels and gloves and complexion and hair.
"Thirteen thousand! Thirteen thous Say, isn't it chilly on
this corner, h'm? I know a kind of a restaurant just around the corner
"It's no use," said the sandy-haired man, gently. "And I wouldn't
have said that, if I were you. I was going back to-day on the 5:25, but
I'm sick of it all. So are you, or you wouldn't have said what you just
said. Listen. Let's go back home, you and I. The sight of a Navajo
blanket nauseates me. The thought of those prairies makes my eyes ache.
I know that if I have to eat one more meal cooked by that Chink of mine
I'll hang him by his own pigtail. Those rangy western ponies aren't
horseflesh, fit for a man to ride. Why, back home our stables were
Look here. I want to see a silver tea-service, with a coat-of-arms on
it. I want to dress for dinner, and take in a girl with a white gown
and smooth white shoulders. My sister clips roses in the morning,
before breakfast, in a pink ruffled dress and garden gloves. Would you
believe that, here, on Clark Street, with a whiskey sign overhead, and
the stock-yard smells undernose? O, hell! I'm going home."
"Home?" repeated the blonde lady. "Home?" The sagging lines about
her flaccid chin took on a new look of firmness and resolve. The light
of determination glowed in her eyes.
"I'll beat you to it," she said. "I'm going home, too. I'll be
there to-morrow. I'm dead sick of this. Who cares whether I live or
die? It's just one darned round of grease paint, and sky blue tights,
and new boarding houses and humping over to the theater every night,
going on, and humping back to the room again. I want to wash up some
supper dishes with egg on 'em, and set some yeast for bread, and pop a
dishpan full of corn, and put a shawl over my head and run over to
Millie Krause's to get her kimono sleeve pattern. I'm sour on this dirt
and noise. I want to spend the rest of my life in a place so that when
I die they'll put a column in the paper, with a verse at the top, and
all the neighbors'll come in and help bake up. Here why, here I'd
just be two lines on the want ad page, with fifty cents extra for
`Kewaskum paper please copy.'"
The man held out his hand. "Good-bye," he said, "and please excuse
me if I say God bless you. I've never really wanted to say it before,
so it's quite extraordinary. My name's Guy Peel."
The white glove, with its too-conspicuous black stitching,
disappeared within his palm.
"Mine's Mercedes Meron, late of the Morning Glory Burlesquers, but
from now on Sadie Hayes, of Kewaskum, Wisconsin. Good-bye and well
God bless you, too. Say, I hope you don't think I'm in the habit of
talking to strange gents like this." "I am quite sure you are not,"
said Guy Peel, very gravely, and bowed slightly before he went south on
Clark Street, and she went north.
Dear Reader, will you take my hand while I assist you to make a one
year's leap. Whoop-la! There you are.
A man and a woman approached Tony's news stand. You are quite
right. But her willow plume was purple this time. A purple willow plume
would make Mario Doro look sophisticated. The man was sandy-haired,
raw-boned, with a loping gait, very blue eyes, very white teeth, and an
objectionably apparent Adam's apple. He came from the north, and she
from the south.
In story books, and on the stage, when two people meet unexpectedly
after a long separation they always stop short, bring one hand up to
their breast, and say: "You!" Sometimes, especially in the case where
the heroine chances on the villain, they say, simultaneously: "You!
Here!" I have seen people reunited under surprising circumstances, but
they never said, "You!" They said something quite unmelodramatic, and
commonplace, such as: "Well, look who's here!" or, "My land! If it
ain't Ed! How's Ed?"
So it was that the Purple Willow Plume and the Adam's Apple
stopped, shook hands, and viewed one another while the Plume said, "I
kind of thought I'd bump into you. Felt it in my bones." And the Adam's
"Then you're not living in Kewaskum er Wisconsin?"
"Not any," responded she, briskly. "How do you happen to be
straying away from the tapestries, and the yew trees and the ghost, and
the pink roses, and the garden gloves, and the silver tea-service with
the coat-of-arms on it?"
A slow, grim smile overspread the features of the man. "You tell
yours first," he said.
"Well," began she, "in the first place, my name's Mercedes Meron,
of the Morning Glory Burlesquers, formerly Sadie Hayes of Kewaskum,
Wisconsin. I went home next day, like I said I would. Say, Mr. Peel
(you said Peel, didn't you? Guy Peel. Nice, neat name), to this day,
when I eat lobster late at night, and have dreams, it's always about
that visit home."
"How long did you stay?"
"I'm coming to that. Or maybe you can figure it out yourself when I
tell you I've been back eleven months. I wired the folks I was coming,
and then I came before they had a chance to answer. When the train
reached Kewaskum I stepped off into the arms of a dowd in a
home-made-made-over-year-before-last suit, and a hat that would have
been funny if it hadn't been so pathetic. I grabbed her by the
shoulders, and I held her off, and looked looked at the wrinkles,
and the sallow complexion, and the coat with the sleeves in wrong, and
the mashed hat (I told you Lil used to be the village peach, didn't I?)
and I says:
"`For Gawd's sakes, Lil, does your husband beat you?'
"`Steve!' she shrieks, `beat me! You must be crazy!'
"`Well, if he don't, he ought to. Those clothes are grounds for
divorce,' I says.
"Mr. Guy Peel, it took me just four weeks to get wise to the fact
that the way to cure homesickness is to go home. I spent those four
weeks trying to revolutionize my sister-in-law's house, dress, kids,
husband, wall paper and parlor carpet. I took all the doilies from
under the ornaments and spoke my mind on the subject of the
hand-painted lamp, and Lil hates me for it yet, and will to her dying
day. I fitted three dresses for her, and made her get some corsets that
she'll never wear. They have roast pork for dinner on Sundays, and they
never go to the theater, and they like bread pudding, and they're
happy. I wasn't. They treated me fine, and it was home, all right, but
not my home. It was the same, but I was different. Eleven years away
from anything makes it shrink, if you know what I mean. I guess maybe
you do. I remember that I used to think that the Grand View Hotel was a
regular little oriental palace that was almost too luxurious to be
respectable, and that the traveling men who stopped there were gods,
and just to prance past the hotel after supper had the Atlantic City
board walk looking like a back alley on a rainy night. Well, everything
had sort of shriveled up just like that. The popcorn gave me
indigestion, and I burned the skin off my nose popping it. Kneading
bread gave me the backache, and the blamed stuff wouldn't raise right.
I got so I was crazy to hear the roar of an L train, and the sound of a
crossing policeman's whistle. I got to thinking how Michigan Avenue
looks, down- town, with the lights shining down on the asphalt, and all
those people eating in the swell hotels, and the autos, and the theater
crowds and the windows, and well, I'm back. Glad I went? You said
it. Because it made me so darned glad to get back. I've found out one
thing, and it's a great little lesson when you get it learned. Most of
us are where we are because we belong there, and if we didn't, we
wouldn't be. Say, that does sound mixed, don't it? But it's straight.
Now you tell yours."
"I think you've said it all," began Guy Peel. "It's queer, isn't
it, how twelve years of America will spoil one for afternoon tea, and
yew trees, and tapestries, and lace caps, and roses. The mater was glad
to see me, but she said I smelled woolly. They think a Navajo blanket
is a thing the Indians wear on the war path, and they don't know
whether Texas is a state, or a mineral water. It was slow slow.
