Cheerful--By Request by Edna Ferber
II. THE GAY OLD
III. THE TOUGH
IV. THE ELDEST
VI. THE WOMAN
WHO TRIED TO BE
VII. THE GIRL
WHO WENT RIGHT
IX. THE GUIDING
XI. THE THREE OF
XII. SHORE LEAVE
CHEERFUL BY REQUEST
AUTHOR OF “DAWN O'HARA,” “BUTTERED SIDE DOWN” “ROAST BEEF MEDIUM,”
I. CHEERFUL—BY REQUEST
The editor paid for the lunch (as editors do). He lighted his
seventh cigarette and leaned back. The conversation, which had
zigzagged from the war to Zuloaga, and from Rasputin the Monk to the
number of miles a Darrow would go on a gallon, narrowed down to the
thin, straight line of business.
“Now don't misunderstand. Please! We're not presuming to dictate.
Dear me, no! We have always felt that the writer should be free to
express that which is in his—ah—heart. But in the last year we've
been swamped with these drab, realistic stories. Strong, relentless
things, you know, about dishwashers, with a lot of fine detail about
the fuzz of grease on the rim of the pan. And then those drear and
hopeless ones about fallen sisters who end it all in the East River.
The East River must be choked up with 'em. Now, I know that life is
real, life is earnest, and I'm not demanding a happy ending, exactly.
But if you could—that is—would you—do you see your way at all clear
to giving us a fairly cheerful story? Not necessarily Glad, but not so
darned Russian, if you get me. Not pink, but not all grey either.
That was Josie Fifer's existence. Mostly grey, with a dash of pink.
Which makes mauve.
Unless you are connected (which you probably are not) with the great
firm of Hahn &Lohman, theatrical producers, you never will have heard
of Josie Fifer.
There are things about the theatre that the public does not know. A
statement, at first blush, to be disputed. The press agent, the special
writer, the critic, the magazines, the Sunday supplement, the divorce
courts—what have they left untold? We know the make of car Miss
Billboard drives; who her husbands are and were; how much the movies
have offered her; what she wears, reads, says, thinks, and eats for
breakfast. Snapshots of author writing play at place on Hudson;
pictures of the play in rehearsal; of the director directing it; of the
stage hands rewriting it—long before the opening night we know more
about the piece than does the playwright himself, and are ten times
less eager to see it.
Josie Fifer's knowledge surpassed even this. For she was keeper of
the ghosts of the firm of Hahn &Lohman. Not only was she present at the
birth of a play; she officiated at its funeral. She carried the keys to
the closets that housed the skeletons of the firm. When a play died of
inanition, old age, or—as was sometimes the case—before it was born,
it was Josie Fifer who laid out its remains and followed it to the
Her notification of its demise would come thus:
“Hello, Fifer! This is McCabe” (the property man of H. &L. at the
“A little waspish this morning, aren't you, Josephine?”
“I've got twenty-five bathing suits for the No. 2 'Ataboy' company
to mend and clean and press before five this afternoon. If you think
I'm going to stand here wasting my—”
“All right, all right! I just wanted to tell you that 'My Mistake'
closes Saturday. The stuff'll be up Monday morning early.”
A sardonic laugh from Josie. “And yet they say 'What's in a name!'“
The unfortunate play had been all that its title implies. Its
purpose was to star an actress who hadn't a glint. Her second-act
costume alone had cost $700, but even Russian sable bands can't carry a
bad play. The critics had pounced on it with the savagery of their kind
and hacked it, limb from limb, leaving its carcass to rot under the
pitiless white glare of Broadway. The dress with the Russian sable
bands went the way of all Hahn &Lohman tragedies. Josie Fifer received
it, if not reverently, still appreciatively.
“I should think Sid Hahn would know by this time,” she observed
sniffily, as her expert fingers shook out the silken folds and smoothed
the fabulous fur, “that auburn hair and a gurgle and a Lucille dress
don't make a play. Besides, Fritzi Kirke wears the biggest shoe of any
actress I ever saw. A woman with feet like that”—she picked up a satin
slipper, size 7-1/2 C—“hasn't any business on the stage. She ought to
travel with a circus. Here, Etta. Hang this away in D, next to the
amethyst blue velvet, and be sure and lock the door.”
McCabe had been right. A waspish wit was Josie's.
The question is whether to reveal to you now where it was that Josie
Fifer reigned thus, queen of the cast-offs; or to take you back to the
days that led up to her being there—the days when she was Jose Fyfer
on the programme.
Her domain was the storage warehouse of Hahn &Lohman, as you may
have guessed. If your business lay Forty-third Street way, you might
have passed the building a hundred times without once giving it a
seeing glance. It was not Forty-third Street of the small shops, the
smart crowds, and the glittering motors. It was the Forty-third lying
east of the Grand Central sluice gates; east of fashion; east, in a
word, of Fifth Avenue—a great square brick building smoke-grimed,
cobwebbed, and having the look of a cold-storage plant or a car barn
fallen into disuse; dusty, neglected, almost eerie. Yet within it lurks
Romance, and her sombre sister Tragedy, and their antic brother Comedy,
A worn flight of wooden steps leads up from the sidewalk to the dim
hallway; a musty-smelling passage wherein you are met by a genial sign
“No admittance. Keep out. This means you.”
To confirm this, the eye, penetrating the gloom, is confronted by a
great blank metal door that sheathes the elevator. To ride in that
elevator is to know adventure, so painfully, so protestingly, with such
creaks and jerks and lurchings does it pull itself from floor to floor,
like an octogenarian who, grunting and groaning, hoists himself from
his easy-chair by slow stages that wring a protest from ankle, knee,
hip, back and shoulder. The corkscrew stairway, broken and footworn
though it is, seems infinitely less perilous.
First floor—second—third—fourth. Whew! And there you are in Josie
Fifer's kingdom—a great front room, unexpectedly bright and even cosy
with its whir of sewing machines: tables, and tables, and tables, piled
with orderly stacks of every sort of clothing, from shoes to hats, from
gloves to parasols; and in the room beyond this, and beyond that, and
again beyond that, row after row of high wooden cabinets stretching the
width of the room, and forming innumerable aisles. All of Bluebeard's
wives could have been tucked away in one corner of the remotest and
least of these, and no one the wiser. All grimly shut and locked, they
are, with the key in Josie's pocket. But when, at the behest of McCabe,
or sometimes even Sid Hahn himself, she unlocked and opened one of
these doors, what treasures hung revealed! What shimmer and sparkle and
perfume—and moth balls! The long-tailed electric light bulb held high
in one hand, Josie would stand at the door like a priestess before her
There they swung, the ghosts and the skeletons, side by side. You
remember that slinking black satin snakelike sheath that Gita Morini
wore in “Little Eyolf”? There it dangles, limp, invertebrate, yet how
eloquent! No other woman in the world could have worn that gown, with
its unbroken line from throat to hem, its smooth, high, black satin
collar, its writhing tail that went slip-slip-slipping after her. In it
she had looked like a sleek and wicked python that had fasted for a
long, long time.
Dresses there are that have made stage history. Surely you remember
the beruffled, rose-strewn confection in which the beautiful Elsa
Marriott swam into our ken in “Mississipp'”? She used to say,
wistfully, that she always got a hand on her entrance in that dress. It
was due to the sheer shock of delight that thrilled audience after
audience as it beheld her loveliness enhanced by this floating,
diaphanous tulle cloud. There it hangs, time-yellowed, its pristine
freshness vanished quite, yet as fragrant with romance as is the sere
and withered blossom of a dead white rose pressed within the leaves of
a book of love poems. Just next it, incongruously enough, flaunt the
wicked froufrou skirts and the low-cut bodice and the wasp waist of the
abbreviated costume in which Cora Kassell used so generously to display
her charms. A rich and portly society matron of Pittsburgh now—she
whose name had been a synonym for pulchritude these thirty years; she
who had had more cold creams, hats, cigars, corsets, horses, and
lotions named for her than any woman in history! Her ample girth would
have wrought sad havoc with that eighteen-inch waist now. Gone are the
chaste curves of the slim white silk legs that used to kick so lithely
from the swirl of lace and chiffon. Yet there it hangs, pertly
pathetic, mute evidence of her vanished youth, her delectable beauty,
and her unblushing confidence in those same.
Up one aisle and down the next—velvet, satin, lace and
broadcloth—here the costume the great Canfield had worn in Richard
III; there the little cocked hat and the slashed jerkin in which Maude
Hammond, as Peterkins, winged her way to fame up through the hearts of
a million children whose ages ranged from seven to seventy. Brocades
and ginghams; tailor suits and peignoirs; puffed sleeves and
tight—dramatic history, all, they spelled failure, success, hope,
despair, vanity, pride, triumph, decay. Tragic ghosts, over which Josie
Fifer held grim sway!
Have I told you that Josie Fifer, moving nimbly about the great
storehouse, limped as she went? The left leg swung as a normal leg
should. The right followed haltingly, sagging at hip and knee. And that
brings us back to the reason for her being where she was. And what.
The story of how Josie Fifer came to be mistress of the cast-off
robes of the firm of Hahn &Lohman is one of those stage tragedies that
never have a public performance. Josie had been one of those little
girls who speak pieces at chicken-pie suppers held in the basement of
the Presbyterian church. Her mother had been a silly, idle woman
addicted to mother hubbards and paper-backed novels about the house.
Her one passion was the theatre, a passion that had very scant
opportunity for feeding in Wapello, Iowa. Josie's piece-speaking talent
was evidently a direct inheritance. Some might call it a taint.
Two days before one of Josie's public appearances her mother would
twist the child's hair into innumerable rag curlers that stood out in
grotesque, Topsy-like bumps all over her fair head. On the eventful
evening each rag chrysalis would burst into a full-blown butterfly
curl. In a pale-blue, lace-fretted dress over a pale-blue slip, made in
what her mother called “Empire style,” Josie would deliver herself of
“Entertaining Big Sister's Beau” and other sophisticated classics with
an incredible ease and absence of embarrassment. It wasn't a definite
boldness in her. She merely liked standing there before all those
people, in her blue dress and her toe slippers, speaking her pieces
with enhancing gestures taught her by her mother in innumerable
Any one who has ever lived in Wapello, Iowa, or its equivalent,
remembers the old opera house on the corner of Main and Elm, with
Schroeder's drug store occupying the first floor. Opera never came
within three hundred miles of Wapello, unless it was the so-called
comic kind. It was before the day of the ubiquitous moving-picture
theatre that has since been the undoing of the one-night stand and the
ten-twenty-thirty stock company. The old red-brick opera house
furnished unlimited thrills for Josie and her mother. From the time
Josie was seven she was taken to see whatever Wapello was offered in
the way of the drama. That consisted mostly of plays of the
By the time she was ten she knew the whole repertoire of the Maude
La Vergne Stock Company by heart. She was blase with “East
Lynne” and “The Two Orphans,” and even “Camille” left her cold. She was
as wise to the trade tricks as is a New York first nighter. She would
sit there in the darkened auditorium of a Saturday afternoon, surveying
the stage with a judicious and undeceived eye, as she sucked
indefatigably at a lollipop extracted from the sticky bag clutched in
one moist palm. (A bag of candy to each and every girl; a ball or a top
to each and every boy!) Josie knew that the middle-aged soubrette
who came out between the first and second acts to sing a
gingham-and-sunbonnet song would whisk off to reappear immediately in
knee-length pink satin and curls. When the heroine left home in a shawl
and a sudden snowstorm that followed her upstage and stopped when she
went off, Josie was interested, but undeceived. She knew that the
surprised-looking white horse used in the Civil War comedy-drama
entitled “His Southern Sweetheart” came from Joe Brink's livery stable
in exchange for four passes, and that the faithful old negro servitor
in the white cotton wig would save somebody from something before the
afternoon was over.
In was inevitable that as Josie grew older she should take part in
home-talent plays. It was one of these tinsel affairs that had made
clear to her just where her future lay. The Wapello Daily Courier
helped her in her decision. She had taken the part of a gipsy queen,
appropriately costumed in slightly soiled white satin slippers with
four-inch heels, and a white satin dress enhanced by a red sash, a
black velvet bolero, and large hoop earrings. She had danced and sung
with a pert confidence, and the Courier had pronounced her
talents not amateur, but professional, and had advised the managers
(who, no doubt, read the Wapello Courier daily, along with their
Morning Telegraph) to seek her out, and speedily.
Josie didn't wait for them to take the hint. She sought them out
instead. There followed seven tawdry, hard-working, heartbreaking
years. Supe, walk-on, stock, musical comedy—Josie went through them
all. If any illusions about the stage had survived her Wapello days,
they would have vanished in the first six months of her dramatic
career. By the time she was twenty-four she had acquired the wisdom of
fifty, a near-seal coat, a turquoise ring with a number of
smoky-looking crushed diamonds surrounding it, and a reputation for wit
and for decency. The last had cost the most.
During all these years of cheap theatrical boarding houses (the most
soul-searing cheapness in the world), of one-night stands, of insult,
disappointment, rebuff, and something that often came perilously near
to want, Josie Fifer managed to retain a certain humorous outlook on
life. There was something whimsical about it. She could even see a joke
on herself. When she first signed her name Jose Fyfer, for example, she
did it with, an appreciative giggle and a glint in her eye as she
formed the accent mark over the e.
“They'll never stop me now,” she said. “I'm made. But I wish I knew
if that J was pronounced like H, in humbug. Are there any Spanish
It used to be the habit of the other women in the company to say to
her: “Jo, I'm blue as the devil to-day. Come on, give us a laugh.”
She always obliged.
And then came a Sunday afternoon in late August when her laugh broke
off short in the middle, and was forever after a stunted thing.
She was playing Atlantic City in a second-rate musical show. She had
never seen the ocean before, and she viewed it now with an appreciation
that still had in it something of a Wapello freshness.
They all planned to go in bathing that hot August afternoon after
rehearsal. Josie had seen pictures of the beauteous bathing girl
dashing into the foaming breakers. She ran across the stretch of
glistening beach, paused and struck a pose, one toe pointed waterward,
her arms extended affectedly.
“So!” she said mincingly. “So this is Paris!”
It was a new line in those days, and they all laughed, as she had
meant they should. So she leaped into the water with bounds and shouts
and much waving of white arms. A great floating derelict of a log
struck her leg with its full weight, and with all the tremendous force
of the breaker behind it. She doubled up ridiculously, and went down
like a shot. Those on the beach laughed again. When she came up, and
they saw her distorted face they stopped laughing, and fished her out.
Her leg was broken in two places, and mashed in a dozen.
Jose Fyfer's dramatic career was over. (This is not the cheery
portion of the story.)
When she came out of the hospital, three months later, she did very
well indeed with her crutches. But the merry-eyed woman had
vanished—she of the Wapello colouring that had persisted during all
these years. In her place limped a wan, shrunken, tragic little figure
whose humour had soured to a caustic wit. The near-seal coat and the
turquoise-and-crushed-diamond ring had vanished too.
During those agonized months she had received from the others in the
company such kindness and generosity as only stage folk can
show—flowers, candy, dainties, magazines, sent by every one from the
prima donna to the call boy. Then the show left town. There came a few
letters of kind inquiry, then an occasional post card, signed by half a
dozen members of the company. Then these ceased. Josie Fifer, in her
cast and splints and bandages and pain, dragged out long hospital days
and interminable hospital nights. She took a dreary pleasure in
following the tour of her erstwhile company via the pages of the
“They're playing Detroit this week,” she would announce to the aloof
and spectacled nurse. Or: “One-night stands, and they're due in Muncie,
Ind., to-night. I don't know which is worse—playing Muncie for one
night or this moan factory for a three month's run.”
When she was able to crawl out as far as the long corridor she spoke
to every one she met. As she grew stronger she visited here and there,
and on the slightest provocation she would give a scene ranging all the
way from “Romeo and Juliet” to “The Black Crook.” It was thus she first
met Sid Hahn, and felt the warming, healing glow of his friendship.
Some said that Sid Hahn's brilliant success as a manager at
thirty-five was due to his ability to pick winners. Others thought it
was his refusal to be discouraged when he found he had picked a
failure. Still others, who knew him better, were likely to say: “Why, I
don't know. It's a sort of—well, you might call it charm—and yet—.
Did you ever see him smile? He's got a million-dollar grin. You can't
None of them was right. Or all of them. Sid Hahn, erstwhile usher,
call boy, press agent, advance man, had a genius for things theatrical.
It was inborn. Dramatic, sensitive, artistic, intuitive, he was often
rendered inarticulate by the very force and variety of his feelings. A
little, rotund, ugly man, Sid Hahn, with the eyes of a dreamer, the
wide, mobile mouth of a humourist, the ears of a comic ol'-clo'es man.
His generosity was proverbial, and it amounted to a vice.
In September he had come to Atlantic City to try out “Splendour.” It
was a doubtful play, by a new author, starring Sarah Haddon for the
first time. No one dreamed the play would run for years, make a fortune
for Hahn, lift Haddon from obscurity to the dizziest heights of
stardom, and become a classic of the stage.
Ten minutes before the curtain went up on the opening performance
Hahn was stricken with appendicitis. There was not even time to rush
him to New York. He was on the operating table before the second act
was begun. When he came out of the ether he said: “How did it go?”
“Fine!” beamed the nurse. “You'll be out in two weeks.”
“Oh, hell! I don't mean the operation. I mean the play.”
He learned soon enough from the glowing, starry-eyed Sarah Haddon
and from every one connected with the play. He insisted on seeing them
all daily, against his doctor's orders, and succeeded in working up a
temperature that made his hospital stay a four weeks' affair. He
refused to take the tryout results as final.
“Don't be too bubbly about this thing,” he cautioned Sarah Haddon.
“I've seen too many plays that were skyrockets on the road come down
like sticks when they struck New York.”
The company stayed over in Atlantic City for a week, and Hahn held
scraps of rehearsals in his room when he had a temperature of 102.
Sarah Haddon worked like a slave. She seemed to realise that her great
opportunity had come—the opportunity for which hundreds of gifted
actresses wait a lifetime. Haddon was just twenty-eight then—a year
younger than Josie Fifer. She had not yet blossomed into the full
radiance of her beauty. She was too slender, and inclined to stoop a
bit, but her eyes were glorious, her skin petal-smooth, her whole face
reminding one, somehow, of an intelligent flower. Her voice was a
golden, liquid delight.
Josie Fifer, dragging herself from bed to chair, and from chair to
bed, used to watch for her. Hahn's room was on her floor. Sarah Haddon,
in her youth and beauty and triumph, represented to Josie all that she
had dreamed of and never realised; all that she had hoped for and never
could know. She used to insist on having her door open, and she would
lie there for hours, her eyes fixed on that spot in the hall across
which Haddon would flash for one brief instant on her way to the room
down the corridor. There is about a successful actress a certain
radiant something—a glamour, a luxuriousness, an atmosphere that
suggest a mysterious mixture of silken things, of perfume, of
adulation, of all that is rare and costly and perishable and desirable.
Josie Fifer's stage experience had included none of this. But she
knew they were there. She sensed that to this glorious artist would
come all those fairy gifts that Josie Fifer would never possess. All
things about her—her furs, her gloves, her walk, her hats, her voice,
her very shoe ties—were just what Josie would have wished for. As she
lay there she developed a certain grim philosophy.
“She's got everything a woman could wish for. Me, I haven't got a
thing. Not a blamed thing! And yet they say everything works out in the
end according to some scheme or other. Well, what's the answer to this,
I wonder? I can't make it come out right. I guess one of the figures
must have got away from me.”
In the second week of Sid Hahn's convalescence he heard, somehow, of
Josie Fifer. It was characteristic of him that he sent for her. She put
a chiffon scarf about the neck of her skimpy little kimono, spent an
hour and ten minutes on her hair, made up outrageously with that
sublime unconsciousness that comes from too close familiarity with
rouge pad and grease jar, and went. She was trembling as though facing
a first-night audience in a part she wasn't up on. Between the
crutches, the lameness, and the trembling she presented to Sid Hahn, as
she stood in the doorway, a picture that stabbed his kindly, sensitive
heart with a quick pang of sympathy.
He held out his hand. Josie's crept into it. At the feel of that
generous friendly clasp she stopped trembling. Said Hahn:
“My nurse tells me that you can do a bedside burlesque of 'East
Lynne' that made even that Boston-looking interne with the thick
glasses laugh. Go on and do it for me, there's a good girl. I could use
a laugh myself just now.”
And Josie Fifer caught up a couch cover for a cloak, with the scarf
that was about her neck for a veil, and, using Hahn himself as the
ailing chee-ild, gave a biting burlesque of the famous bedside visit
that brought the tears of laughter to his eyes, and the nurse flying
from down the hall. “This won't do,” said that austere person.
“Won't, eh? Go on and stick your old thermometer in my mouth. What
do I care! A laugh like that is worth five degrees of temperature.”
When Josie rose to leave he eyed her keenly, and pointed to the
“How about that? Temporary or permanent?”
“Oh, fudge! Who's telling you that? These days they can do—”
“Not with this, though. That one bone was mashed into about
twenty-nine splinters, and when it came to putting 'em together again a
couple of pieces were missing. I must've mislaid 'em somewhere. Anyway,
I make a limping exit—for life.”
“Then no more stage for you—eh, my girl?”
“No more stage.”
Hahn reached for a pad of paper on the table at his bedside,
scrawled a few words on it, signed it “S.H.” in the fashion which
became famous, and held the paper out to her.
“When you get out of here,” he said, “you come to New York, and up
to my office; see? Give 'em this at the door. I've got a job for
you—if you want it.”
And that was how Josie Fifer came to take charge of the great Hahn &
Lohman storehouse. It was more than a storehouse. It was a museum. It
housed the archives of the American stage. If Hahn &Lohman prided
themselves on one thing more than on another, it was the lavish
generosity with which they invested a play, from costumes to carpets. A
period play was a period play when they presented it. You never saw a
French clock on a Dutch mantel in a Hahn &Lohman production. No hybrid
hangings marred their back drop. No matter what the play, the firm
provided its furnishings from the star's slippers to the chandeliers.
Did a play last a year or a week, at the end of its run furniture,
hangings, scenery, rugs, gowns, everything, went off in wagonloads to
the already crowded storehouse on East Forty-third Street.
Sometimes a play proved so popular that its original costumes,
outworn, had to be renewed. Sometimes the public cried “Thumbs down!”
at the opening performance, and would have none of it thereafter. That
meant that costumes sometimes reached Josie Fifer while the wounds of
the dressmaker's needle still bled in them. And whether for a week or a
year fur on a Hahn &Lohman costume was real fur; its satin was
silk-backed, its lace real lace. No paste, or tinsel, or cardboard
about H. &L.! Josie Fifer could recall the scenes in a play, step by
step from noting with her keen eye the marks left on costume after
costume by the ravages of emotion. At the end of a play's run she would
hold up a dress for critical inspection, turning it this way and that.
“This is the dress she wore in her big scene at the end of the
second act where she crawls on her knees to her wronged husband and
pounds on the door and weeps. She certainly did give it some hard wear.
When Marriott crawls she crawls, and when she bawls she bawls. I'll say
that for her. From the looks of this front breadth she must have worn a
groove in the stage at the York.”
No gently sentimental reason caused Hahn &Lohman to house these
hundreds of costumes, these tons of scenery, these forests of
furniture. Neither had Josie Fifer been hired to walk wistfully among
them like a spinster wandering in a dead rose garden. No, they were
stored for a much thriftier reason. They were stored, if you must know,
for possible future use. H. &L. were too clever not to use a last
year's costume for a this year's road show. They knew what a coat of
enamel would do for a bedroom set. It was Josie Fifer's duty not only
to tabulate and care for these relics, but to refurbish them when
necessary. The sewing was done by a little corps of assistants under
But all this came with the years. When Josie Fifer, white and weak,
first took charge of the H. &L. lares et penates, she told
herself it was only for a few months—a year or two at most. The end of
sixteen years found her still there.
When she came to New York, “Splendour” was just beginning its
phenomenal three years' run. The city was mad about the play. People
came to see it again and again—a sure sign of a long run. The Sarah
Haddon second-act costume was photographed, copied (unsuccessfully),
talked about, until it became as familiar as a uniform. That costume
had much to do with the play's success, though Sarah Haddon would never
admit it. “Splendour” was what is known as a period play. The famous
dress was of black velvet, made with a quaint, full-gathered skirt that
made Haddon's slim waist seem fairylike and exquisitely supple. The
black velvet bodice outlined the delicate swell of the bust. A rope of
pearls enhanced the whiteness of her throat. Her hair, done in old-time
scallops about her forehead, was a gleaming marvel of simplicity, and
the despair of every woman who tried to copy it. The part was that of
an Italian opera singer. The play pulsated with romance and love,
glamour and tragedy. Sarah Haddon, in her flowing black velvet robe and
her pearls and her pallor, was an exotic, throbbing, exquisite
realisation of what every woman in the audience dreamed of being and
every man dreamed of loving.
Josie Fifer saw the play for the first time from a balcony seat
given her by Sid Hahn. It left her trembling, red-eyed, shaken. After
that she used to see it, by hook or crook whenever possible. She used
to come in at the stage door and lurk back of the scenes and in the
wings when she had no business there. She invented absurd errands to
take her to the theatre where “Splendour” was playing. Sid Hahn always
said that after the big third-act scene he liked to watch the audience
swim up the aisle. Josie, hidden in the back-stage shadows, used to
watch, fascinated, breathless. Then, one night, she indiscreetly was
led, by her, absorbed interest, to venture too far into the wings. It
was during the scene where Haddon, hearing a broken-down street singer
cracking the golden notes of “Aida” into a thousand mutilated
fragments, throws open her window and, leaning far out, pours a shower
of Italian and broken English and laughter and silver coin upon her
amazed compatriot below.
When the curtain went down she came off raging.
“What was that? Who was that standing in the wings? How dare any one
stand there! Everybody knows I can't have any one in the wings.
Staring! It ruined my scene to-night. Where's McCabe? Tell Mr. Hahn I
want to see him. Who was it? Staring at me like a ghost!”
Josie had crept away, terrified, contrite, and yet resentful. But
the next week saw her back at the theatre, though she took care to stay
in the shadows.
She was waiting for the black velvet dress. It was more than a dress
to her. It was infinitely more than a stage costume. It was the habit
of glory. It epitomised all that Josie Fifer had missed of beauty and
homage and success.
The play ran on, and on, and on. Sarah Haddon was superstitious
about the black gown. She refused to give it up for a new one. She
insisted that if ever she discarded the old black velvet for a new the
run of the play would stop. She assured Hahn that its shabbiness did
not show from the front. She clung to it with that childish
unreasonableness that is so often found in people of the stage.
But Josie waited patiently. Dozens of costumes passed through her
hands. She saw plays come and go. Dresses came to her whose lining bore
the mark of world-famous modistes. She hung them away, or refurbished
them if necessary with disinterested conscientiousness. Sometimes her
caustic comment, as she did so, would have startled the complacency of
the erstwhile wearers of the garments. Her knowledge of the stage, its
artifices, its pretence, its narrowness, its shams, was widening and
deepening. No critic in bone-rimmed glasses and evening clothes was
more scathingly severe than she. She sewed on satin. She mended fine
lace. She polished stage jewels. And waited. She knew that one day her
patience would be rewarded. And then, at last came the familiar voice
over the phone: “Hello, Fifer! McCabe talking.”
“'Splendour' closes Saturday. Haddon says she won't play in this
heat. They're taking it to London in the autumn. The stuff'll be up
Josie Fifer turned away from the telephone with a face so radiant
that one of her sewing women, looking up, was moved to comment.
“Got some good news, Miss Fifer?”
“'Splendour' closes this week.”
“Well, my land! To look at you a person would think you'd been
losing money at the box office every night it ran.”
The look was still on her face when Monday morning came. She was
sewing on a dress just discarded by Adelaide French, the tragedienne.
Adelaide's maid was said to be the hardest-worked woman in the
profession. When French finished with a costume it was useless as a
dress; but it was something historic, like a torn and tattered battle
McCabe, box under his arm, stood in the doorway. Josie Fifer stood
up so suddenly that the dress on her lap fell to the floor. She stepped
over it heedlessly, and went toward McCabe, her eyes on the pasteboard
box. Behind McCabe stood two more men, likewise box-laden.
“Put them down here,” said Josie. The men thumped the boxes down on
the long table. Josie's fingers were already at the strings. She opened
the first box, emptied its contents, tossed them aside, passed on to
the second. Her hands busied themselves among the silks and broadcloth
of this; then on to the third and last box. McCabe and his men, with
scenery and furniture still to unload and store, turned to go. Their
footsteps echoed hollowly as they clattered down the worn old stairway.
Josie snapped the cord that bound the third box. Her cheeks were
flushed, her eyes bright. She turned it upside down. Then she pawed it
over. Then she went back to the contents of the first two boxes,
clawing about among the limp garments with which the table was strewn.
She was breathing quickly. Suddenly: “It isn't here!” she cried. “It
isn't here!” She turned and flew to the stairway. The voices of the men
came up to her. She leaned far over the railing. “McCabe! McCabe!”
“Yeh? What do you want?”
“The black velvet dress! The black velvet dress! It isn't there.”
“Oh, yeh. That's all right. Haddon, she's got a bug about that
dress, and she says she wants to take it to London with her, to use on
the opening night. She says if she wears a new one that first night,
the play'll be a failure. Some temperament, that girl, since she's got
to be a star!”
Josie stood clutching the railing of the stairway. Her
disappointment was so bitter that she could not weep. She felt cheated,
outraged. She was frightened at the intensity of her own sensations.
“She might have let me have it,” she said aloud in the dim half light
of the hallway. “She's got everything else in the world. She might have
let me have that.”
Then she went back into the big, bright sewing room. “Splendour” ran
three years in London.
During those three years she saw Sid Hahn only three or four times.
He spent much of his time abroad. Whenever opportunity presented itself
she would say: “Is 'Splendour' still playing in London?”
The last time Hahn, intuitive as always, had eyed her curiously.
“You seem to be interested in that play.”
“Oh, well,” Josie had replied with assumed carelessness, “it being
in Atlantic City just when I had my accident, and then meeting you
through that, and all, why, I always kind of felt a personal interest
in it.” ...
At the end of three years Sarah Haddon returned to New York with an
English accent, a slight embonpoint, and a little foreign habit of
rushing up to her men friends with a delighted exclamation (preferably
French) and kissing them on both cheeks. When Josie Fifer, happening
back stage at a rehearsal of the star's new play, first saw her do this
a grim gleam came into her eyes.
“Bernhardt's the only woman who can spring that and get away with
it,” she said to her assistant. “Haddon's got herself sized up wrong.
I'll gamble her next play will be a failure.”
And it was.
The scenery, props, and costumes of the London production of
“Splendour” were slow in coming back. But finally they did come. Josie
received them with the calmness that comes of hope deferred. It had
been three years since she last saw the play. She told herself,
chidingly, that she had been sort of foolish over that play and this
costume. Her recent glimpse of Haddon had been somewhat disillusioning.
But now, when she finally held the gown itself in her hand—the
original “Splendour” second-act gown, a limp, soft black mass: just a
few yards of worn and shabby velvet—she found her hands shaking. Here
was where she had hugged the toy dog to her breast. Here where she had
fallen on her knees to pray before the little shrine in her hotel room.
Every worn spot had a meaning for her. Every mark told a story. Her
fingers smoothed it tenderly.
“Not much left of that,” said one of the sewing girls, glancing up.
“I guess Sarah would have a hard time making the hooks and eyes meet
now. They say she's come home from London looking a little too
Josie did not answer. She folded the dress over her arm and carried
it to the wardrobe room. There she hung it away in an empty closet,
quite apart from the other historic treasures. And there it hung,
untouched, until the following Sunday.
On Sunday morning East Forty-third Street bears no more resemblance
to the week-day Forty-third than does a stiffly starched and subdued
Sabbath-school scholar to his Monday morning self. Strangely quiet it
is, and unfrequented. Josie Fifer, scurrying along in the unwonted
stillness, was prompted to throw a furtive glance over her shoulder now
and then, as though afraid of being caught at some criminal act. She
ran up the little flight of steps with a rush, unlocked the door with
trembling fingers, and let herself into the cool, dank gloom of the
storehouse hall. The metal door of the elevator stared inquiringly
after her. She fled past it to the stairway. Every step of that ancient
structure squeaked and groaned. First floor, second, third, fourth. The
everyday hum of the sewing machines was absent. The room seemed to be
holding its breath. Josie fancied that the very garments on the
worktables lifted themselves inquiringly from their supine position to
see what it was that disturbed their Sabbath rest. Josie, a tense,
wide-eyed, frightened little figure, stood in the centre of the vast
room, listening to she knew not what. Then, relaxing, she gave a
nervous little laugh and, reaching up, unpinned her hat. She threw it
on a near-by table and disappeared into the wardrobe room beyond.
Minutes passed—an hour. She did not come back. From the room beyond
came strange sounds—a woman's voice; the thrill of a song; cries; the
anguish of tears; laughter, harsh and high, as a desperate and deceived
woman laughs—all this following in such rapid succession that Sid
Hahn, puffing laboriously up the four flights of stairs leading to the
wardrobe floor, entered the main room unheard. Unknown to any one, he
was indulging in one of his unsuspected visits to the old wareroom that
housed the evidence of past and gone successes—successes that had
brought him fortune and fame, but little real happiness, perhaps. No
one knew that he loved to browse among these pathetic rags of a
forgotten triumph. No one would have dreamed that this chubby little
man could glow and weep over the cast-off garment of a famous Cyrano,
or the faded finery of a Zaza.
At the doorway he paused now, startled. He was listening with every
nerve of his taut body. What? Who? He tiptoed across the room with a
step incredibly light for one so stout, peered cautiously around the
side of the doorway, and leaned up against it weakly. Josie Fifer, in
the black velvet and mock pearls of “Splendour,” with her grey-streaked
blonde hair hidden under the romantic scallops of a black wig, was
giving the big scene from the third act. And though it sounded like a
burlesque of that famous passage, and though she limped more than ever
as she reeled to an imaginary shrine in the corner, and though the
black wig was slightly askew by now, and the black velvet hung with
bunchy awkwardness about her skinny little body, there was nothing of
mirth in Sid Hahn's face as he gazed. He shrank back now.
She was coming to the big speech at the close of the act—the big
renunciation speech that was the curtain. Sid Hahn turned and tiptoed
painfully, breathlessly, magnificently, out of the big front room, into
the hallway, down the creaking stairs, and so to the sunshine of
Forty-third Street, with its unaccustomed Sunday-morning quiet. And he
was smiling that rare and melting smile of his—the smile that was said
to make him look something like a kewpie, and something like a cupid,
and a bit like an imp, and very much like an angel. There was little of
the first three in it now, and very much of the last. And so he got
heavily into his very grand motor car and drove off.
“Why, the poor little kid,” said he—“the poor, lonely, stifled
little crippled-up kid.”
“I beg your pardon, sir?” inquired his chauffeur.
“Speak when you're spoken to,” snapped Sid Hahn.
And here it must be revealed to you that Sid Hahn did not marry the
Cinderella of the storage warehouse. He did not marry anybody, and
neither did Josie. And yet there is a bit more to this story—ten years
more, if you must know—ten years, the end of which found Josie a
sparse, spectacled, and agile little cripple, as alert and caustic as
ever. It found Sid Hahn the most famous theatrical man of his day. It
found Sarah Haddon at the fag-end of a career that had blazed with
triumph and adulation. She had never had a success like “Splendour.”
Indeed, there were those who said that all the plays that followed had
been failures, carried to semi-success on the strength of that play's
glorious past. She eschewed low-cut gowns now. She knew that it is the
telltale throat which first shows the marks of age. She knew, too, why
Bernhardt, in “Camille,” always died in a high-necked nightgown. She
took to wearing high, ruffled things about her throat, and softening,
And then, in a mistaken moment, they planned a revival of
“Splendour.” Sarah Haddon would again play the part that had become a
classic. Fathers had told their children of it—of her beauty, her
golden voice, the exquisite grace of her, the charm, the tenderness,
the pathos. And they told them of the famous black velvet dress, and
how in it she had moved like a splendid, buoyant bird.
So they revived “Splendour.” And men and women brought their sons
and daughters to see. And what they saw was a stout, middle-aged woman
in a too-tight black velvet dress that made her look like a dowager.
And when this woman flopped down on her knees in the big scene at the
close of the last act she had a rather dreadful time of it getting up
again. And the audience, resentful, bewildered, cheated of a precious
memory, laughed. That laugh sealed the career of Sarah Haddon. It is a
fickle thing, this public that wants to be amused; fickle and cruel
and—paradoxically enough—true to its superstitions. The Sarah Haddon
of eighteen years ago was one of these. They would have none of this
fat, puffy, ample-bosomed woman who was trying to blot her picture from
their memory. “Away with her!” cried the critics through the columns of
next morning's paper. And Sarah Haddon's day was done.
“It's because I didn't wear the original black velvet dress!” cried
she, with the unreasoning rage for which she had always been famous.
“If I had worn it, everything would have been different. That dress had
a good-luck charm. Where is it? I want it. I don't care if they do take
off the play. I want it. I want it.”
“Why, child,” Sid Hahn said soothingly, “that dress has probably
fallen into dust by this time.”
“Dust! What do you mean? How old do you think I am? That you should
say that to me! I've made millions for you, and now—”
“Now, now, Sally, be a good girl. That's all rot about that dress
being lucky. You've grown out of this part; that's all. We'll find
“I want that dress.”
Sid Hahn flushed uncomfortably. “Well, if you must know, I gave it
“To—to Josie Fifer. She took a notion to it, and so I told her she
could have it.” Then, as Sarah Haddon rose, dried her eyes, and began
to straighten her hat: “Where are you going?” He trailed her to the
door worriedly. “Now, Sally, don't do anything foolish. You're just
tired and overstrung. Where are you—”
“I am going to see Josie Fifer.”
“Now, look here, Sarah!”
But she was off, and Sid Hahn could only follow after, the showman
in him anticipating the scene that was to follow. When he reached the
fourth floor of the storehouse Sarah Haddon was there ahead of him. The
two women—one tall, imperious, magnificent in furs; the other
shrunken, deformed, shabby—stood staring at each other from opposites
sides of the worktable. And between them, in a crumpled, grey-black
heap, lay the velvet gown.
“I don't care who says you can have it,” Josie Fifer's shrill voice
was saying. “It's mine, and I'm going to keep it. Mr. Hahn himself gave
it to me. He said I could cut it up for a dress or something if I
wanted to. Long ago.” Then, as Sid Hahn himself appeared, she appealed
to him. “There he is now. Didn't you, Mr. Hahn? Didn't you say I could
have it? Years ago?”
“Yes, Jo,” said Sid Hahn. “It's yours, to do with as you wish.”
Sarah Haddon, who never had been denied anything in all her pampered
life, turned to him now. Her bosom rose and fell. She was breathing
sharply. “But S.H.!” she cried, “S.H., I've got to have it. Don't you
see, I want it! It's all I've got left in the world of what I used to
be. I want it!” She began to cry, and it was not acting.
Josie Fifer stood staring at her, her eyes wide with horror and
“Why, say, listen! Listen! You can have it. I didn't know you wanted
it as bad as that. Why, you can have it. I want you to take it. Here.”
She shoved it across the table. Sarah reached out for it quickly.
She rolled it up in a tight bundle and whisked off with it without a
backward glance at Josie or at Hahn. She was still sobbing as she went
down the stairs.
The two stood staring at each other ludicrously. Hahn spoke first.
“I'm sorry, Josie. That was nice of you, giving it to her like
But Josie did not seem to hear. At least she paid no attention to
his remark. She was staring at him with that dazed and wide-eyed look
of one upon whom a great truth has just dawned. Then, suddenly, she
began to laugh. She laughed a high, shrill laugh that was not so much
an expression of mirth as of relief.
Sid Hahn put up a pudgy hand in protest. “Josie! Please! For the
love of Heaven don't you go and get it. I've had to do with one
hysterical woman to-day. Stop that laughing! Stop it!”
Josie stopped, not abruptly, but in a little series of recurring
giggles. Then these subsided and she was smiling. It wasn't at all her
usual smile. The bitterness was quite gone from it. She faced Sid Hahn
across the table. Her palms were outspread, as one who would make
things plain. “I wasn't hysterical. I was just laughing. I've been
about seventeen years earning that laugh. Don't grudge it to me.”
“Let's have the plot,” said Hahn.
“There isn't any. You see, it's just—well, I've just discovered how
it works out. After all these years! She's had everything she wanted
all her life. And me, I've never had anything. Not a thing. She's
travelled one way, and I've travelled in the opposite direction, and
where has it brought us? Here we are, both fighting over an old black
velvet rag. Don't you see? Both wanting the same—” She broke off, with
the little twisted smile on her lips again. “Life's a strange thing,
“I hope, Josie, you don't claim any originality for that remark,”
replied Sid Hahn dryly.
“But,” argued the editor, “you don't call this a cheerful story, I
“Well, perhaps not exactly boisterous. But it teaches a lesson, and
all that. And it's sort of philosophical and everything, don't you
The editor shuffled the sheets together decisively, so that they
formed a neat sheaf. “I'm afraid I didn't make myself quite clear. It's
entertaining, and all that, but—ah—in view of our present needs, I'm
sorry to say we—”
II. THE GAY OLD DOG
Those of you who have dwelt—or even lingered—in Chicago, Illinois
(this is not a humorous story), are familiar with the region known as
the Loop. For those others of you to whom Chicago is a transfer point
between New York and San Francisco there is presented this brief
The Loop is a clamorous, smoke-infested district embraced by the
iron arms of the elevated tracks. In a city boasting fewer millions, it
would be known familiarly as downtown. From Congress to Lake Street,
from Wabash almost to the river, those thunderous tracks make a
complete circle, or loop. Within it lie the retail shops, the
commercial hotels, the theatres, the restaurants. It is the Fifth
Avenue (diluted) and the Broadway (deleted) of Chicago. And he who
frequents it by night in search of amusement and cheer is known,
vulgarly, as a Loop-hound.
Jo Hertz was a Loop-hound. On the occasion of those sparse first
nights granted the metropolis of the Middle West he was always present,
third row, aisle, left. When a new loop cafe was opened Jo's table
always commanded an unobstructed view of anything worth viewing. On
entering he was wont to say, “Hello, Gus,” with careless cordiality to
the head waiter, the while his eye roved expertly from table to table
as he removed his gloves. He ordered things under glass, so that his
table, at midnight or thereabouts, resembled a hot-bed that favours the
bell system. The waiters fought for him. He was the kind of man who
mixes his own salad dressing. He liked to call for a bowl, some cracked
ice, lemon, garlic, paprika, salt, pepper, vinegar, and oil and make a
rite of it. People at near-by tables would lay down their knives and
forks to watch, fascinated. The secret of it seemed to lie in using all
the oil in sight and calling for more.
That was Jo—a plump and lonely bachelor of fifty. A plethoric,
roving-eyed and kindly man, clutching vainly at the garments of a youth
that had long slipped past him. Jo Hertz, in one of those pinch-waist
belted suits and a trench coat and a little green hat, walking up
Michigan Avenue of a bright winter's afternoon, trying to take the curb
with a jaunty youthfulness against which every one of his fat-encased
muscles rebelled, was a sight for mirth or pity, depending on one's
The gay-dog business was a late phase in the life of Jo Hertz. He
had been a quite different sort of canine. The staid and harassed
brother of three unwed and selfish sisters is an under dog. The tale of
how Jo Hertz came to be a Loop-hound should not be compressed within
the limits of a short story. It should be told as are the photo plays,
with frequent throwbacks and many cut-ins. To condense twenty-three
years of a man's life into some five or six thousand words requires a
verbal economy amounting to parsimony.
At twenty-seven Jo had been the dutiful, hard-working son (in the
wholesale harness business) of a widowed and gummidging mother, who
called him Joey. If you had looked close you would have seen that now
and then a double wrinkle would appear between Jo's eyes—a wrinkle
that had no business there at twenty-seven. Then Jo's mother died,
leaving him handicapped by a death-bed promise, the three sisters and a
three-story-and-basement house on Calumet Avenue. Jo's wrinkle became a
Death-bed promises should be broken as lightly as they are seriously
made. The dead have no right to lay their clammy fingers upon the
“Joey,” she had said, in her high, thin voice, “take care of the
“I will, Ma,” Jo had choked.
“Joey,” and the voice was weaker, “promise me you won't marry till
the girls are all provided for.” Then as Joe had hesitated, appalled:
“Joey, it's my dying wish. Promise!”
“I promise, Ma,” he had said.
Whereupon his mother had died, comfortably, leaving him with a
completely ruined life.
They were not bad-looking girls, and they had a certain style, too.
That is, Stell and Eva had. Carrie, the middle one, taught school over
on the West Side. In those days it took her almost two hours each way.
She said the kind of costume she required should have been corrugated
steel. But all three knew what was being worn, and they wore it—or
fairly faithful copies of it. Eva, the housekeeping sister, had a
needle knack. She could skim the State Street windows and come away
with a mental photograph of every separate tuck, hem, yoke, and ribbon.
Heads of departments showed her the things they kept in drawers, and
she went home and reproduced them with the aid of a two-dollar-a-day
seamstress. Stell, the youngest, was the beauty. They called her Babe.
She wasn't really a beauty, but some one had once told her that she
looked like Janice Meredith (it was when that work of fiction was at
the height of its popularity). For years afterward, whenever she went
to parties, she affected a single, fat curl over her right shoulder,
with a rose stuck through it.
Twenty-three years ago one's sisters did not strain at the household
leash, nor crave a career. Carrie taught school, and hated it. Eva kept
house expertly and complainingly. Babe's profession was being the
family beauty, and it took all her spare time. Eva always let her sleep
This was Jo's household, and he was the nominal head of it. But it
was an empty title. The three women dominated his life. They weren't
consciously selfish. If you had called them cruel they would have put
you down as mad. When you are the lone brother of three sisters, it
means that you must constantly be calling for, escorting, or dropping
one of them somewhere. Most men of Jo's age were standing before their
mirror of a Saturday night, whistling blithely and abstractedly while
they discarded a blue polka-dot for a maroon tie, whipped off the
maroon for a shot-silk, and at the last moment decided against the
shot-silk in favor of a plain black-and-white, because she had once
said she preferred quiet ties. Jo, when he should have been preening
his feathers for conquest, was saying:
“Well, my God, I am hurrying! Give a man time, can't you? I
just got home. You girls have been laying around the house all day. No
wonder you're ready.”
He took a certain pride in seeing his sisters well dressed, at a
time when he should have been reveling in fancy waistcoats and
brilliant-hued socks, according to the style of that day, and the
inalienable right of any unwed male under thirty, in any day. On those
rare occasions when his business necessitated an out-of-town trip, he
would spend half a day floundering about the shops, selecting
handkerchiefs, or stockings, or feathers, or fans, or gloves for the
girls. They always turned out to be the wrong kind, judging by their
From Carrie, “What in the world do I want of a fan!”
“I thought you didn't have one,” Jo would say.
“I haven't. I never go to dances.”
Jo would pass a futile hand over the top of his head, as was his way
when disturbed. “I just thought you'd like one. I thought every girl
liked a fan. Just,” feebly, “just to—to have.”
“Oh, for pity's sake!”
And from Eva or Babe, “I've got silk stockings, Jo.” Or, “You
brought me handkerchiefs the last time.”
There was something selfish in his giving, as there always is in any
gift freely and joyfully made. They never suspected the exquisite
pleasure it gave him to select these things; these fine, soft, silken
things. There were many things about this slow-going, amiable brother
of theirs that they never suspected. If you had told them he was a
dreamer of dreams, for example, they would have been amused. Sometimes,
dead-tired by nine o'clock, after a hard day down town, he would doze
over the evening paper. At intervals he would wake, red-eyed, to a
snatch of conversation such as, “Yes, but if you get a blue you can
wear it anywhere. It's dressy, and at the same time it's quiet, too.”
Eva, the expert, wrestling with Carrie over the problem of the new
spring dress. They never guessed that the commonplace man in the frayed
old smoking-jacket had banished them all from the room long ago; had
banished himself, for that matter. In his place was a tall, debonair,
and rather dangerously handsome man to whom six o'clock spelled evening
clothes. The kind of man who can lean up against a mantel, or propose a
toast, or give an order to a man-servant, or whisper a gallant speech
in a lady's ear with equal ease. The shabby old house on Calumet Avenue
was transformed into a brocaded and chandeliered rendezvous for the
brilliance of the city. Beauty was here, and wit. But none so beautiful
and witty as She. Mrs.—er—Jo Hertz. There was wine, of course; but no
vulgar display. There was music; the soft sheen of satin; laughter. And
he the gracious, tactful host, king of his own domain—
“Jo, for heaven's sake, if you're going to snore go to bed!”
“Why—did I fall asleep?”
“You haven't been doing anything else all evening. A person would
think you were fifty instead of thirty.”
And Jo Hertz was again just the dull, grey, commonplace brother of
three well-meaning sisters.
Babe used to say petulantly, “Jo, why don't you ever bring home any
of your men friends? A girl might as well not have any brother, all the
good you do.”
Jo, conscience-stricken, did his best to make amends. But a man who
has been petticoat-ridden for years loses the knack, somehow, of
comradeship with men. He acquires, too, a knowledge of women, and a
distaste for them, equalled only, perhaps, by that of an
elevator-starter in a department store.
Which brings us to one Sunday in May. Jo came home from a late
Sunday afternoon walk to find company for supper. Carrie often had in
one of her school-teacher friends, or Babe one of her frivolous
intimates, or even Eva a staid guest of the old-girl type. There was
always a Sunday night supper of potato salad, and cold meat, and
coffee, and perhaps a fresh cake. Jo rather enjoyed it, being a
hospitable soul. But he regarded the guests with the undazzled eyes of
a man to whom they were just so many petticoats, timid of the night
streets and requiring escort home. If you had suggested to him that
some of his sisters' popularity was due to his own presence, or if you
had hinted that the more kittenish of these visitors were probably
making eyes at him, he would have stared in amazement and unbelief.
This Sunday night it turned out to be one of Carrie's friends.
“Emily,” said Carrie, “this is my brother, Jo.”
Jo had learned what to expect in Carrie's friends. Drab-looking
women in the late thirties, whose facial lines all slanted downward.
“Happy to meet you,” said Jo, and looked down at a different sort
altogether. A most surprisingly different sort, for one of Carrie's
friends. This Emily person was very small, and fluffy, and blue-eyed,
and sort of—well, crinkly looking. You know. The corners of her mouth
when she smiled, and her eyes when she looked up at you, and her hair,
which was brown, but had the miraculous effect, somehow, of being
Jo shook hands with her. Her hand was incredibly small, and soft, so
that you were afraid of crushing it, until you discovered she had a
firm little grip all her own. It surprised and amused you, that grip,
as does a baby's unexpected clutch on your patronising forefinger. As
Jo felt it in his own big clasp, the strangest thing happened to him.
Something inside Jo Hertz stopped working for a moment, then lurched
sickeningly, then thumped like mad. It was his heart. He stood staring
down at her, and she up at him, until the others laughed. Then their
hands fell apart, lingeringly.
“Are you a school-teacher, Emily?” he said.
“Kindergarten. It's my first year. And don't call me Emily, please.”
“Why not? It's your name. I think it's the prettiest name in the
world.” Which he hadn't meant to say at all. In fact, he was perfectly
aghast to find himself saying it. But he meant it.
At supper he passed her things, and stared, until everybody laughed
again, and Eva said acidly, “Why don't you feed her?”
It wasn't that Emily had an air of helplessness. She just made you
feel you wanted her to be helpless, so that you could help her.
Jo took her home, and from that Sunday night he began to strain at
the leash. He took his sisters out, dutifully, but he would suggest,
with a carelessness that deceived no one, “Don't you want one of your
girl friends to come along? That little What's-her-name—Emily, or
something. So long's I've got three of you, I might as well have a full
For a long time he didn't know what was the matter with him. He only
knew he was miserable, and yet happy. Sometimes his heart seemed to
ache with an actual physical ache. He realised that he wanted to do
things for Emily. He wanted to buy things for Emily—useless, pretty,
expensive things that he couldn't afford. He wanted to buy everything
that Emily needed, and everything that Emily desired. He wanted to
marry Emily. That was it. He discovered that one day, with a shock, in
the midst of a transaction in the harness business. He stared at the
man with whom he was dealing until that startled person grew
“What's the matter, Hertz?”
“You look as if you'd seen a ghost or found a gold mine. I don't
“Gold mine,” said Jo. And then, “No. Ghost.”
For he remembered that high, thin voice, and his promise. And the
harness business was slithering downhill with dreadful rapidity, as the
automobile business began its amazing climb. Jo tried to stop it. But
he was not that kind of business man. It never occurred to him to jump
out of the down-going vehicle and catch the up-going one. He stayed on,
vainly applying brakes that refused to work.
