Just Around the Corner
by Fannie Hurst
[Illustration: IT'S ALL RIGHT, DEAREST; THIS IS YOUR SURPRISE [See
JUST AROUND THE CORNER
ROMANCE en casserole
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
COPYRIGHT, 1914, BY HARPER & BROTHERS
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER, 1914
THE OTHER CHEEK
IT'S ALL RIGHT, DEAREST; THIS IS YOUR SURPRISE Frontispiece
SHE HELD UP A HAND AS LIGHT AS A LEAF, AND HE TOOK
IT IN A WIDE, GENTLE CLASP THAT ENVELOPED IT Facing p.
HELLO! HE WHISPERED, EXTENDING BOTH HANDS AND
SMILING AT HER UNTIL ALL HIS TEETH SHOWED 328
I WENT OVER TO LOO'S, AND WE STAYED UP AND TALKED
SO LATEI DIDN'T KNOW 360
JUST AROUND THE CORNER
POWER AND HORSE-POWER
In the Knockerbeck Hotel there are various parlors; Pompeian rooms
lined in marble and pillared in chaste fluted columns; Louis Quinze
corners, gold-leafed and pink-brocaded, principally furnished with a
spindly-legged Vernis-Martin cabinet and a large French clock in the
form of a celestial sphere surmounted by a gold cupid.
There are high-ceilinged rendezvous rooms, with six arm and two
straight chairs chased after the manner of Gouthière, and a series of
small inlaid writing-desks, generously equipped for an avidious public
to whom the crest-embossed stationery of a four-dollar-a-day-up hotel
suggests long-forgotten friends back home.
Just off the lobby is the Oriental room, thick with arabesque
hangings and incense and distinguished by the famous pair of Chinese
famille rose mandarin jars, fifty-three inches high and enameled with
Hoho birds and flowers. In careful contrast the adjoining room, a
Colonial parlor paneled in black walnut and designed by a notorious
architect, is ten degrees lower in temperature and lighted by large
rectangular windows, through whose leaded panes a checkered patch of
sunshine filters across the floor for half an hour each forenoon.
Then there is the manicure parlor, done in white tile, and
stationary wash-stands by the Herman Casky Hygienic Company, Eighth
The oracle of this particular Delphi was Miss Gertrude Sprunt,
white-shirtwaisted, smooth-haired, and cool-fingered. Miss Sprunt could
tell, almost as soon as you stepped out of the elevator opposite the
parlors, the shortest cut to your hand and heart; she could glance at a
pair of cuffs and give the finger-nails a correspondingly high or
domestic finish, and could cater to the manicurial whims of Fifth
Avenue and Four Corners alike. After one digital treat at her clever
hands you enlisted as one of Miss Sprunt's regulars.
This fact was not lost upon her sister worker, Miss Ethyl Mooney.
Say, GertieMiss Mooney tied a perky little apron about her trim
waist and patted a bow into placeis there ever a mornin' that you
ain't booked clear through the day?
Miss Sprunt hung her flat sailor hat and blue jacket behind the
door, placed her hands on her hips, glanced down the length of her
svelte figure, yawned, and patted her mouth with her hand.
Not so you could notice it, she replied, in gapey tones. I'm
booked from nine to quitting just six days of the week; and, believe
me, it's not like taking the rest cure.
I guess if I was a jollier like you, Gert, I'd have a waitin'-list,
too, I wish I could get on to your system.
Maybe I give tradin'-stamps, observed Miss Sprunt, flippantly.
You give 'em some sort of laughing-gas; but me, I'm of a retiring
disposition, and I never could force myself on nobody.
Miss Gertrude flecked at herself with a whisk-broom.
Don't feel bad about it, Ethyl; just keep on trying.
Miss Ethyl flushed angrily.
Smarty! she said.
I wasn't trying to be nasty, Ethylyou're welcome to an
appointment every twenty minutes so far as I'm concerned.
Miss Ethyl appeared appeased.
You know yourself, Gert, you gotta way about you. A dollar tip
ain't nothin' for you. But look at meI've forgot there's anything
bigger'n a quarter in circulation.
There's a great deal in knowing human nature. Why, I can almost
tell a fellow's first name by looking at his half-moons.
Believe me, Gert, it ain't your glossy finish that makes the hit;
it's a way you've got of making a fellow think he's the whole show.
I do try to make myself agreeable, admitted Miss Sprunt.
Agreeable! You can look at a guy with that
Oh-I-could-just-listen-to-you-talk-for-ever expression, and by the time
you're through with him he'll want to take his tens out of the water
and sign over his insurance to you.
Manicuring is a business like anything else, said Miss Sprunt, by
no means displeased. You sure do have to cater to the trade.
Well, believe me began Miss Ethyl.
But Miss Gertrude suddenly straightened, smiled, and turned toward
Across the hall Mr. James Barker, the rubbed-down, clean-shaven
result of a Russian bath, a Swedish massage, and a bountiful American
breakfast, stepped out of a French-gold elevator and entered the
Miss Sprunt placed the backs of her hands on her hips and cocked her
head at the clock.
Good morning, Mr. Barker; you're on time to the minute.
Mr. Barker removed his black-and-white checked cap, deposited three
morning editions of evening papers atop a small glass case devoted to
the display of Madame Dupont's beautifying cold-creams and marvelous
cocoa-butters, and rubbed his hands swiftly together as if generating a
spark. A large diamond mounted in a cruelly stretched lion's mouth
glinted on Mr. Barker's left hand; a sister stone glowed like an
acetylene lamp from his scarf.
On time, eh! Leave it to your Uncle Fuller to be on time for the
big showa pretty goil can drag me from the hay quicker'n anything I
Miss Gertrude quirked the corner of one eye at Miss Ethyl in a
scarcely perceptible wink and filled a glass bowl with warm water.
That's one thing I will say for my regular customersthey never
keep me waiting; that is the beauty of having a high-class trade.
She glanced at Mr. Barker with pleasing insinuation, and they seated
themselves vis-à-vis at the little table.
Miss Sprunt surrounded herself with the implements of her
craftsmall porcelain jars of pink and white cold-creams, cakes of
powder in varying degrees of pinkness, vials of opaque liquids,
graduated series of files and scissors, large and small chamois-covered
buffers, and last the round glass bowl of tepid water cloudy with
Mr. Barker extended his large hand upon the little cushion and
sighed in satisfaction.
Go to it, sisgimme a shine like a wind-shield.
She rested his four heavy fingers lightly in her palm.
You really don't need a manicure, Mr. Barker; your hands keep the
shine better than most.
Well, I'll be hangedtryin' to learn your Uncle Fuller when to
have his own hands polished! Can you beat it? Mr. Barker's steel-blue
shaved face widened to a broad grin. Say, you're a goil after my own
hearta regular little sixty-horse-power queen.
I wasn't born yesterday, Mr. Barker.
I know you wasn't, but you can't bluff me off, kiddo. You don't
need to give me no high-power shine if you don't want to, but I've got
one dollar and forty minutes' worth of your time cornered, just the
Miss Sprunt dipped his hands into tepid water.
I knew what I said would not frighten you off, Mr. Barker. I
wouldn't have said it if I thought it would.
Mr. Barker guffawed with gusto.
Can you beat the wimmin? he cried. Can you beat the wimmin?
You want a high pink finish, don't you, Mr. Barker?
Go as far as you like, sis; give 'em to me as pink and shiny as a
Miss Sprunt gouged out a finger-tip of pink cream and applied it
lightly to the several members of his right hand. Her touch was sure
He regarded her with frankly admiring eyes.
You're some little goil, he said; you can tell me what I want
better than I know myself.
That's easy; there isn't a broker in New York who doesn't want a
high pink finish, and I've been doing brokers, actors, millionaires,
bank clerks, and Sixth Avenue swells in this hotel for three years.
He laughed delightedly, his eyes almost disappearing behind a
fretwork of fine wrinkles.
What makes you know I'm a tape-puller, kiddo? Durned if you ain't
got my number better than I got it myself.
I can tell a broker from a business man as easy as I can tell a
five-carat diamond from a gilt-edge bond.
He slid farther down on his chair and regarded her with genuine
Say, kiddo, I've been all round the worldtook a trip through
Egypt in my car last spring that I could write a book about; but I
ain't seen nothin' in the way of skirts that could touch you with a
Oh, you fellows are such jolliers!
On the level, kiddo, you're preferred stock all right, and I'd be
willin' to take a flyer any time.
Say, Mr. Barker, you'd better quit stirring the candy, or it will
turn to sugar.
Lemme tell you, Miss Gertie, I ain't guyin', and I'll prove it to
you. I'm goin' to take you out in the swellest little
ninety-horse-power speedwagon you ever seen; if you'll gimme leave I'll
set you and me up to-night to the niftiest little dinner-party on the
She filed rapidly at his thumb, bringing the nail to a pointed apex.
I'm very careful about accepting invitations, Mr. Barker.
Don't you think I can tell a genteel goil when I see her? That's
why I ain't asked you out the first time I seen you.
She kept her eyes lowered.
Of course, since you put it that way, I'll be pleased to accept
your invitation, Mr. Barker.
He struck the table with his free hand.
You're a live un, all right. How about callin' round fer you at six
She nodded assent.
Good goil! We'll keep the speedometer busy, all right!
She skidded the palms of her hands over his nails. There, she
said, that's not a bad shine.
He straightened his hands out before him and regarded them in mock
scrutiny. Those are some classy grabbers, he said; and you're some
classy little woiker.
He watched her replace the crystal stoppers in their several bottles
and fit her various commodities into place. She ranged the scissors and
files in neat graduated rows and blew powder particles off the cover
with prettily pursed lips.
That'll be about all, Mr. Barker.
He ambled reluctantly out from his chair.
You'll be here at six, then?
Will I be here at six, sis? Say, will a fish swim?
He fitted his cap carefully upon his head and pulled the vizor low
over his eyes.
So long, kiddo! He crossed the marble corridor, stepped into the
gold elevator, the filigree door snapped shut, and he shot upward.
Miss Ethyl waited a moment and then pitched her voice to a careful
note of indifference.
I'll bet the million-dollar kid asked you to elope with him.
Miss Gertrude tilted her coiffure forward and ran her amber
back-comb through her front hair.
No, she said, with the same indifference, he didn't ask me to
elope with him; he just wanted to know if I'd tour Hester Street with
him in his canoe.
I don't see no medals on you fer bein' the end man of the minstrel
show. Don't let a boat trip to Coney go to your head; you might get
Gertrude Sprunt cast her eyes ceilingward.
Well, one good thing, your brain will never cause you any trouble,
Lord, Gert, cut out the airs! You ain't livin' in the rose suite on
the tenth floor; you're only applyin' nail-polishes and cuticle-lotions
down here in the basement.
There's something else I'm doing, too, retorted Miss Gertrude,
with unruffled amiability. I'm minding my own affairs.
They fell to work again after these happy sallies, and it was late
afternoon before there came a welcome lull.
Who's your last, Gert?
Mr. Chase. There were two red spots of excitement burning on Miss
Sprunt's cheeks, and her eyes showed more black than blue.
Not that little guy with the Now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep face? Take
it from me, he's a bank clerk or a library guy. Thank Heaven, I ain't
got no cheap skates on my staff!
Miss Gertrude flushed up to her eyes.
He may be a clerk, but
Mr. Chase entered quietly. There was a gentle, even shrinking smile
upon his features, and he carried a small offering covered with purple
tissue-paper, which he placed nervously upon the edge of the table.
Good afternoon, Miss Sprunt. He pushed the greeting toward her.
May I hope that you will accept these?
Oh, Mr. Chase, aren't you good? The very quality of her voice was
suddenly different, like the softening of a violin note when you mute
He drew his chair up to the table with the quiet satisfaction of a
man ready for a well-merited meal.
You and violets are inseparable in my mind, Miss Sprunt, because
you both suggest the spring.
She laughed in low, rich tones, and her shirtwaist rose and fell
rapidly from short breathing.
Why, she said, that's the very nicest thing any one ever said to
His hand, long-fingered and virile, drooped over the edge of the
bowl into the warm water; he leaned forward with his chest against the
line of the table.
What do you mean, Miss Sprunt?
She took his dripping hand from the water and dried each finger
If you had been doing high pink finishes for three years you'd know
the difference when a dull white came alongII mean, I
He smoothed away her embarrassment with a raillery: By your polish
shall ye be known.
Yes, she replied, with more seriousness than banter; that's
exactly what I mean. I'm not used to men whose polish extends beyond
She worked with her head bent low, and he regarded the shining coils
of her hair.
How droll you are! he said.
She pushed back the half-moons of his fingers with an orange stick
dipped in cold-cream.
You ought to watch your cuticle, Mr. Chase, and be more regular
about the manicures. Your hands are more delicate than most.
Of course I should pay more attention to them, but I'm pretty busy
Of course I understand manicures are expensive luxuries these
I have become so accustomed to hotel trade that I forgot that some
hands may be earning salaries instead of drawing incomes.
Her manner was unobtrusive, and he laughed quietly.
You are quite a student of types, Miss Sprunt.
Wouldn't I have to be, Mr. Chase, me doing as many as a hundred
fingers a day, and something different coming with each ten of them?
You are delightful, he said, letting his amused eyes rest upon
her; but I fear you've mysterious methods of divination.
Oh, I don't know, she said, airily. Just take you, for example. I
don't need an X-ray to see that there isn't a Fifth Avenue tailor sign
stitched inside your coat. It doesn't take any mind-reader to know that
you come in from the Sixth Avenue entrance and not from the elevator.
Besides, when you come to live in a lobster palace you usually have
your claws done to match your shell. I'd have given you a dull
white finish without your even asking for it.
I see where I stand with you, Miss Sprunt.
Oh, it isn't that, Mr. Chase. I guess, if the truth was known, the
crawfish stand better with me than the lobsters.
Mr. Chase's fingers closed lightly over hers.
I believe you mean what you say, he said.
You bet your life I do! she said, emphasizing each word with a
buff. She looked up, met his insistent eyes, and laughed in a high,
unnatural pitch. Other hand, please, she whispered.
When he finally rose to depart she rose with him, holding her
nosegay at arm's-length and tilting her head.
It's almost time for wood violets, Miss Sprunt. I'll try to get you
Oh, don't trouble, Mr. Chase; these hothouse ones are beauties.
II'll be dropping in soon again, Miss Sprunt. I think I'll take
your advice and be more regular about my manicures.
Oh, she said, in some confusion, II didn't mean that. You can
care for them in between times yourself.
At the Sixth Avenue exit he paused.
Good night, he said, slowly.
Good night, she responded, her lips warm and parted like a
When the click of his footsteps had echoed down the marble corridor
Miss Ethyl crossed the room and indulged in several jerky sniffs at the
little floral offering. Well, whatta you know about that little tin
Willie, bringin' a goil violets in May? You better stick to the
million-dollar kid, Gert; he's the strawberries-in-December brand.
For once Miss Gertrude did not retort; her eyes, full of dreams,
were gazing past the doorway which had so recently framed the modest
figure of Mr. Chase.
Promptly at six Mr. Barker appeared for his appointment. He bespoke
the last word and epilogue in sartorial perfectionhis suit was a
trifle too brown and a trifle too creased and his carnation a bit too
large, but he radiated good cheer and perfume.
Miss Ethyl nudged Miss Gertrude excitedly.
Pipe the rig, Gert; he makes you look like a hole in a doughnut.
He entered, suave as oil.
Well, sis, ready?
Oh, Mr. Barker, you're all dressed upand look at me. I
Ah-h-h, how do you like it? Some class, eh? Guess your Uncle Fuller
ain't some hitbrand-new gear from tonneau to rear wheels.
Mr. Barker circumvolved on one heel, holding his coat-tails apart.
I blew me right fer this outfit; but it's woith the money, sis.
If I had known I'd have gone home and dressed up, too.
Well, whatta you know about that? exclaimed Mr. Barker, observing
her up and down. That there shroud you're wearing is as classy as
anything I've seen up in the lobby or any place else, and I've been all
round the woild some, too. I know the real thing from the seconds every
Miss Gertrude worked into her gloves.
I guess it is more becoming for a girl like me to go plainly.
Believe me, kiddoMr. Barker placed his hand blinker-fashion
against the side of his mouth, and his lips took on an oblique
slanttake it from me, kiddo, when it comes to real
feet-on-the-fender comfort, a nineteen-fifty suit with a extry pair of
pants thrown in can make this rig feel like a busted tire.
Well, Mr. Barker, I'm ready if you are.
He swung one arm akimbo with an outward circular movement, clicked
his heels together, and straightened his shoulders until his speckled
white vest swelled.
Hitch on, sis, and let's show Broadway we're in town!
Gertrude took a pinch of sleeve between her gloved fingers; they
fell into step. At the door she turned and nodded over one shoulder.
Good night, Ethyl dear, she said, a trifle too sweetly.
A huge mahogany-colored touring-car caparisoned in nickel and
upholstered in darker red panted and chugged at the Broadway curb. Mr.
Barker helped her into the front seat, swung himself behind the
steering-wheel, covered them over with a striped rug, and turned his
shining monster into the flux of Broadway.
Miss Gertrude leaned her head back against the upholstery and
breathed a deep-seated, satisfied sigh.
This, she said, is what I call living.
Mr. Barker grinned and let out five miles more to the hour.
I guess this ain't got the Sixth Avenue 'L' skinned a mile!
Two miles, she said.
Honest, sis, I could be arrested for what I think of the 'L.'
I know the furnishing of every third-floor front on the line, she
replied, with a dreary attempt at jocoseness.
Never mind, kiddo, I've got my eye on you, he sang, quoting from a
street song of the hour.
They sped on silently, the wind singing in their ears.
Want the shield up?
The glass front.
No, thank you, Mr. Barker; this air is good.
This old wagon can eat up the miles, all right, eh? She toured
Egypt fer two months and never turned an ankle.
To think of having traveled as you have.
Me, I'm the best little traveler you ever seen. More than once I
drove this car up a mountainside. Hold your hathere goes, kiddo.
I guess you'll think I'm slow, but this is the first time I've been
in an automobile, except once when I was sent for in a taxi-cab for a
You think you could get used to mine, kiddo? He nudged her elbow
with his free arm; she drew herself back against the cushions.
The way I feel now, she said, closing her eyes, I could ride this
way until the crack of doom.
They drew up before a flaring, electric-lighted café with an awning
extending from the entrance out to the curb. A footman swung open the
door, a doorman relieved Mr. Barker of his hat and light overcoat, a
head waiter steered them through an Arcadia of palms, flower-banked
tables, and small fountains to a mirrored corner, a lackey drew out
their chairs, a pantry boy placed crisp rolls and small pats of sweet
butter beside their plates and filled their tumblers with water from a
crystal bottle, a waiter bent almost double wrote their order on a
silver-mounted pad, and music faint as the symphony of the spheres came
to them from a small gold balcony.
Miss Gertrude removed her gloves thoughtfully.
That is what I call living, she repeated. She leaned forward, her
elbows on the table, and the little bunch of violets at her belt worked
out and fell to the floor. An attendant sprang to recover them.
Let 'em go, said Barker. He drew a heavy-headed rose from the
embankment between them and wiped its wet stem. Here's a posy that's
got them beat right.
She took it and pinned it at her throat. Thanks, she said,
glancing about her with glowing, interested eyes.
This place makes Runey's lunch-room look like a two-weeks-old
I told you I was goin' to show you the time of your life, didn't I?
Any goil that goes out with me ain't with a piker.
Gee! said Gertrude; if Ethyl could only see me now!
She sipped her water, and the ice tinkled against the frail sides of
the tumbler. A waiter swung a silver dome off a platter and served them
a steaming and unpronounceable delicacy; a woman sang from the small
gold balconylife, wine, and jewels sparkled alike.
A page with converging lines of gilt balls down the front of his
uniform passed picture post-cards, showing the café, from table to
table. Gertrude asked for a lead-pencil and wrote one to a cousin in
Montana, and Mr. Barker signed his name beneath hers.
They dallied with pink ices and French pastries, and he loudly
requested the best cigar in the place.
It's all in knowin' how to live, he explained. I've been all over
the woild, and there ain't much I don't know or ain't seen; but you
gotta know the right way to go about things.
Anybody could tell by looking at you that you are a man of the
world, said Miss Gertrude.
It was eleven o'clock when they entered the car for the homeward
spin. The cool air blew color and verve into her face; and her hair,
responding to the night damp, curled in little grape-vine tendrils
round her face.
You're some swell little goil, remarked Mr. Barker, a cigar hung
idle from one corner of his mouth.
And you are some driver! she retorted. You run a car like a real
I wouldn't own a car if I couldn't run it myself, he said. I ran
this car all through France last fall. There ain't no fun bein' steered
like a mollycoddle.
No one could ever accuse you of being a mollycoddle, Mr. Barker.
He turned and loosened the back of her seat until it reclined like a
Morris chair. My own invention, he said; to lie back and watch the
stars on a clear night sort ofof gives you a hunch what's goin' on up
She looked at him in some surprise. You're clever, all right, she
said, rather seriously.
Wait till you know me better, kiddo. I'll learn you a whole lot
about me that'll surprise you.
His hand groped for hers; she drew it away gently, but her voice was
Here we are home, Mr. Barker.
In front of her lower West Side rooming-house he helped her
carefully to alight, regarding her sententiously in the flare of the
You're my style, all right, kiddo. My speedometer registers you
I'm here to tell you that you look good to me,
andandIanything on fer to-morrow night?
No, she said, softly.
Are you on?
I'll drop in and see you to-morrow, he said.
Good, she replied.
If nothin' unexpected comes up to-morrow night we'll take one swell
spin out along the Hudson Drive and have dinner at the Vista. There's
some swell scenery out along the Palisade drive when the moon comes up
and shines over the water.
Oh, Mr. Barker, that will be heavenly!
I'm some on the soft-soap stuff myself, he said.
You're full of surprises, she agreed.
I'll drop in and see you to-morrow, kiddo.
Good night, she whispered.
Good night, little sis, he replied.
They parted with a final hand-shake; as she climbed up to her room
she heard the machine chug away.
The perfume of her rose floated about her like a delicate mist. She
undressed and went to bed into a dream-world of shimmering women and
hidden music, a world chiefly peopled by deferential waiters and
scraping lackeys. All the night through she sped in a silent
mahogany-colored touring-car, with the wind singing in her ears and
lights flashing past like meteors.
* * * * *
When Miss Gertrude arrived at the Knockerbeck parlors next morning a
little violet offering wrapped in white tissue-paper lay on her desk.
They were fresh wood violets, cool and damp with dew. She flushed and
placed them in a small glass vase behind the cold-cream case.
Her eyes were blue like the sky when you look straight up, and a
smile trembled on her lips. Ten minutes later Mr. Barker, dust-begrimed
and enveloped in a long linen duster, swaggered in. He peeled off his
stout gloves; his fingers were black-rimmed and grease-splotched.
Mornin', sis; here's a fine job for you. Took an unexpected
business trip ten miles out, and the bloomin' spark-plug got to cuttin'
up like a balky horse.
He crammed his gloves and goggles into spacious pockets and looked
at Miss Gertrude with warming eyes.
Durned if you ain't lookin' pert as a mornin'-glory to-day!
She took his fingers on her hand and regarded them reprovingly.
Shame on you, Mr. Barker, for getting yourself so mussed up! cried
Looks like I need somebody to take care of me, doan it, sis?
Yes, she agreed, unblushingly.
Once in warm water, his hands exuded the odor of gasolene. She
sniffed like a horse scenting the turf.
I'd rather have a whiff of an automobile, she remarked, than of
the best attar of roses on the market.
You ain't forgot about to-night, sis?
She lowered her eyes.
No, I haven't forgotten.
There ain't nothin' but a business engagement can keep me off. I
gotta big deal on, and I may be too busy to-night, but we'll go
That'll be all right, Mr. Barker; business before pleasure.
I'm pretty sure it'll be to-night, though. II don't like to have
to wait too long.
He reached across the table suddenly and gripped hold of her working
Say, kiddo, I like you.
Silly! she said, softly.
I ain't foolin'.
I'll be ready at six, she said, lightly. If you can't come let me
I ain't the sort to do things snide, he said. If I can't come
I'll put you wise, all right.
You certainly know how to treat a girl, she said.
Let me get to likin' a goil, and there ain't nothin' I won't do for
You sure can run a machine, Mr. Barker.
You wait till I let loose some speed along the Hudson road, and
then you'll see some real drivin'; last night wasn't nothin'.
Oh, Mr. Barker!
Call me Jim, he said.
Jim, she repeated, softly, after him.
The day was crowded with appointments. She worked unceasingly until
the nerves at the back of her head were strained and aching, and tired
shadows appeared under her eyes. The languor of spring oppressed her.
To her surprise, Mr. Chase appeared at four o'clock. At the sight of
him the point of her little scissors slipped into the unoffending
cuticle of the hand she was grooming. She motioned him to a chair along
In just a few minutes, Mr. Chase.
Thank you, he replied, seating himself and watching her with
interested, near-sighted eyes.
A nervousness sent the blood rushing to her head. The low drone of
Ethyl's voice talking to a customer, the tick of the clock, the click
and sough of the elevator were thrice magnified. She could feel the
gush of color to her face.
The fat old gentleman whose fingers she had been administering
placed a generous bonus on the table and ambled out. She turned her
burning eyes upon Mr. Chase and spoke slowly to steady her voice. She
was ashamed of her unaccountable nervousness and of the suffocating
dryness in her throat.
Ready for you, Mr. Chase.
He came toward her with a peculiar slowness of movement, a
characteristic slowness which was one of the trivial things which
burned his attractiveness into her consciousness. In the stuffiness of
her own little room she had more than once closed her eyes and
deliberately pictured him as he came toward her table, gentle yet
eager, with a deference which was new as it was delightful to her.
As he approached her she snapped a flexible file between her thumb
and forefinger, and watched it vibrate and come to a jerky stop; then
she looked up.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chase.
Good afternoon, Miss Sprunt. You see, I am following your advice.
He took the chair opposite her.
II want to thank you for the violets. They are the first real
hint of May I've had.
You knew they came from me?
WhyIwhy, I just knew.
She covered her confusion by removing and replacing crystal
I'm glad that you knew they came from me, Miss Sprunt.
Yes, I knew that they could come from no one but youthey were so
simple and natural andsweet.
She laughed a pitch too high and plunged his fingers into water some
degrees too hot. He did not wince, but she did.
Oh, Mr. Chase, forgive me. II've scalded your fingers.
Why, he replied, not taking his eyes from her face, so you have!
They both laughed.
Across the room Miss Ethyl coughed twice. I always say, she
observed to her customer, a workin'-girl can't be too careful of her
actions. That's why I am of a retiring disposition and don't try to
force myself on nobody.
Mr. Chase regarded the shadows beneath Miss Sprunt's eyes with a
pucker between his own.
You don't get much of the springtime in here, do you, Miss Sprunt?
No, she replied, smiling faintly. The only way we can tell the
seasons down here is by the midwinter Elks convention and the cloak
drummers who come to buy fur coats in July.
You poor little girl, he said, slowly. What you need is
airgood, wholesome air, and plenty of it.
Oh, I get along all right, she said, biting at her nether lip.
You're confined too closely, Miss Sprunt.
Life isn't all choice, she replied, briefly.
Forgive me, he said.
I walk home sometimes, she said.
You're fond of walking?
Yes, when I'm not too tired.
Miss Sprunt, wouldwould you walk with me this evening? I know a
quiet little place where we could dine together.
Oh, she said, II already have an engagement. I
She colored with surprise.
You have an engagement? His tones were suddenly flat.
No, she replied, in tones of sudden decision, I'd be pleased to
go with you. I can do what I planned to-night any other time.
Thank you, Miss Sprunt.
Her fingers trembled as she worked, and his suddenly closed over
You poor, tired little girl, he repeated.
She gulped down her emotions.
Miss Sprunt, this is neither the time nor the place for me to
express myself, yet somehow our great moments come when we least expect
She let her limp fingers rest in his; she was strangely calm.
I know it is always a great pleasure to have you come in, Mr.
The first time I dropped in was chance, Miss Sprunt. You can see
for yourself that I am not the sort of fellow who goes in for the
little niceties like manicures. I'm what you might call the seedy kind.
But the second time I dropped in for a manicure was not accident, nor
the third time, nor the tenthit was you.
You've been extravagant all on account of me? she parried.
I've been more than that on account of you, dear girl. I've been
consumed night and day by the sweet thought of you.
Oh-h-h! She placed one hand at her throat.
Miss Sprunt, I am not asking anything of you; I simply want you to
know me better. I want to begin to-night to try to teach you to
reciprocate the immense regardthe love I feel for you.
She closed her eyes for a moment; his firm clasp of her hand
You'll think I'm a bold girl, Mr. Chase; you'llyou'll
You'll think I'm everything I ought not to be, but youyou can't
teach me what I already know.
She nodded, swallowing back unaccountable tears.
I never let myself hope, because I didn't think there was a chance,
Dear, is it possible without knowing mewho, what I amyou
I only know you, she said, softly. That is all that
My little girl, he whispered, regarding her with unshed tears
shining in his eyes.
She placed her two hands over her face for a moment.
What is it, dear?
She burrowed deeper into her hands.
I'm so happy, she said, between her fingers.
They regarded each other with almost incredulous eyes, seeking to
probe the web of enchantment their love had woven.
I do not deserve this happiness, dearest. But his voice was a pæan
It is I who do not deserve, she said, in turn. You are tootoo
everything for me.
They talked in whispers until there were two appointees ranged along
the wall. He was loath to go; she urged him gently.
I can't work while you are here, dear; return for me at sixno,
she corrected, struck by a sudden thought, at six-thirty.
Let me wait for you, dearest, he pleaded.
She waggled a playful finger at him.
Good-by until later.
Until six-thirty, cruel one.
There is so much to be said, Gertrude dear.
He left her lingeringly. They tried to cover up their fervent,
low-voiced farewells with passive faces, but after he had departed her
every feature was lyric.
Juliet might have looked like that when her love was young.
Mr. Barker arrived, but she met him diffidently, even shamefacedly.
Before she could explain he launched forth:
I'm sorry, kiddo, but we'll have to make it to-morrow night for
that ride of ourn. That party I was tellin' you about is goin' to get
busy on that big deal, and I gotta do a lot of signin' up to-night.
Fate had carved a way for her with gentle hand.
That's all right, Mr. Barker; just don't you feel badly about it.
She felt a gush of sympathy for him; for all humanity.
You understand, kiddo, don't you? A feller's got to stick to
business as much as pleasure, and we'll hit the high places to-morrow
night, all right, all right. You're the classiest doll I've met yet.
She swallowed her distaste.
That's the right idea, Mr. Barker; business appointments are always
I'll see you to-morrow mornin', and we'll fix up some swell party.
Good night, Mr. Barker.
So long, honey.
Directly after he departed Miss Ethyl bade her good night in cold,
The goin's-on in this parlor don't make it no place for a
minister's daughter, Miss Gertie Sprunt.
Then you ought to be glad your father's a policeman, retorted her
friend, graciously. Good night, dearie.
She hummed as she put her table in order. At each footstep down the
marble corridor her pulse quickened; she placed her cheeks in her
hands, vise-fashion, to feel of their unnatural heat. When Mr. Chase
finally came they met shyly and with certain restraint. Whispering
together like diffident children, they went out, their hands lightly
touching. Broadway was already alight; the cool spring air met them
Like an exuberant lad, Mr. Chase led her to the curb. A huge,
mahogany-colored touring-car, caparisoned in nickel and upholstered in
a darker red, vibrated and snorted alongside. A chauffeur, with a
striped rug across his knees, reached back respectfully and flung open
the door. Like an automaton Gertrude placed her small foot upon the
step and paused, her dumfounded gaze confronting the equally stunned
eyes of the chauffeur. Mr. Chase aided and encouraged at her elbow.
It's all right, dearest, it's all right; this is your surprise.
Why, she gasped, her eyes never leaving the steel-blue shaved face
of the chauffeurwhyI
Mr. Chase regarded her in some anxiety. What a surprised little
girl you are! I shouldn't have taken you so unawares. He almost lifted
This machine is yours, Mr. Chase?
Yes, dear, this machine is ours.
You never told me anything.
There is little to tell, Gertrude. I have not used my cars to
amount to anything since I'm back from Egypt. I've been pretty busy
Back from Egypt!
Do not look so helpless, dear. I'm only back three months from a
trip round the world, and I've been putting up with hotel life
meanwhile. Then I happened to meet you, and as long as you had me all
sized up I just let it gothat's all, dear.
You're not the Mr. Adam Chase who's had the rose suite on the tenth
floor all winter?
That's me, he laughed.
Her slowly comprehending eyes did not leave his face.
Why, I thoughtIyou
It was my use of the private elevator on the east side of the
building that gave you the Sixth Avenue idea, and it was too good a
joke on me to spoil, dearie.
She regarded him through blurry eyes.
What must you think of me?
He felt for her hand underneath the lap-robe.
Among other things, he said, I think that your eyes exactly match
the violets I motored out to get for you this morning at my place ten
miles up the Hudson.
When did you go, dear?
Before you were up. We were back before ten, in spite of a
spark-plug that gave us some trouble.
Oh, she said.
The figure at the wheel squirmed to be off. She lay back faint
against the upholstery.
To think, she said, that you should care for me!
My own dear girl!
He touched a spring and the back of her seat reclined like a Morris
Lie back, dear. I invented that scheme so I can recline at night
and watch the stars parade past. I toured that way all through Egypt.
The figure in the front seat gripped his wheel.
Where are we going, Adam dear? she whispered.
This is your night, Gertrude; give James your orders.
She snuggled deeper into the dark-red upholstery, and their hands
clasped closer beneath the robe.
James, she said, in a voice like a bell, take us to the Vista for
dinner; afterward motor out along the Palisade drive, far out so that
we can see the Hudson by moonlight.
OTHER PEOPLE'S SHOES
At the close of a grilling summer that had sapped the life from the
city as insidiously as fever runs through veins and licks them upat
the close of a day that had bleached the streets as dry as desert
bonesAbe Ginsburg closed his store half an hour earlier than usual
because his clerk, Miss Ruby Cohn, was enjoying a two days' vacation at
the Long Island Recreation Farm, and because a staggering pain behind
his eyes and zigzag down the back of his neck to his left
shoulder-blade made the shelves of shoe-boxes appear as if they were
wavering with the heat-dance of the atmosphere and ready to cast their
neatly arranged stock in a hopeless fuddle on the center of the floor.
Up-stairs, on an exact level with the elevated trains that tore past
the kitchen windows like speed monsters annihilating distance, Mrs.
Ginsburg poised a pie-pan aloft on the tips of five fingers and waltzed
a knife round the rim of the tin. A ragged ruffle of dough swung for a
moment; she snipped it off, leaving the pie pat and sleek.
Then Mrs. Ginsburg smiled until a too perfect row of badly executed
teeth showed their pink rubber gums, leaned over the delicate lid of
the pie, and with a three-pronged fork pricked out the doughy
inscriptionABE. Sarah baking cakes for Abraham's prophetic visitors
had no more gracious zeal.
The waiting oven filled the kitchen with its gassy breath; a train
hurtled by and rattled the chandeliers, a stack of plates on a shelf,
and a blue-glass vase on the parlor mantel. A buzz-bell rang three
staccato times. Mrs. Ginsburg placed the pie on the table-edge and
hurried down a black aisle of hallway.
Book-agents, harbingers of a
dozen-cabinet-photographs-colored-crayon-thrown-in, and their kin have
all combined to make wary the gentle cliff-dweller. Mrs. Ginsburg
opened her door just wide enough to insert a narrow pencil, placed the
tip of her shoe in the aperture, and leaned her face against the jamb
so that from without half an eye burned through the crack.
Abie? It ain't you, is it, Abie?
Don't get excited, mamma!
It ain't six o'clock yet, Abiesomething ain't right with you!
Don't get excited, mamma! I just closed early for the heat. For
what should I keep open when a patent-leather shoe burns a hole in your
Ach, such a scare as you give me! If I'd 'a' known it I
could have had supper ready. It wouldn't hurt you to call up-stairs
when you close earlyno consideration that boy has got for his mother!
Poor papa! If he so much as closed the store ten minutes earlier he
used to call up for me to heat the thingsno consideration that boy
has got for his old mother!
Mr. Ginsburg placed a heavy hand on each of his mother's shoulders
and kissed her while the words were unfinished and smoking on her lips.
It's too hot to eat, mamma. Ain't I asked you every night during
this heat not to cook so much?
Just the same, when it comes to the table I see you eat. I never
see you refuse nothingI bet you come twice for apple-pie to-night. Is
the hall table the place for your cuffs, Abie? I'm ashamed for the
people the way my house looks when you're homeno order that boy has
got! I go now and put my pie in the oven.
I ain't hungry, mammahonest! Don't fix no supper for meI go in
the front room and lay down for a while. Never have I known such heat
as I had it in the store to-dayand with Miss Ruby gone it was bad
enough, I can tell you.
Mrs. Ginsburg reached up suddenly and turned high a tiny bead of
gas-lightit flared for a moment like a ragged-edged fan and then
settled into a sooty flare. In its low-candle-power light their faces
were far away and without outlinelike shadows seen through the mirage
of a dream.
Abietell mammayou ain't sick, are you? Abie, you look pale.
Now, mamma, begin to worry about nothing when
It ain't like you to come up early, heat or no heat. Ach! I
should have known when he comes up-stairs early it means something.
What hurts you, Abie? That's what I need yet, a sickness! What hurts
Mamma, the way you go on it's enough to make me sick if I ain't.
Can't a boy come up-stairs just because
I know you like a book; when you close the store and lay down
before supper there's something wrong. Tell me, Abie
All right, then! You know it so well I can't tell you nothingall
I got is a little tiredness from the heat.
Go in and lay down. Can't you tell mamma what hurts you, Abie? Are
you afraid it would give me a little pleasure if you tell me? No
consideration that boy has got for his mother!
Honest, mamma, ain't I told you three times I ain't nothing but
He snaps me up yet like he was a turtle and me his worst enemy! For
what should I worry myself? For my part, I don't care. I only say,
Abie, if there's anything hurts youyou know how poor papa started to
complain just one night like this how he fussed at me when I wanted the
doctor. If there's anything hurts you
There ain't, mamma.
Come in and let me fix the sofa for you. I only say when you close
the store early there's something wrong. That Miss Ruby should go off
yetvacation she has to havea girl like that, with her satin shoes
and allcomes into the store at nine o'clock 'cause she runs to the
picture shows all night! Yetta Washeim seen her. Vacation yet she has
to have! Twenty years I spent with poor papa in the store, and no
vacation did I have. Lay down, Abie.
All right, then, said Mr. Ginsburg, as if duty were a geological
eon, and throwing himself across the flowered velvet lounge in the
parlor. I'll lay down if it suits you better.
Mr. Ginsburg was of a cut that never appears on a classy clothes
advertisement or in the silver frame on the bird's-eye maple
dressing-table of sweet sixteen or more; he belonged to the less
ornamented but not unimportant stratum that manufactures the classy
clothes by the hundred thousand, and eventually develops into husbands
and sponsors for full-length double-breasted sealskin coats for the
sweet sixteens and more.
He was as tall as Napoleon, with a round, un-Napoleonic head,
close-shaved so that his short-nap hair grew tight like moss on a rock,
and a beard that defied every hirsute precaution by pricking darkly
through the lower half of his face as phenomenally as the first
grass-blades of spring push out in an hour.
Let me fix you a little something, Abie. I got grand broth in the
ice-boxall I need to do is to heat it.
Ain't I told you I ain't hungry, mamma?
When that boy don't eat he's sick. I should worry yet! Poor papa!
If he'd listened to me he'd be living to-day. I'm your worst enemyI
am! I work against my own childthat's the thanks what I get.
Sappho, who never wore a gingham wrapper and whose throat was
unwrinkled and full of music, never sang more surely than did Mrs.
Ginsburg into the heart-cells of her son. He reached out for her
wrapper and drew her to him.
Aw, mamma, you know I don't mean nothing; just when you get all
worried over nothing it makes me mad. Come, sit down by me.
To-night we don't go up to Washeims'. I care a lot for Yetta's
talkher Beulah this and her Beulah that! It makes me sick!
I'll take you up, mamma, if you want to go.
Indeed, you stay where you are! For their front steps and
refreshments I don't need to ride in the Subway to Harlem anyway.
What's the difference? A little evening's pleasure won't hurt you,
Such a lunch as she served last time! I got better right now in my
ice-box, and I ain't expecting company. They can buy and sell us, too,
I guess. Sol Washeim don't take a nine-room house when boys' pants
ain't boomingbut such a lunch as she served! You can believe me, I
wouldn't have the nerve to. Abie, I see Herschey's got fall cloth-tops
in their windows already.