About the time they were taking afternoon tea, I'd be reckoning how the
boys would be rounding up the cattle for the night, and about the time
we'd sit down to dinner something seemed to whisk the dinner table, and
the flowers, and the men and women in evening clothes right out of
sight, like magic, and I could see the boys stretched out in front of
the bunk house after their supper of bacon, and beans, and biscuit, and
coffee. They'd be smoking their pipes that smelled to Heaven, and
further, and Wing would be squealing one of his creepy old Chink songs
out in the kitchen, and the sky would be say, Miss Meron, did you
ever see the night sky, out West? Purple, you know, and soft as
soapsuds, and so near that you want to reach up and touch it with your
hand. Toward the end my mother used to take me off in a corner and tell
me that I hadn't spoken a word to the little girl that I had taken in
to dinner, and that if I couldn't forget my uncouth western ways for an
hour or two, at least, perhaps I'd better not try to mingle with
civilized people. I discovered that home isn't always the place where
you were born and bred. Home is the place where your everyday clothes
are, and where somebody, or something needs you. They didn't need me
over there in England. Lord no! I was sick for the sight of a Navajo
blanket. My shack's glowing with them. And my books needed me, and the
boys, and the critters, and Kate."
"Kate?" repeated Miss Meron, quickly. "Kate's my horse. I'm going
back on the 5:25 to-night. This is my regular trip, you know. I came
around here to buy a paper, because it has become a habit. And then,
too, I sort of felt well, something told me that you "
"You're a nice boy," said Miss Meron. "By the way, did I tell you
that I married the manager of the show the week after I got back? We go
to Bloomington to-night, and then we jump to St. Paul. I came around
here just as usual, because well because "
Tony's gift for remembering faces and facts amounts to genius. With
two deft movements he whisked two papers from among the many in the
rack, and held them out.
"Kewaskum Courier?" he suggested.
"Nix," said Mercedes Meron, "I'll take a Chicago Scream."
"London Times?" said Tony.
"No," replied Guy Peel. "Give me the San Antonio Express."
Millie Whitcomb, of the fancy goods and notions, beckoned me with
her finger. I had been standing at kate O'Malley's counter, pretending
to admire her new basket-weave suitings, but in reality reveling in her
droll account of how, in the train coming up from Chicago, Mrs. Judge
Porterfield had worn the negro porter's coat over her chilly shoulders
in mistake for her husband's. Kate O'Malley can tell a funny story in a
way to make the after-dinner pleasantries of a Washington diplomat
sound like the clumsy jests told around the village grocery stove.
"I wanted to tell you that I read that last story of yours," said
Millie, sociably, when I had strolled over to her counter, "and I liked
it, all but the heroine. She had an `adorable throat' and hair that
`waved away from her white brow,' and eyes that `now were blue and now
gray.' Say, why don't you write a story about an ugly girl?" "My
land!" protested I. "It's bad enough trying to make them accept my
stories as it is. That last heroine was a raving beauty, but she came
back eleven times before the editor of Blakely's succumbed to her
Millie's fingers were busy straightening the contents of a tray of
combs and imitation jet barrettes. Millie's fingers were not intended
for that task. They are slender, tapering fingers, pink-tipped and
"I should think," mused she, rubbing a cloudy piece of jet with a
bit of soft cloth, "that they'd welcome a homely one with relief. These
goddesses are so cloying."
Millie Whitcomb's black hair is touched with soft mists of gray,
and she wears lavender shirtwaists and white stocks edged with
lavender. There is a Colonial air about her that has nothing to do with
celluloid combs and imitation jet barrettes. It breathes of dim old
rooms, rich with the tones of mahogany and old brass, and Millie in the
midst of it, gray-gowned, a soft white fichu crossed upon her breast.
In our town the clerks are not the pert and gum-chewing young
persons that story-writers are wont to describe. The girls at Bascom's
are institutions. They know us all by our first names, and our lives
are as an open book to them. Kate O'Malley, who has been at Bascom's
for so many years that she is rumored to have stock in the company, may
be said to govern the fashions of our town. She is wont to say, when we
express a fancy for gray as the color of our new spring suit:
"Oh, now, Nellie, don't get gray again. You had it year before
last, and don't you think it was just the least leetle bit trying? Let
me show you that green that came in yesterday. I said the minute I
clapped my eyes on it that it was just the color for you, with your
brown hair and all."
And we end by deciding on the green.
The girls at Bascom's are not gossips they are too busy for that
but they may be said to be delightfully well informed. How could
they be otherwise when we go to Bascom's for our wedding dresses and
party favors and baby flannels? There is news at Bascom's that our
daily paper never hears of, and wouldn't dare print if it did.
So when Millie Whitcomb, of the fancy goods and notions, expressed
her hunger for a homely heroine, I did not resent the suggestion. On
the contrary, it sent me home in thoughtful mood, for Millie Whitcomb
has acquired a knowledge of human nature in the dispensing of her fancy
goods and notions. It set me casting about for a really homely heroine.
There never has been a really ugly heroine in fiction. Authors have
started bravely out to write of an unlovely woman, but they never have
had the courage to allow her to remain plain. On Page 237 she puts on a
black lace dress and red roses, and the combination brings out
unexpected tawny lights in her hair, and olive tints in her cheeks, and
there she is, the same old beautiful heroine. Even in the "Duchess"
books one finds the simple Irish girl, on donning a green corduroy gown
cut square at the neck, transformed into a wild-rose beauty, at sight
of whom a ball-room is hushed into admiring awe. There's the case of
jane Eyre, too. She is constantly described as plain and mouse-like,
but there are covert hints as to her gray eyes and slender figure and
clear skin, and we have a sneaking notion that she wasn't such a fright
Therefore, when I tell you that I am choosing Pearlie Schultz as my
leading lady you are to understand that she is ugly, not only when the
story opens, but to the bitter end. In the first place, Pearlie is fat.
Not, plump, or rounded, or dimpled, or deliciously curved, but FAT. She
bulges in all the wrong places, including her chin. (Sister, who has a
way of snooping over my desk in my absence, says that I may as well
drop this now, because nobody would ever read it, anyway, least of all
any sane editor. I protest when I discover that Sis has been over my
papers. It bothers me. But she says you have to do these things when
you have a genius in the house, and cites the case of Kipling's
"Recessional," which was rescued from the depths of his wastebasket by
Pearlie Schultz used to sit on the front porch summer evenings and
watch the couples stroll by, and weep in her heart. A fat girl with a
fat girl's soul is a comedy. But a fat girl with a thin girl's soul is
a tragedy. Pearlie, in spite of her two hundred pounds, had the soul of
a willow wand.
The walk in front of Pearlie's house was guarded by a row of big
trees that cast kindly shadows. The strolling couples used to step
gratefully into the embrace of these shadows, and from them into other
embraces. Pearlie, sitting on the porch, could see them dimly, although
they could not see her. She could not help remarking that these
strolling couples were strangely lacking in sprightly conversation.
Their remarks were but fragmentary, disjointed affairs, spoken in low
tones with a queer, tremulous note in them. When they reached the
deepest, blackest, kindliest shadow, which fell just before the end of
the row of trees, the strolling couples almost always stopped, and then
there came a quick movement, and a little smothered cry from the girl,
and then a sound, and then a silence. Pearlie, sitting alone on the
porch in the dark, listened to these things and blushed furiously.
Pearlie had never strolled into the kindly shadows with a little
beating of the heart, and she had never been surprised with a quick arm
about her and eager lips pressed warmly against her own.