“You know, Emily, I couldn't support two households now. Not the way
things are. But if you'll wait. If you'll only wait. The girls
might—that is, Babe and Carrie—”
She was a sensible little thing, Emily. “Of course I'll wait. But we
mustn't just sit back and let the years go by. We've got to help.”
She went about it as if she were already a little match-making
matron. She corralled all the men she had ever known and introduced
them to Babe, Carrie, and Eva separately, in pairs, and en masse. She arranged parties at which Babe could display the curl. She got up
picnics. She stayed home while Jo took the three about. When she was
present she tried to look as plain and obscure as possible, so that the
sisters should show up to advantage. She schemed, and planned, and
contrived, and hoped; and smiled into Jo's despairing eyes.
And three years went by. Three precious years. Carrie still taught
school, and hated it. Eva kept house, more and more complainingly as
prices advanced and allowance retreated. Stell was still Babe, the
family beauty; but even she knew that the time was past for curls.
Emily's hair, somehow, lost its glint and began to look just plain
brown. Her crinkliness began to iron out.
“Now, look here!” Jo argued, desperately, one night. “We could be
happy, anyway. There's plenty of room at the house. Lots of people
begin that way. Of course, I couldn't give you all I'd like to, at
first. But maybe, after a while—”
No dreams of salons, and brocade, and velvet-footed servitors, and
satin damask now. Just two rooms, all their own, all alone, and Emily
to work for. That was his dream. But it seemed less possible than that
other absurd one had been.
You know that Emily was as practical a little thing as she looked
fluffy. She knew women. Especially did she know Eva, and Carrie, and
Babe. She tried to imagine herself taking the household affairs and the
housekeeping pocketbook out of Eva's expert hands. Eva had once
displayed to her a sheaf of aigrettes she had bought with what she
saved out of the housekeeping money. So then she tried to picture
herself allowing the reins of Jo's house to remain in Eva's hands. And
everything feminine and normal in her rebelled. Emily knew she'd want
to put away her own freshly laundered linen, and smooth it, and pat it.
She was that kind of woman. She knew she'd want to do her own
delightful haggling with butcher and vegetable pedlar. She knew she'd
want to muss Jo's hair, and sit on his knee, and even quarrel with him,
if necessary, without the awareness of three ever-present pairs of
maiden eyes and ears.
“No! No! We'd only be miserable. I know. Even if they didn't object.
And they would, Jo. Wouldn't they?”
His silence was miserable assent. Then, “But you do love me, don't
“I do, Jo. I love you—and love you—and love you. But, Jo,
“I know it, dear. I knew it all the time, really. I just thought,
The two sat staring for a moment into space, their hands clasped.
Then they both shut their eyes, with a little shudder, as though what
they saw was terrible to look upon. Emily's hand, the tiny hand that
was so unexpectedly firm, tightened its hold on his, and his crushed
the absurd fingers until she winced with pain.
That was the beginning of the end, and they knew it.
Emily wasn't the kind of girl who would be left to pine. There are
too many Jo's in the world whose hearts are prone to lurch and then
thump at the feel of a soft, fluttering, incredibly small hand in their
grip. One year later Emily was married to a young man whose father
owned a large, pie-shaped slice of the prosperous state of Michigan.
That being safely accomplished, there was something grimly humorous
in the trend taken by affairs in the old house on Calumet. For Eva
married. Of all people, Eva! Married well, too, though he was a great
deal older than she. She went off in a hat she had copied from a French
model at Field's, and a suit she had contrived with a home dressmaker,
aided by pressing on the part of the little tailor in the basement over
on Thirty-first Street. It was the last of that, though. The next time
they saw her, she had on a hat that even she would have despaired of
copying, and a suit that sort of melted into your gaze. She moved to
the North Side (trust Eva for that), and Babe assumed the management of
the household on Calumet Avenue. It was rather a pinched little
household now, for the harness business shrank and shrank.
“I don't see how you can expect me to keep house decently on this!”
Babe would say contemptuously. Babe's nose, always a little inclined to
sharpness, had whittled down to a point of late. “If you knew what Ben
“It's the best I can do, Sis. Business is something rotten.”
“Ben says if you had the least bit of—” Ben was Eva's husband, and
quotable, as are all successful men.
“I don't care what Ben says,” shouted Jo, goaded into rage. “I'm
sick of your everlasting Ben. Go and get a Ben of your own, why don't
you, if you're so stuck on the way he does things.”
And Babe did. She made a last desperate drive, aided by Eva, and she
captured a rather surprised young man in the brokerage way, who had
made up his mind not to marry for years and years. Eva wanted to give
her her wedding things, but at that Jo broke into sudden rebellion.
“No sir! No Ben is going to buy my sister's wedding clothes,
understand? I guess I'm not broke—yet. I'll furnish the money for her
things, and there'll be enough of them, too.”
Babe had as useless a trousseau, and as filled with extravagant
pink-and-blue and lacy and frilly things as any daughter of doting
parents. Jo seemed to find a grim pleasure in providing them. But it
left him pretty well pinched. After Babe's marriage (she insisted that
they call her Estelle now) Jo sold the house on Calumet. He and Carrie
took one of those little flats that were springing up, seemingly over
night, all through Chicago's South Side.
There was nothing domestic about Carrie. She had given up teaching
two years before, and had gone into Social Service work on the West
Side. She had what is known as a legal mind—hard, clear, orderly—and
she made a great success of it. Her dream was to live at the Settlement
House and give all her time to the work. Upon the little household she
bestowed a certain amount of grim, capable attention. It was the same
kind of attention she would have given a piece of machinery whose
oiling and running had been entrusted to her care. She hated it, and
didn't hesitate to say so.
Jo took to prowling about department store basements, and household
goods sections. He was always sending home a bargain in a ham, or a
sack of potatoes, or fifty pounds of sugar, or a window clamp, or a new
kind of paring knife. He was forever doing odd little jobs that the
janitor should have done. It was the domestic in him claiming its own.
Then, one night, Carrie came home with a dull glow in her leathery
cheeks, and her eyes alight with resolve. They had what she called a
“Listen, Jo. They've offered me the job of first assistant resident
worker. And I'm going to take it. Take it! I know fifty other girls
who'd give their ears for it. I go in next month.”
They were at dinner. Jo looked up from his plate, dully. Then he
glanced around the little dining room, with its ugly tan walls and its
heavy, dark furniture (the Calumet Avenue pieces fitted cumbersomely
into the five-room flat).
“Away? Away from here, you mean—to live?” Carrie laid down her
fork. “Well, really, Jo! After all that explanation.”
“But to go over there to live! Why, that neighbourhood's full of
dirt, and disease, and crime, and the Lord knows what all. I can't let
you do that, Carrie.”
Carrie's chin came up. She laughed a short little laugh. “Let me!
That's eighteenth-century talk, Jo. My life's my own to live. I'm
And she went.
Jo stayed on in the apartment until the lease was up. Then he sold
what furniture he could, stored or gave away the rest, and took a room
on Michigan Avenue in one of the old stone mansions whose decayed
splendour was being put to such purpose.
Jo Hertz was his own master. Free to marry. Free to come and go. And
he found he didn't even think of marrying. He didn't even want to come
or go, particularly. A rather frumpy old bachelor, with thinning hair
and a thickening neck. Much has been written about the unwed,
middle-aged woman; her fussiness, her primness, her angularity of mind
and body. In the male that same fussiness develops, and a certain
primness, too. But he grows flabby where she grows lean.
Every Thursday evening he took dinner at Eva's, and on Sunday noon
at Stell's. He tucked his napkin under his chin and openly enjoyed the
home-made soup and the well-cooked meats. After dinner he tried to talk
business with Eva's husband, or Stell's. His business talks were the
old-fashioned kind, beginning:
“Well, now, looka here. Take, f'rinstance your raw hides and
But Ben and George didn't want to “take, f'rinstance, your raw hides
and leathers.” They wanted, when they took anything at all, to take
golf, or politics or stocks. They were the modern type of business man
who prefers to leave his work out of his play. Business, with them, was
a profession—a finely graded and balanced thing, differing from Jo's
clumsy, downhill style as completely as does the method of a great
criminal detective differ from that of a village constable. They would
listen, restively, and say, “Uh-uh,” at intervals, and at the first
chance they would sort of fade out of the room, with a meaning glance
at their wives. Eva had two children now. Girls. They treated Uncle Jo
with good-natured tolerance. Stell had no children. Uncle Jo
degenerated, by almost imperceptible degrees, from the position of
honoured guest, who is served with white meat, to that of one who is
content with a leg and one of those obscure and bony sections which,
after much turning with a bewildered and investigating knife and fork,
leave one baffled and unsatisfied.
Eva and Stell got together and decided that Jo ought to marry.
“It isn't natural,” Eva told him. “I never saw a man who took so
little interest in women.”
“Me!” protested Jo, almost shyly. “Women!”
“Yes. Of course. You act like a frightened schoolboy.”
So they had in for dinner certain friends and acquaintances of
fitting age. They spoke of them as “splendid girls.” Between thirty-six
and forty. They talked awfully well, in a firm, clear way, about
civics, and classes, and politics, and economics, and boards. They
rather terrified Jo. He didn't understand much that they talked about,
and he felt humbly inferior, and yet a little resentful, as if
something had passed him by. He escorted them home, dutifully, though
they told him not to bother, and they evidently meant it. They seemed
capable, not only of going home quite unattended, but of delivering a
pointed lecture to any highwayman or brawler who might molest them.
The following Thursday Eva would say, “How did you like her, Jo?”
“Like who?” Jo would spar feebly.
“Now, don't be funny, Jo. You know very well I mean the girl who was
here for dinner. The one who talked so well on the emigration question.
“Oh, her! Why, I liked her all right. Seems to be a smart woman.”
“Smart! She's a perfectly splendid girl.”
“Sure,” Jo would agree cheerfully.
“But didn't you like her?”
“I can't say I did, Eve. And I can't say I didn't. She made me think
a lot of a teacher I had in the fifth reader. Name of Himes. As I
recall her, she must have been a fine woman. But I never thought of her
as a woman at all. She was just Teacher.”
“You make me tired,” snapped Eva impatiently. “A man of your age.
You don't expect to marry a girl, do you? A child!”
“I don't expect to marry anybody,” Jo had answered.
And that was the truth, lonely though he often was.
The following spring Eva moved to Winnetka. Any one who got the
meaning of the Loop knows the significance of a move to a north-shore
suburb, and a house. Eva's daughter, Ethel, was growing up, and her
mother had an eye on society.
That did away with Jo's Thursday dinner. Then Stell's husband bought
a car. They went out into the country every Sunday. Stell said it was
getting so that maids objected to Sunday dinners, anyway. Besides, they
were unhealthy, old-fashioned things. They always meant to ask Jo to
come along, but by the time their friends were placed, and the lunch,
and the boxes, and sweaters, and George's camera, and everything, there
seemed to be no room for a man of Jo's bulk. So that eliminated the
“Just drop in any time during the week,” Stell said, “for dinner.
Except Wednesday—that's our bridge night—and Saturday. And, of
course, Thursday. Cook is out that night. Don't wait for me to phone.”
And so Jo drifted into that sad-eyed, dyspeptic family made up of
those you see dining in second-rate restaurants, their paper propped up
against the bowl of oyster crackers, munching solemnly and with
indifference to the stare of the passer-by surveying them through the
brazen plate-glass window.
And then came the War. The war that spelled death and destruction to
millions. The war that brought a fortune to Jo Hertz, and transformed
him, over night, from a baggy-kneed old bachelor, whose business was a
failure, to a prosperous manufacturer whose only trouble was the
shortage in hides for the making of his product—leather! The armies of
Europe called for it. Harnesses! More harnesses! Straps! Millions of
straps. More! More!
The musty old harness business over on Lake Street was magically
changed from a dust-covered, dead-alive concern to an orderly hive that
hummed and glittered with success. Orders poured in. Jo Hertz had
inside information on the War. He knew about troops and horses. He
talked with French and English and Italian buyers—noblemen, many of
them—commissioned by their countries to get American-made supplies.
And now, when he said to Ben or George, “Take f'rinstance your raw
hides and leathers,” they listened with respectful attention.
And then began the gay-dog business in the life of Jo Hertz. He
developed into a Loop-hound, ever keen on the scent of fresh pleasure.
That side of Jo Hertz which had been repressed and crushed and ignored
began to bloom, unhealthily. At first he spent money on his rather
contemptuous nieces. He sent them gorgeous fans, and watch bracelets,
and velvet bags. He took two expensive rooms at a downtown hotel, and
there was something more tear-compelling than grotesque about the way
he gloated over the luxury of a separate ice-water tap in the bathroom.
He explained it.
“Just turn it on. Ice-water! Any hour of the day or night.”
He bought a car. Naturally. A glittering affair; in colour a bright
blue, with pale blue leather straps and a great deal of gold fittings,
and wire wheels. Eva said it was the kind of thing a soubrette would
use, rather than an elderly business man. You saw him driving about in
it, red-faced and rather awkward at the wheel. You saw him, too, in the
Pompeian room at the Congress Hotel of a Saturday afternoon when
doubtful and roving-eyed matrons in kolinsky capes are wont to
congregate to sip pale amber drinks. Actors grew to recognise the
semi-bald head and the shining, round, good-natured face looming out at
them from the dim well of the parquet, and sometimes, in a musical
show, they directed a quip at him, and he liked it. He could pick out
the critics as they came down the aisle, and even had a nodding
acquaintance with two of them.
“Kelly, of the Herald,” he would say carelessly. “Bean, of
the Trib. They're all afraid of him.”
So he frolicked, ponderously. In New York he might have been called
a Man About Town.
And he was lonesome. He was very lonesome. So he searched about in
his mind and brought from the dim past the memory of the luxuriously
furnished establishment of which he used to dream in the evenings when
he dozed over his paper in the old house on Calumet. So he rented an
apartment, many-roomed and expensive, with a man-servant in charge, and
furnished it in styles and periods ranging through all the Louises. The
living room was mostly rose colour. It was like an unhealthy and
bloated boudoir. And yet there was nothing sybaritic or uncleanly in
the sight of this paunchy, middle-aged man sinking into the
rosy-cushioned luxury of his ridiculous home. It was a frank and naive
indulgence of long-starved senses, and there was in it a great
resemblance to the rolling eyed ecstasy of a schoolboy smacking his
lips over an all-day sucker.
The War went on, and on, and on. And the money continued to roll
in—a flood of it. Then, one afternoon, Eva, in town on shopping bent,
entered a small, exclusive, and expensive shop on Michigan Avenue.
Exclusive, that is, in price. Eva's weakness, you may remember, was
hats. She was seeking a hat now. She described what she sought with a
languid conciseness, and stood looking about her after the saleswoman
had vanished in quest of it. The room was becomingly rose-illumined and
somewhat dim, so that some minutes had passed before she realised that
a man seated on a raspberry brocade settee not five feet away—a man
with a walking stick, and yellow gloves, and tan spats, and a check
suit—was her brother Jo. From him Eva's wild-eyed glance leaped to the
woman who was trying on hats before one of the many long mirrors. She
was seated, and a saleswoman was exclaiming discreetly at her elbow.
Eva turned sharply and encountered her own saleswoman returning,
hat-laden. “Not to-day,” she gasped. “I'm feeling ill. Suddenly.” And
almost ran from the room.
That evening she told Stell, relating her news in that telephone
pidgin-English devised by every family of married sisters as protection
against the neighbours and Central. Translated, it ran thus:
“He looked straight at me. My dear, I thought I'd die! But at least
he had sense enough not to speak. She was one of those limp, willowy
creatures with the greediest eyes that she tried to keep softened to a
baby stare, and couldn't, she was so crazy to get her hands on those
hats. I saw it all in one awful minute. You know the way I do. I
suppose some people would call her pretty. I don't. And her colour!
Well! And the most expensive-looking hats. Aigrettes, and paradise, and
feathers. Not one of them under seventy-five. Isn't it disgusting! At
his age! Suppose Ethel had been with me!”
The next time it was Stell who saw them. In a restaurant. She said
it spoiled her evening. And the third time it was Ethel. She was one of
the guests at a theatre party given by Nicky Overton II. You know. The
North Shore Overtons. Lake Forest. They came in late, and occupied the
entire third row at the opening performance of “Believe Me!” And Ethel
was Nicky's partner. She was glowing like a rose. When the lights went
up after the first act Ethel saw that her uncle Jo was seated just
ahead of her with what she afterward described as a blonde. Then her
uncle had turned around, and seeing her, had been surprised into a
smile that spread genially all over his plump and rubicund face. Then
he had turned to face forward again, quickly.
“Who's the old bird?” Nicky had asked. Ethel had pretended not to
hear, so he had asked again.
“My Uncle,” Ethel answered, and flushed all over her delicate face,
and down to her throat. Nicky had looked at the blonde, and his
eyebrows had gone up ever so slightly.
It spoiled Ethel's evening. More than that, as she told her mother
of it later, weeping, she declared it had spoiled her life.
Eva talked it over with her husband in that intimate, kimonoed hour
that precedes bedtime. She gesticulated heatedly with her hair brush.
“It's disgusting, that's what it is. Perfectly disgusting. There's
no fool like an old fool. Imagine! A creature like that. At his time of
There exists a strange and loyal kinship among men. “Well, I don't
know,” Ben said now, and even grinned a little. “I suppose a boy's got
to sow his wild oats some time.”
“Don't be any more vulgar than you can help,” Eva retorted. “And I
think you know, as well as I, what it means to have that Overton boy
interested in Ethel.”
“If he's interested in her,” Ben blundered, “I guess the fact that
Ethel's uncle went to the theatre with some one who wasn't Ethel's aunt
won't cause a shudder to run up and down his frail young frame, will
“All right,” Eva had retorted. “If you're not man enough to stop it,
I'll have to, that's all. I'm going up there with Stell this week.”
They did not notify Jo of their coming. Eva telephoned his apartment
when she knew he would be out, and asked his man if he expected his
master home to dinner that evening. The man had said yes. Eva arranged
to meet Stell in town. They would drive to Jo's apartment together, and
wait for him there.
When she reached the city Eva found turmoil there. The first of the
American troops to be sent to France were leaving. Michigan Boulevard
was a billowing, surging mass: Flags, pennants, banners crowds. All the
elements that make for demonstration. And over the whole—quiet. No
holiday crowd, this. A solid, determined mass of people waiting patient
hours to see the khaki-clads go by. Three years of indefatigable
reading had brought them to a clear knowledge of what these boys were
“Isn't it dreadful!” Stell gasped.
“Nicky Overton's only nineteen, thank goodness.”
Their car was caught in the jam. When they moved at all it was by
inches. When at last they reached Jo's apartment they were flushed,
nervous, apprehensive. But he had not yet come in. So they waited.
No, they were not staying to dinner with their brother, they told
the relieved houseman.
Jo's home has already been described to you. Stell and Eva, sunk in
rose-coloured cushions, viewed it with disgust, and some mirth. They
rather avoided each other's eyes.
“Carrie ought to be here,” Eva said. They both smiled at the thought
of the austere Carrie in the midst of those rosy cushions, and
hangings, and lamps. Stell rose and began to walk about, restlessly.
She picked up a vase and laid it down; straightened a picture. Eva got
up, too, and wandered into the hall. She stood there a moment,
listening. Then she turned and passed into Jo's bedroom. And there you
knew Jo for what he was.
This room was as bare as the other had been ornate. It was Jo, the
clean-minded and simple-hearted, in revolt against the cloying luxury
with which he had surrounded himself. The bedroom, of all rooms in any
house, reflects the personality of its occupant. True, the actual
furniture was panelled, cupid-surmounted, and ridiculous. It had been
the fruit of Jo's first orgy of the senses. But now it stood out in
that stark little room with an air as incongruous and ashamed as that
of a pink tarleton danseuse who finds herself in a monk's cell.
None of those wall-pictures with which bachelor bedrooms are reputed to
be hung. No satin slippers. No scented notes. Two plain-backed military
brushes on the chiffonier (and he so nearly hairless!). A little
orderly stack of books on the table near the bed. Eva fingered their
titles and gave a little gasp. One of them was on gardening.
“Well, of all things!” exclaimed Stell. A book on the War, by an
Englishman. A detective story of the lurid type that lulls us to sleep.
His shoes ranged in a careful row in the closet, with a shoe-tree in
every one of them. There was something speaking about them. They looked
so human. Eva shut the door on them, quickly. Some bottles on the
dresser. A jar of pomade. An ointment such as a man uses who is growing
bald and is panic-stricken too late. An insurance calendar on the wall.
Some rhubarb-and-soda mixture on the shelf in the bathroom, and a
little box of pepsin tablets.
“Eats all kinds of things at all hours of the night,” Eva said, and
wandered out into the rose-coloured front room again with the air of
one who is chagrined at her failure to find what she has sought. Stell
followed her furtively.
“Where do you suppose he can be?” she demanded. “It's”—she glanced
at her wrist—“why, it's after six!”
And then there was a little click. The two women sat up, tense. The
door opened. Jo came in. He blinked a little. The two women in the rosy
room stood up.
“Why—Eve! Why, Babe! Well! Why didn't you let me know?”
“We were just about to leave. We thought you weren't coming home.”
Joe came in, slowly.
“I was in the jam on Michigan, watching the boys go by.” He sat
down, heavily. The light from the window fell on him. And you saw that
his eyes were red.
And you'll have to learn why. He had found himself one of the
thousands in the jam on Michigan Avenue, as he said. He had a place
near the curb, where his big frame shut off the view of the
unfortunates behind him. He waited with the placid interest of one who
has subscribed to all the funds and societies to which a prosperous,
middle-aged business man is called upon to subscribe in war time. Then,
just as he was about to leave, impatient at the delay, the crowd had
cried, with a queer dramatic, exultant note in its voice, “Here they
come! Here come the boys!”
Just at that moment two little, futile, frenzied fists began to beat
a mad tattoo on Jo Hertz's broad back. Jo tried to turn in the crowd,
all indignant resentment. “Say, looka here!”
The little fists kept up their frantic beating and pushing. And a
voice—a choked, high little voice—cried, “Let me by! I can't see! You
man, you! You big fat man! My boy's going by—to war—and I can't see!
Let me by!”
Jo scrooged around, still keeping his place. He looked down. And
upturned to him in agonised appeal was the face of little Emily. They
stared at each other for what seemed a long, long time. It was really
only the fraction of a second. Then Jo put one great arm firmly around
Emily's waist and swung her around in front of him. His great bulk
protected her. Emily was clinging to his hand. She was breathing
rapidly, as if she had been running. Her eyes were straining up the
“Why, Emily, how in the world!—”
“I ran away. Fred didn't want me to come. He said it would excite me
“My husband. He made me promise to say good-bye to Jo at home.”
“Jo's my boy. And he's going to war. So I ran away. I had to see
him. I had to see him go.”
She was dry-eyed. Her gaze was straining up the street.
“Why, sure,” said Jo. “Of course you want to see him.” And then the
crowd gave a great roar. There came over Jo a feeling of weakness. He
was trembling. The boys went marching by.
“There he is,” Emily shrilled, above the din. “There be is! There he
is! There he—” And waved a futile little hand. It wasn't so much a
wave as a clutching. A clutching after something beyond her reach.
“Which one? Which one, Emily?”
“The handsome one. The handsome one. There!” Her voice quavered and
Jo put a steady hand on her shoulder. “Point him out,” he commanded.
“Show me.” And the next instant. “Never mind. I see him.”
Somehow, miraculously, he had picked him from among the hundreds.
Had picked him as surely as his own father might have. It was Emily's
boy. He was marching by, rather stiffly. He was nineteen, and
fun-loving, and he had a girl, and he didn't particularly want to go to
France and—to go to France. But more than he had hated going, he had
hated not to go. So he marched by, looking straight ahead, his jaw set
so that his chin stuck out just a little. Emily's boy.
Jo looked at him, and his face flushed purple. His eyes, the
hard-boiled eyes of a Loop-hound, took on the look of a sad old man.
And suddenly he was no longer Jo, the sport; old J. Hertz, the gay dog.
He was Jo Hertz, thirty, in love with life, in love with Emily, and
with the stinging blood of young manhood coursing through his veins.
Another minute and the boy had passed on up the broad street—the
fine, flag-bedecked street—just one of a hundred service-hats bobbing
in rhythmic motion like sandy waves lapping a shore and flowing on.
Then he disappeared altogether.
Emily was clinging to Jo. She was mumbling something, over and over.
“I can't. I can't. Don't ask me to. I can't let him go. Like that. I
Jo said a queer thing.
“Why, Emily! We wouldn't have him stay home, would we? We wouldn't
want him to do anything different, would we? Not our boy. I'm glad he
enlisted. I'm proud of him. So are you glad.”
Little by little he quieted her. He took her to the car that was
waiting, a worried chauffeur in charge. They said good-bye, awkwardly.
Emily's face was a red, swollen mass.
So it was that when Jo entered his own hallway half an hour later he
blinked, dazedly, and when the light from the window fell on him you
saw that his eyes were red.
Eva was not one to beat about the bush. She sat forward in her
chair, clutching her bag rather nervously.
“Now, look here, Jo. Stell and I are here for a reason. We're here
to tell you that this thing's got to stop.”
“You know very well what I mean. You saw me at the milliner's that
day. And night before last, Ethel. We're all disgusted. If you must go
about with people like that, please have some sense of decency.”
Something gathering in Jo's face should have warned her. But he was
slumped down in his chair in such a huddle, and he looked so old and
fat that she did not heed it. She went on. “You've got us to consider.
Your sisters. And your nieces. Not to speak of your own—”
But he got to his feet then, shaking, and at what she saw in his
face even Eva faltered and stopped. It wasn't at all the face of a fat,
middle-aged sport. It was a face Jovian, terrible.
“You!” he began, low-voiced, ominous. “You!” He raised a great fist
high. “You two murderers! You didn't consider me, twenty years ago. You
come to me with talk like that. Where's my boy! You killed him, you
two, twenty years ago. And now he belongs to somebody else. Where's my
son that should have gone marching by to-day?” He flung his arms out in
a great gesture of longing. The red veins stood out on his forehead.
“Where's my son! Answer me that, you two selfish, miserable women.
Where's my son!” Then, as they huddled together, frightened, wild-eyed.
“Out of my house! Out of my house! Before I hurt you!”
They fled, terrified. The door banged behind them.
Jo stood, shaking, in the centre of the room. Then he reached for a
chair, gropingly, and sat down. He passed one moist, flabby hand over
his forehead and it came away wet. The telephone rang. He sat still. It
sounded far away and unimportant, like something forgotten. I think he
did not even hear it with his conscious ear. But it rang and rang
insistently. Jo liked to answer his telephone, when at home.
“Hello!” He knew instantly the voice at the other end.
“That you, Jo?” it said.
“How's my boy?”
“Listen, Jo. The crowd's coming over to-night. I've fixed up a
little poker game for you. Just eight of us.”
“I can't come to-night, Gert.”
“Can't! Why not?”
“I'm not feeling so good.”
“You just said you were all right.”
“I am all right. Just kind of tired.”
The voice took on a cooing note. “Is my Joey tired? Then he shall be
all comfy on the sofa, and he doesn't need to play if he don't want to.
Jo stood staring at the black mouth-piece of the telephone. He was
seeing a procession go marching by. Boys, hundreds of boys, in khaki.
“Hello! Hello!” the voice took on an anxious note. “Are you there?”
“Jo, there's something the matter. You're sick. I'm coming right
“Why not? You sound as if you'd been sleeping. Look here—”
“Leave me alone!” cried Jo, suddenly, and the receiver clacked onto
the hook. “Leave me alone. Leave me alone.” Long after the connection
had been broken.
He stood staring at the instrument with unseeing eyes. Then he
turned and walked into the front room. All the light had gone out of
it. Dusk had come on. All the light had gone out of everything. The
zest had gone out of life. The game was over—the game he had been
playing against loneliness and disappointment. And he was just a tired
old man. A lonely, tired old man in a ridiculous, rose-coloured room
that had grown, all of a sudden, drab.
III. THE TOUGH GUY
You could not be so very tough in Chippewa, Wisconsin. But Buzz
Werner managed magnificently with the limited means at hand. Before he
was nineteen mothers were warning their sons against him, and brothers
their sisters. Buzz Werner not only was tough—he looked tough. When he
spoke—which was often—his speech slid sinisterly out of the extreme
left corner of his mouth. He had a trick of hitching himself up from
the belt—one palm on the stomach and a sort of heaving jerk from the
waist, as a prize fighter does it—that would have made a Van Bibber
His name was not really Buzz, but quotes are dispensed with because
no one but his mother remembered what it originally had been. His
mother called him Ernie and she alone, in all Chippewa, Wisconsin, was
unaware that her son was the town tough guy. But even she sometimes
mildly remonstrated with him for being what she called kind of wild.
Buzz had yellow hair with a glint in it, and it curled up into a bang
at the front. No amount of wetting or greasing could subdue that
irrepressible forelock. A boy with hair like that never grows up in his
If Buzz's real name was lost in the dim mists of boyhood, the origin
and fitness of his nickname were apparent after two minutes'
conversation with him. Buzz Werner was called Buzz not only because he
talked too much, but because he was a braggart. His conversation
bristled with the perpendicular pronoun, and his pet phrase was, “I
says to him—”
By the time Buzz was fourteen he was stealing brass from the yards
of the big paper mills down in the Flats and selling it to the junk
man. How he escaped the reform school is a mystery. Perhaps it was the
blond forelock. At nineteen he was running with the Kearney girl.
Twenty-five years hence Chippewa will have learned to treat the
Kearney-girl type as a disease, and a public menace. Which she was. The
Kearney girl ran wild in Chippewa, and Chippewa will be paying taxes on
the fruit of her liberty for a hundred years to come. The Kearney girl
was a beautiful idiot, with a lovely oval face, and limpid, rather
wistful blue eyes, and fair, fine hair, and a long slim neck. She
looked very much like those famous wantons of history, from Lucrezia
Borgia to Nell Gwyn, that you see pictured in the galleries of
Europe—all very mild and girlish, with moist red mouths, like a
puppy's, so that you wonder if they have not been basely defamed
through all the centuries.
The Kearney girl's father ran a saloon out on Second Avenue, and
every few days the Chippewa paper would come out with a story of a
brawl, a knifing, or a free-for-all fight following a Saturday night in
Kearney's. The Kearney girl herself was forever running up and down
Grand Avenue, which was the main business street. She would trail up
and down from the old Armory to the post-office and back again. When
she turned off into the homeward stretch on Outagamie Street there
always slunk after her some stoop-shouldered, furtive, loping youth.
But he never was seen with her on Grand Avenue. She had often been up
before old Judge Colt for some nasty business or other. At such times
the shabby office of the Justice of the Peace would be full of shawled
mothers and heavy-booted, work-worn fathers, and an aunt or two, and
some cousins, and always a slinking youth fumbling with the hat in his
hands, his glance darting hither and thither, from group to group, but
never resting for a moment within any one else's gaze. Of all these
present, the Kearney girl herself was always the calmest. Old Judge
Colt meted out justice according to his lights. Unfortunately, the
wearing of a yellow badge on the breast was a custom that had gone out
some years before.
This nymph it was who had taken a fancy to Buzz Werner. It looked
very black for his future.
The strange part of it was that the girl possessed little attraction
for Buzz. It was she who made all the advances. Buzz had sprung from
very decent stock, as you shall see. And something about the sultry
unwholesomeness of this girl repelled him, though he was hardly aware
that this was so. Buzz and his gang would meet down town of a Saturday
night, very moist as to hair and clean as to soft shirt. They would
lounge on the corner of Grand and Outagamie, in front of Schroeder's
brightly lighted drug store, watching the girls go by. They were, for
the most part, a pimply-faced lot. They would shuffle their feet in a
slow jig, hands in pockets. When a late comer joined them it was
considered au fait to welcome him by assuming a fistic attitude,
after the style of the pugilists pictured in the barber-shop magazines,
and spar a good-natured and make-believe round with him, with much
agile dancing about in a circle, head held stiffly, body crouching,
while working a rapid and facetious right.
This corner, or Donovan's pool-shack, was their club, their forum.
Here they recounted their exploits, bragged of their triumphs, boasted
of their girls, flexed their muscles to show their strength. And all
through their talk there occurred again and again a certain term whose
use is common to their kind. Their remarks were prefaced and
interlarded and concluded with it, so that it was no longer an oath or
“Je's, I was sore at 'm. I told him where to get off at. Nobody can
talk to me like that. Je's, I should say not.”
So accustomed had it grown that it was not even thought of as
If Buzz's family could have heard him in his talk with his
street-corner companions they would not have credited their ears. A
mouthy braggart in company is often silent in his own home, and Buzz
was no exception to this rule. Fortunately, Buzz's braggadocio carried
with it a certain conviction. He never kept a job more than a month,
and his own account of his leave-taking was always as vainglorious as
it was dramatic.
“'G'wan!' I says to him, 'Who you talkin' to? I don't have to take
nothin' from you nor nobody like you,' I says. 'I'm as good as you are
any day, and better. You can have your dirty job,' I says. And with
that I give him my time and walked out on 'm. Je's, he was sore!”
They would listen to him, appreciatively, but with certain mental
reservations; reservations inevitable when a speaker's name is Buzz.
One by one they would melt away as their particular girl, after
flaunting by with a giggle and a sidelong glance for the dozenth time,
would switch her skirts around the corner of Outagamie Street past the
Brill House, homeward bound.
“Well, s'long,” they would say. And lounging after her, would
overtake her in the shadow of the row of trees in front of the Agassiz
If the Werner family had been city folk they would, perforce, have
burrowed in one of those rabbit-warren tenements that line block after
block of city streets. But your small-town labouring man is likely to
own his two-story frame house with a garden patch in the back and a
cement walk leading up to the front porch, and pork roast on Sundays.
The Werners had all this, no thanks to Pa Werner; no thanks to Buzz,
surely; and little to Minnie Werner who clerked in the Sugar Bowl Candy
Store and tried to dress like Angie Hatton whose father owned the
biggest Pulp and Paper mill in the Fox River Valley. No, the house and
the garden, the porch and the cement sidewalk, and the pork roast all
had their origin in Ma Werner's tireless energy, in Ma Werner's thrift;
in her patience and unremitting toil, her nimble fingers and bent back,
her shapeless figure and unbounded and unexpressed (verbally, that is)
love for her children. Pa Werner—sullen, lazy, brooding,
tyrannical—she soothed and mollified for the children's sake, or
shouted down with a shrewish outburst, as the occasion required. An
expert stone-mason by trade, Pa Werner could be depended on only when
he was not drinking, or when he was not on strike, or when he had not
quarrelled with the foreman. An anarchist, Pa—dissatisfied with things
as they were, but with no plan for improving them. His evil-smelling
pipe between his lips, he would sit, stocking-footed, in silence,
smoking and thinking vague, formless, surly thoughts. This sullen
unrest and rebellion it was that, transmitted to his son, had made Buzz
the unruly braggart that he was, and which, twenty or thirty years
hence, would find him just such a one as his father—useless,
evil-tempered, half brutal, defiant of order.
It was in May, a fine warm sunny day, that Ma Werner, looking up
from the garden patch where she was spading, a man's old battered felt
hat perched grotesquely atop her white head, saw Buzz lounging
homeward, cutting across lots from Bates Street, his dinner pail
glinting in the sun. It was four o'clock in the afternoon. Ma Werner
straightened painfully and her over-flushed face took on a purplish
tinge. She wiped her moist chin with an apron-corner.
As Buzz espied her his gait became a swagger. At sight of that
swagger Ma knew. She dropped her spade and plodded heavily through the
freshly turned earth to the back porch as Buzz turned in at the walk.
She shifted her weight ponderously as she wiped first one earth-crusted
shoe and then the other.
“What's the matter, Ernie? You ain't sick, are you?”
“What you home so early for?”
“Because I feel like it, that's why.”
He took the back steps at a bound and slammed the kitchen door
behind him. Ma Werner followed heavily after. Buzz was hanging his hat
up behind the kitchen door. He turned with a scowl as his mother
entered. She looked even more ludicrous in the house than she had
outside, with her skirts tucked up to make spading the easier, so that
there was displayed an unseemly length of thick ankle rising solidly
above the old pair of men's side-boots that encased her feet. The
battered hat perched rakishly atop her knob of gray-white hair gave her
a jaunty, sporting look, as of a ponderous, burlesque Watteau.
She abandoned pretense. “Ernie, your pa'll be awful mad. You know
the way he carried on the last time.”
“Let him. He aint worked five days himself this month.” Then, at a
sudden sound from the front of the house, “He ain't home, is he?”
“That's the shade flapping.”
Buzz turned toward the inside wooden stairway that led to the
half-story above. But his mother followed, with surprising agility for
so heavy a woman. She put a hand on his arm. “Such a good-payin' job,
Ernie. An' you said only yesterday you liked it. Somethin' must've
There broke a grim little laugh from Buzz. “Believe me
something happened good an' plenty.” A little frightened look came into
his eyes. “I just had a run-in with young Hatton.”
The red faded from her face and a grey-white mask seemed to slip
down over it. “You don't mean Hatton! Not Hatton's son. Ernie, you
A dash of his street-corner bravado came back to him. “Aw, keep your
hair on, Ma. I didn't know it was young Hatton when I hit'm. An' anyway
nobody his age is gonna tell me where to get off at. Say, w'en a guy
who ain't twenty-three, hardly, and that never done a lick in his life
except go to college, the sissy, tries t'—”
But the first sentence only had penetrated her brain. She grappled
with it, dizzily. “Hit him! Ernie, you don't mean you hit him! Not
Hatton's son! Ernie!”
“Sure I did. You oughta seen his face.” But there was very little
triumph or satisfaction in Buzz Werner's face or voice as he said it.
“Course, I didn't know it was him when I done it. I dunno would it have
made any difference if I had.”
She seemed so old and so shrunken, in spite of her bulk, as she
looked up at him. The look in her eyes was so strained. The way her
hand brought her apron-corner up to her mouth, as though to stifle the
fear that shook her, was so groping, somehow, so uncertain, that,
paradoxically, the pitifulness of it reacted to make him savage.
When she quavered her next question, “What was he doin' in the
mill?” he turned toward the stairway again, flinging his answer over
“Learnin' the business, that's what. From the ground up, see?” He
turned at the first stair and leaned forward and down, one hand on the
door-jamb. “Well, believe me he don't use me as no ground-dirt. An'
when I'm takin' the screen off the big roll—see?—he comes up to me
an' says I'm handlin' it rough an' it's a delicate piece of mechanism.
'Who're you?' I says. 'Never mind who I am' he says, 'I'm working' on
this job,' he says, 'an' this is a paper mill you're workin' in,' he
says, 'not a boiler factory. Treat the machinery accordin', like a real
workman,' he says. The simp! I just stepped down off the platform of
the big press, and I says, 'Well, you look like a kinda delicate piece
of mechanism yourself,' I says, 'an' need careful handlin', so take
that for a starter,' I says. An' with that I handed him one in the
nose.” Buzz laughed, but there was little mirth in it. “I bet he seen
enough wheels an' delicate machinery that minute to set up a whole new
There was nothing of mirth in the woman's drawn face. “Oh, Ernie,
f'r God's sake! What they goin' to do to you!”
He was half way up the narrow stairway, she at the foot of it,
peering up at him. “They won't do anything. I guess old Hatton ain't so
stuck on havin' his swell golf club crowd know his little boy was beat
up by one of the workmen.”
He was clumping about upstairs now. So she turned toward the
kitchen, dazedly. She glanced at the clock. Going on toward five. Still
in the absurd hat she got out a panful of potatoes and began to peel
them skilfuly, automatically. The seamed and hardened fingers had come
honestly by their deftness. They had twirled and peeled
pecks—bushels—tons of these brown balls in their time.
At five-thirty Pa came in. At six, Minnie. She had to go back to the
Sugar Bowl until nine. Five minutes later the supper was steaming on
“Ernie,” called Ma, toward the ceiling. “Er-nie! Supper's on.” The
three sat down at the table without waiting. Pa had slipped off his
shoes, and was in his stockinged feet. They ate in silence. It was a
good meal. A European family of the same class would have considered it
a banquet. There were meat and vegetables, butter and home-made bread,
preserve and cake, true to the standards of the extravagant American
labouring-class household. In the summer the garden supplied them with
lettuce, beans, peas, onions, radishes, beets, potatoes, corn, thanks
to Ma's aching back and blistered hands. They stored enough vegetables
in the cellar to last through the winter.
Buzz usually cleaned up after supper. But to-night, when he came
down, he was already clean-shaven, clean-shirted, and his hair was wet
from the comb. He took his place in silence. His acid-stained work
shoes had been replaced by his good tan ones. Evidently he was going
down town after supper. Buzz never took any exercise for the sake of
his body's good. Sometimes he and the Lembke boys across the way played
a game of ball in the middle of the road, or in the vacant lot, but
they did it out of the game instinct, and with no thought of their
But to-night, evidently, there was to be no ball. Buzz ate little.
His mother, forever between the stove and the table, ate less. But that
was nothing unusual in her. She waited on the others, but mostly she
hovered about the boy.
“Ernie, you ain't eaten your potatoes. Look how nice an' mealy they
“Don't want none.”
“Ernie, would you rather have a baked apple than the raspberry
preserve? I fixed a pan this morning.”
“Naw. Lemme alone. I ain't hungry.”
He slouched from the table. Minnie, teacup in hand, regarded him
over its rim with wide, malicious eyes. “I saw that Kearney girl go by
here before supper, and she rubbered in like everything.”
“You're a liar,” said Buzz, unemotionally.
“I did so! She went by and then she came back again. I saw her both
times. Say, I guess I ought to know her. Anybody in town'd know
Buzz had been headed toward the front porch. He hesitated and
turned, now, and picked up the newspaper from the sitting-room sofa. Pa
Werner, in trousers, shirt and suspenders, was padding about the
kitchen with his pipe and tobacco. He came into the sitting room now
and stood a moment, his lips twisted about the pipe-stem. The pipe's
putt-putting gave warning that he was about to break into unaccustomed
speech. He regarded Buzz with beady, narrowed eyes.
“You let me see you around with that Kearney girl and I'll break
every bone in your body, and hers too. The hussy!”
“Oh, you will, will you?”
Ma, who had been making countless trips from the kitchen to the back
garden with water pail and sprinkling can sagging from either arm, put
in a word to stay the threatening storm. “Now, Pa! Now, Ernie!” The two
men subsided into bristling silence.
Suddenly, “There she is again!” shrilled Minnie, from her bedroom.
Buzz shrank back in his chair. Old man Werner, with a muttered oath,
went to the open doorway and stood there, puffing savage little spurts
of smoke streetward. The Kearney girl stared brazenly at him as she
strolled slowly by, a slim and sinister figure. Old man Werner watched
her until she passed out of sight.
“You go gettin' mixed up with dirt like that,” threatened he, “and
I'll learn you. She'll be hangin' around the mill yet, the brass-faced
thing. If I hear of it I'll get the foreman to put her off the place.
You'll stay home to-night. Carry a pail of water for your ma once.”
“Carry it yourself.”
Buzz, with a wary eye up the street, slouched out to the front
porch, into the twilight of the warm May evening. Charley Lembke, from
his porch across the street, called to him: “Goin' down town?”
“Yeh, I guess so.”
“Ain't you afraid of bein' pinched?” Buzz turned his head quickly
toward the room just behind him. He turned to go in. Charley's voice
came again, clear and far-reaching. “I hear you had a run-in with
Hatton's son, and knocked him down. Some class t' you, Buzz, even if it
does cost you your job.”
From within the sound of a newspaper hurled to the floor. Pa Werner
was at the door. “What's that! What's that he's sayin'?”
Buzz, cornered, jutted a threatening jaw at his father and brazened
it out. “Can't you hear good?”
“Come on in here.”
Buzz hesitated a moment. Then he turned, slowly, and walked into the
little sitting room with an attempt at a swagger that failed to
convince even himself. He leaned against the side of the door, hands in
pockets. Pa Werner faced him, black-browed. “Is that right, what he
said? Lembke? Huh?”
“Sure it's right. I had a run-in with Hatton, an' licked him, and
give'm my time. What you goin' to do about it?”
Ma Werner was in the room, now. Minnie, passing through on her way
to work again, caught the electric current of the storm about to break
and escaped it with a parting:
“Oh, for the land's sakes! You two. Always a-fighting.”
The two men faced each other. The one a sturdy man-boy nearing
twenty, with a great pair of shoulders and a clear eye, a long, quick
arm and a deft hand—these last his assets as a workman. The other,
gnarled, prematurely wrinkled, almost gnome-like. This one took his
pipe from between his lips and began to speak. The drink he had had at
Wenzel's on the way home sparked his speech.
He began with a string of epithets. They flowed from his lips, an
acid stream. Pick and choose as I will, there is none that can be
repeated here. Old Man Werner had, perhaps, been something of a tough
guy himself, in his youth. As he reviled his son now you saw that son,
at fifty, just such another stocking-footed, bitter old man, smoking a
glum pipe on the back porch, summer evenings, and spitting into the
fresh young grass.
I don't say that this thought came to Buzz as his father flayed him
with his abuse. But there was something unusual, surely, in the
non-resistance with which he allowed the storm to beat about his head.
Something in his steady, unruffled gaze caused the other man to falter
a little in his tirade, and finally to stop, almost apprehensively. He
had paid no heed to Ma Werner's attempts at pacification. “Now, Pa!”
she had said, over and over, her hand on his arm, though he shook it
off again and again. “Now, Pa!—” But he stopped now, fist raised in a
last profane period. Buzz stood regarding him with his unblinking
Finally: “You through?” said Buzz.
“Ya-as,” snarled Pa, “I'm through. Get to hell out of here. You'll
be hung yet, you loafer. A good-for-nothing bum, that's what. Get out
“I'm gettin',” said Buzz. He took his hat off the hook and wiped it
carefully with the lower side of his sleeve, round and round. He placed
it on his head, jauntily. He stepped to the kitchen, took a tooth-pick
from the little red-and-white glass holder on the table, and—with this
emblem of insouciance, at an angle of ninety, between his
teeth—strolled indolently, nonchalantly down the front steps, along
the cement walk to the street and so toward town. The two old people,
left alone in the sudden silence of the house, stared after the
swaggering figure until the dim twilight blotted it out. And a sinister
something seemed to close its icy grip about the heart of one of them.
A vague premonition that she could only feel, not express, made her
next words seem futile.
“Pa, you oughtn't to talked to him like that. He's just a little
wild. He looked so kind of funny when he went out. I don'no, he looked
so kind of—”
“He looked like the bum he is, that's what. No respect for nothing.
For his pa, or ma, or nothing. Down on the corner with the rest of 'em,
that's where he's goin'. Hatton ain't goin' to let this go by. You
But she, on her way to the kitchen, repeated, “I don'no, he looked
so kind of funny. He looked so kind of—”
Considering all things—the happenings of the past few hours, at
least—Buzz, as he strolled on down toward Grand Avenue with his
sauntering, care-free gait, did undoubtedly look kind of funny. The
red-hot rage of the afternoon and the white-hot rage of the evening had
choked the furnace of brain and soul with clinkers so that he was
thinking unevenly and disconnectedly. On the surface he was cool and
unruffled. He stopped for a moment at the railroad tracks to talk with
Stumpy Gans, the one-legged gateman. The little bell above Stumpy's
shanty was ringing its warning, so he strolled leisurely over to the
depot platform to see the 7:15 come in from Chicago. When the train
pulled out Buzz went on down the street. His mind was darting here and
there, planning this revenge, discarding it; seizing on another,
abandoning that. He'd show'm. He'd show'm. Sick of the whole damn
bunch, anyway.... Wonder was Hatton going to raise a shindy.... Let'm.
Who cares?... The old man was a drunk, that's what.... Ma had looked
He put that uncomfortable thought out of his mind and slammed the
door on it. Anyway, he'd show'm.
Out of the shadows of the great trees in front of the Agassiz School
stepped the Kearney girl, like a lean and hungry cat. One hand clutched
Buzz jumped and said something under his breath. Then he laughed,
shortly. “Might as well kill a guy as scare him to death!”
She thrust one hand through his arm and linked it with the other.
“I've been waiting for you, Buzz.”
“Yeh. Well, let me tell you something. You quit traipsing up and
down in front of my house, see?”
“I wanted to see you. An' I didn't know whether you was coming down
town to-night or not.”
“Well, I am. So now you know.” He pulled away from her, but she
twined her arm the tighter about his.
“Ain't sore at me, are yuh, Buzz?”
“No. Leggo my arm.”
“If you're sore because I been foolin' round with that little wart
of a Donahue—” She turned wise eyes up to him, trying to make them
limpid in the darkness.
“What do I care who you run with?”
“Don't you care, Buzz?” The words were soft but there was a steel
edge to her utterance.
“Oh, Buzz, I'm batty about you. I can't help it, can I? H'm? Look
here, you go on to Grand, and hang around for an hour, maybe, and I'll
meet you here an' we'll walk a ways. Will you? I got something to tell
“Naw, I can't to-night. I'm busy.”
And then the steel edge cut. “Buzz, if you turn me down I'll have
“Before old Colt. I can fix up charges. He'll believe it. Say, he
knows me, Judge Colt does. I can name you an'—”
“Me!” Sheer amazement rang in his voice. “Me? You must be crazy. I
ain't had anything to do with you. You make me sick.”
“That don't make any difference. You can't prove it. I told you I
was crazy about you. I told you—”
He jerked loose from her then and was off. He ran one block. Then,
after a backward glance, fell into a quick walk that brought him past
the Brill House and to Schroeder's drug store corner. There was his
crowd—Spider, and Red, and Bing, and Casey. They took him literally
unto their breasts. They thumped him on the back. They bestowed on him
the low epithets with which they expressed admiration. Red worked at
one of the bleaching vats in the Hatton paper mill. The story of Buzz's
fistic triumph had spread through the big plant like a flame.
“Go on, Buzz, tell 'em about it,” Red urged, now. “Je's, I like to
died laughing when I heard it. He must of looked a sight, the poor
boob. Go on, Buzz, tell 'em how you says to him he must be a kind of
delicate piece of—you know; go on, tell 'em.”
Buzz hitched himself up with a characteristic gesture, and plunged
into his story. His audience listened entranced, interrupting him with
an occasional “Je's!” of awed admiration. But the thing seemed to lack
a certain something. Perhaps Casey put his finger on that something
when, at the recital's finish he asked:
“Didn't he see you was goin' to hit him?”
“No. He never see a thing.”
Casey ruminated a moment. “You could of give him a chanst to put up
his dukes,” he said at last. A little silence fell upon the group.
Honour among thieves.
Buzz shifted uncomfortably. “He's a bigger guy than I am. I bet he's
over six foot. The papers was always telling how he played football at
that college he went to.”
Casey spoke up again. “They say he didn't wait for this here draft.
He's goin' to Fort Sheridan, around Chicago somewhere, to be made a
“Yeh, them rich guys, they got it all their own way,” Spider spoke
up, gloomily. “They—”
From down the street came a dull, muffled thud-thud-thud-thud.
Already Chippewa, Wisconsin, had learned to recognise it. Grand Avenue,
none too crowded on this mid-week night, pressed to the curb to see.
Down the street they stared toward the moving mass that came steadily
nearer. The listless group on the corner stiffened into something like
“Company G,” said Red. “I hear they're leavin' in a couple of days.”
And down the street they came, thud-thud-thud, Company G, headed for
the new red-brick Armory for the building of which they had engineered
everything from subscription dances and exhibition drills to turkey
raffles. Chippewa had never taken Company G very seriously until now.
How could it, when Company G was made up of Willie Kemp, who clerked in
Hassell's shoe store; Fred Garvey, the reporter on the Chippewa
Eagle; Hermie Knapp, the real-estate man, and Earl Hanson who came
around in the morning for your grocery order.
Thud-thud-thud-thud. And to Chippewa, standing at the curb, quite
suddenly these every-day men and boys were transformed into something
remote and almost terrible. Something grim. Something sacrificial.
Thud-thud-thud-thud. Looking straight ahead.
“The poor boobs,” said Spider, and spat, and laughed.
The company passed on down the street—vanished. Grand Avenue went
A little silence fell upon the street-corner group. Bing was the
first to speak.
“They won't git me in this draft. I got a mother an' two kid sisters
“Yeh, a swell lot of supportin' you do!”
“Who says I don't! I can prove it.”
“They'll get me all right,” said Casey. “I ain't kickin'.”
“I'm under age,” from Red.
Spider said nothing. His furtive eyes darted here and there. Spider
was of age. And Spider had no family to support. But Spider had reason
to know that no examining board would pass him into the army of his
country. And it was a reason of which one did not speak. “You're only
twenty, ain't you, Buzz?” he asked, to cover the gap in the
“Yeh.” Silence fell again. Then, “But I wouldn't mind goin'.