Good business to-daynot, Abie?and such heat too! Mrs. Abrahams
called across the hallway just now that she was in for a pair; but you
was so busy with a customer she couldn't waitthat little pink-haired
clerk, with her extravagant ways, had to go off and leave you in the
heat! Shoe-buttoners she puts in every box like they cost nothing. I
told her so last week, too.
She's a grand little clerk, mammasuch a business head I never
Like I couldn't have come down and helped you to-day! Believe
mewhen I was in the store with papa, Abie, we wasn't so up-to-date;
but none of 'em got away.
I should know when Mrs. Abrahams wants shoesfive times a week she
comes in to be sociable.
I used to say to papa: 'Always leave a customer to go take a new
one's shoes off; and then go back and take your time! Two customers in
their stockinged feet is worth more than one in a new pair of shoes!'
Abie, you don't look right. You'll tell me the truth if you don't feel
well, won't you? I always say to have the doctor in time saves nine. If
poor papa had listened to me
I'm all right, mamma. Why don't you sit down by me? Don't light the
gasfor why should you make it hotter? Come, sit down by me.
I go put the oven light out. Apple-pie I was baking for you yet;
for myself I don't need supperI had coffee at five o'clock.
Dusk entered the little apartment and crowded the furniture into
phantoms; a red signal light from the skeleton of the elevated road
threw a glow as mellow as firelight across the mantelpiece. Mrs.
Ginsburg's canary rustled himself until he swelled up twice too fat and
performed the ever-amazing ritual of thrusting his head within himself
as if he would prey on his own vitals. The cooler breath of night; the
smells of neighboring food; the more frequent rushing of trains, and a
navy-blue sky, pit-marked with small stars, came all at once. In the
hallway Mrs. Ginsburg worked the hook of the telephone impatiently up
Audubon 6879! Hello! Washeims' residence? Yetta? Yes, this is
Carrie. Ain't it awful? I'm nearly dead with it. Yetta, Abie ain't
feeling so well; so we won't be up to-night. Noit ain't nothing but
the heat; but I worry enough, I can tell you.
Mamma, don't holler in the telephone soshe can't hear you when
It's always something, ain't it? That's what I tell him; but he's
like his poor papa before himhe's afraid no one can do nothing but
him; his little snip of a clerk he gives a vacation, but none for
himself. I'm glad we ain't going then; you always make yourself so much
trouble. It's too hot to eat, Abie says. Beef with horseradish sauce I
had for supper, tooand apple-pie I baked in the heat for him; but not
a bite will that boy eat! And when he don't eat I know he ain't feeling
well. Who? Beulah? Ain't that grand? Yes, cooking is always good for a
girl to know even if she don't need it. No; I go to work and thicken my
gravy with flour and horseradish. Believe me, I cried enough when I did
it! Ach, Yetta, why should I leave that boy? You can believe me
when I tell you that not one night except when he was took in at the
lodgenot one night since poor papa diedhas that boy left me at home
alone. Not one step will he take without me.
Sometimes I say, 'Abie, go out like other boys and see the girls.'
But he thinks if he ain't home to fix the windows and the covers for my
rheumatism it ain't right. Yes; believe me, when your children ain't
feeling well it's worry enough.
Aw, maw, I can take you up to the Washeims' if you want to go.
You ought to hear him in there, Yettafussing because I want to
keep him laying down. Yes, I go with you; to-morrow at nine I meet you
down by Fulton Street. Up round here they're forty-two cents. Ain't it
so? And I used two whites and a yolk in my pie-dough. Yes; I hope so
too. If not I call a doctor. Nine o'clock! Good-by, Yetta.
Maw, for me you shouldn't stay home.
Mrs. Ginsburg flopped into a rocker beside the flowered velvet
A little broth, Abie?
When you don't eat it's something wrong.
You needn't fan me, mammaI ain't hot now.
Insidious darkness crept into the room like a cool hand descending
on the feverish brow of day; the red glow shifted farther along the
mantel and lay vivid as blood across the blue vase and the photograph
of a grizzled head in a seashell frame. Mrs. Ginsburg rocked over a
loose board in the floor and waved a palm-leaf fan toward the reclining
shadow of her son until he could taste its tape-bound edge.
Next week to-night five years since we lost poor papa, Abiefive
years! Gott! When I think of it! Just like his picture he looked
up to the last, toojust like his picture.
I ain't so spry as I used to be, neither, Abieor, believe me, I
would never let you take on a clerk. Sometimes I think, when the
rheumatism gets up round my heart, it won't be long as I go too. Poor
papa! If I could have gone with him! How he always hated to go alone to
places! To the barber he hated to go, till I got so I could cut it
Mamma, you ain't got nothing to worry about.
I worry enough.
You can take it as easy as you want to nowI even want we should
have a better apartment. We got the best little business between here
and One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street! If poor papa could see it now
he wouldn't know it from five years ago. Poor papa! He wasn't willing
to spend on improvements.
Papa always said you had a good business head on you, Abie; but I
ain't one, neither, for funny businesses like a clerk. And what you
needed them new glass shoe-stands for when the old ones
Now, mamma, don't begin on that again.
When I was down in the store papa used to say to me: 'Wait till
Abie's grown up, mamma! By how his ears stand out from his head I can
tell he's got good business sense.' And to think that so little of you
he had in the storesuch a man that deserved the best of everything!
He had to die just when things might have got easy for him.
Don't cry, mamma; everything is for the best.
You're a good boy, Abie. Sometimes I think I stand in your way
Any girl would do well enough for herself to get you. Believe me,
Beulah Washeim don't need a new pair of shoes every two weeks for
nothing! Her mother thinks I don't notice itshe's always braggin' to
me how hard her Beulah is on shoes and what a good customer she makes.
Beulah Washeim! I don't even know what last she wearsthat's how
much I think of Beulah Washeim.
Don't let me stand in your way, Abie. Ain't I often told you, now
since you do a grand business and we're all paid up, don't let your old
mother stand in your way?
Like you could be in my way!
Once I said to poor papa, the night we paid the mortgage off and
had wine for supper: 'Papa,' I said, 'we're out of debt nowGott
sei Dank!except one debt we owe to some girl when Abie grows up;
and that debt we got to pay with money that won't come from work and
struggle and saving; we got to pay that debt with our boywith
blood-money.' Poor papa! Already he was asleep when I said ithalf
a glass of wine, and he was mussy-headed.
Yes, yes, mamma.
A girl like Beulah Washeim I ain't got so much use for
neitherwith her silk petticoats and silk stockings; but Sol Washeim's
got a grand business there, Abie. They don't move in a nine-room house
from a four-room apartment for nothing.
For Beulah's weight in gold I don't want herthe way she looks at
me with her eyes and shoots 'em round like I was a three-ringed
You're rightfor money you shouldn't marry neither; only I always
say it's just as easy to fall in love with a rich one as a poor one.
But I'm the last one to force you. There's Hannah Rosenblatta grand,
Hannah Rosenblatta girl that teaches school, she pushes on me. I
got to get educated yet!
Mrs. Ginsburg rocked and fanned rhythmically; her unsubtle lips
curled upward with the subtle smile of a zingaro. The placidity of
peace on a mountain-top, shade in a dell, and love in a garden crept
into her tones.
I just want you to know I don't stand in your way, Abie. You ain't
a child no more; but while I'm here you got so good a home as you
Girls you can always getnot? Girls nowadays ain't what they used
to be neither. I'd like to see a girl do to-day for papa what I
didhow I was in the store and kitchen all at once; then we didn't
have no satin-shoe clerks! Girls ain't what they used to be; in my day
working-girls had no time for fine-smelling cologne-water and
All girls ain't alike, mammasatin shoes cost no more nowadays as
leather. We got a dollar-ninety-eight satin pump, you wouldn't believe
itand such a seller! All girls ain't alike, mamma.
What you mean, Abie?
Mr. Ginsburg turned on the couch so that his face was close to the
wall, and his voice half lost in the curve of his arm.
Well, once in a while you come across a girl that ain'tain't like
the rest of 'em. Well, there ought to be girls that ain't like the rest
of 'em, oughtn't there?
Mrs. Ginsburg's rocking and fanning slowed down a bit; a curious
moment fell over the little room; a nerve-tingling quiescence that in
its pregnant moment can race the mind back over an eternitya silence
that is cold with sweat, like the second when a doctor removes his
stethoscope from over a patient's left breast and looks at him with a
film of pity glazing his eyes.
What you mean, Abie? Tell mamma what you mean. I ain't the one to
stand in your light. Mrs. Ginsburg's speech clogged in her throat.
You know you always got a home with me, mamma. You know, no matter
what comes, I always got to tuck you in bed at night and fix the
windows for you. You know you always got with me the best kind of a
home I got to give you. Ain't it?
His hand crept out and rested lightlyever so lightlyon his
Abie, you never talked like this beforeI won't stand in your way,
Abie. If you can make up your mind, Beulah Washeim or Hannah
Rosenblatt, either would be
Aw, mamma, it ain't them.
Mrs. Ginsburg's hand closed tightly over her son's; a train swooped
past and created a flurry of warm breeze in the room.
Whoisit, Abie? Don't be afraid to tell mamma.
Why, mamma, it ain't no one! Can't a fellow just talk? You started
it, didn't you? I was just talking 'cause you was.
He scares me yet! No consideration that boy has got for his mother!
Abie, a little brothyou ain't got no fever, Abieyour head is cool
You ain't had no supper yet, mamma.
I had coffee at five o'clock; for myself I never worry. I'm glad
enough you feel all right. It's eight o'clock, AbieI go me to bed.
To-morrow I go to market with Yetta.
Aw, mamma, now why for do you
I ain't too proudsuch high-toned notions I ain't got. For what I
pay forty-two cents for eggs up here when I can get 'em for
Be careful, mamma; don't fall over the chairyou want a light?
No. Write me a note for the milkman, Abie, before you go to bed,
and leave it out with the bottleshalf a pint of double cream I want.
I make you cream-potatoes for supper to-morrow. I laid your blue shirt
on your bed, Abiedon't go to bed on it. It's the last time I iron it;
but once more you can wear it, then I make dust-rags. I ironed it soft
like you like.
Put the cover on the canary, too, Abie. That night you went to the
lodge he chirped and chirped, just like you was lost and he was crying
'cause me and him was lonely.
Yes, mamma. Wait till I light the gas in your room for youyou'll
It's too hot for light; I can see by the Magintys' kitchen light
across the air-shaft. What she does in her kitchen so late I don't
knowsuch housekeeping! Yesterday with my own eyes I seen her shake a
table-cloth out the window with a hole like my hand in it. She should
know what I think of such ways.
Mrs. Ginsburg moved through the gloom, steering carefully round the
phantom furniture. From his place on the couch her son could hear her
moving about her tiny room adjoining the kitchen. A shoe dropped and,
after a satisfying interval, another; the padding of bare feet across a
floor; the tink of a china pitcher against its bowl; the slam of a
drawer; the rusty squeal of spiral bed-springs under pressure.
Abie, I'm ready.
When Mr. Ginsburg groped into his mother's room she lay in the
casual attitude of sleep, but the yellow patch of light from the shaft
fell across her open eyes and gray wisps of hair that lay on her pillow
like a sickly aura.
Good night, Abie. You're a good boy, Abie.
Good night, mamma. A sheet ain't enoughyou got to have the
blue-and-white quilt on you, too.
Don't, Abiedo you want to suffocate me? I can't stand so much.
Take off the quilt.
Your rheumatism, you know, mammayou'll see how much cooler it
will get in the night.
Ach, Abie, leave that window all the way up. So hot, and
that boy closes me up like
When the lace curtain blows in it means you're in a draught,
mammahalf-way open you can have it, but not all. Without me to fuss
you'd have a fine rheumatismlike it ain't dangerous for you to sleep
where there's enough draught to blow the curtain in.
Abie, if you don't feel good, in two minutes I can get up and heat
the broth if
I'm grand, mamma. Here, I move this chair so the light from
Magintys' don't shine in your eyes.
What she does in her kitchen so late I don't know. Good night,
Abie. In the dark you look like poor papa. How he used to fuss round
the room at night fixing me just like youpoor papa, Abienot? Poor
Good night, mamma.
Mr. Ginsburg leaned over and kissed his mother lightly on the
Double cream did you say I should write the milkman?
Yesand, Abie, don't forget to cover the bird.
Yes. Here, I leave the door half-way open, mamma. Good night.
Oh, it ain't nothing at all, Abienever mind.
I'm right here, mamma. Anything you want me to do?
Nothing. Good night, Abie.
Good night, mamma.
* * * * *
At eight-fifteen Monday morning Miss Ruby Cohn blew into the
Ginsburg & Son's shoe store like a breath of thirty-nine-cents-an-ounce
perfume shot from a strong-spray atomizer. The street hung with the
strong breath of Mayflower a full second after her small, tall-heeled
feet had crossed its soft asphalt.
At the first whiff Mr. Ginsburg drew the upper half of his body out
from a case of misses' ten-button welt soles he was unpacking and
smiled as if Aurora and spring, and all the heyday misses that Guido
Reni and Botticelli loved to paint, had suddenly danced into his shop.
Well, well, Miss Ruby, are you back?
Miss Cohn titillated toward the rear of the store, the tail of a
cockatoo titillated at a sharp angle from her hat, a patent-leather
handbag titillated from a long cord at her wrist, and a smile
iridescent as sunlight on spray played about her lips. She placed her
hand blinker-fashion against her mouth as if she would curb the smile.
Don't tell anybody, Mr. Ginsburg, and I'll whisper you something.
Listen! I ain't back; I'm shooting porcelain ducks off the shelf in a
Ah, you're back again with your fun, ain't you? Miss Rubybelieve
meI missed you enough. I bet you had a grand time at the farm!
Mr. Ginsburg shook hands with her shyly, with a sudden red in his
face, and as if her fingers were holy with the dust of a butterfly's
wings and he feared to brush it off.
Say, Mr. Ginsburg, you should have seen me! What I think of a
shoe-tree after laying all yesterday afternoon under a oak-tree next to
a brook that made a noise like playing a tune on wine-glasses, I'd hate
to tell you. Say, you're unpacking them ten-button welts, ain't you?
Good! It ain't too soon for the school stock.
Miss Cohn withdrew two super-long, sapphire-headed hat-pins from her
super-small hat, slid out of a tan summer-silk jacket, dallied with the
froth of white frills at her throat, ran her fingers through the flame
of her hair and turned to Mr. Ginsburg. Her skin was like thick cream
and smattered with large, light-brown freckles, which enhanced its
creaminess as a crescent of black plaster laid against a lady's cheek
makes fairness fairer.
Well, how's business? I've come back feeling like I could sell
storm rubbers to a mermaid.
You look grand for certain, Miss Ruby. They just can't look any
grander'n you. Believe me, I missed you enough! To-day it's cool; but
the day before yesterday you can know I was done up when I closed
Can you beat it? And I was laying flat on the grass, with ants
running up my sleeves and down my neck and wishing for my sealskinit
was so cool. I see Herschey's got cloth-tops in his windows. What's the
matter with us springing them patent-tip kids? Say, I got a swell idea
for a window comin' home on the trainlookin' at the wheat-fields made
me think of it.
Whatta you know about that? Wheat-fields made her think of a shoe
windowlike a whip she isso sharp!
It's a yellow season, Mr. Ginsburg; and we can use them old-oak
stands and have a tan school window that'll make every plate-glass
front between here and One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street look like a
Sixth Avenue slightly worn display.
Good! You can have just what kind of a window you like, Miss
Rubyjust anything youyou like. After such a summer we can afford
such a fall window as we want. I see the Busy Bee's got red-paper
poppies in theirssomething like that, maybe, with
Nix on paper flowers for us! I got a china-silk idea from a little
drummer I met up in the countryone nice little fellow! I wonder if
you know him? Simon Leavitt; he says he sold you goods. Simon Leavitt.
One nice little fellow!
I missed you lots, Miss Ruby. When Saturday came I said to mamma:
'How I miss that girl! Only one month she's been with us, but how I
miss that girl!' Oheh, Miss Ruby!
Miss Cohn adjusted a pair of tissue-paper sleevelets and smoothed
her smooth tan hips as if she would erase them entirely; then she
looked up at him delicately, and for the instant the pink aura of her
hair and the rise and fall of her too high bosom gave her some of the
fleshly beauty of a Flora.
Like you had time to think of me! I bet the Washeim girl was in
every other day for a pair of
Now, Miss Ruby, you
'Sh! There's some one out front. It's that cashier from Truman's
grocery. You finish unpacking that case, Mr. Ginsburg. I'll wait on
her. I bet she wants tango slippers.
Miss Cohn flitted to the front of the store as rapidly as the span
of her narrow skirt would permit, and Mr. Ginsburg dived deep into the
depths of his wooden case. But in his nostrils, in the creases of his
coat, and in the recesses of his heart was the strong breath of the
Mayflower; and in the phantasmagoria of bonfire-colored hair and
cream-colored skin, and the fragrance of his own emotions, he bent so
dreamily over the packing-case that the blood rushed as if by capillary
attraction to his temples; and when he staggered to an upright posture
large black blotches were doing an elf dance before his eyes.
Mr. Ginsburg! Oh, Mr. Ginsburg!
Yes, Miss Ruby.
From the highest rung of a ladder, parallel with the top row of a
wall of shoe-boxes, Miss Cohn poised like a humming-bird.
Say, have we got any more of them 4567 French heel, chiffon
Yes, Miss Rubyright there under the 5678's.
Sure enough. Never mind coming out; I can find 'emyes, here they
From her height she smiled down at him, pushed her ladder leftward
along its track, clapped a shoe-box under her arm, and hurried down,
her shoe-buttoner jangling from a pink ribbon at her waist-line. Mr.
Ginsburg delved deeper.
Yes, Miss Ruby.
Just a moment, pleasethere's a lady out here wants low-cuts, and
I'm busy with a customer. Front, pleasejust this way, madam. I'll
have some one to wait on you in a moment.
Mr. Ginsburg clapped his hands dry of dust, wriggled into his
unlined alpaca coat, brushed his plush-like hair with his palms, and
advanced to the front of the store. His voice was lubricated with the
sweet-oil of willing servitude.
What can I do for you, madam? Low-cuts for yourself?
He straddled a stool and took the foot in the cup of his hand.
Beside him on a similar stool that brought their heads parallel Miss
Ruby smoothed her hand across her customer's instep.
Ain't that effect great, Mr. Ginsburg, with that swell little
rosette? I was just telling this young lady if I had her instep I'd
never wear anything but our dancing-shoes.
It certainly is swell, agreed Mr. Ginsburg, peering into the
lining of the shoe he removed to read its size.
The day's tide quickened; the yellow benches, with ceiling fans
purring over them, were filled with rows of trade who tamped the floor
with shiny, untried soles, bent themselves double to feel of toe and
instep, and walked the narrow strip of green felt as if on clay feet
they feared would break.
Came noon and afternoon. Miss Cohn ascended and descended the ladder
with the agility of a street vender's mechanical toy, shoes tucked
under each arm, and a pencil at a violent angle in the nest of her
Have we got any more of them 543 flat heels, Mr. Ginsburg?
Yes, Miss Rubyright there in back of you.
Say, you'd think I was using my eyes for something besides seeing,
wouldn't you? Wait on that lady next, Mr. Ginsburg. She wants white
Yes'm; we sell lots of them russet browns. It's a little shoe that
gives satisfaction every time. Mr. Ginsburg is always ordering more. I
wore a pair of them for two years myself. There ain't no wear-out to
them. We carry that in stock, too, and it keeps them like newjust rub
with a flannel clothfifteen cents a bottle. Just a moment, madam;
I'll be over to you as soon as I'm finished here. Mr. Ginsburg, take
off that lady's shoe and show her a pair of them dollar-ninety-eight
elastic sides while I finish with this lady. Sure, you can have 'em by
five, madam. Name? Hornschein, 3456 Eighth Avenue? Dollar-eighty out of
two. Thank you! Call again. Now, madam, what can I do for you? Yes, we
have them in moccasins in year-old sizesixty cents, and grand and
soft for their little feet. Wait; I'll see. Mr. Ginsburg, have we got
those 672 infants' in pink?
Sure thing. Wait, Miss RubyI'll climb for you. I have to go up
Aw, you're busy with your own customers. Don't trouble.
Nothing's trouble when it's for you, Miss Ruby. Show her those
tassel tops, too.
Oh, Mr. Ginsburg, ain't you the kidder, though! Yes'm; the tassel
tops are eighty. Ain't they the cutest little things?
At six o'clock a medley of whistles shrieked out the
eventideclarions that ripped upward like sky-rockets in flight;
hard-throated soprano whistles that juggled with the topmost note like
a colorature diva. The oak benches emptied, Mr. Ginsburg raised the
front awning and kicked the carpet-covered brick away from the door, so
that it swung quietly closed; daubed at his wrists and collar-top with
a damp handkerchief.
First breathing space we've had to-day, ain't it, Miss Ruby?
Miss Cohn flopped down on a bench and breathed heavily; her hair lay
damp on her temples; the ruffles at her neck were limp as the ruff of a
Pierette the morning after the costume ball.
You should worry, Mr. Ginsburg! With such a business next year at
this time you'll have two clerks and more breathing space than you got
Mr. Ginsburg seated himself carefully beside her at a wide range, so
that a customer for a seven-E last could have fitted in between them.
I've built up a good business here, Miss Ruby. The trouble with
poor papa was he was afraid to spend, and he was afraid of novelties. I
couldn't learn him that a windowful of satin pumps helps swell the
storm-rubber sale. Those little dollar-ninety-eights look swell on your
feet, Miss Ruby; you're a good advertisement for the stocknot?
Funny what a hit them pumps make! Mr. Leavitt was crazy about them,
too; but, say, what your mother thinks of these satin slippers I'd hate
to tell you. When she was down the day before I left she looked at 'em
till I got so nervous I tripped over the cracks between the boards.
Say, but wasn't she sore about the new glass fixtures! I kinda felt
like it was my fault, too; but I was strong for 'em because
Mamma's the old-fashioned kind, Miss Rubyher and poor papa like
the old way of doing things. She's getting old, Miss Ruby, but she
means well. She's a good mothera good mother.
She's sure a grand womancarrying soup across to old Levinsky
every day, and all.
She's more'n you know she is, too, Miss Rubylittle things that
woman does I could tell you aboutwhen she didn't have it so good as
Miss Ruby dropped her lids until her eyes were as soft as plush
behind the portières of her lashes; her voice dropped into a throat
that might have been lined with that same soft plush.
I had a mother for two dayslike I said to Mr. Leavitt the other
day up in the countrywe was talking about different things. I says to
him, I says, she quit when she looked at mejust laid down and died
when I was two days old. I must have been enough to scare the daylights
out of any one. Next to a pink worm on a fish-hook gimme a red-headed
baby for the horrors! Say, you ought to seen Mr. Leavitt fish! Six bass
he caught in one dayI sat next him and watched; we had 'em fried for
supper. He's some little
What a pleasure you'd 'a' been to your mother, Miss Ruby! Such a
girl like you I could wish my own mother.
That's just what Mr. Leavitt used to tell me; but, gee! he was a
kidder! II oughtta had a mother! Sometimes Isometimes in the night
when I can't sleepdaytimes you don't care so muchbut sometimes at
night II just don't care about nothing. With a girl like me, that
ain't even known a mother or father, it ain't always so easy to keep
her head above water.
Poor little girl!
Since the day I left the Institootion I been dodging the city and
jumping its mud-holes like a lady trying to cross Sixth Avenue when
it's torn up. Ioh, ain't I the silly one?treating you to my
troubles! Say, I got a swell riddle! I can't give it like Leavittlike
Simon did; but
Always Mr. Leavitt, and now it's Simon yetsuch a hit as that man
made with younot?
Hit! Can't a girl have a gentleman friend? Can't you have a lady
frienda friend like Miss Washeim, who comes in for shoes three
Ruby, can I help it when she comes in here?
Can I help it when I go to the country and meet Mr. Leavitt?
Mr. Ginsburg slid himself along the bench until a customer for a AA
misses' last would have fitted with difficulty between, and looked at
her as ancient Phidias must have looked at his Athene.
RubyI can't keep it back no longersince you went away on your
vacation I've had it inside of me, but I never knew what it was till
you walked back this morning. First, I thought I was sick with the
heat; but now I know it was you
II invite you to get married, Ruby. I got a feeling for you like
I never had for any girl! I want it that mamma should have a good girl
like you to make it easy for her. I can't say what I want to say, Ruby;
I don't say it so good, buta girl could do worse than menot, Ruby?
Miss Cohn's fingers closed over the shoe-hook at her belt until the
knuckles sprang out whiter than her white skin.
Oh, Mr. Ginsburg! What would your mamma say? A young man like you,
with a grand business and allyou could do for yourself what you
wanted. If you was only a drummer like Simon; but
A wisp of Miss Cohn's hair, warm as sunset, brushed close to Mr.
Ginsburg's lips; he groped for her hand, because the mist of his
emotions was over his eyes.
Ruby, I invite you to get married; that'sall I want is that mamma
should have it good with me always like she has it now. She's getting
old, Ruby, and I always say what's the difference if I humor her? When
she don't want to move in an apartment with a marble hall and built-in
wash-tubs, I say: All right; we stay over the store. When she don't
like it that I put a telephone in, I tell her I got a friend in the
business put it in for nothing. You could give it to her as good as a
She's a grand woman, Abie; she
In the eventide quiescence of the shop, with the heliotrope of early
dusk about them, and passers-by flashing by the plate-glass window in a
stream that paused neither for love nor life, Mr. Ginsburg leaned over
and gathered Miss Cohn in his arms, pushed back the hair from her
forehead and kissed her thriceonce on each lowered eyelid, and once
on her lips, which were puckered to resemble a rosebud.
Abie, youyou mustn't! We're in the store!
I should worry!
What willwhat will they say?
For what they say I care that much! cried Mr. Ginsburg, with
insouciance. Ain't I got a ruby finer than what they got in the finest
Miss Cohn raised her smooth cheek from the rough weft of Mr.
What your mamma will say I don't know! You that could have Beulah
Washeim or Birdie Harburger, or any of those grand girls that are grand
catchesI ain't bringing you nothing, Abie.
We're going to make it grand for mamma, Rubythat's all I want you
to bring me. She'll have it so good as never in her life. You are going
to be a good daughter to hernot, Ruby?
Yes, Abe. If we take a bigger apartment she can have an outside
room, and I can take all the housekeeping off her hands. Such nut-salad
as I can make you never tastedlike they serve it in the finest
restaurant! I got the recipe from my landlady. If we take a bigger
What mamma wants we dohow's that? She's so used to having her own
way I always say, What's the difference? When poor papa lived she
Abe, there's your mamma calling you down the back stairs nowyou
should go up to your supper. I must go, too; my landlady gets mad when
I'm lateit's half past six already. Oh, I feel scared! What'll she
say when she hears?
Scared for what, my little girl?... Yes, mamma; I'm coming!...
There ain't a week passes that mamma don't say if I find the right girl
I should get married. Even the other night, before I knew it myself,
she said it to me. 'Abie,' she always says, 'don't let me stand in your
way!'... Yes, mamma; I'll be right up!... You and her can get along
grand when you two know each othergrand!
Your mamma's calling like she was mad, Abie.
To-night, Ruby, you come up to us for supperwe bring her a
Oh, you ain't going to tell her to-nightright awayare you?
For what I have secrets from my own mother? She should know the
good news. Get your hat, Ruby. Come on, Ruby-la! Come on!
Oh, Abie, you ain't going to forget to lock the front store door,
Ach!that should happen to me yet. The things a man don't
do when he's engaged! If mamma should know I forget to lock the store
she'd think I've gone crazy with being in loveyou little Ruby-la!
Mr. Ginsburg hastened to the front of the store on feet that bounded
off the floor like rubber balls, and switched on the electric
Abe, you got the double switch on! What you think this
isconvention or Christmas week?
To-night we celebrate with double window lights. What's the
difference if it costs a little more or a little less? The night he
gets engaged a fellow should afford what he wants.
There nowwith two locks on the door we should worry about
burglars! I'm the burglar that's stealing the ruby, ain't I?... One,
two, threeup we go, to mamma and supper. Watch out for the step
there! I want her to see my Rubyfiner than you can buy in the finest
jewelry store! cried Mr. Ginsburg, clinging proudly to his metaphor.
Any of three emotions were crowded into his voiceexcitement,
trepidation, the love that is beyond understandingor the trilogy of
Come along, Ruby-la!
Through the rear of the store and up a winding back stairway they
marched like glorified children; and at the first landing he must pause
and kiss away the words of fear and nervousness from her lips and look
into her diffident eyes with the same rapture that was Jupiter's when
he gazed on Antiope.
Such a little scarey she islike mamma was going to bite!
At the top of the flight the door of the apartment stood open; a
blob of gas lighted a yellowish way to the kitchen, and through the
yellow Mrs. Ginsburg's voice drifted out to them:
Once more I call you, Abie, and then I dish up supper and eat
aloneno consideration that boy has got for his mother! He should know
what it is not to have a mother who fixes him Pfannküchen in
this heat! Don't complain to me if everything is not fit to eat! In the
heat I stand and cook, and that boy closes so lateAbie! Once more I
call you and then I dish up. Ab-ie! Mrs. Ginsburg's voice rose to an
acidulated high C.
Mamma! Mamma, don't get so excitedit ain't late. The days get
shorter, that's all. Look! I brought company for supper. We don't stand
on no ceremony. Come right in the kitchen, Ruby.
Mr. Ginsburg pushed Miss Cohn into the room before him, and Mrs.
Ginsburg raised her face from over the steaming stove-topthe pink of
heat and exertion high in her cheek. Reflexly her hand clutched at the
collar of her black wrapper, where it fell away to reveal the line
where the double scallop of her chin met the high swell of her bosom.
Miss Cohn! Miss Cohn!
How do you do, Mrs. Ginsburg? I
Sit right down, Miss Cohnor you and Abie go in the front room
till I dish up. You must excuse me the way I holler, but so mad that
boy makes me. Just like his poor papa, he makes a long face if his
supper is cold, but not once does he come up on time.
All men are alike, Mrs. Ginsburgthat's what they say about 'em
Such a supper we got you'll have to excuse, Miss Cohn. Abie, take
them German papers off the chair. Miss Cohn can sit out here a minute
if she don't mind such heat. If Abie had taken the trouble to tell me
you was coming I'd have fixed
I am glad you don't fix no extras for me, Mrs. Ginsburg. I like to
take just pot-luck.
Abie likes Pfannküchen and pot-roast better than the finest
I can fix him, and this morning at Fulton Market I seen such grand
green beans; and I said to Yetta, 'I fix 'em sweet-sour for supper; he
likes them so.'
I love sweet-sour beans, too, Mrs. Ginsburg. My landlady fixes all
them German dishes swell.
Well, you don't mind that I don't make no extras for you? You had a
nice vacation? I tell Abie he should take one himselfnot? He worked
hisself sick last week. I was scared enough about him. Abie, why don't
you find a chair for yourself? Why you stand there likelike
Even as she spoke the red suddenly ran out of Mrs. Ginsburg's face,
leaving it the color of oysters packed in ice.
For answer Mr. Ginsburg crossed the room and took his mother in a
wide-armed embrace, so that his mouth was close to her ear. His lips
were pale and tinged with a faintly green aura, like a child's who
holds his breath from rage or a lyceum reader's who feels the icy
clutch of stage-panic on him.
Mamma, weweme and Ruby got a surprise-party for you. Guess,
mammasuch a grand surprise for you!
Mrs. Ginsburg placed her two fists against her son's blue
shirt-front, threw back her head, and looked into his eyes; her heavy
waist-line swayed backward against his firm embrace; immediate tears
sprang into her eyes.
Mamma, look how happy you should be! Ain't you always wanted a
daughter, mamma? For joy she cries, Ruby.
Abie, my boy! Ach, Miss Cohn, you must excuse me.
Aw, now, mamma, don't cry so. Look! You make my shoulder all
wetshame on you! You should laugh like never in your life! Ruby, you
and mamma kiss right awayyou should get to know each other now.
Ach, Miss Cohn, you must excuse me. I always told him I
mustn't stand in his way; but what that boy is to me, Miss
Rubymamma, call her Ruby. Ain't she your little Ruby as much as
minenow, ain't she?
Yes; come here, Ruby, and let me kiss you. Since poor papa's gone
you can never know what that boy has been to me, Rubysuch a son; not
out of the house would he go without me! It's like I was giving away my
heart to give him uplike I was tearing it right out from inside of
me! Ach, but how glad I am for him!
Aw, mammalike you was giving me up!
Mr. Ginsburg swallowed with such difficulty that the tears sprang
into his eyes.
I ain't taking him away from you, Mrs. Ginsburghe's your son as
much as everand more.
Call her mamma, Rubyjust like I do.
Mamma! Just don't you worry, mamma; it's going to be grand for you
and me and all of us.
Hear her, mamma, how she talks! Ain't she a girl for you?
Youyou children mustn't mind meI'm an old woman. You go in the
front room, and I'll be all right in a minuteso happy I am for my
boy. You bad boy, younot to tell your mamma the other night!
Mamma, so help me, I didn't know it myself till I seen her come
back to-day so pretty, and allI just felt it inside of me all of a
Aw, Abeain't he the silly talker, Mrs. Ginsburg?mamma! You
mustn't cry, mamma; we'll make it grand for you.
Ain't I the silly one myself to cry when I'm so happy for you? I'll
be all right in a minuteso happy I am!
Ruby, you tell mamma how grand it'll be.
Miss Cohn placed her arms about Mrs. Ginsburg's neck, stood on
tiptoe, and kissed her on the tear-wet lips.
You always got a home with us, mamma. Me and Abie wouldn't be
engaged this minute if it wasn't that you would always have a home with
With one swoop Mr. Ginsburg gathered the two women in a mutual
embrace that strained his arms from their sockets; his voice was taut,
like one who talks through a throat that aches.
My little mamma and my little Rubyain't it?
Mrs. Ginsburg dried her eyes on a corner of her apron and smiled at
them with fresh tears forming instantly.
He's been a good boy, Ruby. I only want that he should make just so
good a husband. I always said the girl that gets him does well enough
for herself. I don't want to brag on my own child, butif
But, if I do say it myself, he's been a good boy to his mother.
Now, mamma, don't begin
I always said to him, Ruby, looks in a girl don't count the
mostsuch girls as you see nowadays, with their big ideas, ain't worth
house-room. I always say to him, Ruby, a girl that ain't ashamed to
work and knows the value of a dollar, and can help a young man save and
get a start without such big ideas like apartments and dummy waiters
Honest, wouldn't you think this was a funeral! Mamma, to-night we
have a partynot? I go down and get up that bottle of wine!
Himmel! My Pfannküchen! Yes, Abie, run down in the
cellar; on the top shelf it is, under the grape-jelly rowleft yet
from poor papa's last birthday. Ach, Ruby, you should have known
poor papathat such a man could have been taken before his time! Sit
down, Ruby, while I dish up.
The tears dried on Mrs. Ginsburg's cheeks, leaving the ravages of
dry paths down them; Mr. Ginsburg's footsteps clacked down the bare
flight of stairs.
Abie! Oh, Abie!
His voice came up remotely from two flights down, like a banshee
voice drifting through a yellow sheol of dim-lit hallway.
Abe, bring up some dill pickles from the jarthere's a dish in the
Yes, I bring them.
Between the two women fell silencea silence that in its brief
moment spawned the eggs of a thousand unborn thoughts.
From her corner the girl regarded the older woman with a nervous
diffidence, her small, black-satin feet curled well inward and round
the rungs of the chair.
II hope you ain't mad at me, Mrs. Ginsburgyou ain't more
surprised than me.
A note as thin as sheet tin crept into Mrs. Ginsburg's voice.
He's my boy, Ruby, and what he wants I want. I know you ain't the
kind of a girl, Ruby, that won't help my boy alongnot? Extravagant
ways and high living never got a young couple nowheres. Abie should
take out a thousand more life insurance now; and, with economical ways,
you got a grand future. For myself I don't careI ain't so young any
You always got a home with us, Mrs. Ginsburg. You won't know
yourself, you'll have it so good! If we move you with us out of this
dark little flat weyou won't know yourself, you'll have it so good!
I hope you ain't starting out with no big ideas, Rubythis flat
ain't so dark but it could be worse. For young people with good eyes it
should do all right. If it was good enough for Abie's papa and me it
Mr. Ginsburg burst into the kitchen, a wine-bottle tucked under one
arm and a white china dish held at arm's-length.
Such pickles as mamma makes, Ruby, you never tasted! You should
learn how. You two can get out here in the kitchen, with your sleeves
rolled up to your elbows, and such housekeeping times you can have!
I'll get dill down by Anchute's like last yearnot, mamma?... Come; we
sit down now. We can all eat in the kitchen, mamma. Don't make company
out of Rubyshe knows we got a front room to eat in if we want it.
Come and sit down, Ruby, across from mamma, so we get used to it right
awaysit here, you little Ruby-la, you!
Mr. Ginsburg exuded radiance like August bricks exude the heat of
day. He kissed Miss Cohn playfully under the pink lobe of each ear and
repeated the performance beneath Mrs. Ginsburg's not so pink lobes;
carved the gravy-oozing slices of pot-roast with a hand that was no
less skilful because it trembled under pressure of a sublime agitation.
Ruby, I learn you right awaywe always got to save mamma the heel
of the bread, 'cause she likes it.
Miss Cohn smiled and regarded Mr. Ginsburg from the left corner of
I wasn't so slow learning the shoe business, was I, Abe?
You look at me so cute-like, and I'll come over to you right this
minute! Look at her, mamma, how she flirts with mejust like it wasn't
Abie, pass Ruby the beans. Honest, for a beau, you don't know
nothingyour papa was a better beau as you. Pass her the beans. Don't
you see she ain't got none? You two with your love-making! You remind
me of me and poor papa; hehe
Now, mamma, don't you go getting sad again like a funeral.
I ain't, Abie. I'mso happyfor you.
To-night we just play, and to-morrow mamma decides when we get
marriednot, Ruby? We do like she wants itto-night we just play.
Ruby, pass your glass and mamma's, and we drink to our three selves
Mr. Ginsburg poured with agitated hand, and the red in his face
mounted even as the wine in the glass.
To the two grandest women in the world! May we all be happy and
prosperous from to-night! Mr. Ginsburg swung his right arm far from
him and brought his glass round to his lips in a grand semi-circle. To
the two grandest women in the world!
Mrs. Ginsburg tipped the glass against her lips.
To my two children! God bless them and poor papa!
The first time I ever seen mamma drink wine, Ruby. She hates
itthat shows how much she likes you already. Eat your dessert, mamma;
it'll take the taste away. You like noodle dumplings? Such dumplings as
these you should learn to make, Ruby-la.
Children, you have had enough supper?
It was a grand supper, mamma.
They scraped their chairs backward from the table and smiled
satiated, soul-deep smiles. From the sitting-room a clock chimed the
So late, children! Ach, how time flies when there's
excitement! You and Ruby go in the parlorI do the dishes so quick you
won't know it.
Ruby can help you with the dishes, mamma.
Sure I can; we can do 'em in a hurry, and then go maybe to a
picture show or some place.
Picture shownine o'clock!
There's always two shows, Mrs. Ginsburgthe second don't begin
till then. I always go to the second showit's always the liveliest.
Come on, mamma; you and Ruby do the dishes, and we go. It's a grand
night, and for once late hours won't hurt you.
Ach, you ain't got no time for a old lady like mein the
night air I get rheumatism. Abie can tell you how on cool nights like
this I get rheumatism. You two children go. I'm sleepy already. These
few dishes I can do quicker as with you, Ruby.
Without you we don't gome and Ruby won't go then.
We won't go, then, like Abe sayswe won't go then.
Abie, if it pleases me that you go to the picture show for an
houryou can do that much for mamma the first night you're engaged;
some other night maybe I go too. Let me stay at home, Abie, and get my
sleep like always.
Ah, mamma, you're afraid. I know you even get scared when the
bed-post creaks. We stay home, too.
Ruby, for me will you make him go?
Abie, if your mamma wants you to go for an houryou go. If she
comes, too, we're glad; but many a night I've stayed in the
boarding-house alone. If you was afraid you'd say sowouldn't you,
Afraid of what? Nobody won't steal me!
Get Ruby's hat and coat, Abie. Good-by, you children, you! Have a
good time. Abie, stop with your nonsenseon the nose he has to kiss
Ruby, just as easy we can stay at home with mammanot?
Sure! Aw, Abe, don't you know how to hold a girl's coat? So clumsy
Good night, Ruby. I congratulate you on being my daughter. Good
night, Rubyyou come to-morrow.
Good night, mammato-morrow I see you.
Good night, mamma. In less than an hour I be backbefore the clock
strikes ten. You shouldn't make me goI don't like to leave you here.