In the daytime Pearlie worked as public stenographer at the Burke
Hotel. She rose at seven in the morning, and rolled for fifteen
minutes, and lay on her back and elevated her heels in the air, and
stood stiff-kneed while she touched the floor with her finger tips one
hundred times, and went without her breakfast. At the end of each month
she usually found that she weighed three pounds more than she had the
The folks at home never joked with Pearlie about her weight. Even
one's family has some respect for a life sorrow. Whenever Pearlie asked
that inevitable question of the fat woman: "Am I as fat as she is?" her
mother always answered: "You! Well, I should hope not! You're looking
real peaked lately, Pearlie. And your blue skirt just ripples in the
back, it's getting so big for you."
Of such blessed stuff are mothers made.
But if the gods had denied Pearlie all charms of face or form, they
had been decent enough to bestow on her one gift. Pearlie could cook
like an angel; no, better than an angel, for no angel could be a really
clever cook and wear those flowing kimono-like sleeves. They'd get into
the soup. Pearlie could take a piece of rump and some suet and an onion
and a cup or so of water, and evolve a pot roast that you could cut
with a fork. She could turn out a surprisingly good cake with
surprisingly few eggs, all covered with white icing, and bearing
cunning little jelly figures on its snowy bosom. She could beat up
biscuits that fell apart at the lightest pressure, revealing little
pools of golden butter within. Oh, Pearlie could cook!
On week days Pearlie rattled the typewriter keys, but on Sundays
she shooed her mother out of the kitchen. Her mother went, protesting
"Now, Pearlie, don't fuss so for dinner. You ought to get your rest
on Sunday instead of stewing over a hot stove all morning."
"Hot fiddlesticks, ma," Pearlie would say, cheerily. "It ain't hot,
because it's a gas stove. And I'll only get fat if I sit around. You
put on your black-and-white and go to church. Call me when you've got
as far as your corsets, and I'll puff your hair for you in the back."
In her capacity of public stenographer at the Burke Hotel, it was
Pearlie's duty to take letters dictated by traveling men and beginning:
"Yours of the 10th at hand. In reply would say. . . ." or: "Enclosed
please find, etc." As clinching proof of her plainness it may be stated
that none of the traveling men, not even Max Baum, who was so fresh
that the girl at the cigar counter actually had to squelch him, ever
called Pearlie "baby doll," or tried to make a date with her. Not that
Pearlie would ever have allowed them to. But she never had had to
reprove them. During pauses in dictation she had a way of peering
near-sightedly, over her glasses at the dapper, well-dressed traveling
salesman who was rolling off the items on his sale bill. That is a
trick which would make the prettiest kind of a girl look owlish.
On the night that Sam Miller strolled up to talk to her, Pearlie
was working late. She had promised to get out a long and intricate bill
for Max Baum, who travels for Kuhn and Klingman, so that he might take
the nine o'clock evening train. The irrepressible Max had departed with
much eclat and clatter, and Pearlie was preparing to go home when Sam
Sam had just come in from the Gayety Theater across the street,
whither he had gone in a vain search for amusement after supper. He had
come away in disgust. A soiled soubrette with orange-colored hair and
baby socks had swept her practiced eye over the audience, and,
attracted by Sam's good-looking blond head in the second row, had
selected him as the target of her song. She had run up to the extreme
edge of the footlights at the risk of teetering over, and had informed
Sam through the medium of song to the huge delight of the audience,
and to Sam's red-faced discomfiture that she liked his smile, and he
was just her style, and just as cute as he could be, and just the boy
for her. On reaching the chorus she had whipped out a small, round
mirror and, assisted by the calcium-light man in the rear, had thrown a
wretched little spotlight on Sam's head.
Ordinarily, Sam would not have minded it. But that evening, in the
vest pocket just over the place where he supposed his heart to be
reposed his girl's daily letter. They were to be married on Sam's
return to New York from his first long trip. In the letter near his
heart she had written prettily and seriously about traveling men, and
traveling men's wives, and her little code for both. The fragrant,
girlish, grave little letter had caused Sam to sour on the efforts of
the soiled soubrette.
As soon as possible he had fled up the aisle and across the street
to the hotel writing-room. There he had spied Pearlie's good-humored,
homely face, and its contrast with the silly, red and-white countenance
of the unlaundered soubrette had attracted his homesick heart.
Pearlie had taken some letters from him earlier in the day. Now, in
his hunger for companionship, he, strolled up to her desk, just as she
was putting her typewriter to bed.
"Gee I This is a lonesome town!" said Sam, smiling down at her.
Pearlie glanced up at him, over her glasses. "I guess you must be
from New York," she said. "I've heard a real New Yorker can get bored
in Paris. In New York the sky is bluer, and the grass is greener, and
the girls are prettier, and the steaks are thicker, and the buildings
are higher, and the streets are wider, and the air is finer, than the
sky, or the grass, or the girls, or the steaks, or the air of any place
else in the world. Ain't they?"
"Oh, now," protested Sam, "quit kiddin' me! You'd be lonesome for
the little old town, too, if you'd been born and dragged up in it, and
hadn't seen it for four months."
"New to the road, aren't you?" asked Pearlie.
Sam blushed a little. "How did you know?"
"Well, you generally can tell. They don't know what to do with
themselves evenings, and they look rebellious when they go into the
dining-room. The old-timers just look resigned."
"You've picked up a thing or two around here, haven't you? I wonder
if the time will ever come when I'll look resigned to a hotel dinner,
after four months of 'em. Why, girl, I've got so I just eat the things
that are covered up like baked potatoes in the shell, and soft
boiled eggs, and baked apples, and oranges that I can peel, and nuts."
"Why, you poor kid," breathed Pearlie, her pale eyes fixed on him
in motherly pity. "You oughtn't to do that. You'll get so thin your
girl won't know you."
Sam looked up quickly. "How in thunderation did you know ?"
Pearlie was pinning on her hat, and she spoke succinctly, her
hatpins between her teeth: "You've been here two days now, and I notice
you dictate all your letters except the longest one, and you write that
one off in a corner of the writing-room all by yourself, with your
cigar just glowing like a live coal, and you squint up through the
smoke, and grin to yourself."
"Say, would you mind if I walked home with you?" asked Sam. "If
Pearlie was surprised, she was woman enough not to show it. She picked
up her gloves and hand bag, locked her drawer with a click, and smiled
her acquiescence. And when Pearlie smiled she was awful.
It was a glorious evening in the early summer, moonless, velvety,
and warm. As they strolled homeward, Sam told her all about the Girl,
as is the way of traveling men the world over. He told her about the
tiny apartment they had taken, and how he would be on the road only a
couple of years more, as this was just a try-out that the firm always
insisted on. And they stopped under an arc light while Sam showed her
the picture in his watch, as is also the way of traveling men since
Pearlie made an excellent listener. He was so boyish, and so much
in love, and so pathetically eager to make good with the firm, and so
happy to have some one in whom to confide.
"But it's a dog's life, after all," reflected Sam, again after the
fashion of all traveling men. "Any fellow on the road earns his salary
these days, you bet. I used to think it was all getting up when you
felt like it, and sitting in the big front window of the hotel, smoking
a cigar and watching the pretty girls go by. I wasn't wise to the
packing, and the unpacking, and the rotten train service, and the
grouchy customers, and the canceled bills, and the grub."
Pearlie nodded understandingly. "A man told me once that twice a
week regularly he dreamed of the way his wife cooked noodle-soup."
"My folks are German," explained Sam. "And my mother can she
cook! Well, I just don't seem able to get her potato pancakes out of my
mind. And her roast beef tasted and looked like roast beef, and not
like a wet red flannel rag."
At this moment Pearlie was seized with a brilliant idea.
"To-morrow's Sunday. You're going to Sunday here, aren't you? Come over
and eat your dinner with us. If you have forgotten the taste of real
food, I can give you a dinner that'll jog your memory."