Anything for a change. This place makes me sick.”
Spider laughed. “You better be a hero and go and enlist.”
Buzz's head came up with a jerk. “Je's, I never thought of that!”
Red struck an attitude, one hand on his breast. “Now's your chanct,
Buzz, to save your country an' your flag. Enlistment office's right
over the Golden Eagle clothing store. Step up. Don't crowd gents! This
Buzz was staring at him, open-mouthed. His gaze was fixed, tense.
Suddenly he seemed to gather all his muscles together as for a spring.
But he only threw his cigarette into the gutter, yawned elaborately,
and moved away. “S'long,” he said; and lounged off. The others looked
after him a moment, puzzled, speculative. Buzz was not usually so
laconic. But evidently he was leaving with no further speech.
“I guess maybe he ain't so dead sure that Hatton bunch won't git him
for this, anyway,” Casey said. Then, raising his voice: “Goin' home,
But he did not. If they had watched him they would have seen him
change his lounging gait when he reached the corner. They would have
seen him stand a moment, sending a quick glance this way and that, then
turn, retrace his steps almost at a run, and dart into the doorway that
led to the flight of wooden stairs at the side of the Golden Eagle
A dingy room. A man at a bare table. Another seated at the window,
his chair tipped back, his feet on the sill, a pipe between his teeth.
Buzz, shambling, suddenly awkward, stood in the door.
“This the place where you enlist?”
The man at the table stood up. The chair in front of the open window
came down on all-fours.
“Sure,” said the first man. “What's your name?”
Buzz told him.
“Meet Sergeant Keith. He's a Canadian. Been through the whole game.”
Five minutes later Buzz's fine white torso rose above his trousers
like a great pillar. Unconsciously his sagging shoulders had
straightened. His stomach was held in. His chest jutted, shelf-like.
His ribs showed through the pink-white flesh.
“Get some of that pork off of him,” observed Sergeant Keith, “and
he'll do in a couple of Fritzes before he's through.”
“Me!” blurted Buzz, struggling now with his shirt. “A couple! Say,
you don't know me. Whaddyou mean, a couple? I can lick a whole regiment
of them beerheads with one hand tied behind me an' my feet in a sack.”
He emerged from the struggle with his shirt, his face very red, his
Sergeant Keith smiled a grim little smile. “Keep your shirt on,
kid,” he said, “and remember, this isn't a fist fight you're going
into. It's war.”
Buzz, fumbling with his hat, put his question. “When—when do I go?”
For he had signed his name in his round, boyish, sixth-grade scrawl.
“To-morrow. Now listen to these instructions.”
“T-to-morrow?” gasped Buzz.
He was still gasping as he reached the street and struck out toward
home. To-morrow! When the Kearney girl again stepped out of the
tree-shadows he stared at her as at something remote and trivial.
“I thought you tried to give me the slip, Buzz. Where you been?”
“Never mind where I've been.”
She fell into step beside him, but had difficulty in matching his
great strides. She caught at his arm. At that Buzz turned and stopped.
It was too dark to see his face, but something in his voice—something
new, and hard, and resolute—reached even the choked and slimy cells of
this creature's consciousness.
“Now looka here. You beat it. I got somethin' on my mind to-night
and I can't be bothered with no fool girl, see? Don't get me sore. I
Her hand dropped away from his arm. “I didn't mean what I said about
havin' you up, Buzz; honest t' Gawd I didn't.”
“I don't care what you meant.”
'Will you meet me to-morrow night? Will you, Buzz?”
“If I'm in this town to-morrow night I'll meet you. Is that good
He turned and strode away. But she was after him. “Where you goin'
“I'm goin' to war, that's where.”
“Yes you are!” scoffed Miss Kearney. Then, at his silence: “You
didn't go and do a fool thing like that?”
“I sure did.”
“When you goin'?”
“Well, of all the big boobs,” sneered Miss Kearney; “what did you go
and do that for?”
“Search me,” said Buzz, dully. “Search me.”
Then he turned and went on toward home, alone. The Kearney girl's
silly, empty laugh came back to him through the darkness. It might have
been called a scornful laugh if the Kearney girl had been capable of
any emotion so dignified as scorn.
The family was still up. The door was open to the warm May night.
The Werners, in their moments of relaxation, were as unbuttoned and
highly negligee as one of those group pictures you see of the
Robert Louis Stevenson family. Pa, shirt-sleeved, stocking-footed,
asleep in his chair. Ma's dress open at the front. Minnie, in an untidy
On this flaccid group Buzz burst, bomb-like. He hung his hat on the
hook, wordlessly. The noise he made woke his father, as he had meant
that it should. There came a muttered growl from the old man. Buzz
leaned against the stairway door, negligently. The eyes of the three
were on him.
“Well,” he said, “I guess you won't be bothered with me much
longer.” Ma Werner's head came up sharply at that.
“What you done, Ernie?”
“For the war; what do you suppose?”
Ma Werner rose at that, heavily. “Ernie! You never!”
Pa Werner was wide awake now. Out of his memory of the old country,
and soldier service there, he put his next question. “Did you sign to
“When you goin'?”
Even Pa Werner gasped at that.
In families like the Werners emotion is rarely expressed. But now,
because of something in the stricken face and starting eyes of the
woman, and the open-mouthed dumbfoundedness of the old man, and the
sudden tender fearfulness in the face of the girl; and because, in that
moment, all these seemed very safe, and accustomed, and, somehow, dear,
Buzz curled his mouth into the sneer of the tough guy and spoke out of
the corner of that contorted feature.
“What did you think I was goin' to do? Huh? Stick around here and
take dirt from the bunch of you! Nix! I'm through!”
There was nothing dramatic about Buzz's going. He seemed to be
whisked away. One moment he was eating his breakfast at an unaccustomed
hour, in his best shirt and trousers, his mother, only half
understanding even now, standing over him with the coffee pot; the next
he was standing with his cheap shiny suitcase in his hand. Then he was
waiting on the depot platform, and Hefty Burke, the baggage man, was
saying, “Where you goin', Buzz?”
“Goin' to fight the Germans.”
Hefty had hooted hoarsely: “Ya-a-as you are, you big bluff!”
“Who you callin' a bluff, you baggage-smasher, you! I'm goin' to
war, I'm tellin' you.”
Hefty, still scoffing, turned away to his work. “Well, then, I guess
it's as good as over. Give old Willie a swipe for me, will you?”
“You bet I will. Watch me!”
I think he more than half meant it.
And thus Buzz Werner went to war. He was vague about its locality.
Somewhere in Europe. He was pretty sure it was France. A line from his
Fourth Grade geography came back to him. “The French,” it had said,
“are a gay people, fond of dancing and light wines.”
Well, that sounded all right.
The things that happened to Buzz Werner in the next twelve months
cannot be detailed here. They would require the space of what the
publishers call a 12-mo volume. Buzz himself could never have told you.
Things happened too swiftly, too concentratedly.
Chicago first. Buzz had never seen Chicago. Now that he saw it, he
hardly believed it. His first glimpse of it left him cowering,
terrified. The noise, the rush, the glitter, the grimness, the
vastness, were like blows upon his defenceless head. They beat the
braggadocio and the self-confidence temporarily out of him. But only
Then came a camp. A rough, temporary camp compared to which the
present cantonments are luxurious. The United States Government took
Buzz Werner by the slack of the trousers and the slack of the mind,
and, holding him thus, shook him into shape—and into submission. And
eventually—though it required months—into an understanding of why
that submission was manly, courageous, and fine. But before he learned
that he learned many other things. He learned there was little good in
saying, “Aw, g'wan!” to a dapper young lieutenant if they clapped you
into the guard-house for saying it. There was little point to throwing
down your shovel and refusing to shovel coal if they clapped you into
the guard house for doing it; and made you shovel harder than ever when
you came out. He learned what it was to rise at dawn and go
thud-thud-thudding down a dirt road for endless weary miles. He became
an olive-drab unit in an olive-drab village. He learned what it was to
wake up in the morning so sore and lame that he felt as if he had been
pulled apart, limb from limb, during the night, and never put together
again. He stood out with a raw squad in the dirt of No Man's Land
between barracks and went through exercises that took hold of his great
slack muscles and welded them into whip-cords. And in front of him,
facing him, stood a slim, six-foot whipper-snapper of a lieutenant,
hatless, coatless, tireless, merciless—a creature whom Buzz at first
thought he could snap between thumb and finger—like that!—who made
life a hell for Buzz Werner. Until his muscles became used to it.
“One—two!—three! One—two—three! One—two
—three!” yelled this person. And, “In_hale! Ex_hale! In_hale!
Ex_hale!” till Buzz's lungs were bursting, his eyes were starting from
his head, his chest carried a sledge hammer inside it, his
thigh-muscles screamed, and his legs, arms, neck, were no longer parts
of him, but horrid useless burdens, detached, yet clinging. He learned
what this person meant when he shouted (always with the rising
inflection), “Comp'ny! Right! Whup!” Buzz whupped with the best
of 'em. The whipper-snapper seemed tireless. Long after Buzz felt that
another moment of it would kill him the lithe young lieutenant would be
leaping about like a faun, and pride kept Buzz going though he wanted
to drop with fatigue, and his shirt and hair and face were wet with
So much for his body. It soon became accustomed to the routine, then
hardened. His mind was less pliable. But that, too, was undergoing a
change. He found that the topics of conversation that used to interest
his little crowd on the street corner in Chippewa were not of much
interest, here. There were boys from every part of the great country.
And they talked of the places whence they had come and speculated about
the places to which they were going. And Buzz listened and learned.
There was strangely little talk about girls. There usually is when
muscles and mind are being driven to the utmost. But he heard men—men
as big as he—speak openly of things that he had always sneered at as
soft. After one of these conversations he wrote an awkward, but
significant scrawl home to his mother.
“Well Ma,” he wrote, “I guess maybe you would like to hear a few
words from me. Well I like it in the army it is the life for me you
bet. I am feeling great how are you all—”
Ma Werner wasted an entire morning showing it around the
neighbourhood, and she read and reread it until it was almost pulp.
Six months of this. Buzz Werner was an intelligent machine composed
of steel, cord, and iron. I think he had forgotten that the Kearney
girl had ever existed. One day, after three months of camp life, the
man in the next cot had thrown him a volume of Kipling. Buzz fingered
it, disinterestedly. Until that moment Kipling had not existed for Buzz
Werner. After that moment he dominated his leisure hours. The Y.M.C.A.
hut had many battered volumes of this writer. Buzz read them all.
The week before Thanksgiving Buzz found himself on his way to New
York. For some reason unexplained to him he was separated from his
company in one of the great shake-ups performed for the good of the
army. He never saw them again. He was sent straight to a New York camp.
When he beheld his new lieutenant his limbs became fluid, and his heart
leaped into his throat, and his mouth stood open, and his eyes bulged.
It was young Hatton—Harry Hatton—whose aristocratic nose he had
punched six months before, in the Hatton Pulp and Paper Mill.
And even as he stared young Hatton fixed him with his eye, and then
came over to him and said, “It's all right, Werner.”
Buzz Werner could only salute with awkward respect, while with one
great gulp his heart slid back into normal place. He had not thought
that Hatton was so tall, or so broad-shouldered, or so—
He no more thought of telling the other men that he had once knocked
this man down than he thought of knocking him down again. He would
almost as soon have thought of taking a punch at the President.
The day before Thanksgiving Buzz was told he might have a holiday.
Also he was given an address and a telephone number in New York City
and told that if he so desired he might call at that address and
receive a bountiful Thanksgiving dinner. They were expecting him there.
That the telephone exchange was Murray Hill, and the street Madison
Avenue meant nothing to Buzz. He made the short trip to New York,
floundered about the city, found every one willing and eager to help
him find the address on the slip, and brought up, finally, in front of
the house on Madison Avenue. It was a large, five-story stone place,
and Buzz supposed it was a flat, of course. He stood off and surveyed
it. Then he ascended the steps and rang the bell. They must have been
waiting for him. The door was opened by a large amiable-looking,
middle-aged man who said, “Well, well! Come in, come in, my boy!” a
great deal as the folks in Chippewa, Wisconsin, might have said it. The
stout old party also said he was glad to see him and Buzz believed it.
They went upstairs, much to Buzz's surprise. In Buzz's experience
upstairs always meant bedrooms. But in this case it meant a great
bright sitting room, with books in it, and a fireplace, very cheerful.
There were not a lot of people in the room. Just a middle-aged woman in
a soft kind of dress, who came to him without any fuss and the first
thing he knew he felt acquainted. Within the next fifteen minutes or so
some other members of the family seemed to ooze in, unnoticeably. First
thing you knew, there they were. They didn't pay such an awful lot of
attention to you. Just took you for granted. A couple of young kids, a
girl of fourteen, and a boy of sixteen who asked you easy questions
about the army till you found yourself patronising him. And a tall
black-haired girl who made you think of the vamps in the movies, only
her eyes were different. And then, with a little rush, a girl about his
own age, or maybe younger—he couldn't tell—who came right up to him,
and put out her hand, and gave him a grip with her hard little fist,
just like a boy, and said, “I'm Joyce Ladd.”
“Pleased to meetcha,” mumbled Buzz. And then he found himself
talking to her quite easily. She knew a surprising lot about the army.
“I've two brothers over there,” she said. “And all my friends, of
course.” He found out later, quite by accident, that this boyish, but
strangely appealing person belonged to some sort of Motor Service
League, and drove an automobile, every day, from eight to six, up and
down and round and about New York, working like a man in the service of
the country. He never would have believed that the world held that kind
Then four other men in uniform came in, and it turned out that three
of them were privates like himself, and the other a sergeant. Their
awkward entrance made him feel more than ever at ease, and ten minutes
later they were all talking like mad, and laughing and joking as if
they had known these people for years. They all went in to dinner. Buzz
got panicky when he thought of the knives and forks, but that turned
out all right, too, because they brought these as you needed them. And
besides, the things they gave you to eat weren't much different from
the things you had for Sunday or Thanksgiving dinner at home, and it
was cooked the way his mother would have cooked it—even better,
perhaps. And lots of it. And paper snappers and caps and things, and
much laughter and talk. And Buzz Werner, who had never been shown any
respect or deference in his life, was asked, politely, his opinion of
the war, and the army, and when he thought it all would end; and he
told them, politely, too.
After dinner Mrs. Ladd said, “What would you boys like to do? Would
you like to drive around the city and see New York? Or would you like
to go to a matinee, or a picture show? Or do you want to stay here?
Some of Joyce's girl friends are coming in a little later.”
And Buzz found himself saying, stumblingly, “I—I'd kind of rather
stay and talk with the girls.” Buzz, the tough guy, blushing like a shy
They did not even laugh at that. They just looked as if they
understood that you missed girls at camp. Mrs. Ladd came over to him
and put her hand on his arm and said, “That's splendid. We'll all go up
to the ballroom and dance.” And they did. And Buzz, who had learned to
dance at places like Kearney's saloon, and at the mill shindigs, glided
expertly about with Joyce Ladd of Madison Avenue, and found himself
seated in a great cushioned window-seat, talking with her about
Kipling. It was like talking to another fellow, almost, only it had a
thrill in it. She said such comic things. And when she laughed she
threw back her head and your eyes were dazzled by her slender white
throat. They all stayed for supper. And when they left Mrs. Ladd and
Joyce handed them packages that, later, turned out to be cigarettes,
and chocolate, and books, and soap, and knitted things and a wallet.
And when Buzz opened the wallet and found, with relief, that there was
no money in it he knew that he had met and mingled with American
royalty as its equal.
Three days later he sailed for France.
Buzz Werner, the Chippewa tough guy, in Paris! Buzz Werner at
Napoleon's tomb, that glorious white marble poem. Buzz Werner in the
Place de la Concorde. Eating at funny little Paris restaurants.
Then a new life. Life in a drab, rain-soaked, mud-choked little
French village, sleeping in barns, or stables, or hen coops. If the
French were “a gay people, fond of dancing and light wines,” he'd like
to know where it came in! Nothing but drill and mud, mud and drill, and
rain, rain, rain! And old women with tragic faces, and young women with
old eyes. And unbelievable stories of courage and sacrifice. And more
rain, and more mud, and more drill. And then—into it!
Into it with both feet. Living in the trenches. Back home, in camp,
they had refused to take the trenches seriously. They had played in
them as children play bear under the piano or table, and had refused to
keep their heads down. But Buzz learned to keep his down now, quickly
enough. A first terrifying stretch of this, then back to the rear
again. More mud and drill. Marches so long and arduous that walking was
no longer walking but a dreadful mechanical motion. He learned what
thirst was, did Buzz. He learned what it was to be obliged to keep your
mind off the thought of pails of water—pails that slopped and brimmed
over, so that you could put your head into them and lip around like a
Then back into the trenches. And finally, over the top! Very little
memory of what happened after that. A rush. Trampling over soft heaps
that writhed. Some one yelling like an Indian with a voice somehow like
his own. The German trench reached. At them with his bayonet! He
remembered, automatically, how his manual had taught him to jerk out
the steel, after you had driven it home. He did it. Into the very
trench itself. A great six-foot German struggling with a slim figure
that Buzz somehow recognised as his lieutenant, Hatton. A leap at him,
like an enraged dog:
“G'wan! who you shovin', you big slob you” yelled Buzz (I regret to
say). And he thrust at him, and through him. The man released his
grappling hold of Hatton's throat, and grunted, and sat down. And Buzz
laughed. And the two went on, Buzz behind his lieutenant, and then
something smote his thigh, and he too sat down. The dying German had
thrown his last bomb, and it had struck home.
Buzz Werner would never again do a double shuffle on Schroeder's
Hospital days. Hospital nights. A wheel chair. Crutches. Home.
It was May once more when Buzz Werner's train came into the little
red-brick depot at Chippewa, Wisconsin. Buzz, spick and span in his
uniform, looked down rather nervously, and yet with a certain pride at
his left leg. When he sat down you couldn't tell which was the real
one. As the train pulled in at the Chippewa Junction, just before
reaching the town proper, there was old Bart Ochsner ringing the bell
for dinner at the Junction eating house. Well, for the love of Mike!
Wouldn't that make you laugh. Ringing that bell, just like always, as
if nothing had happened in the last year! Buzz leaned against the
window, to see. There was some commotion in the train and some one
spoke his name. Buzz turned, and there stood Old Man Hatton, and a lot
of others, and he seemed to be making a speech, and kind of crying,
though that couldn't be possible. And his father was there, very clean
and shaved and queer. Buzz caught words about bravery, and Chippewa's
pride, and he was fussed to death, and glad when the train pulled in at
the Chippewa station. But there the commotion was worse than ever.
There was a band, playing away like mad. Buzz's great hands grown very
white, were fidgeting at his uniform buttons, and at the stripe on his
sleeve, and the medal on his breast. They wouldn't let him carry a
thing, and when he came out on the car platform to descend there went
up a great sound that was half roar and half scream. Buzz Werner was
the first of Chippewa's men to come back.
After that it was rather hazy. There was his mother. His sister
Minnie, too. He even saw the Kearney girl, with her loose red mouth,
and her silly eyes, and she was as a strange woman to him. He was in
Hatton's glittering automobile, being driven down Grand Avenue. There
were speeches, and a dinner, and, later, when he was allowed to go
home, rather white, a steady stream of people pouring in and out of the
house all day. That night, when he limped up the stairs to his hot
little room under the roof he was dazed, spent, and not so very happy.
Next morning, though, he felt more himself, and inclined to joke.
And then there was a talk with old Man Hatton; a talk that left Buzz
somewhat numb, and the family breathless.
Visitors again, all that afternoon.
After supper he carried water for the garden, against his mother's
“What'll folks think!” she said, “you carryin' water for me?”
Afterward he took his smart visored cap off the hook and limped down
town, his boots and leggings and uniform very spick and span from Ma
Werner's expert brushing and rubbing. She refused to let Buzz touch
them, although he tried to tell her that he had done that job for a
At the corner of Grand and Outagamie, in front of Schroeder's drug
store, stood what was left of the gang, and some new members who had
come during the year that had passed. Buzz knew them all.
They greeted him at first with a mixture of shyness and resentment.
They eyed his leg, and his uniform, and the metal and ribbon thing that
hung at his breast. Bing and Red and Spider were there. Casey was gone.
Finally Spider spat and said, “G'wan, Buzz, give us your spiel about
how you saved young Hatton—the simp!”
“Who says he's a simp?” inquired Buzz, very quietly. But there was a
look about his jaw.
“Well—anyway—the papers was full of how you was a hero. Say, is
that right that old Hatton's goin' to send you to college? Huh? Je's!”
“Yeh,” chorused the others, “go on, Buzz. Tell us.”
Red put his question. “Tell us about the fightin', Buzz. Is it like
It was Buzz Werner's great moment. He had pictured it a thousand
times in his mind as he lay in the wet trenches, as he plodded the
muddy French roads, as he reclined in his wheel chair in the hospital
garden. He had them in the hollow of his hand. His eyes brightened. He
looked at the faces so eagerly fixed on his utterance.
“G'wan, Buzz,” they urged.
Buzz opened his lips and the words he used were the words he might
have used a year before, as to choice. “There's nothin' to tell. A guy
didn't have no time to be scairt. Everything kind of come at once, and
you got yours, or either you didn't. That's all there was to it. Je's,
it was fierce!”
They waited. Nothing more. “Yeh, but tell us—”
And suddenly Buzz turned away. The little group about him fell back,
respectfully. Something in his face, perhaps. A quietness, a new
“S'long, boys,” he said. And limped off, toward home.
And in that moment Buzz, the bully and braggart, vanished forever.
And in his place—head high, chest up, eyes clear—limped Ernest
Werner, the man.
IV. THE ELDEST
The Self-Complacent Young Cub leaned an elbow against the mantel as
you've seen it done in English plays, and blew a practically perfect
smoke-ring. It hurtled toward me like a discus.
“Trouble with your stuff,” he began at once (we had just been
introduced), “is that it lacks plot. Been meaning to meet and tell you
that for a long time. Your characterization's all right, and your
dialogue. In fact, I think they're good. But your stuff lacks raison
d'etre—if you know what I mean.
“But”—in feeble self-defence—“people's insides are often so much
more interesting than their outsides; that which they think or feel so
much more thrilling than anything they actually do. Bennett—Wells—”
“Rot!” remarked the young cub, briskly. “Plot's the thing.”
* * * * *
There is no plot to this because there is no plot to Rose. There
never was. There never will be. Compared to the drab monotony of Rose's
existence a desert waste is as thrilling as a five-reel film.
They had called her Rose, fatuously, as parents do their first-born
girl. No doubt she had been normally pink and white and velvety. It is
a risky thing to do, however. Think back hastily on the Roses you know.
Don't you find a startling majority still clinging, sere and withered,
to the family bush?
In Chicago, Illinois, a city of two millions (or is it three?),
there are women whose lives are as remote, as grey, as unrelated to the
world about them as is the life of a Georgia cracker's woman-drudge.
Rose was one of these. An unwed woman, grown heavy about the hips and
arms, as houseworking women do, though they eat but little, moving
dully about the six-room flat on Sangamon Street, Rose was as much a
slave as any black wench of plantation days.
There was the treadmill of endless dishes, dirtied as fast as
cleansed; there were beds, and beds, and beds; gravies and soups and
stews. And always the querulous voice of the sick woman in the front
bedroom demanding another hot water bag. Rose's day was punctuated by
hot water bags. They dotted her waking hours. She filled hot water bags
automatically, like a machine—water half-way to the top, then one hand
clutching the bag's slippery middle while the other, with a deft twist,
ejected the air within; a quick twirl of the metal stopper, the bag
released, squirming, and, finally, its plump and rufous cheeks wiped
“Is that too hot for you, Ma? Where'd you want it—your head or your
A spinster nearing forty, living thus, must have her memories—one
precious memory, at least—or she dies. Rose had hers. She hugged it,
close. The L trains roared by, not thirty feet from her kitchen door.
Alley and yard and street sent up their noises to her. The life of
Chicago's millions yelped at her heels. On Rose's face was the vague,
mute look of the woman whose days are spent indoors, at sordid tasks.
At six-thirty every night that look lifted, for an hour. At
six-thirty they came home—Floss, and Al, and Pa—their faces stamped
with the marks that come from a day spent in shop and factory. They
brought with them the crumbs and husks of the day's happenings, and
these they flung carelessly before the life-starved Rose and she ate
They came in with a rush, hungry, fagged, grimed, imperious,
smelling of the city. There was a slamming of doors, a banging of
drawers, a clatter of tongues, quarrelling, laughter. A brief visit to
the sick woman's room. The thin, complaining voice reciting its tale of
the day's discomfort and pain. Then supper.
“Guess who I waited on to-day!” Floss might demand.
Rose, dishing up, would pause, interested. “Who?”
“Gladys Moraine! I knew her the minute she came down the aisle. I
saw her last year when she was playing in 'His Wives.' She's prettier
off than on, I think. I waited on her, and the other girls were wild.
She bought a dozen pairs of white kids, and made me give 'em to her
huge, so she could shove her hand right into 'em, like a man does. Two
sizes too big. All the swells wear 'em that way. And only one ring—an
emerald the size of a dime.”
“What'd she wear?” Rose's dull face was almost animated.
“Ah yes!” in a dreamy falsetto from Al, “what did she wear?”
“Oh, shut up, Al! Just a suit, kind of plain, and yet you'd notice
it. And sables! And a Gladys Moraine hat. Everything quiet, and plain,
and dark; and yet she looked like a million dollars. I felt like a
roach while I was waiting on her, though she was awfully sweet to me.”
Or perhaps Al, the eel-like, would descend from his heights to
mingle a brief moment in the family talk. Al clerked in the National
Cigar Company's store at Clark and Madison. His was the wisdom of the
snake, the weasel, and the sphinx. A strangely silent young man, this
Al, thin-lipped, smooth-cheeked, perfumed. Slim of waist, flat of hip,
narrow of shoulder, his was the figure of the born fox-trotter. He
walked lightly, on the balls of his feet, like an Indian, but without
the Indian's dignity.
“Some excitement ourselves, to-day, down at the store, believe me.
The Old Man's son started in to learn the retail selling end of the
business. Back of the showcase with the rest of us, waiting on trade,
and looking like a Yale yell.”
Pa would put down his paper to stare over his reading specs at Al.
“Mannheim's son! The president!”
“Yep! And I guess he loves it, huh? The Old Man wants him to learn
the business from the ground up. I'll bet he'll never get higher than
the first floor. To-day he went out to lunch at one and never shows up
again till four. Wears English collars, and smokes a brand of
cigarettes we don't carry.”
Thus was the world brought to Rose. Her sallow cheek would show a
faint hint of colour as she sipped her tea.
At six-thirty on a Monday morning in late April (remember, nothing's
going to happen) Rose smothered her alarm clock at the first warning
snarl. She was wide-awake at once, as are those whose yesterdays,
to-days and to-morrows are all alike. Rose never opened her eyes to the
dim, tantalising half-consciousness of a something delightful or a
something harrowing in store for her that day. For one to whom the
wash-woman's Tuesday visitation is the event of the week, and in whose
bosom the delivery boy's hoarse “Groc-rees!” as he hurls soap and
cabbage on the kitchen table, arouses a wild flurry, there can be very
little thrill on awakening.
Rose slept on the davenport-couch in the sitting-room. That fact in
itself rises her status in the family. This Monday morning she opened
her eyes with what might be called a start if Rose were any other sort
of heroine. Something had happened, or was happening. It wasn't the six
o'clock steam hissing in the radiator. She was accustomed to that. The
rattle of the L trains, and the milkman's artillery disturbed her as
little as does the chirping of the birds the farmer's daughter. A
sensation new, yet familiar; delicious, yet painful, held her. She
groped to define it, lying there. Her gaze, wandering over the expanse
of the grey woollen blanket, fixed upon a small black object trembling
there. The knowledge that came to her then had come, many weeks before,
in a hundred subtle and exquisite ways, to those who dwell in the open
places. Rose's eyes narrowed craftily. Craftily, stealthily, she sat
up, one hand raised. Her eyes still fixed on the quivering spot, the
hand descended, lightning-quick. But not quickly enough. The black spot
vanished. It sped toward the open window. Through that window there
came a balmy softness made up of Lake Michigan zephyr, and stockyards
smell, and distant budding things. Rose had failed to swat the first
fly of the season. Spring had come.
As she got out of bed and thud-thudded across the room on her heels
to shut the window she glanced out into the quiet street. Her city
eyes, untrained to nature's hints, failed to notice that the scraggy,
smoke-dwarfed oak that sprang, somehow, miraculously, from the mangey
little dirt-plot in front of the building had developed surprising
things all over its scrawny branches overnight. But she did see that
the front windows of the flat building across the way were bare of the
Chicago-grey lace curtains that had hung there the day before. House
cleaning! Well, most decidedly spring had come.
Rose was the household's Aurora. Following the donning of her limp
and obscure garments it was Rose's daily duty to tear the silent family
from its slumbers. Ma was always awake, her sick eyes fixed hopefully
on the door. For fourteen years it had been the same.
“Sleeping! I haven't closed an eye all night.”
Rose had learned not to dispute that statement.
“It's spring out! I'm going to clean the closets and the bureau
drawers to-day. I'll have your coffee in a jiffy. Do you feel like
getting up and sitting out on the back porch, toward noon, maybe?”
On her way kitchenward she stopped for a sharp tattoo at the door of
the room in which Pa and Al slept. A sleepy grunt of remonstrance
rewarded her. She came to Floss's door, turned the knob softly, peered
in. Floss was sleeping as twenty sleeps, deeply, dreamlessly, one slim
bare arm outflung, the lashes resting ever so lightly on the delicate
curve of cheek. As she lay there asleep in her disordered bedroom, her
clothes strewing chair, dresser, floor, Floss's tastes, mental
equipment, spiritual make-up, innermost thoughts, were as plainly to be
read by the observer as though she had been scientifically charted by a
psycho-analyst, a metaphysician and her dearest girl friend.
“Floss! Floss, honey! Quarter to seven!” Floss stirred, moaned
faintly, dropped into sleep again.
Fifteen minutes later, the table set, the coffee simmering, the
morning paper brought from the back porch to Ma, Rose had heard none of
the sounds that proclaimed the family astir—the banging of drawers,
the rush of running water, the slap of slippered feet. A peep of
enquiry into the depths of the coffee pot, the gas turned to a circle
of blue beads, and she was down the hall to sound the second alarm.
“Floss, you know if Al once gets into the bathroom!” Floss sat up in
bed, her eyes still closed. She made little clucking sounds with her
tongue and lips, as a baby does when it wakes. Drugged with sleep, hair
tousled, muscles sagging, at seven o'clock in the morning, the most
trying hour in the day for a woman, Floss was still triumphantly
pretty. She had on one of those absurd pink muslin nightgowns, artfully
designed to look like crepe de chine. You've seen them rosily displayed
in the cheaper shop windows, marked ninety-eight cents, and you may
have wondered who might buy them, forgetting that there is an imitation
mind for every imitation article in the world.
Rose stooped, picked up a pair of silk stockings from the floor, and
ran an investigating hand through to heel and toe. She plucked a soiled
pink blouse off the back of a chair, eyed it critically, and tucked it
under her arm with the stockings.
“Did you have a good time last night?”
Floss yawned elaborately, stretched her slim arms high above her
head; then, with a desperate effort, flung back the bed-clothes, swung
her legs over the side of the bed and slipped her toes into the shabby,
pomponed slippers that lay on the floor.
“I say, did you have a g—”
“Oh Lord, I don't know! I guess so,” snapped Floss. Temperamentally,
Floss was not at her best at seven o'clock on Monday morning. Rose did
not pursue the subject. She tried another tack.
“It's as mild as summer out. I see the Werners and the Burkes are
housecleaning. I thought I'd start to-day with the closets, and the
bureau drawers. You could wear your blue this morning, if it was
Floss yawned again, disinterestedly, and folded her kimono about
“Go as far as you like. Only don't put things back in my closet so's
I can't ever find 'em again. I wish you'd press that blue skirt. And
wash out the Georgette crepe waist. I might need it.”
The blouse, and skirt, and stockings under her arm, Rose went back
to the kitchen to prepare her mother's breakfast tray. Wafted back to
her came the acrid odour of Pa's matutinal pipe, and the accustomed
bickering between Al and Floss over the possession of the bathroom.
“What do you think this is, anyway? A Turkish bath?”
“Shave in your own room!”
Between Floss and Al there existed a feud that lifted only when a
third member of the family turned against either of them. Immediately
they about-faced and stood united against the offender.
Pa was the first to demand breakfast, as always. Very neat, was Pa,
and fussy, and strangely young looking to be the husband of the
grey-haired, parchment-skinned woman who lay in the front bedroom. Pa
had two manias: the movies, and a passion for purchasing new and
complicated household utensils—cream-whippers, egg-beaters,
window-clamps, lemon-squeezers, silver-polishers. He haunted department
store basements in search of them.
He opened his paper now and glanced at the head-lines and at the
Monday morning ads. “I see the Fair's got a spring housecleaning sale.
They advertise a new kind of extension curtain rod. And Scouro, three
cakes for a dime.”
“If you waste one cent more on truck like that,” Rose protested,
placing his breakfast before him, “when half the time I can't make the
housekeeping money last through the week!”
“Your ma did it.”
“Fourteen years ago liver wasn't thirty-two cents a pound,” retorted
Rose, “and besides—”
“Scramble 'em!” yelled Al, from the bedroom, by way of warning.
There was very little talk after that. The energies of three of them
were directed toward reaching the waiting desk or counter on time. The
energy of one toward making that accomplishment easy. The front door
slammed once—that was Pa, on his way; slammed again—Al. Floss rushed
into the dining-room fastening the waist-band of her skirt, her hat
already on. Rose always had a rather special breakfast for Floss. Floss
posed as being a rather special person. She always breakfasted last,
and late. Floss's was a fastidiousness which shrinks at badly served
food, a spotted table-cloth, or a last year's hat, while it overlooks a
rent in an undergarment or the accumulated dust in a hairbrush. Her
blouse was of the sheerest. Her hair shone in waves about her delicate
checks. She ate her orange, and sipped her very special coffee, and
made a little face over her egg that had been shirred in the oven or in
some way highly specialised. Then the front door slammed again—a
semi-slam, this time. Floss never did quite close a door. Rose followed
her down the hall, shut and bolted it, Chicago fashion. The sick woman
in the front bedroom had dropped into one of her fitful morning dozes.
At eight o'clock the little flat was very still.
If you knew nothing about Rose; if you had not already been told
that she slept on the sitting-room davenport; that she was taken for
granted as the family drudge; that she was, in that household, merely
an intelligent machine that made beds, fried eggs, filled hot water
bags, you would get a characterization of her from this: She was the
sort of person who never has a closet or bureau drawer all her own. Her
few and negligible garments hung apologetically in obscure corners of
closets dedicated to her sister's wardrobe or her brother's, or her
spruce and fussy old father's. Vague personal belongings, such as
combings, handkerchiefs, a spectacle case, a hairbrush, were found
tucked away in a desk pigeon-hole, a table drawer, or on the top shelf
in the bathroom.
As she pulled the disfiguring blue gingham dust-cap over her hair
now, and rolled her sleeves to her elbows, you would never have dreamed
that Rose was embarking upon her great adventure. You would never have
guessed that the semi-yearly closet cleaning was to give to Rose a
thrill as delicious as it was exquisitely painful. But Rose knew. And
so she teased herself, and tried not to think of the pasteboard box on
the shelf in the hall closet, under the pile of reserve blankets, and
told herself that she would leave that closet until the last, when she
would have to hurry over it.
* * * * *
When you clean closets and bureau drawers thoroughly you have to
carry things out to the back porch and flap them, Rose was that sort of
housekeeper. She leaned over the porch railing and flapped things, so
that the dust motes spun and swirled in the sunshine. Rose's arms
worked up and down energetically, then less energetically, finally
ceased their motion altogether. She leaned idle elbows on the porch
railing and gazed down into the yard below with a look in her eyes such
as no squalid Chicago back yard, with its dusty debris, could summon,
even in spring-time.
The woman next door came out on her back porch that adjoined Rose's.
The day seemed to have her in its spell, too, for in her hand was
something woolly and wintry, and she began to flap it about as Rose had
done. She had lived next door since October, had that woman, but the
two had never exchanged a word, true to the traditions of their city
training. Rose had her doubts of the woman next door. She kept a toy
dog which she aired afternoons, and her kimonos were florid and
numerous. Now, as the eyes of the two women met, Rose found herself
saying, “Looks like summer.”
The woman next door caught the scrap of conversation eagerly,
hungrily. “It certainly does! Makes me feel like new clothes, and
“I started to-day!” said Rose, triumphantly.
“Not already!” gasped the woman next door, with the chagrin that
only a woman knows who has let May steal upon her unawares.
From far down the alley sounded a chant, drawing nearer and nearer,
until there shambled into view a decrepit horse drawing a dilapidated
huckster's cart. Perched on the seat was a Greek who turned his dusky
face up toward the two women leaning over the porch railings. “Rhubarb,
leddy. Fresh rhubarb!”
“My folks don't care for rhubarb sauce,” Rose told the woman next
“It makes the worst pie in the world,” the woman confided to Rose.
Whereupon each bought a bunch of the succulent green and red stalks.
It was their offering at the season's shrine.
Rose flung the rhubarb on the kitchen table, pulled her dust-cap
more firmly about her ears, and hurried back to the disorder of Floss's
dim little bedroom. After that it was dust-cloth, and soapsuds, and
scrub-brush in a race against recurrent water bags, insistent
doorbells, and the inevitable dinner hour. It was mid-afternoon when
Rose, standing a-tiptoe on a chair, came at last to the little box on
the top shelf under the bedding in the hall closet. Her hand touched
the box, and closed about it. A little electric thrill vibrated through
her body. She stepped down from the chair, heavily, listened until her
acute ear caught the sound of the sick woman's slumbrous breathing;
then, box in hand, walked down the dark hall to the kitchen. The
rhubarb pie, still steaming in its pan, was cooling on the kitchen
table. The dishes from the invalid's lunch-tray littered the sink. But
Rose, seated on the kitchen chair, her rumpled dust-cap pushed back
from her flushed, perspiring face, untied the rude bit of string that
bound the old candy box, removed the lid, slowly, and by that act was
wafted magically out of the world of rhubarb pies, and kitchen chairs,
and dirty dishes, into that place whose air is the breath of incense
and myrrh, whose paths are rose-strewn, whose dwellings are temples
dedicated to but one small god. The land is known as Love, and Rose
travelled back to it on the magic rug of memory.
A family of five in a six-room Chicago flat must sacrifice sentiment
to necessity. There is precious little space for those pressed flowers,
time-yellowed gowns, and ribbon-bound packets that figured so
prominently in the days of attics. Into the garbage can with
yesterday's roses! The janitor's burlap sack yawns for this morning's
mail; last year's gown has long ago met its end at the hands of the
ol'-clo'es man or the wash-woman's daughter. That they had survived
these fourteen years, and the strictures of their owner's dwelling,
tells more about this boxful of letters than could be conveyed by a
battalion of adjectives.
Rose began at the top of the pile, in her orderly fashion, and read
straight through to the last. It took one hour. Half of that time she
was not reading. She was staring straight ahead with what is mistakenly
called an unseeing look, but which actually pierces the veil of years
and beholds things far, far beyond the vision of the actual eye. They
were the letters of a commonplace man to a commonplace woman, written
when they loved each other, and so they were touched with something of
the divine. They must have been, else how could they have sustained
this woman through fifteen years of drudgery? They were the only
tangible foundation left of the structure of dreams she had built about
this man. All the rest of her house of love had tumbled about her ears
fifteen years before, but with these few remaining bricks she had
erected many times since castles and towers more exquisite and lofty
and soaring than the original humble structure had ever been.
The story? Well, there really isn't any, as we've warned you. Rose
had been pretty then in much the same delicate way that Floss was
pretty now. They were to have been married. Rose's mother fell ill,
Floss and Al were little more than babies. The marriage was put off.
The illness lasted six months—a year—two years—became interminable.
The breach into which Rose had stepped closed about her and became a
prison. The man had waited, had grown impatient, finally rebelled. He
had fled, probably, to marry a less encumbered lady. Rose had gone
dully on, caring for the household, the children, the sick woman. In
the years that had gone by since then Rose had forgiven him his
faithlessness. She only remembered that he had been wont to call her
his Roeschen, his Rosebud, his pretty flower (being a German
gentleman). She only recalled the wonder of having been first in some
one's thoughts—she who now was so hopelessly, so irrevocably last.
As she sat there in her kitchen, wearing her soap-stained and faded
blue gingham, and the dust-cap pushed back at a rakish angle, a
simpering little smile about her lips, she was really very much like
the disappointed old maids you used to see so cruelly pictured in the
comic valentines. Had those letters obsessed her a little more strongly
she might have become quite mad, the Freudians would tell you. Had they
held less for her, or had she not been so completely the household's
slave, she might have found a certain solace and satisfaction in
viewing the Greek profile and marcel wave of the most-worshipped movie
star. As it was, they were her ballast, her refuge, the leavening yeast
in the soggy dough of her existence. This man had wanted her to be his
wife. She had found favour in his eyes. She was certain that he still
thought of her, sometimes, and tenderly, regretfully, as she thought of
him. It helped her to live. Not only that, it made living possible.
A clock struck, a window slammed, or a street-noise smote her ear
sharply. Some sound started her out of her reverie. Rose jumped, stared
a moment at the letters in her lap, then hastily, almost shamefacedly,
sorted them (she knew each envelope by heart) tied them, placed them in
their box and bore them down the hail. There, mounting her chair, she
scrubbed the top shelf with her soapy rag, placed the box in its
corner, left the hall closet smelling of cleanliness, with never a hint
of lavender to betray its secret treasure.
Were Rose to die and go to Heaven, there to spend her days thumbing
a golden harp, her hands, by force of habit, would, drop harp-strings
at quarter to six, to begin laying a celestial and unspotted
table-cloth for supper. Habits as deeply rooted as that must hold, even
To-night's six-thirty stampede was noticeably subdued on the part of
Pa and Al. It had been a day of sudden and enervating heat, and the
city had done its worst to them. Pa's pink gills showed a hint of
purple. Al's flimsy silk shirt stuck to his back, and his glittering
pompadour was many degrees less submissive than was its wont. But Floss
came in late, breathless, and radiant, a large and significant paper
bag in her hand. Rose, in the kitchen, was transferring the smoking
supper from pot to platter. Pa, in the doorway of the sick woman's
little room, had just put his fourteen-year-old question with his usual
assumption of heartiness and cheer: “Well, well! And how's the old girl
to-night? Feel like you could get up and punish a little supper, eh?”
Al engaged at the telephone with some one whom he addressed
proprietorially as Kid, was deep in his plans for the evening's
diversion. Upon this accustomed scene Floss burst with havoc.
“Rose! Rose, did you iron my Georgette crepe? Listen! Guess what!”
All this as she was rushing down the hall, paper hat-bag still in hand.
“Guess who was in the store to-day!”
Rose, at the oven, turned a flushed and interested face toward
“Who? What's that? A hat?”
“Yes. But listen—”
“Let's see it.”
Floss whipped it out of its bag, defiantly. “There! But wait a
minute! Let me tell you—”
Floss hesitated just a second. Her wage was nine dollars a week.
Then, “Seven-fifty, trimmed.” The hat was one of those tiny,
head-hugging absurdities that only the Flosses can wear.
“Trimmed is right!” jeered Al, from the doorway.
Rose, thin-lipped with disapproval, turned to her stove again.
“Well, but I had to have it. I'm going to the theatre to-night. And
guess who with! Henry Selz!”
Henry Selz was the unromantic name of the commonplace man over whose
fifteen-year-old letters Rose had glowed and dreamed an hour before. It
was a name that had become mythical in that household—to all but one.
Rose heard it spoken now with a sense of unreality. She smiled a little
uncertainly, and went on stirring the flour thickening for the gravy.
But she was dimly aware that something inside her had suspended action
for a moment, during which moment she felt strangely light and
disembodied, and that directly afterward the thing began to work madly,
so that there was a choked feeling in her chest and a hot pounding in
“What's the joke?” she said, stirring the gravy in the pan.
“Joke nothing! Honest to God! I was standing back of the counter at
about ten. The rush hadn't really begun yet. Glove trade usually starts
late. I was standing there kidding Herb, the stock boy, when down the
aisle comes a man in a big hat, like you see in the western pictures,
hair a little grey at the temples, and everything, just like a movie
actor. I said to Herb, 'Is it real?' I hadn't got the words out of my
mouth when the fellow sees me, stands stock still in the middle of the
aisle with his mouth open and his eyes sticking out. 'Register
surprise,' I said to Herb, and looked around for the camera. And that
minute he took two jumps over to where I was standing, grabbed my hands
and says, 'Rose! Rose!' kind of choky. 'Not by about twenty years,' I
said. 'I'm Floss, Rose's sister. Let go my hands!'“
Rose—a transfigured Rose, glowing, trembling, radiant—repeated,
vibrantly, “You said, 'I'm Floss, Rose's sister. Let go my hands!'
“He looked kind of stunned, for just a minute. His face was a
scream, honestly. Then he said, 'But of course. Fifteen years. But I
had always thought of her as just the same.' And he kind of laughed,
ashamed, like a kid. And the whitest teeth!”
“Yes, they were—white,” said Rose. “Well?”
“Well, I said, 'Won't I do instead?' 'You bet you'll do!' he said.
And then he told me his name, and how he was living out in Spokane, and
his wife was dead, and he had made a lot of money—fruit, or real
estate, or something. He talked a lot about it at lunch, but I didn't
pay any attention, as long as he really has it a lot I care how—”
“Everything from grape-fruit to coffee. I didn't know it could be
done in one hour. Believe me, he had those waiters jumping. It takes
money. He asked all about you, and ma, and everything. And he kept
looking at me and saying, 'It's wonderful!' I said, 'Isn't it!' but I
meant the lunch. He wanted me to go driving this afternoon—auto and
everything. Kept calling me Rose. It made me kind of mad, and I told
him how you look. He said, 'I suppose so,' and asked me to go to a show
to-night. Listen, did you press my Georgette? And the blue?”
“I'll iron the waist while you're eating. I'm not hungry. It only
takes a minute. Did you say he was grey?”
“Grey? Oh, you mean—why, just here, and here. Interesting, but not
a bit old. And he's got that money look that makes waiters and doormen
and taxi drivers just hump. I don't want any supper. Just a cup of tea.
I haven't got enough time to dress in, decently, as it is.”
Al, draped in the doorway, removed his cigarette to give greater
force to his speech. “Your story interests me strangely, little gell.
But there's a couple of other people that would like to eat, even if
you wouldn't. Come on with that supper, Ro. Nobody staked me to a lunch
Rose turned to her stove again. Two carmine spots had leaped
suddenly to her cheeks. She served the meal in silence, and ate
nothing, but that was not remarkable. For the cook there is little
appeal in the meat that she has tended from its moist and bloody
entrance in the butcher's paper, through the basting or broiling stage
to its formal appearance on the platter. She saw that Al and her father
were served. Then she went back to the kitchen, and the thud of her
iron was heard as she deftly fluted the ruffles of the crepe blouse.
Floss appeared when the meal was half eaten, her hair shiningly
coiffed, the pink ribbons of her corset cover showing under her thin
kimono. She poured herself a cup of tea and drank it in little quick,
nervous gulps. She looked deliriously young, and fragile and appealing,
her delicate slenderness revealed by the flimsy garment she wore.
Excitement and anticipation lent a glow to her eyes, colour to her
cheeks. Al, glancing expertly at the ingenuousness of her artfully
simple coiffure, the slim limpness of her body, her wide-eyed gaze,
laughed a wise little laugh.
“Every move a Pickford. And so girlish withal.”
Floss ignored him. “Hurry up with that waist, Rose!”
“I'm on the collar now. In a second.” There was a little silence.
Then: “Floss, is—is Henry going to call for you—here?”
“Well, sure! Did you think I was going to meet him on the corner? He
said he wanted to see you, or something polite like that.”
She finished her tea and vanished again. Al, too, had disappeared to
begin that process from which he had always emerged incredibly sleek,
and dapper and perfumed. His progress with shaving brush, shirt, collar
and tie was marked by disjointed bars of the newest syncopation
whistled with an uncanny precision and fidelity to detail. He caught
the broken time, and tossed it lightly up again, and dropped it, and
caught it deftly like a juggler playing with frail crystal globes that
seem forever on the point of crashing to the ground.
Pa stood up, yawning. “Well,” he said, his manner very casual,
“guess I'll just drop around to the movie.”
From the kitchen, “Don't you want to sit with ma a minute, first?”
“I will when I come back. They're showing the third installment of
'The Adventures of Aline,' and I don't want to come in in the middle of
He knew the selfishness of it, this furtive and sprightly old man.
And because he knew it he attempted to hide his guilt under a burst of
“I've been slaving all day. I guess I've got the right to a little
amusement. A man works his fingers to the bone for his family, and then
his own daughter nags him.”
He stamped down the hall, righteously, and slammed the front door.
Rose came from the kitchen, the pink blouse, warm from the iron, in
one hand. She prinked out its ruffles and pleatings as she went. Floss,
burnishing her nails somewhat frantically with a dilapidated and greasy
buffer, snatched the garment from her and slipped bare arms into it.
The front door bell rang, three big, determined rings. Panic fell upon
“It's him!” whispered Floss, as if she could be heard in the
entrance three floors below. “You'll have to go.”
“I can't!” Every inch of her seemed to shrink and cower away from
the thought. “I can't!” Her eyes darted to and fro like a hunted thing
seeking to escape. She ran to the hall. “Al! Al, go to the door, will
“Can't,” came back in a thick mumble. “Shaving.”
The front door-bell rang again, three big, determined rings. “Rose!”
hissed Floss, her tone venomous. “I can't go with my waist open. For
heaven's sake! Go to the door!”
“I can't,” repeated Rose, in a kind of wail. “I—can't.” And went.
As she went she passed one futile, work-worn hand over her hair,
plucked off her apron and tossed it into; a corner, first wiping her
flushed face with it.
Henry Selz came up the shabby stairs springily as a man of forty
should. Rose stood at the door and waited for him. He stood in the
doorway a moment, uncertainly.
His uncertainty became incredulity. Then, “Why, how-do, Rose! Didn't
know you—for a minute. Well, well! It's been a long time. Let's
see—ten—fourteen—about fifteen years, isn't it?”
His tone was cheerfully conversational. He really was interested,
mathematically. He was as sentimental in his reminiscence as if he had
been calculating the lapse of time between the Chicago fire and the
“Fifteen,” said Rose, “in May. Won't you come in? Floss'll be here
in a minute.”
Henry Selz came in and sat down on the davenport couch and dabbed at
his forehead. The years had been very kind to him—those same years
that had treated Rose so ruthlessly. He had the look of an outdoor man;
a man who has met prosperity and walked with her, and followed her
pleasant ways; a man who has learned late in life of golf and caviar
and tailors, but who has adapted himself to these accessories of wealth
with a minimum of friction.
“It certainly is warm, for this time of year.” He leaned back and
regarded Rose tolerantly. “Well, and how've you been? Did little sister
tell you how flabbergasted I was when I saw her this morning? I'm
darned if it didn't take fifteen years off my age, just like that! I
got kind of balled up for one minute and thought it was you. She tell
“Yes, she told me,” said Rose.
“I hear your ma's still sick. That certainly is tough. And you've
never married, eh?”
“Never married,” echoed Rose.
And so they made conversation, a little uncomfortably, until there
came quick, light young steps down the hallway, and Floss appeared in
the door, a radiant, glowing, girlish vision. Youth was in her eyes,
her cheeks, on her lips. She radiated it. She was miraculously well
dressed, in her knowingly simple blue serge suit, and her tiny hat, and
her neat shoes and gloves.
“Ah! And how's the little girl to-night?” said Henry Selz.
Floss dimpled, blushed, smiled, swayed. “Did I keep you waiting a
terribly long time?”
“No, not a bit. Rose and I were chinning over old times, weren't we,
Rose?” A kindly, clumsy thought struck him. “Say, look here, Rose.
We're going to a show. Why don't you run and put on your hat and come
along. H'm? Come on!”
Rose smiled as a mother smiles at a child that has unknowingly hurt
her. “No, thanks, Henry. Not to-night. You and Floss run along. Yes,
I'll remember you to Ma. I'm sorry you can't see her. But she don't see
anybody, poor Ma.”