Ach, you silly children! I'm glad for peace by myself. Look! I
close the door right on you.
Good night, mamma. I be back by ten.
Good night, children!
* * * * *
When the clock in the parlor struck eleven Mrs. Ginsburg wiped dry
her last dish, flapped out her damp dish-towel, and hung it over a cord
stretched diagonally across a corner of the kitchen. Then she closed
the cupboard door on the rows of still warm dishes, slammed down the
window and locked it, reached up, turned out the gas, and groped into
her adjoining bedroom.
Reflected light from the Maginty kitchen lay in an oblong on the
floor and climbed half-way on the bed. By aid of the yellow oblong Mrs.
Ginsburg undressed slowly and like a withered Suzanne, who dared not
blush through her wrinkles.
The black wrapper, with empty arms dangling, she spread across a
chair, and atop of it a black cotton petticoat, sans all the gentle
mysteries of lace and frill. Lastly, beside the bed, in the very
attitude of the service of love, she placed her shoesexpressive
shoes, swollen from swollen joints, and full of the capacity for labor.
Then Mrs. Ginsburg climbed into bed, knees first, threw backward
over the foot-board the blue-and-white coverlet, and drew the sheet up
about her. A fresh-as-water breeze blew inward the lace curtain,
admitting a streak of light across her eyes and a merry draught about
her head. The parlor clock tonged the half-hour.
Silence for a while, then the black rush of a train, an intermittent
little plaint like the chirrup of a bird in its cage, the squeak of a
bed-post, and a succession of the unimportant noises that belong solely
to the mystery of night.
Finally, from under the sheet, the tremolo of a moanthe sob of a
heart that aches and, aching, dares not break.
THE OTHER CHEEK
Romance has more lives than a cat. Crushed to earth beneath the
double-tube, non-skiddable tires of a sixty-horse-power limousine, she
allows her prancing steed to die in the dust of yesterday and elopes
with the chauffeur.
Love has transferred his activities from the garden to the
electric-heated taxi-cab and suffers fewer colds in the head. No,
romance is not deadonly reincarnated; she rode away in divided skirt
and side-saddle, and motored back in goggles. The tree-bark messages of
the lovers of Arden are the fifty-word night letters of to-day.
The first editions of the Iliad were writ in the tenderest flesh
parts of men's hearts, and truly enough did Moses blast his sublime
messages out of the marble of all time; but why bury romance with the
typewriter as a headstone?
Why, indeedwhen up in the ninth-floor offices of A. L. Gregory,
stenographers and expert typewritersMiss Goldie Flint, with hair the
color of heat-lightning, and wrists that jangled to the rolled-gold
music of three bracelets, could tick-tack a hundred-word-a-minute love
scene that was destined, after her neat carbon copies were distributed,
to wring tears, laughter, and two dollars each from a
Why, indeed, when the same slow fires that burned in Giaconda's
upslanted eyes and made the world her lover lay deep in Goldie's own
and invariably won her a seat in the six-o'clock Subway rush, and a
bold, bad, flirtatious stare if she ventured to look above the third
button of a man's coat.
Goldie Flint, beneath whose too-openwork shirt-waist fluttered a
heart the tempo of which was love of lifeand love of life on eight
dollars a week and ninety per cent. impure food, and a hall-room, more
specifically a standing room, is like a pink rose-bush that grows in a
slack heap and begs its warmth from ashes.
Goldie, however, up in her ninth-floor offices, and bent to an angle
of forty-five degrees over the dénouement of white-slave drama that
promised a standing-room-only run and the free advertising of
censorship, had little time or concern for her various atrophies.
It was nearly six o'clock, and she wanted half a yard of pink tulle
before the shops closed. Besides, hers were the problems of the
six-million-dollar incorporateds, who hire girls for six dollars a
week; for the small-eyed, large-diamoned birds of prey who haunt the
glove-counters and lace departments of the six-million-dollar
incorporateds with invitations to dinner; and for the night courts,
which are struggling to stanch the open gap of the social wound with
medicated gauze instead of a tight tourniquet.
A yard of pink tulle cut to advantage would make a fresh yoke that
would brighten even a three-year-old, gasolene-cleaned blouse. Harry
Trimp liked pink tulle. Most Harry Trimps do.
At twenty minutes before six the lead-colored dusk of January
crowded into the Gregory typewriting office so thick that the two
figures before the two typewriters faded into the veil of gloom like a
Corot landscape faints into its own mist.
Miss Flint ripped the final sheet of her second act from the roll of
her machine, reached out a dim arm that was noisy with bracelets, and
clicked on the lights. The two figures at the typewriters, the
stationary wash-stand in the corner, a roll-top desk, and the
heat-lightning tints in Miss Flint's hair sprang out in the jaundiced
I'm done the second act, Miss Gregory. May I go now?
Miss Flint's eyes were shining with the love-of-life lamps, the mica
powder of romance, and a brilliant anticipation of Harry Trimp. Miss
Gregory's were twenty years older and dulled like glass when you
breathed on it.
Yes; if you got to go I guess you can.
Ain't it a swell play, Miss Gregory? Ain't it grand where he pushes
her to the edge of the bridge and she throws herself down and hugs his
Did you red ink your stage directions in, with the margin wide,
like he wants? He was fussy about the first act.
Yes'm; and say, ain't it a swell name for a show'The Last of the
Dee-Moolans'? Give me a show to do every time, and you can have all
your contracts and statements and multigraph letters. Those love
stories that long, narrow fellow brings in are swell to do, too, if he
wa'n't such an old grouch about punctuation. Give me stuff that has
some reading in it every time!
Miss Gregory sniffedthe realistic, acidulated sniff of unloved
forty and a thin nose.
The sooner you quit curlin' your side-hair and begin to learn that
life's made up of statements and multigraphs, instead of love scenes on
papier-mâché bridges and flashy fellows in checked suits and
get-rich-quick schemes, the better off you're going to be.
The light in Goldie's face died out as suddenly as a Jack-o'-lantern
when you blow on the taper.
Aw, Miss Greg-or-ee! Her voice was the downscale wail of an oboe.
Whatta you always picking on Harry Trimp for? He ain't ever done
anything to youand you said yourself when he brought them circular
letters in that he was one handsome kid.
Just the same, I knew when he came in here the second time hanging
round you with them blue eyes and black lashes, and that batch of
get-rich-quick letters, he was as phony as his scarf-pin.
I glory in a fellow's spunk that can give up a clerking job and
strike out for hisselfthat's what I do!
He was firedthat's how he started out for himself. Ask Mae Pope;
she knows a thing or two about him.
Wait until you have been dealing with them as long as I have! Once
get a line on a man's correspondence, and you can see through him as
easy as through a looking-glass with the mercury rubbed off.
The walls of Jericho fell at the blast of a ram's horn. Not so Miss
Flint's frailer fortifications.
The minute a fellow that doesn't belong to the society of pikers
and gets a three-figure salary comes along, and can take a girl to a
restaurant where they begin with horse-doovries instead of wiping your
cutlery on the table-cloth and deciding whether you want the 'and' with
your ham fried or scrambledthe minute a fellow like that comes along
and learns one of us girls that taxi-cabs was made for something
besides dodging, and pink roses for something besides florist
windowsthat minute they put on another white-slave play, and your
friends begin to recite the doxology to music. Gee! It's fierce!
Gimme that second act, Goldie. Thank Gawd I can say that in all my
years of experience I've never been made a fool of: and, if I do say
it, I had chances in my time!
Youyou're the safest girl I know, Miss Gregory.
You're safe if you know the ropes, Miss Gregory.
What did you do with the Rheinhardt statement, Goldie? He'll be in
for it any minute.
It's in your left-hand drawer, along with those contracts, Miss
Gregory. I made two carbons.
Miss Flint slid into her pressed-plush fourteen-dollar-and-a-half
copy of a fourteen-hundred-fifty-dollar unborn-lamb coat, pulled her
curls out from under the brim of her tight hat, and clasped a dyed-rat
tippet about her neck so that her face flowered above it like a small
rose out of its calyx.
The Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, the Fifth Dimension, and the
American Shopgirl and How She Does Not Look It on Six Dollars a Week,
and Milk-Chocolate Lunches are still the subjects that are flung like
serpentine confetti across the pink candle-shades of four-fork dinners,
and are wound like red tape round Uplift Societies and Ladies' Culture
Yet Goldie flourished on milk-chocolate lunches like the baby-food
infants on the backs of magazines flourish on an
add-hot-water-and-serve, twenty-five-cents-a-can substitute for
Good night, Miss Gregory.
Goldie closed the door softly behind her as though tiptoeing away
from the buzzing gnats of an eight-hour day. Simultaneously across the
hall the ground-glass door of the Underwriters' Realty Company swung
open with a gust, and Mr. Eddie Bopp, clerk, celibate, and aspirant for
the beyond of each state, bowed himself directly in Goldie's path.
Ed-die! Ain't you early to-night, though! Since when are you
keeping board-of-directors hours?
I been watching for you, Goldie.
Eddie needs no introduction. He solicits coffee orders at your door.
The shipping-clerks and dustless-broom agents and lottery-ticket buyers
of the world are made of his stuff. Bronx apartment houses, with
perambulators and imitation marble columns in the down-stairs foyer,
are built for his destiny. He sells you a yard of silk; he travels to
Coney Island on hot Sunday afternoons; he bleaches on the bleachers; he
bookkeeps; he belongs to a building association and wears polka-dot
neckties. He is not above the pink evening edition. Ibsen and eugenics
and post impressionism have never darkened the door of his
consciousness. He is the safe-and-sane strata in the social mountain;
not of the base or of the rarefied heights that carry dizziness.
Yet when Eddie regarded Goldie there was that in his eyes which
transported him far above the safe-and-sane strata to the only communal
ground that men and socialists admitthe Arcadia of lovers.
I wasn't going to let you get by me to-night, Goldie. I ain't
walked home with you for so long I haven't a rag of an excuse left to
Miss Flint colored the faint pink of dawn's first moment.
II got to do some shopping to-night, Eddie. That's why I quit
early. Believe me, Gregory'll make me pay up to-morrow.
It won't be the first time I shopped with you, Goldie.
Remember the time we went down in Tracy's basement for a little
alcohol-stove you wanted for your breakfasts? The girl at the counter
thought wewe were spliced.
Yeh! Miss Flint's voice was faint as the thud of a nut to the
They shot down fifteen fireproof stories in a breath-taking
elevator, and then out on the whitest, brightest Broadway in the world,
where the dreary trilogy of Wine, Woman, and Song is played from noon
to dawn, with woman the cheapest of the three.
She don't complain, but she gets whiter and whiterpoor kid! I got
her some new crutches, Goldieswell mahogany ones with silver tips.
You ought to see her get round on them!
II been so busynight-work andand
She's been asking about you every night, Goldie. It ain't like you
to stay away like this.
Their breaths clouded before them in the stinging air, and down the
length of the enchanted highway lights sprang out of the gloom and
winked at them like naughty eyes.
What's the matter, Goldie? You ain't mad at meusare you?
Eddie took her pressed-plush elbow in the cup of his hand and looked
down at her, trying in vain to capture the bright flame of her glance.
Nothing's the matter, Eddie. Why should I be mad? I been
The tide of home-going New York caught them in its six-o'clock
vortex. Shops emptied and street-cars filled. A newsboy fell beneath a
car, and Broadway parted like a Red Sea for an overworked ambulance,
the mission of which was futile. A lady in a
fourteen-hundred-fifty-dollar unborn-lamb coat and a notorious
dog-collar of pearls stepped out of a wine-colored limousine into the
gold-leaf foyer of a hotel. A ten-story emporium ran an iron grating
across its entrance, and ten watchmen reported for night duty.
Aw, gee! They're closed! Ain't that the limit now! Ain't that the
limit! I wanted some pink tulle.
Poor kid! Don't you care! You can get it tomorrowyou can work
II wanted it for tonight.
I wanted it for my yoke.
They turned into the dark aisle of a side street; the wind lurked
around the corner to leap at them.
He held tight to her arm.
It's some nightain't it, girlie?
I should say so!
Poor little kid!
Eddie's voice was suddenly the lover's, full of that quality which
is like unto the ting of a silver bell after the clapper is quiet.
You're coming home to a good hot supper with me, Goldieain't you,
Goldie? Addie'll like it.
She withdrew her hand from the curve of his elbow.
I can't, Eddienot tonight. Itell her I'm coming over real
It's sure cold, ain't it?
Goldie, can't you tell a fellow what's the matter? Can't you tell
me why you been dodging meusfor two weeks? Can't you tell a
Geewhillikins, Eddie! Ain't I told you it's nothing? There ain't a
girl could be a better friend to Addie than me.
I know that, Goldie; but
Didn't we work in the same office thick as peas for two whole years
before heraccidenteven before I knew she had a brother? Ain't I
stuck to her right throughain't I?
You know that ain't what I mean, Goldie. You been a swell friend to
poor Addie, stayin' with her Sundays when you could be havin' a swell
time and all; but it's me I'm talking about, Goldie.
I've never talked straight out about it before, Goldie; but
youyou remember the nightthe night I rigged up like a Christmas
tree, and you said I was all the ice-cream in my white pantsthe night
Addie was run over and they sent for me?
Will I ever forget it!
I was tuning up that evening to tell you, Goldiewhile we were
sitting there on your stoop, with the street-light in our eyes, and you
screechin' every time a June-bug bumbled in your face!
Gawd, how I hate bugs! There was one in Miss Gregory's
I was going to tell you that night, Goldie, that there was only one
girlone girl for meand
Yeh; and while we were sittin' there gigglin' and screechin' at
June-bugs poor Addie was provin' that a street-car fender has got it
all over a mangling-machine.
Yes; it's like she says about herselfshe was payin' her
initiation fee for life membership into the Society of Cripples with a
perfectly good hip and a bit of spine.
Poor Addie! Gawd, how she loved to dance! She used to spend every
noon-hour eatin' marshmallows and learning me new steps.
The wind soughed in their ears, and Goldie's skirts blew backward
You haven't got a better friend than Addie right now, girlie! She
always says our little flat is yours. The three of us, Goldiethe
three of us could
It's swell for a girl that ain't got none of her own blood to have
a friend like that. Swell, lemme tell you!
It's like I saidI've never talked right out before, but I got a
feelin' you're slippin' away from me like a eel, girlie. You knowaw,
you know I ain't much on the elocution stuff; but if it wasn't for
Addie and her accident right nowI'd ask you outrightI would. You
know what I mean!
I don't know anything, Eddie; I'm no mind-reader!
Aw, cut it out, Goldie! You know I'm tied up right now and can't
say some of the things I was going to say that night on the stoop. You
know what I meanwith Addie's doctor's bills and chair and crutches,
Sure I do, Eddie. You've got no right to think of anything.
She turned from him so that her profile was like a white cameo
mounted on black velvet.
You just give me a little time, Goldie, and I'll be on my feet, all
righty. I just want some kind of understanding between usthat's all.
I got Joe's job cinched if he goes over to the other firm in March;
and by that time, Goldie, you and me and Addie, on eighty per,
She swayed back from his close glance and ran up the first three
steps of her rooming-house. Her face was struck with fear suddenly, as
with a white flame out of the sky.
'Sh-h-h-h-h-h! she said. You mustn't!
He reached for her hand, caught it and held itbut like a man who
feels the rope sliding through his fingers and sees his schooner
slipping out to seaslipping out to sea.
Lemme go, Eddie! I gotta goit's late!
I know, Goldie. They been guyin' me at the office about you
passin' me up; and it's rightain't it? It'sIt's him She shook
her head and tugged for the freedom of her hand. Tears crowded into her
eyes like water to the surface of a tumbler just before the overflow.
It's himain't it, Goldie?
Well, you won't givegive a girl a chance to say anything. If
you'd have given me time I was comin' over and tell you, andand
I wasI was
It's none of my business, girlie; butbut he ain't fit for you.
There you go! The whole crowd of you make me
He ain't fit for no girl, Goldie! Listen to me, girlie! He's just a
regular ladykiller! He can't keep a job no more'n a week for the life
of him! I used to know him when I worked at Delaney's. Listen to me,
Goldie! This here new minin' scheme he's in ain't even on the level! It
ain't none of my business; but, good God, Goldie, just because a guy's
good-lookin' and a swell dresser and
She sprang from his grasp and up the three remaining steps. In the
sooty flare of the street lamp she was like Jeanne d'Arc heeding the
vision or a suffragette declaiming on a soap-box and equal rights.
Youthe whole crowd of you make me sick! The minute a fellow
graduates out of the sixty-dollar-clerk class, and can afford a
twenty-dollar suit, without an extra pair of pants thrown in, the whole
pack of you begin to yowl and yap at his heels like
Goldie! Goldie, listen
Yes, you do! But I ain't caring. I know him, and I know what I
want. We're goin' to get married when we're good and ready, and we
ain't apologizing to no one! I don't care what the whole pack of you
have to say, except Addie and you; andandIoh
Goldie turned and fled into the house, slamming the front door after
her so that the stained-glass panels rattledthen up four flights,
with the breath soughing in her throat and the fever of agitation
racing through her veins.
Her oblong box of a room at the top of the long flights was cold
with a cavern damp and musty with the must that is as indigenous to
rooming-houses as chorus-girls to the English peerage or insomnia to
Even before she lighted her short-armed gas-jet, however, a sweet,
insidious, hothouse fragrance greeted her faintly through the must, as
the memory of mignonette clings to old lace. Goldie's face softened as
if a choir invisible was singing her ragtime from above her skylight.
She lighted her fan of gas with fingers that trembled in a pleasant
frenzy of anticipation, and the tears dried on her face and left little
paths down her cheeks.
A fan of pink roses, fretted with maidenhair fern and caught with a
sash of pink tulle, lay on her coarse cot coverlet, as though one of
her dreams had ventured out of its long night.
What a witch is love!
Pink leaped into Goldie's cheeks, and into her eyes the light that
passeth understanding. Life dropped its dun-colored cloak and stood
suddenly garlanded in pink, wire-stemmed roses.
She buried her face in their fragrance. She kissed a cool bud, the
heart of which was closed. She unwrapped the pink tulle sash with
fingers that were addledlike a child's at the gold cord of a
candy-boxand held the filmy streamer against her bosom in the outline
of a yoke.
* * * * *
In Mrs. McCasky's boarding-house the onward march of night was as
regular as a Swiss watch with an American movement.
At nine o'clock Mr. McCasky's tin bucket grated along the hall wall,
down two flights of banisters, across the street, and through the
knee-high swinging-doors of Joe's place.
At ten o'clock the Polinis, on the third-floor back, let down their
folding-bed and shivered the chandelier in Major Florida's second-floor
At eleven o'clock Mr. McCasky's tin bucket grated unevenly along the
hall wall, down two flights of banisters, across the street, and
through the knee-high swinging-doors of Joe's place.
At twelve o'clock the electric piano in Joe's place ceased to
clatter through the night like coal pouring into an empty steel bin,
and Mrs. McCasky lowered the hall light from a blob the size of a
cranberry to a French pea.
At one o'clock the next to the youngest Polini infant lifted its
voice to the skylight, and Mr. Trimp's night-key waltzed round the
front-door lock, scratch-scratching for its hole.
In the dim-lit first-floor front Mrs. Trimp started from her light
doze like a deer in a park, which vibrates to the fall of a lady's
feather fan. The criss-cross from the cane chair-back was imprinted on
one sleep-flushed cheek, and her eyes, dim with the weariness of the
night-watch, flew to the white-china door-knob.
Reader, rest undismayed. Mr. Trimp entered on the banking-hour legs
of a scholar and a gentleman. With a white carnation in his buttonhole,
his hat unbattered in the curve of his arm, and his blue eyes behind
their curtain of black lashes, but slightly watery, like a thawing
ice-pond with a film atop.
Hello, my little Goldie-eyes!
Mr. Trimp flashed his double deck of girlish-pearlish teeth. When
Mr. Trimp smiled Greuze might have wanted to paint his lips for a
child-study. Women tightened up about the throat and dared to wonder
whether he wore a chest-protector and asafetida bag. Old ladies in
street-cars regarded him through the mist of memories, and as if their
motherly fingers itched to run through the heavy yellow hemp of his
hair. There was that in his smile which seemed to provoke hand-painted
sofa-pillows and baby-ribboned coat-hangers, knitted neckties, and
cross-stitch slippers. Once he had posed for an Adonis underwear
Hello, baby! Did you wait up for your old man?
Goldie regarded her husband with eyes that ten months of marriage
had dimmed slightly. Her lips were thinner and tighter and silent.
I think we landed a sucker to-night for fifty shares, kiddo. Ain't
so bad, is it? And so you waited up for your tired old man, baby?
No! she said, the words sparking from her lips like the hiss of a
hot iron when you test it with a moist forefinger. No; I didn't wait
up. I been out with youpainting the town.
I couldn't get home for supper, hon. Me and Cutty
You and Cutty! I wasn't born yesterday!
Me and Cutty had a sucker out, baby. He'll bite for fifty shares
Gee! she flamed at him, backing round the rocker from his amorous
advances. Gee! If I was low enough to be a crookif I was low enough
to try and make a livin' sellin' dead dirt for pay dirtI'd be a
successful crook, anyway; I'd
Now, Goldie, hon! Don't
I wouldn't leave my wife havin' heart failure every time McCasky
passes the doorI wouldn't!
Now, don't fuss at me, Goldie. I'm tireddog-tired. I got some
money comin' in to-morrow that'll
That don't go with me any more!
Sure I have.
I been set out on the street too many times before on promises like
that; and it was always after a week of one of these here slow jags. I
know them and how they begin. I know them!
'Tain't so this time, honey. I been
I know them and how they begin, with your sweet, silky ways. I'd
rather have you come staggering home than like thiswith your claws
hid. II'm afraid of you, I tell you. I ain't forgot the night up at
Hinkey's. You haven't been out with Cutty no more than I have. You been
up to the Crescent, where the Red Slipper is dancing this week, you
Mr. Trimp swayed ever so slightlyslightly as a silver reed in the
lightest breeze that blowsand regained his balance immediately. His
breath, redolent as a garden of spice and cloves, was close to his
Baby, he said, you better believe your old man. I been out with
Cutty, Goldie. We had a sucker out!
She sprang back from his touch, hot tears in her eyes.
Believe you! I did till I learnt better. I believed you for four
months, sittin' round waiting for you and your goings-on. You ain't
been out with Cuttyyou ain't been out with him one night this week.
Mrs. Trimp's voice rose to a hysterical crescendo. Her hair, yellow
as corn-silk, and caught in a low chignon at her back, escaped its
restraint of pins and fell in a whorl down her shirt-waist. She was
like a young immortal eaten by the corroding acids of earlier
experiencesraw with the vitriol of her deathless destiny.
You ain't been out with Cutty. You been
The piano-salesman in the first-floor back knocked against the
closed folding-door for the stilly night that should have been his by
right. A distant night-stick struck the asphalt, and across Harry
Trimp's features, like filmy clouds across the moon, floated a
composite death-mask of Henry the Eighth and Othello, and all their
alimony-paying kith. His mouth curved into an expression that did not
coincide with pale hair and light eyes.
He slid from his greatcoat, a black one with an astrakan collar and
bought in three payments, and inclined closer to his wife, a
contumelious quirk on his lips.
Well, whatta you going to do about it, kiddohuh?
II'm going toquit!
He laughed and let her squirm from his hold, strolled over to the
dresser mirror, pulled his red four-in-hand upward from its knot and
tugged his collar open.
You're not going to quit, kiddo! You ain't got the nerve!
He leaned to the mirror and examined the even rows of teeth, and
grinned at himself like a Hallowe'en pumpkin to flash whiter their
Ain't I! Which takes the most nerve, I'd like to know, stickin' to
you and your devilishness or strikin' out for myself like I been raised
to do? I was born a worm, and I ain't never found the cocoon that would
change me into a butterfly. II had as swell a job up at Gregory's as
a girl ever had. I'm an expert stenographer, I am! I got a diploma
Why don't you get your job back, baby? You been up there twice to
my knowin'; maybe the third time'll be a charm. Don't let me keep you,
The sluice-gates of her fear and anger opened suddenly, and tears
rained down her cheeks. She wiped them away with her bare palm.
It's because you took the life and soul out of me! They don't want
me back because I ain't nothin' but a rag any more. I guess they're
ashamed to take me back cause I'm inin your class. Ten months of
standing for your funny business and dodging landladies, and waitin' up
nights, and watchin' you and your crooked starvation game would take
the life out of any girl. It would! It would!
Don't fuss at me any more, Goldie-eyes. It's gettin' hard for me to
keep down; and I don't wantwant to begin gettin' ugly.
Mr. Trimp advanced toward his wife gentlygently.
Don't come near me! I know what's coming; but you ain't going to
get me this time with your oily ways. You're the kind that, walks on a
girl with spiked heels and tries to kiss the sores away. I'm going to
Mr. Trimp plucked at the faint hirsute adornment of his upper lip
and folded his black-and-white waistcoat over the back of a chair. He
fumbled it a bit.
Stay where you're put, youyou bloomin' vest, you!
II got friends that'll help me, I haveeven if I ain't ever laid
eyes on 'em since the day I married you. I got friendsreal
friends! Addie'll take me in any minute, day or night. Eddie Bopp could
get me a job in his firm to-morrow ifif I ask him. I got friends!
You've kept me from 'em; but I ain't afraid to look 'em up. I'm not!
He advanced to where she stood beneath the waving gas-flame, a pet
phrase clung to his lips, and he stumbled over it.
No, I ain't, babyonly dog-tired. Dog-tired! Don't fuss at me! You
just don't know how much I love you, baby!
Who wouldn't fuss, I'd like to know?
Her voice was like ice crackling with thaw. He took her lax waist in
his embrace and kissed her on the brow.
Don't, honeydon't! Me and Cutty had a sucker out, I tell you.
Youyou always get your way with me. You treat me like a dog; but
you know you can wind me roundwind me round.
He smoothed her hair away from her salt-bitten eyes, laid his cheek
pat against hers, and murmured to her through the scratch in his
throat, like a parrakeet croons to its mate.
The river of difference between them dried in the warm sun of her
forgiveness, and she sobbed on his shoulder with the exhaustion of a
child after a tantrum.
You won't leave me alone nights no more, Harry?
Thuthuthusuch a little Goldie-eyes!
I can't stand for the worry of the board no more, Harry. McCaskys
are gettin' ugly. I ain't got a decent rag to my back, neither.
I'm going to take a shipping-room job next week, honey, and get
back in harness. Bill's going to fix me up. There ain't nothin' in this
rotten game, and I'm going to get out.
You ain't been drinking, Harry?
Sure I ain't. Me and Cutty had a rube out, I tell you.
You'll keep straight, won't you, Harry? You're killin' me, boy, you
Come, dry your face, baby.
He reached to his hip-pocket for his handkerchief, and with it a
sparse shower of red and green and pink and white and blue confetti
showered to the floor like snow through a spectrum. Goldie slid from
his embrace and laugheda laugh frappéd with the ice of scorn and
chilled as her own chilled heart.
Liar! she said, and trembled as she stood.
His lips curled again into the expression that so ill-fitted his
You little cat! You can bluff me!
I knew you was up at the Crescent Cotillon! I felt it in my bones.
I knew you was up there when I read on the bill-boards that the Red
Slipper was dancing there. I knew where you was every night while I
been sittin' here waitin'! I knewI knew
The piano-salesman rapped against the folding-doors thrice, with
distemper and the head of a cane. At that instant the lower half of Mr.
Trimp's face protruded suddenly into a lantern-jawed facsimile of a
blue-ribbon English bull; his hand shot out and hurled the chair that
stood between them half-way across the room, where it fell on its side
against the wash-stand and split a rung.
Youyou little devil, you!
The second-floor front beat a tattoo of remonstrance; but there was
a sudden howling as of boiling surf in Mr. Trimp's ears, and the hot
ember of an oath dropped from his lips.
You little devil! You been hounding me with the quit game for eight
months. Now you gotta quit!
There ain't a man livin' would stand for your long face and
naggin'! If you don't like my banking-hours and my game and the company
I keep you quit, kiddo! Quit! Do you hear?
Yeh; I been up to the Crescent Confettievery night this week,
just like you say! I been round live wires, where there ain't no long,
white faces shoving board bills and whining the daylights out of me.
Oh, youyou ain't nothing but
Sure, I been up there! I can get two laughs for every long face you
pull on me. You quit if you want to, kiddothere ain't no strings to
you. Quitand the sooner the better! Mr. Trimp grasped his wife by
her taut wrists and jerked her to him until her head fell backward and
the breath jumped out of her throat in a choke. Quitand the sooner
Lemme go! Lem-me-go!
He tightened his hold and inclined toward her, so close that their
faces almost touched. With his hot clutches on her wrists and his hot
breath in her face it seemed to her that his eyes fused into one huge
Cyclopean circle that spun and spun in the center of his forehead, like
a fiery Catharine Wheel against a night sky.
Bah! You little whiteface, you! You played a snide trick on me,
anywaylost your looks the second month and went dead like a punctured
tire! Quit when you want tothere ain't no strings. Quit now!
He flung her from him, so that she staggered backward four steps and
struck her right cheek sharply against the mantel corner. A blue-glass
vase fell to the hearth and was shattered. With the salt of fray on his
lips, he kicked at the overturned chair and slammed a closet door so
that the windows rattled. A carpet-covered hassock lay in his path, and
he hurled it across the floor. Goldie edged toward the wardrobe,
hugging the wall like one who gropes in the dark.
If you're right bright, kiddo, you'll keep out of my way. You got
me crazy to-nightcrazy! Do you hear me, you little
He flung it to her from its peg, with her jacket, so that they fell
crumpled at her feet.
You're called on your bluff this time, little one. This is one
night it's quits for youand I ain't drunk, neither!
She crowded her rampant hair, flowing as Ophelia's, into her cheap
little boyish hat and fumbled into her jacket. A red welt, shaped like
a tongue of flame, burned diagonally down her right cheek.
Keep out of my wayyou! You got me crazy to-nightcrazy
He watched her from the opposite side of the room with lowered head,
like a bull lunging for onslaught.
She moved toward the door with the rigidity of an automaton doll,
her magnetized eyes never leaving his reddening face and her hands
groping ahead. Her mouth was moist and no older than a child's; but her
skin dead, as if coated over with tallow. She opened the door slowly,
fearing to break the spellthen suddenly slipped through the aperture
and slammed it after her. Then the slam of another door; the scurrying
of feet down cold stone steps that sprung echoes in the deserted
The douse of cold air stung her flaming cheek; a policeman glanced
after her; a drunken sailor staggered out of a black doorway, and her
trembling limbs sped fastera labyrinth of city streets and rows of
blank-faced houses; an occasional pedestrian, who glanced after her
because she wheezed in her throat, and ever so often gathered her
strength and broke into a run; then a close, ill-smelling apartment
house, with a tipsy gas-light mewling in the hall, and a dull-brown
door that remained blank to her knocks and rings. The sobs were rising
in her throat, and the trembling in her limbs shook her as with ague.
A knock that was more of a pound and a frenzied rattling of the
knob! Finally from the inside of the door a thump-thump down a long
hallwayand the door creaked open cautiously, suspiciously!
In its frame a pale figure, in the rumpled clothes of one always
sitting down and hunched on a pair of silver-mounted mahogany crutches
that slanted from her sides like props.
Goldie! Little Goldie!
Oh, Addie! Addie!
* * * * *
Youth has rebound like a rubber ball. Batted up against the back
fence, she bounces back into the heart of a rose-bush or into the
carefully weeded, radishless radish-bed of the kitchen garden.
Mrs. Trimp rose from the couch-bed davenport of the Bopp
sitting-dining-sleeping-room, with something of the old lamps burning
in her eyes and a full-lipped mouth to which clung the memory of
smiles. Even Psyche, abandoned by love, smiled a specious smile when
she posed for the scalpel.
Eddie Bopp reached out a protective arm and drew Goldie by the
sleeve of her shirt-waist down to the couch-bed davenport again.
Take it easy there, Goldie. Don't get yourself all excited again.
But it's just like you say, EddieI got the law on my side. I got
him on the grounds of cruelty ifif I show nothin' butbut this
Sure, you have, Goldie; but you just sit quiet. Addie, come in here
and make Goldie behave her little self.
I'm all right, Eddie. Gee! With Addie treating me like I was a
queen in a gilt crown, and you skidding round me like a tire, I feel
Eddie regarded her with eyes that were soft as rose-colored lamps at
You poor little kid!
Addie hobbled in from the kitchen.
I got something you'll like, Goldie. It's hot and good for you,
God alone knew the secret of Addie. He had fashioned her in clay and
water, even as you and mefrom the same earthy compound from which is
sprung ward politicians and magic-throated divas, editors and plumbers,
poet laureates and Polish immigrants, kings and French ballet dancers,
propagandists and piece-workers, single-taxers and suffragettes.
He fashioned her in clay; and it was as if she came from under the
teeth of a Ninth Avenue street-car fenderbroken, but remolded in
alabaster, and with the white light of her stanch spirit shining
throughAddie, whose side, up as high as her ribs, was a flaming
furnace and whose smile was sunshine on dew.
You wouldn't eat no supper; so I made you some chicken broth,
Goldie. You remember when we was studying shorthand at night school how
we used to send Jimmie over to White's lunch-room for chickenette broth
and a slab of milk chocolate?
Do I? Gee! You were the greatest kid, Addie!
I ain't hungryhonest!
Quit standing over her, Eddie; you make her nervous. Let me feed
Gee! Ain't you swell to me! Ready tears sprang to her eyes.
Like you ain't my old chum, Goldie! It don't seem so long since we
were working in the same office and going to Recreation Pier dances
together, does it?
Do you remember how you and me and Ed and Charley Snuggs used to
walk up and down Ninth Avenue summer evenings eating ice-cream cones?
Do I? Oh, Addie, do I?
I'm glad we had them ice-cream days, Goldie. They're melted, but
the flavor ain't all gone. Addie's face was large and white and
calm-featured, like a Botticelli head.
You two girls sure was cut-ups! Remember the night Addie first
introduced us, Goldie? You came over to call for her, and us three went
to the wax-works show on Twenty-third Street. Lordy, how we cut up!
And I started to ask the wax policeman if we was allowed to go past
the rail! They laughed low in their throats, as if they feared to
raise an echo in a vale of tears. It's like old times for me to be
staying all night with you again, Addie. It's been so long! Hehe used
to get mad like anything if I wanted to see any of the old crowd. He
knew they didn't know any good of him. He was always for the sporty,
Don't get her to talking about it again, Eddie; it gets her all
He could have turned me against my own mother, I was that crazy
That, said Addie, softly, was love! And only women can
love like that; and women who do love like that are cursedand
I'm out of it now, Addie. You won't never send me back to himyou
There now, dearie, you're gettin' worked up again. Ain't you right
here, safe with us?
That night at Hinkey's was the worst, Goldie, said Eddie. It
makes my blood boil! Why didn't you quit then; why?
I ain't told you all, neither, Eddie. One night he came home about
two o'clock, and I had been
Just quit thinking and talking about him, Goldie. You're right
here, safe with me and Eddie; and he's going to get you a job when
you're feeling stronger. And then, when you're freewhen you're
Addie regarded her brother with the tender aura of a smile on her
lips and a tender implication in her eyes that scurried like a
frightened mouse back into its hole. Eddie flamed red; and his ears, by
a curious physiological process, seemed to take fire and contemplate
instant flight from his head.
Oh, look, Ad. We got to get a new back for your chair. The
stuffin's all poking through the velvet.
So it is, Eddie. It's a good thing you got your raise, with all
these new-fangled dangles we need.
To-night's his lodge night. He never came home till threetill
three o'clock, lodge nights.
There you go, Goldieback on the subject, makin' yourself sick.
What's the matter, Goldie?
To-night's his lodge. I could go now and get my things while he
ain't therecouldn't I?
Swell! I'll take you, Goldie, and wait outside for you.
Eddie, can't you see she ain't in any condition to go running round
nights? There's plenty time yet, Goldie. You can wear my shirt-waists
and things. Wait till
I got to get it over with, Addie; and daytimes Eddie's working, and
I'd have to go alone. II don't want to go alone.
Sure; she can't go alone, Addie; and she's got to have her things.
Eddie was on his feet and beside Goldie's palpitating figure, as
though he would lay his heart, a living stepping-stone, at her feet.
We better go now, Addie; honest we had! Eddie'll wait outside for
You poor kid! You want to get it over with, don't you? Get her
coat, Eddie, and bring her my sweater to wear underneath. It's getting
colder every minute.
I ain't scared a bit, Addie. I'll just go in and pack my things
together and hustle out again.
Here's a sweater, Goldie, and your coat and hat.
Take care, children; and, Goldie, don't forget all the things you
need. Just take your time and get your things togetherwarm clothes
I'll be waiting right outside for you, Goldie.
I'm ready, Eddie.
Don't let her get excited and worked up, Eddie.
I ain't scared a bit, Addie.
Sure you ain't?
Not a bit!
Good-by, Addie. Gee, but you're swell to me!
Don't forget to bring your rubbers, Goldie; going to work on wet
mornings you'll need them.
II ain't got none.
You can have mine. II don't need them any more.
Good-by, Adleave the dishes till we come back. I can do 'em swell
myself after you two girls have gone to bed.
Yes. I'll be waiting, Goldie; and we'll talk in bed like old
Yes, yes! It was as if Addie's frail hands were gripping Goldie's
heart and clogging her speech.
The night air met them with a whoop and tugged and pulled at
Take my arm, Goldie. It's some howler, ain't it?
Their feet clacked on the cold, dry pavement, and passers-by leaned
into the wind.
He was a great one for hating the cold, Eddie. Gee, how he hated
That's why he wears a fur-collared coat and you go freezing along
in a cheese-cloth jacket, I guess.
It always kind of got on his chest and gave him fever.
What about you? You just shivered along and dassent say anything!
And I used to fix him antiphlogistin plasters half the night. When
he wasn't mad or drunk he was just like a kid with the measles! It used
to make me laugh sohe'd
But one nightone night I got the antiphlogistin too hot while I
was straightening up'cause he never liked a messy-looking room when
he was sickand he was down and out from one of his bad nights; and
itand it got too hot, and She turned away and finished her
sentence in the teeth of the wind; but Eddie's arm tightened on hers
until she could feel each distinct finger.
God! he said.
I ain't scared a bit, Eddie.
For what, I'd like to know! Ain't I going to be waiting right here
across the street?
See! That's the room over therethe dark one, with the shade
half-way up. Gee, how I hate it!
I'll be waiting right here in front of Joe's place, Goldie. If you
need me just shoot the shade all the way up.
I won't need you.
Well, then, light the gas, pull the shade all the way down, and
that'll mean all's well.
Swell! she said. Down comes the shadeand all's well!
They smiled, and their breaths clouded between them; and down
through the high-walled street the wind shot javelin-like and stung red
into their cheeks, and in Eddie's ears and round his heart the blood
Goldie crossed the street and went up the steps lightly, her feet
grating the brown stone like fine-grained sandpaper. When she unlocked
the front door the cave-like mustiness and the cold smell of unsunned
hallways and the conglomerate of food smells from below met her at the
threshold. Memories like needle-tongued insects stung her.
The first-floor front she opened slowly, pausing after every creak
of the door; and the gas she fumbled because her hand trembled, and the
match burned close to her fingers before she found the tip.
She turned up the flame until it sang, and glanced about her
fearfully, with one hand on her bruised cheek and her underlip caught
in by her teeth.
Mr. Trimp's room was as expressive as a lady's glove still warm from
her hand. He might have slipped out of it and let it lie crumpled, but
in his own image.
The fumes of bay-rum and stale beer struggled for supremacy. The
center-table, with a sickening litter of empty bottles and dead ashes,
was dreary as cold mutton in its grease, or a woman's painted face at
crack o' dawn, or the moment when the flavor of love becomes as tansy.
A red-satin slipper, an unhygienic drinking-goblet, which has leaked
and slopped over full many a non-waterproof romance, lay on the floor,
with its red run into many pinks and its rosette limp as a wad of
paper. Goldie picked her careful way round it. Fear and nausea and
sickness at the heart made her dizzy.
The dresser, with its wavy mirror, was strewn with her husband's
neckties; an uncorked bottle of bay-rum gave out its last faint fumes.
She opened the first long drawer with a quivering intake of breath
and pulled out a shirt-waist, another, and yet another, and a coarse
white petticoat with a large-holed embroidery flounce. Then she dragged
a suit-case, which was wavy like the mirror, through the blur of her
tears, out from under the bed; and while she fumbled with the lock the
door behind her opened, and her heart rose in her throat with the
sudden velocity of an express elevator shooting up a ten-story shaft.
In the dresser mirror, and without turning her head or gaining her
feet, she looked into the eyes of her husband.