"Oh, really," protested Sam. "You're awfully good, but I couldn't
think of it. I "
"You needn't be afraid. I'm not letting you in for anything. I may
be homelier than an English suffragette, and I know my lines are all
bumps, but there's one thing you can't take away from me, and that's my
cooking hand. I can cook, boy, in a way to make your mother's Sunday
dinner, with company expected, look like Mrs. Newlywed's first attempt
at `riz' biscuits. And I don't mean any disrespect to your mother when
I say it. I'm going to have noodle-soup, and fried chicken, and hot
biscuits, and creamed beans from our own garden, and strawberry
shortcake with real "
"Hush!" shouted Sam. "If I ain't there, you'll know that I passed
away during the night, and you can telephone the clerk to break in my
The Grim Reaper spared him, and Sam came, and was introduced to the
family, and ate. He put himself in a class with Dr. Johnson, and Ben
Brust, and Gargantua, only that his table manners were better. He
almost forgot to talk during the soup, and he came back three times for
chicken, and by the time the strawberry shortcake was half consumed he
was looking at Pearlie with a sort of awe in his eyes.
That night he came over to say good-bye before taking his train out
for Ishpeming. He and Pearlie strolled down as far as the park and back
again. "I didn't eat any supper," said Sam. "It would have been
sacrilege, after that dinner of yours. Honestly, I don't know how to
thank you, being so good to a stranger like me. When I come back next
trip, I expect to have the Kid with me, and I want her to meet you, by
George! She's a winner and a pippin, but she wouldn't know whether a
porterhouse was stewed or frapped. I'll tell her about you, you bet. In
the meantime, if there's anything I can do for you, I'm yours to
Pearlie turned to him suddenly. "You see that clump of thick
shadows ahead of us, where those big trees stand in front of our
"Sure," replied Sam.
"Well, when we step into that deepest, blackest shadow, right in
front of our porch, I want you to reach up, and put your arm around me
and kiss me on the mouth, just once. And when you get back to New York
you can tell your girl I asked you to."
There broke from him a little involuntary exclamation. It might
have been of pity, and it might have been of surprise. It had in it
something of both, but nothing of mirth. And as they stepped into the
depths of the soft black shadows he took off his smart straw sailor,
which was so different from the sailors that the boys in our town wear.
And there was in the gesture something of reverence.
Millie Whitcomb didn't like the story of the homely heroine, after
all. She says that a steady diet of such literary fare would give her
blue indigestion. Also she objects on the ground that no one got
married that is, the heroine didn't. And she says that a heroine who
does not get married isn't a heroine at all. She thinks she prefers the
pink-cheeked, goddess kind, in the end.
There come those times in the life of every woman when she feels
that she must wash her hair at once. And then she does it. The feeling
may come upon her suddenly, without warning, at any hour of the day or
night; or its approach may be slow and insidious, so that the victim
does not at first realize what it is that fills her with that sensation
of unrest. But once in the clutches of the idea she knows no happiness,
no peace, until she has donned a kimono, gathered up two bath towels, a
spray, and the green soap, and she breathes again only when, head
dripping, she makes for the back yard, the sitting-room radiator, or
the side porch (depending on her place of residence, and the time of
Mary Louise was seized with the feeling at ten o'clock on a joyous
June morning. She tried to fight it off because she had got to that
stage in the construction of her story where her hero was beginning to
talk and act a little more like a real live man, and a little less like
a clothing store dummy. (By the way, they don't seem to be using those
pink-and-white, black-mustachioed figures any more. Another good simile
Mary Louise had been battling with that hero for a week. He
wouldn't make love to the heroine. In vain had Mary Louise striven to
instill red blood into his watery veins. He and the beauteous heroine
were as far apart as they had been on Page One of the typewritten
manuscript. Mary Louise was developing nerves over him. She had bitten
her finger nails, and twisted her hair into corkscrews over him. She
had risen every morning at the chaste hour of seven, breakfasted
hurriedly, tidied the tiny two-room apartment, and sat down in the
unromantic morning light to wrestle with her stick of a hero. She had
made her heroine a creature of grace, wit, and loveliness, but thus far
the hero had not once clasped her to him fiercely, or pressed his lips
to her hair, her eyes, her cheeks. Nay (as the story-writers would put
it), he hadn't even devoured her with his gaze.
This morning, however, he had begun to show some signs of life. He
was developing possibilities. Whereupon, at this critical stage in the
story-writing game, the hair-washing mania seized Mary Louise. She
tried to dismiss the idea. She pushed it out of her mind, and slammed
the door. It only popped in again. Her fingers wandered to her hair.
Her eyes wandered to the June sunshine outside. The hero was left
poised, arms outstretched, and unquenchable love-light burning in his
eyes, while Mary Louise mused, thus:
"It certainly feels sticky. It's been six weeks, at least. And I
could sit here-by the window in the sun and dry it "
With a jerk she brought her straying fingers away from her hair,
and her wandering eyes away from the sunshine, and her runaway thoughts
back to the typewritten page. For three minutes the snap of the little
disks crackled through the stillness of the tiny apartment. Then,
suddenly, as though succumbing to an irresistible force, Mary Louise
rose, walked across the room (a matter of six steps), removing hairpins
as she went, and shoved aside the screen which hid the stationary
wash-bowl by day.
Mary Louise turned on a faucet and held her finger under it, while
an agonized expression of doubt and suspense overspread her features.
Slowly the look of suspense gave way to a smile of beatific content. A
sigh deep, soul-filling, satisfied welled up from Mary Louise's
breast. The water was hot.
Half an hour later, head swathed turban fashion in a towel, Mary
Louise strolled over to the window. Then she stopped, aghast. In that
half hour the sun had slipped just around the corner, and was now
beating brightly and uselessly against the brick wall a few inches
away. Slowly Mary Louise unwound the towel, bent double in the
contortionistic attitude that women assume on such occasions, and
watched with melancholy eyes while the drops trickled down to the ends
of her hair, and fell, unsunned, to the floor.
"If only," thought Mary Louise, bitterly, "there was such a thing
as a back yard in this city a back yard where I could squat on the
grass, in the sunshine and the breeze Maybe there is. I'll ask the
She bound her hair in the turban again, and opened the door. At the
far end of the long, dim hallway Charlie, the janitor, was doing
something to the floor with a mop and a great deal of sloppy water,
whistling the while with a shrill abandon that had announced his
presence to Mary Louise.
"Oh, Charlie!" called Mary Louise. "Charlee! Can you come here just
"You bet!" answered Charlie, with the accent on the you; and came.
"Charlie, is there a back yard, or something, where the sun is, you
know some nice, grassy place where I can sit, and dry my hair, and
let the breezes blow it?"
"Back yard!" grinned Charlie. "I guess you're new to N' York, all
right, with ground costin' a million or so a foot. Not much they ain't
no back yard, unless you'd give that name to an ash-barrel, and a dump
heap or so, and a crop of tin cans. I wouldn't invite a goat to set in
Disappointment curved Mary Louise's mouth. It was a lovely enough
mouth at any time, but when it curved in disappointment ell,
janitors are but human, after all.
"Tell you what, though," said Charlie. "I'll let you up on the
roof. It ain't long on grassy spots up there, but say, breeze! Like a
summer resort. On a clear day you can see way over 's far 's Eight'
Avenoo. Only for the love of Mike don't blab it to the other women
folks in the buildin', or I'll have the whole works of 'em usin' the
roof for a general sun, massage, an' beauty parlor. Come on."
"I'll never breathe it to a soul," promised Mary Louise, solemnly.
"Oh, wait a minute."