Then they were off, in a little flurry of words and laughter. From
force of habit Rose's near-sighted eyes peered critically at the hang
of Floss's blue skirt and the angle of the pert new hat. She stood a
moment, uncertainly, after they had left. On her face was the queerest
look, as of one thinking, re-adjusting, struggling to arrive at a
conclusion in the midst of sudden bewilderment. She turned mechanically
and went into her mother's room. She picked up the tray on the table by
“Who was that?” asked the sick woman, in her ghostly, devitalised
“That was Henry Selz,” said Rose.
The sick woman grappled a moment with memory. “Henry Selz!
Henry—oh, yes. Did he go out with Rose?”
“Yes,” said Rose.
“It's cold in here,” whined the sick woman.
“I'll get you a hot bag in a minute, Ma.” Rose carried the tray down
the hall to the kitchen. At that Al emerged from his bedroom, shrugging
himself into his coat. He followed Rose down the hall and watched her
as she filled the bag and screwed it and wiped it dry.
“I'll take that in to Ma,” he volunteered. He was up the hall and
back in a flash. Rose had slumped into a chair at the dining-room
table, and was pouring herself a cup of cold and bitter tea. Al came
over to her and laid one white hand on her shoulder.
“Ro, lend me a couple of dollars till Saturday, will you?”
“I should say not.”
Al doused his cigarette in the dregs of a convenient teacup. He bent
down and laid his powdered and pale cheek against Rose's sallow one.
One arm was about her, and his hand patted her shoulder.
“Oh, come on, kid,” he coaxed. “Don't I always pay you back? Come
on! Be a sweet ol' sis. I wouldn't ask you only I've got a date to go
to the White City to-night, and dance, and I couldn't get out of it. I
tried.” He kissed her, and his lips were moist, and he reeked of
tobacco, and though Rose shrugged impatiently away from him he knew
that he had won. Rose was not an eloquent woman; she was not even an
articulate one, at times. If she had been, she would have lifted up her
voice to say now:
“Oh, God! I am a woman! Why have you given me all the sorrows, and
the drudgery, and the bitterness and the thanklessness of motherhood,
with none of its joys! Give me back my youth! I'll drink the dregs at
the bottom of the cup, but first let me taste the sweet!”
But Rose did not talk or think in such terms. She could not have put
into words the thing she was feeling even if she had been able to
diagnose it. So what she said was, “Don't you think I ever get sick and
tired of slaving for a thankless bunch like you? Well, I do! Sick and
tired of it. That's what! You make me tired, coming around asking for
money, as if I was a bank.”
But Al waited. And presently she said, grudgingly, wearily, “There's
a dollar bill and some small change in the can on the second shelf in
the china closet.”
Al was off like a terrier. From the pantry came the clink of metal
against metal. He was up the hall in a flash, without a look at Rose.
The front door slammed a third time.
Rose stirred her cold tea slowly, leaning on the table's edge and
gazing down into the amber liquid that she did not mean to drink. For
suddenly and comically her face puckered up like a child's. Her head
came down among the supper things with a little crash that set the
teacups, and the greasy plates to jingling, and she sobbed as she lay
there, with great tearing, ugly sobs that would not be stilled, though
she tried to stifle them as does one who lives in a paper-thin Chicago
flat. She was not weeping for the Henry Selz whom she had just seen.
She was not weeping for envy of her selfish little sister, or for
loneliness, or weariness. She was weeping at the loss of a ghost who
had become her familiar. She was weeping because a packet of soiled and
yellow old letters on the top shelf in the hall closet was now only a
packet of soiled and yellow old letters, food for the ash can. She was
weeping because the urge of spring, that had expressed itself in her
only this morning pitifully enough in terms of rhubarb, and
housecleaning and a bundle of thumbed old love letters, had stirred in
her for the last time.
But presently she did stop her sobbing and got up and cleared the
table, and washed the dishes and even glanced at the crumpled sheets of
the morning paper that she never found time to read until evening. By
eight o'clock the little flat was very still.
V. THAT'S MARRIAGE
Theresa Platt (she that had been Terry Sheehan) watched her husband
across the breakfast table with eyes that smouldered. When a woman's
eyes smoulder at 7.30 a.m. the person seated opposite her had better
look out. But Orville Platt was quite unaware of any smouldering in
progress. He was occupied with his eggs. How could he know that these
very eggs were feeding the dull red menace in Terry Platt's eyes?
When Orville Platt ate a soft-boiled egg he concentrated on it. He
treated it as a great adventure. Which, after all, it is. Few adjuncts
of our daily life contain the element of chance that is to be found in
a three-minute breakfast egg.
This was Orville Platt's method of attack: First, he chipped off the
top, neatly. Then he bent forward and subjected it to a passionate and
relentless scrutiny. Straightening—preparatory to plunging his spoon
therein—he flapped his right elbow. It wasn't exactly a flap; it was a
pass between a hitch and a flap, and presented external evidence of a
mental state. Orville Platt always gave that little preliminary jerk
when he was contemplating a step, or when he was moved, or
argumentative. It was a trick as innocent as it was maddening.
Terry Platt had learned to look for that flap—they had been married
four years—to look for it, and to hate it with a morbid, unreasoning
hate. That flap of the elbow was tearing Terry Platt's nerves into raw,
Her fingers were clenched tightly under the table, now. She was
breathing unevenly. “If he does that again,” she told herself, “if he
flaps again when he opens the second egg, I'll scream. I'll scream.
I'll scream! I'll sc—”
He had scooped the first egg into his cup. Now he picked up the
second, chipped it, concentrated, straightened, then—up went the
elbow, and down, with the accustomed little flap.
The tortured nerves snapped. Through the early morning quiet of
Wetona, Wisconsin, hurtled the shrill, piercing shriek of Terry Platt's
“Terry! For God's sake! What's the matter!”
Orville Platt dropped the second egg, and his spoon. The egg yolk
trickled down his plate. The spoon made a clatter and flung a gay spot
of yellow on the cloth. He started toward her.
Terry, wild-eyed, pointed a shaking finger at him. She was laughing,
now, uncontrollably. “Your elbow! Your elbow!”
“Elbow?” He looked down at it, bewildered; then up, fright in his
face. “What's the matter with it?”
She mopped her eyes. Sobs shook her. “You f-f-flapped it.”
“F-f-f—” The bewilderment in Orville Platt's face gave way to
anger. “Do you mean to tell me that you screeched like that because
my—because I moved my elbow?”
His anger deepened and reddened to fury. He choked. He had started
from his chair with his napkin in his hand. He still clutched it. Now
he crumpled it into a wad and hurled it to the centre of the table,
where it struck a sugar bowl, dropped back, and uncrumpled slowly,
reprovingly. “You—you—” Then bewilderment closed down again like a
fog over his countenance. “But why? I can't see—”
“Because it—because I can't stand it any longer. Flapping. This is
what you do. Like this.”
And she did it. Did it with insulting fidelity, being a clever
“Well, all I can say is you're crazy, yelling like that, for
“It isn't nothing.”
“Isn't, huh? If that isn't nothing, what is?” They were growing
incoherent. “What d'you mean, screeching like a maniac? Like a wild
woman? The neighbours'll think I've killed you. What d'you mean,
“I mean I'm tired of watching it, that's what. Sick and tired.”
“Y'are, huh? Well, young lady, just let me tell you
He told her. There followed one of those incredible quarrels, as
sickening as they are human, which can take place only between two
people who love each other; who love each other so well that each knows
with cruel certainty the surest way to wound the other; and who stab,
and tear, and claw at these vulnerable spots in exact proportion to
Ugly words. Bitter words. Words that neither knew they knew flew
between them like sparks between steel striking steel.
From him—“Trouble with you is you haven't got enough to do. That's
the trouble with half you women. Just lay around the house, rotting.
I'm a fool, slaving on the road to keep a good-for-nothing—”
“I suppose you call sitting around hotel lobbies slaving! I suppose
the house runs itself! How about my evenings? Sitting here alone, night
after night, when you're on the road.”
Finally, “Well, if you don't like it,” he snarled, and lifted his
chair by the back and slammed it down, savagely, “if you don't like it,
why don't you get out, h'm? Why don't you get out?”
And from her, her eyes narrowed to two slits, her cheeks scarlet:
“Why, thanks. I guess I will.”
Ten minutes later he had flung out of the house to catch the 8.19
for Manitowoc. He marched down the street, his shoulders swinging
rhythmically to the weight of the burden he carried—his black leather
hand-bag and the shiny tan sample case, battle-scarred, both, from many
encounters with ruthless porters and 'bus men and bell boys. For four
years, as he left for his semi-monthly trip, he and Terry had observed
a certain little ceremony (as had the neighbours). She would stand in
the doorway watching him down the street, the heavier sample-case
banging occasionally at his shin. The depot was only three blocks away.
Terry watched him with fond, but unillusioned eyes, which proves that
she really loved him. He was a dapper, well-dressed fat man, with a
weakness for pronounced patterns in suitings, and addicted to brown
derbies. One week on the road, one week at home. That was his routine.
The wholesale grocery trade liked Platt, and he had for his customers
the fondness that a travelling salesman has who is successful in his
territory. Before his marriage to Terry Sheehan his little red address
book had been overwhelming proof against the theory that nobody loves a
Terry, standing in the doorway, always knew that when he reached the
corner, just where Schroeder's house threatened to hide him from view,
he would stop, drop the sample case, wave his hand just once, pick up
the sample case and go on, proceeding backward for a step or two, until
Schroeder's house made good its threat. It was a comic scene in the
eyes of the onlooker, perhaps because a chubby Romeo offends the sense
of fitness. The neighbours, lurking behind their parlour curtains, had
laughed at first. But after awhile they learned to look for that little
scene, and to take it unto themselves, as if it were a personal thing.
Fifteen-year wives whose husbands had long since abandoned flowery
farewells used to get a vicarious thrill out of it, and to eye Terry
with a sort of envy.
This morning Orville Platt did not even falter when he reached
Schroeder's corner. He marched straight on, looking steadily ahead, the
heavy bags swinging from either hand. Even if he had stopped—though
she knew he wouldn't—Terry Platt would not have seen him. She remained
seated at the disordered breakfast table, a dreadfully still figure,
and sinister; a figure of stone and fire; of ice and flame. Over and
over in her mind she was milling the things she might have said to him,
and had not. She brewed a hundred vitriolic cruelties that she might
have flung in his face. She would concoct one biting brutality, and
dismiss it for a second, and abandon that for a third. She was too
angry to cry—a dangerous state in a woman. She was what is known as
cold mad, so that her mind was working clearly and with amazing
swiftness, and yet as though it were a thing detached; a thing that was
no part of her.
She sat thus for the better part of an hour, motionless except for
one forefinger that was, quite unconsciously, tapping out a popular and
cheap little air that she had been strumming at the piano the evening
before, having bought it down town that same afternoon. It had struck
Orville's fancy, and she had played it over and over for him. Her right
forefinger was playing the entire tune, and something in the back of
her head was following it accurately, though the separate thinking
process was going on just the same. Her eyes were bright, and wide, and
hot. Suddenly she became conscious of the musical antics of her finger.
She folded it in with its mates, so that her hand became a fist. She
stood up and stared down at the clutter of the breakfast table. The
egg—that fateful second egg—had congealed to a mottled mess of yellow
and white. The spoon lay on the cloth. His coffee, only half consumed,
showed tan with a cold grey film over it. A slice of toast at the left
of his plate seemed to grin at her with the semi-circular wedge that he
had bitten out of it.
Terry stared down at this congealing remnant. Then she laughed, a
hard, high little laugh, pushed a plate away contemptuously with her
hand, and walked into the sitting room. On the piano was the piece of
music (Bennie Gottschalk's great song hit, “Hicky Bloo") which she had
been playing the night before. She picked it up, tore it straight
across, once, placed the pieces back to back and tore it across again.
Then she dropped the pieces to the floor.
“You bet I'm going,” she said, as though concluding a train of
thought. “You just bet I'm going. Right now!”
And Terry went. She went for much the same reason as that given by
the ladye of high degree in the old English song—she who had left her
lord and bed and board to go with the raggle-taggle gipsies-O! The
thing that was sending Terry Platt away was much more than a conjugal
quarrel precipitated by a soft-boiled egg and a flap of the arm. It
went so much deeper that if psychology had not become a cant word we
might drag it into the explanation. It went so deep that it's necessary
to delve back to the days when Theresa Platt was Terry Sheehan to get
the real significance of it, and of the things she did after she went.
When Mrs. Orville Platt had been Terry Sheehan she had played the
piano, afternoons and evenings, in the orchestra of the Bijou theatre,
on Cass street, Wetona, Wisconsin. Any one with a name like Terry
Sheehan would, perforce, do well anything she might set out to do.
There was nothing of genius in Terry, but there was something of fire,
and much that was Irish. The combination makes for what is known as
imagination in playing. Which meant that the Watson Team, Eccentric
Song and Dance Artists, never needed a rehearsal when they played the
Bijou. Ruby Watson used merely to approach Terry before the Monday
performance, sheet-music in hand, and say, “Listen, dearie. We've got
some new business I want to wise you to. Right here it goes 'Tum
dee-dee dum dee-dee tum dum dum. See? Like that. And then
Jim vamps. Get me?”
Terry, at the piano, would pucker her pretty brow a moment. Then,
“Like this, you mean?”
“That's it! You've got it.”
“All right. I'll tell the drum.”
She could play any tune by ear, once heard. She got the spirit of a
thing, and transmitted it. When Terry played a march number you tapped
the floor with your foot, and unconsciously straightened your
shoulders. When she played a home-and-mother song that was heavy on the
minor wail you hoped that the man next to you didn't know you were
crying (which he probably didn't, because he was weeping, too).
At that time motion pictures had not attained their present
virulence. Vaudeville, polite or otherwise, had not yet been crowded
out by the ubiquitous film. The Bijou offered entertainment of the
cigar-box tramp variety, interspersed with trick bicyclists, soubrettes
in slightly soiled pink, trained seals, and Family Fours with lumpy
legs who tossed each other about and struck Goldbergian attitudes.
Contact with these gave Terry Sheehan a semi-professional tone. The
more conservative of her townspeople looked at her askance. There never
had been an evil thing about Terry, but Wetona considered her rather
fly. Terry's hair was very black, and she had a fondness for those
little, close-fitting scarlet velvet turbans. A scarlet velvet turban
would have made Martha Washington look fly. Terry's mother had died
when the girl was eight, and Terry's father had been what is known as
easy-going. A good-natured, lovable, shiftless chap in the contracting
business. He drove around Wetona in a sagging, one-seated cart and
never made any money because he did honest work and charged as little
for it as men who did not. His mortar stuck, and his bricks did not
crumble, and his lumber did not crack. Riches are not acquired in the
contracting business in that way. Ed Sheehan and his daughter were
great friends. When he died (she was nineteen) they say she screamed
once, like a banshee, and dropped to the floor.
After they had straightened out the muddle of books in Ed Sheehan's
gritty, dusty little office Terry turned her piano-playing talent to
practical account. At twenty-one she was still playing at the Bijou,
and into her face was creeping the first hint of that look of
sophistication which comes from daily contact with the artificial world
of the footlights. It is the look of those who must make believe as a
business, and are a-weary. You see it developed into its highest degree
in the face of a veteran comedian. It is the thing that gives the look
of utter pathos and tragedy to the relaxed expression of a circus
There are, in a small, Mid-West town like Wetona, just two kinds of
girls. Those who go down town Saturday nights, and those who don't.
Terry, if she had not been busy with her job at the Bijou, would have
come in the first group. She craved excitement. There was little chance
to satisfy such craving in Wetona, but she managed to find certain
means. The travelling men from the Burke House just across the street
used to drop in at the Bijou for an evening's entertainment. They
usually sat well toward the front, and Terry's expert playing, and the
gloss of her black hair, and her piquant profile as she sometimes
looked up toward the stage for a signal from one of the performers,
caught their fancy, and held it.
Terry did not accept their attentions promiscuously. She was too
decent a girl for that. But she found herself, at the end of a year or
two, with a rather large acquaintance among these peripatetic
gentlemen. You occasionally saw one of them strolling home with her.
Sometimes she went driving with one of them of a Sunday afternoon. And
she rather enjoyed taking Sunday dinner at the Burke Hotel with a
favoured friend. She thought those small-town hotel Sunday dinners the
last word in elegance. The roast course was always accompanied by an
aqueous, semi-frozen concoction which the bill of fare revealed as
Roman punch. It added a royal touch to the repast, even when served
with roast pork. I don't say that any of these Lotharios snatched a
kiss during a Sunday afternoon drive. Or that Terry slapped him
promptly. But either seems extremely likely.
Terry was twenty-two when Orville Platt, making his initial
Wisconsin trip for the wholesale grocery house he represented, first
beheld Terry's piquant Irish profile, and heard her deft manipulation
of the keys. Orville had the fat man's sense of rhythm and love of
music. He had a buttery tenor voice, too, of which he was rather proud.
He spent three days in Wetona that first trip, and every evening saw
him at the Bijou, first row, centre. He stayed through two shows each
time, and before he had been there fifteen minutes Terry was conscious
of him through the back of her head. In fact I think that, in all
innocence, she rather played up to him. Orville Platt paid no more heed
to the stage, and what was occurring thereon, than if it had not been.
He sat looking at Terry, and waggling his head in time to the music.
Not that Terry was a beauty. But she was one of those immaculately
clean types. That look of fragrant cleanliness was her chief charm. Her
clear, smooth skin contributed to it, and the natural pencilling of her
eyebrows. But the thing that accented it, and gave it a last touch, was
the way in which her black hair came down in a little point just in the
centre of her forehead, where hair meets brow. It grew to form what is
known as a cow-lick. (A prettier name for it is widow's peak.) Your eye
lighted on it, pleased, and from it travelled its gratified way down
her white temples, past her little ears, to the smooth black coil at
the nape of her neck. It was a trip that rested you.
At the end of the last performance on the second night of his visit
to the Bijou, Orville waited until the audience had begun to file out.
Then he leaned forward over the rail that separated orchestra from
“Could you,” he said, his tones dulcet, “could you oblige me with
the name of that last piece you played?”
Terry was stacking her music. “George!” she called, to the drum.
“Gentleman wants to know the name of that last piece.” And prepared to
“'My Georgia Crackerjack',” said the laconic drum.
Orville Platt took a hasty side-step in the direction of the door
toward which Terry was headed. “It's a pretty thing,” he said,
fervently. “An awful pretty thing. Thanks. It's beautiful.”
Terry flung a last insult at him over her shoulder: “Don't thank
me for it. I didn't write it.”
Orville Platt did not go across the street to the hotel. He wandered
up Cass street, and into the ten-o'clock quiet of Main street, and down
as far as the park and back. “Pretty as a pink! And play!... And good,
A fat man in love.
At the end of six months they were married. Terry was surprised into
it. Not that she was not fond of him. She was; and grateful to him, as
well. For, pretty as she was, no man had ever before asked Terry to be
his wife. They had made love to her. They had paid court to her. They
had sent her large boxes of stale drug-store chocolates, and called her
endearing names as they made cautious declaration such as:
“I've known a lot of girls, but you've got something different. I
don't know. You've got so much sense. A fellow can chum around with
you. Little pal.”
Orville's headquarters were Wetona. They rented a comfortable,
seven-room house in a comfortable, middle-class neighbourhood, and
Terry dropped the red velvet turbans and went in for picture hats and
paradise aigrettes. Orville bought her a piano whose tone was so good
that to her ear, accustomed to the metallic discords of the Bijou
instrument, it sounded out of tune. She played a great deal at first,
but unconsciously she missed the sharp spat of applause that used to
follow her public performance. She would play a piece, brilliantly, and
then her hands would drop to her lap. And the silence of her own
sitting room would fall flat on her ears. It was better on the evenings
when Orville was home. He sang, in his throaty, fat man's tenor, to
Terry's expert accompaniment.
“This is better than playing for those bum actors, isn't it, hon?”
And he would pinch her ear.
But after the first year she became accustomed to what she termed
private life. She joined an afternoon sewing club, and was active in
the ladies' branch of the U.C.T. She developed a knack at cooking, too,
and Orville, after a week or ten days of hotel fare in small Wisconsin
towns, would come home to sea-foam biscuits, and real soup, and honest
pies and cake. Sometimes, in the midst of an appetising meal he would
lay down his knife and fork and lean back in his chair, and regard the
cool and unruffled Terry with a sort of reverence in his eyes. Then he
would get up, and come around to the other side of the table, and tip
her pretty face up to his.
“I'll bet I'll wake up, some day, and find out it's all a dream. You
know this kind of thing doesn't really happen—not to a dub like me.”
One year; two; three; four. Routine. A little boredom. Some
impatience. She began to find fault with the very things she had liked
in him: his super-neatness; his fondness for dashing suit patterns; his
throaty tenor; his worship of her. And the flap. Oh, above all, that
flap! That little, innocent, meaningless mannerism that made her
tremble with nervousness. She hated it so that she could not trust
herself to speak of it to him. That was the trouble. Had she spoken of
it, laughingly or in earnest, before it became an obsession with her,
that hideous breakfast quarrel, with its taunts, and revilings, and
open hate, might never have come to pass. For that matter, any one of
those foreign fellows with the guttural names and the psychoanalytical
minds could have located her trouble in one seance.
Terry Platt herself didn't know what was the matter with her. She
would have denied that anything was wrong. She didn't even throw her
hands above her head and shriek: “I want to live! I want to live! I
want to live!” like a lady in a play. She only knew she was sick of
sewing at the Wetona West-End Red Cross shop; sick of marketing, of
home comforts, of Orville, of the flap.
Orville, you may remember, left at 8.19. The 11.23 bore Terry
Chicagoward. She had left the house as it was—beds unmade, rooms
unswept, breakfast table uncleared. She intended never to come back.
Now and then a picture of the chaos she had left behind would flash
across her order-loving mind. The spoon on the table-cloth. Orville's
pajamas dangling over the bathroom chair. The coffee-pot on the gas
“Pooh! What do I care?”
In her pocketbook she had a tidy sum saved out of the housekeeping
money. She was naturally thrifty, and Orville had never been niggardly.
Her meals when Orville was on the road, had been those sketchy,
haphazard affairs with which women content themselves when their
household is manless. At noon she went into the dining car and ordered
a flaunting little repast of chicken salad and asparagus, and
Neapolitan ice cream. The men in the dining car eyed her speculatively
and with appreciation. Then their glance dropped to the third finger of
her left hand, and wandered away. She had meant to remove it. In fact,
she had taken it off and dropped it into her bag. But her hand felt so
queer, so unaccustomed, so naked, that she had found herself slipping
the narrow band on again, and her thumb groped for it, gratefully.
It was almost five o'clock when she reached Chicago. She felt no
uncertainty or bewilderment. She had been in Chicago three or four
times since her marriage. She went to a down town hotel. It was too
late, she told herself, to look for a more inexpensive room that night.
When she had tidied herself she went out. The things she did were the
childish, aimless things that one does who finds herself in possession
of sudden liberty. She walked up State Street, and stared in the
windows; came back, turned into Madison, passed a bright little shop in
the window of which taffy—white and gold—was being wound endlessly
and fascinatingly about a double-jointed machine. She went in and
bought a sackful, and wandered on down the street, munching.
She had supper at one of those white-tiled sarcophagi that emblazon
Chicago's down town side streets. It had been her original intention to
dine in state in the rose-and-gold dining room of her hotel. She had
even thought daringly of lobster. But at the last moment she recoiled
from the idea of dining alone in that wilderness of tables so obviously
meant for two.
After her supper she went to a picture show. She was amazed to find
there, instead of the accustomed orchestra, a pipe-organ that panted
and throbbed and rumbled over lugubrious classics. The picture was
about a faithless wife. Terry left in the middle of it.
She awoke next morning at seven, as usual, started up wildly, looked
around, and dropped back. Nothing to get up for. The knowledge did not
fill her with a rush of relief. She would have her breakfast in bed!
She telephoned for it, languidly. But when it came she got up and ate
it from the table, after all. Terry was the kind of woman to whom a
pink gingham all-over apron, and a pink dust-cap are ravishingly
becoming at seven o'clock in the morning. That sort of woman
congenitally cannot enjoy her breakfast in bed.
That morning she found a fairly comfortable room, more within her
means, on the north side in the boarding house district. She unpacked
and hung up her clothes and drifted down town again, idly. It was noon
when she came to the corner of State and Madison streets. It was a
maelstrom that caught her up, and buffeted her about, and tossed her
helplessly this way and that. The corner of Broadway and Forty-second
streets has been exploited in song and story as the world's most
hazardous human whirlpool. I've negotiated that corner. I've braved the
square in front of the American Express Company's office in Paris,
June, before the War. I've crossed the Strand at 11 p.m. when the
theatre crowds are just out. And to my mind the corner of State and
Madison streets between twelve and one, mid-day, makes any one of these
dizzy spots look bosky, sylvan, and deserted.
The thousands jostled Terry, and knocked her hat awry, and dug her
with unheeding elbows, and stepped on her feet.
“Say, look here!” she said, once futilely. They did not stop to
listen. State and Madison has no time for Terrys from Wetona. It goes
its way, pellmell. If it saw Terry at all it saw her only as a
prettyish person, in the wrong kind of suit and hat, with a bewildered,
resentful look on her face.
Terry drifted on down the west side of State Street, with the
hurrying crowd. State and Monroe. A sound came to Terry's ears. A sound
familiar, beloved. To her ear, harassed with the roar and crash, with
the shrill scream of the crossing policemen's whistle, with the hiss of
feet shuffling on cement, it was a celestial strain. She looked up,
toward the sound. A great second-story window opened wide to the
street. In it a girl at a piano, and a man, red-faced, singing through
a megaphone. And on a flaring red and green sign:
BERNIE GOTTSCHALK'S MUSIC HOUSE!
COME IN! HEAR BERNIE GOTTSCHALK'S LATEST
HIT! THE HEART-THROB SONG THAT HAS GOT 'EM ALL!
THE SONG THAT MADE THE KAISER CRAWL!
“I COME FROM PARIS, ILLINOIS, BUT OH!
YOU PARIS, FRANCE!
I USED TO WEAR BLUE OVERALLS BUT
NOW ITS KHAKI PANTS.”
COME IN! COME IN!
She followed the sound of the music. Around the corner. Up a little
flight of stairs. She entered the realm of Euterpe; Euterpe with her
back hair frizzed; Euterpe with her flowing white robe replaced by
soiled white boots that failed to touch the hem of an empire-waisted
blue serge; Euterpe abandoning her lyre for jazz. She sat at the piano,
a red-haired young lady whose familiarity with the piano had bred
contempt. Nothing else could have accounted for her treatment of it.
Her fingers, tipped with sharp-pointed grey and glistening nails,
clawed the keys with a dreadful mechanical motion. There were stacks of
music-sheets on counters, and shelves, and dangling from overhead
wires. The girl at the piano never ceased playing. She played mostly by
request. A prospective purchaser would mumble something in the ear of
one of the clerks. The fat man with the megaphone would bawl out,
“'Hicky Bloo!' Miss Ryan.” And Miss Ryan would oblige. She made a
hideous rattle and crash and clatter of sound compared to which an
Indian tom-tom would have seemed as dulcet as the strumming of a lute
in a lady's boudoir.
Terry joined the crowds about the counter. The girl at the piano was
not looking at the keys. Her head was screwed around over her left
shoulder and as she played she was holding forth animatedly to a girl
friend who had evidently dropped in from some store or office during
the lunch hour. Now and again the fat man paused in his vocal efforts
to reprimand her for her slackness. She paid no heed. There was
something gruesome, uncanny, about the way her fingers went their own
way over the defenceless keys. Her conversation with the frowzy little
girl went on.
“Wha'd he say?” (Over her shoulder).
“Oh, he laffed.”
“Well, didja go?”
“Me! Well, whutya think I yam, anyway?”
“I woulda took a chanst.”
The fat man rebelled.
“Look here! Get busy! What are you paid for? Talkin' or playin'?
The person at the piano, openly reproved thus before her friend,
lifted her uninspired hands from the keys and spake. When she had
finished she rose.
“But you can't leave now,” the megaphone man argued. “Right in the
“I'm gone,” said the girl. The fat man looked about, helplessly. He
gazed at the abandoned piano, as though it must go on of its own
accord. Then at the crowd. “Where's Miss Schwimmer?” he demanded of a
“Out to lunch.”
Terry pushed her way to the edge of the counter and leaned over. “I
can play for you,” she said.
The man looked at her. “Sight?”
Terry went around to the other side of the counter, took off her hat
and coat, rubbed her hands together briskly, sat down and began to
play. The crowd edged closer.
It is a curious study, this noonday crowd that gathers to sate its
music-hunger on the scraps vouchsafed it by Bernie Gottschalk's Music
House. Loose-lipped, slope-shouldered young men with bad complexions
and slender hands. Girls whose clothes are an unconscious satire on
present-day fashions. On their faces, as they listen to the music, is a
look of peace and dreaming. They stand about, smiling a wistful half
smile. It is much the same expression that steals over the face of a
smoker who has lighted his after-dinner cigar, or of a drug victim who
is being lulled by his opiate. The music seems to satisfy a something
within them. Faces dull, eyes lustreless, they listen in a sort of
Terry played on. She played as Terry Sheehan used to play. She
played as no music hack at Bernie Gottschalk's had ever played before.
The crowd swayed a little to the sound of it. Some kept time with
little jerks of the shoulder—the little hitching movement of the
rag-time dancer whose blood is filled with the fever of syncopation.
Even the crowd flowing down State Street must have caught the rhythm of
it, for the room soon filled.
At two o'clock the crowd began to thin. Business would be slack,
now, until five, when it would again pick up until closing time at six.
The fat vocalist put down his megaphone, wiped his forehead, and
regarded Terry with a warm blue eye. He had just finished singing “I've
Wandered Far from Dear Old Mother's Knee.” (Bernie Gottschalk Inc.
Chicago. New York. You can't get bit with a Gottschalk hit. 15 cents
“Girlie,” he said, emphatically, “You sure—can—play!” He came over
to her at the piano and put a stubby hand on her shoulder. “Yessir!
Those little fingers—”
Terry just turned her head to look down her nose at the moist hand
resting on her shoulder. “Those little fingers are going to meet your
face—suddenly—if you don't move on.”
“Who gave you your job?” demanded the fat man.
“Nobody. I picked it myself. You can have it if you want it.”
“Can't you take a joke?”
As the crowd dwindled she played less feverishly, but there was
nothing slipshod about her performance. The chubby songster found time
to proffer brief explanations in asides. “They want the patriotic
stuff. It used to be all that Hawaiian dope, and Wild Irish Rose junk,
and songs about wanting to go back to every place from Dixie to Duluth.
But now seems it's all these here flag raisers. Honestly, I'm so sick
of 'em I got a notion to enlist to get away from it.”
Terry eyed him with, withering briefness. “A little training
wouldn't ruin your figure.”
She had never objected to Orville's embonpoint. But then,
Orville was a different sort of fat man; pink-cheeked, springy,
At four o'clock, as she was in the chorus of “Isn't There Another
Joan of Arc?” a melting masculine voice from the other side of the
counter said, “Pardon me. What's that you're playing?”
Terry told him. She did not look up.
“I wouldn't have known it. Played like that—a second Marseillaise.
If the words—what are the words? Let me see a—”
“Show the gentleman a 'Joan',” Terry commanded briefly, over her
shoulder. The fat man laughed a wheezy laugh. Terry glanced around,
still playing, and encountered the gaze of two melting masculine eyes
that matched the melting masculine voice. The songster waved a hand
uniting Terry and the eyes in informal introduction.
“Mr. Leon Sammett, the gentleman who sings the Gottschalk songs
wherever songs are heard. And Mrs.—that is—and Mrs. Sammett—”
Terry turned. A sleek, swarthy world-old young man with the
fashionable concave torso, and alarmingly convex bone-rimmed glasses.
Through them his darkly luminous gaze glowed upon Terry. To escape
their warmth she sent her own gaze past him to encounter the arctic
stare of the large blonde person who had been included so lamely in the
introduction. And at that the frigidity of that stare softened, melted,
“Why Terry Sheehan! What in the world!”
Terry's eyes bored beneath the layers of flabby fat. “It's—why,
it's Ruby Watson, isn't it? Eccentric Song and Dance—”
She glanced at the concave young man and faltered. He was not Jim,
of the Bijou days. From him her eyes leaped back to the fur-bedecked
splendour of the woman. The plump face went so painfully red that the
makeup stood out on it, a distinct layer, like thin ice covering
flowing water. As she surveyed that bulk Terry realised that while Ruby
might still claim eccentricity, her song and dance days were over.
“That's ancient history, m'dear. I haven't been working for three
years. What're you doing in this joint? I'd heard you'd done well for
yourself. That you were married.”
“I am. That is I—well, I am. I—”
At that the dark young man leaned over and patted Terry's hand that
lay on the counter. He smiled. His own hand was incredibly slender,
long, and tapering.
“That's all right,” he assured her, and smiled. “You two girls can
have a reunion later. What I want to know is can you play by ear?”
He leaned far over the counter. “I knew it the minute I heard you
play. You've got the touch. Now listen. See if you can get this, and
fake the bass.”
He fixed his sombre and hypnotic eyes on Terry. His mouth screwed up
into a whistle. The tune—a tawdry but haunting little melody—came
through his lips. And Terry's quick ear sensed that every note was
flat. She turned back to the piano. “Of course you know you flatted
every note,” she said.
This time it was the blonde woman who laughed, and the man who
flushed. Terry cocked her head just a little to one side, like a
knowing bird, looked up into space beyond the piano top, and played the
lilting little melody with charm and fidelity. The dark young man
followed her with a wagging of the head and little jerks of both
outspread hands. His expression was beatific, enraptured. He hummed a
little under his breath and any one who was music wise would have known
that he was just a half-beat behind her all the way.
When she had finished he sighed deeply, ecstatically. He bent his
lean frame over the counter and, despite his swart colouring, seemed to
glitter upon her—his eyes, his teeth, his very finger-nails.
“Something led me here. I never come up on Tuesdays. But
“You was going to complain,” put in his lady, heavily, “about that
Teddy Sykes at the Palace Gardens singing the same songs this week that
you been boosting at the Inn.”
He put up a vibrant, peremptory hand. “Bah! What does that matter
now! What does anything matter now! Listen Miss—ah—Miss?—”
“Pl—Sheehan. Terry Sheehan.”
He gazed off a moment into space. “H'm. 'Leon Sammett in Songs. Miss
Terry Sheehan at the Piano.' That doesn't sound bad. Now listen, Miss
Sheehan. I'm singing down at the University Inn. The Gottschalk song
hits. I guess you know my work. But I want to talk to you, private.
It's something to your interest. I go on down at the Inn at six. Will
you come and have a little something with Ruby and me? Now?”
“Now?” faltered Terry, somewhat helplessly. Things seemed to be
moving rather swiftly for her, accustomed as she was to the peaceful
routine of the past four years.
“Get your hat. It's your life chance. Wait till you see your name in
two-foot electrics over the front of every big-time house in the
country. You've got music in you. Tie to me and you're made.” He turned
to the woman beside him. “Isn't that so, Rube?”
“Sure. Look at me!” One would not have thought there could be
so much subtle vindictiveness in a fat blonde.
Sammett whipped out a watch. “Just three-quarters of an hour. Come
His conversation had been conducted in an urgent undertone, with
side glances at the fat man with the megaphone. Terry approached him
“I'm leaving now,” she said.
“Oh, no you're not. Six o'clock is your quitting time.”
In which he touched the Irish in Terry. “Any time I quit is my
quitting time.” She went in quest of hat and coat much as the girl had
done whose place she had taken early in the day. The fat man followed
her, protesting. Terry, pinning on her hat tried to ignore him. But he
laid one plump hand on her arm and kept it there, though she tried to
shake him off.
“Now, listen to me. That boy wouldn't mind putting his heel on your
face if he thought it would bring him up a step. I know'm. Y'see that
walking stick he's carrying? Well, compared to the yellow stripe that's
in him, that cane is a lead pencil. He's a song tout, that's all he
is.” Then, more feverishly, as Terry tried to pull away: “Wait a
minute. You're a decent girl. I want to—Why, he can't even sing a note
without you give it to him first. He can put a song over, yes. But how?
By flashin' that toothy grin, of his and talkin' every word of it.
But Terry freed herself with a final jerk and whipped around the
counter. The two, who had been talking together in an undertone, turned
to welcome her. “We've got a half hour. Come on. It's just over to
Clark and up a block or so.”
If you know Chicago at all, you know the University Inn, that
gloriously intercollegiate institution which welcomes any graduate of
any school of experience, and guarantees a post-graduate course in less
time than any similar haven of knowledge. Down a flight of stairs and
into the unwonted quiet that reigns during the hour of low
potentiality, between five and six, the three went, and seated
themselves at a table in an obscure corner. A waiter brought them
things in little glasses, though no order had been given. The woman who
had been Ruby Watson was so silent as to be almost wordless. But the
man talked rapidly. He talked well, too. The same quality that enabled
him, voiceless though he was, to boost a song to success, was making
his plea sound plausible in Terry's ears now.
“I've got to go and make up in a few minutes. So get this. I'm not
going to stick down in this basement eating house forever. I've got too
much talent. If I only had a voice—I mean a singing voice. But I
haven't. But then, neither has Georgie Cohan, and I can't see that it's
wrecked his life any. Look at Elsie Janis! But she sings. And they like
it! Now listen. I've got a song. It's my own. That bit you played for
me up at Gottschalk's is part of the chorus. But it's the words that'll
go big. They're great. It's an aviation song, see? Airship stuff.
They're yelling that it's the airyoplanes that're going to win this
war. Well, I'll help 'em. This song is going to put the aviator where
he belongs. It's going to be the big song of the war. It's going to
make 'Tipperary' sound like a Moody and Sankey hymn. It's the—”
Ruby lifted her heavy-lidded eyes and sent him a meaning look. “Get
down to business, Leon. I'll tell her how good you are while you're
He shot her a malignant glance, but took her advice. “Now what I've
been looking for for years is somebody who has got the music knack to
give me the accompaniment just a quarter of a jump ahead of my voice,
see? I can follow like a lamb, but I've got to have that feeler first.
It's more than a knack. It's a gift. And you've got it. I know it when
I see it. I want to get away from this cabaret thing. There's nothing
in it for a man of my talent. I'm gunning for vaudeville. But they
won't book me without a tryout. And when they hear my voice they—Well,
if me and you work together we can fool 'em. The song's great. And my
makeup's one of these av-iation costumes to go with the song, see?
Pants tight in the knee and baggy on the hips. And a coat with one of
those full skirt whaddyoucall'ems—”
“Peplums,” put in Ruby, placidly.
“Sure. And the girls'll be wild about it. And the words!” he began
to sing, gratingly off-key:
“Put on your sky clothes,
Put on your fly clothes
And take a trip with me.
We'll sail so high
Up in the sky
We'll drop a bomb from Mercury.”
“Why, that's awfully cute!” exclaimed Terry. Until now her opinion
of Mr. Sammett's talents had not been on a level with his.
“Yeh, but wait till you hear the second verse. That's only part of
the chorus. You see, he's supposed to be talking to a French girl. He
I'll parlez-vous in Francais plain,
You'll answer, 'Cher Americain,
We'll both. . . . . . . . . . .”
The six o'clock lights blazed up, suddenly. A sad-looking group of
men trailed in and made for a corner where certain bulky, shapeless
bundles were soon revealed as those glittering and tortuous instruments
which go to make a jazz band.
“You better go, Lee. The crowd comes in awful early now, with all
those buyers in town.”
Both hands on the table he half rose, reluctantly, still talking.
“I've got three other songs. They make Gottschalk's stuff look sick.
All I want's a chance. What I want you to do is accompaniment. On the
stage, see? Grand piano. And a swell set. I haven't quite made up my
mind to it. But a kind of an army camp room, see? And maybe you dressed
as Liberty. Anyway, it'll be new, and a knock-out. If only we can get
away with the voice thing. Say, if Eddie Foy, all those years never had
The band opened with a terrifying clash of cymbal, and thump of
drum. “Back at the end of my first turn,” he said as he fled. Terry
followed his lithe, electric figure. She turned to meet the
heavy-lidded gaze of the woman seated opposite. She relaxed, then, and
sat back with a little sigh. “Well! If he talks that way to the
managers I don't see—”
Ruby laughed a mirthless little laugh. “Talk doesn't get it over
with the managers, honey. You've got to deliver.”
“Well, but he's—that song is a good one. I don't say it's as
good as he thinks it is, but it's good.”
“Yes,” admitted the woman, grudgingly, “it's good.”
The woman beckoned a waiter; he nodded and vanished, and reappeared
with a glass that was twin to the one she had just emptied. “Does he
look like he knew French? Or could make a rhyme?”
“But didn't he? Doesn't he?”
“The words were written by a little French girl who used to skate
down here last winter, when the craze was on. She was stuck on a
Chicago kid who went over to fly for the French.”
“But the music?”
“There was a Russian girl who used to dance in the cabaret and
Terry's head came up with a characteristic little jerk. “I don't
“Better.” She gazed at Terry with the drowsy look that was so
different from the quick, clear glance of the Ruby Watson who used to
dance so nimbly in the Old Bijou days. “What'd you and your husband
quarrel about, Terry?”
Terry was furious to feel herself flushing. “Oh, nothing. He
just—I—it was—Say, how did you know we'd quarrelled?”
And suddenly all the fat woman's apathy dropped from her like a
garment and some of the old sparkle and animation illumined her heavy
face. She pushed her glass aside and leaned forward on her folded arms,
so that her face was close to Terry's.
“Terry Sheehan, I know you've quarrelled, and I know just what it
was about. Oh, I don't mean the very thing it was about; but the kind
of thing. I'm going to do something for you, Terry, that I wouldn't
take the trouble to do for most women. But I guess I ain't had all the
softness knocked out of me yet, though it's a wonder. And I guess I
remember too plain the decent kid you was in the old days. What was the
name of that little small-time house me and Jim used to play? Bijou,
that's it; Bijou.”
The band struck up a new tune. Leon Sammett—slim, sleek, lithe in
his evening clothes—appeared with a little fair girl in pink chiffon.
The woman reached across the table and put one pudgy, jewelled hand on
Terry's arm. “He'll be through in ten minutes. Now listen to me. I left
Jim four years ago, and there hasn't been a minute since then, day or
night, when I wouldn't have crawled back to him on my hands and knees
if I could. But I couldn't. He wouldn't have me now. How could he? How
do I know you've quarrelled? I can see it in your eyes. They look just
the way mine have felt for four years, that's how. I met up with this
boy, and there wasn't anybody to do the turn for me that I'm trying to
do for you. Now get this. I left Jim because when he ate corn on the
cob he always closed his eyes and it drove me wild. Don't laugh.”
“I'm not laughing,” said Terry.
“Women are like that. One night—we was playing Fond du Lac; I
remember just as plain—we was eating supper and Jim reached for one of
those big yellow ears, and buttered and salted it, and me kind of
hanging on to the edge of the table with my nails. Seemed to me if he
shut his eyes when he put his teeth into that ear of corn I'd scream.
And he did. And I screamed. And that's all.”
Terry sat staring at her with a wide-eyed stare, like a sleep
walker. Then she wet her lips, slowly. “But that's almost the very—”
“Kid, go on back home. I don't know whether it's too late or not,
but go anyway. If you've lost him I suppose it ain't any more than you
deserve, but I hope to God you don't get your desserts this time. He's
almost through. If he sees you going he can't quit in the middle of his
song to stop you. He'll know I put you wise, and he'll prob'ly half
kill me for it. But it's worth it. You get.”
And Terry—dazed, shaking, but grateful—fled. Down the noisy aisle,
up the stairs, to the street. Back to her rooming house. Out again,
with her suitcase, and into the right railroad station somehow, at
last. Not another Wetona train until midnight. She shrank into a remote
corner of the waiting room and there she huddled until midnight
watching the entrances like a child who is fearful of ghosts in the
The hands of the station clock seemed fixed and immovable. The hour
between eleven and twelve was endless. She was on the train. It was
almost morning. It was morning. Dawn was breaking. She was home! She
had the house key clutched tightly in her hand long before she turned
Schroeder's corner. Suppose he had come home! Suppose he had jumped a
town and come home ahead of his schedule. They had quarrelled once
before, and he had done that.
Up the front steps. Into the house. Not a sound. She stood there a
moment in the early morning half-light. She peered into the dining
room. The table, with its breakfast debris, was as she had left it. In
the kitchen the coffee pot stood on the gas stove. She was home. She
was safe. She ran up the stairs, got out of her clothes and into crisp
gingham morning things. She flung open windows everywhere. Down-stairs
once more she plunged into an orgy of cleaning. Dishes, table, stove,
floor, rugs. She washed, scoured, flapped, swabbed, polished. By eight
o'clock she had done the work that would ordinarily have taken until
noon. The house was shining, orderly, and redolent of soapsuds.
During all this time she had been listening, listening, with her
sub-conscious ear. Listening for something she had refused to name
definitely in her mind, but listening, just the same; waiting.
And then, at eight o'clock, it came. The rattle of a key in the
lock. The boom of the front door. Firm footsteps.
He did not go to meet her, and she did not go to meet him. They came
together and were in each other's arms. She was weeping.
“Now, now, old girl. What's there to cry about? Don't, honey; don't.
It's all right.”
She raised her head then, to look at him. How fresh, and rosy, and
big he seemed, after that little sallow, yellow restaurant rat.
“How did you get here? How did you happen—?”
“Jumped all the way from Ashland. Couldn't get a sleeper, so I sat
up all night. I had to come back and square things with you, Terry. My
mind just wasn't on my work. I kept thinking how I'd talked—how I'd
“Oh, Orville, don't! I can't bear—Have you had your breakfast?”
“Why, no. The train was an hour late. You know that Ashland train.”
But she was out of his arms and making for the kitchen. “You go and
clean up. I'll have hot biscuits and everything in fifteen minutes. You
poor boy. No breakfast!”
She made good her promise. It could not have been more than twenty
minutes later when he was buttering his third feathery, golden brown
biscuit. But she had eaten nothing. She watched him, and listened, and
again her eyes were sombre, but for a different reason. He broke open
his egg. His elbow came up just a fraction of an inch. Then he
remembered, and flushed like a schoolboy, and brought it down again,
carefully. And at that she gave a little tremulous cry, and rushed
around the table to him.
“Oh, Orville!” She took the offending elbow in her two arms, and
bent and kissed the rough coat sleeve.
“Why, Terry! Don't, honey. Don't!”
“Oh, Orville, listen—”
“I'm listening, Terry.”
“I've got something to tell you. There's something you've got to
“Yes, I know it, Terry. I knew you'd out with it, pretty soon, if I
She lifted an amazed face from his shoulder then, and stared at him.
“But how could you know? You couldn't! How could you?”
He patted her shoulder then, gently. “I can always tell. When you
have something on your mind you always take up a spoon of coffee, and
look at it, and kind of joggle it back and forth in the spoon, and then
dribble it back into the cup again, without once tasting it. It used to
get me nervous when we were first married watching you. But now I know
it just means you're worried about something, and I wait, and pretty
“Oh, Orville!” she cried, then. “Oh, Orville!”
“Now, Terry. Just spill it, hon. Just spill it to daddy. And you'll
VI. THE WOMAN WHO TRIED TO BE GOOD
Before she tried to be a good woman she had been a very bad
woman—so bad that she could trail her wonderful apparel up and down
Main Street, from the Elm Tree Bakery to the railroad tracks, without
once having a man doff his hat to her or a woman bow. You passed her on
the street with a surreptitious glance, though she was well worth
looking at—in her furs and laces and plumes. She had the only
full-length sealskin coat in our town, and Ganz' shoe store sent to
Chicago for her shoes. Hers were the miraculously small feet you
frequently see in stout women.
Usually she walked alone; but on rare occasions, especially round
Christmas time, she might have been seen accompanied by some silent,
dull-eyed, stupid-looking girl, who would follow her dumbly in and out
of stores, stopping now and then to admire a cheap comb or a chain set
with flashy imitation stones—or, queerly enough, a doll with yellow
hair and blue eyes and very pink cheeks. But, alone or in company, her
appearance in the stores of our town was the signal for a sudden jump
in the cost of living. The storekeepers mulcted her; and she knew it
and paid in silence, for she was of the class that has no redress. She
owned the House With the Closed Shutters, near the freight depot—did
Blanche Devine. And beneath her silks and laces and furs there was a
scarlet letter on her breast.
In a larger town than ours she would have passed unnoticed. She did
not look like a bad woman. Of course she used too much perfumed white
powder, and as she passed you caught the oversweet breath of a certain
heavy scent. Then, too, her diamond eardrops would have made any
woman's features look hard; but her plump face, in spite of its
heaviness, wore an expression of good-humoured intelligence, and her
eyeglasses gave her somehow a look of respectability. We do not
associate vice with eyeglasses. So in a large city she would have
passed for a well-dressed prosperous, comfortable wife and mother, who
was in danger of losing her figure from an overabundance of good
living; but with us she was a town character, like Old Man Givins, the
drunkard, or the weak-minded Binns girl. When she passed the drug-store
corner there would be a sniggering among the vacant-eyed loafers idling
there, and they would leer at each other and jest in undertones.
So, knowing Blanche Devine as we did, there was something resembling
a riot in one of our most respectable neighbourhoods when it was
learned that she had given up her interest in the house near the
freight depot and was going to settle down in the white cottage on the
corner and be good. All the husbands in the block, urged on by
righteously indignant wives, dropped in on Alderman Mooney after supper
to see if the thing could not be stopped. The fourth of the protesting
husbands to arrive was the Very Young Husband, who lived next door to
the corner cottage that Blanche Devine had bought. The Very Young
Husband had a Very Young Wife, and they were the joint owners of
Snooky. Snooky was three-going-on-four, and looked something like an
angel—only healthier and with grimier hands. The whole neighbourhood
borrowed her and tried to spoil her; but Snooky would not spoil.
Alderman Mooney was down in the cellar fooling with the furnace. He
was in his furnace overalls—a short black pipe in his mouth. Three
protesting husbands had just left. As the Very Young Husband, following
Mrs. Mooney's directions, cautiously descended the cellar stairs,
Alderman Mooney looked up from his tinkering. He peered through a haze
“Hello!” he called, and waved the haze away with his open palm.
“Come on down! Been tinkering with this blamed furnace since supper.
She don't draw like she ought. 'Long toward spring a furnace always
gets balky. How many tons you used this winter?”
“Oh—ten,” said the Very Young Husband shortly. Alderman Mooney
considered it thoughtfully. The Young Husband leaned up against the
side of the cistern, his hands in his pockets. “Say, Mooney, is that
right about Blanche Devine's having bought the house on the corner?”
“You're the fourth man that's been in to ask me that this evening.
I'm expecting the rest of the block before bedtime. She's bought it all
The Young Husband flushed and kicked at a piece of coal with the toe
of his boot.
“Well, it's a darned shame!” he began hotly. “Jen was ready to cry
at supper. This'll be a fine neighbourhood for Snooky to grow up in!
What's a woman like that want to come into a respectable street for
anyway? I own my home and pay my taxes—”
Alderman Mooney looked up.
“So does she,” he interrupted. “She's going to improve the
place—paint it, and put in a cellar and a furnace, and build a porch,
and lay a cement walk all round.”
The Young Husband took his hands out of his pockets in order to
emphasize his remarks with gestures.
“What's that got to do with it? I don't care if she puts in diamonds
for windows and sets out Italian gardens and a terrace with peacocks on
it. You're the alderman of this ward, aren't you? Well, it was up to
you to keep her out of this block! You could have fixed it with an
injunction or something. I'm going to get up a petition—that's what
Alderman Mooney closed the furnace door with a bang that drowned the
rest of the threat. He turned the draft in a pipe overhead and brushed
his sooty palms briskly together like one who would put an end to a
“She's bought the house,” he said mildly, “and paid for it. And it's
hers. She's got a right to live in this neighbourhood as long as she
The Very Young Husband laughed.
“She won't last! They never do.”
Alderman Mooney had taken his pipe out of his mouth and was rubbing
his thumb over the smooth bowl, looking down at it with unseeing eyes.
On his face was a queer look—the look of one who is embarrassed
because he is about to say something honest.
“Look here! I want to tell you something: I happened to be up in the
mayor's office the day Blanche signed for the place. She had to go
through a lot of red tape before she got it—had quite a time of it,
she did! And say, kid, that woman ain't so—bad.”
The Very Young Husband exclaimed impatiently:
“Oh, don't give me any of that, Mooney! Blanche Devine's a town
character. Even the kids know what she is. If she's got religion or
something, and wants to quit and be decent, why doesn't she go to
another town—Chicago or some place—where nobody knows her?”
That motion of Alderman Mooney's thumb against the smooth pipebowl
stopped. He looked up slowly.
“That's what I said—the mayor too. But Blanche Devine said she
wanted to try it here. She said this was home to her. Funny—ain't it?