Pussy-cat! he said, and came toward her with his teeth flashing
like Carrara marble in sunlight.
She sprang to her feet and backed against the dresser.
Don't! Don't you come near me!
You don't mean that, Goldie.
She shivered in her scorn.
Don't you come near me! I cameto get my things.
Oh! he said, and tossed his hat on the bed and peeled off his
coat. Help yourself, kiddo. Go as far as you like.
She fell to tearing at the contents of her drawer without
discrimination, cramming them into her bag and breathing furiously,
like a hare in the torture of the chase. The color sprang out in her
cheeks, and her eyes took fire.
Her husband threw himself, in his shirt-sleeves and waistcoat,
across the bed and watched her idly. Only her fumbling movements and
the sing of the too-high gas broke the silence. He rose, lowered the
flame, and lay down again.
Her little box of poor trinkets spilled its contents as she packed
it; her hair-brush fell from her trembling fingers and clattered to the
Can I help you, Goldie-eyes?
Silence. He coughed rather deep in his chest, and she almost brushed
his hand as she passed to the clothes wardrobe. He reached out and
caught her wrist.
Now, Goldie, you
Don'tdon't you touch me! Let go!
He drew her down to the bed beside him.
Can't you give a fellow another chance, baby? Can't you? She
tugged for her freedom, but his clasp was tight as steel and tender as
love. Can't you, baby?
You! she said, kicking at the sloppy satin slipper at her feet, as
if it were a loathsome thing that crawled. II don't ever want to see
you again, youyou
You drove me to it, pussy; honest you did!
You didn't need no driving. You take to it like a fish to
waternobody can drive you. You just ain'tnogood!
You drove me to it. When you quit I just went crazy mad. I kicked
the skylightI tore things wide open. I was that sore for youhonest,
I've heard that line of talk before. I ain't forgot the night at
Hinkey's. I ain't forgot nothing. You or horses can't hold me here!
She wrenched at her wrists.
I got a job yesterday, baby. Bill made good. Eighty dollars, honey!
Me and Cutty are quits for good. Ain't that somethingnow, ain't it?
Let me go!
Let me go, I say!
He coughed and turned on his side toward her.
You don't mean it.
I do! I do! Let go! Let go!
She tore herself free and darted to the wardrobe door. He closed his
eyes and his lashes lay low on his cheeks.
Before you go, Goldie, where's the antiphlogistin? I got a chest on
me like an ice-wagon.
Sure, you have. That's the only time you ever show up before crack
He reached out and touched her wrist.
I'm hot, ain't I?
She placed a reluctant hand on his brow.
It ain't nothing much. I'll be all right.
It's just one of your spells. Stay in bed a couple of days, and
you'll soon be ready for another jamboree!
Don't fuss at me, baby.
It's in the wash-stand drawer in a little tin can. Don't make the
plaster too hot.
Sure, I won't. I'll get along all righty.
She threw a shabby cloth skirt over her arm and a pressed-plush coat
that was gray at the elbows and frayed at the hem. He reached out for
the dangling empty sleeve as she passed.
You was married in that coat, wasn't you, hon?
Yes, she said, and her lips curled like burning paper; I was
married in that coat.
Goldie-eyes, you know I can't get along without my petsie; you know
it. There ain't no one can hold a candle to you, baby!
There ain't! I wish I was feelin' well enough to tell you how
sorry, babyhow sorry a fellow like me can get. I just wish it,
She surrendered like a reed to the curve of a scythe and crumpled in
a contortional heap beside the bed.
Youyou always get me!
He gathered her up and laid her head backward on his shoulder, so
that her face was foreshortened and close to his.
Goldie-eyes, he said, I'll make it up to you! I'll make it up to
you! And he made a motion as though to kiss her where the curls lay on
her face, but drew back as if sickened.
Good God! he said. Poor little baby!
Quick as a throb of a heart she turned her left cheek, smooth as a
lily petal, to his lips.
It's all right, Harry! she said, in a voice that was tight. I'm
crazy, I guess; but, gee, it's great to be crazy!
I'll make it up to you, baby. See if I don't! I'll make it up to
She kissed him, and his lips were hot and dry.
Lemme fix your plaster, dearie; you got one of your colds.
Don't get it too hot, hon.
Gee! Lemme straighten up. Say, ain't you a messer, though! Look at
this here wash-stand and those neckties! Ain't you a messer, though,
She crammed the ties into a dresser drawer, dragged a chair into
place, removed a small tin can from the wash-stand drawer, hung her hat
and jacket on their peg, and lowered the shade.
Along with radium, parcels post, wireless telegraphy, and orchestral
church music came tight skirts and the hipless movement.
Adolph Katzenstein placed his figurative ear to the ground, heard
the stealthy whisper of soft messalines and clinging charmeuse, and
sold out the Empire Shirt-waist Company for twenty-five hundred dollars
at a slight loss.
Five years later the Katzenstein Neat-Fit Petticoat was flaunted in
the red and white electric lights in the lightest part of Broadway, and
the figure of an ecstatic girl in an elastic-top, charmeuse-ruffled
petticoat had become as much of an epic in street-car advertising as
the flakiest breakfast food or the safest safety razor.
Then the Katzensteins moved from a simplex to a complex apartment,
furnished the dining-room in Flemish oak and the bedroom in white
mahogany; Mrs. Katzenstein telephoned to her fancy grocer's for
artichokes instead of buying cabbages from the street-vender, and Mr.
Katzenstein walked with the four fingers of each hand thrust into the
distended front pockets of his trousers.
On the first Tuesday of each month Mrs. Katzenstein entertained at
whistan antediluvian survival of a bridgeless era.
At eight o'clock in the morning of one of these first Tuesdays she
entered her daughter's white-mahogany bedroom, raised the shades with a
clatter, and drew back the curtains.
Birdie, get up! It's late, and we got house-cleaning this morning.
Papa's been gone already an hour.
The pink-and-white flowered comforter on the bed stirred, and two
plump arms, with frills of lace falling backward, raised up like sturdy
monoliths in the stretch that accompanies a yawn.
Awyawyawmamma! Can't you let a girl sleep after she's been up
late? Tell Tillie she should begin her sweeping in the hall.
I should know what time you got home last night. You sneak in like
you was afraid it would give me some pleasure to wake up and hear about
it! Who was there? What did Marcus have to say?
Aw, mamma, let me sleepcan't you? I'll get up in a minute.
So close-mouthed she isgoes to the party with a grand boy like
Marcus and comes home like she was muzzled! Nothing to say! If I was
out with a young man so often I could talk.
Please, mamma, pull down the shade.
'Please, mamma, pull down the shade!' mimicked Mrs. Katzenstein,
in a high falsetto. After I rush round all day yesterday for the pink
wreath for her hair, that's what I hear the next morningthat's the
thanks I get!
Birdie pulled the comforter up closer about her ears, and the head
on the rumpled pillow burrowed deeper.
And such laziness! I been up two hours with my Küchen and
cheese-pie fixed already for this afternoon, and my daughter sleeps
like a lady! The man that gets her I don't envy!
The pink-and-white mound on the bed heaved like a ship at sea.
In a minute, mamma!
Mrs. Katzenstein jerked up a filmy gown from across the back of a
chair and held it from her at arm's-length.
Anybody's too good for a girl that ain't got no order! I wonder
what Marcus Gump would say if he knew how you treat your things? Her
good pink dress that I paid twenty dollars for the making alone she
throws round like it cost nothing! Sack-cloth is too good! I don't put
it awayyou can wait on yourself.
However, as she spoke Mrs. Katzenstein folded the pink gown, with an
avalanche of lace flowing from the bodice, lengthwise in a drawer and
smothered it with tissue-paper.
That a girl like that shouldn't be ashamed to let her poor old
mother wait on her!
I'd put it away, mamma, if you'd just give me time.
Tuesday, when I have the ladies and my card party, she sleeps! No
consideration that girl has got for her mother!
Birdie swung herself to the side of the bed; her wealth of crow-blue
hair fell over her shoulders; sleep trembled on her lashes.
I'm up, ain't I? Now are you satisfied?
For all the help you are to me you might as well stay in bed the
rest of the morning. A girl that can come home from a party and have
nothing to say! But for my part I don't want to know. I guess they had
a big blow-out, didn't they?
Birdie, high-chested as Juno, with wide, firm shoulders that sloped
as must have sloped the shoulders of Artemis when they tempted Actæon,
coiled her hair before the mirror with the gesture that has belonged to
women since first they coiled their hair. Her cheeks, fleshly but
fruit-like in their freshness, might have belonged to a buxom nymph of
I wish you could have seen the spread Jeanette had, mamma! I
brought home the recipe for her lobster chops. I'll bet if she had one
she had six different kinds of ice-cream.
With one swoop Mrs. Katzenstein flung the snowy avalanche of pillows
and sheets over the footboard of the bed and opened wide both the
Tillie, she cried, bring me the broom. I'll start in Miss
Birdie's room while you finish the breakfast dishes.
Such an affair as she had! I said to Marcus, on the way home, it
could have been at Delmonico's and not have been finer.
You don't say so! Such is life, ain't it? We knew Simon Lefkowitz
when he used to come to papa and buy for his stock six shirt-waists at
a time. Then they didn't live in no eighty-dollar apartment. Many's the
morning I used to meet the old lady at market. Who else was there?
Who? Let me see! Gertie Glauber was there. She had on that dress
Laevitt made; and, believe me, I liked mine better. Tekla Stein and
Morris Adleryou know those Adlers in the millinery business?
You couldn't get a pin between Tekla and himhonest, how that girl
worked for him! Selma Blumenthal was there, too, and I must say she
looked grandthose eyes of hers and that figure! But what those
fellows can see in her so much I don't know. Honest, mamma, she's such
a dumbhead she can't talk ten words to a boy.
Girls don't need so much brains. I always say it scares the men
off. Look at Gussie Graudenheimerhigh school she had to have yet!
What good does it do? Not a thing does that girl haveand her mother
worries enough about it, too.
That's what Marcus says about herhe says she's too smart for him;
he says he'd rather have a girl nice and sweet than too smart.
Mrs. Katzenstein leaned her broom in a corner, daubed at the
mantelpiece with a flannel cloth, and regarded her daughter
surreptitiously through the mirror.
You had a nice time with Marcus last night? You've been out with
him five times and still have nothing to say.
What's there to say, mamma? He's a fine boy and shows a girl a
grand time. Last night it was sleeting just a little, and he had to
have a taxi-cab. Honest, it was a shame for the money! Take it from me,
Morris Adler walked Tekla. I saw them going to the Subway.
Well, what's what? Is that the end of it?
Aw, mamma, how should I know? I can't read a fellow's mind! All I
know is hehe's coming over to-night.
Don't you bother with putting those slippers away, Birdie; you just
lie round and take it easy this morning. When a girl's going to have
company in the evening she should rest upme and Tillie can do this
Birdie wrapped herself in a crimson kimono plentifully splotched
with large pink and blue and red and green chrysanthemums and snuggled
into a white wicker rocking-chair. Her lips, warmly curved like a
child's, were parted in a smile.
I don't want breakfast, she announced. Irma Friedman quit it and
lost five pounds in two weeks.
Papa and me were saying last night, Birdie, we aren't in a hurry to
get rid of you; but such a young man as Marcus Gump any girl can be
lucky to get. Aunt Batta said she heard for sure Loeb Brothers are
going to make him manager of their new factorythink once, manager and
three thousand a year!just double his salary! Think of putting a
young man like him in that big Newark factory!
It's surely grand; but for what does it have to be in a place like
Papa says that boy put March Hare boys' pants on the market for the
Loebs. How grand for his mother and all, her a widow, to have such a
son! Wasn't I right to invite her this afternoon?
I'm the last one to say a word against Marcus. You ought to heard
them last night talking on the side about him and his new position he
might getjust grand! Jeanette's got a new stitch, mamma. It's not
like eyelet or French, but sort of between the two, and grand for
centerpieces. I could embroider a dresser-cover in a week.
I thought I'd have sardines this afternoon instead of cold tongue.
For why should I make Mrs. Cohen feel bad that we don't buy at their
I'll fix the cut-glass bowl with fruit for the center of the
It's like papa and me said last night, Birdiea girl makes no
mistake when she follows her parents' advice. Marcus Gump's own mother
told me when I was introduced to her at Hirsch's yesterday afternoon,
you're the first girl he ever took out more than two or three times.
Birdie snuggled deeper in her chair and stretched her arms with the
gesture of Aurora greeting the day.
Mamma, she said, softly, what do you think hehe said I looked
like last night?
He saidhe said
Mrs. Katzenstein paused in her dusting.
HesaidAw, mamma, I can't go telling itso silly it sounds.
Ach! For nonsense I got no timesuch silliness for two
grown-up children! That gets you nowhere. Plain talking is what does
But suddenly the thridding and thudding of Mrs. Katzenstein's
machinations died down. It was as if a steamboat had turned off its
power and drifted quietly into its slip. She tiptoed to the table and
straightened the cover, arranged the shades until they were precisely
even one with the other, gave the new-made bed a final pat, and tiptoed
to the door.
I forgot to order my finger-rolls for this afternoon, she said.
* * * * *
At two o'clock guests began to arrive. A heavy sleet clattered
against the windows; the sky and the apartment houses across the way
were shrouded in cold gray. Birdie drew the shades and tweaked on the
electric lights; tables were grouped about the parlor, laid out with
decks of cards, pencils and paper, and small glass dishes of candies.
Mother and daughter had emerged from the morning like moths out of a
chrysalis. Mrs. Katzenstein's black crêpe-de-Chine, with cut-jet
trimmings, trailed after her when she walked. She greeted her guests
with effulgence and enthusiasm.
Come right in, Carrie! Tillie, take Mrs. Ginsburg's umbrella. I bet
you got your winning clothes on to-day, Carrie; I can always tell it
when you wear your willow plume and furs.
Carrie Ginsburg flopped a remonstrating and loose-wristed hand at
Go 'way! That glass pickle-dish I won at Silverman's three weeks
ago is the last luck I had. Your mamma's the winnerain't she, Birdie?
At my house she always carries off the prize. I bet I helped furnish
You should worry, Mrs. Ginsburg, when your husband owns the
You can believe me or not, Birdie, but Aaron's that particular if I
take so much as a pin-tray out of stock he charges it up! When you get
such an honest husband it's almost as bad as the other way. He don't
get thanks for it.
Birdie, take Mrs. Ginsburg in the middle room and help off with her
things. Hello, Mrs. Silverman! You're a sight for sore eyes. Why wasn't
you down at the Ladies' Auxiliary on Wednesday? It was grand! Doctor
Lippman spoke so beautiful, and there was coffee in the Sunday-school
Mrs. Silverman deposited a large and elaborate muff on the table and
unbuttoned her full-length fur coat.
Such a day as it was Wednesday! Even to-day my Meena begged me not
to come out. 'Mamma,' she said, 'to go out in such sleet and rain for a
card partyit's a shame!' Then my Louis telephoned up from the store
that if I went out I should take a cab. What that boy don't think of!
He's a fine boy, Mrs. Silverman; and such a sweet girl he married.
It ain't for the money, Mrs. Katzensteinbelieve me, it ain't; but
why should I take a cab when it's only one block away to the Subway? I
leave that to my children. Meena's the stylish one of our familywhen
it so much as sprinkles that girl has to have a cab.
Come right in, Mrs. Gump; I knew you wouldn't be afraid of a little
weather. Here, let me take your umbrella.
It's a fine weather for ducks, Mrs. Katzenstein.
Just you go right in the middle room with Birdie and make yourself
Come right with me, Mrs. Gump; me and mamma was so afraid maybe you
Birdie flitted in and out from parlor to bedroom; the languor of the
morning had fallen from her.
Now, mamma, you and the ladies sit down at your tables. That's
right, Mrs. Minceyou and Mrs. Kronfeldt play opposites, and Mrs.
Ginsburg and Aunt Batta. Don't get excited, mamma. I'll fix the ladies
in their places. Here, Mrs. Weissenheimer, you sit here between Mrs.
Gump and mamma.
Look at that goil! exclaimed Mrs. Mince, seating herself and
taking a pinch of Birdie's firmly molded arm between thumb and
forefinger. I wish you'd look how thin she's got. Ain't that grand,
though! I bet you don't drink water with your meals?
Not a drop, Mrs. Mince; and no starchy food; no
Mrs. Mince, interrupted Mrs. Ginsburg, dealing the cards with
skill and rapidity, Doctor Adelberg told my sister-in-law that rolling
on the floor two hundred times morning and night had got this diet
business beat. All he says you got to be careful about is no water at
meals. But with me it's like Aaron saysI keep him busy filling up my
glass at the table.
I wish you'd see my Birdie diet, Carrie! The grandest things she
won't eat! Last night for supper we had potato Pfannküchen, that
would melt in your mouth. Not one will she touch! Her papa says how she
lives he don't know.
I wish my Marcus would diet a little. I always say to him he's just
a little bit too stouthe takes after his poor father, said Mrs.
You can believe me or not, Mrs. Gump; but, so sure as my name is
Mince, I got down from a hundred and ninety-two to a hundred and
seventy-four in two months! Reducing ain't so bad when you get used to
Honest now, Mrs. Mince, how I wish my Marcus had such a
determination! But that boy loves to eatDidn't you see me discard,
Say, it wasn't so easy! How I worked you can ask my husband. I bend
for thirty minutes when I get up in the morning; and if you think it's
easy, try ita cup of hot water and a piece of dry toast for
breakfast; lettuce salad, no oil, for lunch; and a chop with dry toast
for supper. What I suffered nobody knows!
Batta, don't you see I lead from weakness?
I wish you could see my husband's partner's daughter! quoth Mrs.
Kronfeldt. I met her on Fifty-third Street last week, and she was so
thin I didn't know hermassage and diet did it. She ain't feeling so
well; but she looks grandnot a sign of hips!
From an adjoining table Mrs. Silverman waved a plump and deprecatory
Ladies, don't talk to me about dieting! I know, because I've tried
it. Now I eat what I please. It's standing up twenty minutes after
meals that does the reducing. Last summer at Arverne every lady in the
hotel did it, and never did I see anything like it! Take my word for it
that when my husband came down for Saturday and Sunday he didn't know
Ach, Mrs. Silverman, that was almost a grand slam! You
should watch my discard!
When I came home I had to have two inches taken out of every
You don't mean it!
Feel, Birdie, my arm. Last summer your thumbs wouldn't have met.
I said to mamma when we saw you at the matinée last week, Mrs.
Silverman, you're grand and thin!
You try a little lemon in your hot water, Birdie. But you're not
too stoutI should say not! You're grand and tall and can stand it.
Grand and tall! echoed Mrs. Gump.
It's a wonder she isn't as thin as a match, Mrs. Gump, the way that
girl does society! Last night it was two o'clock when she got home from
Jeanette Lefkowitz's party.
I wish you'd heard the grand things Marcus said about you this
morning at breakfast, Miss Birdie! I bet your ears were ringing. It's
not often that he talks, either, when he's been out.
What's this grand news I hear, Mrs. Gump, about your son being
taken in the firm and made manager of the new Loeb factory? It's
wonderful for a boy to work himself up with a firm like that.
There's nothing sure about it yet, Mrs. Silverman. How such things
get out I don't know. Marcus is a good boy; and, believe me or not, we
think he's got a future with the firm. But you know how it isthere's
nothing settled yet, and I don't believe in counting your chickens
before they are hatched.
I wish it to you, Mrs. Gump, purred Mrs. Katzenstein. I wish the
good luck to you.
You don't make it diamonds, Mrs. Kronfeldt, unless you got to.
Who made that dress for you, Birdie? It fits fine.
That's the dressmaker on Lenox Avenue I was telling you about, Mrs.
Adler, replied Mrs. Katzenstein, answering for her daughter. Me and
Birdie go to her for everything. Look at that fit and all!
I'll give you her address if you don't tell everybody. You know how
it is when you begin to recommend a dressmakerup in their prices they
go, and that's all the thanks you get.
You are safe with me, Mrs. Katzenstein.
Come here, Birdie! Turn round for Mrs. Adleronly twelve dollars
to make with findings!
I'll take her my blue cloth, said Mrs. Adler.
You won't regret it. Just tell her I sent you. If you want you can
have the address, too, Mrs. Gump.
I got a compliment for you about the dress you wore last night,
Miss Birdie. Wonderful! No trump! This morning at breakfast Marcus said
lots about your pretty dress and pretty ways; and for him to say that
is a lot; not ten words can I get out of him, as a rule.
I wish you could hear Birdie, too, Mrs. Gump! Believe me, she
thinks he's a fine boyand how hard that girl is to suit you wouldn't
Change partners, ladies!
Birdie hurried out into the dining-room; a flush branded her
cheeksDaphne fleeing from Apollo could not have been more deliciously
Tillie, she directed, you can make the coffee now and put the
A snowy round table was spread beneath a large, opaline dome of
lights, which showered over the feast like a spray of stars; and in the
center a mammoth cut-glass bowl of fruit, overflowing its sides with
trailing bunches of hothouse grapes, and piled to a fitting climax of
oranges, peeled in fanciful flower designs; fat bananas, with half the
skin curled backward; and apples so firm and red that they might have
been lacquered. The guests filed in.
We haven't got much, ladiesTillie, bring in some of the chairs
from the parlorbut Birdie says it isn't style to have such big
lunches any more. Sit right down here, Mrs. Gump, between me and
Birdie. Now, ladies, help yourselfs and don't be bashful. Start the
sardines round, Batta.
What a pretty centerpiece, Mrs. Katzenstein!
Do you like it, Mrs. Kronfeldt? Birdie made it when the whip-stitch
first came out. We got the doilies, too.
I think it's good for a girl to be so practical, said Mrs. Gump,
squeezing an arc of a lemon over her sardine. If I had a daughter she
should know how to do things round the house, even if she didn't have
to use it.
I'm not the kind to brag on my children; but, if I do say so
myself, my girls can turn their hands to anything. If the day ever
comesGod forbid!when they should need it they'll know how.
When my Ray got engaged she made every monogram for her trousseau.
I can prove it by Batta what a trousseau that girl hadand she made
every monogram for every piece. She never comes home with the children
to visit that she don't say: 'Mamma, thank Heaven, Abe is doing so
grand and I don't need tobut there ain't a woman in Kansas City can
beat me on housekeeping.'
This is delicious grape-jelly, Mrs. Katzenstein.
That's some more of Birdie's doings. Honest, you may believe me or
not, Mrs. Gump, but I have to fight to keep that girl away from the
kitchen and housework! Yesterday it was all I could do to get her to go
to Rosie Freund's linen shower; she wanted to stay home and help me
with to-day's Küchen. This morning, after last night, she was up
before eight! Such a child!
I suppose you heard of poor Flora Freund's trouble, didn't you,
Yes, Batta; you could have knocked me down with a feather! But Mr.
Katzenstein always said the new store was too big. And such a failure,
I guess Flora won't have so many airs now! Down to her feet she got
a sealskin coat this winter.
I always say to Mr. Katzenstein we ain't such high-fliers, but we
are steady. Try some of that pickled herring, Mrs. Gump. I put it up
I guess you heard of Stella Loeb's engagement, Birdie, didn't you?
inquired Mrs. Mince, spreading the grape-jelly atop a finger-roll. To
a Mr. Steinfeld from Cleveland.
Yes, I hear she's doing grand; but so is he. To get in with the
Loeb Brothers' crowd ain't so bad.
Yes, they're all grand matches! exclaimed Mrs. Ginsburg. It's
just like Meena says; they're all gold pocket-book and automobile
matches when they're with out-of-town men; but ClevelandI don't wish
it to her to live in Clevelandnot that I've ever been there, but I
don't envy girls that marry out of New York.
My Ray's got it grand in Kansas City! I wish you could see her
closet room and her pantryas big as my whole kitchen! A girl could do
worse than Kansas City or Cleveland.
I always say, remarked Birdie, when I get engaged it makes no
difference where he goes.
That's the right way to feel, Miss Birdie. Some day, if Marcus
should ever marryand I'm the last one to stand in his wayif he gets
his promotion to the Newark factories and the girl he picks out don't
like Newark, then she's not the right girl, said Mrs. Gump.
Newark, said Mrs. Katzenstein, is a grand little town. Whenever
we pass through on our way to Kansas City Birdie always says what a
sweet little town it is. Mrs. Silverman, have another cup of coffee.
The short winter day sloughed off suddenly, and it was dark when
they rose from the table. So late! exclaimed Mrs. Mince. I got a
girl that can't so much as put on the potatoes. Honest, the servant
problem gets woise and woise.
Sh-h-h! cautioned Mrs. Katzenstein, placing her forefinger across
her lips and glancing warningly toward the kitchen. Tillie, she
whispered, ain't such a jewel neither; but she's honest, and I'm glad
enough to have anybody these days. Birdie, she's always fussing with me
because I do too much in the kitchen; but why should my husband have
his coffee so it don't suit him? Children don't understandthey're too
much for style.
In my little flat, with Etta married and gone, chimed in Mrs.
Adler, I'm better off without a girl. I got a woman to come in and
clean three times a week, and me and Ike go out for our supper. I got
it better without the worry of a girl.
I give you right. If I'd listen to Marcus I'd keep a servant,
tooa servant when I got my troubles without one!
Ain't that jus' like papa, Birdie? He always says: 'Salcha, you
take it easy now; when one girl isn't enough keep two'as if I didn't
have enough troubles already!
Good-by, Mrs. Katzenstein! Mrs. Kronfeldt inserted a
tissue-paper-wrapped package carefully within her muff. You got good
taste in prizessalts and peppers always come in handy.
That's the way me and Birdie felt when we picked them outyou
can't have too many of them.
And, Birdie, you come over with your mamma some afternoon when
Ruby's home. That girl with her society and engagementsI never see
her myself! This afternoon she saw vaudeville with Sol Littleberger.
He's in off the road.
Birdie had an engagement this afternoon, too, with a traveling-man;
but I always like to have her home when I entertain.
I had a lovely afternoon, Mrs. Katzenstein. You and Miss Birdie
must come and see meOne Hundred and Forty-first Street ain't so far
away that you can't get to us.
Me and Birdie can come almost any afternoon, Mrs. Gump, except
Saturday we go to the matinéewe're great ones for Saturday matinée.
That's what I call too bad! On Saturday Marcus comes home early,
and he could see you home.
Well, said Mrs. Katzenstein, plucking a thread off Mrs. Gump's
coat-sleeve, it's not like there weren't plenty more Saturdays in the
year. I got enough vaudeville shows this year anyway.
After the third number I always say, 'Mamma, let's go!'don't I,
mamma? said Birdie.
We can come next Saturday, all right, Mrs. Gump; but mind, don't
you go to any trouble for usBirdie's on a diet, and all I want is a
cup of coffee. It makes my husband so mad when I come home and got no
Good-by, Mrs. Ginsburg. Ach, that's rightI forgot; Birdie,
write down Maggie's address for Mrs. Ginsburg. You try her once. She
brings home the clothes so white it's a pleasure to put them away. Tell
her I recommended her. I wish you could see Birdie's shirt-waists come
home from the washjust like new!
I'll try her next week, said Mrs. Ginsburg, buckling her fur
Give Adolph my love, Batta. Birdie, help Aunt Batta with her coat.
Come over some evening soon. Good-by, ladies! Come again. Good-by! Be
careful of that step there, Mrs. Gump. Good-by!
Mrs. Katzenstein clicked the door softly shut and turned to her
daughter. There were high red spots on her cheeks.
Well, she sighed, I'm glad that's over.
Me, too; and I'm sorry enough that Mrs. Gump didn't win those
Such a grand woman as she isplain and unassuming! He left her
real comfortable, toonot much, but enough for herself. But, to look
at her in that plain black dress, you wouldn't think that she had a son
that might be made manager of the Loeb factory, would you?
It is so, agreed Birdie, nibbling from a half-emptied candy-dish
on one of the tables; and that's just the way with Marcus last
nightit was only accident that he let out that him and Louis Epstein
might have an automobile.
Plain and unassuming people! Mrs. Katzenstein exclaimed.
I says to him when we were in the taxi, I says: 'Automobile-riding
sure is grand!' Then he says: 'If something I'm hoping for happens in a
couple of days, me and Louis Epstein are going to buy one of those
five-hundred-dollar roadsters together. Then we can have a swell time
together, Birdie!' Just like that he said it.
You're a good girl, Birdie, and you deserve the best. To-night you
wear your blue. Tillie, come in and set the chairs straightniceMiss
Birdie's going to have company. How that Mrs. Ginsburg got on my
nerves, I can't tell you, with her Meena and her brag!
I should say so!
* * * * *
At eight o'clock Birdie again posed before her mirror. Her
robin's-egg-blue dress where it fell away from her rather splendid and
carefully powdered chest was spangled with small sequins, which glinted
like stars. There was a corresponding galaxy of spangles arranged
bandeau-fashion in her hair. The Blessed Damozel, when she leaned out
from the golden bar of Heaven, wore seven significant stars in her
hair. Birdie also wore stars in her hair, in her eyes, and in her heart
and on her bosom.
I think this dress makes me look grand and thin, mamma.
It cost enough.
Do you like those silver spangles in my hair? That's the way Bella
Block wore hers at the theater the other night.
I don't believe in such fussiness for girls! Your mother before you
didn't have it. If you want you can wear my diamond bow-knot. Have
Tillie come in and pin it on you with the safety-catch. I'm so nervous
like a cat!
What are you so nervous about, mamma?
Say, Birdie, you know I'm the last one to talk about such
thingsbut the Gumps don't start things without intentions. Flora told
me herself that Ben Gump got engaged to her sister the second time he
Believe me, if it should come to us we got no cause to complain.
Grand prospects! Grand boy! And what more do you want? Papa and me,
with such a son-in-law, can enjoy our old age.
You think I let on to anybody! All I say is to you; but a girl
needs advice from her parents. Look at your sister Rayshe was a smart
and sensible girl.
Abe, with his stuttering and all!
Just the same he is a good husband to her and makes her a good
living. You think she would have got him if she hadn't fixed things for
herselfkind of! Believe me, it was hard enough for us, then, before
papa went into petticoats.
She can have him!
I always say Ray was a smart girl. She wasn't no beauty, and the
chances didn't come so thick; and now to walk in her house you wouldn't
think she did the courting! A more devoted boy than Abe I don't know.
Do you like that bow at the belt, mamma?
Yes.... Tillie, called Mrs. Katzenstein, raising her voice, turn
on the lights in the parlor, and then tell Mr. Katzenstein I said to
put on his coat.
I don't want the lights on, mammait looks better that way.
You want it to look like we was stingy with light yet! How does
that lookjust the gas-logs going! You tell Mr. Katzenstein, Tillie,
that I insist that he should put on his coat to meet Birdie's
companyhis newspaper will keep. There's the bell! Tillie, go to the
After a well-timed interval Birdie entered the soft-lighted parlor;
the gas-logs gave out a mellow but uncertain light. It was as if the
spirit of fire were doing an elf dance about the roomglinting on the
polished surface of the floor, glancing on and off the gilt frame of a
wall-picture, and gleaming at its own reflection in the mahogany
table-legs and glass doors of the curio cabinet.
Mr. Gump was seated in a remote corner, elbows on knees and face in
hands, like a Marius mourning among the ruins of his Carthage.
Howdy-do, Marcus? Such a dark corner you pick out! It's just as
cheap to sit in the light, said Birdie.
He rose and came toward her, squaring his shoulders and tossing his
head backward after the manner of a man throwing off a mood, or of the
strong man before he stoops to raise the thousand-pound bar of iron.
What's the matter, Marcus? You aren't sick, are you?
Sure I'm not, he said. I'm just catching up on sleep.
They shook hands and smiled, both of them full of the sweet mystery
of their new shyness. His hand trembled, and he released her fingers
Well, how did you get over last night, Marcus? Honest, you look
real tired! Didn't we have the grandest time? Henrietta called me up
this morning and said she nearly split her sides laughing when you
imitated how Mr. Latz sells cigars.
To-night, he said, running a hand over the woolly surface of his
hair and exhaling loudly, I feel as funny as a funeral.
Marcus, she said, honest, you don't look right; you're pale!
He seated himself on the divan, with her as his immediate
vis-à-vis. The light played over them.
You can believe me, Birdie; somehow when I'm with you I got so many
kinds of feelings I don't know how to tell you.
Nature had been in a slightly playful mood when she chiseled Mr.
Gump. He was a well-set-up young mansolidly knit and close
packedbut five inches short of the stuff that matinée idols and
policemen are made of. Napoleon and Don Quixote lacked those same five
This facetious mood, however, was further emphasized in the large,
well-formed ears, which flared away from his head as if alarmed, and in
a wide, heavy-set mouth, which seemed straining to meet those
respective ears; yet when Mr. Gump smiled he showed a double deck of
large white teeth, dazzling as snow, and his eyes illuminated, and
small-rayed wrinkles spread out from the corners and gave them
Your mamma was here at the whist this afternoon, Marcus. We think
she's a grand woman!
His face lighted.
I was afraid she wouldn't come on account of the weather. I meant
to telephone from the factory to take a cab, but I had a hard day of
it. What's the difference, I always say in a case like that, whether it
costs a little more or a little less? Recreation is good for her.
It's a terrible night, isn't it? Papa says even the horses can't
walkit's so slippery.
I care a lot how slippery it is when I come to see you, Birdie. He
sighed and regarded her nervously.
Aw, Marcus! Jollier! She colored the red of the deepest peony in
the garden and giggled like water purling over stones.
You can believe me, I wish I was jollying! Until I met you it was
all right to say that about me; but nowbutOh, well, what's the use
He rose from the divan in some agitation, thrust his hands into his
pockets, hitched his trousers upward, and walked away.
Birdie remained on the divan, observing the rules of the oldest
game, clasped her hands on her knees, and held the silence. When she
finally spoke her voice was filtered by the benign process of
Look how easy he gets mad, she said, querulously; just like I'm
not glad he wasn't jollying!
There was a pause; the large onyx clock on the mantelpiece ticked
loudly and impersonally, as if its concern were solely with time and
not with man.
Mr. Gump dilly-dallied backward and forward on his heels, and gazed
at an oak-framed print of two neck-and-neck horsesa sloe black and a
virgin whiterearing at a large zigzag of lightning.
A fellow like me ain't got much chance with a girl like you,
anyway. It's like I said to you last nightif a fellow can't give you
what you're used to he'd better keep his hands off.
A boy that's going to manage Loeb Brothers' new factory to talk
Mr. Gump swung suddenly on his heel, came toward her, and took her
pliant hands in his. In the improvised caldron of their palms an
important chemical reaction suddenly effervesced and sent the blood
fizzing through their veins.
Birdie, he began, I'm not the kind of a fellow to go stringing a
girl along. I only wish I'd 'a' known what I know now sooner; but
wishing ain't going to help. I came up here to-night to tell
At the high tide of this remark the door opened and Birdie turned
reluctant eyes upon her parent. Mrs. Katzenstein, stately as a frigate
in low seas, hove in.
How do you do, Mr. Gump? No; stay where you are. This is my
favorite rocker. Such weather, ain't it? I telephoned to Mr.
Katzenstein twice this afternoon to be sure and wear his rubbers home.
You're looking well, Mr. Gump. When you do well you feel wellain't
That's right, he agreed, reseating himself. I'm pretty tired from
a hard day; but work can't hurt anybody.
Just like Mr. Katzensteinain't it, Birdie? Honest, sometimes I
wish there wasn't such a thing as a petticoat made. How that man works!
Believe me, I worry enough about it. He should make a few dollars less,
I tell him.
You got a swell apartment here, Mrs. Katzenstein. Some cousins of
my poor father'sthe Morris Jacobslive in this same house.
Are those Jacobs your cousins? Such grand peoplethe
knit-underwear Jacobs, Birdie! I never meet the old lady in the
elevator that she don't ask me to come up and see her. It's terrible
the way I don't pay calls. Birdie, we must go up soon.
Yes, we got a nice little apartment here, Mr. Gump; but for what we
pay it might be better. If I didn't dread the gedinks of moving
we could do better for the money; but we got comfort here, even if it
ain't so grand. Sometimes, on account of Birdie, I say we take a bigger
place; but who knows how long she is at homenot that we're in a hurry
with her, but you know how it is when a girl reaches a certain age.
Yes, indeed, said Mr. Gump.
I'm in no hurry, said Birdie.
I don't say that, neither. When a girl meets the right one it's
different. Look at Raytwo hours before she was engaged she didn't
know it was going to happen!
Come right in, papa. Mr. Gump is hereso tired he is he hates to
There are a few epics waiting to be dug out of remote corners. One
day an American drama will be born in a Western shack or under some
East Side stairway; one day a prophet will look within the dingy temple
of a Mr. Katzenstein at the warm red heart beating beneath a hairy
chest, and there find a classic rune to the men who moil and toil, and
pay millinery bills with a three-figure check; another day an elegiac
will be written to the men who slip the shoes off their aching feet in
the merciful seclusion of their alternate Wednesday-night subscription
boxes and sit through four hours of Wagnerfacing an underdressed
daughter, two notes due on the morrow, and a remote stageful of
vocalizing figures especially designed for his alternate and
inquisitional Wednesday nights.
Life had whacked hard at Mr. Katzenstein, writ across his face in a
thousand welts and wrinkles, bent his knees and fingers, and calloused
Good evening, Mr. Gumpgood evening! I say to mamma the young
folks got no time for us in here. I'm right?
The more the merrier! said Mr. Gump, reseating himself.
Mr. Katzenstein says he used to know your father, Mr. Gump.
Rudolph Gump! I should say soyes. Believe me, I wish I had half a
dollar for every shirtwaist I bought off him in my life! Your father
and me played side by each down on Cedar Street before you was born. I
knew him longer as youhe was a good silk man, was Rudolph Gump. Have
a cigar, young man?
ThanksI don't smoke.
Ain't it wonderful, though, that in a city like this my husband
should know you before you was born?
Mrs. Katzenstein clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth
and patted her hands together. Birdie regarded the company with polite
Wonders never cease! she said.
Birdie, go get your papa his chair out from the dining-roomsince
he's got lumbago these straight-backs ain't comfortable for him.
Let me go for you, Miss Birdie.
Oh no, MarcusI know just where it is. She smiled at him with her
eyesbright eyes that were full of warmth and reflected firelight.
Mr. Katzenstein groped in his side-pocket for a match, ran his
tongue horizontally along a cigar, and puffed it slowly into life.
How's business? he said, between puffs, with the lighted match
still applied to the end of his cigar.
We can't complain, Mr. Katzenstein. If this strike don't reach to
the piece-workers we can't complain.
I hear your firm opens a new factory.
Yes; we're going to put in a line of March Hare neckwear and
manufacture it in Newark.
My wife tells me you manage the new factoryeh?
Oh, I can't say that, Mr. Katzenstein; in fact
Ach, papa, I didn't say for sure; the ladies this
Here's you chair, papa.
Mr. Grump sprang to her aid.
Thanks, Marcus, she said.
What do you think of my girl there, Gump? She's a fine onenot?
Aw, now, papa, you quit! What'll Marcus thinksuch goings-on!
How her papa spoils her, Mr. Gump, you won't believe! Not one thing
that girl wants she don't get! Last week she meets her papa down-town
after the matinée and comes home with a new muff. Yesterday, before he
goes down-town, she gets from him a check for some business like a
silver-mesh bag, like the girls are wearing. Just seems like she has to
have everything she sees!
All I got to say, Gump, you should some day have just such a
You couldn't wish me better, said Mr. Gump.
Conversation drifted, and after a time Birdie regarded her mother
with level eyes; then her lids drooped and slowly raisedas
significantly as the red and green eyes that wink and signal in the
black path of the midnight flier.
Well, papa, we must excuse ourselves. When young folks get together
they have no time for old ones.
Now, mamma! protested Birdie. We're glad if you stay.
I was young once myself, said Mr. Katzenstein; and I like 'em
yet, Gump! Take it from me, I like 'em yet! Mamma here thinks I not got
an eye for the nice girls still; but I say what she don't know don't
I should worry! said Mrs. Katzenstein, regarding her husband with
gentle eyes. Put your hand on my shoulder, papa. All day he makes the
hardest work for himself, and then at night comes home with a lame
Good night, Gump! Come round and we play pinochle.
I hope you don't think we're stingy with light, Mr. Gump. If I had
my way they'd all be going; but Birdie likes only the gas-grate. My Ray
was the same way, never a great one for much light.
I'm the same, too, replied Mr. Gump.
Birdie remained seated in the mellow flicker of the fire-dance; its
glow lit her large, well-featured face intermittently and set the stars
in her hair scintillating. The quiet of late evening fell over the
What a grand old pair, Birdie!
Yes, she said, softlyvery softly.
I didn't say anything.
Oh! The red in her face ran down into the square-shape neck of her
Aw, look what you did, Marcus! You burnt the toe of your shoe!