She turned back into her room, appearing again in a moment with
something green in her hand.
"What's that?" asked Charlie, suspiciously.
Mary Louise, speeding down the narrow hallway after Charlie,
blushed a little. "It it's parsley," she faltered.
"Parsley!" exploded Charlie. "Well, what the "
"Well, you see. I'm from the country," explained Mary Louise, "and
in the country, at this time of year, when you dry your hair in the
back yard, you get the most wonderful scent of green and growing things
not only of flowers, you know, but of the new things just coming up
in the vegetable garden, and and well, this parsley happens to be
the only really gardeny thing I have, so I thought I'd bring it along
and sniff it once in a while, and make believe it's the country, up
there on the roof."
Half-way up the perilous little flight of stairs that led to the
roof, Charlie, the janitor, turned to gaze down at Mary Louise, who was
just behind, and keeping fearfully out of the way of Charlie's heels.
"Wimmin," observed Charlie, the janitor, "is nothin' but little
girls in long skirts, and their hair done up."
"I know it," giggled Mary Louise, and sprang up on the roof,
looking, with her towel-swathed head, like a lady Aladdin leaping from
her underground grotto.
The two stood there a moment, looking up at the blue sky, and all
about at the June sunshine.
"If you go up high enough," observed Mary Louise, "the sunshine is
almost the same as it is in the country, isn't it?"
"I shouldn't wonder," said Charlie, "though Calvary cemetery is
about as near's I'll ever get to the country. Say, you can set here on
this soap box and let your feet hang down. The last janitor's wife used
to hang her washin' up here, I guess. I'll leave this door open, see?"
"You're so kind," smiled Mary Louise. "Kin you blame me?" retorted
the gallant Charles. And vanished.
Mary Louise, perched on the soap box, unwound her turban, draped
the damp towel over her shoulders, and shook out the wet masses of her
hair. Now the average girl shaking out the wet masses of her hair looks
like a drowned rat. But Nature had been kind to Mary Louise. She had
given her hair that curled in little ringlets when wet, and that waved
in all the right places when dry. Just now it hung in damp, shining
strands on either side of her face, so that she looked most remarkably
like one of those oval-faced, great-eyed, red-lipped women that the old
Italian artists were so fond of painting.
Below her, blazing in the sun, lay the great stone and iron city.
Mary Louise shook out her hair idly, with one hand, sniffed her
parsley, shut her eyes, threw back her head, and began to sing, beating
time with her heel against the soap box, and forgetting all about the
letter that had come that morning, stating that it was not from any
lack of merit, etc. She sang, and sniffed her parsley, and waggled her
hair in the breeze, and beat time, idly, with the heel of her little
boot, when "Holy Cats!" exclaimed a man's voice. "What is this,
anyway? A Coney Island concession gone wrong?"
Mary Louise's eyes unclosed in a flash, and Mary Louise gazed upon
an irate-looking, youngish man, who wore shabby slippers, and no collar
with a full dress air.
"I presume that you are the janitor's beautiful daughter," growled
the collarless man.
"Well, not precisely," answered Mary Louise, sweetly. "Are you the
scrub-lady's stalwart son?"
"Ha!" exploded the man. "But then, all women look alike with their
hair down. I ask your pardon, though."
"Not at all," replied Mary Louise. "For that matter, all men look
like picked chickens with their collars off."
At that the collarless man, who until now had been standing on the
top step that led up to the roof, came slowly forward, stepped
languidly over a skylight or two, draped his handkerchief over a
convenient chimney and sat down, hugging his long, lean legs to him.
"Nice up here, isn't it?" he remarked.
"It was," said Mary Louise. "Ha!" exploded he, again. Then,
"Where's your mirror?" he demanded.
"Mirror?" echoed Mary Louise.
"Certainly. You have the hair, the comb, the attitude, and the
general Lorelei effect. Also your singing lured me to your shores."
"You didn't look lured," retorted Mary Louise. "You looked lurid."
"What's that stuff in your hand?" next demanded he. He really was a
most astonishingly rude young man.
"Parsley!" shouted he, much as Charlie had done. "Well, what the
"Back home," elucidated Mary Louise once more, patiently, "after
you've washed your hair you dry it in the back yard, sitting on the
grass, in the sunshine and the breeze. And the garden smells come to
you the nasturtiums, and the pansies, and the geraniums, you know,
and even that clean grass smell, and the pungent vegetable odor, and
there are ants, and bees, and butterflies "
"Go on," urged the young man, eagerly.
"And Mrs. Next Door comes out to hang up a few stockings, and a
jabot or so, and a couple of baby dresses that she has just rubbed
through, and she calls out to you:
"`Washed your hair?'
"`Yes,' you say. `It was something awful, and I wanted it nice for
Tuesday night. But I suppose I won't be able to do a thing with it.'
"And then Mrs. Next Door stands there a minute on the clothes-reel
platform, with the wind whipping her skirts about her, and the fresh
smell of the growing things coming to her. And suddenly she says: `I
guess I'll wash mine too, while the baby's asleep.'"
The collarless young man rose from his chimney, picked up his
handkerchief, and moved to the chimney just next to Mary Louise's soap
"Live here?" he asked, in his impolite way.
"If I did not, do you think that I would choose this as the one
spot in all New York in which to dry my hair?"
"When I said, `Live here,' I didn't mean just that. I meant who are
you, and why are you here, and where do you come from, and do you sign
your real name to your stuff, or use a nom de plume?"
"Why how did you know?" gasped Mary Louise. "Give me five
minutes more," grinned the keen-eyed young man, "and I'll tell you what
make your typewriter is, and where the last rejection slip came from."
"Oh!" said Mary Louise again. "Then you are the scrub-lady's
stalwart son, and you've been ransacking my waste-basket."
Quite unheeding, the collarless man went on, "And so you thought
you could write, and you came on to New York (you know one doesn't just
travel to New York, or ride to it, or come to it; one `comes on' to New
York), and now you're not so sure about the writing, h'm? And back home
what did you do?"
"Back home I taught school and hated it. But I kept on teaching
until I'd saved five hundred dollars. Every other school ma'am in the
world teaches until she has saved five hundred dollars, and then she
packs two suit-cases, and goes to Europe from June until September. But
I saved my five hundred for New York. I've been here six months now,
and the five hundred has shrunk to almost nothing, and if I don't break
into the magazines pretty soon "
"Then," said Mary Louise, with a quaver in her voice, "I'll have to
go back and teach thirty-seven young devils that six times five is
thirty, put down the naught and carry six, and that the French are a
gay people, fond of dancing and light wines. But I'll scrimp on
everything from hairpins to shoes, and back again, including pretty
collars, and gloves, and hats, until I've saved up another five
hundred, and then I'll try it all over again, because I can
From the depths of one capacious pocket the inquiring man took a
small black pipe, from another a bag of tobacco, from another a match.
The long, deft fingers made a brief task of it.
"I didn't ask you," he said, after the first puff, "because I could
see that you weren't the fool kind that objects." Then, with amazing
suddenness, "Know any of the editors?"
"Know them!" cried Mary Louise. "Know them! If camping on their
doorsteps, and haunting the office buildings, and cajoling, and
fighting with secretaries and office boys, and assistants and things
constitutes knowing them, then we're chums."
"What makes you think you can write?" sneered the thin man.
Mary Louise gathered up her brush, and comb, and towel, and
parsley, and jumped off the soap box. She pointed belligerently at her
tormentor with the hand that held the brush.