Said she wouldn't be fooling anybody here. They know her. And if she
moved away, she said, it'd leak out some way sooner or later. It does,
she said. Always! Seems she wants to live like—well, like other women.
She put it like this: She says she hasn't got religion, or any of that.
She says she's no different than she was when she was twenty. She says
that for the last ten years the ambition of her life has been to be
able to go into a grocery store and ask the price of, say, celery; and,
if the clerk charged her ten when it ought to be seven, to be able to
sass him with a regular piece of her mind—and then sail out and trade
somewhere else until he saw that she didn't have to stand anything from
storekeepers, any more than any other woman that did her own marketing.
She's a smart woman, Blanche is! She's saved her money. God knows I
ain't taking her part—exactly; but she talked a little, and the mayor
and me got a little of her history.”
A sneer appeared on the face of the Very Young Husband. He had been
known before he met Jen as a rather industrious sower of that seed
known as wild oats. He knew a thing or two, did the Very Young Husband,
in spite of his youth! He always fussed when Jen wore even a V-necked
summer gown on the street.
“Oh, she wasn't playing for sympathy,” west on Alderman Mooney in
answer to the sneer. “She said she'd always paid her way and always
expected to. Seems her husband left her without a cent when she was
eighteen—with a baby. She worked for four dollars a week in a cheap
eating house. The two of 'em couldn't live on that. Then the baby—”
“Good night!” said the Very Young Husband. “I suppose Mrs. Mooney's
going to call?”
“Minnie! It was her scolding all through supper that drove me down
to monkey with the furnace. She's wild—Minnie is.” He peeled off his
overalls and hung them on a nail. The Young Husband started to ascend
the cellar stairs. Alderman Mooney laid a detaining finger on his
sleeve. “Don't say anything in front of Minnie! She's boiling! Minnie
and the kids are going to visit her folks out West this summer; so I
wouldn't so much as dare to say 'Good morning!' to the Devine woman.
Anyway a person wouldn't talk to her, I suppose. But I kind of thought
I'd tell you about her.”
“Thanks!” said the Very Young Husband dryly.
In the early spring, before Blanche Devine moved in, there came
stonemasons, who began to build something. It was a great stone
fireplace that rose in massive incongruity at the side of the little
white cottage. Blanche Devine was trying to make a home for herself. We
no longer build fireplaces for physical warmth—we build them for the
warmth of the soul; we build them to dream by, to hope by, to home by.
Blanche Devine used to come and watch them now and then as the work
progressed. She had a way of walking round and round the house, looking
up at it pridefully and poking at plaster and paint with her umbrella
or fingertip. One day she brought with her a man with a spade. He
spaded up a neat square of ground at the side of the cottage and a long
ridge near the fence that separated her yard from that of the very
young couple next door. The ridge spelled sweet peas and nasturtiums to
our small-town eyes.
On the day that Blanche Devine moved in there was wild agitation
among the white-ruffled bedroom curtains of the neighbourhood. Later on
certain odours, as of burning dinners, pervaded the atmosphere. Blanche
Devine, flushed and excited, her hair slightly askew, her diamond
eardrops flashing, directed the moving, wrapped in her great fur coat;
but on the third morning we gasped when she appeared out-of-doors,
carrying a little household ladder, a pail of steaming water and sundry
voluminous white cloths. She reared the little ladder against the side
of the house mounted it cautiously, and began to wash windows: with
housewifely thoroughness. Her stout figure was swathed in a grey
sweater and on her head was a battered felt hat—the sort of
window-washing costume that has been worn by women from time
immemorial. We noticed that she used plenty of hot water and clean
rags, and that she rubbed the glass until it sparkled, leaning
perilously sideways on the ladder to detect elusive streaks. Our
keenest housekeeping eye could find no fault with the way Blanche
Devine washed windows.
By May, Blanche Devine had left off her diamond eardrops—perhaps it
was their absence that gave her face a new expression. When she went
down town we noticed that her hats were more like the hats the other
women in our town wore; but she still affected extravagant footgear, as
is right and proper for a stout woman who has cause to be vain of her
feet. We noticed that her trips down town were rare that spring and
summer. She used to come home laden with little bundles; and before
supper she would change her street clothes for a neat, washable
housedress, as is our thrifty custom. Through her bright windows we
could see her moving briskly about from kitchen to sitting room; and
from the smells that floated out from her kitchen door, she seemed to
be preparing for her solitary supper the same homely viands that were
frying or stewing or baking in our kitchens. Sometimes you could detect
the delectable scent of browning hot tea biscuit. It takes a brave,
courageous, determined woman to make tea biscuit for no one but
Blanche Devine joined the church. On the first Sunday morning she
came to the service there was a little flurry among the ushers at the
vestibule door. They seated her well in the rear. The second Sunday
morning a dreadful thing happened. The woman next to whom they seated
her turned, regarded her stonily for a moment, then rose agitatedly and
moved to a pew across the aisle. Blanche Devine's face went a dull red
beneath her white powder. She never came again—though we saw the
minister visit her once or twice. She always accompanied him to the
door pleasantly, holding it well open until he was down the little
flight of steps and on the sidewalk. The minister's wife did not
call—but, then, there are limits to the duties of a minister's wife.
She rose early, like the rest of us; and as summer came on we used
to see her moving about in her little garden patch in the dewy, golden
morning. She wore absurd pale-blue kimonos that made her stout figure
loom immense against the greenery of garden and apple tree. The
neighbourhood women viewed these negligees with Puritan disapproval as
they smoothed down their own prim, starched gingham skirts. They said
it was disgusting—and perhaps it was; but the habit of years is not
easily overcome. Blanche Devine—snipping her sweet peas; peering
anxiously at the Virginia creeper that clung with such fragile fingers
to the trellis; watering the flower baskets that hung from her
porch—was blissfully unconscious of the disapproving eyes. I wish one
of us had just stopped to call good morning to her over the fence, and
to say in our neighbourly, small town way: “My, ain't this a scorcher!
So early too! It'll be fierce by noon!” But we did not.
I think perhaps the evenings must have been the loneliest for her.
The summer evenings in our little town are filled with intimate, human,
neighbourly sounds. After the heat of the day it is infinitely pleasant
to relax in the cool comfort of the front porch, with the life of the
town eddying about us. We sew and read out there until it grows dusk.
We call across-lots to our next-door neighbour. The men water the lawns
and the flower boxes and get together in little quiet groups to discuss
the new street paving. I have even known Mrs. Hines to bring her
cherries out there when she had canning to do, and pit them there on
the front porch partially shielded by her porch vine, but not so
effectually that she was deprived of the sights and sounds about her.
The kettle in her lap and the dishpan full of great ripe cherries on
the porch floor by her chair, she would pit and chat and peer out
through the vines, the red juice staining her plump bare arms.
I have wondered since what Blanche Devine thought of us those
lonesome evenings—those evenings filled with little friendly sights
and sounds. It is lonely, uphill business at best—this being good. It
must have been difficult for her, who had dwelt behind closed shutters
so long, to seat herself on the new front porch for all the world to
stare at; but she did sit there—resolutely—watching us in silence.
She seized hungrily upon the stray crumbs of conversation that fell
to her. The milkman and the iceman and the butcher boy used to hold
daily conversation with her. They—sociable gentlemen—would stand on
her doorstep, one grimy hand resting against the white of her doorpost,
exchanging the time of day with Blanche in the doorway—a tea towel in
one hand, perhaps, and a plate in the other. Her little house was a
miracle of cleanliness. It was no uncommon sight to see her down on her
knees on the kitchen floor, wielding her brush and rag like the rest of
us. In canning and preserving time there floated out from her kitchen
the pungent scent of pickled crab apples; the mouth-watering,
nostril-pricking smell that meant sweet pickles; or the cloying,
tantalising, divinely sticky odour that meant raspberry jam. Snooky,
from her side of the fence, often used to peer through the pickets,
gazing in the direction of the enticing smells next door. Early one
September morning there floated out from Blanche Devine's kitchen that
clean, fragrant, sweet scent of fresh-baked cookies—cookies with
butter in them, and spice, and with nuts on top. Just by the smell of
them your mind's eye pictured them coming from the oven—crisp brown
circlets, crumbly, toothsome, delectable. Snooky, in her scarlet
sweater and cap, sniffed them from afar and straightway deserted her
sandpile to take her stand at the fence. She peered through the
restraining bars, standing on tiptoe. Blanche Devine, glancing up from
her board and rolling-pin, saw the eager golden head. And Snooky, with
guile in her heart, raised one fat, dimpled hand above the fence and
waved it friendlily. Blanche Devine waved back. Thus encouraged,
Snooky's two hands wigwagged frantically above the pickets. Blanche
Devine hesitated a moment, her floury hand on her hip. Then she went to
the pantry shelf and took out a clean white saucer. She selected from
the brown jar on the table three of the brownest, crumbliest, most
perfect cookies, with a walnut meat perched atop of each, placed them
temptingly on the saucer and, descending the steps, came swiftly across
the grass to the triumphant Snooky. Blanche Devine held out the saucer,
her lips smiling, her eyes tender. Snooky reached up with one plump
“Snooky!” shrilled a high voice. “Snooky!” A voice of horror and of
wrath. “Come here to me this minute! And don't you dare to touch
those!” Snooky hesitated rebelliously, one pink finger in her pouting
mouth. “Snooky! Do you hear me?”
And the Very Young Wife began to descend the steps of her back
porch. Snooky, regretful eyes on the toothsome dainties, turned away
aggrieved. The Very Young Wife, her lips set, her eyes flashing,
advanced and seized the shrieking Snooky by one writhing arm and
dragged her away toward home and safety.
Blanche Devine stood there at the fence, holding the saucer in her
hand. The saucer tipped slowly, and the three cookies slipped off and
fell to the grass. Blanche Devine followed them with her eyes and stood
staring at them a moment. Then she turned quickly, went into the house
and shut the door.
It was about this time we noticed that Blanche Devine was away much
of the time. The little white cottage would be empty for a week. We
knew she was out of town because the expressman would come for her
trunk. We used to lift our eyebrows significantly. The newspapers and
handbills would accumulate in a dusty little heap on the porch; but
when she returned there was always a grand cleaning, with the windows
open, and Blanche—her head bound turbanwise in a towel—appearing at a
window every few minutes to shake out a dustcloth. She seemed to put an
enormous amount of energy into those cleanings—as if they were a sort
of safety valve.
As winter came on she used to sit up before her grate fire long,
long after we were asleep in our beds. When she neglected to pull down
the shades we could see the flames of her cosy fire dancing gnomelike
on the wall.
There came a night of sleet and snow, and wind and rattling
hail—one of those blustering, wild nights that are followed by
morning-paper reports of trains stalled in drifts, mail delayed,
telephone and telegraph wires down. It must have been midnight or past
when there came a hammering at Blanche Devine's door—a persistent,
clamorous rapping. Blanche Devine, sitting before her dying fire half
asleep, started and cringed when she heard it; then jumped to her feet,
her hand at her breast—her eyes darting this way and that, as though
She had heard a rapping like that before. It had meant bluecoats
swarming up the stairway, and frightened cries and pleadings, and wild
confusion. So she started forward now, quivering. And then she
remembered, being wholly awake now—she remembered, and threw up her
head and smiled a little bitterly and walked toward the door. The
hammering continued, louder than ever. Blanche Devine flicked on the
porch light and opened the door. The half-clad figure of the Very Young
Wife next door staggered into the room. She seized Blanche Devine's arm
with both her frenzied hands and shook her, the wind and snow beating
in upon both of them.
“The baby!” she screamed in a high, hysterical voice. “The baby! The
Blanche Devine shut the door and shook the Young Wife smartly by the
“Stop screaming,” she said quietly. “Is she sick?”
The Young Wife told her, her teeth chattering:
“Come quick! She's dying! Will's out of town. I tried to get the
doctor. The telephone wouldn't—I saw your light! For God's sake—”
Blanche Devine grasped the Young Wife's arm, opened the door, and
together they sped across the little space that separated the two
houses. Blanche Devine was a big woman, but she took the stairs like a
girl and found the right bedroom by some miraculous woman instinct. A
dreadful choking, rattling sound was coming from Snooky's bed.
“Croup,” said Blanche Devine, and began her fight.
It was a good fight. She marshalled her little inadequate forces,
made up of the half-fainting Young Wife and the terrified and awkward
“Get the hot water on—lots of it!” Blanche Devine pinned up her
sleeves. “Hot cloths! Tear up a sheet—or anything! Got an oilstove? I
want a teakettle boiling in the room. She's got to have the steam. If
that don't do it we'll raise an umbrella over her and throw a sheet
over, and hold the kettle under till the steam gets to her that way.
Got any ipecac?”
The Young Wife obeyed orders, whitefaced and shaking. Once Blanche
Devine glanced up at her sharply.
“Don't you dare faint!” she commanded.
And the fight went on. Gradually the breathing that had been so
frightful became softer, easier. Blanche Devine did not relax. It was
not until the little figure breathed gently in sleep that Blanche
Devine sat back satisfied. Then she tucked a cover ever so gently at
the side of the bed, took a last satisfied look at the face on the
pillow, and turned to look at the wan, dishevelled Young Wife.
“She's all right now. We can get the doctor when morning
comes—though I don't know's you'll need him.”
The Young Wife came round to Blanche Devine's side of the bed and
stood looking up at her.
“My baby died,” said Blanche Devine simply. The Young Wife gave a
little inarticulate cry, put her two hands on Blanche Devine's broad
shoulders and laid her tired head on her breast.
“I guess I'd better be going,” said Blanche Devine.
The Young Wife raised her head. Her eyes were round with fright.
“Going! Oh, please stay! I'm so afraid. Suppose she should take sick
again! That awful—awful breathing—”
“I'll stay if you want me to.”
“Oh, please! I'll make up your bed and you can rest—”
“I'm not sleepy. I'm not much of a hand to sleep anyway. I'll sit up
here in the hall, where there's a light. You get to bed. I'll watch and
see that everything's all right. Have you got something I can read out
here—something kind of lively—with a love story in it?”
So the night went by. Snooky slept in her little white bed. The Very
Young Wife half dozed in her bed, so near the little one. In the hall,
her stout figure looming grotesque in wall-shadows, sat Blanche Devine
pretending to read. Now and then she rose and tiptoed into the bedroom
with miraculous quiet, and stooped over the little bed and listened and
looked—and tiptoed away again, satisfied.
The Young Husband came home from his business trip next day with
tales of snowdrifts and stalled engines. Blanche Devine breathed a sigh
of relief when she saw him from her kitchen window. She watched the
house now with a sort of proprietary eye. She wondered about Snooky;
but she knew better than to ask. So she waited. The Young Wife next
door had told her husband all about that awful night—had told him with
tears and sobs. The Very Young Husband had been very, very angry with
her—angry and hurt, he said, and astonished! Snooky could not have
been so sick! Look at her now! As well as ever. And to have called such
a woman! Well, really he did not want to be harsh; but she must
understand that she must never speak to the woman again. Never!
So the next day the Very Young Wife happened to go by with the Young
Husband. Blanche Devine spied them from her sitting-room window, and
she made the excuse of looking in her mailbox in order to go to the
door. She stood in the doorway and the Very Young Wife went by on the
arm of her husband. She went by—rather white-faced—without a look or
a word or a sign!
And then this happened! There came into Blanche Devine's face a look
that made slits of her eyes, and drew her mouth down into an ugly,
narrow line, and that made the muscles of her jaw tense and hard. It
was the ugliest look you can imagine. Then she smiled—if having one's
lips curl away from one's teeth can be called smiling.
Two days later there was great news of the white cottage on the
corner. The curtains were down; the furniture was packed; the rugs were
rolled. The wagons came and backed up to the house and took those
things that had made a home for Blanche Devine. And when we heard that
she had bought back her interest in the House With the Closed Shutters,
near the freight depot, we sniffed.
“I knew she wouldn't last!” we said.
“They never do!” said we.
VII. THE GIRL WHO WENT RIGHT
There is a story—Kipling, I think—that tells of a spirited horse
galloping in the dark suddenly drawing up tense, hoofs bunched, slim
flanks quivering, nostrils dilated, ears pricked. Urging being of no
avail the rider dismounts, strikes a match, advances a cautious step or
so, and finds himself at the precipitous brink of a newly formed
So it is with your trained editor. A miraculous sixth sense guides
him. A mysterious something warns him of danger lurking within the
seemingly innocent oblong white envelope. Without slitting the flap,
without pausing to adjust his tortoise-rimmed glasses, without clearing
his throat, without lighting his cigarette—he knows.
The deadly newspaper story he scents in the dark. Cub reporter.
Crusty city editor. Cub fired. Stumbles on to a big story. Staggers
into newspaper office wild-eyed. Last edition. “Hold the presses!”
Crusty C.E. stands over cub's typewriter grabbing story line by line.
Even foreman of pressroom moved to tears by tale. “Boys, this ain't
just a story this kid's writin'. This is history!” Story finished. Cub
faints. C.E. makes him star reporter.
The athletic story: “I could never marry a mollycoddle like you,
Harold Hammond!” Big game of the year. Team crippled. Second half.
Halfback hurt. Harold Hammond, scrub, into the game. Touchdown! Broken
leg. Five to nothing. “Harold, can you ever, ever forgive me?”
The pseudo-psychological story: She had been sitting before the fire
for a long, long time. The flame had flickered and died down to a
smouldering ash. The sound of his departing footsteps echoed and
re-echoed through her brain. But the little room was very, very still.
The shop-girl story: Torn boots and temptation, tears and snears,
pathos and bathos, all the way from Zola to the vice inquiry.
Having thus attempted to hide the deadly commonplaceness of this
story with a thin layer of cynicism, perhaps even the wily editor may
be tricked into taking the leap.
* * * * *
Four weeks before the completion of the new twelve-story addition
the store advertised for two hundred experienced saleswomen. Rachel
Wiletzky, entering the superintendent's office after a wait of three
hours, was Applicant No. 179. The superintendent did not look up as
Rachel came in. He scribbled busily on a pad of paper at his desk, thus
observing rules one and two in the proper conduct of superintendents
when interviewing applicants. Rachel Wiletzky, standing by his desk,
did not cough or wriggle or rustle her skirts or sag on one hip. A
sense of her quiet penetrated the superintendent's subconsciousness. He
glanced up hurriedly over his left shoulder. Then he laid down his
pencil and sat up slowly. His mind was working quickly enough though.
In the twelve seconds that intervened between the laying down of the
pencil and the sitting up in his chair he had hastily readjusted all
his well-founded preconceived ideas on the appearance of shop-girl
Rachel Wiletzky had the colouring and physique of a dairymaid. It
was the sort of colouring that you associate in your mind with lush
green fields, and Jersey cows, and village maids, in Watteau frocks,
balancing brimming pails aloft in the protecting curve of one rounded
upraised arm, with perhaps a Maypole dance or so in the background.
Altogether, had the superintendent been given to figures of speech, he
might have said that Rachel was as much out of place among the
preceding one hundred and seventy-eight bloodless, hollow-chested,
stoop-shouldered applicants as a sunflower would be in a patch of dank
He himself was one of those bleached men that you find on the office
floor of department stores. Grey skin, grey eyes, greying hair, careful
grey clothes—seemingly as void of pigment as one of those sunless
things you disclose when you turn over a board that has long lain on
the mouldy floor of a damp cellar. It was only when you looked closely
that you noticed a fleck of golden brown in the cold grey of each eye,
and a streak of warm brown forming an unquenchable forelock that the
conquering grey had not been able to vanquish. It may have been a
something within him corresponding to those outward bits of human
colouring that tempted him to yield to a queer impulse. He whipped from
his breast-pocket the grey-bordered handkerchief, reached up swiftly
and passed one white corner of it down the length of Rachel Wiletzky's
Killarney-rose left cheek. The rude path down which the handkerchief
had travelled deepened to red for a moment before both rose-pink cheeks
bloomed into scarlet. The superintendent gazed rather ruefully from
unblemished handkerchief to cheek and back again.
“Why—it—it's real!” he stammered.
Rachel Wiletzky smiled a good-natured little smile that had in it a
dash of superiority.
“If I was putting it on,” she said, “I hope I'd have sense enough to
leave something to the imagination. This colour out of a box would take
a spiderweb veil to tone it down.”
Not much more than a score of words. And yet before the half were
spoken you were certain that Rachel Wiletzky's knowledge of lush green
fields and bucolic scenes was that gleaned from the condensed-milk ads
that glare down at one from billboards and street-car chromos. Hers was
the ghetto voice—harsh, metallic, yet fraught with the resonant music
“H'm—name?” asked the grey superintendent. He knew that vocal
A queer look stole into Rachel Wiletzky's face, a look of cunning
and determination and shrewdness.
“Ray Willets,” she replied composedly. “Double l.”
“Clerked before, of course. Our advertisement stated—”
“Oh yes,” interrupted Ray Willets hastily, eagerly. “I can sell
goods. My customers like me. And I don't get tired. I don't know why,
but I don't.”
The superintendent glanced up again at the red that glowed higher
with the girl's suppressed excitement. He took a printed slip from the
little pile of paper that lay on his desk.
“Well, anyway, you're the first clerk I ever saw who had so much red
blood that she could afford to use it for decorative purposes. Step
into the next room, answer the questions on this card and turn it in.
You'll be notified.”
Ray Willets took the searching, telltale blank that put its
questions so pertinently. “Where last employed?” it demanded. “Why did
you leave? Do you live at home?”
Ray Willets moved slowly away toward the door opposite. The
superintendent reached forward to press the button that would summon
Applicant No. 180. But before his finger touched it Ray Willets turned
and came back swiftly. She held the card out before his surprised eyes.
“I can't fill this out. If I do I won't get the job. I work over at
the Halsted Street Bazaar. You know—the Cheap Store. I lied and sent
word I was sick so I could come over here this morning. And they dock
you for time off whether you're sick or not.”
The superintendent drummed impatiently with his fingers. “I can't
listen to all this. Haven't time. Fill out your blank, and if—”
All that latent dramatic force which is a heritage of her race came
to the girl's aid now.
“The blank! How can I say on a blank that I'm leaving because I want
to be where real people are? What chance has a girl got over there on
the West Side? I'm different. I don't know why, but I am. Look at my
face! Where should I get red cheeks from? From not having enough to eat
half the time and sleeping three in a bed?”
She snatched off her shabby glove and held one hand out before the
“From where do I get such hands? Not from selling hardware over at
Twelfth and Halsted. Look at it! Say, couldn't that hand sell silk and
Some one has said that to make fingers and wrists like those which
Ray Willets held out for inspection it is necessary to have had at
least five generations of ancestors who have sat with their hands
folded in their laps. Slender, tapering, sensitive hands they were,
pink-tipped, temperamental. Wistful hands they were, speaking hands, an
inheritance, perhaps, from some dreamer ancestor within the old-world
ghetto, some long-haired, velvet-eyed student of the Talmud dwelling
within the pale with its squalor and noise, and dreaming of unseen
things beyond the confining gates—things rare and exquisite and fine.
“Ashamed of your folks?” snapped the superintendent.
“N-no—No! But I want to be different. I am different! Give me a
chance, will you? I'm straight. And I'll work. And I can sell goods.
That all-pervading greyness seemed to have lifted from the man at
the desk. The brown flecks in the eyes seemed to spread and engulf the
surrounding colourlessness. His face, too, took on a glow that seemed
to come from within. It was like the lifting of a thick grey mist on a
foggy morning, so that the sun shines bright and clear for a brief
moment before the damp curtain rolls down again and effaces it.
He leaned forward in his chair, a queer half-smile on his face.
“I'll give you your chance,” he said, “for one month. At the end of
that time I'll send for you. I'm not going to watch you. I'm not going
to have you watched. Of course your sale slips will show the office
whether you're selling goods or not. If you're not they'll discharge
you. But that's routine. What do you want to sell?”
“What do I want to—Do you mean—Why, I want to sell the lacy
Ray, very red-cheeked, made the plunge. “The—the lawnjeree, you
know. The things with ribbon and handwork and yards and yards of real
lace. I've seen 'em in the glass case in the French Room. Seventy-nine
dollars marked down from one hundred.”
The superintendent scribbled on a card. “Show this Monday morning.
Miss Jevne is the head of your department. You'll spend two hours a day
in the store school of instruction for clerks. Here, you're forgetting
The grey look had settled down on him again as he reached out to
press the desk button. Ray Willets passed out at the door opposite the
one through which Rachel Wiletzky had entered.
Some one in the department nick-named her Chubbs before she had
spent half a day in the underwear and imported lingerie. At the store
school she listened and learned. She learned how important were things
of which Halsted Street took no cognisance. She learned to make out a
sale slip as complicated as an engineering blueprint. She learned that
a clerk must develop suavity and patience in the same degree as a
customer waxes waspish and insulting, and that the spectrum's colours
do not exist in the costume of the girl-behind-the-counter. For her
there are only black and white. These things she learned and many more,
and remembered them, for behind the rosy cheeks and the terrier-bright
eyes burned the indomitable desire to get on. And the finished
embodiment of all of Ray Willets' desires and ambitions was daily
before her eyes in the presence of Miss Jevne, head of the lingerie and
Of Miss Jevne it might be said that she was real where Ray was
artificial, and artificial where Ray was real. Everything that Miss
Jevne wore was real. She was as modish as Ray was shabby, as slim as
Ray was stocky, as artificially tinted and tinctured as Ray was
naturally rosy-cheeked and buxom. It takes real money to buy clothes as
real as those worn by Miss Jevne. The soft charmeuse in her graceful
gown was real and miraculously draped. The cobweb-lace collar that so
delicately traced its pattern against the black background of her gown
was real. So was the ripple of lace that cascaded down the front of her
blouse. The straight, correct, hideously modern lines of her figure
bespoke a real eighteen-dollar corset. Realest of all, there reposed on
Miss Jevne's bosom a bar pin of platinum and diamonds—very real
diamonds set in a severely plain but very real bar of precious
platinum. So if you except Miss Jevne's changeless colour, her
artificial smile, her glittering hair and her undulating
head-of-the-department walk, you can see that everything about Miss
Jevne was as real as money can make one.
Miss Jevne, when she deigned to notice Ray Willets at all, called
her “girl,” thus: “Girl, get down one of those Number Seventeens for
me—with the pink ribbons.” Ray did not resent the tone. She thought
about Miss Jevne as she worked. She thought about her at night when she
was washing and ironing her other shirtwaist for next day's wear. In
the Halsted Street Bazaar the girls had been on terms of dreadful
intimacy with those affairs in each other's lives which popularly are
supposed to be private knowledge. They knew the sum which each earned
per week; how much they turned in to help swell the family coffers and
how much they were allowed to keep for their own use. They knew each
time a girl spent a quarter for a cheap sailor collar or a pair of
near-silk stockings. Ray Willets, who wanted passionately to be
different, whose hands so loved the touch of the lacy, silky garments
that made up the lingerie and negligee departments, recognised the
perfection of Miss Jevne's faultless realness—recognised it,
appreciated it, envied it. It worried her too. How did she do it? How
did one go about attaining the same degree of realness?
Meanwhile she worked. She learned quickly. She took care always to
be cheerful, interested, polite. After a short week's handling of lacy
silken garments she ceased to feel a shock when she saw Miss Jevne
displaying a robe-de-nuit made up of white cloud and sea-foam
and languidly assuring the customer that of course it wasn't to be
expected that you could get a fine handmade lace at that price—only
twenty-seven-fifty. Now if she cared to look at something really
fine—made entirely by hand—why—
The end of the first ten days found so much knowledge crammed into
Ray Willets' clever, ambitious little head that the pink of her cheeks
had deepened to carmine, as a child grows flushed and too bright-eyed
when overstimulated and overtired.
Miss Myrtle, the store beauty, strolled up to Ray, who was
straightening a pile of corset covers and brassieres. Miss
Myrtle was the store's star cloak-and-suit model. Tall, svelte,
graceful, lovely in line and contour, she was remarkably like one of
those exquisite imbeciles that Rossetti used to love to paint. Hers
were the great cowlike eyes, the wonderful oval face, the marvellous
little nose, the perfect lips and chin. Miss Myrtle could don a
forty-dollar gown, parade it before a possible purchaser, and make it
look like an imported model at one hundred and twenty-five. When Miss
Myrtle opened those exquisite lips and spoke you got a shock that hurt.
She laid one cool slim finger on Ray's ruddy cheek.
“Sure enough!” she drawled nasally. “Whereja get it anyway, kid? You
must of been brought up on peaches 'n' cream and slept in a pink cloud
“Me!” laughed Ray, her deft fingers busy straightening a bow here, a
ruffle of lace there. “Me! The L-train runs so near my bed that if it
was ever to get a notion to take a short cut it would slice off my legs
to the knees.”
“Live at home?” Miss Myrtle's grasshopper mind never dwelt long on
“Well, sure,” replied Ray. “Did you think I had a flat up on the
“I live at home too,” Miss Myrtle announced impressively. She was
leaning indolently against the table. Her eyes followed the deft, quick
movements of Ray's slender, capable hands. Miss Myrtle always leaned
when there was anything to lean on. Involuntarily she fell into melting
poses. One shoulder always drooped slightly, one toe always trailed a
bit like the picture on the cover of the fashion magazines, one hand
and arm always followed the line of her draperies while the other was
raised to hip or breast or head.
Ray's busy hands paused a moment. She looked up at the picturesque
Myrtle. “All the girls do, don't they?”
“Huh?” said Myrtle blankly.
“Live at home, I mean? The application blank says—”
“Say, you've got clever hands, ain't you?” put in Miss Myrtle
irrelevantly. She looked ruefully at her own short, stubby,
unintelligent hands, that so perfectly reflected her character in that
marvellous way hands have. “Mine are stupid-looking. I'll bet you'll
get on.” She sagged to the other hip with a weary gracefulness. “I
ain't got no brains,” she complained.
“Where do they live then?” persisted Ray.
“Who? Oh, I live at home”—again virtuously—“but I've got some
heart if I am dumb. My folks couldn't get along without what I bring
home every week. A lot of the girls have flats. But that don't last.
“Yes?” said Ray eagerly. Her plump face with its intelligent eyes
was all aglow.
Miss Myrtle lowered her voice discreetly. “Her own folks don't know
where she lives. They says she sends 'em money every month, but with
the understanding that they don't try to come to see her. They live way
over on the West Side somewhere. She makes her buying trip to Europe
every year. Speaks French and everything. They say when she started to
earn real money she just cut loose from her folks. They was a drag on
her and she wanted to get to the top.”
“Say, that pin's real, ain't it?”
“Real? Well, I should say it is! Catch Jevne wearing anything that's
phony. I saw her at the theatre one night. Dressed! Well, you'd have
thought that birds of paradise were national pests, like English
sparrows. Not that she looked loud. But that quiet, rich elegance, you
know, that just smells of money. Say, but I'll bet she has her lonesome
Ray Willets' eyes darted across the long room and rested upon the
shining black-clad figure of Miss Jevne moving about against the
luxurious ivory-and-rose background of the French Room.
“She—she left her folks, h'm?” she mused aloud.
Miss Myrtle, the brainless, regarded the tips of her shabby boots.
“What did it get her?” she asked as though to herself. “I know what
it does to a girl, seeing and handling stuff that's made for
millionaires, you get a taste for it yourself. Take it from me, it
ain't the six-dollar girl that needs looking after. She's taking her
little pay envelope home to her mother that's a widow and it goes to
buy milk for the kids. Sometimes I think the more you get the more you
want. Somebody ought to turn that vice inquiry on to the tracks of that
thirty-dollar-a-week girl in the Irish crochet waist and the diamond
bar pin. She'd make swell readin'.”
There fell a little silence between the two—a silence of which
neither was conscious. Both were thinking, Myrtle disjointedly,
purposelessly, all unconscious that her slow, untrained mind had groped
for a great and vital truth and found it; Ray quickly, eagerly,
connectedly, a new and daring resolve growing with lightning rapidity.
“There's another new baby at our house,” she said aloud suddenly.
“It cries all night pretty near.”
“Ain't they fierce?” laughed Myrtle. “And yet I dunno—”
She fell silent again. Then with the half-sign with which we waken
from day dreams she moved away in response to the beckoning finger of a
saleswoman in the evening-coat section. Ten minutes later her exquisite
face rose above the soft folds of a black charmeuse coat that rippled
away from her slender, supple body in lines that a sculptor dreams of
and never achieves.
Ray Willets finished straightening her counter. Trade was slow. She
moved idly in the direction of the black-garbed figure that flitted
about in the costly atmosphere of the French section. It must be a very
special customer to claim Miss Jevne's expert services. Ray glanced in
through the half-opened glass and ivory-enamel doors.
“Here, girl,” called Miss Jevne. Ray paused and entered. Miss Jevne
was frowning. “Miss Myrtle's busy. Just slip this on. Careful now. Keep
your arms close to your head.”
She slipped a marvellously wrought garment over Ray's sleek head.
Fluffy drifts of equally exquisite lingerie lay scattered about on
chairs, over mirrors, across showtables. On one of the fragile little
ivory-and-rose chairs, in the centre of the costly little room, sat a
large, blonde, perfumed woman who clanked and rustled and swished as
she moved. Her eyes were white-lidded and heavy, but strangely bright.
One ungloved hand was very white too, but pudgy and covered so thickly
with gems that your eye could get no clear picture of any single stone
Ray, clad in the diaphanous folds of the robe-de-nuit that
was so beautifully adorned with delicate embroideries wrought by the
patient, needle-scarred fingers of some silent, white-faced nun in a
far-away convent, paced slowly up and down the short length of the room
that the critical eye of this coarse, unlettered creature might behold
the wonders woven by this weary French nun, and, beholding, approve.
“It ain't bad,” spake the blonde woman grudgingly. “How much did you
“Ninety-five,” Miss Jevne made answer smoothly. “I selected it
myself when I was in France my last trip. A bargain.”
She slid the robe carefully over Ray's head. The frown came once
more to her brow. She bent close to Ray's ear. “Your waist's ripped
under the left arm. Disgraceful!”
The blonde woman moved and jangled a bit in her chair. “Well, I'll
take it,” she sighed. “Look at the colour on that girl! And it's real
too.” She rose heavily and came over to Ray, reached up and pinched her
cheek appraisingly with perfumed white thumb and forefinger.
“That'll do, girl,” said Miss Jevne sweetly. “Take this along and
change these ribbons from blue to pink.”
Ray Willets bore the fairy garment away with her. She bore it
tenderly, almost reverently. It was more than a garment. It represented
in her mind a new standard of all that was beautiful and exquisite and
Ten days before the formal opening of the new twelve-story addition
there was issued from the superintendent's office an order that made a
little flurry among the clerks in the sections devoted to women's
dress. The new store when thrown open would mark an epoch in the retail
drygoods business of the city, the order began. Thousands were to be
spent on perishable decorations alone. The highest type of patronage
was to be catered to. Therefore the women in the lingerie, negligee,
millinery, dress, suit and corset sections were requested to wear
during opening week a modest but modish black one-piece gown that would
blend with the air of elegance which those departments were to
Ray Willets of the lingerie and negligee sections read her order
slip slowly. Then she reread it. Then she did a mental sum in simple
arithmetic. A childish sum it was. And yet before she got her answer
the solving of it had stamped on her face a certain hard, set, resolute
The store management had chosen Wednesday to be the opening day. By
eight-thirty o'clock Wednesday morning the French lingerie, millinery
and dress sections, with their women clerks garbed in modest but modish
black one-piece gowns, looked like a levee at Buckingham when the court
is in mourning. But the ladies-in-waiting, grouped about here and
there, fell back in respectful silence when there paced down the aisle
the queen royal in the person of Miss Jevne. There is a certain sort of
black gown that is more startling and daring than scarlet. Miss Jevne's
was that style. Fast black you might term it. Miss Jevne was aware of
the flurry and flutter that followed her majestic progress down the
aisle to her own section. She knew that each eye was caught in the tip
of the little dog-eared train that slipped and slunk and wriggled along
the ground, thence up to the soft drapery caught so cunningly just
below the knee, up higher to the marvelously simple sash that swayed
with each step, to the soft folds of black against which rested the
very real diamond and platinum bar pin, up to the lace at her throat,
and then stopping, blinking and staring again gazed fixedly at the
string of pearls that lay about her throat, pearls rosily pink, mistily
grey. An aura of self-satisfaction enveloping her, Miss Jevne
disappeared behind the rose-garlanded portals of the new
cream-and-mauve French section. And there the aura vanished, quivering.
For standing before one of the plate-glass cases and patting into place
with deft fingers the satin bow of a hand-wrought chemise was Ray
Willets, in her shiny little black serge skirt and the braver of her
two white shirtwaists.
Miss Jevne quickened her pace. Ray turned. Her bright brown eyes
grew brighter at sight of Miss Jevne's wondrous black. Miss Jevne, her
train wound round her feet like an actress' photograph, lifted her
eyebrows to an unbelievable height.
“Explain that costume!” she said.
“Costume?” repeated Ray, fencing.
Miss Jevne's thin lips grew thinner. “You understood that women in
this department were to wear black one-piece gowns this week!”
Ray smiled a little twisted smile. “Yes, I understood.”
Ray's little smile grew a trifle more uncertain. “—I had the
money—last week—I was going to—The baby took sick—the heat I guess,
coming so sudden. We had the doctor—and medicine—I—Say, your own
folks come before black one-piece dresses!”
Miss Jevne's cold eyes saw the careful patch under Ray's left arm
where a few days before the torn place had won her a reproof. It was
the last straw.
“You can't stay in this department in that rig!”
“Who says so?” snapped Ray with a flash of Halsted Street bravado.
“If my customers want a peek at Paquin I'll send 'em to you.”
“I'll show you who says so!” retorted Miss Jevne, quite losing sight
of the queen business. The stately form of the floor manager was
visible among the glass showcases beyond. Miss Jevne sought him
agitatedly. All the little sagging lines about her mouth showed up
sharply, defying years of careful massage.
The floor manager bent his stately head and listened. Then, led by
Miss Jevne, he approached Ray Willets, whose deft fingers, trembling a
very little now, were still pretending to adjust the perfect pink-satin
The manager touched her on the arm not unkindly. “Report for work in
the kitchen utensils, fifth floor,” he said. Then at sight of the
girl's face: “We can't have one disobeying orders, you know. The rest
of the clerks would raise a row in no time.”
Down in the kitchen utensils and household goods there was no rule
demanding modest but modish one-piece gowns. In the kitchenware one
could don black sateen sleevelets to protect one's clean white waist
without breaking the department's tenets of fashion. You could even pin
a handkerchief across the front of your waist, if your job was that of
dusting the granite ware.
At first Ray's delicate fingers, accustomed to the touch of soft,
sheer white stuff and ribbon and lace and silk, shrank from contact
with meat grinders, and aluminum stewpans, and egg beaters, and waffle
irons, and pie tins. She handled them contemptuously. She sold them
listlessly. After weeks of expatiating to customers on the beauties and
excellencies of gossamer lingerie she found it difficult to work up
enthusiasm over the virtues of dishpans and spice boxes. By noon she
was less resentful. By two o'clock she was saying to a fellow clerk:
“Well, anyway, in this section you don't have to tell a woman how
graceful and charming she's going to look while she's working the
She was a born saleswoman. In spite of herself she became interested
in the buying problems of the practical and plain-visaged housewives
who patronised this section. By three o'clock she was looking
thoughtful—thoughtful and contented.
Then came the summons. The lingerie section was swamped! Report to
Miss Jevne at once! Almost regretfully Ray gave her customer over to an
idle clerk and sought out Miss Jevne. Some of that lady's
statuesqueness was gone. The bar pin on her bosom rose and fell
rapidly. She espied Ray and met her halfway. In her hand she carried a
soft black something which she thrust at Ray.
“Here, put that on in one of the fitting rooms. Be quick about it.
It's your size. The department's swamped. Hurry now!”
Ray took from Miss Jevne the black silk gown, modest but modish.
There was no joy in Ray's face. Ten minutes later she emerged in the
limp and clinging little frock that toned down her colour and made her
plumpness seem but rounded charm.
The big store will talk for many a day of that afternoon and the
three afternoons that followed, until Sunday brought pause to the
thousands of feet beating a ceaseless tattoo up and down the thronged
aisles. On the Monday following thousands swarmed down upon the store
again, but not in such overwhelming numbers. There were breathing
spaces. It was during one of these that Miss Myrtle, the beauty, found
time for a brief moment's chat with Ray Willets.
Ray was straightening her counter again. She had a passion for
order. Myrtle eyed her wearily. Her slender shoulders had carried an
endless number and variety of garments during those four days and her
feet had paced weary miles that those garments might the better be
“Black's grand on you,” observed Myrtle. “Tones you down.” She
glanced sharply at the gown. “Looks just like one of our
eighteen-dollar models. Copy it?”
“No,” said Ray, still straightening petticoats and corset covers.
Myrtle reached out a weary, graceful arm and touched one of the lacy
piles adorned with cunning bows of pink and blue to catch the shopping
“Ain't that sweet!” she exclaimed. “I'm crazy about that shadow
lace. It's swell under voiles. I wonder if I could take one of them
home to copy it.”
Ray glanced up. “Oh, that!” she said contemptuously. “That's just a
cheap skirt. Only twelve-fifty. Machine-made lace. Imitation
She stopped. She stared a moment at Myrtle with the fixed and
wide-eyed gaze of one who does not see.
“What'd I just say to you?”
“Huh?” ejaculated Myrtle, mystified.
“What'd I just say?” repeated Ray.
Myrtle laughed, half understanding. “You said that was a cheap junk
skirt at only twelve-fifty, with machine lace and imitation—”
But Ray Willets did not wait to hear the rest. She was off down the
aisle toward the elevator marked “Employees.” The superintendent's
office was on the ninth floor. She stopped there. The grey
superintendent was writing at his desk. He did not look up as Ray
entered, thus observing rules one and two in the proper conduct of
superintendents when interviewing employees. Ray Willets, standing by
his desk, did not cough or wriggle or rustle her skirts or sag on one
hip. A consciousness of her quiet penetrated the superintendent's mind.
He glanced up hurriedly over his left shoulder. Then he laid down his
pencil and sat up slowly.
“Oh, it's you!” he said.
“Yes, it's me,” replied Ray Willets simply. “I've been here a month
“Oh, yes.” He ran his fingers through his hair so that the brown
forelock stood away from the grey. “You've lost some of your roses,” he
said, and tapped his cheek. “What's the trouble?”
“I guess it's the dress,” explained Ray, and glanced down at the
folds of her gown. She hesitated a moment awkwardly. “You said you'd
send for me at the end of the month. You didn't.”
“That's all right,” said the grey superintendent. “I was pretty sure
I hadn't made a mistake. I can gauge applicants pretty fairly. Let's
see—you're in the lingerie, aren't you?”
Then with a rush: “That's what I want to talk to you about. I've
changed my mind. I don't want to stay in the lingeries. I'd like to be
transferred to the kitchen utensils and household goods.”
“Transferred! Well, I'll see what I can do. What was the name now? I
A queer look stole into Ray Willets' face, a look of determination
“Name?” she said. “My name is Rachel Wiletzky.”
VIII. THE HOOKER-UP-THE-BACK
Miss Sadie Corn was not a charmer, but when you handed your room-key
to her you found yourself stopping to chat a moment. If you were the
right kind you showed her your wife's picture in the front of your
watch. If you were the wrong kind, with your scant hair carefully
combed to hide the bald spot, you showed her the newspaper clipping
that you carried in your vest pocket. Following inspection of the
first, Sadie Corn would say: “Now that's what I call a sweet face! How
old is the youngest?” Upon perusal the second was returned with dignity
and: “Is that supposed to be funny?” In each case Sadie Corn had you
placed for life.
She possessed the invaluable gift of the floor clerk, did Sadie
Corn—that of remembering names and faces. Though you had registered at
the Hotel Magnifique but the night before, for the first time, Sadie
Corn would look up at you over her glasses as she laid your key in its
proper row, and say: “Good morning, Mr. Schultz! Sleep well?”
“Me!” you would stammer, surprised and gratified. “Me! Fine!
H'm—Thanks!” Whereupon you would cross your right foot over your left
nonchalantly and enjoy that brief moment's chat with Floor Clerk Number
Two. You went back to Ishpeming, Michigan, with three new impressions:
The first was that you were becoming a personage of considerable
importance. The second was that the Magnifique realised this great
truth and was grateful for your patronage. The third was that New York
was a friendly little hole after all!
Miss Sadie Corn was dean of the Hotel Magnifique's floor clerks. The
primary requisite in successful floor clerkship is homeliness. The
second is discreet age. The third is tact. And for the benefit of those
who think the duties of a floor clerk end when she takes your key when
you leave your room, and hands it back as you return, it may be
mentioned that the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh requisites are
diplomacy, ingenuity, unlimited patience and a comprehensive knowledge
of human nature. Ambassadors have been known to keep their jobs on less
She had come to the Magnifique at thirty-three, a plain, spare,
sallow woman, with a quiet, capable manner, a pungent trick of the
tongue on occasion, a sparse fluff of pale-coloured hair, and big,
bony-knuckled hands, such as you see on women who have the gift of
humanness. She was forty-eight now—still plain, still spare, still
sallow. Those bony, big-knuckled fingers had handed keys to potentates,
and pork-packers, and millinery buyers from Seattle; and to princes
incognito, and paupers much the same—the difference being that the
princes dressed down to the part, while the paupers dressed up to it.
Time, experience, understanding and the daily dealing with
ever-changing humanity had brought certain lines into Sadie Corn's
face. So skilfully were they placed that the unobservant put them down
as wrinkles on the countenance of a homely, middle-aged woman; but he
who read as he ran saw that the lines about the eyes were quizzical,
shrewd lines, which come from the practice of gauging character at a
glance; that the mouth-markings meant tolerance and sympathy and
humour; that the forehead furrows had been carved there by those master
chisellers, suffering and sacrifice.
In the last three or four years Sadie Corn had taken to wearing a
little lavender-and-white crocheted shawl about her shoulders on cool
days, and when Two-fifty-seven, who was a regular, caught his annual
heavy cold late in the fall, Sadie would ask him sharply whether he had
on his winter flannels. On his replying in the negative she would
rebuke him scathingly and demand a bill of sizable denomination; and
when her watch was over she would sally forth to purchase four sets of
men's winter underwear. As captain of the Magnifique's thirty-four
floor clerks Sadie Corn's authority extended from the parlours to the
roof, but her especial domain was floor two. Ensconced behind her
little desk in a corner, blocked in by mailracks, pantry signals,
pneumatic-tube chutes and telephone, with a clear view of the elevators
and stairway, Sadie Corn was mistress of the moods, manners and morals
of the Magnifique's second floor.
It was six thirty p.m. on Monday of Automobile Show Week when Sadie
Corn came on watch. She came on with a lively, well-developed case of
neuralgia over her right eye and extending down into her back teeth.
With its usual spitefulness the attack had chosen to make its
appearance during her long watch. It never selected her short-watch
days, when she was on duty only from eleven a.m. until six-thirty p.m.
Now with a peppermint bottle held close to alternately sniffing
nostrils Sadie Corn was running her eye over the complex report sheet
of the floor clerk who had just gone off watch. The report was even
more detailed and lengthy than usual. Automobile Show Week meant that
the always prosperous Magnifique was filled to the eaves and turning
them away. It meant twice the usual number of inside telephone calls
anent rooms too hot, rooms too cold, radiators hammering, radiators
hissing, windows that refused to open, windows that refused to shut,
packages undelivered, hot water not forthcoming. As the human buffers
between guests and hotel management, it was the duty of Sadie Corn and
her diplomatic squad to pacify the peevish, to smooth the path of the
Down the hall strolled Donahue, the house detective—Donahue the
leisurely. Donahue the keen-eyed, Donahue the guileless—looking in his
evening clothes for all the world like a prosperous diner-out. He
smiled benignly upon Sadie Corn, and Sadie Corn had the bravery to
smile back in spite of her neuralgia, knowing well that men have no
sympathy with that anguishing ailment and no understanding of it.
“Everything serene, Miss Corn?” inquired Donahue.
“Everything's serene,” said Sadie Corn. “Though Two-thirty-three
telephoned a minute ago to say that if the valet didn't bring his pants
from the presser in the next two seconds he'd come down the hall as he
is and get 'em. Perhaps you'd better stay round.”
Donahue chuckled and passed on. Half way down the hall he retraced
his steps, and stopped again before Sadie Corn's busy desk. He balanced
a moment thoughtfully from toe to heel, his chin lifted inquiringly:
“Keep your eye on Two-eighteen and Two-twenty-three this morning?”
“Like a lynx!” answered Sadie.
“Not a thing. I guess they just scraped acquaintance in the Alley
after dinner, like they sometimes do. A man with eyelashes like his
always speaks to any woman alone who isn't pockmarked and toothless.
Two minutes after he's met a girl his voice takes on the 'cello note. I
know his kind. Why, say, he even tried waving those eyelashes of his at
me first time he turned in his key; and goodness knows I'm so homely
that pretty soon I'll be ripe for bachelor floor thirteen. You know as
well as I that to qualify for that job a floor clerk's got to look like
“Maybe they're all right,” said Donahue thoughtfully. “If it's just
a flirtation, why—anyway, watch 'em this evening. The day watch
listened in and says they've made some date for to-night.”
He was off down the hall again with his light, quick step that still
had the appearance of leisureliness.
The telephone at Sadie's right buzzed warningly. Sadie picked up the
receiver and plunged into the busiest half hour of the evening. From
that moment until seven o'clock her nimble fingers and eyes and brain
and tongue directed the steps of her little world. She held the
telephone receiver at one ear and listened to the demands of incoming
and outgoing guests with the other. She jotted down reports, dealt out
mail and room-keys, kept her neuralgic eye on stairs and elevators and
halls, her sound orb on tube and pantry signals, while through and
between and above all she guided the stream of humanity that trickled
past her desk—bellhops, Polish chambermaids, messenger boys, guests,
waiters, parlour maids.
Just before seven there disembarked at floor two out of the
cream-and-gold elevator one of those visions that have helped to make
Fifth Avenue a street of the worst-dressed women in the world. The
vision was Two-eighteen, and her clothes were of the kind that prepared
you for the shock that you got when you looked at her face. Plume met
fur, and fur met silk, and silk met lace, and lace met gold—and the
whole met and ran into a riot of colour, and perfume—and little
jangling, swishing sounds. Just by glancing at Two-eighteen's feet in
their inadequate openwork silk and soft kid you knew that
Two-eighteen's lips would be carmined.
She came down the corridor and stopped at Sadie Corn's desk. Sadie
Corn had her key ready for her. Two-eighteen took it daintily between
“I'll want a maid in fifteen minutes,” she said. “Tell them to send
me the one I had yesterday. The pretty one. She isn't so clumsy as
Sadie Corn jotted down a note without looking up.
“Oh, Julia? Sorry—Julia's busy,” she lied.
Two-eighteen knew she lied, because at that moment there came round
the bend in the broad, marble stairway that led up from the parlour
floor the trim, slim figure of Julia herself.
Two-eighteen took a quick step forward. “Here, girl! I'll want you
to hook me in fifteen minutes,” she said.
“Very well, ma'am,” replied Julia softly.
There passed between Sadie Corn and Two-eighteen a—well, you could
hardly call it a look, it was so fleeting, so ephemeral; that electric,
pregnant, meaning something that flashes between two women who dislike
and understand each other. Then Two-eighteen was off down the hall to
Julia stood at the head of the stairway just next to Sadie's desk
and watched Two-eighteen until the bend in the corridor hid her. Julia,
of the lady's-maid staff, could never have qualified for the position
of floor clerk, even if she had chosen to bury herself in
lavender-and-white crocheted shawls to the tip of her marvellous little
Greek nose. In her frilly white cap, her trim black gown, her
immaculate collar and cuffs and apron, Julia looked distractingly like
the young person who, in the old days of the furniture-dusting drama,
was wont to inform you that it was two years since young master went
away—all but her feet. The feather-duster person was addicted to
French-heeled, beaded slippers. Not so Julia. Julia was on her feet for
ten hours or so a day. When you subject your feet to ten-hour tortures
you are apt to pass by French-heeled effects in favour of something
flat-heeled, laced, with an easy, comfortable crack here and there at
the sides, and stockings with white cotton soles.
Julia, at the head of the stairway, stood looking after Two-eighteen
until the tail of her silken draperies had whisked round the corner.
Then, still staring, Julia spoke resentfully:
“Life for her is just one darned pair of long white kid gloves after
another! Look at her! Why is it that kind of a face is always wearing
the sables and diamonds?”
“Sables and diamonds,” replied Sadie Corn, sniffing essence of
peppermint, “seem a small enough reward for having to carry round a mug
Julia came round to the front of Sadie Corn's desk. Her eyes were
brooding, her lips sullen.