Say, Birdie, what I started to say when your mamma and papa come
What I started to say was, so long as a fellow's got intentions
it's all right for him to call on a girlerregular, like this. Her
soft breathing answered him. Butwell, I mustn'tI ain't got the
right to come round here any more.
She looked at him like a startled nymph.
What is it?
So long as I had intentions it was all right, I say; butwell, now
Ain't what? Her breath came more rapidly between her lips.
I was starting to say before they came in, BirdieI came here
straight from the office to tell youeven maw don't know it yet
I've lost out! Loeb's daughter is engaged, and he's going to put his
new son-in-law from Cleveland in the Newark factory.
Yes! You can't be so sore as I ama twenty-eight-hundred-dollar
job almost in my hand, and then this had to happen! The little raise I
get now don't help. I can't ask a girl to marry me on fifteen hundred
when I expected twice that muchnot a girl like you!
Birdie placed the palm of her hand flat against her cheek; the stars
in her eyes had vanished in the light of understanding.
Such a mean trick! she gasped. How you've built up their trade
for themand now such a mean trick!
I was so sure all along, after what Loeb told me last month. Only
last week I says to maw I'll ask you this week right after I know for
certain. That sure Iwas.
His voice trailed off at the end. She sat watching the flames, her
shoulders slightly stooped and her eyes quiet.
You ain't so sorry as I am, Birdie. Believe me, I could die right
now! With you it ain't so badyou got plenty good chances yet. But if
you knew what feelings I got for you! With me there ain't no more
She turned her head slowly toward him; her throat throbbing and a
delicate pink under her skin.
I should care, Marcus! she said, softly.
I should care! she repeated. We should live little then, if we
can't live biglive little.
What do you mean, Birdie?
She regarded and invited him with her eyes, and he stood away from
her like a tired traveler trying to shut out the song of the Lorelei!
Birdie, I ain't got the right! IIyou been used to so much. With
you it ain't like with most girlsyour mamma and your papa they
Even as he spoke they were somehow in their first embrace, and round
their heads came crashing various castles in Spain, and they sat among
the ruins and smiled into each other's radiant eyes and whispered, with
their warm hands touching:
I don't deserve such a prize as you, Birdie!
Such a scare as you gave me, Marcus! I thought first you
meantyoumeant it was me you didn't want.
He refuted the thought with a kiss.
I ain't good enough for you, Birdie.
I ain't good enough for you, Marcus.
You can believe me, Birdie, when he told me to-day it was just like
I had died inside.
It shows it don't pay to work too hard for such people,
Marcusthey don't appreciate it.
I can get the same money as now at Lowen-Felsenthal's; they were
after me last year.
You go, Marcus. You can work up with them; besides, I like the
ready-to-wear business better than boys' pants and neckwear.
I wanted to start out with giving you more than you got already,
Believe me, mamma and papa had no such start as we got. We can
afford maybe one of those three-rooms-and-bath apartments in
HarlemFlossie Marks says they're just perfect; and mamma and papa
lived right in back of the factoryI remember it myself. Which is
That's why I hate it for them, Birdie; your mamma wants you to have
the best like she didn't haveI hate it for her.
You come to-morrow night, and we'll tell them. Just you do like I
tell you, and I can fix it.
He placed his hand against her forehead, tilted her head backward
and kissed her twice on the lips.
You're my little Birdie, ain't youa little birdie like flies in
The evening petered out and too soon waned to its finish. They
parted with thrice-told good-nights, reluctant to break the weft of
their enchantment. She closed the door after him and stood with her
back against it; her lips were curved in a perfect smile.
A door creaked, and footsteps padded down the hall.
Yes, mamma! was all she said, going toward her parent and hiding
her pink face in the flannel folds of the maternal wrapper.
God bless you, Birdie! Such happiness I should wish every mother.
Go in, baby, and tell papa. For an engagement present you getlike
Raytwo hundred dollars.
Mrs. Katzenstein's face was lyric and her voice furry with emotion.
She hastened, her night-room slippers slouching off her feet, into the
hall and unhooked the telephone receiver.
Columbus 5-6-2-4, she whispered, standing on her toes to reach the
mouthpiece. Bamberger's apartment. Batta! Hello, Batta! I know you
ain't in bed yet, 'cause you got the poker crowdnot? Batta, I got
news for you! Guess! Yes; it just happenedsuch a surprise, you can
believe me! Grand! How happy we are you should know! I want they should
start in one of those apartments like yours, Batta. Five rooms and a
sleep-out porch is enough for a beginning. You can tell who you
wantyes; I don't believe in secrets. Batta, who was the woman that
embroidered those towels for your Miriam's trousseau? Yes; both of them
gone now! Ain't that the way with raising children? But I wish every
girl such a young man! Yes, just think, for a firm like Loeb
Brothersmanager yet! Batta, come over the first thing in the morning.
Now I got trousseau on my mind again, I think I go to the same woman
for the table-linen. Good night. She's in talking to her papashe'll
call you to-morrow. Thank you! Good night! Good-by!... Birdie, she
called, through the open doorway, Mrs. Ginsburg's number is Plaza
8-5-7, ain't it? You think it too late to call her?
Yes, mamma, and, anyway, if Aunt Batta knows it that's
enoughto-morrow everybody has it.
Yes, said Mrs. Katzenstein, submissively; but after a moment she
turned to the telephone again and unhooked the receiver. Plaza 8-5-7,
she said, in muffled tones.
* * * * *
The evening following, Mrs. Katzenstein greeted her prospective
son-in-law with three kissesone for each cheek and the third for the
very center of his mouth. She batted at him playfully with her hand.
You bad boy, you! What you mean by stealing away our baby? Papa,
you come right in here and fight with him.
Mrs. Katzenstein, for you to give me a girl like Birdie, I don't
deserve. She's the grandest girl in the world!
He asks me for my Birdie, said Mr. Katzenstein, pumping the young
man's arm up and down; but he asks me after it is all settled and
everybody but me knows iteven in the factory to-day I hear about it.
What could we do, papawake you up last night?
He should pay your bills awhile, and then he won't feel so
gladain't it, Birdie? He pinched his daughter's cheek.
Marcus took me to lunch at the Kaiserbräu to-day, papa. He's
starting in to pay my bills already.
Have a cigar, Marcus!
Thanks, I don't smoke.
Well, Marcus, you got a fine girl; and you're a good boy, making
I told your mamma to-day, Marcus; she got the best of it, and I got
the best of it, chuckled Mrs. Katzenstein.
Marcus regarded Birdie in some uneasiness, the color drained out of
Go on, Marcus, she said, with a note of reassurance in her voice.
Everything as you say is grand and fine, Mr. Katzenstein,
exceptexceptwell, to-day at lunch I told Birdie some news I just
heard, whichwhich maybe won't make you feel so good; I told her it
wasn't too late if she wanted to change her mind about me.
Ach! exclaimed Mrs. Katzenstein, clasping her hands
quickly. Ain't everything all right?
What you mean, Marcus? inquired Mr. Katzenstein, glancing up
What's wrong? Ain't everything all right, children?
Aw, mamma, it ain't nothing wrong! Don't get so excited over
Birdie's right, mammawhat you so excited about? What is it you
got to say, Marcus?
I ain't frightened; but what's the matter, children? This is what
we need yet something to happen when it's all fixed!
Well, I told Birdie about it at lunch to-day, and
There was a pause. Birdie linked her arm within the young man's and
regarded her parents like a Nemesis at the bar.
It isn't so bad as Marcus makes out, papa.
Well, young man? questioned Mr. Katzenstein, sharply.
Well, you don't need to holler at him, papa.
I got some bad news to-day, Mr. Katzenstein. The raise I was
expecting I don't getinstead of twenty-eight hundred dollars I go
only to fifteen. Loeb is going to put his son-in-law, Steinfeld, from
Cleveland, in the new factory. I still just got the city trade.
I says to Marcus, papa, it's enough; you and mamma had less than
half that much.
Ach, my poor baby! My poor baby!
I ain't your poor baby, mamma. It could be worsebelieve me
Oh! And I thought he was going to have that grand position and give
it to her so finehow I told everybody; how I
Don't get excited, Salcha! Let's sit quiet and talk it over.
Such plans as I had for that girl, papa! I had it all fixed that
she should have one of those five rooms and a sleeping-out porch over
Batta! Already I talked to Tillie that she should go to her.
Mrs. Katzenstein sniffled and wiped each eye with the back of her
I'm sorry, Mrs. Katzenstein.
That don't get you nowhere, Mr. Gump. If you had only known this
last night! Now what will people say?
Nowadays in New York it ain't like it used to be, Mr. Gump; people
can't start in on so littlehalf of what you make costs Birdie's
clothes. Ach, when I think what that girl is used to! Every
comfort she hasyou can't give her like she's used to, Mr. Gump.
I told all that to Birdie, Mrs. KatzensteinI can't give her what
she's got at home, and she should take her time to decide.
That's easy enough to say now after it's in everybody's mouth.
That Loeb Brothers should play you such a trick, said Mr.
Katzensteina boy that's built up a trade like you!
Ach, my baby! sobbed Mrs. Katzenstein. And now the whole
town already knows it! If only he had known this last night, before it
was too late!
Salcha, how you talk!
My own husband turns against me!
That they should start little, mamma, is just so good as they
should start big. My boy, you got a good head; and with a good head and
a good heart you got just so good a start as you need. Go 'way, you
foolisher children! You make me sick with your crying and gedinks!
Such a father I got, Marcus! What did I tell you, how he would
actwhat did I tell you?
She kissed her father lightly on the cheek.
Go 'way, you children! he repeated. You got it too good as it
isain't it, mamma?
I guess you're right, Rudolph; but how I had plans for that girl,
papa can tell you, Marcus! You're a good boy, Marcus, and she's got her
heart set on you; but II hate it how everybody can talk
nowsomething to talk about for them all!
They should talk! said Mr. Katzenstein, lighting a cigar. And
talk and talk!
What I ordered embroidered linens enough for five rooms now I don't
know, Birdie! If you want him I say you should have himbut how I had
plans for that girl!
I'll work for her, all right, Mrs. Katzenstein. It will be five
rooms before you know itthis don't mean, Mrs. Katzensteinmaw!that
I won't ever get up.
Kiss me, Marcus, said Mrs. Katzenstein. That she should be happy
is all I care.
Now, Marcus, we'll go up and see Mamma Gump.
Get ready, little Birdie, he said.
Good night, Marcus! You're a good boy, and you'll be good to our
baby. Even if she ain't got it so grand, she's got a good
husbandthat's more than Meena Ginsburg's got.
Run along, you children, said Mr. Katzenstein. Here, Marcus, put
a cigar in your pocketone of Goldstein's ten-cent specials.
I don't smoke, paw, said Marcus.
He went out, his arm linked in Birdie's. Their laughter drifted
Mrs. Katzenstein resumed her chair in the warm glow of the logsher
full face, with the scallop of double chin, was suddenly old and lined;
her husband drew up his curved-back rocker beside her.
Mamma, you shouldn't take on so. Everything comes for the best.
You can talk, papa! Now I had even told Mrs. Ginsburg for sure she
should have one of those Ninety-sixth Street apartments.
You women folks make me sick! You should be glad we got our health,
mamma, and good men for our girls.
I guess you're right, papa. He's a grand young man!
A good boyach, how tired I am!
Stretch out your feet, papa. It's warm by the fire.
The light flickered over their faces and sent long shadows wavering
and dancing back of them.
Mr. Katzenstein settled deeper in his chair; his head, bald on top
and with a fringe of bristles over the ears, was hunched down between
You've been a good mother, Salcha.
Not such a mother as you've been a fatherme and them girls never
wanted for one thing, even when you couldn't afford it as now.
Ahho! sighed Mr. Katzenstein.
You're tired, papa, and it's late. Here, I'll unlace your shoes for
No; in a minute I go to bedsuch a back-ache!
She's got a good man; and, like you say, that's the main thing,
repeated Mrs. Katzenstein, intent on self-conviction. It ain't always
Ya, ya! said Mr. Katzenstein.
Look at us when we was down on Grand Street! We was happyYou
remember that green-plush dress I had, papa?
Don't go to sleep sitting there, papa; you'll take cold.
Mr. Katzenstein's fingers, that were never straight, closed over the
veined back of his wife's hand.
In a minute I go to bed.
If she had known what was coming when he asked her last night it
might be different; but now it's too late, and everything is for the
She's happyand that's the main thing.
Time flies, he said, with his eyes on the flames. Only yesterday
she was a baby!
Ain't it so, papa? We had 'em, and we suffered for 'em, and now we
give 'em up; that's what it means to raise a family.
Salcha, he said, his fingers stroking hers gently, we're getting
oldain't it, old lady?
Yes, she said, rocking rhythmically; twenty-eight years now!
We've had good times, and we've had bad times.
Goodandbadtimes, he repeated.
They watched the flames.
After a while Mr. Katzenstein's head fell forward on his chest and
he dozed lightly.
The clock ticked somberly and with increasing loudness; twice it
traveled its circle, and twice it tonged the hour. The gas-logs burned
steadily and kept the shadows dancing. Off somewhere a dog bayed; a
creak, which is one of the noises that belong solely to after midnight,
came from the direction of one of the windows.
Mr. Katzenstein woke with a start and jerked his head up.
Mamma! he cried, dazed with sleep. Mamma! Birdie! Mamma!
Yes, papa, she replied, smiling at him and with her hand still
beneath his; I'm here.
In the ink-blue shrieking trail of the twenty-two-hour Imperial
flyer, Slateville lay stark alongside the singing tracks as if hurtled
there like a spark off a speed-hot emery wheel.
The Imperial flyer swooped through the dun-colored village like the
glance of a lovely coquette shoots through her victim's heart and
leaves it bare.
At eight-one the far-off Imperial voice hallooed through the
darkness like a conquering hero whose vanguard is a waving sword which
flashes in the sunlight before he and his steed come up out of the
At eight-four a steam yodel shook the panes and lamp-chimneys of
Slateville, a semaphore studded with a ruby stiffened out against the
sky, and a white eyethe size of a bicycle-wheelflashed down the
Then the howl of a fiend, and a mile-long checkerboard of lighted
car-windows, and cinders rattling against them like hail.
A fire-boweled engine with a grimy-faced demon leaning out of his
red-hot cab, and, on every alternate night, a green eye with a black
pupil which winked a signal from that same heat-roaring cab and from a
dirt-colored frame shanty in a dirt-brown yard, where a naked tree
stretched its thin arms against the sky, an answering eye which gleamed
through a bandana-bound lantern and outlined the Hebe-like silhouette
of a woman in the window.
Then the flash of a mahogany-lined dining-car with nodding
vis-à-vis, pink-shaded candles and white-coated, black-faded genii
of the bowl and weal; an occasional vague figure peering through cupped
hands out from an electric-lighted berth; a plate-glass observation-car
with figures lounging in shallow leather chairs like oil-kings and
merchant princes and only sons in a Fifth Avenue club, and a great
trailing plume of smoke that lingered for a moment and died in the
still tingling air.
For a full half-hour, even an hour, after the Imperial flyer had
gouged through the village the yellow lights of Slateville burned on
behind its unwashed windows, which were half opaque with train-dust and
the grimy finger-prints of children. Then they began to flick out,
here, therehere, there. In a slate-roofed shanty beside the quarry,
in an out-of-balance bookkeeper's office in the Slateville Varnish
Factory, in the Red Trunk general store and post-office, the parson's
study, a maiden's bedroom, in the dirt-colored frame house, another
slate-roofed shanty beside the quarry, another, and yet another. Here,
The clerk in the signal-tower slumped in his chair, the doctor's
tin-tired buggy rattled up a hilly street that was shaped like a
crooked finger, and away beyond the melancholy stretches of
close-bitten grazing-land and runty corn-fields the flyer shrieked
upward, and the miles scuttled the echoes back to Slateville.
On an alternate night that was as singingly still as the inside of a
cup the flyer tore through the village with the cinders tattooing
against its panes and the white eye searching like a near-sighted
But from the red fireman's cab the green lantern with the black
bull's-eye painted on the outward side dangled unlit, and in the
dirt-colored house, behind drawn shades, the Hebe-like figure was
crouched in another woman's arms, and, in the room adjoining, John
Blaney lay dead with a dent in his head.
Listen, Cottie, listen!
The crouching women crouched closer together, a dove-note in the
crooning voice of one like the coo of a mate. 'Sh-h-h, darlin'.
There it goes, Cottie. Gawd, just like nothing had happened.
'Sh-h-h, dearie; lay still!
Listen. The engine's playin' a different tune on the tracks; it's
lighter and smoother.
Just hear, Cottie; they got the old diner on. I know her screech.
I hear, dearie.
And the Cleveland sleeper wasn't touched, neither. Hear her. They
say she didn't even leave the tracks. He used to say she had a rattle
like a dice-box. Just the same, it was the smooth-runnin' Washington
sleeper lit on the engine. Listen, Cottie, oh, listen! Just like
nothin' had happened.
Don't tremble so, darlin'. That's life every timeit just rides
over its dead.
He hated the flyer, ohoh
Don't take on so, Della darlin'. He died on his job.
He hated the flyer; he
He could have jumped like Jim Dirkey did, and lived to face the
shame of it, but he died on his job. You can always say your man died
on his job, Della darlin'.
Della raised her crouching head and brushed the hair back from her
eyes. Helen's face that launched a thousand ships was no more fair.
That he diddidn't he, Cottie? He died on his job.
Sure he did, darlin'sure he did.
You rememberyou remember, Cottie, the first night they put him on
Try to forget it, Della, and don't go gettin' all
I was over home that night with you and maw, andand he came in
for supper with the news andand he was like a funeral about bein'
Yes, I remember.
Even with the extra pay he was for stickin' to the accommodation,
because he loved her insides.
And because it was a chance to spite you.
But II was all for the flyer. I told him he was afraid of her
speed, and he hauled off and nearly hit me for callin' him a coward
before you and maw, and you up and
He was rough with you, Della, but he wouldn't 'a' dared do it with
me there. I had him bluffed, all righty; he wouldn't 'a' done it with
me and maw there.
Lots maw would 'a' cared. Poor maw! She never knew nothing else but
Paw wasn't so bad, Dellahe always brought home the envelope.
Johnhe made me eat the words when we got home that night; but,
just the samey, hehe wouldn't 'a' took the Imperial, Cottie, if I
hadn't nagged him to ithe wouldn't have!
Well, what if he wouldn't? You wouldn't 'a' married him, neither,
if he hadn't nagged you to it when paw died, and he knew you had a
stepmother that was devilin' and abusin' the life out of usyou.
He used to say, when he came home with a face as black as a crazy
devil's, that coaling the flyer was just like stoking hell. She ate and
ate and bellowed for more. He hated the flyer, he did. He stoked her
with more hate than coal, and I drove him to it, Cottie. I put the hole
in his head.
Aw, no, dearie! Nobody ever made John Blaney do nothing he didn't
want to do. He's dead now and can't take up for hisself, but he was
hard as nailseven if he was my brother-in-law.
'Sh-h-h, Cottie, little sister.
I always say, Della, Gawd knows I ain't got a cinch! I hate the
factory like I hate a green devil, and you know what it is to live
around maw's doggin' and abuse, but it's like I tole Joe the other
night: I wouldn't marry the finest man livin' before I'd had my chance
to try out what I had my heart set on. I told him he could save his
breath. I'm goin' to take a chance on gettin' out of this dumpnot on
tyin' up to it.
Joe's a good boy, Cottie. He's a saint alongside of what John was.
Steady fellows and foremen ain't layin' around loose, dearie. He's a
good boy, Cottienone finer.
Della! You ain't
No; I ain't urgin' you, Cottie. I ain't sayin' you're not right to
hold off, but Joe's the finest boy in these parts, ain't he?
That ain't sayin' much. You wasn't a big-enough gambler, Della. You
remember how I begged you the night before the wedding to hold off. I
ain't goin' to make your mistake. You ought 'a' done what Lily
donetook a chance. Tessie says her pictures were all pasted up
outside of Indianapolis last week. Lily Divette in the 'Twinkling
Belles.' If Lily Maloney with her baby face and
II stuck to John to the end, thoughdidn't I, Cottie? Nobody can
say I didn't stick to himcan they, Cottie?
No, no! Now don't go gettin' excited again, dearie.
Oh, Gawd, Gawd, Cottie. II feelsosoqueer!
Yes, darlin', I know!
The cryptic quiescence of death hung over the unpainted pine
bedchamber and chilled their skin like damp in a cave seeps through
clothing. From the far side of the bed a lamp wavered against a tin
reflector and danced through their hair like firelight in copper; wind
galloped over the flat country, shook the box-shaped house, and
whinnied on every flue.
Cottie, whose head was Tiziano's Flora yet more radiant, held her
sister's equally radiant head close to her warm bosom, and through the
calico of her open-at-the-throat waist, her heart pumped the
organ-prelude of LifeLife in the midst of Death.
Della darlin'don'tdon't be afraid to talk to me. Ain'tain't I
II knowwhat you're thinkin', Della
'Sh-h-h; not now!
You're thinkin' that you'rethat you're free, now,
Free, darlin'thinkthere ain't nothin' can hold you! A hundred
dollars' benefit-money and
Gawd, CottieCottie'sh-h-h! Him layin' in there dead! Itit
ain't no time to talk about that now. Anyways, you're the one to go.
I'll stay with maw.
Her words tumbled, and her tones were galvanized with fear and
fear's offspring, superstition. She glanced toward the half-open door
with eyes two shades too dark.
No, no, Della; you're the oldest. You go first, and II'll stick
it out with maw tillshe's gettin' feebler every day, Delia, and I'll
be joinin' you some day not far off.
'Sh-h-h; it ain't right. II'll give herhalf the benefit-money,
Cottie, but it's a sin to
You and folks make me sick. If the devil hisself was to die you'd
snivel and bury him in priest's robes. What John was he was
dyin' didn't change it. Ten days ago you were standin' at this very
window answering his signal and hating him with every swing of the
Cottie, you mustn't!
I used to see you sit across from him at the table, and when he
yelled at you or wanted to pet you I've seen you run your finger-nails
into you palms from hatin' him, clear in till they bled, like you used
to do when you was a kid and hated any one, and now, just because he's
Oh, Gawd, I never done the right thing by him! He was my husband.
Look how bare I kept everything from him. He used to come home from a
forty-eight-hour shift and say this house reminded him of hell with the
fire gone out. I never did the right thing by him.
He didn't by you, neither.
He was my husband.
He knew if we'd 'a' had the money to light out and do like Lily he
wouldn't 'a' stood a show of bein' your husband, though. He knew, from
the day they put the bandages on maw's eyes, thet he was just the only
way out for us. He knew one of us had to quit the factory and stay home
with herand where was the money comin' from? He knew.
Yes, he knew, Cottie. Even on the New York accommodation, that time
on the wedding-trip, trouble began right off. When that fellow on the
train got talkin' to me and told me he could give me a job in the
biggest show on Broadway, he nearly hauled off and raised a row right
there on the train when he came back and seen me talkin' to him.
If only you'd got the fellow's name, Della, and his street in New
How could I, when John came back and began snarlin' like
Would you know him if you seen him again, Della? Think, darlin',
Would I? In my sleep I'd know him. He was a short fellow with eyes
so little they didn't show when he laughed, and a mouth full of gold
teeth that stuck out like a buck's. And say, Cottie, for diamonds! A
diamond horseshoe scarf-pin as big as a dollar!
There's money in it, Della. Look at Lily. Tessie says she's diamond
rings to her knuckles.
John knew what took the life out of me, from that day on. He used
to say if he ever laid eyes on that little bullet-headed, rat-eyed
sport, as he called him, he'd shake the life out of him. Just like
Faugh! he wouldn't 'a' had the nerve!
Don't you forget he knew what was eatin' us, Cottie.
Well, wasn't it our righta beauty like you in this dump?
Their faces, startlingly alike, were upturned, and in their eyes was
the golden fluid of dawn.
He knew. You remember that letter Lily wrote when you asked her to
get you in her show?
He found it in my pocket one night and read it, and laughed and
laughed. He used to know it by heart, and he'd cackle it to me whenever
he caught me red-eyed from cryin'.
That letter she wrote out of jealousy? He seen that?
Yeh! 'Stay home, dearie,' he used to sing to me, laughin' to split
his sides; 'stay home, like Della did, and make happiness and a home
Then he'd go off in a real fit of laughin' again. 'You ain't got no
ideas of the breakers ahead, Cottie dearie,' he'd holler, 'and in this
business there ain't many of us got the strength to fight 'em.'
Wasn't that like himstealin' a letter!
Then he'd laugh some more, wag his finger at me and make me cry,
and keep yellin' 'Breakers ahead! Breakers ahead!'
There, there, dearie; it's all over, now. He was too dumb and too
mean to know that Lily was as jealous as a snake of me and youalways,
even, when we was kids. Sure she don't want us in her showwe'd walk
away with it. John was too dumb to see the letter was only
'Sh-h-h; it's a sin to run down the dead.
Anyway, you never lied to John like he did to you. I can still hear
him that dark night, down by the quarry, trying to scare you. Lyin' to
you about what girls got to buck up against in the city, that night,
when they first put the bandages on maw's eyes, and he was beggin' and
beggin' you to marry him.
Gawd! I was ashamed to listen to some of the things he tried to
scare me with that night.
He couldn't answer when I piped up about his cousin, Tessie Hobbs,
that went to St. Louis to learn millinery and sends home four dollars a
week. He couldn't answer that, could he?
No, he couldn't, Cottie.
A silencethe great stone silence of a coliseumclosed in about
them. Della shivered and burrowed her head deeper into her sister's
Aw, Gawd, us talkin' like this, with him layin' in there!
If he wasn't layin' in there we wouldn't be talkin'.
A shutter swung in on its hinges.
There, there! It ain't nothin' but the wind, Della.
He was goin' to fix that shutter to-day when he was off shift.
Gawd, he didn't have no more idea of dyin' than I did!
That's just like maw. Sometimes in the night I can almost hear her
stop breathin'she's so weak, but she's always talkin' about next
It'll be awful for you, little sister, with me gone and you alone
Itit ain't a sin to say it, Delia. Sheshe ain't here for long,
and I'll be comin' to join you soon. You'll tell 'em I'm comin'.
Gawd, how I wish we was going together, little sister! Leavin' you
is just like leavin' my heart. There's nobody I love like you, Cottie.
Della darlin', look at Lilyshe went alone.
II ain't afraidyou got the best voice of us two, but I'll make
the way for you, dearie. I'll make it easier for you to come.
It won't be long.
If I could only have got his name that time on the train, Cottie!
You got Lily's boardin'-house, dearie. Ain't that something?
Oh, darlin'him layin' in there!
Don't begin that again, dearie.
Listen, Cottielistenthat can't be the six-thirty accommodation
already, is it? It ain't the funeral-day already, is it?
Yes, dearie; but it's a long way off. See, it's just gettin' light
through the crack in the shade.
Don't raise it, Cottie. It's a sin to let in the light, with him
layin' there and dead.
Darlin', it ain't goin' to hurt him, and the lamp's low. See; there
ain't no harm in raisin' itlook how light it's gettin'!
Off toward the east dawn trembled on the edge of eternity and sent
up, as if the earth were lighting the horizon, a pearlish light shotted
with pink. A smattering of stars lingered and trembled as though cold.
They paled; dawn grew pinker, and the black village, with its naked
trees standing darkly against the sky, sent up wispy spirals of smoke.
A derrick in the jagged bowl of the quarry moved its giant arms slowly,
and a steam-whistle shrieked.
The New York accommodation hallooed to the trembling dawn and tore
The sisters pressed their white faces close to the cold pane and
watched it rush into the sunrise. A cock crowed to the dawn, and, from
afar, another. A dirt-team rumbled up the road, and the steam-whistle
from the quarry blew a second reveille.
Youyou take the accommodation, darlin'. It's cheaper, and you'll
be feelin' scary about the flyer for a while. You can catch it down by
Terre Haute at five-thirty-one, Monday morningeh, darlin'?
Soso soon, Cottieonly three days after, and him hardly cold.
Don't let's drag it out, darlin'.
Oh, Cottie, I'll be waitin' for you! There won't be a day that I
won't be waitin' for you. There's nothin' I love like you.
Their faces were close and wet with tears, and the first ray of sun
burnished their heads and whitened their white bosoms.
Kiss me, Cottie.
My little sister!
You're goin', Dellatry to think, darlin', what it meansyou're
'Sh-h-h, dearie'sh-h-h. YesII'm goin'.
And in the room adjoining John Blaney lay dead with a dent in his
* * * * *
The city has a thousand throats, its voice is like a storm running
on the wind, and like ship-high waves plunging on ship-high rocks, and
like unto the undertone of lost souls adrift in a sheol of fog and
The voice of the city knows none of the acoustic limitations of
architects and prima donnas. Its dome is as high as fifty-story
sky-scrapers, and its sounding-board the bases of a thousand thousand
It penetrates the Persian-velvet hangings of the most rococo palace
toward which the sight-seeing automobile points its megaphone, and
beats against brains neurotic with the problems of solid-gold-edged
bonds and solid-gold cotillion favors. It is the birth-song of the
tenement child and the swan-song of the weak. It travels out over
fields of new-mown hay and sings to the boy at the plow. It shouts to
the victor and whispers to the stranger.
Through the morning bedlam of alarm-clocks, slamming doors, the
rattle of ash-cans, and the internal disorders of a rooming-house, came
the voice a-whispering to Della.
Out from the mouths of babes and truck-drivers, out from the mouths
of débutantes and coal-stokers, out from the mouths of those who toil
and those who spin not. Drifting over the sea of housetops, up from the
steep-walled streets. The laugh of the glad, the taut laugh of the mad;
the lover's sigh, and the convict's sighand, beneath, like arpeggio
scales under a melody, the swiftly running gabble-gabble of life.
Della stirred on her cot, raised her arms, and yawned to the
faun-colored oblong of October sky; breathed in the stale air and salty
pungency of bad ventilation and the city's breakfast-bacon, and swung
herself out of bed.
So awoke Adriana, too, with her hair falling in a torrent over her
breasts and her languid limbs unfolding.
She shook her hair backward with the changeless gesture of women,
held her hands at arm's-length, and regarded them. They were whiter,
and the broken nails were shaping themselves into ovals. A callous
ridge along her forefinger, souvenir of a cistern which pumped
reluctantly, was disappearing.
She smiled to herself in the mirror, like the legendary people who
have eyes to see the grass grow must smile at the secret of each blade.
Then she slid into a high-necked, long-sleeved wrapper and bound the
whorl of her hair in a loose bun at her neck.
Mrs. Fallows's minimum-priced, minimum-sized hall bedroom speaks for
its nine-by-twelve neatly furnished self. The hall bedrooms of
Forty-fourth Street and Forty-fifth Street and Forty-ad-infinitum
Street are furnished in that same white-iron bed with the dented brass
knobs, light-oak, easy-payment dresser, wash-stand, and square table
with a too short fourth leg and shelf beneath for dustand above the
dresser, slightly askew, a heart-rendering, art-rendering version of
Narcissus at the Pool, or any of the well-worn incidents favorite to
mythology and lithographers.
But life, like love and the high cost of living and a good cigar, is
comparative. To Della, stretching her limbs to the morning, Mrs.
Fallows's carpeted fourth-floor back, painted furniture, and a light
that sprang into brilliancy at a tweak, was a sybarite's retreat,
eighteen hours removed from wash-day, and rising in the dark, black
mud-roads and a dirt-colored shanty that met the wind broadside and
trembled to its innards.
Two flights below her a mezzo-soprano struggled for high C;
adjoining, an early-morning-throated barytone leaned out of a doorway
and called for a fresh towel. Came three staccato raps at Della's
portal, and enter on the wings of the morning and a pair of
white-topped, French-heeled shoes Miss Ysobel Du Prez, late of the
third road company of the Broadway success, Oh, Oh, Marietta! and
with a history in pony ballets that entitled her to a pedigree and
Girl, ain't you dressed yet? What you doin'? Waitin' for your
French maid to get your French lawngerie from the French laundry?
Miss Du Prez swung herself atop the trunk and crossed her slim
limbs. Chatelaine jewelry jangled; Herculean perfume dominated the air,
and that expressive sobriquet for soubrette, a fourteen-inch
willow-plume, and long as the tail of a male pheasant, brushed her left
Miss Ysobel Du Prezone of the ornamental line of tottering
caryatids who uphold on their narrow, whitewashed shoulders the
gold-paper thrones of musical-comedy principalities, and on those same
shoulders carry every tradition of that section of Broadway which
Thespis occupies on a ninety-nine-year, privilege-of-renewal leasethe
fumes of grease-paint the incense of her temple, the footlights the
white flame of her sacrifice!
You gotta do a quick change if you're going to the offices with me
to-day, girl. I gotta be up at the Empire in the Putney Building by
eleven and stop in at the Bijou first.
Delia shed her comfortable shroud of repose like Thais dropping her
mantle in an Alexandrian theater.
I must 'a' overslept, Ysobel. Trying on them duds we bought
yesterday up to so late last night done me up. Three days in New York
ain't got me used to the pace.
You should worry! If I had your face and figure I'd sleep till the
call-boy rapped twice.
Ah, Ysobel, you with your cute little face and cute little ways!
Soft pedal on the ingenoo stuff, girl. You know you don't hate
yourself. I didn't notice that you exactly despised anything about you
when they called the floor-walker to have a look at you in that black
Honest, Ysobel, I dreamt about it all night.
Sure you did! But who was it steered you into a 'slightly used,'
classy place where you could buy a gown that Mrs. Asterbilt wore once
to a reception at the Sultan of Sulu's or the Prince of Pilsen's or any
of that crowd; who steered you in a place where you could buy a real
gown for one-tenth the cost of production?
You did, Ysobel. I don't know what I'd 'a' done if Mrs. Fallows
hadn't brought you up.
That little black dream that only let you back twenty-nine-fifty
cost three hundred if it cost a cent, and nothing but a snag in the hem
and the lace in front as good as new. Gee, I could show this cheap
bunch around here how to dress if I had a month's advance in hand!
Get off the trunk, Ysobel, and sit here, will you? I want to get it
out. Say, if Cottie could see me with the black hat to match! My little
sister I was telling you about could
Who you got to thank? Who gave you the right steer? Take it from
me, if I hadn't gone along with you, every store on Sixth Avenue would
have X-rayed the corner of your handkerchief for the thirty-eight
dollars tied up in it and body-snatched you for your own funeral. Even
with me along you had a lean like a bent pin for that
made-on-Canal-Street, thirty-two-fifty, red silk they hauled out of the
morgue to show you. I seen you edgin' for that Kokome model.
Me and Cottie was always great ones for red. I ought to had the red
serge you made so much fun of dyed for mourning, but Cottie
Red! When you, in a tight-lookin' black that hugs you like it was
wet, and a black hat with a tilt that Anna Held would buy right off
your head, can walk into any office in the row this morning and land in
the show-girl row of any chorus on the bills. If you think that's an
easy stunt, ask any girl in this house.
II ain't scared a bit now, since I'm going around with you,
Ysobel: but gee, if I had to go alone!
Fallows does the same thing for all of them. When I was in last
spring from first pony in a Middle West company of the 'Merry
Whirl'remind me, and I'll show you my noticeswhen I was in last
spring Fallows dumped a little doll-eyed soubrette on me that didn't do
a thing, after I dragged her around to the offices, but grab a part
away from me in a Snooky Ookums quartet that Jim Simmons was puttin'
Sure! A production I'd been holding off for all season. Me that's
made the boards of more stages creak than she's ever seen!
Mrs. Fallows says you're just the one to show me around, that you
are one swell little pony, and an old one in the offices.
An old one in the offices! I don't see Fallows herself suffering
from no growing-pains. They don't come any farther gone to seed than
her. She tried to stick to her soft-shoe act till the office boys of
the Consolidated Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Managers
got up a subscription and bought her this four-flights' rooming-house
to keep her feet busy with. Fallows better lay low with me or I can do
some fancy tongue-work.
She didn't mean
Easy there, girl! Didn't I learn you for two hours last night to
get the cold-cream on smooth, first? Smoothnow the powdermore white
on the nosemore!
Say, I met Vyette D'Orsay up in a office yesterday, and she thought
I was tryin' out a comedy line on her when I told her I found one I had
to learn how to make up.
Lily, a girl from our town, used to powder and
Little more red over the cheek-bonessee, honey?like minesay,
if you wanna see swell work you ought to see me made up for
spotdidn't I tell you to work back toward the ears?
Theremoregood! Don't give yourself a mouth like a low-comedy gash.
Use the cheese-cloth, honey.
Look how it smears!
There, a Cupid bow in the middle is all you need. You got a mouth
just the size of a kiss, anyway.
JohnJohn used to say about it that
Good! Say, you're some little learneryou are! Easy therealways
line an eyebrow downwardtheremoreso!
Say, you got Zaza, Perfecta, Lillie Russell, and the whole hothouse
bunch of them knocked through the glass ceiling.
Delia leaned to her radiant reflection in the mirror and smiled
through teeth faintly pink from the ruby richness of her lips.
You ought to see my little sister Cottie, Ysobel. When she comes
you'll sit up and take real notice. I ain't even in her class. She can
sit on her hairit's so longand it's so gold it's hot-lookin'.
Before I had typhoid mine was the same wayyou can't put them
dresses on over your head, girl. You gotta climb inthere ain't no
room for a overhead act. There! Say, look at that side-drape, will you!
I bet that lace set some dame back ten a yard. Some class! Don't forget
to strike for thirty right off the batthey'll think more of you. Say,
girl, it's worth the time I'm wasting on you to see Casey's face when I
steer you into there this morning.
Ain't ita beauty, Ysobel! But it's a little tight, kinda
Now begin that again, will you? Honest, if Vyette could hear that
Around the knees I mean, Ysobel. It's hard for me to walk.
If it was any looser I'd get a fit of the laughs like I did over
that red serge. If it was any looserfor Gawd's sake, leave that neck
open! No, no; down like that! A strip of real, lily-white,
garden-variety neck, and she wants to pin it shut!
II feel ashamedIIkinda hate to leave it open.
Shades of Vyette! Leave that neck alone, can't you? After all my
preachin' yesterday, look where I landed you. Nowheres!
Like that, Ysobel?
Take the pin out, there; center left like that. Say, girl, I wish
you knew about this game what I've forgot.
Me, too, Ysobel.
Say, listen to her warblin' down there, will you? What's she
practisin' for, I wondera chaser act on a four-a-day circuit? Breathe
in, girl, you may be a perfect thirty-six, but you'll never make a
tape-measure see it your way.
Shall Ishall I tell 'em I got a voice, Ysobel? Me and my little
sister used to sing in
Miss Du Prez glanced up over Della's shoulder and, by proxy of the
mirror, their eyes met. The red of exertion was high in her face, and
one corner of her mouth compressed over pins, so that her words leaked
out as through the lips of a faun.
Voice! You remind me of the fellow that went down to Bowling Green
to bowl. They got as much room for voices in musical comedy as a
magazine's got for anything besides the advertisin' pages.
My little sister's got
Can you beat it? 'Voice,' she says. You put your voice in your
ankles and waist-line, girl, and it'll get you further. And as for
scales like our friend down-stairs, learn to keep the runners out of
your silk stockings first. There, give it the Anna Held
Swell, and then some. Who you got to thank? Who steered you right?
Like a pale-gold aura of moonlight spreading out from behind a black
cloud sprang Della's hair against the drooping brim of her hat. She was
like a tight-draped, firm-stayed Venus, lyric in every line, her limbs
wrapped in an ephod of grace and a skirt that restricted her steps like
anklets joined by a too short chain.
Here, put them white gloves in your bag and save 'em for outside
the office doors. Ready?
Oh, Ysobel, if my little sister Cottie could only see me now!
Don't forget the lines I learnt you last nighttwo years'
experience on Western short circuitspot-light work, and silent
Western short circuitWestern short circuit!
Dancing and first-row promenade specialty.
Dancing and first
Say, you ain't unlearnt it already, have you?
Down four flights of narrow, unlit stairs with their gauzy laughter,
lingering in black hall corners, and then out into a sunlit morning.
At the end of the tall-walled block, lined on both sides with
brownstone, straight-front phalanxes of rooming-houses, a segment of
Broadway, flashing with automobiles, darting pedestrians, white-façaded
buildings, and sun-reflecting windows, flowed like a mountain stream in
GeeYsobel, look at that jam, will you!
Well, whatta you know! There goes Vance Dudley! If you want to know
what kind of work I do, ask Vance. Me and him did a duet solo in a
two-a-day musical sketch that would have landed us on Broadway sure if
the lead hadn't put in his lady friend when she came in off the road,
flat. I'll show you my notices sometime. That act was good enough for a
Hy Myers house if it had been worked right.