"Being the scrub-lady's stalwart son, you wouldn't understand. But
I can write. I sha'n't go under. I'm going to make this town count me
in as the four million and oneth. Sometimes I get so tired of being
nobody at all, with not even enough cleverness in me to wrest a living
from this big city, that I long to stand out at the edge of the
curbing, and take off my hat, and wave it, and shout, `Say, you four
million uncaring people, I'm Mary Louise Moss, from Escanaba, Michigan,
and I like your town, and I want to stay here. Won't you please pay
some slight attention to me. No one knows I'm here except myself, and
the rent collector.'"
"And I," put in the rude young man.
"O, you," sneered Mary Louise, equally rude, "you don't count."
The collarless young man in the shabby slippers smiled a curious
little twisted smile. "You never can tell," he grinned, "I might."
Then, quite suddenly, he stood up, knocked the ash out of his pipe, and
came over to Mary Louise, who was preparing to descend the steep little
flight of stairs.
"Look here, Mary Louise Moss, from Escanaba, Michigan, you stop
trying to write the slop you're writing now. Stop it. Drop the love
tales that are like the stuff that everybody else writes. Stop trying
to write about New York. You don't know anything about it. Listen. You
get back to work, and write about Mrs. Next Door, and the hair-washing,
and the vegetable garden, and bees, and the back yard, understand? You
write the way you talked to me, and then you send your stuff in to
"Reeves!" mocked Mary Louise. "Cecil Reeves, of The Earth? He
wouldn't dream of looking at my stuff. And anyway, it really isn't your
affair." And began to descend the stairs.
"Well, you know you brought me up here, kicking with your heels,
and singing at the top of your voice. I couldn't work. So it's really
your fault." Then, just as Mary Louise had almost disappeared down the
stairway he put his last astonishing question.
"How often do you wash your hair?" he demanded. "Well, back home,"
confessed Mary Louise, "every six weeks or so was enough, but "
"Not here," put in the rude young man, briskly. "Never. That's all
very well for the country, but it won't do in the city. Once a week, at
least, and on the roof. Cleanliness demands it."
"But if I'm going back to the country," replied Mary Louise, "it
won't be necessary."
"But you're not," calmly said the collarless young man, just as
Mary Louise vanished from sight.
Down at the other end of the hallway on Mary Louise's floor
Charlie, the janitor, was doing something to the windows now, with a
rag, and a pail of water.
"Get it dry?" he called out, sociably.
"Yes, thank you," answered Mary Louise, and turned to enter her own
little apartment. Then, hesitatingly, she came back to Charlie's
"There there was a man up there a very tall, very thin, very
rude, very that is, rather nice youngish oldish man, in slippers,
and no collar. I wonder "
"Oh, him!" snorted Charlie. "He don't show himself onct in a blue
moon. None of the other tenants knows he's up there. Has the whole top
floor to himself, and shuts himself up there for weeks at a time,
writin' books, or some such truck. That guy, he owns the building."
"Owns the building!" said Mary Louise, faintly. "Why he looked
he looked "
"Sure," grinned Charlie. "That's him. Name's Reeves Cecil
Reeves. Say, ain't that a divil of a name?"
This will be a homing pigeon story. Though I send it ever so far
though its destination be the office of a home-and-fireside magazine or
one of the kind with a French story in the back, it will return to me.
After each flight its feathers will be a little more rumpled, its wings
more weary, its course more wavering, until, battered, spent, broken,
it will flutter to rest in the waste basket.
And yet, though its message may never be delivered, it must be
sent, because well, because
You know where the car turns at Eighteenth? There you see a
glaringly attractive billboard poster. It depicts groups of smiling,
white-clad men standing on tropical shores, with waving palms overhead,
and a glimpse of blue sea in the distance. The wording beneath the
picture runs something like this:
"Young men wanted. An unusual opportunity for travel, education,
and advancement. Good pay. No expenses."
When the car turns at Eighteenth, and I see that, I remember Eddie
Houghton back home. And when I remember Eddie Houghton I see red.
The day after Eddie Houghton finished high school he went to work.
In our town we don't take a job. We accept a position. Our paper had it
that "Edwin Houghton had accepted a position as clerk and assistant
chemist at the Kunz drugstore, where he would take up his new duties
His new duties seemed, at first, to consist of opening the store in
the morning, sweeping out, and whizzing about town on a bicycle with an
unnecessarily insistent bell, delivering prescriptions which had been
telephoned for. But by the time the summer had really set in Eddie was
installed back of the soda fountain.
There never was anything better looking than Eddie Houghton in his
white duck coat. He was one of those misleadingly gold and pink and
white men. I say misleadingly because you usually associate
pink-and-whiteness with such words as sissy and mollycoddle. Eddie was
neither. He had played quarter-back every year from his freshman year,
and he could putt the shot and cut classes with the best of 'em. But in
that white duck coat with the braiding and frogs he had any
musical-comedy, white-flannel tenor lieutenant whose duty it is to
march down to the edge of the footlights, snatch out his sword, and
warble about his country's flag, looking like a flat-nosed, blue-gummed
Igorrote. Kunz's soda water receipts swelled to double their usual
size, and the girls' complexions were something awful that summer. I've
known Nellie Donovan to take as many as three ice cream sodas and two
phosphates a day when Eddie was mixing. He had a way of throwing in a
good-natured smile, and an easy flow of conversation with every drink.
While indulging in a little airy persiflage the girls had a great
little trick of pursing their mouths into rosebud shapes over their
soda straws, and casting their eyes upward at Eddie. They all knew the
trick, and its value, so that at night Eddie's dreams were haunted by
whole rows of rosily pursed lips, and seas of upturned, adoring eyes.
Of course we all noticed that on those rare occasions when Josie
Morehouse came into Kunz's her glass was heaped higher with ice cream
than that of any of the other girls, and that Eddie's usually easy flow
of talk was interspersed with certain stammerings and stutterings. But
Josie didn't come in often. She had a lot of dignity for a girl of
eighteen. Besides, she was taking the teachers' examinations that
summer, when the other girls were playing tennis and drinking sodas.
Eddie really hated the soda water end of the business, as every
soda clerk in the world does. But he went about it good-naturedly. He
really wanted to learn the drug business, but the boss knew he had a
drawing card, and insisted that Eddie go right on concocting faerie
queens and strawberry sundaes, and nectars and Kunz's specials. One
Saturday, when he happened to have on hand an over-supply of bananas
that would have spoiled over Sunday, he invented a mess and called it
the Eddie Extra, and the girls swarmed on it like flies around a honey
That kind of thing would have spoiled most boys. But Eddie had a
sensible mother. On those nights when he used to come home nauseated
with dealing out chop suey sundaes and orangeades, and saying that
there was no future for a fellow in our dead little hole, his mother
would give him something rather special for supper, and set him hoeing
and watering the garden.
So Eddie stuck to his job, and waited, and all the time he was
saying, with a melting look, to the last silly little girl who was
drinking her third soda, "Somebody looks mighty sweet in pink to-day,"
or while he was doping to-morrow's ball game with one of the boys who
dropped in for a cigar, he was thinking of bigger things, and longing
for a man-size job.
The man-size job loomed up before Eddie's dazzled eyes when he
least expected it. It was at the close of a particularly hot day when
it seemed to Eddie that every one in town had had everything from birch
beer to peach ice cream. On his way home to supper he stopped at the
postoffice with a handful of letters that old man Kunz had given him to
mail. His mother had told him that they would have corn out of their
own garden for supper that night, and Eddie was in something of a
hurry. He and his mother were great pals.