“Oh, I don't know!” she said bitterly. “Being pretty don't get you
anything—just being pretty! When I first came I used to wonder at
those women that paint their faces and colour their hair, and wear
skirts that are too tight and waists that are too low. But—I don't
know! This town's so big and so—so kind of uninterested. When you see
everybody wearing clothes that are more gorgeous than yours, and
diamonds bigger, and limousines longer and blacker and quieter, it
gives you a kind of fever. You—you want to make people look at you
Sadie Corn leaned back in her chair. The peppermint bottle was held
at her nose. It may have been that which caused her eyes to narrow to
mere slits as she gazed at the drooping Julia. She said nothing.
Suddenly Julia seemed to feel the silence. She looked down at Sadie
Corn. As by a miracle all the harsh, sullen lines in the girl's face
vanished, to be replaced by a lovely compassion.
“Your neuralgy again, dearie?” she asked in pretty concern.
Sadie sniffed long and audibly at the peppermint bottle.
“If you ask me I think there's some imp inside of my head trying to
push my right eye out with his thumb. Anyway it feels like that.”
“Poor old dear!” breathed Julia. “It's the weather. Have them send
you up a pot of black tea.”
“When you've got neuralgy over your right eye,” observed Sadie Corn
grimly, “there's just one thing helps—that is to crawl into bed in a
flannel nightgown, with the side of your face resting on the red rubber
bosom of a hot-water bottle. And I can't do it; so let's talk about
something cheerful. Seen Jo to-day?”
There crept into Julia's face a wave of colour—not the pink of
pleasure, but the dull red of pain. She looked away from Sadie's eyes
and down at her shabby boots. The sullen look was in her face once
“No; I ain't seen him,” she said.
“What's the trouble?” Sadie asked.
“I've been busy,” replied Julia airily. Then, with a forced
vivacity: “Though it's nothing to Auto Show Week last year. I remember
that week I hooked up until my fingers were stiff. You know the way the
dresses fastened last winter. Some of 'em ought to have had a map to go
by, they were that complicated. And now, just when I've got so's I can
hook any dress that was ever intended for the human form—”
“Wasn't it Jo who said they ought to give away an engineering
blueprint with every dress, when you told him about the way they
hooked?” put in Sadie. “What's the trouble between you and—”
Julia rattled on, unheeding:
“You wouldn't believe what a difference there's been since these new
peasant styles have come in! And the Oriental craze! Hook down the
side, most of 'em—and they can do 'em themselves if they ain't too
“Remember Jo saying they ought to have a hydraulic press for some of
those skintight dames, when your fingers were sore from trying to
squeeze them into their casings? By the way, what's the trouble between
“Makes an awful difference in my tips!” cut in Julia deftly. “I
don't believe I've hooked up six this evening, and two of them sprung
the haven't-anything-but-a-five-dollar-bill-see-you-to-morrow! Women
are devils! I wish—”
Sadie Corn leaned forward, placed her hand on Julia's arm, and
turned the girl about so that she faced her. Julia tried miserably to
escape her keen eyes and failed.
“What's the trouble between you and Jo?” she demanded for the fourth
time. “Out with it or I'll telephone down to the engine room and ask
“Oh, well, if you want to know—” She paused, her eyelids drooping
again; then, with a rush: “Me and Jo have quarrelled again—for good,
this time. I'm through!”
“I s'pose you'll say I'm to blame. Jo's mother's sick again. She's
got to go to the hospital and have another operation. You know what
that means—putting off the wedding again until God knows when! I'm
sick of it—putting off and putting off! I told him we might as well
quit and be done with it. We'll never get married at this rate. Soon's
Jo gets enough put by to start us on, something happens. Last three
times it's been his ma. Pretty soon I'll be as old and wrinkled and
“As me!” put in Sadie calmly. “Well, I don't know's that's the worst
thing that can happen to you. I'm happy. I had my plans, too, when I
was a girl like you—not that I was ever pretty; but I had my trials.
Funny how the thing that's easy and the thing that's right never seem
to be the same!”
“Oh, I'm fond of Jo's ma,” said Julia, a little shamefacedly. “We
get along all right. She knows how it is, I guess; and feels—well, in
the way. But when Jo told me, I was tired I guess. We had words. I told
him there were plenty waiting for me if he was through. I told him I
could have gone out with a real swell only last Saturday if I'd wanted
to. What's a girl got her looks for if not to have a good time?”
“Who's this you were invited out by?” asked Sadie Corn.
“You must have noticed him,” said Julia, dimpling. “He's as handsome
as an actor. Name's Venner. He's in two-twenty-three.”
There came the look of steel into Sadie Corn's eyes.
“Look here, Julia! You've been here long enough to know that you're
not to listen to the talk of the men guests round here.
Two-twenty-three isn't your kind—and you know it! If I catch you
talking to him again I'll—”
The telephone at her elbow sounded sharply. She answered it
absently, her eyes, with their expression of pain and remonstrance,
still unshrinking before the onslaught of Julia's glare. Then her
expression changed. A look of consternation came into her face.
“Right away, madam!” she said, at the telephone. “Right away! You
won't have to wait another minute.” She hung up the receiver and waved
Julia away with a gesture. “It's Two-eighteen. You promised to be there
in fifteen minutes. She's been waiting and her voice sounds like a saw.
Better be careful how you handle her.”
Julia's head, with its sleek, satiny coils of black hair that waved
away so bewitchingly from the cream of her skin, came up with a jerk.
“I'm tired of being careful of other people's feelings. Let somebody
be careful of mine for a change.” She walked off down the hall, the
little head still held high. A half dozen paces and she turned. “What
was it you said you'd do to me if you caught me talking to him again?”
A miserable twinge of pain shot through Sadie Corn's eye, to be
followed by a wave of nausea that swept over her. They alone were
responsible for her answer.
“I'll report you!” she snapped, and was sorry at once.
Julia turned again, walked down the corridor and round the corner in
the direction of two-eighteen.
Long after Julia had disappeared Sadie Corn stared after
Julia knocked once at the door of two-eighteen and turned the knob
before a high, shrill voice cried:
Two-eighteen was standing in the centre of the floor in scant satin
knickerbockers and tight brassiere. The blazing folds of a cerise satin
gown held in her hands made a great, crude patch of colour in the
neutral-tinted bedroom. The air was heavy with scent. Hair, teeth,
eyes, fingernails—Two-eighteen glowed and glistened. Chairs and bed
held odds and ends.
“Where've you been, girl?” shrilled Two-eighteen. “I've been waiting
like a fool! I told you to be here in fifteen minutes.”
“My stop-watch isn't working right,” replied Julia impudently and
took the cerise satin gown in her two hands.
She made a ring of the gown's opening, and through that cerise frame
her eyes met those of Two-eighteen.
“Careful of my hair!” Two-eighteen warned her, and ducked her head
to the practised movement of Julia's arms. The cerise gown dropped to
her shoulders without grazing a hair. Two-eighteen breathed a sigh of
relief. She turned to face the mirror.
“It starts at the left, three hooks; then to the centre; then back
four—under the arm and down the middle again. That chiffon comes over
like a drape.”
She picked up a buffer from the litter of ivory and silver on the
dresser and began to polish her already glittering nails, turning her
head this way and that, preening her neck, biting her scarlet lips to
deepen their crimson, opening her eyes wide and half closing them
languorously. Julia, down on her knees in combat with the trickiest of
the hooks, glanced up and saw. Two-eighteen caught the glance in the
mirror. She stopped her idle polishing and preening to study the
glowing and lovely little face that looked up at her. A certain queer
expression grew in her eyes—a speculative, eager look.
“Tell me, little girl,” she said, “What do you do round here?”
Julia turned from the mirror to the last of the hooks, her fingers
“Me? My regular job is working. Don't jerk, please. I've fastened
this one three times.”
“Working!” laughed Two-eighteen, fingering the diamonds at her
throat. “What does a pretty girl like you want to do that for?”
“Hook off here,” said Julia. “Shall I sew it?”
“Pin it!” snapped Two-eighteen.
Julia's tidy nature revolted.
“It'll take just a minute to catch it with thread—”
Two-eighteen whirled about in one of the sudden hot rages of her
“Pin it, you fool! Pin it! I told you I was late!”
Julia paused a moment, the red surging into her face. Then in
silence she knelt and wove a pin deftly in and out. When she rose from
her knees her face was quite white.
“There, that's the girl!” said Two-eighteen blithely, her rage
forgotten. “Just pat this over my shoulders.”
She handed a powder-puff to Julia and turned her back to the broad
mirror, holding a hand-glass high as she watched the powder-laden puff
leaving a snowy coat on the neck and shoulders and back so generously
displayed in the cherry-coloured gown. Julia's face was set and hard.
“Oh, now, don't sulk!” coaxed Two-eighteen good-naturedly, all of a
sudden. “I hate sulky girls. I like people to be cheerful round me.”
“I'm not used to being yelled at,” Julia said resentfully.
Two-eighteen patted her cheek lightly. “You come out with me
to-morrow and I'll buy you something pretty. Don't you like pretty
“Of course you do. Every girl does—especially pretty ones like you.
How do you like this dress? Don't you think it smart?”
She turned squarely to face Julia, trying on her the tricks she had
practised in the mirror. A little cruel look came into Julia's face.
“Last year's, isn't it?” she asked coolly.
“This!” cried Two-eighteen, stiffening. “Last year's! I got it
yesterday on Fifth Avenue, and paid two hundred and fifty for it. What
“Oh, I believe you,” drawled Julia. “They can tell a New Yorker from
an out-of-towner every time. You know the really new thing is the
“Well, of all the nerve!” began Two-eighteen, turning to the mirror
in a sort of fright. “Of all the—”
What she saw there seemed to reassure. She raised one hand to push
the gown a little more off the left shoulder.
“Will there be anything else?” inquired Julia, standing aloof.
Two-eighteen turned reluctantly from the mirror and picked up a
jewelled gold-mesh bag that lay on the bed. From it she extracted a
coin and held it out to Julia. It was a generous coin. Julia looked at
it. Her smouldering wrath burst into flame.
“Keep it!” she said savagely, and was out of the room and down the
Sadie Corn, at her desk, looked up quickly as Julia turned the
corner. Julia, her head held high, kept her eyes resolutely away from
“Oh, Julia, I want to talk to you!” said Sadie Corn as Julia reached
the stairway. Julia began to descend the stairs, unheeding. Sadie Corn
rose and leaned over the railing, her face puckered with anxiety. “Now,
Julia, girl, don't hold that up against me! I didn't mean it. You know
that. You wouldn't be mad at a poor old woman that's half crazy with
neuralgy!” Julia hesitated, one foot poised to take the next step.
“Come on up,” coaxed Sadie Corn, “and tell me what Two-eighteen's
wearing this evening. I'm that lonesome, with nothing to do but sit
here and watch the letter-ghosts go flippering down the mailchute! Come
“What made you say you'd report me?” demanded Julia bitterly.
“I'd have said the same thing to my own daughter if I had one. You
know yourself I'd bite my tongue out first!”
“Well!” said Julia slowly, and relented. She came up the stairs
almost shyly. “Neuralgy any better?”
“Worse!” said Sadie Corn cheerfully.
Julia leaned against the desk sociably and glanced down the hall.
“Would you believe it,” she snickered, “she's wearing red! With that
hair! She asked me if I didn't think she looked too pale. I wanted to
tell her that if she had any more colour, with that dress, they'd be
likely to use the chemical sprinklers on her when she struck the
“Sh-sh-sh!” breathed Sadie in warning. Two-eighteen, in her
shimmering, flame-coloured costume, was coming down the hall toward the
elevators. She walked with the absurd and stumbling step that her scant
skirt necessitated. With each pace the slashed silken skirt parted to
reveal a shameless glimpse of cerise silk stocking. In her wake came
Venner, of Two-twenty-three—a strange contrast in his black and white.
Sadie and Julia watched them from the corner nook. Opposite the desk
Two-eighteen stopped and turned to Julia.
“Just run into my room and pick things up and hang them away, will
you?” she said. “I didn't have time—and I hate things all about when I
come in dead tired.”
The little formula of service rose automatically to Julia's lips.
“Very well, madam,” she said.
Her eyes and Sadie's followed the two figures until they had stepped
into the cream-and-gold elevator and had vanished. Sadie, peppermint
bottle at nose, spoke first:
“She makes one of those sandwich men with a bell, on Sixth Avenue,
look like a shrinking violet!”
Julia's lower lip was caught between her teeth. The scent that had
enveloped Two-eighteen as she passed was still in the air. Julia's
nostrils dilated as she sniffed it. Her breath came a little quickly.
Sadie Corn sat very still, watching her.
“Look at her!” said Julia, her voice vibrant. “Look at her! Old and
homely, and all made up! I powdered her neck. Her skin's like tripe.
“Now Julia—” remonstrated Sadie Corn soothingly.
“I don't care,” went on Julia with a rush. “I'm young. And I'm
pretty too. And I like pretty things. It ain't fair! That was one
reason why I broke with Jo. It wasn't only his mother. I told him he
couldn't ever give me the things I want anyway. You can't help wanting
'em—seeing them all round every day on women that aren't half as
good-looking as you are! I want low-cut dresses too. My neck's like
milk. I want silk underneath, and fur coming up on my coat collar to
make my cheeks look pink. I'm sick of hooking other women up. I want to
stand in front of a mirror, looking at myself, polishing my pink nails
with a silver thing and having somebody else hook me up!”
In Sadie Corn's eyes there was a mist that could not be traced to
neuralgia or peppermint.
“Julia, girl,” said Sadie Corn, “ever since the world began there's
been hookers and hooked. And there always will be. I was born a hooker.
So were you. Time was when I used to cry out against it too. But
shucks! I know better now. I wouldn't change places. Being a hooker
gives you such an all-round experience like of mankind. The hooked only
get a front view. They only see faces and arms and chests. But the
hookers—they see the necks and shoulderblades of this world, as well
as faces. It's mighty broadening—being a hooker. It's the hookers that
keep this world together, Julia, and fastened up right. It wouldn't
amount to much if it had to depend on such as that!” She nodded her
head in the direction the cerise figure had taken. “The height of her
ambition is to get the cuticle of her nails trained back so perfectly
that it won't have to be cut; and she don't feel decently dressed to be
seen in public unless she's wearing one of those breastplates of
orchids. Envy her! Why, Julia, don't you know that as you were standing
here in your black dress as she passed she was envying you!”
“Envying me!” said Julia, and laughed a short laugh that had little
of mirth in it. “You don't understand, Sadie!”
Sadie Corn smiled a rather sad little smile.
“Oh, yes, I do understand. Don't think because a woman's homely, and
always has been, that she doesn't have the same heartaches that a
pretty woman has. She's built just the same inside.”
Julia turned her head to stare at her wide-eyed. It was a long and
trying stare, as though she now saw Sadie Corn for the first time.
Sadie, smiling up at the girl, stood it bravely. Then, with a sudden
little gesture, Julia patted the wrinkled, sallow cheek and was off
down the hall and round the corner to two-eighteen.
The lights still blazed in the bedroom. Julia closed the door and
stood with her back to it, looking about the disordered chamber. In
that marvellous way a room has of reflecting the very personality of
its absent owner, room two-eighteen bore silent testimony to the manner
of woman who had just left it. The air was close and overpoweringly
sweet with perfume—sachet, powder—the scent of a bedroom after a vain
and selfish woman has left it. The litter of toilet articles lay
scattered about on the dresser. Chairs and bed held garments of lace
and silk. A bewildering negligee hung limply over a couch; and next it
stood a patent-leather slipper, its mate on the floor.
Julia saw these things in one accustomed glance. Then she advanced
to the middle of the room and stooped to pick up a pink wadded bedroom
slipper from where it lay under the bed. And her hand touched a coat of
velvet and fur that had been flung across the counterpane—touched it
and rested there.
The coat was of stamped velvet and fur. Great cuffs of fur there
were, and a sumptuous collar that rolled from neck to waist. There was
a lining of vivid orange. Julia straightened up and stood regarding the
garment, her hands on her hips.
“I wonder if it's draped in the back,” she said to herself, and
picked it up. It was draped in the back—bewitchingly. She held it at
arm's length, turning it this way and that. Then, as though obeying
some powerful force she could not resist, Julia plunged her arms into
the satin of the sleeves and brought the great soft revers up about her
throat. The great, gorgeous, shimmering thing completely hid her grubby
little black gown. She stepped to the mirror and stood surveying
herself in a sort of ecstasy. Her cheeks glowed rose-pink against the
dark fur, as she had known they would. Her lovely little head, with its
coils of black hair, rose flowerlike from the clinging garment. She was
still standing there, lips parted, eyes wide with delight, when the
door opened and closed—and Venner, of two-twenty-three, strode into
“You little beauty!” exclaimed Two-twenty-three.
Julia had wheeled about. She stood staring at him, eyes and lips
wide with fright now. One hand clutched the fur at her breast.
“Why, what—” she gasped.
“I knew I'd find you here. I made an excuse to come up. Old
Nutcracker Face in the hall thinks I went to my own room.” He took two
quick steps forward. “You raving little Cinderella beauty, you!”—And
he gathered Julia, coat and all, into his arms.
“Let me go!” panted Julia, fighting with all the strength of her
young arms. “Let me go!”
“You'll have coats like this,” Two-twenty-three was saying in her
ear—“a dozen of them! And dresses too; and laces and furs! You'll be
ten times the beauty you are now! And that's saying something. Listen!
You meet me to-morrow—”
There came a ring—sudden and startling—from the telephone on the
wall near the door. The man uttered something and turned. Julia pushed
him away, loosened the coat with fingers that shook and dropped it to
the floor. It lay in a shimmering circle about the tired feet in their
worn, cracked boots. And one foot was raised suddenly and kicked the
silken garment into a heap.
The telephone bell sounded again. Venner, of two-twenty-three,
plunged his hand into his pocket, took out something and pressed it in
Julia's palm, shutting her fingers over it. Julia did not need to open
them and look to see—she knew by the feel of the crumpled paper, stiff
and crackling. He was making for the door, with some last instructions
that she did not hear, before she spoke. The telephone bell had stopped
its insistent ringing.
Julia raised her arm and hurled at him with all her might the
yellow-backed paper he had thrust in her hand.
“I'll—I'll get my man to whip you for this!” she panted. “Jo'll
pull those eyelashes of yours out and use 'em for couplings. You
The outside door opened again, striking Two-twenty-three squarely in
the back. He crumpled up against the wall with an oath.
Sadie Corn, in the doorway, gave no heed to him. Her eyes searched
Julia's flushed face. What she saw there seemed to satisfy her. She
turned to him then grimly.
“What are you doing here?” Sadie asked briskly.
Two-twenty-three muttered something about the wrong room by mistake.
“He lies!” she said, and pointed to the floor. “That bill belongs to
Sadie Corn motioned to him.
“Pick it up!” she said.
“I don't—want it!” snarled Two-twenty-three.
“Pick—it—up!” articulated Sadie Corn very carefully. He came
forward, stooped, put the bill in his pocket. “You check out to-night!”
said Sadie Corn. Then, at a muttered remonstrance from him: “Oh, yes,
you will! So will Two-eighteen. Huh? Oh, I guess she will! Say, what do
you think a floor clerk's for? A human keyrack? I'll give you until
twelve. I'm off watch at twelve-thirty.” Then, to Julia, as he slunk
off: “Why didn't you answer the phone? That was me ringing!”
A sob caught Julia in the throat, but she turned it into a laugh.
“I didn't hardly hear it. I was busy promising him a licking from
Sadie Corn opened the door.
“Come on down the hall. I've left no one at the desk. It was Jo I
was telephoning you for.”
Julia grasped her arm with gripping fingers.
“Jo! He ain't—”
Sadie Corn took the girl's hand in hers.
“Jo's all right! But Jo's mother won't bother you any more, Sadie.
You'll never need to give up your housekeeping nest-egg for her again.
Jo told me to tell you.”
Julia stared at her for one dreadful moment, her fist, with the
knuckles showing white, pressed against her mouth. A little moan came
from her that, repeated over and over, took the form of words:
“Oh, Sadie, if I could only take back what I said to Jo! If I could
only take back what I said to Jo! He'll never forgive me now! And I'll
never forgive myself!”
“He'll forgive you,” said Sadie Corn; “but you'll never forgive
yourself. That's as it should be. That, you know, is our punishment for
what we say in thoughtlessness and anger.”
They turned the corridor corner. Standing before the desk near the
stairway was the tall figure of Donahue, house detective. Donahue had
always said that Julia was too pretty to be a hotel employe.
“Straighten up, Julia!” whispered Sadie Corn. “And smile if it kills
you—unless you want to make me tell the whole of it to Donahue.”
Donahue, the keen-eyed, balancing, as was his wont, from toe to heel
and back again, his chin thrust out inquiringly, surveyed the pair.
“Off watch?” inquired Donahue pleasantly, staring at Julia's eyes.
“What's wrong with Julia?”
“Neuralgy!” said Sadie Corn crisply. “I've just told her to quit
rubbing her head with peppermint. She's got the stuff into her eyes.”
She picked up the bottle on her desk and studied its label,
frowning. “Run along downstairs, Julia. I'll see if they won't send you
some hot tea.”
Donahue, hands clasped behind him, was walking off in his leisurely,
“Everything serene?” he called back over his big shoulder.
The neuralgic eye closed and opened, perhaps with another twinge.
“Everything's serene!” said Sadie Corn.
IX. THE GUIDING MISS GOWD
It has long been the canny custom of writers on travel bent to
defray the expense of their journeyings by dashing off tales filled
with foreign flavour. Dickens did it, and Dante. It has been tried all
the way from Tasso to Twain; from Raskin to Roosevelt. A pleasing
custom it is and thrifty withal, and one that has saved many a one but
poorly prepared for the European robber in uniform the moist and
unpleasant task of swimming home.
Your writer spends seven days, say, in Paris. Result? The Latin
Quarter story. Oh, mes enfants! That Parisian student-life
story! There is the beautiful young American girl—beautiful, but as
earnest and good as she is beautiful, and as talented as she is earnest
and good. And wedded, be it understood, to her art—preferably painting
or singing. From New York! Her name must be something prim, yet
winsome. Lois will do—Lois, la belle Americaine. Then the
hero—American too. Madly in love with Lois. Tall he is and always
clean-limbed—not handsome, but with one of those strong, rugged faces.
His name, too, must be strong and plain, yet snappy. David is always
good. The villain is French, fascinating, and wears a tiny black
moustache to hide his mouth, which is cruel.
The rest is simple. A little French restaurant—Henri's. Know you
not Henri's? Tiens! But Henri's is not for the tourist. A dim
little shop and shabby, modestly tucked away in the shadows of the Rue
Brie. But the food! Ah, the—whadd'you-call'ems—in the savoury sauce,
that is Henri's secret! The tender, broiled poularde, done to a
turn! The bottle of red wine! Mais oui; there one can dine under
the watchful glare of Rosa, the plump, black-eyed wife of the
concierge. With a snowy apron about her buxom waist, and a pot of
red geraniums somewhere, and a sleek, lazy cat contentedly purring in
the sunny window!
Then Lois starving in a garret. Temptation! Sacre bleu! Zut!
Also nom d'un nom! Enter David. Bon! Oh, David, take me
away! Take me back to dear old Schenectady. Love is more than all else,
especially when no one will buy your pictures.
The Italian story recipe is even simpler. A pearl necklace; a low,
clear whistle. Was it the call of a bird or a signal? His-s-s-st!
Again! A black cape; the flash of steel in the moonlight; the sound of
a splash in the water; a sickening gurgle; a stifled cry! Silence!
There is the story made in Germany, filled with students and steins
and scars; with beer and blonde, blue-eyed Maedchen garbed—the
Maedchen, that is—in black velvet bodice, white chemisette,
scarlet skirt with two rows of black ribbon at the bottom, and one
yellow braid over the shoulder. Especially is this easily accomplished
if actually written in the Vaterland, German typewriting
machines being equipped with umlauts.
And yet not one of these formulas would seem to fit the story of
Mary Gowd. Mary Gowd, with her frumpy English hat and her dreadful
English fringe, and her brick-red English cheeks, which not even the
enervating Italian sun, the years of bad Italian food or the damp and
dim little Roman room had been able to sallow. Mary Gowd, with her
shabby blue suit and her mangy bit of fur, and the glint of humour in
her pale blue eyes. Many, many times that same glint of humour had
saved English Mary Gowd from seeking peace in the muddy old Tiber.
Her card read imposingly thus: Mary M. Gowd, Cicerone. Certificated
and Licensed Lecturer on Art and Archaeology. Via del Babbuino, Roma.
In plain language Mary Gowd was a guide. Now, Rome is swarming with
guides; but they are men guides. They besiege you in front of Cook's.
They perch at the top of the Capitoline Hill, ready to pounce on you
when you arrive panting from your climb up the shallow steps. They lie
in wait in the doorway of St. Peter's. Bland, suave, smiling, quiet,
but insistent, they dog you from the Vatican to the Catacombs.
Hundreds there are of these little men—undersized, even in this
land of small men—dapper, agile, low-voiced, crafty. In his inner coat
pocket each carries his credentials, greasy, thumb-worn documents, but
precious. He glances at your shoes—this insinuating one—or at your
hat, or at any of those myriad signs by which he marks you for his own.
Then up he steps and speaks to you in the language of your country, be
you French, German, English, Spanish or American.
And each one of this clan—each slim, feline little man in blue
serge, white-toothed, gimlet-eyed, smooth-tongued, brisk—hated Mary
Gowd. They hated her with the hate of an Italian for an outlander—with
the hate of an Italian for a woman who works with her brain—with the
hate of an Italian who sees another taking the bread out of his mouth.
All this, coupled with the fact that your Italian is a natural-born
hater, may indicate that the life of Mary Gowd had not the lyric lilt
that life is commonly reputed to have in sunny Italy.
Oh, there is no formula for Mary Gowd's story. In the first place,
the tale of how Mary Gowd came to be the one woman guide in Rome runs
like melodrama. And Mary herself, from her white cotton gloves, darned
at the fingers, to her figure, which mysteriously remained the same in
spite of fifteen years of scant Italian fare, does not fit gracefully
into the role of heroine.
Perhaps that story, scraped to bedrock, shorn of all floral
features, may gain in force what it loses in artistry.
She was twenty-two when she came to Rome—twenty-two and art-mad.
She had been pretty, with that pink-cheesecloth prettiness of the
provincial English girl, who degenerates into blowsiness at thirty.
Since seventeen she had saved and scrimped and contrived for this
modest Roman holiday. She had given painting lessons—even painted on
loathsome china—that the little hoard might grow. And when at last
there was enough she had come to this Rome against the protests of the
fussy English father and the spinster English sister.
The man she met quite casually one morning in the Sistine
Chapel—perhaps he bumped her elbow as they stood staring up at the
glorious ceiling. A thousand pardons! Ah, an artist too? In five
minutes they were chattering like mad—she in bad French and exquisite
English; he in bad English and exquisite French. He knew Rome—its
pictures, its glories, its history—as only an Italian can. And he
taught her art, and he taught her Italian, and he taught her love.
And so they were married, or ostensibly married, though Mary did not
know the truth until three months later when he left her quite as
casually as he had met her, taking with him the little hoard, and
Mary's English trinkets, and Mary's English roses, and Mary's broken
So! There was no going back to the fussy father or the spinster
sister. She came very near resting her head on Father Tiber's breast in
those days. She would sit in the great galleries for hours, staring at
the wonder-works. Then, one day, again in the Sistine Chapel, a fussy
little American woman had approached her, her eyes snapping. Mary was
sketching, or trying to.
“Do you speak English?”
“I am English,” said Mary.
The feathers in the hat of the fussy little woman quivered.
“Then tell me, is this ceiling by Raphael?”
“Ceiling!” gasped Mary Gowd. “Raphael!”
Then, very gently, she gave the master's name.
“Of course!” snapped the excited little American. “I'm one of a
party of eight. We're all school-teachers And this guide”—she waved a
hand in the direction of a rapt little group standing in the agonising
position the ceiling demands—“just informed us that the ceiling is by
Raphael. And we're paying him ten lire!”
“Won't you sit here?” Mary Gowd made a place for her. “I'll tell
And she did tell her, finding a certain relief from her pain in
unfolding to this commonplace little woman the glory of the masterpiece
“Why—why,” gasped her listener, who had long since beckoned the
other seven with frantic finger, “how beautifully you explain it! How
much you know! Oh, why can't they talk as you do?” she wailed, her eyes
full of contempt for the despised guide.
“I am happy to have helped you,” said Mary Gowd.
“Helped! Why, there are hundreds of Americans who would give
anything to have some one like you to be with them in Rome.”
Mary Gowd's whole body stiffened. She stared fixedly at the grateful
little American school-teacher.
“Some one like me—”
The little teacher blushed very red.
“I beg your pardon. I wasn't thinking. Of course you don't need to
do any such work, but I just couldn't help saying—”
“But I do need work,” interrupted Mary Gowd. She stood up, her
cheeks pink again for the moment, her eyes bright. “I thank you. Oh, I
“You thank me!” faltered the American.
But Mary Gowd had folded her sketchbook and was off, through the
vestibule, down the splendid corridor, past the giant Swiss guard, to
the noisy, sunny Piazza di San Pietro.
That had been fifteen years ago. She had taken her guide's
examinations and passed them. She knew her Rome from the crypt of St.
Peter's to the top of the Janiculum Hill; from the Campagna to Tivoli.
She read and studied and learned. She delved into the past and brought
up strange and interesting truths. She could tell you weird stories of
those white marble men who lay so peacefully beneath St. Peter's dome,
their ringed hands crossed on their breasts. She learned to juggle
dates with an ease that brought gasps from her American clients, with
their history that went back little more than one hundred years.
She learned to designate as new anything that failed to have its
origin stamped B.C.; and the Magnificent Augustus, he who boasted of
finding Rome brick and leaving it marble, was a mere nouveau riche
with his miserable A.D. 14.
She was as much at home in the Thermae of Caracalla as you in your
white-and-blue-tiled bath. She could juggle the history of emperors
with one hand and the scandals of half a dozen kings with the other. No
ruin was too unimportant for her attention—no picture too faded for
her research. She had the centuries at her tongue's end. Michelangelo
and Canova were her brothers in art, and Rome was to her as your
back-garden patch is to you.
Mary Gowd hated this Rome as only an English woman can who has spent
fifteen years in that nest of intrigue. She fought the whole race of
Roman guides day after day. She no longer turned sick and faint when
they hissed after her vile Italian epithets that her American or
English clients quite failed to understand. Quite unconcernedly she
would jam down the lever of the taximeter the wily Italian cabby had
pulled only halfway so that the meter might register double. And when
that foul-mouthed one crowned his heap of abuse by screaming “
Camorrista! Camor-r-rista!” at her, she would merely shrug her
shoulders and say “Andate presto!” to show him she was above
quarrelling with a cabman.
She ate eggs and bread, and drank the red wine, never having
conquered her disgust for Italian meat since first she saw the filthy
carcasses, fly-infested, dust-covered, loathsome, being carted through
the swarming streets.
It was six o'clock of an evening early in March when Mary Gowd went
home to the murky little room in the Via Babbuino. She was too tired to
notice the sunset. She was too tired to smile at the red-eyed baby of
the cobbler's wife, who lived in the rear. She was too tired to ask
Tina for the letters that seldom came. It had been a particularly
trying day, spent with a party of twenty Germans, who had said “
Herrlich!” when she showed them the marvels of the Vatican and “
Kolossal!” at the grandeur of the Colosseum and, for the rest, had
kept their noses buried in their Baedekers.
She groped her way cautiously down the black hall. Tina had a habit
of leaving sundry brushes, pans or babies lying about. After the warmth
of the March sun outdoors the house was cold with that clammy,
penetrating, tomblike chill of the Italian home.
“Tina!” she called.
From the rear of the house came a cackle of voices. Tina was
gossiping. There was no smell of supper in the air. Mary Gowd shrugged
patient shoulders. Then, before taking off the dowdy hat, before
removing the white cotton gloves, she went to the window that
overlooked the noisy Via Babbuino, closed the massive wooden shutters,
fastened the heavy windows and drew the thick curtains. Then she stood
a moment, eyes shut. In that little room the roar of Rome was tamed to
a dull humming. Mary Gowd, born and bred amid the green of Northern
England, had never become hardened to the maddening noises of the Via
Babbuino: The rattle and clatter of cab wheels; the clack-clack of
thousands of iron-shod hoofs; the shrill, high cry of the street
venders; the blasts of motor horns that seemed to rend the narrow
street; the roar and rumble of the electric trams; the wail of fretful
babies; the chatter of gossiping women; and above and through and below
it all the cracking of the cabman's whip—that sceptre of the Roman
cabby, that wand which is one part whip and nine parts crack. Sometimes
it seemed to Mary Gowd that her brain was seared and welted by the
pistol-shot reports of those eternal whips.
She came forward now and lighted a candle that stood on the table
and another on the dresser. Their dim light seemed to make dimmer the
dark little room. She looked about with a little shiver. Then she sank
into the chintz-covered chair that was the one bit of England in the
sombre chamber. She took off the dusty black velvet hat, passed a hand
over her hair with a gesture that was more tired than tidy, and sat
back, her eyes shut, her body inert, her head sagging on her breast.
The voices in the back of the house had ceased. From the kitchen
came the slipslop of Tina's slovenly feet. Mary Gowd opened her eyes
and sat up very straight as Tina stood in the doorway. There was
nothing picturesque about Tina. Tina was not one of those olive-tinted,
melting-eyed daughters of Italy that one meets in fiction. Looking at
her yellow skin and her wrinkles and her coarse hands, one wondered
whether she was fifty, or sixty, or one hundred, as is the way with
Italian women of Tina's class at thirty-five.
Ah, the signora was tired! She smiled pityingly. Tired! Not at all,
Mary Gowd assured her briskly. She knew that Tina despised her because
she worked like a man.
“Something fine for supper?” Mary Gowd asked mockingly. Her Italian
was like that of the Romans themselves, so soft, so liquid, so perfect.
Tina nodded vigorously, her long earrings shaking.
“Vitello”—she began, her tongue clinging lovingly to the
double l sound—“Vee-tail-loh—”
“Ugh!” shuddered Mary Gowd. That eternal veal and mutton, pinkish,
“What then?” demanded the outraged Tina.
Mary Gowd stood up, making gestures, hat in hand.
“Clotted cream, with strawberries,” she said in English, an unknown
language, which always roused Tina to fury. “And a steak—a real steak
of real beef, three inches thick and covered with onions fried in
butter. And creamed chicken, and English hothouse tomatoes, and fresh
peaches and little hot rolls, and coffee that isn't licorice and ink,
Tina's dangling earrings disappeared in her shoulders. Her outspread
palms were eloquent.
“Crazy, these English!” said the shoulders and palms. “Mad!”
Mary Gowd threw her hat on the bed, pushed aside a screen and busied
herself with a little alcohol stove.
“I shall prepare an omelet,” she said over her shoulder in Italian.
“Also, I have here bread and wine.”
“Ugh!” granted Tina.
“Ugh, veal!” grunted Mary Gowd. Then, as Tina's flapping feet turned
away: “Oh, Tina! Letters?”
Tina fumbled at the bosom of her gown, thought deeply and drew out a
crumpled envelope. It had been opened and clumsily closed again.
Fifteen years ago Mary Gowd would have raged. Now she shrugged
philosophic shoulders. Tina stole hairpins, opened letters that she
could not hope to decipher, rummaged bureau drawers, rifled cupboards
and fingered books; but then, so did most of the other Tinas in Rome.
What use to complain?
Mary Gowd opened the thumb-marked letter, bringing it close to the
candlelight. As she read, a smile appeared.
“Huh! Gregg,” she said, “Americans!” She glanced again at the hotel
letterhead on the stationery—the best hotel in Naples. “Americans—and
The pleased little smile lingered as she beat the omelet briskly for
The Henry D. Greggs arrived in Rome on the two o'clock train from
Naples. And all the Roman knights of the waving palm espied them from
afar and hailed them with whoops of joy. The season was still young and
the Henry D. Greggs looked like money—not Italian money, which is
reckoned in lire, but American money, which mounts grandly to dollars.
The postcard men in the Piazza delle Terme sped after their motor taxi.
The swarthy brigand, with his wooden box of tawdry souvenirs, marked
them as they rode past. The cripple who lurked behind a pillar in the
colonnade threw aside his coat with a practised hitch of his shoulder
to reveal the sickeningly maimed arm that was his stock in trade.
Mr. and Mrs. Henry D. Gregg had left their comfortable home in
Batavia, Illinois, with its sleeping porch, veranda and lawn, and
seven-passenger car; with its two glistening bathrooms, and its
Oriental rugs, and its laundry in the basement, and its Sunday fried
chicken and ice cream, because they felt that Miss Eleanora Gregg ought
to have the benefit of foreign travel. Miss Eleanora Gregg thought so
too: in fact, she had thought so first.
Her name was Eleanora, but her parents called her Tweetie, which
really did not sound so bad as it might if Tweetie had been one whit
less pretty. Tweetie was so amazingly, Americanly pretty that she could
have triumphed over a pet name twice as absurd.
The Greggs came to Rome, as has been stated, at two P.M. Wednesday.
By two P.M. Thursday Tweetie had bought a pair of long, dangling
earrings, a costume with a Roman striped collar and sash, and had
learned to loll back in her cab in imitation of the dashing,
black-eyed, sallow women she had seen driving on the Pincio. By
Thursday evening she was teasing Papa Gregg for a spray of white
aigrets, such as those same languorous ladies wore in feathery mists
atop their hats.
“But, Tweet,” argued Papa Gregg, “what's the use? You can't take
them back with you. Custom-house regulations forbid it.”
The rather faded but smartly dressed Mrs. Gregg asserted herself:
“They're barbarous! We had moving pictures at the club showing how
they're torn from the mother birds. No daughter of mine—”
“I don't care!” retorted Tweetie. “They're perfectly stunning; and
I'm going to have them.”
And she had them—not that the aigret incident is important; but it
may serve to place the Greggs in their respective niches.
At eleven o'clock Friday morning Mary Gowd called at the Gregg's
hotel, according to appointment. In far-away Batavia, Illinois, Mrs.
Gregg had heard of Mary Gowd. And Mary Gowd, with her knowledge of
everything Roman—from the Forum to the best place at which to buy
pearls—was to be the staff on which the Greggs were to lean.
“My husband,” said Mrs. Gregg; “my daughter Twee—er—Eleanora.
We've heard such wonderful things of you from my dear friend Mrs.
Melville Peters, of Batavia.”
“Ah, yes!” exclaimed Mary Gowd. “A most charming person, Mrs.
“After she came home from Europe she read the most wonderful paper
on Rome before the Women's West End Culture Club, of Batavia. We're
affiliated with the National Federation of Women's Clubs, as you
probably know; and—”
“Now, Mother,” interrupted Henry Gregg, “the lady can't be
interested in your club.”
“Oh, but I am!” exclaimed Mary Gowd very vivaciously. “Enormously!”
Henry Gregg eyed her through his cigar smoke with suddenly narrowed
“M-m-m! Well, let's get to the point anyway. I know Tweetie here is
dying to see St. Peter's, and all that.”
Tweetie had settled back inscrutably after one comprehensive,
disdainful look at Mary Gowd's suit, hat, gloves and shoes. Now she sat
up, her bewitching face glowing with interest.
“Tell me,” she said, “what do they call those officers with the long
pale-blue capes and the silver helmets and the swords? And the ones in
dark-blue uniform with the maroon stripe at the side of the trousers?
And do they ever mingle with the—that is, there was one of the blue
capes here at tea yesterday—”
Papa Gregg laughed a great, comfortable laugh.
“Oh, so that's where you were staring yesterday, young lady! I
thought you acted kind of absent-minded.” He got up to walk over and
pinch Tweetie's blushing cheek.
So it was that Mary Gowd began the process of pouring the bloody,
religious, wanton, pious, thrilling, dreadful history of Rome into the
pretty and unheeding ear of Tweetie Gregg.
On the fourth morning after that introductory meeting Mary Gowd
arrived at the hotel at ten, as usual, to take charge of her party for
the day. She encountered them in the hotel foyer, an animated little
group centred about a very tall, very dashing, very black-mustachioed
figure who wore a long pale blue cape thrown gracefully over one
shoulder as only an Italian officer can wear such a garment. He was
looking down into the brilliantly glowing face of the pretty Eleanora,
and the pretty Eleanora was looking up at him; and Pa and Ma Gregg were
standing by, placidly pleased.
A grim little line appeared about Miss Gowd's mouth. Blue Cape's
black eyes saw it, even as he bent low over Mary Gowd's hand at the
words of introduction.
“Oh, Miss Gowd,” pouted Tweetie, “it's too bad you haven't a
telephone. You see, we shan't need you to-day.”
“No?” said Miss Gowd, and glanced at Blue Cape.
“No; Signor Caldini says it's much too perfect a day to go poking
about among old ruins and things.”
Henry D. Gregg cleared his throat and took up the explanation.
“Seems the—er—Signor thinks it would be just the thing to take a
touring car and drive to Tivoli, and have a bite of lunch there.”
“And come back in time to see the Colosseum by moonlight!” put in
“Oh, yes!” said Mary Gowd.
Pa Gregg looked at his watch.
“Well, I'll be running along,” he said. Then, in answer to something
in Mary Gowd's eyes: “I'm not going to Tivoli, you see. I met a man
from Chicago here at the hotel. He and I are going to chin awhile this
morning. And Mrs. Gregg and his wife are going on a shopping spree.
Say, ma, if you need any more money speak up now, because I'm—”
Mary Gowd caught his coat sleeve.
Her voice was very low. “You mean—you mean Miss Eleanora will go to
Tivoli and to the Colosseum alone—with—with Signor Caldini?”
Henry Gregg smiled indulgently.
“The young folks always run round alone at home. We've got our own
car at home in Batavia, but Tweetie's beaus are always driving up for
Mary Gowd turned her head so that only Henry Gregg could hear what
“Step aside for just one moment. I must talk to you.”
“Do as I say,” whispered Mary Gowd.
Something of her earnestness seemed to convey a meaning to Henry
“Just wait a minute, folks,” he said to the group of three, and
joined Mary Gowd, who had chosen a seat a dozen paces away. “What's the
trouble?” he asked jocularly. “Hope you're not offended because Tweet
said we didn't need you to-day. You know young folks—”
“They must not go alone,” said Mary Gowd.
“This is not America. This is Italy—this Caldini is an Italian.”
“Why, look here; Signor Caldini was introduced to us last night. His
folks really belong to the nobility.”
“I know; I know,” interrupted Mary Gowd. “I tell you they cannot go
alone. Please believe me! I have been fifteen years in Rome. Noble or
not, Caldini is an Italian. I ask you”—she had clasped her hands and
was looking pleadingly up into his face—“I beg of you, let me go with
them. You need not pay me to-day. You—”
Henry Gregg looked at her very thoughtfully and a little puzzled.
Then he glanced over at the group again, with Blue Cape looking down so
eagerly into Tweetie's exquisite face and Tweetie looking up so raptly
into Blue Cape's melting eyes and Ma Gregg standing so placidly by. He
turned again to Mary Gowd's earnest face.
“Well, maybe you're right. They do seem to use chaperons in
Europe—duennas, or whatever you call 'em. Seems a nice kind of chap,
He strolled back to the waiting group. From her seat Mary Gowd heard
Mrs. Gregg's surprised exclamation, saw Tweetie's pout, understood
Caldini's shrug and sneer. There followed a little burst of
conversation. Then, with a little frown which melted into a smile for
Blue Cape, Tweetie went to her room for motor coat and trifles that the
long day's outing demanded. Mrs. Gregg, still voluble, followed.
Blue Cape, with a long look at Mary Gowd, went out to confer with
the porter about the motor. Papa Gregg, hand in pockets, cigar tilted,
eyes narrowed, stood irresolutely in the centre of the great, gaudy
foyer. Then, with a decisive little hunch of his shoulders, he came
back to where Mary Gowd sat.
“Did you say you've been fifteen years in Rome?”
“Fifteen years,” answered Mary Gowd.
Henry D. Gregg took his cigar from his mouth and regarded it
“Well, that's quite a spell. Must like it here.” Mary Gowd said
nothing. “Can't say I'm crazy about it—that is, as a place to live. I
said to Mother last night: 'Little old Batavia's good enough for Henry
D.' Of course it's a grand education, travelling, especially for
Tweetie. Funny, I always thought the fruit in Italy was regular
hothouse stuff—thought the streets would just be lined with trees all
hung with big, luscious oranges. But, Lord! Here we are at the best
hotel in Rome, and the fruit is worse than the stuff the pushcart men
at home feed to their families—little wizened bananas and oranges.
Still, it's grand here in Rome for Tweetie. I can't stay long—just ran
away from business to bring 'em over; but I'd like Tweetie to stay in
Italy until she learns the lingo. Sings, too—Tweetie does; and she and
Ma think they'll have her voice cultivated over here. They'll stay here
quite a while, I guess.”
“Then you will not be here with them?” asked Mary Gowd.
They sat silent for a moment.
“I suppose you're crazy about Rome,” said Henry Gregg again.
“There's a lot of culture here, and history, and all that; and—”
“I hate Rome!” said Mary Gowd.
Henry Gregg stared at her in bewilderment.
“Then why in Sam Hill don't you go back to England?”
“I'm thirty-seven years old. That's one reason why. And I look
older. Oh, yes, I do. Thanks just the same. There are too many women in
England already—too many half-starving shabby genteel. I earn enough
to live on here—that is, I call it living. You couldn't. In the bad
season, when there are no tourists, I live on a lire a day, including
Henry Gregg stood up.
“My land! Why don't you come to America?” He waved his arms.
Mary Gowd's brick-red cheeks grew redder.
“America!” she echoed. “When I see American tourists here throwing
pennies in the Fountain of Trevi, so that they'll come back to Rome, I
want to scream. By the time I save enough money to go to America I'll
be an old woman and it will be too late. And if I did contrive to
scrape together enough for my passage over I couldn't go to the United
States in these clothes. I've seen thousands of American women here. If
they look like that when they're just travelling about, what do they
wear at home!”
“Clothes?” inquired Henry Gregg, mystified. “What's wrong with your
“Everything! I've seen them look at my suit, which hunches in the
back and strains across the front, and is shiny at the seams. And my
gloves! And my hat! Well, even though I am English I know how frightful
my hat is.”
“You're a smart woman,” said Henry D. Gregg.
“Not smart enough,” retorted Mary Gowd, “or I shouldn't be here.”
The two stood up as Tweetie came toward them from the lift. Tweetie
pouted again at sight of Mary Gowd, but the pout cleared as Blue Cape,
his arrangements completed, stood in the doorway, splendid hat in hand.
It was ten o'clock when the three returned from Tivoli and the
Colosseum—Mary Gowd silent and shabbier than ever from the dust of the
road; Blue Cape smiling; Tweetie frankly pettish. Pa and Ma Gregg were
listening to the after-dinner concert in the foyer.
“Was it romantic—the Colosseum, I mean—by moonlight?” asked Ma
Gregg, patting Tweetie's cheek and trying not to look uncomfortable as
Blue Cape kissed her hand.
“Romantic!” snapped Tweetie. “It was as romantic as Main Street on
Circus Day. Hordes of people tramping about like buffaloes. Simply
swarming with tourists—German ones. One couldn't find a single ruin to
sit on. Romantic!” She glared at the silent Mary Gowd.
There was a strange little glint in Mary Gowd's eyes, and the grim
line was there about the mouth again, grimmer than it had been in the
“You will excuse me?” she said. “I am very tired. I will say good
“And I,” announced Caldini.
Mary Gowd turned swiftly to look at him.
“You!” said Tweetie Gregg.
“I trust that I may have the very great happiness to see you in the
morning,” went on Caldini in his careful English. “I cannot permit
Signora Gowd to return home alone through the streets of Rome.” He
bowed low and elaborately over the hands of the two women.
“Oh, well; for that matter—” began Henry Gregg gallantly.
Caldini raised a protesting, white-gloved hand.
“I cannot permit it.”
He bowed again and looked hard at Mary Gowd. Mary Gowd returned the
look. The brick-red had quite faded from her cheeks. Then, with a nod,
she turned and walked toward the door. Blue Cape, sword clanking,
In silence he handed her into the fiacre. In silence he
seated himself beside her. Then he leaned very close.
“I will talk in this damned English,” he began, “that the pig of a
fiaccheraio may not understand. This—this Gregg, he is very rich,
like all Americans. And the little Eleanora! Bellissima! You
must not stand in my way. It is not good.” Mary Dowd sat silent. “You
will help me. To-day you were not kind. There will be much money—money
for me; also for you.”
Fifteen years before—ten years before—she would have died sooner
than listen to a plan such as he proposed; but fifteen years of Rome
blunts one's English sensibilities. Fifteen years of privation dulls
one's moral sense. And money meant America. And little Tweetie Gregg
had not lowered her voice or her laugh when she spoke that afternoon of
Mary Gowd's absurd English fringe and her red wrists above her
“How much?” asked Mary Gowd. He named a figure. She laughed.
He named another figure; then another.
“You will put it down on paper,” said Mary Gowd, “and sign your
They drove the remainder of the way in silence. At her door in the
“You mean to marry her?” asked Mary Gowd.
Blue Cape shrugged eloquent shoulders:
“I think not,” he said quite simply.
* * * * *
It was to be the Appian Way the next morning, with a stop at the
Catacombs. Mary Gowd reached the hotel very early, but not so early as
“Think the five of us can pile into one carriage?” boomed Henry
“A little crowded, I think,” said Mary Gowd, “for such a long drive.
May I suggest that we three”—she smiled on Henry Gregg and his
wife—“take this larger carriage, while Miss Eleanora and Signor
Caldini follow in the single cab?”
A lightning message from Blue Cape's eyes.
“Yes; that would be nice!” cooed Tweetie.
So it was arranged. Mary Gowd rather outdid herself as a guide that
morning. She had a hundred little intimate tales at her tongue's end.
She seemed fairly to people those old ruins again with the men and
women of a thousand years ago. Even Tweetie—little frivolous,
indifferent Tweetie—was impressed and interested.
As they were returning to the carriages after inspecting the Baths
of Caracalla, Tweetie even skipped ahead and slipped her hand for a
moment into Mary Gowd's.
“You're simply wonderful!” she said almost shyly. “You make things
sound so real. And—and I'm sorry I was so nasty to you yesterday at
Mary Dowd looked down at the glowing little face. A foolish little
face it was, but very, very pretty, and exquisitely young and fresh and
sweet. Tweetie dropped her voice to a whisper:
“You should hear him pronounce my name. It is like music when he
says it—El-e-a-no-ra; like that. And aren't his kid gloves always
beautifully white? Why, the boys back home—”
Mary Gowd was still staring down at her. She lifted the slim, ringed
little hand which lay within her white-cotton paw and stared at that
Then with a jerk she dropped the girl's hand and squared her
shoulders like a soldier, so that the dowdy blue suit strained more
than ever at its seams; and the line that had settled about her mouth
the night before faded slowly, as though a muscle too tightly drawn had
In the carriages they were seated as before. The horses started up,
with the smaller cab but a dozen paces behind. Mary Gowd leaned
forward. She began to speak—her voice very low, her accent clearly
English, her brevity wonderfully American.
“Listen to me!” she said. “You must leave Rome to-night!”
“Leave Rome to-night!” echoed the Greggs as though rehearsing a
“Be quiet! You must not shout like that. I say you must go away.”
Mamma Gregg opened her lips and shut them, wordless for once. Henry
Gregg laid one big hand on his wife's shaking knees and eyed Mary Gowd
“I don't get you,” he said.
Mary Gowd looked straight at him as she said what she had to say:
“There are things in Rome you cannot understand. You could not
understand unless you lived here many years. I lived here many months
before I learned to step meekly off into the gutter to allow a man to
pass on the narrow sidewalk. You must take your pretty daughter and go
away. To-night! No—let me finish. I will tell you what happened to me
fifteen years ago, and I will tell you what this Caldini has in his
mind. You will believe me and forgive me; and promise me that you will
go quietly away.”
When she finished Mrs. Gregg was white-faced and luckily too
frightened to weep. Henry Gregg started up in the carriage, his fists
white-knuckled, his lean face turned toward the carriage crawling
“Sit down!” commanded Mary Gowd. She jerked his sleeve. “Sit down!”
Henry Gregg sat down slowly. Then he wet his lips slightly and
“Oh, bosh!” he said. “This—this is the twentieth century and we're
Americans, and it's broad daylight. Why, I'll lick the—”
“This is Rome,” interrupted Mary Gowd quietly, “and you will do
nothing of the kind, because he would make you pay for that too, and it
would be in all the papers; and your pretty daughter would hang her
head in shame forever.” She put one hand on Henry Gregg's sleeve. “You
do not know! You do not! Promise me you will go.” The tears sprang
suddenly to her English blue eyes. “Promise me! Promise me!”