I bet you're grand, Ysobelyour cute little feet and all.
Ask any of 'em around the offices about me. I could soft-shoe
Clarice off the 'Winter Revue' this minute ifif I wasn't what they
call in the profesh aa tin saint. I kinda got my ideas about
About what, Ysobel?
None of them ingenoo lines again, girl. Leave it to you merry
widows to take care of yourselves every time. There's nothin' I can
learn a merry widow. A merry widow can make Methuselah, herself, feel
like a squab when it comes to bein' wise.
That baby stare ain't the kind of a cue to throw me, girl. I can
steer you up as far as the offices, but I'm done after you once get
past the office boy.
After she gets past the ground-glass door every girl in the
business has got to decide for herself. I decided myself, and look
where I got to! Nine years in the business and never creaked a Broadway
board yet. I ain't got the looks to get there on my own stuffand what
happens? I wake up dead some day doin' short circuit in a Kansas
tank-town. I'll be doin' thirty-a-week, West-of-the-Mississippi stuff
to the bitter end becausebecause I decided my way and selected
the rocky lane.
The rocky lane?
Sure! The first job I ever went out for I could 'a' had. Five sides
to the parttwo songs and a specialty solo, but, instead, I hit him
flop across the cheek with my glove and walked out, leavin' him
staggerin' and my engagement layin' on the floor. II ain't preachin'
to you, honeyI'm just tellin'! Every girl in this business has got to
decide for herselfI ain't sayin' one thing or the other.
Ysobelhit who across the cheekhit who?
Take it from me, honey, and remember I ain't tryin' to sing you the
'Saint's Serenade,' but take it from me, if I was startin' all over
againway back where you areII'd do the glove act over again. I
would, honey, I would, and I ain't preachin', neither.
Honest to Gawd, Ysobel; I don't know what
Ain't I told you to cut out that ingenoo with mehonest, it gets
on my nerves! Watch out, there!
Gee; that scart me!
Them are pay-as-you-exit taxi-cabs we're dodging. The chorus-girls'
sun-parlors, if you listen to the Sunday supplements and funny papers.
The time wecameJohnwas a great one for watchin' them.
Take it from me that about all nine out of ten of us gay la-la
girls you read about, get out of 'em, is watchin'. All we know about
them is dodgin' them after the show to get home in a hurry, stick our
feet in hot water to get some of the ache out, and fall into bed too
tired to smear the cold-cream off.
Watch out, there, Ysobel!
The truth about the chorus-girl would cripple the box-office and
put the feature supplements and press-agents out of business. Here we
are, DellaI got to stop off at nine just a minute, and you wait
outside for me; remember when we get up to elevenWestern circuit,
silent principal and
Western circuitWestern circuit!
The Putney Building reared nineteen white-tile, marble-façaded
stories straight up from the most expensive heart-acreage of Broadway
and stemmed the Thespian tide that rushed in from every side and surged
against its booking-offices.
A bronze elevator the size of a Harlem bedroom and crowded to its
capacity shot them upward with the breath-taking flight of a frightened
Ysobel crowded into a corner and nudged a youthful-looking old man
in a blue-and-white striped collar and too much bay-rum.
Hello yourself, Ysobel.
How are yuh?
What you doin', Eddie?
Rehearsin' with a act.
Noerhigh-class burlesquetwo a day.
You workin', Ysobel?
Got three things danglin'ain't signed yet. Just came in last
S'long. Come on, Della. Watch out there, Eddiea fellow burnt a
hole in my friend lookin' at her like that once.
A titter ran around the elevator, and the old young man writhed in
his blue-striped collar.
'Sh-h-h, Ysobel; everybody heard you. A rosily opalescent hue swam
high into Della's face as she stepped out of the elevator, and dyed her
I should worry! I was never out with him in a show in my life that
he didn't ogle a hole in every queen he seen. Out in Spokane onct he
Western circuitWestern circuit
They hurried down a curving, white-tile corridor, rows of doors with
eye-like glass panes were lined up on each side, and the tick-tack of
typewriters penetrating. Della's breath came heavier and faster, and a
layer of vivid pink showed through the artificial red.
You wait out here a minute, Della. I wanna step in here, at the
Bijou, and see if Louis Rafalsky is doin' anything this morning. Then
we'll shoot up to the Empire
SureII'll wait, Ysobel.
She leaned against the wall and placed her hand over the region of
her lace yoke and heart, as if she would regulate their heaving.
A flash of cerise plume, a jangle of chatelaine jewelry, and Ysobel
disappeared behind one of the doors, her many-angled silhouette
flashing against the far side of the ground glass.
Della breathed in deep and gulped in her dry, hot throat; her
fingers, the damp cold born of nervousness, curled in toward her warm
palms. She daubed at her lips with a handkerchief.
Simultaneously a door opposite her opened, and a short,
bullet-headed figure in a light checked suit, and a diamond horseshoe
scarf-pin that caught the points of light stepped out into the pale
nimbus cast by the white signal-light of an up-going elevator.
With a gasp that caught in her throat Della darted in her too narrow
skirt across the corridor, reached out, and grasped the light-gray
Look, she cried, thrusting herself between him and the
trellis-work of the elevator-shaft and throwing back her head so that
her bare neck, soft as the breast feathers of a dove, rose and fell
with a dove's agitated breathing, LookI'm here!
The short figure turned on his heel and looked up at her, his
shoulder-line a full three inches below hers, and his small, predaceous
eyes squinting far back into his head.
II'm heresirdon't you remembermeI'm here.
He regarded her with the detailed appraisal of the expert, and his
glance registered points in her favor.
Gad! he repeated.
Not bad for a big girlare youeh?
Don't you remember?
Sureyou're the little girl I met out Westdidn't I?two seasons
Nonono! Don't you remember me now?
She tore her hat backward from its carefully adjusted tilt, so that
it revealed the brassy gold of her hair, and took a step toward him.
Now don't you remember?
Suresureyou're the little girl fromsure I'd remember a big
little girl like you anywhere.
You remember now? On the twenty-eight-hour accommodation out of St.
Louis. WeI got on at Terre Haute and sat across from you while
hethey made up the berth, and you said
Could I forget a big little queen like you! You've grown to a real
big girl, ain't you? Come back in my office, sister. That's how much I
think of youwith a whole company waitin' for me over at the Gotham
Ijust got hereMr.Mr.
Myers, if anybody should ask you. That's who you're dealin'
withHy Myers, if you should happen to forget.
Ain't it funny, Mr. Myers, my runnin' into you right off. I never
thought I'd find you in this town. My little sister I was tellin' you
about will be here soon and
I'm ready to take that job you was tellin' me about till
In here, sister, where we can talk business alone.
She followed him back through the glazed door, through an outer
office arranged like a school-room with aisle-forming desks, and
white-shirt-waisted girls and men clerks with green eye-shades bent
double over typewriters and books as big as the marble tablets on which
are writ the debit and credit of all men for all time.
Boys scurried and darted; telephone bells jangled; and finally the
quiet of an inner office, shut off from the noises like a padded cell,
almost entirely carpeted in a leopard's skin and hung with colored
lithographs of many season's comedy queens, whose dynasties were sprung
from caprice and whose papier-mâché thrones had long since slumped to
Now sit here, sisterhere in this chair next to my desk, where I
can look at you. Gad, ain't you grown to be a big girl, though!
I'm ready for that job now, Mr.Mr. Myers.
Mr. Myers swung on his swivel-chair, squinted his eyes further back
into his head, and nodded further appraisal and approval.
Big little girlcan I call you that, Queenie? How have you been?
I've had a hard time of it, Mr.
Hold out your hand and lemme tell your fortune, sister.
Dear childyou mustn't act like thatherehold out your
We want jobs, me and my little sisterwhen she gets here. I told
you about her, you remember. II've had experience on Western
Naughtynaughty eyesdevilish eyes! Don't you look at me like
thatdon't! You big little devil, you!
What is it, sir?
Good! Sit there with the sun on youyou've got hair like
I've had experience with first-row
Gad! He swerved suddenly forward in his chair so that his small
feet touched the floor. Gad, stand up therestand over there in that
sunshine by the window!
Stand upthere, agin that screen there
Dark as a nun in her wimple, but golden as a sun-flower, she rose as
Trilby rose to the eye of Svengali
Gad! he repeated, bringing his small tight fist down on a littered
ash-tray, by Gad!
Wine was suddenly in her blood.
You ought to see me and my little sister when we pose together;
Take off your hat, girl.
She stood suddenly quiet, as if the wine in her blood had seethed
Awnowhatta you think I amI
Take off your hat, big little girl, and if you're good to me I'll
tell you something. If I hadn't taken a fancy to you I wouldn't tell
She lifted the heavy brim with both hands and stood in the bar of
Gad! he criedGad! and jerked open a drawer and threw the big
bulk of a typewritten manuscript on the desk before him. Read that;
read that, sister! His heavy spatulate finger underlined the caption.
'TheRedWidow,' 'The Red Widow,' by Al Wilson.
He rose and jerked her by her two wrists so that she flounced toward
him, her hair awry and the breath jumping out of her bosom.
That's you, sisterthe Red Widow!
You're goin' out in a road chorus next week and get broke in. At
the end of a season I'm goin' to feature you in the biggest show that
ever I had up my sleeve.
She regarded him with glazed eyes of one dazed, and backed away from
Youthe Red Widow, sister! You know what a Hy Myers production
means, don't you? You know what an Al Wilson show is, don't you? Add
them two. I'll make you make that show or bust. Stand off there and
lemme look at you againthereso!
She sprang back from his touch and raised her hand with the glove
dangling in the attitude of a horseman cracking his whip. Youyou
quit! Like Dryope changed into a tree, with the woodiness creeping up
her limbs and the glove in her passive hand, she stood with her arm
flung upward. You quit!
Dear child, you mustn't
II'm goin'lemme go!
Aw, come now, sister; don't get friskyI didn't mean to make you
sore. Gee! Ain't you a touchy little devil?
If that's your number, all rightybut you're just kiddin'you
ain't goin' to be too independent in one of the worst seasons in the
She moved toward the door with her hand outstretched to the knob.
You better think twice, sisterbut don't lemme keep youthere's
other Red Widows as good and better'n you beatin' like an army at my
door this minute. But don't lemme keep you.
Willwill you lemme alone?
Sure I will, if it'll make you feel any betteryou cold little
queen, you. Nervous as a unbroke colt, ain't you? Sit down there and
He touched a buzzer, and a uniformed boy sprang through the door to
Write Al Wilson to meet me here to-morrow at ten.
Yes, sir. The uniform flashed out.
She moved around him cautiously, not taking her eyes from his face.
Have Ihave I got a job?
Sure you have. I'll send you out to Frisco in a chorus that'll
limber you up, all right, but I won't let you stay long. I won't let a
little queen like you run away for long.
Gad! maybe I won't neither. How would you like to play right close
to home over in Brooklyn? I've got a chorus over there that'll take the
stiffness out of you. I don't want to let a great, big, beautiful doll
like you too far away.
FriscoI like Frisco.
But hold up your right hand. Don't you tell nobody I'm pushing you
for next season's featurethat's our little secretbetween you and me
I was gettin' thirty dollars.
Don't you worry about that, Doll-Doll. You come back here to-morrow
at ten. I wanna show Al how the Red Widow we've been lookin' for
dropped right into my hands. He can't squeal to me no more about
II'm going now, Mr. Myersto-morrow, then, at ten
Where you goin', Doll?
Home. I guess I've lost my friend now.
Wait; I'm going your way.
You don't even know which way I'm goin'.
Sure I do. I'll drop you there in my car.
OhII wantto walkI do.
None of that, sister. I'm treatin' you white, and you gotta do the
same by me. I won't bite you, you little scare-cat! I'm goin' to make
things happen to you that'll make you wake up every day pinchin'
My little sister, Mr. Myers, has got me beat on looks.
But you gotta treat me white, sister. We can talk business in the
car, but you gotta have confidence in me. I won't biteyou big little
I don't wantto gothat way, Mr. MyersI gotta go some place
* * * * *
On its hundredth night The Red Widow, playing capacity houses at
the Gotham Theater, presented each lady in the audience a handsome
souvenir of Red Widow perfume attractively nestled in a red-satin box
with a color picture of Della Delaney on the label.
To the pretty whifflings and ah's! of every feminine nose present,
to the over-a-million-copies-sold waltz-theme that was puckering the
mouth of every newsboy in New York, to the rustly settling back into
chairs, furs, and standing-room-only attitudes against Corinthian
pillars, the hundredth-night, second-act curtain rose on an audience
with an additional sense unexpectedly gratified and the souvenir-loving
soul of every woman present sniffing its appreciation.
Comedy is a classic prodigal who has wandered far. Comus has
discarded his mantle and donned a red nose, a split-up-the-back
waistcoat, and a pair of clap-sticks.
Harlequin and Cap-and-Bells have doffed the sock and many colors for
the sixty-dollar-a-week rôle of million-dollar pickle-magnate pursuing
a forty-dollar juvenile, who, in turn, is pursuing the
two-hundred-dollar-a-week Red Widow from Act Onesummer hotel at
Manhattan Beach to Act Twotropical isle off the Bay of Bungel.
For the hundredth time the opening act of The Red Widowa ghoul
at the grave of a hundred musical comediessang to its background of
white-flannel chorus-men, drop-curtain of too-blue ocean and jungle of
A painted ship idled on a painted ocean. Trees reared their tropical
leaves into a visible drop-net.
It is the Bayit is the Bayit is the Ba-a-ay
Of Love and Bunge-e-e-e-l
announced the two front rows, kicking backward three times.
It is the Ba-a-a-ay
Of Love and Bunge-e-e-el
agreed the kicked-at, white-flannel background.
A shapely octet in silk-and-lisle regimentals, black-astrakhan capes
flung over one shoulder, and black-astrakhan hats as high as a
majordomo's bent eight silk-and-lisle left knees with rhythmic
regularity. Six ponies in yellow skirts, as effulgent as inverted
chrysanthemums, and led by a black pony with a gold star in her hair,
kicked to the wings and adored the audience. A chain of Bungel belles
stretched their thin arms above their heads in a letter O and prinked
about on their toes like bantams in a dust road.
Five trombones, ten violas, twelve violins, a drum and bass-viol
bombardment rose to a high-C climax, with the chorus scrambling loyally
after them like a mountaineer scaling a cliff for an eaglet's nest.
It is the Bayit is the Bayit is the Ba-a-ay
Of Love and Bunge-e-e-l
shouted the seventy-five of them, receding with a grape-vine motion
into the wings.
Enter Cyrus Hinkelstein, mayor and pickle-magnate of Brineytown, on
the Suwanee, in a too large white waistcoat, white-duck comedy spats,
and a pink-canvas bald head.
He institutes an immediate search behind tropical vines and along
the under sides of palm fronds for the forty-dollar juvenile who is
pursuing the Red Widow from the summer hotel, Act One to Act Two,
tropical isle off the Bay of Bungel.
Enter the Red Widow in a black, fish-scale gown that calls out the
stealthy pencil of every Middle West dressmaker in the house and rapid
calculation from the women with a good memory and some fish-scales on a
The Red Widow, with a poinsettia sprawling like a frantic clutch at
her heart, and her burnished gold head rising with the grace of a gold
flower out of a vase!
Cyrus assumes a swoon of delight, throws out a cueThe date-trees
are bloomingthe conductor raps his baton twice for their feature
duet entitled, Oh, Let Me Die on Broadway, and the spot-light
The house clamors for a fourth encore, but the lights flash on. The
pursuing son, in the face of prolonged applause, white trousers, and a
straw katy, bursts upon the scene with his features in first position
for the dénouement.
But the audience clamors on. The son postpones his expression and
leans against a jungle to a fourth encore of the tuneful Thanatopsis.
On the final curtain of the hundredth night the company bowed two
curtain-calls to the capacity house busily struggling into wraps and up
The Red Widow, linked between the pickle-magnate and the triumphant
son, flanked by sextets, octets, and regimentals, bowed four times over
three sheaths of American beauties and a high-handled basket of
Then, almost on the drop of the curtain, the immediate roar of
sliding wings, which mingled with the exit strains of the orchestra,
like a Debussy right-hand theme defying the left, and the rumble of
Scene-shifters, to whom every encore is a knell, demolished whole
kingdoms at a lunge, half a hundred satin slippers flashed up a spiral
staircase to chorus dressing-rooms, the Red Widow flung the trail of
the gown she had onso carelessly dragged across the tarpaulin terra
firma of Bungelacross one bare arm and darted through the door with a
red star painted on the panel.
Her dressing-room, hung in vivid chintz, with a canopied table
replacing the make-up shelf, and a passing show of signed photographs
tacked along the wall, was as fantastic as Gnomes' Cave.
A wildness of chiffon and sleazy silk hung from the wall-hooks, a
pair of gauze aeroplane wings hovered across a chair, and, atop a
trunk, impertinent as a Pierette, the black pony was removing the gold
star from her hair.
Warm house to-night, Del. I sent Sibbie across to the hotel with
Yehbest house yet.
But gee! it's a wonder he wouldn't give away kerosene.
It made me so dizzy I nearly flopped like a seal in the pony
prance. He must 'a' bought it by the keg.
I told him it was strong enough to run his new motor-boat. Gawd,
ain't I tired! How'd the aeroplane song go, Ysobel?
Swell! But leave it to Billy to hog your act every time. I seen him
grab a laugh when the propellers was workin'.
Undo me, Ysobel? Why'd you let Sibbie go? Can't you let me get used
to having a maid, hon'?
Poor kid, you're dead, ain't you? But you gotta go with him
to-night or he'll howl.
Della lowered her beaded lashes over eyes that smarted, and raised
her arms like Niobe entreating fate.
Sure, I gotta go. He's been bragging about this hundredth-night
blow-out for a month.
Quit squirming, Del! Hold still, can't you?
Five recalls on 'Let me die,' Ysobel.
You never went better.
Della slid out of her gown and into a gold-colored kimono
embroidered in black flying swans, and creamed off her make-up in long,
Look, he wants me to wear that silver-fox coat and the
cloth-of-silver gown. Honest, it's so heavy I nearly fainted in it the
other night. Lots he cares!
It'll be a swell blow, Del. The hundredth night he gave when
Perfecta was starring was town talk. He don't stop at nothin'.
No, he don't stop at nothin'.
He gimme a look to-night when I came off from the prance. He'd
gimme notice in a minute if he didn't need me. He knows that ballet
would fall like a bride's biscuit without me.
Sure it would! He likes your work, hon'. I never pulled any strings
for you, neither. He just seen your try-out and liked it swell.
Sure he did, but he's that jealous of you! He was dead sore when
you brought me down here to dress with you. Gee, you're tired, ain't
Dog-tired! That staircase waltz always does me up.
Lay your head down here a minute. Ain't that just life, though?
Here we are kicking just like a year ago in Fallows's 'Neatly
I ain't kickin', Ysobel. I wake up every morning pinchin' myself.
Gawd, if you gotta long face, what ought the rest of us to have?
You're the luckiest girl any of us knows. Did you see what the new
Yellow Book says about you? 'The Titian-headed Venus de
Just the same, you wouldn't change places with me, Ysobel! Don't
wriggle out of answering me! Now, would you?
Watch out, you're mussing up your beauty curls. Here, lemme pin
that diamond heart on the left shoulder of your dress. Hurry up, honey,
Myers will be here any minute, and you know how sore he gets if you
keep him waitin'.
Say, but that silver's swell on you!
Say, Ysobel, wait till they see my little sister. We could do a
twin act that would take 'em off their feet. That new 'Heavenly Twin'
show that Al read us the first act of, with Cottie and me featured, and
you doin' the Columbinegee
It can't be Hy already. II ain't dressed yet, Hyjust a minute!
Oh, it's a telegram, Ysobel; take it, like a good girl.
Say, it ain't another from Third Row Bobbie, is it? You ought to
tip him off that he's wastin' his pin-money on you, hon'.
Della ripped the flap, read, and very suddenly sat down on the
silver-fox coat. The color drained out of her face, and her breath came
irregularly as if her heart had missed a beat.
DellaDeldarlin'what's the matter?
Ysobel peered across the bare shoulder, her slim silk legs tiptoed
and her neck arched.
Maw buried yesterday. Money you sent for her birthday
paid funeral. Am ready. Wire directions.
Awaw, Del darlin'honest, II don't know what to say, only
itonlyit ain't like she was your real mother, Del darlin'.
You can't be hard hit over a blind old dame that used to make it hot as
sixty for you.
Poor old soulshe lived like a rat anddied like one, I guess.
With you sending her money all the timenixy!
Like a rat! Poor old maw.
Della's voice was far removed, like one who speaks through the film
of a trance.
When my old dame died I felt bad, too, but Gawd knows she wasn't
peaches and cream to have around the house. And look, darlin'Cottie's
comin' nowlookCottie's comin'!
Sure she issee, read, honey'Am ready.'
Oh, Gawd, Ysobel, now that it's come II'm scaredsheshe's such
a kidsheYsobelII'm scaredI
'Sh-h-h. There he is knockin', Del. Try and smile, hon'. You know
how sore a long face makes him. Maybe you won't have to go to-night,
nowsmile, darlin'smile! Come in!
The door opened with a fling, and enter Mr. Hy Myers, an unlighted
cigar at a sharp oblique in one corner of his mouth, hat slightly
askew, and a full-length overcoat flung open to reveal a mink lining
and studded shirt-front.
Gad, he said, dallying backward on his heels, his thumbs in the
arm-circles of his waistcoat, and regarding the shining silver
figureGad, girl, you're all right.
Della drew back against the dressing-table and twirled the rings on
II got bad news, Hy. I can't go to-night. Here, read for
He reached for the paper, passing Ysobel as if she belonged to the
trappings of the room.
II can'tgo to-night, Hy.
He read with the sharp eyes of a gray hawk of the world, and drew
his coat together in a gesture of buttoning up.
Don't pull any of that stuff on me, Beauty. Just because the old
devil you've been tellin' me about
Them ain't real tearsyou'd be laughin' in your sleeve if you had
any on. Come on; step lively, Beauty. I ain't givin' this blow-out to
be made a fool out of. Give her a daub of color there, Du Prez.
Hy! She was my stepmother, and
Come, Beauty, what you actin' up for? Ain't that doll you've been
piping about all these months comin' now that the old woman is out of
the way? Bring her on and lemme have a look at her. If she's in your
class, lemme look her over.
Gimmea minute, Hy. II just wanna senda wire.
Sure; tell her to come on. I'll send it for you. I'll look her
Nono! Let Ysobel send it. You do it, Ysobel. Here, gimme your
She wrote with her breath half a moan in her throat, and her bosom
heaving and flashing the diamond heart.
Send it right off, Ysobel darlin'read it and send it off,
She daubed a rabbit's foot under each eye and slid into the
Read it, darlin', and send it.
Ysobel read slowly like a child spelling out its task.
Breakersahead. Stay at home, dearie.
Through eyes that were magnified through the glaze of tears Ysobel
burrowed her head in the silver-fox collar.
Oh, DelDel darlin'I'm wisebut, oh, my darlin'.
Come on. Whatta you think this is, a soul-kiss sceneyou two?
Good night, Ysobel; lemme go, dearielemme go.
Then out through a labyrinth of stacked scenery, with her elbow in
the cup of his hand, and the silver shimmering in the gloom.
Gad, you will have that scrawny little hanger-on around and gettin'
on my nerves! If I weren't always humorin' the daylights out of you she
wouldn't spoil a ballet of mine for fifteen minutes, she
It's darn little I ask out of you, but you gotta lemme have
heryou gotta lemme have that much, or the whole blame show can
Keep cool, there, Tragedy Queen, and watch your step! I don't want
you limpin' in there to-night with a busted ankle on top of your long
They high-stepped through a dirty passageway stacked with stage
bric-à-brac, out into a whiff of night air, across a pavement, and into
a wine-colored limousine.
He climbed in after her, throwing open the great fur collar of his
coat and lighting his cigar.
They plunged forward into the white flare of Broadway, and within
her plate-glass inclosure she was like a doomed queen riding to her
Light up there, Dolly! No long face to-night! The crowd's going to
be there waitin' for you. Look at me, you little devilyou little
Gawd, what are you made of? Ain't you got no feelings?
Tush! You ain't real on that talk. I know you better'n you know
yourself. Ain't I told you that you can bring the little sister on and
lemme look her over? There's nothin' I wouldn't do for you, Beauty. You
got me crazy to-night over you. Eh! Pretty soft for a little hayseed
She smiled suddenly, flashed her teeth, cooed in her throat, and
reared her white throat out of its fur like a swan rears its head out
of its snowy neck.
II'll be all right in a minute, Hy. Just lemme sit quiet a
second, Hy. II'm dog-tired, encores and all. Gimme a little while to
tune upbeforewe get there. Just a minute, Hy.
That's more like it. Look at me, Beauty. Do you love me, eh?
Easy on that stuff, Hy. They might chain your wrists for ravin'.
I'm ravin' crazy over you to-night, that's what I am. Love me,
ehdo you, Beauty?
She receded from his approaching face close back against the
upholstery, and within the satin-down interior of her muff her fingers
clasped each other until the nails bit into her palms and broke the
Don't make me sore to-night, Queenie. I ain't in the humor. Gowann,
answer like a good girl. Love me?
Aw, Hy, quit your kiddin'.
No, no; none of that; come on, Silver Queen. I'll give you six to
THE GOOD PROVIDER
Like a suckling to the warmth of the mother, the township of Newton
nestled pat against the flank of the city and drew from her through the
arteries of electric trains and interurbans, elevated roads and
Such clots coagulate around the city in the form of Ferndales and
Glencoves, Yorkvilles and Newtons, and from them have sprung full-grown
the joke paper and the electric lawn-mower, the
five-hundred-dollars-down bungalow, and the flower-seed catalogue.
The instinct to return to nature lies deep in men like music that
slumbers in harp-strings, but the return to nature via the
five-forty-six accommodation is fraught with chance.
Nature cannot abide the haunts of men; she faints upon the asphalt
bosom of the city. But to abide in the haunts of nature men's hearts
bleed. Behind that asphaltic bosom and behind faces too tired to smile,
hearts bud and leafen when millinery and open street-cars announce the
spring. Behind that asphaltic bosom the murmur of the brook is like an
insidious underground stream, and when for a moment it gushes to the
surface men pay the five hundred dollars down and inclose return
postage for the flower-seed catalogue.
The commuter lives with his head in the rarefied atmosphere of his
thirty-fifth-story office, his heart in the five-hundred-dollars-down
plot of improved soil, and one eye on the time-table.
For longer than its most unprogressive dared hope, the township of
Newton lay comfortable enough without the pale, until one year the
interurban reached out steel arms and scooped her to the bosom of the
Overnight, as it were, the inoculation was complete. Bungalows and
one-story, vine-grown real-estate offices sprang up on large,
light-brown tracts of improved property, traffic sold by the book. The
new Banner Store, stirred by the heavy, three-trolley interurban cars
and the new proximity of the city, swung a three-color electric sign
across the sidewalk and instituted a trading-stamp system. But in spite
of the three-color electric sign and double the advertising space in
the Newton Weekly Gazette, Julius Binswanger felt the suction of
the city drawing at his strength, and at the close of the second summer
he took invoice and frowned at what he saw.
The frown remained an indelible furrow between his eyes. Mrs.
Binswanger observed it across the family table one Saturday, and paused
in the epic rite of ladling soup out of a tureen, a slight pucker on
her large, soft-fleshed face.
Honest, Julius, when you come home from the store nights right away
I get the blues.
Mr. Binswanger glanced up from his soup and regarded his wife above
the bulging bib of his napkin. Late sunshine percolated into the
dining-room through a vine that clambered up the screen door and
flecked a design like coarse lace across his inquiring features.
Right away you get what, Becky?
Right away I get the blues. A long face you've had for so long I
Ya, ya, Becky, something you got to have to talk about. A long face
she puts on me yet, children.
Ain't I right, Poil; ain't I, Izzy? Ask your own children!
Mr. Isadore Binswanger shrugged his custom-made shoulders until the
padding bulged like the muscles of a heavy-weight champion, and tossed
backward the mane of his black pompadour.
Ma, I keep my mouth closed. Every time I open it I put my foot in
Mr. Binswanger waggled a rheumatic forefinger.
A dude like you with a red-and-white shirt like I wouldn't keep in
See, ma, you started something.
'Sh-h-h! Julius! For your own children I'm ashamed. Once a week
Izzy comes out to supper, and like a funeral it is. For your own
children to be afraid to open their mouths ain't nothing to be proud
of. Right now your own daughter is afraid to begin to tell you
somethingsomething what's happened. Ain't it, Poil?
Miss Pearl Binswanger tugged a dainty bite out of a slice of bread,
and showed the oval of her teeth against the clear, gold-olive of her
skin. The same scarf of sunshine fell like a Spanish shawl across her
shoulders, and lay warm on her little bosom and across her head, which
was small and dark as Giaconda's.
I ain't saying nothing, am I, mamma? The minute I try to talk to
papa aboutabout moving to the city or anything, he gets excited like
the store was on fire.
Ya, ya, more as that I get excited over such nonsenses.
No, to your papa you children say nothing. It's me that gets my
head dinned full. Your children, Julius, think that for me you do
anything what I ask you; but I don't see it. Pass your papa the
dumplings, Poil. Can I help it that he carries on him a face like a
Na, na, Becky; for why should I have a long face? To-morrow I buy
me a false face like on Valentine's Day, and then you don't have to
look at me no more.
See! Right away mad he gets with me. Izzy, them noodles I made only
on your account; in the city you don't get 'em like that, huh? Some
more Kartoffel Salad, Julius?
Ya, but not so much! My face don't suit my wife and children yet,
that's the latest.
Three times a day all week, Izzy, I ask your papa if he don't feel
right. 'Yes,' he says, always 'yes.' Like I says to Poil, what's got
him since he's in the new store I don't know.
Ach, youthe whole three of you make me sick! What you want
me to do, walk the tight rope to show what a good humor I got?
No; we want, Julius, that you should come home every night with a
long face on you till for the neighbors I'm ashamed.
A little more Kartoffel Salad, Becky? Not so much!
Like they don't talk enough about us already. With a young lady in
the house we live out here where the dogs won't bark at us.
I only wish all girls had just so good a home as Pearlie.
Aw, papa, that ain't no argument! I'd rather live in a coop in the
city, where a girl can have some life, than in a palace out in this
Hole, she calls a room like this! A dining-room set she sits on
what her grandfather made with his own hands out of the finest cherry
For a young girl can you blame her? She feels like if she lived in
the city she would meet people and Izzy's friends. Talk for yourself,
Boys like Ignatz Landauer and Max Teitlebaum, what he meets at the
Young Men's Association. Talk for yourself, Poil.
Poil's got a tenant for the house, Julius. I ain't afraid to tell
I don't listen to such nonsense.
From the real-estate offices they sent 'em, Julius, and Poil took
'em through. Furnished off our hands they take it for three months,
till their bungalow is done for 'em. Forty dollars for a house like
ours on the wrong side of town away from the improvements ain't so bad.
A grand young couple, no children. Izzy thinks it's a grand idea, too,
Julius. He says if we move to the city he don't have to live in such a
dark little hall-room no more. To the hotel he can come with us on
family rates just so cheap. Ain't it, Izzy?
Mr. Isadore Binswanger broke his conspiracy of silence gently, like
a skeptic at breakfast taps his candle-blown egg with the tip of a
silver spoon once, twice, thrice, then opens it slowly, suspiciously.
I said, pa, that with forty dollars a month rent from the house,
In my own house, where I belong and can afford, I stay. I'm an old
Not so fast, pa, not so fast! I only said that with forty dollars
from the house for three months this winter you can live almost as
cheap in the city as here. And for me to come out every Saturday night
to take Pearlie to the theater ain't such a cinch, neither. Take a boy
like Max Teitlebaum, he likes her well enough to take her to the
theater hisself, but by the time he gets out here for her he ain't go
no enjoyment left in him.
When a young man likes well enough a young lady, a
forty-five-minutes street-car ride is like nothing.
Aw, papa, in story-books such talk is all right, but when a young
man has got to change cars at Low Bridge and wait for the Owl going
home it don't work out so easydoes it Izzy, does it, mamma?
For three years, pa, even before I got my first job in the city,
always mamma and Pearlie been wantin' a few months away.
With my son in the city losing every two months his job I got
enough city to last me so long as I live. When in my store I need so
bad a good young man for the new-fashioned advertising and stock, to
the city he has to go for a salesman's job. When a young man can't get
along in business with his old father I don't go running after him in
Pa, for heaven's sakes don't begin that! I'm sick of listening to
it. Newton ain't no place for a fellow to waste his time in.
What else you do in the city, I like to know!
Julius, leave Izzy alone when one night a week he comes home.
For my part you don't need to move to the city. I only said to
Pearlie and ma, when they asked me, that a few months in a family hotel
like the Wellington can't bust you. For me to come out home every
Saturday night to take Pearlie into the theater ain't no cinch. In town
there's plenty of grand boys that I know who live at the
WellingtonIgnatz Landauer, Max Teitlebaum, and all that crowd.
Yourself I've heard you say how much you like Max.
For why, when everybody is moving out to Newton, we move away?
That's just it, papa, now with the interurban boom you got the
chance to sublet. Ain't it, mamma and Izzy?
Ya, ya; I know just what's coming, but for me Newton is good
What about your children, Julius? You ain't the only one in the
Twenty-five year I've lived in this one place since the store was
only so big as this room, and on this house we didn't have a second
story. A home that I did everything but build with my own hands I don't
move out of so easy. Such ideas you let your children pump you with,
See, children, you say he can't never refuse me nothing; listen how
he won't let me get in a word crossways before he snaps me off. If we
sublet, Julius, we
Sublet we don't neither! I should ride forty-five minutes into the
city after my hard day's work, when away from the city forty-five
minutes every one else is riding. My house is my house, my yard is my
yard. I don't got no ideas like my high-toned son and daughter for a
hotel where to stretch your feet you got to pay for the space.
Listen to your papa, children, even before I got my mouth open good
how he talks back to a wife that nursed him through ten years of
bronchitis. All he thinks I'm good enough for is to make poultices and
rub on his chest goose grease.
Ach, Becky, don't fuss so with your old man. Look, even the
cat you got scared. Here, Billyhere, kitty, kitty.
Ain't I asked you often enough, Julius, not to feed on the carpet a
piece of meat to the cat? 'Sh-h-h-h, Billy, scat! All that I'm good
enough for is to clean up. How he talks to his wife yet!
Miss Binswanger caught her breath on the crest of a sob and pushed
her untouched plate toward the center of the table; tears swam on a
heavy film across her eyes and thickened her gaze and voice.
Thisain'tnohole forfor a girl to live in.
All I wish is you should never live in a worse.
I ain't got nothin' here, papa, but sit and sit and sit on the
porch every night with you and mamma. When Izzy comes out once a week
to take me to a show, how he fusses and fusses you hear for yourselves.
For a girl nearlytwentyit ain't no joke.
It ain't, papa; it ain't no joke for me to have to take her in and
out every week, lemme tell you.
Eat your supper, Poil; not eating don't get you nowheres with your
II don't want nothin'.
A tear wigglewaggled down Miss Binswanger's smooth cheek, and she
fumbled at her waist-line for her handkerchief.
III just wish sometimes Iwas dead.
Mr. Binswanger shot his bald head outward suddenly, as a turtle
darts forward from its case, and rapped the table noisily with his fist
clutched around an upright fork, and his voice climbing to a falsetto.
II wish in my life I had never heard the name of the city.
Now, Julius, don't begin.
Ruination it has brought me. My boy won't stay by me in the store
so he can't gallivant in the city; my goil won't talk to me no more for
madness because we ain't in the city; my wife eats out of me my heart
because we ain't in the city. For supper every night when I come home
tired from the store all I get served to me is the city. I can't
swallow no more! Money you all think I got what grows on trees, just
because I give all what I got. You should know how tighthow tight I
got to squeeze for it.
Mrs. Binswanger threw her arms apart in a wide gesture of
See, children, just as soon as I say a word, mad like a wet hen he
gets and right away puts on a poor mouth.
Mad yet I shouldn't get with such nonsense. Too good they both got
it. Always I told you how we spoilt 'em.
Don't holler so, pa.
Don't tell me what to do! You with your pretty man suit and your
hair and finger-nails polished like a shoe-shine. You go to the city,
and I stay home where I belong in my own house.
His housealways his house!
Ya, a eight-room house and running water she's got if she wants to
have company. Your mamma didn't have no eight rooms and finished attic
when she was your age. In back of a feed store she sat me. Too good you
got it, I say. New hard-wood floors down-stairs didn't I have to put
in, and electric light on the porch so your company don't break his
neck? Always something new, and now no more I can't eat a meal in
I should worry that the Teitlebaums and the Landauers live in a
fine family hotel in Seventy-second Street. Such people with big stores
in Sixth Avenue can buy and sell us. Not even if I could afford it
would I want to give up my house and my porch, where I can smoke my
pipe, and my comforts that I worked for all my life, and move to the
city in rooms so little and so far up I can't afford to pay for 'em. I
should give up my chickens and my comforts!
Your comforts, always your comforts! Do I think of my
Ma, don't you and pa begin now with your fussing. Like cats you are
one minute and the next like doves.
Don't boss me in my own house, Izzy! So afraid your papa is that he
won't get all the comforts what's coming to him. I wish you was so good
to me as you are to that cat, Juliustwice I asked you not to feed him
on the carpet. Scat, Billy!
Pass me some noodles, maw.
Good ones, eh, Izzy?
I ask you, is it more comfortable, Julius, for me to be cooped up
in the city in rooms that all together ain't as big as my kitchen? No,
but of my children I think too besides my own comforts.
Ya, ya; now, Becky, don't get excited. Look at your mamma, Pearlie;
shame on her, eh? How mad she gets at me till blue like her wrapper her
My house and my yard so smooth like your hand, and my big porch and
my new laundry with patent wringer is more to me as a hotel in the
city. But when I got a young lady daughter with no attentions and no
prospects I can't think always of my own comforts.
Ya, ya, Becky; don't get excited.
Don't yaya me, neither.
Ach, old lady, that only means how much I love you.
We got a young lady daughter; do you want that she should sit and
sit and sit till for ever we got a daughter, only she ain't young no
more. I tell you out here ain't no place for a young goilwhat has she
Yes, papa; what have I got? The trees for company!
Do you see, Julius, in the new bungalows any families moving in
with young ladies? Would even your son Isadore what ain't a young lady
stay out here when he was old enough to get hisself a job in the city?
That a boy should leave his old father like that!
Wasn't you always kickin' to me, pa, that there wasn't a future in
the business after the transaction camewasn't you?
No more arguments you get with me!
What chance, Julius, I ask you, has a goil like Poil got out here
in Newton? To sit on the front porch nights with Meena Schlossman don't
get her nowheres; to go to the movingpictures with Eddie Goldstone,
what can't make salt for hisself, ain't nothing for a goil that hopes
to do well for herself. If she only looks out of the corner of her eye
at Mike Donnely three fits right away you take!
Gott, that's what we need yet!
See, even when I mention it, look at him, Poil, how red he gets!
But should she sit and sit?
Ach, such talk makes me sick. Plenty girls outside the city
gets better husbands as in it. Na, na, mamma, did you find me in the
Ach, Julius, stop foolin'. When I got you for a husband
enough trouble I found for myself.
In my business like it goes down every day, Becky, I ain't got the
right to make a move.
See, the poor mouth again! Just so soon as we begin to talk about
things. A man that can afford only last March to take out a new
five-thousand-dollar life-insurance policy
For why shouldn't your children know it? Yes, up-stairs in my
little green box along with my cameo ear-rings and gold watch-chain I
got it put away, children. A new life-insurance policy on light-blue
paper, with a red seal I put only last week. When a man that never had
any insurance before takes it out so easy he can afford it.
Notnot because I could afford it I took it, Becky, but with
business low I squeeze myself a little to look ahead.
Only since we got the new store you got so tight. Now you got more
you don't let it go so easy. A two-story brick with plate-glass fronts
now, and always a long face.
A long face! You should be worried like I with big expenses and big
stock and little business. Why you think I take out a policy so late at
such a terrible premium? Why? So when I'm gone you got something
Just such a poor mouth you had, Julius, when we wanted on the
I ask you, Becky: one thing that you and the children ever wanted
ain't I found a way to get it for you? I ask you?
Ya, but a woman that was always economical like me you didn't need
to refuse. Never for myself I asked for things.
Ach, ma and pa, don't begin that on the one night a week I'm
So economical all my life I been. Till Izzy was ashamed to go to
school in 'em I made him pants out of yours. You been a good husband,
but I been just as good a wife, and don't you forget it!