In one corner of the dim little postoffice lobby a man was busily
tacking up posters. The whitewashed walls bloomed with them. They were
gay, attractive-looking posters, done in red and blue and green, and
after Eddie had dumped his mail into the slot, and had called out,
"Hello, Jake!" to the stamp clerk, whose back was turned to the window,
he strolled idly over to where the man was putting the finishing
touches to his work. The man was dressed in a sailor suit of blue, with
a picturesque silk scarf knotted at his hairy chest. He went right on
They certainly were attractive pictures. Some showed groups of
stalwart, immaculately clad young gods lolling indolently on tropical
shores, with a splendor of palms overhead, and a sparkling blue sea in
the distance. Others depicted a group of white-clad men wading
knee-deep in the surf as they laughingly landed a cutter on the sandy
beach. There was a particularly fascinating one showing two barefooted
young chaps on a wave-swept raft engaged in that delightfully perilous
task known as signaling. Another showed the keen-eyed gunners busy
about the big guns.
Eddie studied them all.
The man finished his task and looked up, quite casually.
"Hello, kid," he said. "Hello," answered Eddie. Then "That's
some picture gallery you're giving us."
The man in the sailor suit fell back a pace or two and surveyed his
work with a critical but satisfied eye.
"Pitchers," he said, "don't do it justice. We've opened a
recruiting office here. Looking for young men with brains, and muscle,
and ambition. It's a great chance. We don't get to these here little
He placed a handbill in Eddie's hand. Eddie glanced down at it
"I've heard," he said, "that it's a hard life."
The man in the sailor suit threw back his head and laughed,
displaying a great deal of hairy throat and chest. "Hard!" he jeered,
and slapped one of the gay-colored posters with the back of his hand.
"You see that! Well, it ain't a bit exaggerated. Not a bit. I ought to
know. It's the only life for a young man, especially for a guy in a
little town. There's no chance here for a bright young man, and if he
goes to the city, what does he get? The city's jam full of kids that
flock there in the spring and fall, looking for jobs, and thinking the
city's sittin' up waitin' for 'em. And where do they land? In the dime
lodging houses, that's where. In the navy you see the world, and it
don't cost you a cent. A guy is a fool to bury himself alive in a hole
like this. You could be seeing the world, traveling by sea from port to
port, from country to country, from ocean to ocean, amid ever-changing
scenery and climatic conditions, to see and study the habits and
conditions of the strange races "
It rolled off his tongue with fascinating glibness. Eddie glanced
at the folder in his hand.
"I always did like the water," he said.
"Sure," agreed the hairy man, heartily. "What young feller don't?
I'll tell you what. Come on over to the office with me and I'll show
you some real stuff."
"It's my supper time," hesitated Eddie. "I guess I'd better not
"Oh, supper," laughed the man. "You come on and have supper with
Eddie's pink cheeks went three shades pinker. "Gee! That'd be
great. But my mother that is she "
The man in the sailor suit laughed again a laugh with a sting in
it. "A great big feller like you ain't tied to your ma's apron strings
"Not much I'm not!" retorted Eddie. "I'll telephone her when I get
to your hotel, that's what I'll do."
But they were such fascinating things, those new booklets, and the
man had such marvelous tales to tell, that Eddie forgot trifles like
supper and waiting mothers. There were pictures taken on board ship,
showing frolics, and ball games, and minstrel shows and glee clubs, and
the men at mess, and each sailor sleeping snug as a bug in his hammock.
There were other pictures showing foreign scenes and strange ports.
Eddie's tea grew cold, and his apple pie and cheese lay untasted on his
"Now me," said the recruiting officer, "I'm a married man. But my
wife, she wouldn't have it no other way. No, sir! She'll be in the navy
herself, I'll bet, when women vote. Why, before I joined the navy I
didn't know whether Guam was a vegetable or an island, and Culebra
wasn't in my geography. Now? Why, now I'm as much at home in Porto Rico
as I am in San Francisco. I'm as well acquainted in Valparaiso as I am
in Vermont, and I've run around Cairo, Egypt, until I know it better
than Cairo, Illinois. It's the only way to see the world. You travel by
sea from port to port, from country to country, from ocean to ocean,
amid ever-changing scenery and climatic conditions, to see and study
And Eddie forgot that it was Wednesday night, which was the
prescription clerk's night off; forgot that the boss was awaiting his
return that he might go home to his own supper; forgot his mother, and
her little treat of green corn out of the garden; forgot everything in
the wonder of this man's tales of people and scenes such as he never
dreamed could exist outside of a Jack London story. Now and then Eddie
interrupted with a, "Yes, but " that grew more and more
infrequent, until finally they ceased altogether. Eddie's man-size job
When we heard the news we all dropped in at the drug store to joke
with him about it. We had a good deal to say about rolling gaits, and
bell-shaped trousers, and anchors and sea serpents tattooed on the arm.
One of the boys scored a hit by slapping his dime down on the soda
fountain marble and bellowing for rum and salt horse. Some one started
to tease the little Morehouse girl about sailors having sweethearts in
every port, but when they saw the look in her eyes they changed their
mind, and stopped. It's funny how a girl of twenty is a woman, when a
man of twenty is a boy.
Eddie dished out the last of his chocolate ice cream sodas and
cherry phosphates and root beers, while the girls laughingly begged him
to bring them back kimonos from China, and scarves from the Orient, and
Eddie promised, laughing, too, but with a far-off, eager look in his
When the time came for him to go there was quite a little bodyguard
of us ready to escort him down to the depot. We picked up two or three
more outside O'Rourke's pool room, and a couple more from the benches
outside the hotel. Eddie walked ahead with his mother. I have said that
Mrs. Houghton was a sensible woman. She was never more so than now. Any
other mother would have gone into hysterics and begged the recruiting
officer to let her boy off. But she knew better. Still, I think Eddie
felt some uncomfortable pangs when he looked at her set face. On the
way to the depot we had to pass the Agassiz School, where Josie
Morehouse was substituting second reader for the Wilson girl, who was
sick. She was standing in the window as we passed. Eddie took off his
cap and waved to her, and she returned the wave as well as she could
without having the children see her. That would never have done, seeing
that she was the teacher, and substituting at that. But when we turned
the corner we noticed that she was still standing at the window and
leaning out just a bit, even at the risk of being indiscreet.
When the 10:15 pulled out Eddie stood on the bottom step, with his
cap off, looking I can't tell you how boyish, and straight, and clean,
and handsome, with his lips parted, and his eyes very bright. The
hairy-chested recruiting officer stood just beside him, and suffered by
contrast. There was a bedlam of good-byes, and last messages, and
good-natured badinage, but Eddie's mother's eyes never left his face
until the train disappeared around the curve in the track.
Well, they got a new boy at Kunz's a sandy-haired youth, with
pimples, and no knack at mixing, and we got out of the habit of
dropping in there, although those fall months were unusually warm.
It wasn't long before we began to get postcards pictures of the
naval training station, and the gymnasium, and of model camps and of
drills, and of Eddie in his uniform. His mother insisted on calling it
his sailor suit, as though he were a little boy. One day Josie
Morehouse came over to Mrs. Houghton's with a group picture in her
hand. She handed it to Eddie's mother without comment. Mrs. Houghton
looked at it eagerly, her eye selecting her own boy from the group as
unerringly as a mother bird finds her nest in the forest.
"Oh, Eddie's better looking than that!" she cried, with a tremulous
little laugh. "How funny those pants make them look, don't they? And
his mouth isn't that way, at all. Eddie always had the sweetest mouth,
from the time he was a baby. Let's see some of these other boys. Why
Then she fell silent, scanning those other faces. Presently Josie
bent over her and looked too, and the brows of both women knitted in
perplexity. They looked for a long, long minute, and the longer they
looked the more noticeable became the cluster of fine little wrinkles
that had begun to form about Mrs. Houghton's eyes.