“Henry!” cried Mamma Gregg, very grey-faced. “Promise, Henry!”
“I promise,” said Henry Gregg, and he turned away.
Mary Gowd sank back in her seat and shut her eyes for a moment.
“Presto!” she said to the half-sleeping driver. Then she
waved a gay hand at the carriage in the rear. “Presto!” she
called, smiling. “Presto!“
* * * * *
At six o'clock Mary Gowd entered the little room in the Via
Babbuino. She went first to the window, drew the heavy curtains. The
roar of Rome was hushed to a humming. She lighted a candle that stood
on the table. Its dim light emphasized the gloom. She took off the
battered black velvet hat and sank into the chintz-covered English
chair. Tina stood in the doorway. Mary Gowd sat up with a jerk.
Tina thought deeply, fumbled at the bosom of her gown and drew out a
sealed envelope grudgingly.
Mary Gowd broke the seal, glanced at the letter. Then, under Tina's
startled gaze, she held it to the flaming candle and watched it burn.
“What is it that you do?” demanded Tina.
Mary Gowd smiled.
“You have heard of America?”
“America! A thousand—a million time! My brother Luigi—”
“Naturally! This, then”—Mary Gowd deliberately gathered up the
ashes into a neat pile and held them in her hand, a crumpled
heap—“this then, Tina, is my trip to America.”
The key to the heart of Paris is love. He whose key-ring lacks that
open sesame never really sees the city, even though he dwell in the
shadow of the Sorbonne and comprehend the fiacre French of the
Paris cabman. Some there are who craftily open the door with a skeleton
key; some who ruthlessly batter the panels; some who achieve only a wax
impression, which proves to be useless. There are many who travel no
farther than the outer gates. You will find them staring blankly at the
stone walls; and their plaint is:
“What do they find to rave about in this town?”
Sophy Gold had been eight days in Paris and she had not so much as
peeked through the key-hole. In a vague way she realised that she was
seeing Paris as a blind man sees the sun—feeling its warmth, conscious
of its white light beating on the eyeballs, but never actually
beholding its golden glory.
This was Sophy Gold's first trip to Paris, and her heart and soul
and business brain were intent on buying the shrewdest possible bill of
lingerie and infants' wear for her department at Schiff Brothers',
Chicago; but Sophy under-estimated the powers of those three guiding
parts. While heart, soul, and brain were bent dutifully and
indefatigably on the lingerie and infants'-wear job they also were
registering a series of kaleidoscopic outside impressions.
As she drove from her hotel to the wholesale district, and from the
wholesale district to her hotel, there had flashed across her
consciousness the picture of the chic little modistes' models and
ouvrieres slipping out at noon to meet their lovers on the corner,
to sit over their sirop or wine at some little near-by cafe,
hands clasped, eyes glowing.
Stepping out of the lift to ask for her room key, she had come on
the black-gowned floor clerk, deep in murmured conversation with the
valet, and she had seemed not to see Sophy at all as she groped
subconsciously for the key along the rows of keyboxes. She had seen the
workmen in their absurdly baggy corduroy trousers and grimy shirts
strolling along arm in arm with the women of their class—those untidy
women with the tidy hair. Bareheaded and happy, they strolled along, a
strange contrast to the glitter of the fashionable boulevard, stopping
now and then to gaze wide-eyed at a million-franc necklace in a
jeweller's window; then on again with a laugh and a shrug and a caress.
She had seen the silent couples in the Tuileries Gardens at twilight.
Once, in the Bois de Boulogne, a slim, sallow elegant had
bent for what seemed an interminable time over a white hand that was
stretched from the window of a motor car. He was standing at the curb;
in either greeting or parting, and his eyes were fastened on other eyes
within the car even while his lips pressed the white hand.
Then one evening—Sophy reddened now at memory of it—she had turned
a quiet corner and come on a boy and a girl. The girl was shabby and
sixteen; the boy pale, voluble, smiling.
Evidently they were just parting. Suddenly, as she passed, the boy
had caught the girl in his arms there on the street corner in the
daylight, and had kissed her—not the quick, resounding smack of casual
leave-taking, but a long, silent kiss that left the girl limp.
Sophy stood rooted to the spot, between horror and fascination. The
boy's arm brought the girl upright and set her on her feet.
She took a long breath, straightened her hat, and ran on to rejoin
her girl friend awaiting her calmly up the street. She was not even
flushed; but Sophy was. Sophy was blushing hotly and burning
uncomfortably, so that her eyes smarted.
Just after her late dinner on the eighth day of her Paris stay,
Sophy Gold was seated in the hotel lobby. Paris thronged with American
business buyers—those clever, capable, shrewd-eyed women who swarm on
the city in June and strip it of its choicest flowers, from ball gowns
to back combs. Sophy tried to pick them from the multitude that swept
past her. It was not difficult. The women visitors to Paris in June
drop easily into their proper slots.
There were the pretty American girls and their marvellously
young-looking mammas, both out-Frenching the French in their efforts to
look Parisian; there were rows of fat, placid, jewel-laden Argentine
mothers, each with a watchful eye on her black-eyed, volcanically calm,
be-powdered daughter; and there were the buyers, miraculously dressy in
next week's styles in suits and hats—of the old-girl type most of
them, alert, self-confident, capable.
They usually returned to their hotels at six, limping a little,
dog-tired; but at sight of the brightly lighted, gay hotel foyer they
would straighten up like war-horses scenting battle and achieve an
effective entrance from the doorway to the lift.
In all that big, busy foyer Sophy Gold herself was the one person
distinctly out of the picture. One did not know where to place her. To
begin with, a woman as irrevocably, irredeemably ugly as Sophy was an
anachronism in Paris. She belonged to the gargoyle period. You found
yourself speculating on whether it was her mouth or her nose that made
her so devastatingly plain, only to bring up at her eyes and find that
they alone were enough to wreck any ambitions toward beauty. You knew
before you saw it that her hair would be limp and straggling.
You sensed without a glance at them that her hands would be bony,
with unlovely knuckles.
The Fates, grinning, had done all that. Her Chicago tailor and
milliner had completed the work. Sophy had not been in Paris ten
minutes before she noticed that they were wearing 'em long and full.
Her coat was short and her skirt scant. Her hat was small. The Paris
windows were full of large and graceful black velvets of the Lillian
“May I sit here?”
Sophy looked up into the plump, pink, smiling face of one of those
very women of the buyer type on whom she had speculated ten minutes
before—a good-natured face with shrewd, twinkling eyes. At sight of it
you forgave her her skittish white-kid-topped shoes.
“Certainly,” smiled Sophy, and moved over a bit on the little French
The plump woman sat down heavily. In five minutes Sophy was
conscious she was being stared at surreptitiously. In ten minutes she
was uncomfortably conscious of it. In eleven minutes she turned her
head suddenly and caught the stout woman's eyes fixed on her, with just
the baffled, speculative expression she had expected to find in them.
Sophy Gold had caught that look in many women's eyes. She smiled grimly
“Don't try it,” she said, “It's no use.”
The pink, plump face flushed pinker.
“Don't try to convince yourself that if I wore my hair differently,
or my collar tighter, or my hat larger, it would make a difference in
my looks. It wouldn't. It's hard to believe that I'm as homely as I
look, but I am. I've watched women try to dress me in as many as eleven
mental changes of costume before they gave me up.”
“But I didn't mean—I beg your pardon—you mustn't think—”
“Oh, that's all right! I used to struggle, but I'm used to it now.
It took me a long time to realise that this was my real face and the
only kind I could ever expect to have.”
The plump woman's kindly face grew kinder.
“But you're really not so—”
“Oh, yes, I am. Upholstering can't change me. There are various
kinds of homely women—some who are hideous in blue maybe, but who
soften up in pink. Then there's the one you read about, whose features
are lighted up now and then by one of those rare, sweet smiles that
make her plain face almost beautiful. But once in a while you find a
woman who is ugly in any colour of the rainbow; who is ugly smiling or
serious, talking or in repose, hair down low or hair done high—just
plain dyed-in-the-wool, sewed-in-the-seam homely. I'm that kind. Here
for a visit?”
“I'm a buyer,” said the plump woman.
“Yes; I thought so. I'm the lingerie and infants'-wear buyer for
“A buyer!” The plump woman's eyes jumped uncontrollably again to
Sophy Gold's scrambled features. “Well! My name's Miss Morrissey—Ella
Morrissey. Millinery for Abelman's, Pittsburgh. And it's no snap this
year, with the shops showing postage-stamp hats one day and cart-wheels
the next. I said this morning that I envied the head of the tinware
department. Been over often?”
Sophy made the shamefaced confession of the novice: “My first trip.”
The inevitable answer came:
“Your first! Really! This is my twentieth crossing. Been coming over
twice a year for ten years. If there's anything I can tell you, just
ask. The first buying trip to Paris is hard until you know the ropes.
Of course you love this town?”
Sophy Gold sat silent a moment, hesitating. Then she turned a
puzzled face toward Miss Morrissey.
“What do people mean when they say they love Paris?”
Ella Morrissey stared. Then a queer look came into her face—a
pitying sort of look. The shrewd eyes softened. She groped for words.
“When I first came over here, ten years ago, I—well, it would have
been easier to tell you then. I don't know—there's something about
Paris—something in the atmosphere—something in the air. It—it makes
you do foolish things. It makes you feel queer and light and happy.
It's nothing you can put your finger on and say 'That's it!' But it's
“Huh!” grunted Sophy Gold. “I suppose I could save myself a lot of
trouble by saying that I feel it; but I don't. I simply don't react to
this town. The only things I really like in Paris are the Tomb of
Napoleon, the Seine at night, and the strawberry tart you get at
Vian's. Of course the parks and boulevards are a marvel, but you can't
expect me to love a town for that. I'm no landscape gardener.”
That pitying look deepened in Miss Morrissey's eyes.
“Have you been out in the evening? The restaurants! The French
women! The life!”
Sophy Gold caught the pitying look and interpreted it without
resentment; but there was perhaps an added acid in her tone when she
“I'm here to buy—not to play. I'm thirty years old, and it's taken
me ten years to work my way up to foreign buyer. I've worked. And I
wasn't handicapped any by my beauty. I've made up my mind that I'm
going to buy the smoothest-moving line of French lingerie and infants'
wear that Schiff Brothers ever had.”
Miss Morrissey checked her.
“But, my dear girl, haven't you been round at all?”
“Oh, a little; as much as a woman can go round alone in Paris—even
a homely woman. But I've been disappointed every time. The noise drives
me wild, to begin with. Not that I'm not used to noise. I am. I can
stand for a town that roars, like Chicago. But this city yelps. I've
been going round to the restaurants a little. At noon I always picked
the restaurant I wanted, so long as I had to pay for the lunch of the
commissionnaire who was with me anyway. Can you imagine any man at
home letting a woman pay for his meals the way those shrimpy Frenchmen
“Well, the restaurants were always jammed full of Americans. The men
of the party would look over the French menu in a helpless sort of way,
and then they'd say: 'What do you say to a nice big steak with
French-fried potatoes?' The waiter would give them a disgusted look and
put in the order. They might just as well have been eating at a quick
lunch place. As for the French women, every time I picked what I took
to be a real Parisienne coming toward me I'd hear her say as she
passed: 'Henry, I'm going over to the Galerie Lafayette. I'll meet you
at the American Express at twelve. And, Henry, I think I'll need some
Miss Ella Morrissey's twinkling eyes almost disappeared in wrinkles
of laughter; but Sophy Gold was not laughing. As she talked she gazed
grimly ahead at the throng that shifted and glittered and laughed and
chattered all about her.
“I stopped work early one afternoon and went over across the river.
Well! They may be artistic, but they all looked as though they needed a
shave and a hair-cut and a square meal. And the girls!”
Ella Morrissey raised a plump, protesting palm.
“Now look here, child, Paris isn't so much a city as a state of
mind. To enjoy it you've got to forget you're an American. Don't look
at it from a Chicago, Illinois, viewpoint. Just try to imagine you're a
mixture of Montmartre girl, Latin Quarter model and duchess from the
Champs Elysees. Then you'll get it.”
“Get it!” retorted Sophy Gold. “If I could do that I wouldn't be
buying lingerie and infants' wear for Schiffs'. I'd be crowding Duse
and Bernhardt and Mrs. Fiske off the boards.”
Miss Morrissey sat silent and thoughtful, rubbing one fat forefinger
slowly up and down her knee. Suddenly she turned.
“Don't be angry—but have you ever been in love?”
“Look at me!” replied Sophy Gold simply. Miss Morrissey reddened a
little. “As head of the lingerie section I've selected trousseaus for I
don't know how many Chicago brides; but I'll never have to decide
whether I'll have pink or blue ribbons for my own.”
With a little impulsive gesture Ella Morrissey laid one hand on the
shoulder of her new acquaintance.
“Come on up and visit me, will you? I made them give me an inside
room, away from the noise. Too many people down here. Besides, I'd like
to take off this armour-plate of mine and get comfortable. When a girl
gets as old and fat as I am—”
“There are some letters I ought to get out,” Sophy Gold protested
“Yes; I know. We all have; but there's such a thing as overdoing
this duty to the firm. You get up at six to-morrow morning and slap off
those letters. They'll come easier and sound less tired.”
They made for the lift; but at its very gates:
“Hello, little girl!” cried a masculine voice; and a detaining hand
was laid on Ella Morrissey's plump shoulder.
That lady recognised the voice and the greeting before she turned to
face their source. Max Tack, junior partner in the firm of Tack
Brothers, Lingerie and Infants' Wear, New York, held out an eager hand.
“Hello, Max!” said Miss Morrissey not too cordially. “My, aren't you
He was undeniably dressy—not that only, but radiant with the
self-confidence born of good looks, of well-fitting evening clothes, of
a fresh shave, of glistening nails. Max Tack, of the hard eye and the
soft smile, of the slim figure and the semi-bald head, of the
flattering tongue and the business brain, bent his attention full on
the very plain Miss Sophy Gold.
“Aren't you going to introduce me?” he demanded.
Miss Morrissey introduced them, buyer fashion—names, business
connection, and firms.
“I knew you were Miss Gold,” began Max Tack, the honey-tongued.
“Some one pointed you out to me yesterday. I've been trying to meet you
“I hope you haven't neglected your business,” said Miss Gold without
Max Tack leaned closer, his tone lowered.
“I'd neglect it any day for you. Listen, little one: aren't you
going to take dinner with me some evening?”
Max Tack always called a woman “Little one.” It was part of his
business formula. He was only one of the wholesalers who go to Paris
yearly ostensibly to buy models, but really to pay heavy diplomatic
court to those hundreds of women buyers who flock to that city in the
interests of their firms. To entertain those buyers who were interested
in goods such as he manufactured in America; to win their friendship;
to make them feel under obligation at least to inspect his line when
they came to New York—that was Max Tack's mission in Paris. He
performed it admirably.
“What evening?” he said now. “How about to-morrow?” Sophy Gold shook
her head. “Wednesday then? You stick to me and you'll see Paris.
“I'm buying my own dinners,” said Sophy Gold.
Max Tack wagged a chiding forefinger at her.
“You little rascal!” No one had ever called Sophy Gold a little
rascal before. “You stingy little rascal! Won't give a poor lonesome
fellow an evening's pleasure, eh! The theatre? Want to go slumming?”
He was feeling his way now, a trifle puzzled. Usually he landed a
buyer at the first shot. Of course you had to use tact and
discrimination. Some you took to supper and to the naughty revues.
Occasionally you found a highbrow one who preferred the opera. Had
he not sat through Parsifal the week before? And nearly died! Some
wanted to begin at Tod Sloan's bar and work their way up through
Montmartre, ending with breakfast at the Pre Catalan. Those were the
greedy ones. But this one!
“What's she stalling for—with that face?” he asked himself.
Sophy Gold was moving toward the lift, the twinkling-eyed Miss
Morrissey with her.
“I'm working too hard to play. Thanks, just the same. Good-night.”
Max Tack, his face blank, stood staring up at them as the lift began
“Trazyem,” said Miss Morrissey grandly to the lift man.
“Third,” replied that linguistic person, unimpressed.
It turned out to be soothingly quiet and cool in Ella Morrissey's
room. She flicked on the light and turned an admiring glance on Sophy
“Is that your usual method?”
“I haven't any method,” Miss Gold seated herself by the window. “But
I've worked too hard for this job of mine to risk it by putting myself
under obligations to any New York firm. It simply means that you've got
to buy their goods. It isn't fair to your firm.”
Miss Morrissey was busy with hooks and eyes and strings. Her
utterance was jerky but concise. At one stage of her disrobing she
breathed a great sigh of relief as she flung a heavy garment from her.
“There! That's comfort! Nights like this I wish I had that back
porch of our flat to sit on for just an hour. Ma has flower boxes all
round it, and I bought one of those hammock couches last year. When I
come home from the store summer evenings I peel and get into my old
blue-and-white kimono and lie there, listening to the girl stirring the
iced tea for supper, and knowing that Ma has a platter of her swell
cold fish with egg sauce!” She relaxed into an armchair. “Tell me, do
you always talk to men that way?”
Sophy Gold was still staring out the open window.
“They don't bother me much, as a rule.”
“Max Tack isn't a bad boy. He never wastes much time on me. I don't
buy his line. Max is all business. Of course he's something of a
smarty, and he does think he's the first verse and chorus of
Paris-by-night; but you can't help liking him.”
“Well, I can,” said Sophy Gold, and her voice was a little bitter,
“and without half trying.”
“Oh, I don't say you weren't right. I've always made it a rule to
steer clear of the ax-grinders myself. There are plenty of girls who
take everything they can get. I know that Max Tack is just padded with
letters from old girls, beginning 'Dear Kid,' and ending, 'Yours with a
world of love!' I don't believe in that kind of thing, or in accepting
things. Julia Harris, who buys for three departments in our store,
drives up every morning in the French car that Parmentier's gave her
when she was here last year. That's bad principle and poor taste.
But—Well, you're young; and there ought to be something besides
business in your life.”
Sophy Gold turned her face from the window toward Miss Morrissey. It
served to put a stamp of finality on what she said:
“There never will be. I don't know anything but business. It's the
only thing I care about. I'll be earning my ten thousand a year pretty
“Ten thousand a year is a lot; but it isn't everything. Oh, no, it
isn't. Look here, dear; nobody knows better than I how this working and
being independent and earning your own good money puts the stopper on
any sentiment a girl might have in her; but don't let it sour you. You
lose your illusions soon enough, goodness knows! There's no use in
smashing 'em out of pure meanness.”
“I don't see what illusions have got to do with Max Tack,”
interrupted Sophy Gold.
Miss Morrissey laughed her fat, comfortable chuckle.
“I suppose you're right, and I guess I've been getting a lee-tle bit
nosey; but I'm pretty nearly old enough to be your mother. The girls
kind of come to me and I talk to 'em. I guess they've spoiled me.
There came a smart rapping at the door, followed by certain giggling
and swishing. Miss Morrissey smiled.
“That'll be some of 'em now. Just run and open the door, will you,
like a nice little thing? I'm too beat out to move.”
The swishing swelled to a mighty rustle as the door opened. Taffeta
was good this year, and the three who entered were the last in the
world to leave you in ignorance of that fact. Ella Morrissey presented
her new friend to the three, giving the department each represented as
one would mention a title or order.
“The little plump one in black?—Ladies' and Misses' Ready-to-wear,
Gates Company, Portland.... That's a pretty hat, Carrie. Get it to-day?
Give me a big black velvet every time. You can wear 'em with anything,
and yet they're dressy too. Just now small hats are distinctly passy.
“The handsome one who's dressed the way you always imagined the
Parisiennes would dress, but don't?—Fancy Goods, Stein &Stack, San
Francisco. Listen, Fan: don't go back to San Francisco with that stuff
on your lips. It's all right in Paris, where all the women do it; but
you know as well as I do that Morry Stein would take one look at you
and then tell you to go upstairs and wash your face. Well, I'm just
telling you as a friend.
“That little trick is the biggest lace buyer in the country.... No,
you wouldn't, would you? Such a mite! Even if she does wear a
twenty-eight blouse she's got a forty-two brain—haven't you, Belle?
You didn't make a mistake with that blue crepe de chine, child. It's
chic and yet it's girlish. And you can wear it on the floor, too, when
you get home. It's quiet if it is stunning.”
These five, as they sat there that June evening, knew what your wife
and your sister and your mother would wear on Fifth Avenue or Michigan
Avenue next October. On their shrewd, unerring judgment rested the
success or failure of many hundreds of feminine garments. The lace for
Miss Minnesota's lingerie; the jewelled comb in Miss Colorado's hair;
the hat that would grace Miss New Hampshire; the dress for Madam
Delaware—all were the results of their farsighted selection. They were
foragers of feminine fal-lals, and their booty would be distributed
from oyster cove to orange grove.
They were marcelled and manicured within an inch of their lives.
They rustled and a pleasant perfume clung about them. Their hats were
so smart that they gave you a shock. Their shoes were correct. Their
skirts bunched where skirts should bunch that year or lay smooth where
smoothness was decreed. They looked like the essence of
frivolity—until you saw their eyes; and then you noticed that that
which is liquid in sheltered women's eyes was crystallised in theirs.
Sophy Gold, listening to them, felt strangely out of it and plainer
“I'm taking tango lessons, Ella,” chirped Miss Laces. “Every time I
went to New York last year I sat and twiddled my thumbs while every one
else was dancing. I've made up my mind I'll be in it this year.”
“You girls are wonders!” Miss Morrissey marvelled. “I can't do it
any more. If I was to work as hard as I have to during the day and then
run round the way you do in the evening they'd have to hold services
for me at sea. I'm getting old.”
“You—old!” This from Miss Ready-to-Wear. “You're younger now than
I'll ever be. Oh, Ella, I got six stunning models at Estelle Mornet's.
There's a business woman for you! Her place is smart from the ground
floor up—not like the shabby old junk shops the others have. And she
greets you herself. The personal touch! Let me tell you, it counts in
“I'd go slow on those cape blouses if I were you; I don't think
they're going to take at home. They look like regular Third Avenue
style to me.”
“Don't worry. I've hardly touched them.”
They talked very directly, like men, when they discussed clothes;
for to them a clothes talk meant a business talk.
The telephone buzzed. The three sprang up, rustling.
“That'll be for us, Ella,” said Miss Fancy Goods. “We told the
office to call us here. The boys are probably downstairs.” She answered
the call, turned, nodded, smoothed her gloves and preened her laces.
Ella Morrissey, in kimonoed comfort, waved a good-bye from her
armchair. “Have a good time! You all look lovely. Oh, we met Max Tack
downstairs, looking like a grand duke!”
Pert Miss Laces turned at the door, giggling.
“He says the French aristocracy has nothing on him, because his
grandfather was one of the original Ten Ikes of New York.”
A final crescendo of laughter, a last swishing of silks, a breath of
perfume from the doorway and they were gone.
Within the room the two women sat looking at the closed door for a
moment. Then Ella Morrissey turned to look at Sophy Gold just as Sophy
Gold turned to look at Ella Morrissey.
“Well?” smiled Ella.
Sophy Gold smiled too—a mirthless, one-sided smile.
“I felt just like this once when I was a little girl. I went to a
party, and all the other little girls had yellow curls. Maybe some of
them had brown ones; but I only remember a maze of golden hair, and
pink and blue sashes, and rosy cheeks, and ardent little boys, and the
sureness of those little girls—their absolute faith in their power to
enthrall, and in the perfection of their curls and sashes. I went home
before the ice cream. And I love ice cream!”
Ella Morrissey's eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
“Then the next time you're invited to a party you wait for the ice
“Maybe I will,” said Sophy Gold.
The party came two nights later. It was such a very modest affair
that one would hardly call it that—least of all Max Tack, who had
spent seventy-five dollars the night before in entertaining an
important prospective buyer.
On her way to her room that sultry June night Sophy had encountered
the persistent Tack. Ella Morrissey, up in her room, was fathoms deep
in work. It was barely eight o'clock and there was a wonderful opal
sky—a June twilight sky, of which Paris makes a specialty—all grey
and rose and mauve and faint orange.
“Somebody's looking mighty sweet to-night in her new Paris duds!”
Max Tack's method of approach never varied in its simplicity.
“They're not Paris—they're Chicago.”
His soul was in his eyes.
“They certainly don't look it!” Then, with a little hurt look in
those same expressive features: “I suppose, after the way you threw me
down hard the other night, you wouldn't come out and play somewhere,
would you—if I sat up and begged and jumped through this?”
“It's too warm for most things,” Sophy faltered.
“Anywhere your little heart dictates,” interrupted Max Tack
ardently. “Just name it.”
Sophy looked up.
“Well, then, I'd like to take one of those boats and go down the
river to St.-Cloud. The station's just back of the Louvre. We've just
time to catch the eight-fifteen boat.”
“Boat!” echoed Max Tack stupidly. Then, in revolt: “Why, say,
girlie, you don't want to do that! What is there in taking an old tub
and flopping down that dinky stream? Tell you what we'll do: we'll—”
“No, thanks,” said Sophy. “And it really doesn't matter. You simply
asked me what I'd like to do and I told you. Thanks. Good-night.”
“Now, now!” pleaded Max Tack in a panic. “Of course we'll go. I just
thought you'd rather do something fussier—that's all. I've never gone
down the river; but I think that's a classy little idea—yes, I do. Now
you run and get your hat and we'll jump into a taxi and—”
“You don't need to jump into a taxi; it's only two blocks. We'll
There was a little crowd down at the landing station. Max Tack
noticed, with immense relief, that they were not half-bad-looking
people either. He had been rather afraid of workmen in red sashes and
with lime on their clothes, especially after Sophy had told him that a
trip cost twenty centimes each.
“Twenty centimes! That's about four cents! Well, my gad!”
They got seats in the prow. Sophy took off her hat and turned her
face gratefully to the cool breeze as they swung out into the river.
The Paris of the rumbling, roaring auto buses, and the honking horns,
and the shrill cries, and the mad confusion faded away. There was the
palely glowing sky ahead, and on each side the black reflection of the
tree-laden banks, mistily mysterious now and very lovely. There was not
a ripple on the water and the Pont Alexandre III and the golden glory
of the dome of the Hotel des Invalides were ahead.
“Say, this is Venice!” exclaimed Max Tack.
A soft and magic light covered the shore, the river, the sky, and a
soft and magic something seemed to steal over the little boat and work
its wonders. The shabby student-looking chap and his equally shabby and
merry little companion, both Americans, closed the bag of fruit from
which they had been munching and sat looking into each other's eyes.
The long-haired artist, who looked miraculously like pictures of
Robert Louis Stevenson, smiled down at his queer, slender-legged little
daughter in the curious Cubist frock; and she smiled back and snuggled
up and rested her cheek on his arm. There seemed to be a deep and
silent understanding between them. You knew, somehow, that the little
Cubist daughter had no mother, and that the father's artist friends
made much of her and that she poured tea for them prettily on special
The bepowdered French girl who got on at the second station sat
frankly and contentedly in the embrace of her sweetheart. The stolid
married couple across the way smiled and the man's arm rested on his
wife's plump shoulder.
So the love boat glided down the river into the night. And the shore
faded and became grey, and then black. And the lights came out and cast
slender pillars of gold and green and scarlet on the water.
Max Tack's hand moved restlessly, sought Sophy's, found it, clasped
it. Sophy's hand had never been clasped like that before. She did not
know what to do with it, so she did nothing—which was just what she
should have done.
“Warm enough?” asked Max Tack tenderly.
“Just right,” murmured Sophy.
The dream trip ended at St.-Cloud. They learned to their dismay that
the boat did not return to Paris. But how to get back? They asked
questions, sought direction—always a frantic struggle in Paris. Sophy,
in the glare of the street light, looked uglier than ever.
“Just a minute,” said Max Tack. “I'll find a taxi.”
“Nonsense! That man said the street car passed right here, and that
we should get off at the Bois. Here it is now! Come on!”
Max Tack looked about helplessly, shrugged his shoulders and gave it
“You certainly make a fellow hump,” he said, not without a note of
admiration. “And why are you so afraid that I'll spend some money?” as
he handed the conductor the tiny fare.
“I don't know—unless it's because I've had to work so hard all my
life for mine.”
At Porte Maillot they took one of the flock of waiting fiacres.
“But you don't want to go home yet!” protested Max Tack.
“I—I think I should like to drive in the Bois Park—if you don't
“Mind!” cried the gallant and game Max Tack.
Now Max Tack was no villain; but it never occurred to him that one
might drive in the Bois with a girl and not make love to her. If he had
driven with Aurora in her chariot he would have held her hand and
called her tender names. So, because he was he, and because this was
Paris, and because it was so dark that one could not see Sophy's
extreme plainness, he took her unaccustomed hand again in his.
“This little hand was never meant for work,” he murmured.
Sophy, the acid, the tart, said nothing. The Bois Park at night is a
mystery maze and lovely beyond adjectives. And the horse of that
particular fiacre wore a little tinkling bell that somehow added
to the charm of the night. A waterfall, unseen, tumbled and frothed
near by. A turn in the winding road brought them to an open stretch,
and they saw the world bathed in the light of a yellow, mellow, roguish
Paris moon. And Max Tack leaned over quietly and kissed Sophy Gold on
Now Sophy Gold had never been kissed in just that way before. You
would have thought she would not know what to do; but the plainest
woman, as well as the loveliest, has the centuries back of her. Sophy's
mother, and her mother's mother, and her mother's mother's mother had
been kissed before her. So they told her to say:
“You shouldn't have done that.”
And the answer, too, was backed by the centuries:
“I know it; but I couldn't help it. Don't be angry!”
“You know,” said Sophy with a little tremulous laugh, “I'm very,
very ugly—when it isn't moonlight.”
“Paris,” spake Max Tack, diplomat, “is so full of medium-lookers who
think they're pretty, and of pretty ones who think they're beauties,
that it sort of rests my jaw and mind to be with some one who hasn't
any fake notions to feed. They're all right; but give me a woman with
brains every time.” Which was a lie!
They drove home down the Bois—the cool, spacious, tree-bordered
Bois—and through the Champs Elysees. Because he was an artist in his
way, and because every passing fiacre revealed the same picture,
Max Tack sat very near her and looked very tender and held her hand in
his. It would have raised a laugh at Broadway and Forty-second. It was
quite, quite sane and very comforting in Paris.
At the door of the hotel:
“I'm sailing Wednesday,” said Max Tack. “You—you won't forget me?”
“You'll call me up or run into the office when you get to New York?”
He walked with her to the lift, said good-bye and returned to the
fiacre with the tinkling bell. There was a stunned sort of look in
his face. The fiacre meter registered two francs seventy. Max
Tack did a lightning mental calculation. The expression on his face
deepened. He looked up at the cabby—the red-faced, bottle-nosed cabby,
with his absurd scarlet vest, his mustard-coloured trousers and his
glazed top hat.
“Well, can you beat that? Three francs thirty for the evening's
entertainment! Why—why, all she wanted was just a little love!”
To the bottle-nosed one all conversation in a foreign language meant
dissatisfaction with the meter. He tapped that glass-covered
contrivance impatiently with his whip. A flood of French bubbled at his
“It's all right, boy! It's all right! You don't get me!” And Max
Tacked pressed a five-franc piece into the outstretched palm. Then to
the hotel porter: “Just grab a taxi for me, will you? These tubs make
Sophy, on her way to her room, hesitated, turned, then ran up the
stairs to the next floor and knocked gently at Miss Morrissey's door. A
moment later that lady's kimonoed figure loomed large in the doorway.
“Who is—oh, it's you! Well, I was just going to have them drag the
Seine for you. Come in!”
She went back to the table. Sheets of paper, rough sketches of hat
models done from memory, notes and letters lay scattered all about.
Sophy leaned against the door dreamily.
“I've been working this whole mortal evening,” went on Ella
Morrissey, holding up a pencil sketch and squinting at it
disapprovingly over her working spectacles, “and I'm so tired that one
eye's shut and the other's running on first. Where've you been, child?”
“Oh, driving!” Sophy's limp hair was a shade limper than usual, and
a strand of it had become loosened and straggled untidily down over her
ear. Her eyes looked large and strangely luminous. “Do you know, I love
Ella Morrissey laid down her pencil sketch and turned slowly. She
surveyed Sophy Gold, her shrewd eyes twinkling.
“That so? What made you change your mind?”
The dreamy look in Sophy's eyes deepened.
“Why—I don't know. There's something in the atmosphere—something
in the air. It makes you do and say foolish things. It makes you feel
queer and light and happy.”
Ella Morrissey's bright twinkle softened to a glow. She stared for
another brief moment. Then she trundled over to where Sophy stood and
patted her leathery cheek. “Welcome to our city!” said Miss Ella
XI. THE THREE OF THEM
For eleven years Martha Foote, head housekeeper at the Senate Hotel,
Chicago, had catered, unseen, and ministered, unknown, to that great,
careless, shifting, conglomerate mass known as the Travelling Public.
Wholesale hostessing was Martha Foote's job. Senators and suffragists,
ambassadors and first families had found ease and comfort under Martha
Foote's regime. Her carpets had bent their nap to the tread of kings,
and show girls, and buyers from Montana. Her sheets had soothed the
tired limbs of presidents, and princesses, and prima donnas. For the
Senate Hotel is more than a hostelry; it is a Chicago institution. The
whole world is churned in at its revolving front door.
For eleven years Martha Foote, then, had beheld humanity throwing
its grimy suitcases on her immaculate white bedspreads; wiping its
muddy boots on her bath towels; scratching its matches on her wall
paper; scrawling its pencil marks on her cream woodwork; spilling its
greasy crumbs on her carpet; carrying away her dresser scarfs and
pincushions. There is no supremer test of character. Eleven years of
hotel housekeepership guarantees a knowledge of human nature that
includes some things no living being ought to know about her fellow
men. And inevitably one of two results must follow. You degenerate into
a bitter, waspish, and fault-finding shrew; or you develop into a
patient, tolerant, and infinitely understanding woman. Martha Foote
dealt daily with Polack scrub girls, and Irish porters, and Swedish
chambermaids, and Swiss waiters, and Halsted Street bell-boys. Italian
tenors fried onions in her Louis-Quinze suite. College boys burned
cigarette holes in her best linen sheets. Yet any one connected with
the Senate Hotel, from Pete the pastry cook to H.G. Featherstone,
lessee-director, could vouch for Martha Foote's serene unacidulation.
* * * * *
Don't gather from this that Martha Foote was a beaming, motherly
person who called you dearie. Neither was she one of those managerial
and magnificent blonde beings occasionally encountered in hotel
corridors, engaged in addressing strident remarks to a damp and
crawling huddle of calico that is doing something sloppy to the
woodwork. Perhaps the shortest cut to Martha Foote's character is
through Martha Foote's bedroom. (Twelfth floor. Turn to your left.
That's it; 1246. Come in!)
In the long years of its growth and success the Senate Hotel had
known the usual growing pains. Starting with walnut and red plush it
had, in its adolescence, broken out all over into brass beds and
birds'-eye maple. This, in turn, had vanished before mahogany veneer
and brocade. Hardly had the white scratches on these ruddy surfaces
been doctored by the house painter when—whisk! Away with that sombre
stuff! And in minced a whole troupe of near-French furnishings; cream
enamel beds, cane-backed; spindle-legged dressing tables before which
it was impossible to dress; perilous chairs with raspberry complexions.
Through all these changes Martha Foote, in her big, bright twelfth
floor room, had clung to her old black walnut set.
The bed, to begin with, was a massive, towering edifice with a
headboard that scraped the lofty ceiling. Head and foot-board were
fretted and carved with great blobs representing grapes, and
cornucopias, and tendrils, and knobs and other bedevilments of the
cabinet-maker's craft. It had been polished and rubbed until now it
shone like soft brown satin. There was a monumental dresser too, with a
liver-coloured marble top. Along the wall, near the windows, was a
couch; a heavy, wheezing, fat-armed couch decked out in white ruffled
cushions. I suppose the mere statement that, in Chicago, Illinois,
Martha Foote kept these cushions always crisply white, would make any
further characterization superfluous. The couch made you think of a
plump grandmother of bygone days, a beruffled white fichu across her
ample, comfortable bosom. Then there was the writing desk; a
substantial structure that bore no relation to the pindling
rose-and-cream affairs that graced the guest rooms. It was the solid
sort of desk at which an English novelist of the three-volume school
might have written a whole row of books without losing his dignity or
cramping his style. Martha Foote used it for making out reports and
instruction sheets, for keeping accounts, and for her small private
Such was Martha Foote's room. In a modern and successful hotel,
whose foyer was rose-shaded, brass-grilled, peacock-alleyed and
tessellated, that bed-sitting-room of hers was as wholesome, and
satisfying, and real as a piece of home-made rye bread on a tray of
French pastry; and as incongruous.
It was to the orderly comfort of these accustomed surroundings that
the housekeeper of the Senate Hotel opened her eyes this Tuesday
morning. Opened them, and lay a moment, bridging the morphean chasm
that lay between last night and this morning. It was 6:30 A.M. It is
bad enough to open one's eyes at 6:30 on Monday morning. But to open
them at 6:30 on Tuesday morning, after an indigo Monday.... The taste
of yesterday lingered, brackish, in Martha's mouth.
“Oh, well, it won't be as bad as yesterday, anyway. It can't.” So
she assured herself, as she lay there. “There never were two
days like that, hand running. Not even in the hotel business.”
For yesterday had been what is known as a muddy Monday. Thick,
murky, and oozy with trouble. Two conventions, three banquets, the
lobby so full of khaki that it looked like a sand-storm, a threatened
strike in the laundry, a travelling man in two-twelve who had the
grippe and thought he was dying, a shortage of towels (that bugaboo of
the hotel housekeeper) due to the laundry trouble that had kept the
linen-room telephone jangling to the tune of a hundred damp and irate
guests. And weaving in and out, and above, and about and through it
all, like a neuralgic toothache that can't be located, persisted the
constant, nagging, maddening complaints of the Chronic Kicker in
Six-eighteen was a woman. She had arrived Monday morning, early. By
Monday night every girl on the switchboard had the nervous jumps when
they plugged in at her signal. She had changed her rooms, and back
again. She had quarrelled with the room clerk. She had complained to
the office about the service, the food, the linen, the lights, the
noise, the chambermaid, all the bell-boys, and the colour of the
furnishings in her suite. She said she couldn't live with that colour.
It made her sick. Between 8:30 and 10:30 that night, there had come a
lull. Six-eighteen was doing her turn at the Majestic.
Martha Foote knew that. She knew, too, that her name was Geisha
McCoy, and she knew what that name meant, just as you do. She had even
laughed and quickened and responded to Geisha McCoy's manipulation of
her audience, just as you have. Martha Foote knew the value of the
personal note, and it had been her idea that had resulted in the rule
which obliged elevator boys, chambermaids, floor clerks, doormen and
waiters if possible, to learn the names of Senate Hotel guests, no
matter how brief their stay.
“They like it,” she had said, to Manager Brant. “You know that
better than I do. They'll be flattered, and surprised, and tickled to
death, and they'll go back to Burlington, Iowa, and tell how well known
they are at the Senate.”
When the suggestion was met with the argument that no human being
could be expected to perform such daily feats of memory Martha Foote
battered it down with:
“That's just where you're mistaken. The first few days are bad.
After that it's easier every day, until it becomes mechanical. I
remember when I first started waiting on table in my mother's quick
lunch eating house in Sorghum, Minnesota. I'd bring 'em wheat cakes
when they'd ordered pork and beans, but it wasn't two weeks before I
could take six orders, from soup to pie, without so much as forgetting
the catsup. Habit, that's all.”
So she, as well as the minor hotel employes, knew six-eighteen as
Geisha McCoy. Geisha McCoy, who got a thousand a week for singing a few
songs and chatting informally with the delighted hundreds on the other
side of the footlights. Geisha McCoy made nothing of those same
footlights. She reached out, so to speak, and shook hands with you
across their amber glare. Neither lovely nor alluring, this woman. And
as for her voice!—And yet for ten years or more this rather plain
person, somewhat dumpy, no longer young, had been singing her
every-day, human songs about every-day, human people. And invariably
(and figuratively) her audience clambered up over the footlights, and
sat in her lap. She had never resorted to cheap music-hall tricks. She
had never invited the gallery to join in the chorus. She descended to
no finger-snapping. But when she sang a song about a waitress she was a
waitress. She never hesitated to twist up her hair, and pull down her
mouth, to get an effect. She didn't seem to be thinking about herself,
at all, or about her clothes, or her method, or her effort, or anything
but the audience that was plastic to her deft and magic manipulation.
Until very recently. Six months had wrought a subtle change in
Geisha McCoy. She still sang her every-day, human songs about
every-day, human people. But you failed, somehow, to recognise them as
such. They sounded sawdust-stuffed. And you were likely to hear the man
behind you say, “Yeh, but you ought to have heard her five years ago.
She's about through.”
Such was six-eighteen. Martha Foote, luxuriating in that one
delicious moment between her 6:30 awakening, and her 6:31 arising,
mused on these things. She thought of how, at eleven o'clock the night
before, her telephone had rung with the sharp zing! of trouble. The
voice of Irish Nellie, on night duty on the sixth floor, had sounded
thick-brogued, sure sign of distress with her.
“I'm sorry to be a-botherin' ye, Mis' Phut. It's Nellie
speakin'—Irish Nellie on the sixt'.”
“What's the trouble, Nellie?”
“It's that six-eighteen again. She's goin' on like mad. She's
carryin' on something fierce.”
“Th'—th' blankets, Mis' Phut.”
“She says—it's her wurruds, not mine—she says they're vile. Vile,
Martha Foote's spine had stiffened. “In this house! Vile!”
If there was one thing more than another upon which Martha Foote
prided herself it was the Senate Hotel bed coverings. Creamy, spotless,
downy, they were her especial fad. “Brocade chairs, and pink lamps, and
gold snake-work are all well and good,” she was wont to say, “and so
are American Beauties in the lobby and white gloves on the elevator
boys. But it's the blankets on the beds that stamp a hotel first or
second class.” And now this, from Nellie.
“I know how ye feel, an' all. I sez to 'er, I sez: 'There never was
a blanket in this house,' I sez, 'that didn't look as if it cud
be sarved up wit' whipped cr-ream,' I sez, 'an' et,' I sez to her; 'an'
fu'thermore,' I sez—”
“Never mind, Nellie. I know. But we never argue with guests. You
know that rule as well as I. The guest is right—always. I'll send up
the linen-room keys. You get fresh blankets; new ones. And no
arguments. But I want to see those—those vile—”
“Listen, Mis' Phut.” Irish Nellie's voice, until now shrill with
righteous anger, dropped a discreet octave. “I seen 'em. An' they
are vile. Wait a minnit! But why? Becus that there maid of
hers—that yella' hussy—give her a body massage, wit' cold cream an'
all, usin' th' blankets f'r coverin', an' smearin' 'em right an'
lift. This was afther they come back from th' theayter. Th' crust of
thim people, using the iligent blankets off'n the beds t'—”
“Good night, Nellie. And thank you.”
“Sure, ye know I'm that upset f'r distarbin' yuh, an' all, but—”
Martha Foote cast an eye toward the great walnut bed. “That's all
right. Only, Nellie—”
“If I'm disturbed again on that woman's account for anything less
“Well, there'll be one, that's all. Good night.”
Such had been Monday's cheerful close.
Martha Foote sat up in bed, now, preparatory to the heroic flinging
aside of the covers. “No,” she assured herself, “it can't be as bad as
yesterday.” She reached round and about her pillow, groping for the
recalcitrant hairpin that always slipped out during the night; found
it, and twisted her hair into a hard bathtub bun.
With a jangle that tore through her half-wakened senses the
telephone at her bedside shrilled into life. Martha Foote, hairpin in
mouth, turned and eyed it, speculatively, fearfully. It shrilled on in
her very face, and there seemed something taunting and vindictive about
it. One long ring, followed by a short one; a long ring, a short.
“Ca-a-an't it? Ca-a-an't it?”
“Something tells me I'm wrong,” Martha Foote told herself, ruefully,
and reached for the blatant, snarling thing.
“Mrs. Foote? This is Healy, the night clerk. Say, Mrs. Foote, I
think you'd better step down to six-eighteen and see what's—”
“I am wrong,” said Martha Foote.
“Nothing. Go on. Will I step down to six-eighteen and—?”
“She's sick, or something. Hysterics, I'd say. As far as I could
make out it was something about a noise, or a sound or—Anyway, she
can't locate it, and her maid says if we don't stop it right away—”
“I'll go down. Maybe it's the plumbing. Or the radiator. Did you
“No, nothing like that. She kept talking about a wail.”
“A wail. A kind of groaning, you know. And then dull raps on the
wall, behind the bed.”
“Now look here, Ed Healy; I get up at 6:30, but I can't see a joke
before ten. If you're trying to be funny!—”
“Funny! Why, say, listen, Mrs. Foote. I may be a night clerk, but
I'm not so low as to get you out at half past six to spring a thing
like that in fun. I mean it. So did she.”
“But a kind of moaning! And then dull raps!”
“Those are her words. A kind of m—”
“Let's not make a chant of it. I think I get you. I'll be down there
in ten minutes. Telephone her, will you?”
“Can't you make it five?”
“Not without skipping something vital.”
Still, it couldn't have been a second over ten, including shoes,
hair, and hooks-and-eyes. And a fresh white blouse. It was Martha
Foote's theory that a hotel housekeeper, dressed for work, ought to be
as inconspicuous as a steel engraving. She would have been, too, if it
hadn't been for her eyes.
She paused a moment before the door of six-eighteen and took a deep
breath. At the first brisk rat-tat of her knuckles on the door there
had sounded a shrill “Come in!” But before she could turn the knob the
door was flung open by a kimonoed mulatto girl, her eyes all whites.
The girl began to jabber, incoherently but Martha Foote passed on
through the little hall to the door of the bedroom.
Six-eighteen was in bed. At sight of her Martha Foote knew that she
had to deal with an over-wrought woman. Her hair was pushed back wildly
from her forehead. Her arms were clasped about her knees. At the left
her nightgown had slipped down so that one plump white shoulder gleamed
against the background of her streaming hair. The room was in almost
comic disorder. It was a room in which a struggle has taken place
between its occupant and that burning-eyed hag, Sleeplessness. The hag,
it was plain, had won. A half-emptied glass of milk was on the table by
the bed. Warmed, and sipped slowly, it had evidently failed to soothe.
A tray of dishes littered another table. Yesterday's dishes, their
contents congealed. Books and magazines, their covers spread wide as if
they had been flung, sprawled where they lay. A little heap of
grey-black cigarette stubs. The window curtain awry where she had stood
there during a feverish moment of the sleepless night, looking down
upon the lights of Grant Park and the sombre black void beyond that was
Lake Michigan. A tiny satin bedroom slipper on a chair, its mate, sole
up, peeping out from under the bed. A pair of satin slippers alone,
distributed thus, would make a nun's cell look disreputable. Over all
this disorder the ceiling lights, the wall lights, and the light from
two rosy lamps, beat mercilessly down; and upon the white-faced woman
in the bed.
She stared, hollow-eyed, at Martha Foote. Martha Foote, in the
doorway, gazed serenely back upon her. And Geisha McCoy's quick
intelligence and drama-sense responded to the picture of this calm and
capable figure in the midst of the feverish, over-lighted, over-heated
room. In that moment the nervous pucker between her eyes ironed out
ever so little, and something resembling a wan smile crept into her
face. And what she said was:
“I wouldn't have believed it.”
“Believed what?” inquired Martha Foote, pleasantly.
“That there was anybody left in the world who could look like that
in a white shirtwaist at 6:30 A.M. Is that all your own hair?”
“Some people have all the luck,” sighed Geisha McCoy, and dropped
listlessly back on her pillows. Martha Foote came forward into the
room. At that instant the woman in the bed sat up again, tense, every
nerve strained in an attitude of listening. The mulatto girl had come
swiftly to the foot of the bed and was clutching the footboard, her
knuckles showing white.
“Listen!” A hissing whisper from the haggard woman in the bed.
“Wha' dat!” breathed the coloured girl, all her elegance gone, her
every look and motion a hundred-year throwback to her voodoo-haunted
The three women remained rigid, listening. From the wall somewhere
behind the bed came a low, weird monotonous sound, half wail, half
croaking moan, like a banshee with a cold. A clanking, then, as of
chains. A s-s-swish. Then three dull raps, seemingly from within the
very wall itself.
The coloured girl was trembling. Her lips were moving, soundlessly.
But Geisha McCoy's emotion was made of different stuff.
“Now look here,” she said, desperately, “I don't mind a sleepless
night. I'm used to 'em. But usually I can drop off at five, for a
little while. And that's been going on—well, I don't know how long.
It's driving me crazy. Blanche, you fool, stop that hand wringing! I
tell you there's no such thing as ghosts. Now you”—she turned to
Martha Foote again—“you tell me, for God's sake, what is that!”
And into Martha Foote's face there came such a look of mingled
compassion and mirth as to bring a quick flame of fury into Geisha
“Look here, you may think it's funny but—”
“I don't. I don't. Wait a minute.” Martha Foote turned and was gone.
An instant later the weird sounds ceased. The two women in the room
looked toward the door, expectantly. And through it came Martha Foote,
smiling. She turned and beckoned to some one without. “Come on,” she
said. “Come on.” She put out a hand, encouragingly, and brought forward
the shrinking, cowering, timorous figure of Anna Czarnik, scrub-woman
on the sixth floor. Her hand still on her shoulder Martha Foote led her
to the centre of the room, where she stood, gazing dumbly about. She
was the scrub-woman you've seen in every hotel from San Francisco to
Scituate. A shapeless, moist, blue calico mass. Her shoes turned up
ludicrously at the toes, as do the shoes of one who crawls her way
backward, crab-like, on hands and knees. Her hands were the shrivelled,
unlovely members that bespeak long and daily immersion in dirty water.
But even had these invariable marks of her trade been lacking, you
could not have failed to recognise her type by the large and glittering
mock-diamond comb which failed to catch up her dank and stringy hair in
One kindly hand on the woman's arm, Martha Foote performed the
“This is Mrs. Anna Czarnik, late of Poland. Widowed. Likewise
childless. Also brotherless. Also many other uncomfortable things. But
the life of the crowd in the scrub-girls' quarters on the top floor.
Aren't you, Anna? Mrs. Anna Czarnik, I'm sorry to say, is the source of
the blood-curdling moan, and the swishing, and the clanking, and the
ghost-raps. There is a service stairway just on the other side of this
wall. Anna Czarnik was performing her morning job of scrubbing it. The
swishing was her wet rag. The clanking was her pail. The dull raps her
scrubbing brush striking the stair corner just behind your wall.”
“You're forgetting the wail,” Geisha McCoy suggested, icily.
“No, I'm not. The wail, I'm afraid, was Anna Czarnik, singing.”
Martha Foote turned and spoke a gibberish of Polish and English to
the bewildered woman at her side. Anna Czarnik's dull face lighted up
ever so little.
“She says the thing she was singing is a Polish folk-song about
death and sorrow, and it's called a—what was that, Anna?”
“It's called a dumka. It's a song of mourning, you see? Of grief.
And of bitterness against the invaders who have laid her country bare.”
“Well, what's the idea!” demanded Geisha McCoy. “What kind of a
hotel is this, anyway? Scrub-girls waking people up in the middle of
the night with a Polish cabaret. If she wants to sing her hymn of hate
why does she have to pick on me!”
“I'm sorry. You can go, Anna. No sing, remember! Sh-sh-sh!”
Anna Czarnik nodded and made her unwieldy escape.
Geisha McCoy waved a hand at the mulatto maid. “Go to your room,
Blanche. I'll ring when I need you.” The girl vanished, gratefully,
without a backward glance at the disorderly room. Martha Foote felt
herself dismissed, too. And yet she made no move to go. She stood
there, in the middle of the room, and every housekeeper inch of her
yearned to tidy the chaos all about her, and every sympathetic impulse
urged her to comfort the nerve-tortured woman before her. Something of
this must have shone in her face, for Geisha McCoy's tone was
half-pettish, half-apologetic as she spoke.
“You've no business allowing things like that, you know. My nerves
are all shot to pieces anyway. But even if they weren't, who could
stand that kind of torture? A woman like that ought to lose her job for
that. One word from me at the office and she—”
“Don't say it, then,” interrupted Martha Foote, and came over to the
bed. Mechanically her fingers straightened the tumbled covers, removed
a jumble of magazines, flicked away the crumbs. “I'm sorry you were
disturbed. The scrubbing can't be helped, of course, but there is a
rule against unnecessary noise, and she shouldn't have been singing.