Na, na, old lady; don't get excited again. But right here at my
table, even while I hate you should have to know it, Becky, in front of
your children I say it, II'm all mortgaged up, even on this house
On the old store you was mortgaged, too. In a business a man has
got to raise money on his assets. Didn't you always say that yourself?
Business is business.
But I ain't got the business no more, Becky. II ain't said
nothing, butbut next week I close out the trimmed hats, Becky.
Trimmed hats! Julius, your finest department.
For why I keep a department that don't pay its salt? I ain't like
you three; looks ain't everything.
I know. I know. Ten years ago the biggest year what we ever had you
closed out the rubber coats, too, right in the middle of the season. A
poor mouth you'd have, Julius, if right now you was eating gold
dumplings instead of chicken dumplings.
Na, na, Becky; don't pick on your old man.
Since we been married I
Aw, ma and pa, go hire a hall.
Suddenly Miss Binswanger clattered down her fork and pushed backward
from the table; tears streamed toward the corners of her mouth.
That's always the way! What's the use of getting off the track? All
we want to say, papa, is we got a chance like we never had before to
sublet. Forty dollars a month, and no children. For three months we
could live in the city on family rates, and maybe for three months I'd
know I was alive. Aa girl's got feelings, papa! And, honest, itit
ain't no trip, papawhat's forty-five minutes on the car with your
newspaper?honest, papa, it ain't.
Mr. Isadore Binswanger drained a glass of water.
Give 'er a chance, pa. The boys'll show her a swell time in the
cityMax Teitlebaum and all that crowd. It ain't no fun for me
traipsin' out after her, lemme tell you.
Mr. Binswanger pushed back his chair and rose from the table. His
eyes, the wet-looking eyes of age and asthma, retreated behind a
network of wrinkles as intricate as overhead wiring.
I wish, he cried, I was as far as the bottom of the ocean away
from such nonsense as I find in my own family. Up to my neck I'm full.
Like wolfs you are! On my neck I can feel your breath hot like a
furnace. Like wolfs you drive me till II can't stand it no more. All
what I ask is my peacemy little house, my little pipe, my little
porch, and not even my peace can I have. Youyou're a pack of wolfs, I
tell youeven your fangs I can see, andand II wish I was so far
away as the bottom of the ocean.
He shambled toward the door on legs bent to the cruel curve of
rheumatism. The sun had dropped into a bursting west, and was as red as
a mist of blood. Its reflection lay on the smooth lawn and hung in the
dark shadows of quiet trees, and through the fulvous haze of evening's
first moment came the chirruping of crickets.
I wish I was so far away as the bottom of the ocean.
The tight-springed screen door sprang shut on his words, and his
footsteps shambled across the wide ledge of porch. A silence fell
across the little dining-table, and Miss Binswanger wiped at fresh
tears, but her mother threw her a confident gesture of reassurance.
Don't say no more now for a while, children.
Mr. Isadore Binswanger inserted a toothpick between his lips and
stretched his limbs out at a hypotenuse from the chair.
I'm done. I knew the old man would jump all over me.
Izzy, you and Poil go on now; for the theater you won't catch the
seven-ten car if you don't hurry. Leave it to me, Poil; I can tell by
your papa's voice we got him won. How he fusses like just now don't
make no difference; you know how your papa is. Here, Poil, lemme help
you with your coat.
II don't want to go, mamma!
Ach, now, Poil, you
If you're coming with me you'd better get a hustle. I ain't going
to hang around this graveyard all evening.
Her brother rose to his slightly corpulent five feet five and shook
his trousers into their careful creases. His face was a soft-fleshed
rather careless replica of his mother's, with a dimple-cleft chin, and
a delicate down of beard that made his shaving a manly accomplishment
rather than a hirsute necessity.
Here on the sideboard is your hat, Poilpowder a little around
your eyes. Just leave papa to me, Poil. Ach, how sweet that hat
with them roses out of stock looks on you! Come out here the side way
ach, how nice it is out here on the porch! How short the days
getdark nearly already at seven! Good-by, children. Izzy, take your
sister by the arm; the whole world don't need to know you're her
Leave the door on the latch, mamma.
Have a good time, children. Ain't you going to say good-by to your
papa, Poil? Your worst enemy he ain't. Julius, leave Billy
alonehonest, he likes that cat better as his family. Tell your papa
She should say good-by to me only if she wants to. Izzy, when you
go out the gate drive back that roosterI'll wring his little
gallivantin' neck if he don't stop roosting in that bush!
Good night, children; take good care of the cars.
Good night, mamma...papa.
The gate clicked shut, and the two figures moved into the mist of
growing gloom; over their heads the trees met and formed across the
brick sidewalk a roof as softly dark as the ceiling of a church. Birds
Mrs. Binswanger leaned her wide, uncorseted figure against a pillar
and watched them until a curve in the avenue cut her view, then she
dragged a low wicker rocker across the veranda.
We can sit out on the porch a while yet, Julius. Not like midsummer
it is for your rheumatism.
Ya, ya. My slippers, Becky.
Look across the yard, will you, Julius. The Schlossmans are still
at the supper-table. Fruit gelatin they got. I seen it cooling on the
fence. We got new apples on the side-yard tree, you wouldn't believe,
Julius. To-morrow I make pies.
The light tulle of early evening hung like a veil, and through it
the sad fragrance of burning leaves, which is autumn's incense, drifted
from an adjoining lawn.
'Sh-h-h-h, chickeysh-h-h-h! Back in the yard I can't keep that
rooster, Julius. And to-day for thirty cents I had that paling in the
garden fence fixed, too. Honest, to keep a yard like ours going is an
expense all the time. People in the city without yards is lucky.
In all Newton there ain't one like ours. Look, Becky, at that
white-rose bush flowering so late just like she was a bride.
When Izzy was home always, we didn't have the expense of weeding.
Now when he comes home all he does is change neckties and make
Ach, my moon vines! Don't get your chair so close, Julius.
Look how those white flowers open right in your face. One by one like
big stars coming out.
M-m-m-m and smell, Becky, how good!
Here, lemme pull them heavy shoes off for you, papa. Listen, there
goes that oriole up in the cherry-tree again. Listen to the thrills
he's got in him. Pull, Julius; I ain't no derrick!
Ah-h-h, how good it feels to get 'em off! Now light my pipe, Becky.
Always when you light it, better it tastes. Holdtheremake out of
your hand a cuptherepu-pu-puthere! Now sit down by me, Becky!
Ach, Becky, when we got our little home like this, with a
yard so smooth as my hand, where we don't need shoes or collars, and
with our own fruit right under our noses, for why ain't you satisfied?
For myself, Julius, believe me it's too good, but for Poil we
Look all what you can see right here from our porch! Look there
through the trees at the river; right in front of our eyes it bends for
us. Look what a street we live on. We should worry it ain't in the
booming part. Quiet like a temple, with trees on it older as you and me
The caterpillars is bad this year, Julius; trees ain't so cheap,
neither. In the city such worries they ain't got.
For what with a place like this, Becky, with running water and
It's Poil, Julius. Not a thing a beau-ti-fool girl like Poil has
Nonsense. It's a sin she should want a better place as this. Ain't
she got a plush parlor and a piano and
It's like Izzy says, Julius: there's too many fine goils in the
city for the boys to come out here on a forty-five-minute ride. What
boys has she got out here, Mike Donnely and
That's what we need; just something like that should happen to us.
But, believe me, it's happened before when a girl ain't got no better
to pick from. How I worry about it you should know.
Becky, with even such talk you make me sick.
Mark my word, it's happened before, Julius! That's why I say,
Julius, a few months in the city this winter and she could meet the
right young man. Take a boy like Max Teitlebaum. Yourself you said how
grand and steady he is. Twice with Izzy he's been out here, and not
once his eyes off Poil did he take.
Teitlebaum, with a store twice so big as ours on Sixth Avenue,
don't need to look for ustwice they can buy and sell us.
Isthatso! To me that makes not one difference. Put Poil in the
city, where it don't take an hour to get to be, and, ach, almost
anything could happen! Not once did he take his eyes off hersuch a
grand, quiet boy, too.
When a young man's got thoughts, forty-five minutes' street-car
ride don't keep him away.
Nonsense! I always say I never feel hungry till I see in front of
me a good meal. If I have to get dressed and go out and market for it I
don't want it. It's the same with marriage. You got to work up in the
young man the appetite. What they don't see they don't get hungry for.
They got to get eyes bigger as their stomachs first.
Such talk makes me sick. Suppose she don't get married, ain't she
got a good home and
An old maid you want yet! A beau-ti-fool goil like our Poil he
wants to make out of her an old maid, or she should break her parents'
hearts with a match like Mike Donnely
Aw, Julius, now we got the chance to rent for three months. Say we
live them three months at the Wellington Hotel. Say it costs us a
little more; everybody always says what a grand provider you are,
Julius; let them say a little more, Julius.
II ain't got the money, Becky, I tell you. For me to refuse what
you want is like I stick a knife in my heart, but I got poor business,
Maybe in the end, Julius, it's the cheapest thing we ever done.
I can't afford it, Becky.
For only three months we can go, Julius.
I got notes, Becky, notes already twice extended. If I don't meet
in March God knows where
Ya, ya, Julius; all that talk I know by heart!
I ain't getting no younger neither, Becky. Hardly through the
insurance examination I could get. I ain't so strong no more. When I
get big worries I don't sleep so good. I ain't so well nights, Becky.
Always the imagination sickness, Julius.
I ain't so well, I tell you, Becky.
Last time when all you had was the neuralgia, and you came home
from the store like you was dying, Dr. Ellenburg told me hisself right
here on this porch that never did he know a man so nervous of dying
I can't help it, Becky.
If I was so afraid like you of dying, Julius, not one meal could I
enjoy. A healthy man like you with nothing but the rheumatism and a
little asthma. Only last week you came home pale like a ghost with a
pain in your side, when it wasn't nothing but where your pipe burnt a
hole in your pants pocket to give me some more mending to do.
Just for five minutes you should have felt that pain!
Honest, Julius, to be a coward like you for dying it ain't
nicehonest, it ain't.
Always, Becky, when I think I ain't always going to be with you and
the children such a feeling comes over me.
Ach, Julius, be quiet! Without you I might just as well be
I'm getting old, Becky; sixty-six ain't no spring chicken no more.
That's right, Julius; stick knives in me.
Life is short, Becky; we must be happy while we got each other.
Life is short, Julius, and for our children we should do all
what we can. We can't always be with them, Julius. Wewe must do the
right thing by 'em. Like you say wewe're getting oldtogether,
Julius. We don't want nothing to reproach ourselves with.
Ya, ya, Becky.
Darkness fell thickly, like blue velvet portières swinging together,
and stars sprang out in a clear sky.
They rocked in silence, their heads touching. The gray cat, with
eyes like opals, sprang into the hollow of Mr. Binswanger's arm.
Billy, you come to sit by mamma and me? Ni-ce Bil-ly!
We go in now, papa; in the damp you get rheumatism.
Ya, ya, Beckyhear how he purrs, like an engine.
Come on, papa; damper every minute it gets.
He rose with his rheumatic jerkiness, placed the cat gently on all
fours on the floor, and closed his fingers around the curve of his
wife's outstretched arm.
Whenwhen we gogo to the city, Becky, we don't sublet Billy;
wewe take him with us, not, Becky?
Ya, ya, Becky.
* * * * *
The chief sponsors for the family hotel are neurasthenia and bridge
whist, the inability of the homemaker and the debility of the
Under these invasions Hestia turns out the gas-logs, pastes a To Let
sign on the windows, locks the front door behind her, and gives the key
to the auctioneer.
The family holds out the dining-room clock and a pair of silver
candlesticks that came over on the stupendously huge cargo which time
and curio dealers have piled upon the good ship Mayflower;
engages a three-room suite on the ninth floor of a European-plan hotel,
and inaugurates upon the sly American paradox of housekeeping in
The Wellington Hotel was a rococo haven for such refugees from the
modern social choler, and its doors flew open and offered them a family
rate, excellent cuisine, quarantine.
Excellent cuisine, however, is a clever but spiceless parody on home
Mr. Binswanger read his evening menu with the furrow deepening
between his eyes.
Such a soup they got! Mulla-ga-what?
'Shh-h-h, papa; mullagatawny! Rice soup.
Mullagatawny! Fine mess!
'Shh-h-h, Julius; don't talk so loud. Does the whole dining-room
got to know you don't know nothing?
Mrs. Binswanger took nervous résumé of the red-and-gold,
For a plate of noodles soup, Becky, they can have all their
mullagatawny! Fifteen cents for a plate of soup, Becky, and at home for
that you could make a whole pot full twice so good.
Don't 'sh-h-h-h-h me no more neither, Pearlie. Five months,
from October to February, I been shooed like I was one of our roosters
at home got over in Schlossman's yard. There, you read for me, Izzy;
such language I don't know.
Isadore took up a card and crinkled one eye in a sly wink toward his
mother and sister.
Rinderbrust und Kartoffel Salad, pa, mit Apful Küchen und
Ya, ya, make fun yet! A square meal like that should happen to me
yet in a highway-robbery place like this.
Mrs. Binswanger straightened her large-bosomed, stiff-corseted
figure in its large-design, black-lace basque, and pulled gently at her
daughter's flesh-colored chiffon sleeve, which fell from her shoulders
like angels' wings.
Look across the room, Poil. There's Max just coming in the
dining-room with his mother. Always the first thing he looks over at
our table. Bow, Julius; don't you see across the room the Teitlebaums
coming in? I guess old man Teitlebaum is out on the road again.
Miss Binswanger flushed the same delicate pink as her chiffon, and
showed her oval teeth in a vivid smile.
Ain't he silly, though, to-night, mamma! Look, when he holds up two
fingers at me it means first he takes his mother up to her pinochle
club, and then by nine o'clock he comes back to me.
How good that woman has got it! Look, Poil, another waist she's
Look how he pulls out the chair for his mother, Izzy. It would hurt
you to do that for me and mamma, wouldn't it?
Say, missy, I learnt manners two years before you ever done
anything but hold down the front porch out on Newton Avenue. I'd been
meetin' Max Teitlebaum and Ignatz Landauer and that crowd over at the
Young Men's Association before you'd ever been to the movie with
anybody except Meena Schlossman.
I don't see that all your good start got you anywheres.
Don't let swell society go to your head, missy. You ain't got Max
yet, neither. You ought to be ashamed to be so crazy about a boy. Wait
till I tell you something when we get up-stairs that'll take some of
your kink out, missy.
Children, children, hush your fussing! Julius, don't read all the
names off the bill of fare.
Miss Binswanger regarded her brother under level brows, and threw
him a retort that sizzed across the table like drops of water on a hot
Anyways, if I was a fellow that couldn't keep a job more than two
months at a time I'd lay quiet. I wouldn't be out of a job all the
time, and beggin' my father to set me up in business when I was always
getting fired from every place I worked.
Well, he always starts with me, mamma.
Izzy, ain't you got no respect for your sister? For Gawd's sakes
take that bill of fare away from your papa, Izzy. He'll burn a hole in
it. Always the prices he reads out loud till so embarrassed I get. No
ears and eyes he has for anything else. He reads and reads, but enough
he don't eat to keep alive a bird.
Mr. Binswanger drew his spectacles off his nose, snapped them into a
worn-leather case and into his vest pocket; a wan smile lay on his
I got only eyes for you, Becky, eh? All dressed up, ain't
you?black lace yet! What you think of your mamma, children? Young she
The little bout of tenderness sent a smile around the table, and
behind the veil of her lashes Miss Binswanger sent the arrow of a
glance across the room.
Honest, mamma, I wonder if Max sees anything green on me.
He sees something sweet on you, maybe, Poil. Izzy, pass your papa
some radishes. Not a thing does that man eat, and such an appetite he
used to have.
Radishes better as these we get in our yard at home. Ten cents for
six radishes! Against my appetite it goes to eat 'em, when in my yard
Home, always home!
Papa, please don't put your napkin in your collar like a bib.
Mamma, make him take it out. Honest, even for the waiter I'm ashamed.
How he watches us, too, and laffs behind the tray.
Leave me alone, Pearlie. My shirt-front I don't use for no bib!
Laundry rates in this hold-up place ain't so cheap.
Mamma, please make him take it out.
Look, papa, at the Teitlebaums and Schoenfeldts, laughing at us,
papa. Look now at him, mamma; just for to spite me he bends over and
drinks his soup out loud out of the tip of his spoonplease, papa.
Mr. Binswanger jerked his napkin from its mooring beneath each ear
and peered across at his daughter with his face as deeply creased as a
I wish, he said, low in his throat, and with angry emphasis
quivering his lips behind the gray and black bristles of his
mustacheten times a day I wish I was back in my little house in
Newton, where I got my comfort and my peaceyou children I got to
thank for this, you children.
Mr. Isadore Binswanger replaced his spoon in his soup-plate and
leaned back against his chair.
Aw now, papa, for God's sakes don't begin!
You good-for-nothing, you! With your hair combed up straight on
your head like a girl's, and a pleated shirt like I'd be ashamed to
carry in stock, you got no put-in! If I give you five thousand dollars
for a business for yourself you don't care so much what kind of manners
I got. Five thousand dollars he asks me for to go in business when he
ain't got it in him to keep a job for six months.
The last job wasn't
Right now in this highway-robbery hotel you got me into, I got to
pay your board for youif you want five thousand dollars from me you
got to get rid of me some way, for my insurance policy is all I can
say. And sometimes I wish you wouldeasier for me it would be.
His son crumpled his napkin and tossed it toward the center of the
table. His soft, moist lips were twisted in anger, and his voice, under
cover of a whisper, trembled with that same anger.
For what little board you've paid for me I can't hear about it no
more. I'll go out and
'Sh-h-h, Izzy'sh-h-h, papa, all over the dining-room they can
hear you, 'sh-h-h!
Home I ain't never denied my childrenopen doors they get always
in my house but in a highway-robbery hotel, where I can't afford
We got the cheapest family rates here. Such rates we get here,
children, and highway robbery your father calls it!
Five months we been in the city, and three months already a empty
house standing out there waiting, and nothing from it coming in. A
house I love like my life, a house what me and your mamma wish we was
back in every minute of the day!
I only said, Julius, for myself I like my little home best, but
I ain't got the strength for the street-car ride no more. I ain't
got appetite for this sloppy American food no more. I can't breathe no
more in that coop up-stairs. Right now you should know how my feet hurt
for slippers; a collar I got to wear to supper when like a knife it
cuts me. I can't afford this. I got such troubles with business I only
wish for one day you should have 'em. I want my little house, my porch,
my vines, and my chickens. I want my comforts. My son ain't my boss.
Isadore pushed back from the table, his jaw low and sullen.
I ain't going to sit through a meal and be abused likelike I was
You ain't got to sit; stand up, then.
Izzyfor God's sakes, Izzy, the people! Julius, so help me if I
come down to a meal with you again. Look, Julius, for God's sakethe
Teitlebaums are watching usthe people! Smile at me, Poil, like we was
joking. Izzy, if you leave this table now II can't stand it! Laugh,
Poil, like we was having our little fun among us.
The women exchanged the ghastly simulacrum of a smile, and the meal
resumed in silence. Only small beads sprang out on the shiny surface of
Mr. Binswanger's head like dewdrops on the glossy surface of leaves,
and twice his fork slipped and clattered from his hand.
So excited you get right away, Julius. Nervous as a cat you are.
II ain't got the strength no more, Becky. Pink sleeping-tablets I
got to take yet to make me sleep. I ain't got the strength.
'Shh-h-h, Julius; don't get excited. In the spring we go home. You
don't want, Julius, to spoil everything right this minute. Ain't it
enough the way our Poil has come out in these five months? Such a grand
time that goil has had this winter. Do you want that the Teitlebaums
should know all our business and spoil things?
II wish sometimes that name I had never heard in my life. In my
days a young girl
'Shh-h-h, Julius; we won't talk about it nowwe change the
Look over there, will you, Poil? Always extras the Teitlebaums have
on their table. Paprica, and what is that red stuff? Chili sauce! Such
service we don't get. Pink carnations on their table, too. To-morrow at
the desk I complain. Our money is just as good as theirs.
Miss Binswanger raised her harried eyes from her plate and smiled at
her mother; she was like a dark red rose, trembling, titillating, and
with dewy eyes.
Don't stare so, mamma.
Izzy, are you going to stay home to-night? One night it won't hurt
you. Like you run around nights to dance-halls ain't nothing to be
Now start something, mamma, so pa can jump on me again. If Pearlie
and Max are going to use the front room this evening, what shall I do?
Sit in a corner till he's gone and I can go to bed?
I should care if he goes to dance-halls or not. What I say, Becky,
don't make no difference to my son. Take how I begged him to hold on
If you're done your dessert wait till we get up-stairs, papa. The
dining-room knows already enough of our business.
Miss Binswanger pushed back from the table to her feet. Tears rose
in a sheer film across her eyes, but she smiled with her lips and led
the procession of her family from the gabbling dining-room, her small,
dark head held upward by the check-rein of scorched pride and the
corner of her tear-dimmed glance for the remote table with the
centerpiece of pink carnations.
By what seemed demoniac aforethought the Binswanger three-room suite
was rigidly impervious to sunlight, air, and daylight. Its
infinitesimal sitting-room, which the jerking backward of a couch-cover
transformed into Mr. Isadore Binswanger's bedchamber, afforded a
one-window view of a long, narrow shaft which rose ten stories from a
square of asphalt courtyard, up from which the heterogeneous fumes of
cookery wafted like smoke through a legitimate flue.
Mr. Binswanger dropped into a veteran arm-chair that had long since
finished duty in the deluxe suite, and breathed onward through a beard
as close-napped as Spanish moss.
He was suddenly old and as withered as an aspen leaf trembling on
its rotten stem. Vermiculate cords of veins ran through the flesh like
the chirography of pain written in the blue of an indelible pencil;
yellow crow's-feet, which rayed outward from his eyes, were deep as
claw-prints in damp clay.
Becky, help me off with my shoes; heavy like lead they feel.
Poil, unlace your papa's shoes. Since I got to dress for dinner I
can't stoop no more.
Miss Binswanger tugged daintily at her father's boots, staggering
backward at each pull.
Ach, go way, Pearlie! Better than that I can do myself.
See, mamma; nothing suits him.
Mrs. Binswanger regarded her husband's batrachian sallowness with
anxious eyes; her large bosom heaved under its showy lace yoke, and her
short, dimpled hands twirled at their rings.
To-night, Julius, if you don't do like the doctor says I telephone
him to come. That a man should be such a coward! It don't do you no
good to take only one sleeping-tablet; two, he said, is what you need.
Too much sleeping-powder is what killed old man Knauss.
Ach, Julius, you heard yourself what Dr. Ellenburg said. Six
of the little pink tablets he said it would take to kill a man. How can
two of 'em hurt you? Already by the bed I got the box of 'em waiting,
Julius, with an orange so they don't even taste.
It ain't doctors and their gedinks, Becky, can do me good.
Pink tablets can't make me sleep. Iach, Becky, I'm
Isadore rose from the couch-bed and punched his head-print out of
Lay here, pa.
Na, na, I go me to bed. Such a thing full of lumps don't rest me
like a sofa at home. Na, I go me to bed, Becky.
Isadore relaxed to the couch once more, pillowed his head on
interlaced hands, yawned to the ceiling, blew two columns of
cigarette-smoke through his nostrils, and watched them curl upward.
This ain't so worse, pa.
I go me to bed.
For a little while, Julius, can't you stay up? At nine o'clock
comes Max to see Poil. I always say a young man thinks more of a young
girl when her parents stay in the room a minute.
Isadore fitted his thumbs in his waistcoat armholes and flung one
reclining limb over the other.
What Max Teitlebaum thinks of Pearlie I already know. To-day he
invited me to lunch with him.
Izzy! Why you been so close-mouthed?
Mrs. Binswanger threw her short, heavy arm full length across the
table-top and leaned toward her son, so that the table-lamp lighted her
face with its generous scallop of chin and exacerbated the concern in
You had lunch to-day with Max Teitlebaum, and about Poil you
That's what I said.
Miss Binswanger leaned forward in her low rocker, suddenly pink as
each word had been a fillip to her blood, and a faint terra-cotta ran
under the olive of her skin, lighting it.
All right then, missy, I'm lyin', and won't say no more.
I didn't mean it, Izzy!
Izzy, tell your sister what he said.
Well, right to my face she contradicts me.
Well, hehe likes you, all righty
Did he say that about me, honest, Izz?
Her breath came sweet as thyme between her open lips, and her eyes
could not meet her mother's gaze, which burned against her lids.
See, Poil! Wake up a minute, papa, and listen. When I mentioned Max
Teitlebaum, papa, you always said a grand boy like one of the
Teitlebaum boys, with such prospects, ain't got no time for a goil like
our Poil. Always I told you that you got to work up the appetite. See,
papa, how things work out! See, Poil! What else did he have to say,
Izzyhe likes her, eh?
Isadore turned on his side and flecked a rim of ash off his
cigarette with a manicured forefinger.
Don't get excited too soon, ma. He didn't come out plain and say
anything, but I guess a boy like Max Teitlebaum thinks we don't need a
brick house to fall on us.
What you mean, Izzy?
What I mean? Say, ain't it as plain as the nose on your face? You
don't need two brick houses to fall on you, do you?
Mrs. Binswanger admitted to a mental phthisis, and threw out her
hands in a gesture of helplessness.
Believe me, Izzy, maybe I am dumb. So bad my head works when your
papa worries me, but what you mean I don't know.
Me neither, Izzy!
Say, there ain't much to tell. He likes Pearliethat much he
wasn't bashful to me about. He likes Pearlie, and he wants to go in the
general store and ladies' furnishing goods business. Just clothing like
his father's store he hates. Why should he stay in a business, he says,
that is already built up? His two married brothers, he says, is enough
with his father in the one business.
Such an ambitious boy always anxious to do for hisself. I wish,
Izzy, you had some of his ambitions. You hear, Poil, in the same
business as papa he wants to go?
Mrs. Binswanger rocked complacently, a smile crawled across her
lips, and she nodded rhythmically to the tilting of her rocking-chair,
her eyes closed in the pleasant phantasmagoria of a dream.
Mr. Binswanger slumped lower in his chair.
A good head for business that Max Teitlebaum has on him. Like your
mamma says, Izzy, you should have one just half so good.
There you go again, pa, pickin', pickin'! If you'd give a fellow a
start and lend him a little capitalI'd have some ambition, too, and
start for myself.
Mr. Binswanger leaped forward full stretch, as a jetty of flame
shoots through a stream of oil.
For yourself! On what? From where would I get it? Cut it out from
my heart? Two months already I begged you to come out by me in the
store and see if you can't help start something to get back the
tradeHow we need young blood in the store to get
Five thousand dollars I give you for to lose in the ladies'
ready-to-wear. Another white elephant we need in the family yet. Not
five thousand dollars outside my insurance I got to my name, and even
if I did have it I wouldn't
I mean it, so help me! Even if I did have it, not a cent to a boy
what don't listen to his old father.
For God's sakes, pa, quit your hollering; if you ain't got it to
your name I'm sorry for Pearlie.
You think, pa, a boy like Max Teitlebaum, a boy that banker
Finburg's daughter is crazy after, is getting married only because you
got a nice daughter?
What do you mean, Izzy?
The woods are full of 'em just as nice. I didn't need no brick
house to fall on me to-day at lunch. He didn't come right out and say
nothing, but when he said he wanted to get in a business he could build
up, right away I seen what he meant.
Sure I seen it. I guess his father gives him six or seven thousand
dollars to get his start, and just so much he wants from the girl's
side. He can get it easy, too. Ifif you'd fork over, pa, Ihim and I
could start maybe together and
Your papa, Izzy, can do for his girl just like the best can do for
theirs Julius, can't you?
Gott in Himmel! IIyouyou pack of wolfs, you!
Such names you can't call your wife, Julius! Just let me tell you
that! Such names you can't call me!
Anger trembled in Mrs. Binswanger's vocal cords like current running
over a wire. But Mr. Binswanger sprang suddenly to his feet and crashed
the white knuckles of his clenched fist down on the table with a force
that broke the flesh. The red lights of anger lay mirrored in the pool
of his eyes like danger lanterns on a dark bridge are reflected in
Wolfswolfs, all of you! Youyouto-night you got me where I am
at an end! To-night you got to knowII can't keep it in no
moreyou gotto know to-nightto-night!
His voice caught in a tight knot of strangulation; he was dithering
To-nightyouyou got to know!
A sudden trembling took Mrs. Binswanger.
For God's sakes, know what, Juliusknow what?
I'm done for! I'm gone under! Till it happened you wouldn't believe
me. Two years I seen it coming, two years I been fightin' and
fightin'fightin' it by myself! And now for yourselves you look in the
papers two weeks from to-morrow, the first of March, and seeI'm done
forI'm gone under, I
Juliusmy God, youyou ain't, Julius, you ain't!
His voice rose like a gale.
I'm gone underI ain't got twenty cents on the dollar. I'm gone,
Becky. Beat up! To-morrow two weeks the creditors, they're on me! My
last extension expires, and they're on me. I been fightin' and
fightin'. Twenty cents on the dollar I can't meet, BeckyI can't,
Becky, I can't! I been fightin' and fightin', but I can't,
BeckyIcan't! I'm gone!
Julius, Julius, for God's sakes, youyou don't mean it,
Juliusyoudon'tmean ityou're fooling usJulius!
Small, cold tears welled to the corners of his eyes.
I'm gone, Beckyand now hehe wants the shirt off my backhe can
have it, God knows. Butbutach, BeckyII wish I could have
saved youbut that a man twice so strong as his fatherach,
Gott, whatwhat's the use? I'm gone, Becky, gone!
Mr. Isadore Binswanger swung to his feet and regarded his parent
with the dazed eyes of a sleepwalker awakening on a perilous ledge.
Aw, pa, forfor God's sake, why didn't you tell a fellow?
Iweaw, pa, II can knuckle down if I got to. Gee whiz! how was a
fellow to know? Youyou been cuttin' up about everything sincesince
we was kids; aw, papleasegimme a chance, pa, I can knuckle
He approached the racked form of his father as if he would throw
himself a stepping-stone at his feet, and then because his voice stuck
in his throat and ached until the tears sprang to his eyes he turned
suddenly and went out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
The echo hung for a moment.
Miss Binswanger lay whitely in her chair, weakened as if the blood
had flowed out of her heart. From the granitoid square at the base of
the air-shaft came the rattle of after-dinner dishes and the babble of
dialect. Mr. Binswanger wept the tears of physical weakness.
II'm gone, Becky. What you want for Poil I can't do. I'm gone
under. We got to start over again. It was the interurban done it,
Becky. I needed new capital to meet the new competition. II could
have stood up under it then, Becky, butbut
Ach, my husbandfor myself I don't care. Ach, my
II'm gone, Beckygone.
He rose to his feet and shambled feebly to his bedroom, his fingers
feeling of the furniture for support, and his breath coming in the long
wheezes of dry tears. And in the cradle of her mother's arms Miss
Binswanger wept the hot tears of black despair; they seeped through the
showy lace yoke and scalded her mother's heart.
Oh, my baby! Ach, my husband! A good man like him, a good
man like him!
Don't cry, mamma, don'tcry.
Nothing he ever refused me, and now when we should be able to do
for our children and
Don't cry, mamma, don't cry.
Ifif he had the moneyfor a boy like Maxhe'd give it, Poil.
Such a good husbandsuchach, I go me in to papa nowpoor
papa. I've been bad, Poil; we must make it up to him; we
We got to start over again, Poilto the bone I'll work my fingers,
'Shh-h-h, mamma,'sh-h-hsomebody's knocking.
They raised their tear-ravaged faces in the attitude of listening,
their eyes salt-bitten and glazed.
It'sit's Izzy, baby. See how sorry he gets right away. He ain't a
bad boy, Poil, only always I've spoilt him. Come in, my boycome in,
and go in to your papa.
The door swung open and fanned backward the stale air in a sharp
gust, and the women sprang apart mechanically as automatons, the
sagging, open-mouthed vacuity of surprise on Mrs. Binswanger's face,
the tears still wet on her daughter's cheeks and lying lightly on her
lashes like dew.
Mr. Teitlebaum hesitated at the threshold, the flavor of his amorous
spirit tasty on his lips and curving them into a smile.
That's my name! Hello, Pearlie girlie! How-dye-do, Mrs.
He regarded them with dark, quiet eyes, the quick red of
embarrassment running high in his face and under his tight-fitting cap
of close-nap black hair.
Ah, excuse me; I might have known. II'm too early. Like my mother
says, I was in such a hurry toto get back here again II nearly got
out and pushed the SubwayIyou must excuse me. I
No, no; sit down, Mr. Teitlebaum. Pearlie ain't feelin' so well
this evening; she's all right now, though. Such a cold she's got, ain't
Yesyes. Such a cold I got. Sitsit down, Max.
He regarded her with the rims of his eyes stretched wide in anxiety.
Down at supper so well you looked, Pearlie; I says to my mother,
like a flower you looked.
A fog of tears rose sheer before her.
Her papa, Mr. Teitlebaum, he ain't so well, neither. Just now he
went to bed, and hehe said to you I should give his excuses.
So! Ain't that too bad, now!
Sit down, Max, there, next to mamma.
He leaned across the table toward the little huddle of her figure,
the gentle villanelle of his emotions writ frankly across his features.
She'll be all right in a minute, Mr. Teitlebaumlike her papa she
is, always so afraid of a little sickness.
Pearlie, ain't you going to look at me?
She sprang from his light hand on her shoulder, and the tears grew
to little globules, trembled, fell. Then a sudden rod of resolution
straightened her back.
WeI been lying to you, Max; I ain'tsick!
II think I know, little Pearlie!
No, no; it's best we tell the truth, mamma.
Ya, ya. Oh, my
Wewe're in big trouble, Max. Business trouble. The store,
everever since the tractionit ain't been the same.
I know, little Pearlie. I
Wait a minute, Max. Wewe ain't what you maybe think we are.
To-morrow two weeks we got to meet creditors and extension notes. We
can't pay with even twenty cents on the dollar. We're gone under, Max!
We ain't got it to meet them with. Papaif a man like papa
couldn't make it go nobody could
Such a man, Mr. Teitlebaum, so honest, so
It's ourmy fault, Max. He was afraid even last year, but Ieven
then I was the one that wanted the expense of the city. Mamma didn't
want ithe didn'titwas meII
My fault, too, Poilach, Gott, my fault! How I drove him!
How I drove him!
Wewe got to go back home, Max. We're going back and help him to
begin over again. Wewe been driving him like a pack of wolves. He
never could refuse nobody nothing. If he thought mamma wanted the moon
up he was ready to go for it; even when we was kids he
Ach, my husband, such a good provider he's always been! Such
Always we got our way out of him. But to-nightto-night, Max,
right here in this chair all little he looked all of a sudden.
So little! His back all crooked and all tired andand I done it,
MaxI ain't what you think I amoh, God, I done it!
Don't cry, mamma. 'Sh-h-h-h! Ain't you ashamed, with Mr. Teitlebaum
standing right here? You must excuse her, Max, so terrible upset she
is. 'Sh-h-h-h, mamma'sh-h-h-h! We're going back home and begin over
again. 'Sh-h-h-h! You won't have to dress for supper no more like you
hate. We'll be home in time for your strawberry-preserves season,
mamma, and rhubarb stew out of the garden, like papa loves. 'Sh-h-h-h!
You must excuse her, Maxyou must excuse me, too, to-nightyoucome
some other timeplease.
Pearlie! He came closer to the circle of light, and his large
features came out boldly. Pearlie, don't you cry neither, little
All what you tell me I know already.
You must excuse me, Mrs. Binswanger, but in nearly the same line of
business news like that travels faster than you think. Only to-day I
heard for surehowshaky things stand. You got my sympathies, Mrs.
Binswanger, butbut such a failure don't need to happen.
Mrs. Binswanger clutched two hands around a throat too dry to
He can't stand it. He isn't strong enough. It will kill him. Always
so honest to the last penny he's been, Mr. Teitlebaum, but never when
he used to complain would I believe him. Always a great one for a poor
mouth he was, Mr. Teitlebaum, even when he had it. So plain he always
was, and now II've broke himII
'Sh-h-h-h, mamma! Do you want papa should hear you in the next
room? 'Sh-h-h-h! Please, you must excuse her, Max.
Pearliehe placed his hand lightly on her
shoulderPearlieMrs. Binswanger, you must excuse me, too, but I got
to say itwhilewhile I got the courage. Can't you guess it, little
Pearlie? I'm in love with you. I'm in love with you, Pearlie, since the
first month you came to this hotel to live.
I only got this to say to you: I love you, little Pearlie. To-day,
when I heard the news, I was sorry, Pearlie, andand glad, too. It
made things look easier for me. Right away I invited Izzy to lunch so
like a school-boy I could hint. Itwo years I been wanting to get out
of the store, Pearlie, where there ain't a chance for me to build up
nothing. Like I told Izzy to-day, I want to find a run-down business
that needs building up where I can accomplish things.
I wanted him to know what I meant, but likelike a school-boy so
mixed up I got. Eight thousand dollars I got laying for a opening. This
failurethis failure don't need to happen, Pearlie. With new capital
and new blood we don't need to be afraid of tractions and
competitionswith me and Izzy, and my eight thousand dollars put in
out there, wewebut this ain't no time to talk business. Iyou must
excuse me, Mrs. Binswanger, butbut
Poil, my baby! Max!
I love you, Pearlie girlie. Ever since we been in the same hotel
together, when I seen you every day fresh like a flower and so fine,
II been heels over head in love with you, Pearlie. You should know
how my father and my married brothers tease me. II love you,
She relaxed to his approaching arms, and let her head fall back to
his shoulder so that her face, upturned to his, was like a dark flower,
and he kissed her where the tears lay wet on her petal-smooth cheeks
and on her lips that trembled.
My little girlie!
Mrs. Binswanger groped through tear-blinded eyes.
Thisthisain't no place for aold woman, childrenthisthis
ach, what I'm sayin' I don't know! Like in a dream I feel.
Me, too, mamma; me, too. Like a dream. Ah, Max!
I tiptoe in and surprise papa, children. I surprise papa. Ach, my children, my children, like in a dream I feel.
She smiled at them with the tears streaming from her face like rain
down a window-pane, opened the door to the room adjoining gently, and
closed it more gently behind her. Her face was bathed in a peace that
swam deep in her eyes like reflected moonlight trailing down on a
lagoon, her lips trembled in the hysteria of too many emotions. She
held the silence for a moment, and remained with her wide back to the
door, peering across the dim-lit room at the curve-backed outline of
her husband's figure, hunched in a sitting posture on the side of the
Beside him on the white coverlet a green tin box with a convex top
like a miniature trunk lay on one end, its contents, bits of
old-fashioned jewelry, and a folded blue document with a splashy red
seal, scattered about the bed.
She could hear him wheeze out the moany, long-drawn breaths that
characterized his sleepless nights, his face the color of old ivory,
wry and etched in the agony of carrying his trembling palm closer,
closer to his mouth.
Suddenly Mrs. Binswanger cried out, a cry that was born in the
unexplored regions of her heart, wild, primordial, full of terror.
It was as if fear had churned her blood too thick to flow, and
through her paralysis tore the spasm of a half-articulate shriek.
His hand jerked from his lips reflexly, so that the six small pink
tablets in the trembling palm rolled to the corners of the room. His
blood-driven face fell backward against the pillow, and he relaxed
frankly into short, dry sobs, hollow and hacking like the coughing of a
cat. His feet lay in the little heap of jewelry and across the crumpled
Beckyitit's all what II could doit'sit
Oh, my God! Oh, my God!
She dragged her trembling limbs across the room to his side. She
held him to her so close that the showy lace yoke transformed its
imprint from her bosom to the flesh of his cheek. She could feel his
sobs of hysteria beating against her breast, and her own tears flowed.
They racked her like a storm tearing on the mad wings of a gale;
they scalded down her cheeks into the furrows of her neck. She held him
tight in the madness of panic and exultation, and his arm crept around
her wide waist, and his tired head relaxed to her breast, and her hands
were locked tight about him and would not let him go.
Wewe're going home, Juliuswewe're going home.
Ya, ya, Becky, it'sit's all right. Ya, ya, Becky.
The canker of the city is loneliness. It flourishesan insidious
paradoxwhere men meet nose to nose in Subway rushes and live layer on
layer in thousand-tenant tenement houses. It thrives in
three-dollars-a-week fourth-floor back rooms, so thinly partitioned
that the crumple of the rejection-slip and the sobs of the class
poetess from Molino, Missouri, percolate to the four-dollars-a-week
fourth-floor front and fuddle the piano salesman's evening game of
solitaire. It is a malignant parasite, which eats through the thin
walls of hall bedrooms and the thick walls of gold bedrooms, and eats
out the hearts it finds there, leaving them black and empty, like
Sometimes love sees the To Let sign, hangs white Swiss curtains at
the window, paints the shutters green, plants a bed of red geraniums in
the front yard, and moves in. Again, no tenant applies; the house
mildews with the damp of its own emptiness; children run when they pass
it after dark; and the threshold decays. The heart must be tenanted or
it falls out of repair and rots. Doctors called in the watches of the
night to resuscitate such hearts climb out of bed reluctantly. It is a
malady beyond the ken of the stethoscope.