When finally they looked up it was to gaze at one another
"Those other boys," faltered Eddie's mother, "they they don't
look like Eddie, do they? I mean "
"No, they don't," agreed Josie. "They look older, and they have
such queer-looking eyes, and jaws, and foreheads. But then," she
finished, with mock cheerfulness, "you can never tell in those silly
Eddie's mother studied the card again, and sighed gently. "I hope,"
she said, "that Eddie won't get into bad company."
After that our postal cards ceased. I wish that there was some way
of telling this story so that the end wouldn't come in the middle. But
there is none. In our town we know the news before the paper comes out,
and we only read it to verify what we have heard. So that long before
the paper came out in the middle of the afternoon we had been horrified
by the news of Eddie Houghton's desertion and suicide. We stopped one
another on Main Street to talk about it, and recall how boyish and
handsome he had looked in his white duck coat, and on that last day
just as the 10:I5 pulled out. "It don't seem hardly possible, does it?"
we demanded of each other.
But when Eddie's mother brought out the letters that had come after
our postal cards had ceased, we understood. And when they brought him
home, and we saw him for the last time, all those of us who had gone to
school with him, and to dances, and sleigh rides, and hayrack parties,
and picnics, and when we saw the look on his face the look of one
who, walking in a sunny path has stumbled upon something horrible and
unclean we forgave him his neglect of us, we forgave him desertion,
forgave him the taking of his own life, forgave him the look that he
had brought into his mother's eyes.
There had never been anything extraordinary about Eddie Houghton.
He had had his faults and virtues, and good and bad sides just like
other boys of his age. He oh, I am using too many words, when one
slang phrase will express it. Eddie had been just a nice young kid. I
think the worst thing he had ever said was "Damn!" perhaps. If he had
sworn, it was with clean oaths, calculated to relieve the mind and
But the men that he shipped with during that year or more I am
sure that he had never dreamed that such men were. He had never stood
on the curbing outside a recruiting office on South State Street, in
the old levee district, and watched that tragic panorama move by
those nightmare faces, drink-marred, vice-scarred, ruined. I know that
he had never seen such faces in all his clean, hard-working young boy's
life, spent in our prosperous little country town. I am certain that he
had never heard such words as came from the lips of his fellow seamen
great mouth-filling, soul-searing words words unclean,
nauseating, unspeakable, and yet spoken.
I don't say that Eddie Houghton had not taken his drink now and
then. There were certain dark rumors in our town to the effect that
favored ones who dropped into Kunz's more often than seemed needful
were privileged to have a thimbleful of something choice in the
prescription room, back of the partition at the rear of the drug store.
But that was the most devilish thing that Eddie had ever done. I don't
say that all crews are like that one. Perhaps he was unfortunate in
falling in with that one. But it was an Eastern trip, and every port
was a Port Said. Eddie Houghton's thoughts were not these men's
thoughts; his actions were not their actions, his practices were not
their practices. To Eddie Houghton, a Chinese woman in a sampan on the
water front at Shanghai was something picturesque; something about
which to write home to his mother and to Josie. To those other men she
was possible prey.
Those other men saw that he was different, and they pestered him.
They ill-treated him when they could, and made his life a hellish
thing. Men do those things, and people do not speak of it. I don't know
all the things that he suffered. But in his mind, day by day, grew the
great, overwhelming desire to get away from it all from this
horrible life that was such a dreadful mistake. I think that during the
long night watches his mind was filled with thoughts of our decent
little town of his mother's kitchen, with its Wednesday and Saturday
scent of new-made bread of the shady front porch, with its purple
clematis of the smooth front yard which it was his Saturday duty to
mow that it might be trim and sightly for Sunday of the boys and
girls who used to drop in at the drug store those clear-eyed,
innocently coquettish, giggling, blushing girls in their middy blouses
and white skirts, their slender arms and throats browned from tennis
and boating, their eyes smiling into his as they sat perched at the
fountain after a hot set of tennis those slim, clean young boys,
sun-browned, laughing, their talk all of swimming, and boating, and
tennis, and girls.
He did not realize that it was desertion that thought that grew
and grew in his mind. In it there was nothing of faithlessness to his
country. He was only trying to be true to himself, and to the things
that his mother had taught him. He only knew that he was deadly sick of
these sights of disease, and vice. He only knew that he wanted to get
away back to his own decent life with the decent people to whom he
belonged. And he went. He went, as a child runs home when it had
tripped and fallen in the mud, not dreaming of wrong-doing or
The first few hundred miles on the train were a dream. But finally
Eddie found himself talking to a man a big, lean, blue-eyed western
man, who regarded Eddie with kindly, puzzled eyes. Eddie found himself
telling his story in a disjointed, breathless sort of way. When he had
finished the man uncrossed his long lean legs, took his pipe out of his
mouth, and sat up. There was something of horror in his eyes as he sat,
looking at Eddie.
"Why, kid," he said, at last. "You're deserting! You'll get the
pen, don't you know that, if they catch you? Where you going?"
"Going!" repeated Eddie. "Going! Why, I'm going home, of course."
"Then I don't see what you're gaining," said the man, "because
they'll sure get you there."
Eddie sat staring at the man for a dreadful minute. In that minute
the last of his glorious youth, and ambition, and zest of life departed
He got off the train at the next town, and the western man offered
him some money, which Eddie declined with all his old-time sweetness of
manner. It was rather a large town, with a great many busy people in
it. Eddie went to a cheap hotel, and took a room, and sat on the edge
of the thin little bed and stared at the carpet. It was a dusty red
carpet. In front of the bureau many feet had worn a hole, so that the
bare boards showed through, with a tuft of ragged red fringe edging
them. Eddie Houghton sat and stared at the worn place with a curiously
blank look on his face. He sat and stared and saw many things. He saw
his mother, for one thing, sitting on the porch with a gingham apron
over her light dress, waiting for him to come home to supper; he saw
his own room a typical boy's room, with camera pictures and blue
prints stuck in the sides of the dresser mirror, and the boxing gloves
on the wall, and his tennis racquet with one string broken (he had
always meant to have that racquet re-strung) and his track shoes,
relics of high school days, flung in one corner, and his gay-colored
school pennants draped to form a fresco, and the cushion that Josie
Morenouse had made for him two years ago, at Christmas time, and the
dainty white bedspread that he, fussed about because he said it was too
sissy for a boy's room oh, I can't tell you what he saw as he sat
and stared at that worn place in the carpet. But pretty soon it began
to grow dark, and at last he rose, keeping his fascinated eyes still on
the bare spot, walked to the door, opened it, and backed out queerly,
still keeping his eyes on the spot.
He was back again in fifteen minutes, with a bottle in his hand. He
should have known better than to choose carbolic, being a druggist, but
all men are a little mad at such times. He lay down at the edge of the
thin little bed that was little more than a pallet, and he turned his
face toward the bare spot that could just be seen in the gathering
gloom. And when he raised the bottle to his lips the old-time sweetness
of his smile illumined his face.
Where the car turns at Eighteenth Street there is a big, glaring
billboard poster, showing a group of stalwart young men in white ducks
lolling on shores, of tropical splendor, with palms waving overhead,
and a glimpse of blue sea in the distance. The wording beneath it runs
something like this:
"Young men wanted. An unusual opportunity for travel, education and
advancement. Good pay. No expenses."
When I see that sign I think of Eddie Houghton back home. And when
I think of Eddie Houghton I see red.