But—well, I suppose she's got to find relief, somehow. Would you
believe that woman is the cut-up of the top floor? She's a natural
comedian, and she does more for me in the way of keeping the other
girls happy and satisfied than—”
“What about me? Where do I come in? Instead of sleeping until eleven
I'm kept awake by this Polish dirge. I go on at the Majestic at four,
and again at 9.45 and I'm sick, I tell you! Sick!”
She looked it, too. Suddenly she twisted about and flung herself,
face downward, on the pillow. “Oh, God!” she cried, without any
particular expression. “Oh, God! Oh, God!”
That decided Martha Foote.
She crossed over to the other side of the bed, first flicking off
the glaring top lights, sat down beside the shaken woman on the
pillows, and laid a cool, light hand on her shoulder.
“It isn't as bad as that. Or it won't be, anyway, after you've told
me about it.”
She waited. Geisha McCoy remained as she was, face down. But she did
not openly resent the hand on her shoulder. So Martha Foote waited. And
as suddenly as Six-eighteen had flung herself prone she twisted about
and sat up, breathing quickly. She passed a hand over her eyes and
pushed back her streaming hair with an oddly desperate little gesture.
Her lips were parted, her eyes wide.
“They've got away from me,” she cried, and Martha Foote knew what
she meant. “I can't hold 'em any more. I work as hard as ever—harder.
That's it. It seems the harder I work the colder they get. Last week,
in Indianapolis, they couldn't have been more indifferent if I'd been
the educational film that closes the show. And, oh my God! They sit and
“Knit!” echoed Martha Foote. “But everybody's knitting nowadays.”
“Not when I'm on. They can't. But they do. There were three of them
in the third row yesterday afternoon. One of 'em was doing a grey sock
with four shiny needles. Four! I couldn't keep my eyes off of them. And
the second was doing a sweater, and the third a helmet. I could tell by
the shape. And you can't be funny, can you, when you're hypnotised by
three stony-faced females all doubled up over a bunch of olive-drab?
Olive-drab! I'm scared of it. It sticks out all over the house. Last
night there were two young kids in uniform right down in the first row,
centre, right. I'll bet the oldest wasn't twenty-three. There they sat,
looking up at me with their baby faces. That's all they are. Kids. The
house seems to be peppered with 'em. You wouldn't think olive-drab
could stick out the way it does. I can see it farther than red. I can
see it day and night. I can't seem to see anything else. I can't—”
Her head came down on her arms, that rested on her tight-hugged
“Somebody of yours in it?” Martha Foote asked, quietly. She waited.
Then she made a wild guess—an intuitive guess. “Son?”
“How did you know?” Geisha McCoy's head came up.
“Well, you're right. There aren't fifty people in the world, outside
my own friends, who know I've got a grown-up son. It's bad business to
have them think you're middle-aged. And besides, there's nothing of the
stage about Fred. He's one of those square-jawed kids that are just cut
out to be engineers. Third year at Boston Tech.”
“Is he still there, then?”
“There! He's in France, that's where he is. Somewhere—in France.
And I've worked for twenty-two years with everything in me just set,
like an alarm-clock, for the time when that kid would step off on his
own. He always hated to take money from me, and I loved him for it. I
never went on that I didn't think of him. I never came off with a half
dozen encores that I didn't wish he could hear it. Why, when I played a
college town it used to be a riot, because I loved every fresh-faced
boy in the house, and they knew it. And now—and now—what's there in
it? What's there in it? I can't even hold 'em any more. I'm through, I
tell you. I'm through!”
And waited to be disputed. Martha Foote did not disappoint her.
“There's just this in it. It's up to you to make those three women
in the third row forget what they're knitting for, even if they don't
forget their knitting. Let 'em go on knitting with their hands, but
keep their heads off it. That's your job. You're lucky to have it.”
“Yes ma'am! You can do all the dumka stuff in private, the
way Anna Czarnik does, but it's up to you to make them laugh twice a
day for twenty minutes.”
“It's all very well for you to talk that cheer-o stuff. It hasn't
come home to you, I can see that.”
Martha Foote smiled. “If you don't mind my saying it, Miss McCoy,
you're too worn out from lack of sleep to see anything clearly. You
don't know me, but I do know you, you see. I know that a year ago Anna
Czarnik would have been the most interesting thing in this town, for
you. You'd have copied her clothes, and got a translation of her sob
song, and made her as real to a thousand audiences as she was to us
this morning; tragic history, patient animal face, comic shoes and all.
And that's the trouble with you, my dear. When we begin to brood about
our own troubles we lose what they call the human touch. And that's
your business asset.”
Geisha McCoy was looking up at her with a whimsical half-smile.
“Look here. You know too much. You're not really the hotel housekeeper,
“Well, then, you weren't always—”
“Yes I was. So far as I know I'm the only hotel housekeeper in
history who can't look back to the time when she had three servants of
her own, and her private carriage. I'm no decayed black-silk
gentlewoman. Not me. My father drove a hack in Sorgham, Minnesota, and
my mother took in boarders and I helped wait on table. I married when I
was twenty, my man died two years later, and I've been earning my
living ever since.”
“I must be, because I don't stop to think about it. It's part of my
job to know everything that concerns the comfort of the guests in this
“Including hysterics in six-eighteen?”
“Including. And that reminds me. Up on the twelfth floor of this
hotel there's a big, old-fashioned bedroom. In half an hour I can have
that room made up with the softest linen sheets, and the curtains
pulled down, and not a sound. That room's so restful it would put old
Insomnia himself to sleep. Will you let me tuck you away in it?”
Geisha McCoy slid down among her rumpled covers, and nestled her
head in the lumpy, tortured pillows. “Me! I'm going to stay right
“But this room's—why, it's as stale as a Pullman sleeper. Let me
have the chambermaid in to freshen it up while you're gone.”
“I'm used to it. I've got to have a room mussed up, to feel at home
in it. Thanks just the same.”
Martha Foote rose, “I'm sorry. I just thought if I could help—”
Geisha McCoy leaned forward with one of her quick movements and
caught Martha Foote's hand in both her own, “You have! And I don't mean
to be rude when I tell you I haven't felt so much like sleeping in
weeks. Just turn out those lights, will you? And sort of tiptoe out, to
give the effect.” Then, as Martha Foote reached the door, “And oh, say!
D'you think she'd sell me those shoes?”
Martha Foote didn't get her dinner that night until almost eight,
what with one thing and another. Still as days go, it wasn't so bad as
Monday; she and Irish Nellie, who had come in to turn down her bed,
agreed on that. The Senate Hotel housekeeper was having her dinner in
her room. Tony, the waiter, had just brought it on and had set it out
for her, a gleaming island of white linen, and dome-shaped metal tops.
Irish Nellie, a privileged person always, waxed conversational as she
folded back the bed covers in a neat triangular wedge.
“Six-eighteen kinda ca'med down, didn't she? High toime, the divil.
She had us jumpin' yist'iddy. I loike t' went off me head wid her, and
th' day girl th' same. Some folks ain't got no feelin', I dunno.”
Martha Foote unfolded her napkin with a little tired gesture. “You
can't always judge, Nellie. That woman's got a son who has gone to war,
and she couldn't see her way clear to living without him. She's better
now. I talked to her this evening at six. She said she had a fine
“Shure, she ain't the only wan. An' what do you be hearin' from your
boy, Mis' Phut, that's in France?”
“He's well, and happy. His arm's all healed, and he says he'll be in
it again by the time I get his letter.”
“Humph,” said Irish Nellie. And prepared to leave. She cast an
inquisitive eye over the little table as she made for the
door—inquisitive, but kindly. Her wide Irish nostrils sniffed a
familiar smell. “Well, fur th' land, Mis' Phut! If I was housekeeper
here, an' cud have hothouse strawberries, an' swatebreads undher glass,
an' sparrowgrass, an' chicken, an' ice crame, the way you can,
whiniver yuh loike, I wouldn't be a-eatin' cornbeef an' cabbage. Not
“Oh, yes you would, Nellie,” replied Martha Foote, quietly, and
spooned up the thin amber gravy. “Oh, yes you would.”
XII. SHORE LEAVE
Tyler Kamps was a tired boy. He was tired from his left great toe to
that topmost spot at the crown of his head where six unruly hairs
always persisted in sticking straight out in defiance of patient
brushing, wetting, and greasing. Tyler Kamps was as tired as only a boy
can be at 9.30 P.M. who has risen at 5.30 A.M. Yet he lay wide awake in
his hammock eight feet above the ground, like a giant silk-worm in an
incredible cocoon and listened to the sleep-sounds that came from the
depths of two hundred similar cocoons suspended at regular intervals
down the long dark room. A chorus of deep regular breathing, with an
occasional grunt or sigh, denoting complete relaxation. Tyler Kamps
should have been part of this chorus, himself. Instead he lay staring
into the darkness, thinking mad thoughts of which this is a sample:
“Gosh! Wouldn't I like to sit up in my hammock and give one yell!
The kind of a yell a movie cowboy gives on a Saturday night. Wake 'em
up and stop that—darned old breathing.”
Nerves. He breathed deeply himself, once or twice, because it
seemed, somehow to relieve his feeling of irritation. And in that
unguarded moment of unconscious relaxation Sleep, that had been lying
in wait for him just around the corner, pounced on him and claimed him
for its own. From his hammock came the deep, regular inhalation,
exhalation, with an occasional grunt or sigh. The normal sleep-sounds
of a very tired boy.
The trouble with Tyler Kamps was that he missed two things he hadn't
expected to miss at all. And he missed not at all the things he had
been prepared to miss most hideously.
First of all, he had expected to miss his mother. If you had known
Stella Kamps you could readily have understood that. Stella Kamps was
the kind of mother they sing about in the sentimental ballads; mother,
pal, and sweetheart. Which was where she had made her big mistake. When
one mother tries to be all those things to one son that son has a very
fair chance of turning out a mollycoddle. The war was probably all that
saved Tyler Kamps from such a fate.
In the way she handled this son of hers Stella Kamps had been as
crafty and skilful and velvet-gloved as a girl with her beau. The proof
of it is that Tyler had never known he was being handled. Some folks in
Marvin, Texas, said she actually flirted with him, and they were almost
justified. Certainly the way she glanced up at him from beneath her
lashes was excused only by the way she scolded him if he tracked up the
kitchen floor. But then, Stella Kamps and her boy were different,
anyway. Marvin folks all agreed about that. Flowers on the table at
meals. Sitting over the supper things talking and laughing for an hour
after they'd finished eating, as if they hadn't seen each other in
years. Reading out loud to each other, out of books and then going on
like mad about what they'd just read, and getting all het up about it.
And sometimes chasing each other around the yard, spring evenings, like
a couple of fool kids. Honestly, if a body didn't know Stella Kamps so
well, and what a fight she had put up to earn a living for herself and
the boy after that good-for-nothing Kamps up and left her, and what a
housekeeper she was, and all, a person'd think—well—
So, then, Tyler had expected to miss her first of all. The way she
talked. The way she fussed around him without in the least seeming to
fuss. Her special way of cooking things. Her laugh which drew laughter
in its wake. The funny way she had of saying things, vitalising
commonplaces with the spark of her own electricity.
And now he missed her only as the average boy of twenty-one misses
the mother he has been used to all his life. No more and no less. Which
would indicate that Stella Kamps, in her protean endeavours, had
overplayed the parts just a trifle.
He had expected to miss the boys at the bank. He had expected to
miss the Mandolin Club. The Mandolin Club met, officially, every
Thursday and spangled the Texas night with their tinkling. Five rather
dreamy-eyed adolescents slumped in stoop-shouldered comfort over the
instruments cradled in their arms, each right leg crossed limply over
the left, each great foot that dangled from the bony ankle, keeping
rhythmic time to the plunketty-plink-tinketty-plunk.
He had expected to miss the familiar faces on Main Street. He had
even expected to miss the neighbours with whom he and his mother had so
rarely mingled. All the hundred little, intimate, trivial, everyday
things that had gone to make up his life back home in Marvin,
Texas—these he had expected to miss.
And he didn't.
After ten weeks at the Great Central Naval Training Station so near
Chicago, Illinois, and so far from Marvin, Texas, there were two things
He wanted the decent privacy of his small quiet bedroom back home.
He wanted to talk to a girl.
He knew he wanted the first, definitely. He didn't know he wanted
the second. The fact that he didn't know it was Stella Kamps' fault.
She had kept his boyhood girlless, year and year, by sheer force of her
own love for him, and need of him, and by the charm and magnetism that
were hers. She had been deprived of a more legitimate outlet for these
emotions. Concentrated on the boy, they had sufficed for him. The
Marvin girls had long ago given him up as hopeless. They fell back,
baffled, their keenest weapons dulled by the impenetrable armour of his
The room? It hadn't been much of a room, as rooms go. Bare, clean,
asceptic, with a narrow, hard white bed and a maple dresser whose
second drawer always stuck and came out zig-zag when you pulled it; and
a swimmy mirror that made one side of your face look sort of lumpy, and
higher than the other side. In one corner a bookshelf. He had made it
himself at manual training. When he had finished it—the planing, the
staining, the polishing—Chippendale himself, after he had designed and
executed his first gracious, wide-seated, back-fitting chair, could
have felt no finer creative glow. As for the books it held, just to run
your eye over them was like watching Tyler Kamps grow up. Stella Kamps
had been a Kansas school teacher in the days before she met and married
Clint Kamps. And she had never quite got over it. So the book case
contained certain things that a fond mother (with a teaching past)
would think her small son ought to enjoy. Things like “Tom Brown At
Rugby” and “Hans Brinker, Or the Silver Skates.” He had read them,
dutifully, but they were as good as new. No thumbed pages, no ragged
edges, no creases and tatters where eager boy hands had turned a page
over—hastily. No, the thumb-marked, dog's-eared, grimy ones were, as
always, “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” and “Marching Against the
A hot enough little room in the Texas summers. A cold enough little
room in the Texas winters. But his own. And quiet. He used to lie there
at night, relaxed, just before sleep claimed him, and he could almost
feel the soft Texas night enfold him like a great, velvety, invisible
blanket, soothing him, lulling him. In the morning it had been pleasant
to wake up to its bare, clean whiteness, and to the tantalising
breakfast smells coming up from the kitchen below. His mother calling
from the foot of the narrow wooden stairway:
“Ty-ler!,” rising inflection. “Ty-ler,” falling
inflection. “Get up, son! Breakfast'll be ready.”
It was always a terrific struggle between a last delicious stolen
five minutes between the covers, and the scent of the coffee and bacon.
“Ty-ler! You'll be late!”
A mighty stretch. A gathering of his will forces. A swing of his
long legs over the side of the bed so that they described an arc in the
“Been up years.”
Breakfast had won.
Until he came to the Great Central Naval Training Station Tyler's
nearest approach to the nautical life had been when, at the age of six,
he had sailed chips in the wash tub in the back yard. Marvin, Texas, is
five hundred miles inland. And yet he had enlisted in the navy as
inevitably as though he had sprung from a long line of Vikings. In his
boyhood his choice of games had always been pirate. You saw him, a red
handkerchief binding his brow, one foot advanced, knee bent, scanning
the horizon for the treasure island from the vantage point of the
woodshed roof, while the crew, gone mad with thirst, snarled and
shrieked all about him, and the dirt yard below became a hungry,
roaring sea. His twelve-year-old vocabulary boasted such compound
difficulties as mizzentopsail-yard and main-topgallantmast. He knew the
intricate parts of a full-rigged ship from the mainsail to the deck,
from the jib-boom to the chart-house. All this from pictures and books.
It was the roving, restless spirit of his father in him, I suppose.
Clint Kamps had never been meant for marriage. When the baby Tyler was
one year old Clint had walked over to where his wife sat, the child in
her lap, and had tilted her head back, kissed her on the lips, and had
gently pinched the boy's roseleaf cheek with a quizzical forefinger and
thumb. Then, indolently, negligently, gracefully, he had strolled out
of the house, down the steps, into the hot and dusty street and so on
and on and out of their lives. Stella Kamps had never seen him again.
Her letters back home to her folks in Kansas were triumphs of bravery
and bare-faced lying. The kind of bravery, and the kind of lying that
only a woman could understand. She managed to make out, somehow, at
first. And later, very well indeed. As the years went on she and the
boy lived together in a sort of closed corporation paradise of their
own. At twenty-one Tyler, who had gone through grammar school, high
school and business college had never kissed a girl or felt a
love-pang. Stella Kamps kept her age as a woman does whose brain and
body are alert and busy. When Tyler first went to work in the Texas
State Savings Bank of Marvin the girls would come in on various
pretexts just for a glimpse of his charming blondeur behind the little
cage at the rear. It is difficult for a small-town girl to think of
reasons for going into a bank. You have to be moneyed to do it. They
say that the Davies girl saved up nickels until she had a dollar's
worth and then came into the bank and asked to have a bill in exchange
for it. They gave her one—a crisp, new, crackly dollar bill. She
reached for it, gropingly, her eyes fixed on a point at the rear of the
bank. Two days later she came in and brazenly asked to have it changed
into nickels again. She might have gone on indefinitely thus if Tyler's
country hadn't given him something more important to do than to change
dollars into nickels and back again.
On the day he left for the faraway naval training station Stella
Kamps for the second time in her life had a chance to show the stuff
she was made of, and showed it. Not a whimper. Down at the train,
standing at the car window, looking up at him and smiling, and saying
futile, foolish, final things, and seeing only his blond head among the
many thrust out of the open window.
“... and Tyler, remember what I said about your feet. You know.
Dry.... And I'll send a box every week, only don't eat too many of the
nut cookies. They're so rich. Give some to the other—yes, I know you
will. I was just ... Won't it be grand to be right there on the water
all the time! My!... I'll write every night and then send it twice a
week.... I don't suppose you ... Well once a week, won't you, dear?...
You're—you're moving. The train's going! Good-b—” she ran along with
it for a few feet, awkwardly, as a woman runs. Stumblingly.
And suddenly, as she ran, his head always just ahead of her, she
thought, with a great pang:
“O my God, how young he is! How young he is, and he doesn't know
anything. I should have told him.... Things.... He doesn't know
anything about ... and all those other men—”
She ran on, one arm outstretched as though to hold him a moment
longer while the train gathered speed. “Tyler!” she called, through the
din and shouting. “Tyler, be good! Be good!” He only saw her lips
moving, and could not hear, so he nodded his head, and smiled, and
waved, and was gone.
So Tyler Kamps had travelled up to Chicago. Whenever they passed a
sizable town they had thrown open the windows and yelled, “Youp!
People had rushed to the streets and had stood there gazing after
the train. Tyler hadn't done much youping at first, but in the later
stages of the journey he joined in to keep his spirits up. He, who had
never been more than a two-hours' ride from home was flashing past
villages, towns, cities—hundreds of them.
The first few days had been unbelievably bad, what with typhoid
inoculations, smallpox vaccinations, and loneliness. The very first
day, when he had entered his barracks one of the other boys, older in
experience, misled by Tyler's pink and white and gold colouring, had
leaned forward from amongst a group and had called in glad surprise, at
the top of a leathery pair of lungs:
“Why, hello, sweetheart!” The others had taken it up with cruelty of
their age. “Hello, sweetheart!” It had stuck. Sweetheart. In the hard
years that followed—years in which the blood-thirsty and piratical
games of his boyhood paled to the mildest of imaginings—the nickname
still clung, long after he had ceased to resent it; long after he had
stripes and braid to refute it.
But in that Tyler Kamps we are not interested. It is the boy Tyler
Kamps with whom we have to do. Bewildered, lonely, and a little
resentful. Wondering where the sea part of it came in. Learning to say
“on the station” instead of “at the station,” the idea being that the
great stretch of land on which the station was located was not really
land, but water; and the long wooden barracks not really barracks at
all, but ships. Learning to sleep in a hammock (it took him a full
week). Learning to pin back his sailor collar to save soiling the white
braid on it (that meant scrubbing). Learning—but why go into detail?
One sentence covers it.
Tyler met Gunner Moran. Moran, tattooed, hairy-armed, hairy-chested
as a gorilla and with something of the sadness and humour of the
gorilla in his long upper lip and short forehead. But his eyes did not
bear out the resemblance. An Irish blue; bright, unravaged; clear
beacon lights in a rough and storm-battered countenance. Gunner Moran
wasn't a gunner at all, or even a gunner's mate, but just a seaman who
knew the sea from Shanghai to New Orleans; from Liverpool to Barcelona.
His knowledge of knots and sails and rifles and bayonets and fists was
a thing to strike you dumb. He wasn't the stuff of which officers are
made. But you should have seen him with a Springfield! Or a bayonet! A
bare twenty-five, Moran, but with ten years' sea experience. Into those
ten years he had jammed a lifetime of adventure. And he could do
expertly all the things that Tyler Kamps did amateurishly. In a
barrack, or in a company street, the man who talks the loudest is the
man who has the most influence. In Tyler's barrack Gunner Moran was
Because of what he knew they gave him two hundred men at a time and
made him company commander, without insignia or official position. In
rank, he was only a “gob” like the rest of them. In influence a
captain. Moran knew how to put the weight lunge behind the bayonet. It
was a matter of balance, of poise, more than of muscle.
Up in the front of his men, “G'wan,” he would yell. “Whatddye think
you're doin'! Tickling 'em with a straw! That's a bayonet you got
there, not a tennis rackit. You couldn't scratch your initials on a
Fritz that way. Put a little guts into it. Now then!”
He had been used to the old Krag, with a cam that jerked out, and
threw back, and fed one shell at a time. The new Springfield, that was
a gloriously functioning thing in its simplicity, he regarded with a
sort of reverence and ecstasy mingled. As his fingers slid lightly,
caressingly along the shining barrel they were like a man's fingers
lingering on the soft curves of a woman's throat. The sight of a rookie
handling this metal sweetheart clumsily filled him with fury.
“Whatcha think you got there, you lubber, you! A section o' lead
pipe! You ought t' be back carryin' a shovel, where you belong. Here.
Just a touch. Like that. See? Easy now.”
He could box like a professional. They put him up against Slovatsky,
the giant Russian, one day. Slovatsky put up his two huge hands, like
hams, and his great arms, like iron beams and looked down on this
lithe, agile bantam that was hopping about at his feet. Suddenly the
bantam crouched, sprang, and recoiled like a steel trap. Something had
crashed up against Slovatsky's chin. Red rage shook him. He raised his
sledge-hammer right for a slashing blow. Moran was directly in the path
of it. It seemed that he could no more dodge it than he could hope to
escape an onrushing locomotive, but it landed on empty air, with Moran
around in back of the Russian, and peering impishly up under his arm.
It was like an elephant worried by a mosquito. Then Moran's lightning
right shot out again, smartly, and seemed just to tap the great hulk on
the side of the chin. A ludicrous look of surprise on Slovatsky's face
before he crumpled and crashed.
This man it was who had Tyler Kamps' admiration. It was more than
admiration. It was nearer adoration. But there was nothing unnatural or
unwholesome about the boy's worship of this man. It was a legitimate
thing, born of all his fatherless years; years in which there had been
no big man around the house who could throw farther than Tyler, and eat
more, and wear larger shoes and offer more expert opinion. Moran
accepted the boy's homage with a sort of surly graciousness.
In Tyler's third week at the Naval Station mumps developed in his
barracks and they were quarantined. Tyler escaped the epidemic but he
had to endure the boredom of weeks of quarantine. At first they took it
as a lark, like schoolboys. Moran's hammock was just next Tyler's. On
his other side was a young Kentuckian named Dabney Courtney. The
barracks had dubbed him Monicker the very first day. Monicker had a
rather surprising tenor voice. Moran a salty bass. And Tyler his
mandolin. The trio did much to make life bearable, or unbearable,
depending on one's musical knowledge and views. The boys all sang a
great deal. They bawled everything they knew, from “Oh, You Beautiful
Doll” and “Over There” to “The End of a Perfect Day.” The latter, ad
nauseum. They even revived “Just Break the News to Mother” and
seemed to take a sort of awful joy in singing its dreary words and
mournful measures. They played everything from a saxophone to a
harmonica. They read. They talked. And they grew so sick of the sight
of one another that they began to snap and snarl.
Sometimes they gathered round Moran and he told them tales they only
half believed. He had been in places whose very names were exotic and
oriental, breathing of sandalwood, and myrrh, and spices and aloes.
They were places over which a boy dreams in books of travel. Moran
bared the vivid tattooing on hairy arms and chest—tattooing
representing anchors, and serpents, and girls' heads, and hearts with
arrows stuck through them. Each mark had its story. A broad-swathed
gentleman indeed, Gunner Moran. He had an easy way with him that made
you feel provincial and ashamed. It made you ashamed of not knowing the
sort of thing you used to be ashamed of knowing.
Visiting day was the worst. They grew savage, somehow, watching the
mothers and sisters and cousins and sweethearts go streaming by to the
various barracks. One of the boys to whom Tyler had never even spoken
suddenly took a picture out of his blouse pocket and showed it to
Tyler. It was a cheap little picture—one of the kind they sell two for
a quarter if one sitter; two for thirty-five if two. This was a
twosome. The boy, and a girl. A healthy, wide-awake wholesome looking
small-town girl, who has gone through high school and cuts out her own
“She's vice-president of the Silver Star Pleasure Club back home,”
the boy confided to Tyler. “I'm president. We meet every other
Tyler looked at the picture seriously and approvingly. Suddenly he
wished that he had, tucked away in his blouse, a picture of a
clear-eyed, round-cheeked vice-president of a pleasure club. He took
out his mother's picture and showed it.
“Oh, yeh,” said the boy, disinterestedly.
The dragging weeks came to an end. The night of Tyler's restlessness
was the last night of quarantine. To-morrow morning they would be free.
At the end of the week they were to be given shore leave. Tyler had
made up his mind to go to Chicago. He had never been there.
Five thirty. Reveille.
Tyler awoke with the feeling that something was going to happen.
Something pleasant. Then he remembered, and smiled. Dabney Courtney, in
the next hammock, was leaning far over the side of his perilous perch
and delivering himself of his morning speech. Tyler did not quite
understand this young southern elegant. Monicker had two moods, both of
which puzzled Tyler. When he awoke feeling gay he would lean over the
extreme edge of his hammock and drawl, with an affected English accent:
“If this is Venice, where are the canals?”
In his less cheerful moments he would groan, heavily, “There ain't
This last had been his morning observation during their many weeks
of durance vile. But this morning he was, for the first time in many
days, enquiring about Venetian waterways.
Tyler had no pal. His years of companionship with his mother had
bred in him a sort of shyness, a diffidence. He heard the other boys
making plans for shore leave. They all scorned Waukegan, which was the
first sizable town beyond the Station. Chicago was their goal. They
were like a horde of play-hungry devils after their confinement. Six
weeks of restricted freedom, six weeks of stored-up energy made them
restive as colts.
“Goin' to Chicago, kid?” Moran asked him, carelessly. It was
“Yes. Are you?” eagerly.
“Kin a duck swim?”
At the Y.M.C.A. they had given him tickets to various free
amusements and entertainments. They told him about free canteens, and
about other places where you could get a good meal, cheap. One of the
tickets was for a dance. Tyler knew nothing of dancing. This dance was
to be given at some kind of woman's club on Michigan Boulevard. Tyler
read the card, glumly. A dance meant girls. He knew that. Why hadn't he
learned to dance?
Tyler walked down to the station and waited for the train that would
bring him to Chicago at about one o'clock. The other boys, in little
groups, or in pairs, were smoking and talking. Tyler wanted to join
them, but he did not. They seemed so sufficient unto themselves, with
their plans, and their glib knowledge of places, and amusements, and
girls. On the train they all bought sweets from the train
butcher—chocolate maraschinos, and nut bars, and molasses kisses—and
ate them as greedily as children, until their hunger for sweets was
Tyler found himself in the same car with Moran. He edged over to a
seat near him, watching him narrowly. Moran was not mingling with the
other boys. He kept aloof, his sea-blue eyes gazing out at the flat
Illinois prairie. All about him swept and eddied the currents and
counter-currents of talk.
“They say there's a swell supper in the Tower Building for fifty
“Fifty nothing. Get all you want in the Library canteen for nix.”
“Where's this dance, huh?”
“Heh, Murph! I'll shoot you a game of pool at the club.”
“Naw, I gotta date.”
Tyler's glance encountered Moran's, and rested there. Scorn curled
the Irishman's broad upper lip. “Navy! This ain't no navy no more. It's
a Sunday school, that's what! Phonographs, an' church suppers, an' pool
an' dances! It's enough t' turn a fella's stomick. Lot of Sunday school
kids don't know a sail from a tablecloth when they see it.”
He relapsed into contemptuous silence.
Tyler, who but a moment before had been envying them their
familiarity with these very things now nodded and smiled understanding
at Moran. “That's right,” he said. Moran regarded him a moment,
curiously. Then he resumed his staring out of the window. You would
never have guessed that in that bullet head there was bewilderment and
resentment almost equalling Tyler's, but for a much different reason.
Gunner Moran was of the old navy—the navy that had been despised and
spat upon. In those days his uniform alone had barred him from decent
theatres, decent halls, decent dances, contact with decent people. They
had forced him to a knowledge of the burlesque houses, the cheap
theatres, the shooting galleries, the saloons, the dives. And now,
bewilderingly, the public had right-about faced. It opened its doors to
him. It closed its saloons to him. It sought him out. It offered him
amusement. It invited him to its home, and sat him down at its table,
and introduced him to its daughter.
“Nix!” said Gunner Moran, and spat between his teeth. “Not f'r me. I
pick me own lady friends.”
Gunner Moran was used to picking his own lady friends. He had picked
them in wicked Port Said, and in Fiume; in Yokohama and Naples. He had
picked them unerringly, and to his taste, in Cardiff, and Hamburg, and
When the train drew in at the great Northwestern station shed he was
down the steps and up the long platform before the wheels had ceased
Tyler came down the steps slowly. Blue uniforms were streaming past
him—a flood of them. White leggings twinkled with the haste of their
wearers. Caps, white or blue, flowed like a succession of rippling
waves and broke against the great doorway, and were gone.
In Tyler's town, back home in Marvin, Texas, you knew the train
numbers and their schedules, and you spoke of them by name, familiarly
and affectionately, as Number Eleven and Number Fifty-five. “I reckon
Fifty-five'll be late to-day, on account of the storm.”
Now he saw half a dozen trains lined up at once, and a dozen more
tracks waiting, empty. The great train shed awed him. The vast columned
waiting room, the hurrying people, the uniformed guards gave him a
feeling of personal unimportance. He felt very negligible, and useless,
and alone. He stood, a rather dazed blue figure, in the vastness of
that shining place. A voice—the soft, cadenced voice of the
“Lookin' fo' de sailors' club rooms?”
Tyler turned. A toothy, middle-aged, kindly negro in a uniform and
red cap. Tyler smiled friendlily. Here was a human he could feel at
ease with. Texas was full of just such faithful, friendly types of
“Reckon I am, uncle. Show me the way?”
Red Cap chuckled and led the way. “Knew you was f'om de south minute
Ah see yo'. Cain't fool me. Le'ssee now. You-all f'om—?”
“I'm from the finest state in the Union. The most glorious state in
“H'm—Texas,” grinned Red Cap.
“How did you know!”
“Ah done heah 'em talk befoh, son. Ah done heah 'em talk be-foh.”
It was a long journey through the great building to the section that
had been set aside for Tyler and boys like him. Tyler wondered how any
one could ever find it alone. When the Red Cap left him, after showing
him the wash rooms, the tubs for scrubbing clothes, the steam dryers,
the bath-tubs, the lunch room, Tyler looked after him regretfully. Then
he sped after him and touched him on the arm.
“Listen. Could I—would they—do you mean I could clean up in
there—as much as I wanted? And wash my things? And take a bath in a
bathtub, with all the hot water I want?”
“Yo' sho' kin. On'y things look mighty grabby now. Always is
Sat'days. Jes' wait aroun' an' grab yo' tu'n.”
Tyler waited. And while he waited he watched to see how the other
boys did things. He saw how they scrubbed their uniforms with scrubbing
brushes, and plenty of hot water and soap. He saw how they hung them
carefully, so that they might not wrinkle, in the dryers. He saw them
emerge, glowing, from the tub rooms. And he waited, the fever of
cleanliness burning in his eye.
His turn came. He had waited more than an hour, reading, listening
to the phonograph and the electric piano, and watching.
Now he saw his chance and seized it. And then he went through a
ceremony that was almost a ritual. Stella Kamps, could she have seen
it, would have felt repaid for all her years of soap-and-water
First he washed out the stationary tub with soap, and brush, and
scalding water. Then he scalded the brush. Then the tub again. Then,
deliberately, and with the utter unconcern of the male biped he
divested himself, piece by piece, of every stitch of covering wherewith
his body was clothed. And he scrubbed them all. He took off his white
leggings and his white cap and scrubbed those, first. He had seen the
other boys follow that order of procedure. Then his flapping blue
flannel trousers, and his blouse. Then his underclothes, and his socks.
And finally he stood there, naked and unabashed, slim, and pink and
silver as a mountain trout. His face, as he bent over the steamy tub,
was very red, and moist and earnest. His yellow hair curled in little
damp ringlets about his brow. Then he hung his trousers and blouse in
the dryers without wringing them (wringing, he had been told, wrinkled
them). He rinsed and wrung, and flapped the underclothes, though, and
shaped his cap carefully, and spread his leggings, and hung those in
the dryer, too. And finally, with a deep sigh of accomplishment, he
filled one of the bathtubs in the adjoining room—filled it to the
slopping-over point with the luxurious hot water, and he splashed about
in this, and reclined in it, gloriously, until the waiting ones
threatened to pull him out. Then he dried himself and issued forth all
flushed and rosy. He wrapped himself in a clean coarse sheet, for his
clothes would not be dry for another half hour. Swathed in the sheet
like a Roman senator he lay down on one of the green velvet couches,
relics of past Pullman glories, and there, with the rumble and roar of
steel trains overhead, with the smart click of the billiard balls
sounding in his ears, with the phonograph and the electric piano going
full blast, with the boys dancing and larking all about the big room,
he fell sound asleep as only a boy cub can sleep.
When he awoke an hour later his clothes were folded in a neat pile
by the deft hand of some jackie impatient to use the drying space for
his own garments. Tyler put them on. He stood before a mirror and
brushed his hair until it glittered. He drew himself up with the
instinctive pride and self respect that comes of fresh clean clothes
against the skin. Then he placed his absurd round hat on his head at
what he considered a fetching angle, though precarious, and sallied
forth on the streets of Chicago in search of amusement and adventure.
He found them.
Madison and Canal streets, west, had little to offer him. He sensed
that the centre of things lay to the east, so he struck out along
Madison, trying not to show the terror with which the grim, roaring,
clamorous city filled him. He jingled the small coins in his pocket and
strode along, on the surface a blithe and carefree jackie on shore
leave; a forlorn and lonely Texas boy, beneath.
It was late afternoon. His laundering, his ablutions and his nap had
taken more time than he had realised. It was a mild spring day, with
just a Lake Michigan evening snap in the air. Tyler, glancing about
alertly, nevertheless felt dreamy, and restless, and sort of melting,
like a snow-heap in the sun. He wished he had some one to talk to. He
thought of the man on the train who had said, with such easy
confidence, “I got a date.” Tyler wished that he too had a date—he who
had never had a rendezvous in his life. He loitered a moment on the
bridge. Then he went on, looking about him interestedly, and comparing
Chicago, Illinois, with Marvin, Texas, and finding the former sadly
lacking. He passed LaSalle, Clark. The streets were packed. The noise
and rush tired him, and bewildered him. He came to a moving picture
theatre—one of the many that dot the district. A girl occupied the
little ticket kiosk. She was rather a frowsy girl, not too young, and
with a certain look about the jaw. Tyler walked up to the window and
shoved his money through the little aperture. The girl fed him a pink
ticket without looking up. He stood there looking at her. Then he asked
her a question. “How long does the show take?” He wanted to see the
colour of her eyes. He wanted her to talk to him.
“'Bout a hour,” said the girl, and raised wise eyes to his.
“Thanks,” said Tyler, fervently, and smiled. No answering smile
curved the lady's lips. Tyler turned and went in. There was an alleged
comic film. Tyler was not amused. It was followed by a war picture. He
left before the show was over. He was very hungry by now. In his blouse
pocket were the various information and entertainment tickets with
which the Y.M.C.A. man had provided him. He had taken them out,
carefully, before he had done his washing. Now he looked them over. But
a dairy lunch room invited him, with its white tiling, and its pans of
baked apples, and browned beans and its coffee tank. He went in and ate
a solitary supper that was heavy on pie and cake.
When he came out to the street again it was evening. He walked over
to State Street (the wrong side). He took the dance card out of his
pocket and looked at it again. If only he had learned to dance. There'd
be girls. There'd have to be girls at a dance. He stood staring into
the red and tin-foil window display of a cigar store, turning the
ticket over in his fingers, and the problem over in his mind.
Suddenly, in his ear, a woman's voice, very soft and low. “Hello,
Sweetheart!” the voice said. His nickname! He whirled around, eagerly.
The girl was a stranger to him. But she was smiling, friendlily, and
she was pretty, too, sort of. “Hello, Sweetheart!” she said, again.
“Why, how-do, ma'am,” said Tyler, Texas fashion.
“Where you going, kid?” she asked.
Tyler blushed a little. “Well, nowhere in particular, ma'am. Just
kind of milling around.”
“Come on along with me,” she said, and linked her arm in his.
And yet Texas people were always saying easterners weren't friendly.
He felt a little uneasy, though, as he looked down into her smiling
“Hello, Sweetheart!” said a voice, again. A man's voice, this time.
Out of the cigar store came Gunner Moran, the yellow string of a
tobacco bag sticking out of his blouse pocket, a freshly rolled
cigarette between his lips.
A queer feeling of relief and gladness swept over Tyler. And then
Moran looked sharply at the girl and said, “Why, hello, Blanche!”
“Hello yourself,” answered the girl, sullenly.
“Thought you was in 'Frisco.”
“Well, I ain't.”
Moran shifted his attention from the girl to Tyler. “Friend o'
Before Tyler could open his lips to answer the girl put in, “Sure he
is. Sure I am. We been around together all afternoon.”
Tyler jerked. “Why, ma'am, I guess you've made a mistake. I never
saw you before in my life. I kind of thought when you up and spoke to
me you must be taking me for somebody else. Well, now, isn't that
The smile faded from the girl's face, and it became twisted with
fury. She glared at Moran, her lips drawn back in a snarl. “Who're you
to go buttin' into my business! This guy's a friend of mine, I tell
“Yeh? Well, he's a friend of mine, too. Me an' him had a date to
meet here right now and we're goin' over to a swell little dance on
Michigan Avenoo. So it's you who's buttin' in, Blanche, me girl.”
The girl stood twisting her handkerchief savagely. She was panting a
little. “I'll get you for this.”
“Beat it!” said Moran. He tucked his arm through Tyler's, with a
little impelling movement, and Tyler found himself walking up the
street at a smart gait, leaving the girl staring after them.
Tyler Kamps was an innocent, but he was not a fool. At what he had
vaguely guessed a moment before, he now knew. They walked along in
silence, the most ill-sorted pair that you might hope to find in all
that higgledy-piggledy city. And yet with a new, strong bond between
them. It was more than fraternal. It had something of the character of
the feeling that exists between a father and son who understand each
Man-like, they did not talk of that which they were thinking.
Tyler broke the silence.
“Do you dance?”
“Me! Dance! Well, I've mixed with everything from hula dancers to
geisha girls, not forgettin' the Barbary Coast in the old days,
but—well, I ain't what you'd rightly call a dancer. Why you askin'?”
“Because I can't dance, either. But we'll just go up and see what
it's like, anyway.”
“See wot wot's like?”
Tyler took out his card again, patiently. “This dance we're going
They had reached the Michigan Avenue address given on the card, and
Tyler stopped to look up at the great, brightly lighted building. Moran
stopped too, but for a different reason. He was staring, open-mouthed,
at Tyler Kamps.
“You mean t' say you thought I was goin'—”
He choked. “Oh, my Gawd!”
Tyler smiled at him, sweetly. “I'm kind of scared, too. But Monicker
goes to these dances and he says they're right nice. And lots of—of
pretty girls. Nice girls. I wouldn't go alone. But you—you're used to
dancing, and parties and—girls.”
He linked his arm through the other man's. Moran allowed himself to
be propelled along, dazedly. Still protesting, he found himself in the
elevator with a dozen red-cheeked, scrubbed-looking jackies. At which
point Moran, game in the face of horror, accepted the inevitable. He
gave a characteristic jerk from the belt.
“Me, I'll try anything oncet. Lead me to it.”
The elevator stopped at the ninth floor. “Out here for the jackies'
dance,” said the elevator boy.
The two stepped out with the others. Stepped out gingerly, caps in
hand. A corridor full of women. A corridor a-flutter with girls. Talk.
Laughter. Animation. In another moment the two would have turned and
fled, terrified. But in that half-moment of hesitation and bewilderment
they were lost.
A woman approached them hand outstretched. A tall, slim, friendly
looking woman, low-voiced, silk-gowned, inquiring.
“Good-evening!” she said, as if she had been haunting the halls in
the hope of their coming. “I'm glad to see you. You can check your caps
right there. Do you dance?”
Two scarlet faces. Four great hands twisting at white caps in an
agony of embarrassment. “Why, no ma'am.”
“That's fine. We'll teach you. Then you'll go into the ball room and
have a wonderful time.”
“But—” in choked accents from Moran.
“Just a minute. Miss Hall!” She beckoned a diminutive blonde in
blue. “Miss Hall, this is Mr.—ah—Mr. Moran. Thanks. And
Mr.?—yes—Mr. Kamps. Tyler Kamps. They want to learn to dance. I'll
turn them right over to you. When does your class begin?”
Miss Hall glanced at a toy watch on the tiny wrist. Instinctively
and helplessly Moran and Tyler focused their gaze on the dials that
bound their red wrists. “Starting right now,” said Miss Hall, crisply.
She eyed the two men with calm appraising gaze. “I'm sure you'll both
make wonderful dancers. Follow me.”
She turned. There was something confident, dauntless, irresistible
about the straight little back. The two men stared at it. Then at each
other. Panic was writ large on the face of each. Panic, and mutiny.
Flight was in the mind of both. Miss Hall turned, smiled, held out a
small white hand. “Come on,” she said. “Follow me.”
And the two, as though hypnotised, followed.
A fair-sized room, with a piano in one corner and groups of
fidgeting jackies in every other corner. Moran and Tyler sighed with
relief at sight of them. At least they were not to be alone in their
Miss Hall wasted no time. Slim ankles close together, head held
high, she stood in the centre of the room. “Now then, form a circle
Twenty six-foot, well-built specimens of manhood suddenly became
shambling hulks. They clumped forward, breathing hard, and smiling
mirthlessly, with an assumption of ease that deceived no one, least of
all, themselves. “A little lively, please. Don't look so scared. I'm
not a bit vicious. Now then, Miss Weeks! A fox trot.”
Miss Weeks, at the piano, broke into spirited strains. The first
faltering steps in the social career of Gunner Moran and Tyler Kamps
To an onlooker, it might have been mirth-provoking if it hadn't
been, somehow, tear-compelling. The thing that little Miss Hall was
doing might have seemed trivial to one who did not know that it was
magnificent. It wasn't dancing merely that she was teaching these
awkward, serious, frightened boys. She was handing them a key that
would unlock the social graces. She was presenting them with a magic
something that would later act as an open sesame to a hundred
She was strictly business, was Miss Hall. No nonsense about her.
“One-two-three-four! And a one-two three-four.
One-two-three-four! And a turn-two, turn-four. Now then,
all together. Just four straight steps as if you were walking down the
street. That's it! One-two-three-four! Don't look at me. Look at my
feet. And a one-two three-four.”
Red-faced, they were. Very earnest. Pathetically eager and docile.
Weeks of drilling had taught them to obey commands. To them the little
dancing teacher whose white spats twinkled so expertly in the tangle of
their own clumsy clumping boots was more than a pretty girl. She was
knowledge. She was power. She was the commanding officer. And like
children they obeyed.
Moran's Barbary Coast experience stood him in good stead now, though
the stern and watchful Miss Hall put a quick stop to a certain tendency
toward shoulder work. Tyler possessed what is known as a rhythm sense.
An expert whistler is generally a natural dancer. Stella Kamps had
always waited for the sound of his cheerful whistle as he turned the
corner of Vernon Street. High, clear, sweet, true, he would approach
his top note like a Tettrazini until, just when you thought he could
not possibly reach that dizzy eminence he did reach it, and held it,
and trilled it, bird-like, in defiance of the laws of vocal
His dancing was much like that. Never a half-beat behind the
indefatigable Miss Weeks. It was a bit laboured, at first, but it was
true. Little Miss Hall, with the skilled eye of the specialist, picked
him at a glance.
“You've danced before?”
“Take the head of the line, please. Watch Mr. Kamps. Now then, all
And they were off again.
At 9.45 Tyler Kamps and Gunner Moran were standing in the crowded
doorway of the ballroom upstairs, in a panic lest some girl should ask
them to dance; fearful lest they be passed by. Little Miss Hall had
brought them to the very door, had left them there with a stern
injunction not to move, and had sped away in search of partners for
Gunner Moran's great scarlet hands were knotted into fists. His
Adam's apple worked convulsively.
“Le's duck,” he whispered hoarsely. The jackie band in the corner
crashed into the opening bars of a fox trot.
“Oh, it don't seem—” But it was plain that Tyler was weakening.
Another moment and they would have turned and fled. But coming toward
them was little Miss Hall, her blonde head bobbing in and out among the
swaying couples. At her right and left was a girl. Her bright eyes held
her two victims in the doorway. They watched her approach, and were
helpless to flee. They seemed to be gripped by a horrible fascination.
Their limbs were fluid.
A sort of groan rent Moran. Miss Hall and the two girls stood before
them, cool, smiling, unruffled.
“Miss Cunningham, this is Mr. Tyler Kamps. Mr. Moran, Miss
Cunningham. Miss Drew—Mr. Moran, Mr. Kamps.”
The boy and the man gulped, bowed, mumbled something.
“Would you like to dance?” said Miss Cunningham, and raised limpid
eyes to Tyler's.
“Why—I—you see I don't know how. I just started to—”
“Oh, that's all right,” Miss Cunningham interrupted,
cheerfully. “We'll try it.” She stood in position and there seemed to
radiate from her a certain friendliness, a certain assurance and
understanding that was as calming as it was stimulating. In a sort of
daze Tyler found himself moving over the floor in time to the music. He
didn't know that he was being led, but he was. She didn't try to talk.
He breathed a prayer of thanks for that. She seemed to know, somehow,
about those four straight steps and two to the right and two to the
left, and four again, and turn-two, turn-four. He didn't know that he
was counting aloud, desperately. He didn't even know, just then, that
this was a girl he was dancing with. He seemed to move automatically,
like a marionette. He never was quite clear about those first ten
minutes of his ballroom experience.
The music ceased. A spat of applause. Tyler mopped his head, and his
hands, and applauded too, like one in a dream. They were off again for
Five minutes later he found himself seated next Miss Cunningham in a
chair against the wall. And for the first time since their meeting the
mists of agony cleared before his gaze and he saw Miss Cunningham as a
tall, slim, dark-haired girl, with a glint of mischief in her eye, and
a mouth that looked as if she were trying to keep from smiling.
“Why don't you?” Tyler asked, and was aghast.
“Why don't I what?”
“Smile if you want to.”
At which the glint in her eye and the hidden smile on her lips sort
of met and sparked and she laughed. Tyler laughed, too, and then they
laughed together and were friends.
Miss Cunningham's conversation was the kind of conversation that a
nice girl invariably uses in putting at ease a jackie whom she has just
met at a war recreation dance. Nothing could have been more commonplace
or unoriginal, but to Tyler Kamps the brilliance of a Madame de Stael
would have sounded trivial and uninteresting in comparison.
“Where are you from?”
“Why, I'm from Texas, ma'am. Marvin, Texas.”
“Is that so? So many of the boys are from Texas. Are you out at the
station or on one of the boats?”
“I'm on the Station. Yes ma'am.”
“Do you like the navy?”
“Yes ma'am, I do. I sure do. You know there isn't a drafted man in
the navy. No ma'am! We're all enlisted men.”
“When do you think the war will end, Mr. Kamps?”
He told her, gravely. He told her many other things. He told her
about Texas, at length and in detail, being a true son of that
Brobdingnagian state. Your Texan born is a walking mass of statistics.
Miss Cunningham made a sympathetic and interested listener. Her brown
eyes were round and bright with interest. He told her that the distance
from Texas to Chicago was only half as far as from here to there in the
state of Texas itself. Yes ma'am! He had figures about tons of
grain, and heads of horses and herds of cattle. Why, say, you could
take little ol' meachin' Germany and tuck it away in a corner of Texas
and you wouldn't any more know it was there than if it was somebody's
poor no-'count ranch. Why, Big Y ranch alone would make the whole
country of Germany look like a cattle grazin' patch. It was bigger than
all those countries in Europe strung together, and every man in Texas
would rather fight than eat. Yes ma'am. Why, you couldn't hold 'em.
“My!” breathed Miss Cunningham.
They danced again. Miss Cunningham introduced him to some other
girls, and he danced with them, and they in turn asked him about the
station, and Texas, and when he thought the war would end. And
altogether he had a beautiful time of it, and forgot completely and
entirely about Gunner Moran. It was not until he gallantly escorted
Miss Cunningham downstairs for refreshments that he remembered his
friend. He had procured hot chocolate for himself and Miss Cunningham;
and sandwiches, and delectable chunks of caramel cake. And they were
talking, and eating, and laughing and enjoying themselves hugely, and
Tyler had gone back for more cake at the urgent invitation of the
white-haired, pink-cheeked woman presiding at the white-clothed table
in the centre of the charming room. And then he had remembered. A look
of horror settled down over his face. He gasped.
“W-what's the matter?” demanded Miss Cunningham.
“My—my friend. I forgot all about him.” He regarded her with
“Oh, that's all right,” Miss Cunningham assured him for the second
time that evening. “We'll just go and find him. He's probably forgotten
all about you, too.”
And for the second time she was right. They started on their quest.
It was a short one. Off the refreshment room was a great, gracious
comfortable room all deep chairs, and soft rugs, and hangings, and
pictures and shaded lights. All about sat pairs and groups of sailors
and girls, talking, and laughing and consuming vast quantities of cake.
And in the centre of just such a group sat Gunner Moran, lolling at his
ease in a rosy velvet-upholstered chair. His little finger was crookt
elegantly over his cup. A large and imposing square of chocolate cake
in the other hand did not seem to cramp his gestures as he talked.
Neither did the huge bites with which he was rapidly demolishing it
seem in the least to stifle his conversation. Four particularly pretty
girls, and two matrons surrounded him. And as Tyler and Miss Cunningham
approached him he was saying, “Well, it's got so I can't sleep in
anything but a hammick. Yessir! Why, when I was fifteen years
old I was—” He caught Tyler's eye. “Hello!” he called, genially. “Meet
me friend.” This to the bevy surrounding him. “I was just tellin' these
And he was off again. All the tales that he told were not
necessarily true. But that did not detract from their thrill. Moran's
audience grew as he talked. And he talked until he and Tyler had to run
all the way to the Northwestern station for the last train that would
get them on the Station before shore leave expired. Moran, on leaving,
shook hands like a presidential candidate.
“I never met up with a finer bunch of ladies,” he assured them,
again and again. “Sure I'm comin' back again. Ask me. I've had a
elegant time. Elegant. I never met a finer bunch of ladies.”
They did not talk much in the train, he and Tyler. It was a sleepy
lot of boys that that train carried back to the Great Central Naval
Station. Tyler was undressed and in his hammock even before Moran, the
expert. He would not have to woo sleep to-night. Finally Moran, too,
had swung himself up to his precarious nest and relaxed with a tired,
Quiet again brooded over the great dim barracks. Tyler felt himself
slipping off to sleep, deliciously. She would be there next Saturday.
Her first name, she had said, was Myrtle. An awful pretty name for a
girl. Just about the prettiest he had ever heard. Her folks invited
jackies to dinner at the house nearly every Sunday. Maybe, if they gave
him thirty-six hours' leave next time—
“Hey, Sweetheart!” sounded in a hissing whisper from Moran's
“Say, was that four steps and then turn-turn, or four and two steps
t' the side? I kinda forgot.”
“O, shut up!” growled Monicker, from the other side. “Let a fellow
sleep, can't you! What do you think this is? A boarding school!”
“Shut up yourself!” retorted Tyler, happily. “It's four steps, and
two to the right and two to the left, and four again, and turn two,
“I was pretty sure,” said Moran, humbly. And relaxed again.
Quiet settled down upon the great room. There were only the sounds
of deep regular breathing, with an occasional grunt or sigh. The normal
sleep sounds of very tired boys.