One such heart beat in a woman's breast so rapidly that it crowded
out her breath; and she pushed the cotton coverlet back from her bosom,
rose to her elbow, and leaned out beyond her bed into the darkness of
Jimmie? Essie? That you, Jimmie?
The thumping of her heart answered her, and the loud ticking of a
clock that was inaudible during the day suddenly filled the third-floor
rear room of the third-floor rear apartment. The continual din of the
street slumped to the intermittent din of late evening; the last
graphophone in the building observed the nine-o'clock silence clause of
the lease at something after ten, and scratched its last syncopated
dance theme into the tired recording disk of the last tired brain. An
upholstered chair, sunk in the room's pool of darkness, trembled on its
own tautened springs, and the woman trembled of that same tautness and
leaned farther out.
Who's there? That you, Jimmie?
She huddled the coverlet up under her chin and lay back on her
pillow, but with her body so rigid that only half her weight relaxed to
the mattress; and behind her tight-closed eyes flaming wheels revolved
against the lids. Tears ran backward toward her ears like
spectacle-frames and soaked into the pillow, a mouse with a thousand
feet scurried between the walls.
Essie? Jimmie, that you?
More tears leaked out from her closed eyes and found their way to
her mouth, so that she could taste their salt. Then for a slight moment
she dozed, with her body at full stretch and hardly raising the
coverlet, and her thin cheek cupped in the palm of her thin hand. The
mouse scurried in a light rain of falling plaster, and she woke with
her pulse pounding in her ears.
Jimmie? Jimmie? Who's there?
Sobs trembled through her and set the bed-springs vibrating, and she
buried her head under her flat pillow and fell to counting the
immemorial procession of phantom sheep that graze the black grasses of
the Land of Wakeful Hours and lead their sleepless shepherds through
the long, long, long pastures of the night.
Three hundred 'n' five; three hundred 'n' six; three hundred 'n'
seven; three hundred 'n'Jimmie?
A key scratched at the outer lock, and she sprang two-thirds from
the bed, dragging the coverlet from its moorings.
Jimmie, that you?
Sure, ma! 'Smatter?
She relaxed as though her muscles had suddenly snapped, her tense
toes and fingers uncurled, and the blood flowed back.
INothin', Jimmie; I was just wondering if that was you.
No, ma; it ain't meit's my valet coming home from a dance at his
Pressing Club. You ain't sick, are you, ma?
No. What time is it, Jimmie? It's so dark.
You been havin' one of your spells again, ma?
No, no, Jimmie.
Didn't you promise to keep a light going?
I'm all right.
Ouch! Geewhillikins, ma, if you'd burn half a dime's worth of gas
till me and Essie get home from work nights we'd save it in wear and
tear on our shins. I ain't got no more hips left than a snake.
It's a waste, Jimmie boy; gas comes so high.
You should worry, ma! Watch me light 'er up!
Be careful in there, Jimmie! Stand on a chair. I got a little
supper spread out on the table for Essie and her friend. You take a
Forty cents in tips to-day, ma.
Yeh; and a dame in Seventieth Street gimme a quarter and hugged the
daylights out of me till my brass buttons made holes in me and cried
brineys all over the telegram, and made me read it out loud twice, once
for each ear: 'Unhurt, Sweetheart, and homeward boundBill.' Can you
beat it? Five cents a word!
Jimmie, wasn't you glad to carry her a message like that?
It's a paying business, ma, if you're lucky enough to deal only in
A chair squealed on its castors, a patch of light sprang through the
transom, and the chocolate-ocher bedroom and its chocolate-ocher
furniture emerged into a chocolate-ocher half-light.
I'mI wishOh, nothin'!
Ain't you feelin' right, in there, ma?
Yes, Jimmie; butbut come in and talk to your old mother awhile,
Surest thing you know! Say, these are some sandwiches! You must 'a'
struck pay-dirt in your sardine-mine, ma.
They're for her gen'l'man friend, Jimmie.
The door flung open and threw an island of light pat on the bed. In
the gauzy stream the face on the pillow, with the skin drawn over the
cheeks tight as a vellum on a snare-drum, was vague as a head by
Carriere after he had begun to paint through the sad film of his
Jimmie, my boy!
Ain't your cheeks cold, though, Jimmie? It's right sharp out, ain't
it? And Essie in her thin coat! Youyou're a little late to-night,
ain't you, Jimmie?
He drew his loose-jointed figure up from over the bedside; and his
features, half-formed as a sculptor's head just emerging from the
marble, took on the easy petulance of youth, and he wiped the moist
lips' print off his downy cheek with the back of his hand.
Ah, there you go again! You been layin' here frettin' and countin'
the minutes again, ain't you? Gee, it makes a fellow sore when he just
can't get home no sooner!
No, no, Jimmie; I been layin' here sleepin' sound ever since I went
to bed. I woke up for the first time just now. I'm all right, Jimmie,
Honest, ma, you ought to ask the company to put me in short-pants
uniform, day duty, carrying telegrams of the day's catechism to
IDon't fuss at me, Jimmie! II guess I must 'a' had one of them
smothering spells, and I didn't wait up for Essie and Joe to-night. I'm
all right now, Jimmieall right.
He placed his heavy hand on her brow in half-understanding sympathy.
Geewhillikins, why don't you tell a fellow? You want some of that
black medicine, ma. Yougee!you ain't lookin' kinda blue-like round
the gills, are you? Old man Gibbs said we should send for him right
No, no, Jimmie; I'm all right now.
Look! I brought you a carnation one of the operators gimmeone
swell little queen, too. You want some of that black medicine, ma?
I'm all right now, Jimmie. It was just earlier in the evening I
kinda had a spell. Ain't that pink pretty, though! Here, put it in the
glass, and gimme a French kiss. Always ashamed like a big baby when it
comes to kissin', ain't you? Ashamed to even kiss your old ma!
Aw! He shuffled his feet and bent over her, with the red mounting
above the gold collar of his uniform.
And such a mamma-boy you used to be before you had to get out and
hustlesuch a mamma-boy, and now ashamed to give your old ma a kiss!
Ashamed nothin'! Here, ma, I'll smooth your hair for you the wrong
way like Essie used to do when you came home from the store dead after
the semiannual clearings.
No, no, Jimmie; these days I ain't got no more hair left to
You look good to me.
Aw, Jimmie, quit stringing your old ma. How can a stack o' bones
look good to anybody?
Your papa used to say so, too, Jimmie; but in them days my hair was
natural curlylittle cute, springy curls like Essie's. The first day
he seen me he fell for 'em; and the night before he died, Jimmie, with
you and Essie asleep in your folding-cribs and me little thinkin' that
the next week I'd be back in the department clerking again, he took me
in his arms and
Yes, yes; I know, mabut didn't old man Gibbs say not to get
excited? Lay back and don't talk, ma. I can feel your heart beatin' way
down in your hands.
You're all tired out, ain't you, Jimmie?too tired to listen to my
talk; but you're going to wait up for your sister's young man to-night,
ain't you, my boy? Go wet your hair and smooth it down. You'll wanna
see him, Jimmie.
Sure he's coming to-night, Jimmie. I got their supper all waitin';
and, see, there's my flowered wrapper at the foot of the bed, so I can
get up and go in when
Aw, cut out the comedy, ma! She ain't comin' straight home after
the show any more'n a crooked road; and if she does he ain't coming
Jimmie, she promised sure to-night.
Didn't she promise last night and the night before and the night
But this afternoon when she left for the matinée, Jimmie, I wasn't
feelin' so well, and she promised so sure.
Them girl ushers down there is too lively a bunch for her, ma.
Ushin' in a theayter is next to bein' in the chorusonly
Sure it isonly it ain't so good one way, and it ain't so bad
another. This new-fangled girl ushin' gets my goat, anyways. It ain't
doin' her any good.
Oh, Gawd, Jimmie, don't I know it? I hated to see her take ither
so little and cute and pretty and all! Night-work ain't nothin' for our
Sure it ain't!
But what could we do, Jimmie? After I gave out, her six a week in
the notions wasn't a drop in the bucket. What else could we do,
Just you wait, ma! This time next year life'll be one long
ice-cream soda for you and her. Wait till my dynamo gets to charging
like I want her toI'll be runnin' this whole shebang with a bang!
You're a good boy, Jimmie; but a kid of seventeen ain't expected to
have shoulders for three.
Just the samey, I showed a draft of my dynamo to the head operator,
ma, and he's comin' up Sunday to have a look. Leave it here on the
table just like it is, ma. You'll be ridin' in your Birdsong
self-charging electric automobile yet!
She let her fingers wander up and down his cheek and across his
shoulders and into his uneven nappy hair.
Poor Jimmie! If only you had the trainin'! Miss Maisie was up from
the store to-day in her noon-hour and seen it standing here next to my
bed; and she thought it was such a pretty-lookin' dynamo, with its
copper wires and all.
You didn't let her
Nohonest, Jimmie! Seeit ain't been touched; I didn't even let
her go near the table's edge. She wanted to know when I was comin' back
to the storeshe says the corsets have run down since they got the new
head saleslady, Jimmie.
If I'd 'a' been here I'd 'a' told her you ain't going back.
Sometimes II think I ain't, neither, Jimmie.
When you get well, ma, then I
Then I'm going back on my job, Jimmie. Eighteen yearsnot countin'
the three years your papa livedat doing one thing sort of makes you
married to it. I got my heart as set as always, Jimmie, on gettin' you
in at the Electric Training School next door. If I hadn't broke down
Nix for mine, ma!
Every day I sit by the window, Jimmie, and see the young engineers
and electricians who board there goin' to work; and it breaks my heart
to think of you, with your mind for inventions, runnin' the streetsa
messenger boyjust when I was beginnin' to get where I could do for
Aw, cut that, ma! Don't I work round on my dynamo every morning
till I go on duty? Wouldn't I look swell with an electricity book under
my arm? I'd feel like Battling John drinking tea out of an egg-shell.
The trainin'-school's the place for you, Jimmie. If you'd only take
the dynamo over to the superintendent and show him where you're stuck
he'd help you, Jimmie. I been beggin' you so long, and if only you
wasn't so stubborn!
I ain't got the nerve buttin' in over there; it's for fellows who
got swell jobs already.
There's classes for boys, too, Jimmie; the janitor told me. Just go
to-morrow and show your dynamo. It won't hurt nothin', and maybe
they'll know just what the trouble isit's only a little thing,
Jimmiethree times in succession it worked last night, didn't it? It
won't hurt to go, Jimmiejust to go and show it.
Nix; I ain't got the nerve. You just wait! I ain't got the
trainin'; but didn't I sell my double lens the day after I got the
patent? Didn't I make that twenty-five just like battin' your eye?
The janitor says you was robbed in it, Jimmie.
We should worry! Didn't we get a rockin'-chair and a string of
beads and a tool-chest out of it?
It ain't you worries me so much, Jimmie. Here, put your head here
on the pillow next to me, Jimmie. My heart's actin' up to-night. It
ain't you worries me you're a man like your papa was and can hit back;
but Essieif only Essie
You don't handle her right, ma; you're too easy-going with her.
Since she went on her new job she's gettin' too gaytoo gay!
Sure she is. Like I told her last night when she came in all hours
from dancingif she didn't take that war-paint off her face I'd get
her in a corner and rub it off till
I've begged her and begged her, Jimmie, just as hard as I ever
begged you about the dynamo, to wash her face of it. It's eatin' me,
Jimmieeatin' me! There wasn't a girl in the store that didn't envy
that girl her complexion. Oh, Gawd, Jimmie, it ain't paint aloneit's
where it can lead to.
She needs an old-time spankin'.
Them girls down at the theayter where she works put them ideas in
her head. It's only of late with her, Jimmie. Wasn't she like a little
baby when I had her across from me in the notions?
She's gotta keep her face clean or I'll
She needs somebody strong like her papa was to handle her, Jimmie.
She's stubborn in ways, like you, and needs somebody older, my
boysomebody strong that can handle her and love her all at once.
She's gotta quit sneakin' home at all hours. She don't pay no
attention to me; but she's gotta quit or II'll go down and smash up
that whole theayter crowd of 'em!
If she'd 'a' had a father to grow up under it would 'a' been
different. He was one of the strongest men in the power-house, Jimmie.
Mechanics make strong men, my boy, and that's why my heart's set on
you, Jimmie, takin' up where he left off.
It's that job of hers, ma; it ain't no hang-out for her down there
round the lights. She's gettin' too gay. I'll smash that
ticket-speculator to gelatin if he don't show up or leave her alone!
'Sh-h-h, Jimmie! He's her young man; she says he's a upright and
honorable young man with intentions.
Where she hidin' him, then?
Hehe's bashful about comin', Jimmie. Last night on her knees
right here by this bed she told me, Jimmie, with her eyes like saucers,
that he's said everything but come right out and ask her.
What's the matter? Is he tongue-tied?
A fine fellow, she says, Jimmieup to date as a new dime, makin'
from thirty to forty a week. Get that, Jimmie? Gawdforty a week! On
forty a week, Jimmie, what they could do for themselves and for you!
I wanna look him over first. I knew a fellow in that game got forty
a week and ninety days once, too.
There's a bunch of speculators used to hang round the Forty-second
Street telegraph office, with one eye always on the cop and the other
always open for rubes. They was all hunchbacks from dodging the law.
He ain't one of them kind, Jimmie.
Then why don't he have a roof over his head instead of doing
Ticket-speculatin' is like any other business, Essie says. Profit
is profit, whether you make it on a sheet of music, a washboard, or a
Then why don't he show his face round here, instead of runnin' her
round night after night when she ought to be home sleepin'?
Gawd, Jimmie! I don't know, except what she says. I just feel like
I couldn't stand her not bringing him to-nightlikelike I couldn't
stand it, Jimmie.
Lay easy there, ma.
They're young, I guess, and gotta have life; but I lay here with it
in front of me all night, long after she gets home and is sleepin' here
next to me as light as a daisy. She's so little and pretty, Jimmie.
I wanna get my glims on him
I wanna see him.
Me, too, Jimmie. I wouldn't care much about anything else if I
could see him once; and if he is big and strong like your father was
That gang don't come big and strong. They got big heads and little
The kind of fellow that would know how to treat you when you got
stubborn, and would put his hand on your shoulder and not try to drive
you. If he was a man like that, Jimmie, the kind you and Essie needs,
II'd stop fightin'; I'd fold my hands and say to God: 'Ready! Ready
right this minute!'
Ready for what, ma?
Ready, Jimmie, my boy. Just hands folded and readythat's all.
Aw, cut it, can't you, ma? Ima, quit scarin' a fellow. Quit
battin' your eyes like that. Tryin' to flirt with me, ain't you, ma?
Quit it, now! Lemme get you some of that black medicineyou're gettin'
one of your spells. Lemme run down-stairs and send Lizzie Marks for old
No, no, Jimmiedon't leave me! Hold me, my boy, so I can feel your
face. Don't cry, Jimmie; there ain't nothin' to cry about.
Cut the comedy, ma! I ain't cryin'; I'm sweatin'.
Jimmie, areyouthere? I feel soso heavy.
Sure I am, maright here, holding you in my arms. Feel! There's
the scar where old Gibbs sewed my face the time I got hit with a
batfeel, masee, it's me.
What's that, Jimmie, on the foot of the bed movin'?
See, mathat's your flowered glad-rag. You're go-goin' to put it
on when Essie and her gen'l'man friend come in. It ain't movin'; I
Don't muss it, Jimmie.
No. See, I smoothed out its tailit's a sash for you, ma.
Jimmie, you won't leave me? It gets so dark andthe mice
You couldn't pry me away with a crowbar, ma! I'll hold you till you
yell leggo. Lemme go for old Gibbs, ma; you're breathing heavy as a
No, no, Jimmie; don't leave me.
Sure I won't; but you're all twitchin' and jumpin', ma. Just leave
me run down and send Lizzie Marks for him.
No, no, Jimmie; I'm all right.
Sure, ma? Youyou're actin' up so funny.
It ain't nothin'only I'm an old woman, Jimmie. All of a sudden I
got old and broke. It ain't the same in the department, Jimmie, with
Essie gone from the notions across the aisle. Always when we were
overstocked in the corsets shesheEssie
Aw, ma, you ain't talkin' straight. Lemme have old man Gibbs.
I'm talking straight, Jimmie. Ain't I layin' right here in your
arms and ain't my hair caught round one of your brass buttons?quit
pullin', Jimmie! Essie's hair is so bright, Jimmie. I can see it
shinin' in the dark when she's sleepin'.
Some hair the kid's got! Remember the night you took me and her
'Sh-h-h-h! Ain't that them coming? Ain't it, Jimmie? I ain't equal
to gettin' up, Jimmie. Bring 'em in here and tell
Like fun it's them! Whatta you bet right now they're holding down a
table for two at the Palais du Danse? Swell joint!
Oh, Gawd, Jimmie!
I was kiddin', maonly kiddin'. Open your eyes, ma. Gwan! Be a
sport and open up! Remember, ma, when I was a kid, how I used to make
you laff and laff, makin' a noise like a
I knew I'd get a laff out of youplunka-plunk-plunka-plunk!
Yes, Jimmie, my boy! Go on! I like to lay here and remember back.
Essie was always grabbin' your spoonI used to slap her little hands
Ma, open your eyes! Don't go off in one of 'em again.
See, they're open, Jimmie! I can see your gold buttons shinin' and
shinin'I ain't sleepin'; I'm only waitin'.
She ain't had time to get home yet, ma. They gotta pick up programs
and turn in lost articles and all.
Put your arms round me, Jimmie. I keep slippin' and slippin'.
Lemme run for old man Gibbs, ma? Please!
No, no, Jimmie. Sing like you used to when you was a little kid,
Jimmie; I used to laff and laff.
'Sh-h-h! There's the chimesyou won't never tell me the right time
nights, when I ask you, Jimmie.
It ain't late, ma.
'Sh-h-h! What time is that? Listen!
It's early. Don't you count chimes, mait's a sign of snow to
count 'em, and Essie's got her thin jacket on. Listen! This is a swell
one I know: Plunk! Plunk! Plunk! Plunk!
See, it ain't late.
'Leven! You can't cheat me; I heard the last one.
'Leven already? Well, whatta you know about that? Them chimes is
always ahead of themselves.
Jimmie, my boy, quit playin' with your old ma.
They'll be comin' soon now.
Don't leave me, Jimmie.
Sure, I won'tsee!
Ma! Ma, for Gawd's sakes, open your eyes! Ma
Sing, Jimmie, likea banjo.
* * * * *
On that last boom of eleven the Stuyvesant Theater swung its doors
outward as the portals of a cuckoo clock fly open on the hour, and
women in fur-collared, brocaded coats, which wrapped them to the
ankles, and carefully curved smiles that Watteau knew so well and
Thackeray knew too well, streamed out into the radium-white flare of
Broadway, their delicate fingers resting lightly on the tired arms of
tired business men, whose faces were like wood-carving and whose wide
white shirt-fronts covered their hearts like slabs.
Almost before the last limousine door had slammed, and the last
tired business man had felt the light compelling pressure of the
delicate finger-tips on his arm and turned his tired eyes from the
white lights to the whiter lights of cafés and gold-leaf hotels, the
interior of the Stuyvesant Theater, warm and perfumed as the interior
of a jewel-box, blinked into soft darkness. Small figures, stealthy
espions of the night, padded down thick-carpeted aisles flashing
their pocket searchlights now here, now there, folding rows of velvet
seats against velvet backs, reaching for discarded programs and
seat-checks, gathering up the dainty debris of petals fallen from
too-blown roses, an occasional webby handkerchief, an odd glove, a
Then the dull-red eyes above the fire-exits blinked out, the sea of
twilight deepened, and the small searchlights flashed brighter and
whiter, glow-worms in a pit of night.
For Pete's sakes! Tell Ed to give back them lights; my lamp's burnt
Oh, hurry up, Essie! You girls up there in the balcony would kick
if you was walkin' a tight rope stretched between the top stories of
two Flatiron Buildings.
It's easy enough for you to talk down there in the orchestra, Lulu
Pope. Carriage shoes don't muss up the place like Subway shoes.
Gimme the balcony in preference to the orchestra every time.
What about us girls 'way up here in the chutes? Whatta you say
about us, Lulu Popeplayin' handmaids to the gallery gods?
Chutes the same. I used to be in the chutes over at the Olympic,
and six nights out of the week I carried water up the aisles without a
stop. Lookin' each row in the eye, too!
Sure's my name's Lulu Pope! Me an' a girl named Della Bradenwald
used to play Animal or Vegetable Kingdom every entr'acte with the
Oh-h-h! Say, Loo, you oughtta see what I found up here in Box E!
Leave it to Essie Birdsong for a find! What is it this timethe
diamond star the blonde queen in Upper E was wearin'?
A right-hand, number five and a halfwhite stitchin'.
Can you beat it? And you ain't never had a claim yet at the
I knew my luck would break, Lulu. My little brother Jimmie says if
you break a comb your luck breaks with it. I broke one this morning.
Whatta you bet now I begin to match every one of my five left-hand
gloves, without a claim from the office?
Conversation curved from gallery to loge box, and from loge to
Gee! Look at this amber butterfly! I seen it in her hair when I
steered her down the aisle. She must be stuck on something about this
showthird time this week, and not on paper, neither.
Amber, is it, Sadie? I'll trade you for the tortoise-shell one I
found in G 4; amber'll go swell with my hair.
Whatta you bet she claims it?
Say, did you hear Wheelan flivver her big scene to-night? I was
dozin' in the foyer and she tripped over her cue so hard she woke me
I should say so! I was standing next to the old man, and he let out
a line of talk that was some fireworks; he said a super in the mob
scene could take her place and beat her at pickin' up cues.
Yes; wait till I turn in one gent's muffler and a red curl.
Are you done up there, too, Essie?
Yes; but you needn't wait for me, Loo. If you're in a hurry I'll
see you down in the locker-room.
Seats slammed; laughter drifted; searchlights danced and flashed out
as though suddenly doused with water; and the gold, crystal, velvet,
and marble interior of the Stuyvesant Theater suddenly vanished into
its imminent wimple of blackness.
In the bare-walled locker-room Miss Essie Birdsong leaned to her
reflection in the twelve-inch wavy mirror and ran a fine pencil-line
along the curves of her eyebrows.
Is this right, Loo?
Swell! Your eyes look two shades darker.
Miss Birdsong smiled and leaned closer.
The girls all out, Loo?
Yeh; hurry up and lemme have that mirror, EssHarry gets as glum
as glue if I keep him waiting.
Miss Pope adjusted a too-small hat with a too-long pheasant's wing
cocked at a too-rakish angle on her brass-colored hair, and powdered at
her powdered cheek-bones.
Hereyou can have the mirror first, Loo. II ain't in a hurry
to-night. You and Harry better go on and not wait round for me.
Miss Pope placed her long, bird-like hands on her slim hips and
slumped inward at the waist-line; her eyes had the peculiar lambency of
the blue flame that plays on the surface of cognac and leaves it cold.
What's hurtin' you, Ess? The whole week you been makin' this play
to dodge me and Harry. If you don't like our company, Doll-doll, me and
Harry can manage to worry along somehow.
Oh, Lulu, itit ain't that, and you know it.
You're all alike. Didn't my last chum, Della Bradenwald, do the
same thing? I interdooced her to a gen'l'man friend of mine, a slick
little doorman for a two-day show, and what did she do? Scat! After the
second day it was good-by, Loo-Loo! They went kitin' it off together
and dropped me and Harry like parachutes!
Loo, darlin', honest, me and Joe just love goin' round dancin' with
you and Harry; butbut
Then what's hurtin' you?
It's ma again, Loo. She looked like she was ready for one of her
spells when I left; she's been worse again these two days, and the
doctor says we mustn't get her excitedher heart's bum, Loo.
Say, I used to have heart failure myself, and I know a swell
cureHartley's Heart's Ease. Honest, when I was over at the Olympic I
used to go dead like a tire. Lend me your eyestick, Ess.
You'll laff, Loo; but she's daffy for me and Joe to come home after
the show; she's never seen him at all, and
Oh, Gawd, I gotta flashlight of Joe!
When ma and I was clerkin' the girls and fellows always used to
come to our flat, Loo; and, say, for fun! Ma was as lively as any of us
in those days; and we'd have sardine sandwiches, and my kid brother
used to imitate all kinds of music and actors; and we used to laff and
laff until they'd knock on the ceiling from up-stairs and ma'd pack the
whole lot of 'em home. Why don't you and Harry come up to-night, too,
Loo? And we'll have a little doin's.
Nothin' doin', Beauty. There's a Free-for-All Tango Contest round
at the Poppy Garden to-night; and, believe me, I wouldn't mind winning
that pink ivory manicure set. All I gotta ask is one thing, Ess! Bring
me a snapshot of Joe doing the fireside act!
The glaze of unshed tears sprang over Miss Birdsong's eyes like
gauzy clouds across a summer sky.
Ithat's just it, Loo. I can't get him to come. Sometimes I think
maybe it's just because he's stringing me along; and Ihehe was your
friend first, Loo. Ain't he ever said anything to you about
meaboutaw, you know what I mean, Loo?
He's hipped on you, girl. I know Joe Ullman like I know the
floor-plan of this theater.
Honest, Loo, do you think so?
Sure! Gawd! I knew Joe when I was making sateen daisies in a
artificial-flower loft on Twenty-second Street; and him and my brother
was clerkin' in a cigar store on Twenty-third and running a neat little
book on the side.
Yes, deariea pretty picture-book.
Joe never told me.
He ain't always been the thirty-dollar-a-week kid he is nowtake
it from me. Just the same, you can thank me for interdoocing you to the
sharpest little fellow that's selling tickets on the sidewalks of this
great and wicked city.
I always tell him he ought to save moretaxis and all he has to
have, that spendy he is!
Sidewalk speculatin' is a good pastime if you're sharp enough; and
I always tell Joe he's got a edge on him like a razor.
Like a razor! Aw, Loo, you talk like he was a barber.
Sure, he's that sharp! Take Harry now: he's as slick as a
watermelon-seed when it comes to pickin' a sheet of music with a
whistle in it; but put him in a game like Joe's, with the law
cross-eyed from winkin' and frownin' at the same time, and he'd lose
It ain't a game, Loo. Joe says there ain't a reason why a fellow
can't sell a theater ticket at a profit, just like Harry sells a sheet
of music. Sidewalks are free for all.
Leave it to Joe to stretch the language like a rubber band. His
middle name is Gutta-Percha.
He was your friend first.
He is yet, Beautyeven if you have grabbed him. I like himhe's
one good sport; but with Joe's gift for tongue-work he could make a
jury believe a Bowery jewelry store ought to have a habeas corpus
for every body it snatches; he could rob a cradle and get a hero medal
Isometimes II don't know how to take him, Loo. We've been goin'
together steady now; and sometimes I think hehe likes me, and
sometimes I think he don't.
Take it from me, you got him going. I never knew him to take a
five-evenings-a-week lease on anybody's time.
Six! For all I know, youyou're keepin' things from me. Lemme see
your left handwhatta you blushing for, Beauty? Whatta you blushing
Say, how does this jacket look, Ess? Half them judges over there at
the Poppy watch your clothes more'n your feet.
Well, is this where me and Harry exit, Beauty?
Yeh; you go ahead, Loo. II'll tell Joe you and Harry went on
I gotta half bottle of Hartley's Heart's Ease at home, Ess. Tell
your old lady to have it on me. Don't you worry, kiddo. I used to have
heart trouble so bad I'd breathe like a fish at a shore dinnerand
look at me now! I'll bring it to-morrowa tablespoonful before meals.
Good night, Loo. I'll see you Monday.
Put on a little more color there, Doll, or you'll never get nothin'
out of him. You look as scared as an oyster. Lordy, you can handle him
easy! Lemme know what happens. S'long! S'long!
Good night, Loo!
Miss Birdsong brushed at her soft cheeks with the pink tip of a
rabbit's foot, and the color sprang out to match the rose-colored
sateen facing of her hat. Her lips opened in a faint smile; and after a
careful interval she scrambled into her jacket, flung a good-night kiss
to the doorman, and hurried through the gloomy foyer.
No sham like the sham of the theater! Its marble façade is classic
as a temple, and its dirty gray-brick rear opens out on a cat-infested
alley. The perfumes of the auditorium are the fumes of the wings.
Thespis wears a custom-made coat of many colors, but his undershirt is
Miss Birdsong stepped out of a gold and mauve hallway, through a
grimy side-door, and into an area as black as a pit; and out from its
blackest shadows a figure rose to meet her.
Yeh; where's Loo and Harry?
I dunno; theythey went on.
Hurry up, Beauty. I ain't so much of a favorite round this theater
that I can bask in this sunny spot.
I didn't mean to keep you waitin' so long, Joe.
Believe me, you're the foist little girl I ever hung round an
usher's exit for.
Honest, am I, Joe?
Surest thing! The stage-door is my pace, and for nothing short of
head-liners, neither. I gotta like a girl pretty well to hang round on
the wrong side of the footlights for her, sweetness.
Joe, II wish I knew if you was kiddin'.
They emerged into the white shower from a score of arc-lights; and
Mr. Joe Ullman, an apotheosis of a classy-clothes tailor's dearest
dream, in his brown suit, brown-bordered silk handkerchief nicely
apparent, brown derby hat and tan-top shoes, turned his bulldog toes
and fox-terrier eyes to the north, where against a fulvous sky the
Palais du Danse spelled itself in ruby and emerald incandescents with
the carefully planned effect of green moonlight floating in a mist of
Joeshe dragged gently at his coat-sleeve, and a warm pink spread
out from under the area of rougeJoe, you know what you promised for
What, kiddo? The sky's my limit. I'll taxi you till the meter gives
out. I'll buy you
You have promised so long, Joe. Come on! Let's go up home to-night.
Be a sport, and let's go. Ma's got a midnight supper waitin', and
The doctor says home cookin's bad for me, sweetness.
He cocked his hat slightly askew, stroked a chin as blue as a
priest's, and winked down at her.
Honest, sweetness, I'm going to buy you a phonograph record of
'Home Sweet Home Ain't Sweet Enough for Me'
She's waitin' up for us, Joe; she ain't hardly able to be up, but
she's waitin', Joe.
Ain't I told you I'm going up with you some night when I'm in the
humor for it? I feel like a ninety-horse-power dancer to-night, Doll.
Whatta you bet I sold more seats for your show to-night than the
box-office? Whatta you bet?
Sure, and I'm going to keep it; but I'm wearin' a celluloid collar
to-night, hon, and the fireside ain't no place for me. I wouldn't wanna
blow your mamma to smithereens.
I wouldn'thonest, sweetness, I wouldn't.
Joe, comin' to our house ain't like bein' companyhonest! When the
boys and girls from the store used to come over we'd roll back the
carpets, and ma'd play on an old comb and Jimmie'd make a noise like a
Hear! Hear! You sound like 'Way Down East' gone into vaudeville.
Come on up to-night, Joelike you promised.
We'll talk it over a little later, sweetness. Midnight ain't no
time to call on your best girl's dame. What'll she be thinkin' of us
buttin' in there for midnight supper? To-morrow night's Sundaythat'll
be more like it.
She got it waitin' for us, Joe. All week she been fixing every
night, and us not comin'. She knows it's the only time we got, Joe. She
says she'd rather have us come home after the show than go kiting round
like this. Honest, Joe, she's regular sport herself. She used to be the
life of her department; the girls used to laff and laff at her
cuttings-up. She's achin' to see you, Joe. She knows I weshe don't
talk about nothin' else, Joe; and she's sickit scares me to think how
sick maybe she is. He leaned to her upturned face; tears trembled on
her lashes and in her voice. Please, Joe!
To-morrow night, sure, little Essie Birdsong. Gawd, what a name!
Why didn't they call you
They always used to call us the Songbirds at the store.
Look, will you? Read'Tango Contest next Monday night!' Are you
game, little one? We'd won the last if they'd kept the profesh off the
floor. Come on! Let's go in and practise for it.
Not to-night, Joe, please. We're only four blocks from home, and it
ain't right, our keepin' company like this every night for three months
and not goin'. It ain't right.
He paused in the sea of green moonlight before the gold threshold of
the Palais du Danse, whose caryatides were faun-eyed Mænads and
Ægipans. The gold figure of a Cybele in a gold chariot raced with eight
reproductions of herself in an octagonal mirror-lined foyer, and a
steady stream of Corybantes bought admission tickets at twenty-five
cents a Corybant.
Phrygian music, harlequined to meet the needs of Forty-second Street
and its anchorites, flared and receded with the opening and closing of
Come on, girlie! To-morrow night we'll do the fireside proper.
You nevernev-er do anything I ask you to, Joe. You jolly me along
and jolly me along, and thendo nothing.
He released her suddenly, plunged his hands into his pockets, and
slumped in his shoulders.
I don't, don't I? That's the way with you girlsa fellow ties
hisself up like a broken arm in a sling, and that's the thanks he gets!
Ain't I quit playin' pool? Didn't I swear to you on your little old
Sunday-school book to cut out pool? Didn't the whole gang gimme the
laff? Ain't I cuttin' everythingain't I?pool and cardspool and
I know, Joe; but
You gotta quit naggin' me about the fireside game, sis. I'm going
to meet your dame some daysure I am; but you gotta let me take my
time. You gotta let me do it my wayyou gotta quit naggin' me. A
fellow can't stand for it.
She's sick, Joe.
Sure she is; and to-morrow night we'll buy her an oyster loaf or
something and take it home to her. How's that, kiddo?
That ain't what she wants, Joeit's us.
I just ain't home-brokethat's all's the matter with me. Put me in
a parlor, and I get weak-kneed as a catbashful as a banshee! You
gotta let me do it my way, Peaches and Cream. Just like a
twenty-five-cent order of 'em you look, with them eyes and cheeks and
hair. To-morrow night, sweetnesshuh?
Cross my heart and bet on a dark horse!
She slid her hand into the curve of his elbow, her incertitude
vanishing behind the filmy cloud of a smile.
All right, Joe; to-morrow night, sure. You walk as far as home with
me now, and
Gawd bless my soul! You ain't going to leave me at the church, are
I gotta go right home, Joe.
Gee! Why didn't you tell a fellow? I could have tied up ten times
over for a Saturday night. There's a little dancer over at the Orpheum
would have let out a six-inch smile for the pleasure of my company
to-night. Gee! you're a swell little sportnix!
Come on in for ten minutes, and if you're right good I'll shoot you
home in a taxi-cab just as quick as if we went now. Just ten minutes,
No more, Joe.
Cross my heart and bet on a dark horsejust ten minutes.
She smiled at him from the corners of her shadowed eyes and stepped
into the tessellated foyer.
Satisfied now, Mr. Smarty? she said, smiling at eight reflections
of herself and swaying to the rippling flute notes and violin phrases
that wandered out to meet them.
You're all right, sweetness!
Within the Sheban elegance of the overlighted, overheated,
overgilded dining and dance hall his pressure of her arm tightened and
the blood ran in her veins a searing flame.
Gee! Look at the jam, Joe!
Over there's a table for two, sweetright under them green
Say, whatta you know about that? There's that same blonde girl,
Joe, we been seein' everywhere. Honest, she follows us round every
place we goher and that fellow that was dancing up at the Crescent
They drew up before a marble-topped table, one of a phalanx that
flanked a wide-open space of hard-wood floor, like coping round a
sunken pool; and his eyes took a rapid résumé of the polyphonic room.
Good crowd out to-night, sweetness. They all know us, too.
Wanna dance and show 'em we're in condition?
The music flared suddenly; chairs were pushed back from their
tables, leaving food and drink in the attitude of waiting. A bolder
couple or two ventured out on the shining floor-space, hesitant like a
premonitory ripple on the water before the coming of the wind; another
and yet another. And almost instanter there was the intricate maze of a
crowded floorwomen swaying, men threading in, out, around.
What'll you have to drink, sweetness?
I know a better one than that.
Silly! I just can't get used to them bitter-tasting things you try
out on me.
You're all right, little Lemonade Girl!
He leaned across the table and peered under the pink sateen. Its
reflection lay like a blush of pleasure across her features, and she
kept her gaze averted, with a pretty malaise trembling through
You're all right, little Peaches and Cream.
Youyou're all right, too, Joe.
You mean that, sweetness?
I mean it if you mean it.
Do I mean it! Say, do I give a little queen like you my company
eight nights out of seven for the fun of kiddin' myself along?
I know you ain't, Joe; that's what I keep tellin' ma.
Sittin' there screwing your lips at me like that! You got a mouth
just likejust like red fruit, like a cherry that would bust all over
the place if a bird took a peck at it.
Her bosom, little as Juliet's, rose to his words, and she giggled
after the immemorial fashion of women.
Oh, Joe! If onlyif onlyif only
If only what, sweetness?
Aw, I can't say it.
Whistle it, then, sweetness.
It don't do us no good to talk about things, Joe. Wewe never get
What's the use o' talking, then, sweetness? Here's your lemonade. I
wish I was in the baby-food class'pon my soul I do! Look, sweetness;
this is the stuff, though. Look at its color, will you? Red as a
moonshiner's eye! Here, waiter, leave that siphon; I might wanna shoot
up the place.
You promised, Joe, not
Sure; I ain't goin' to, neither. Did I keep my pool promise? Ain't
heard a ball click for weeks! Will I keep this one? Watch! Two's my
limit, Peaches. I'd swear off sleepin' if you wanted me to.
Would you, Joe? That's what I want you to tell ma when
Aw, there you go again! Honest, the minute a fellow feels hisself
warming up inside you begin tryin' to reach up to the church-tower and
ring the bells.
Sure you do.
You make me ashamed when you talk like that.
Then cut it, sweetness. Come on; let's finish out this dance.
It worries her so, Joe. She asks and asks till II don't know what
to say no more when I see her wastin' away and all. IGawd, I don't
For Gawd's sakes, don't leak any tears here, Ess! This gang here
knows me. Ain't I told you I like you, girl? I like you well enough to
do anything your little heart de-sires; but this ain't the place to
talk about it.
That's what you always say, Joe; no place is the place.
Gee, ain't it swell enough just the way we arejust like it is, us
knocking round together? I ain't your settling-down kind, sister.
You're one little winner, and I like your style o' sweetness, but I
ain't what you'd call a homesteader.
Sure; I mean it. I like you well enough to do any little thing your
heart desires; but I never look far ahead, hon. I'm near-sighted.
Whatwhat about me?
I ain't got nothing saved upnot a dime. You tell your dameyou
tell her wewe just understand each other. Huh? How's that? That's
fair enough, ain't it?
Whatta you mean, Joe? You always say that; but please, Joe, please
tell me what you mean?
Listen, kiddo. Say, listen to that trot they're playin', will you?
Come on, sis; be a sport! To-morrow night we'll talk about anything
your little heart desires. Come on, one round! Don't make me sore.
Aw, no, Joe; I gotta go.
One round, sweetnesssee, I'll pay the check. See, two rounds
round, and we'll light out for home. Look, they're all watchin' for
ustwo rounds, sweetness.
One, you just said, Joe.
One, then, little mouse.
They rose to the introductory titillation of violins; she slid into
his embrace with a little fluid movement, and they slithered out on the
shining floor. A light murmur like the rustle of birds' wings went
after them, and couples leaned from their tables to watch the perfect
syncopation of their steps. His slightly crepuscular eyes took on the
sheen of mica; the color ran high in her face, and her lips parted.
They sit up and take notice when we slide out, don't they, little
Some class to my trotting, ain't there, sweetness?
Yeh. Look, Joe; we gotta go after this roundit's nearly twelve.
Twice round, sweetness, and then we go. If we ain't got the profesh
beat on that Argentine Dip I'll give ten orchestra seats to charity and
let any box-office in this town land me for what I'm worth.
Aw, I was only kiddin'. They got as much chance with me as a man
with Saint Vitus's dance has of landing a trout. Gee, you're pretty
Peaches and Cream!
Come on, Joe; this is twice round.
Once more, sweetnessjust once more! See, you got me hypnotized;
my feet won't stop. See, they keep going and going. See, I can't stop.
Whoa! Whoa! Honest, I can't quit! Whoa! We gotta go round once more,
Just once more, Joe.
* * * * *
At one o'clock the gas-flame in the hallway outside the rear
third-floor apartment flared sootily and waned to a weary bead as the
pressure receded. Through the opacity of the sudden fog the
formal-faced door faded into the gloom, and Miss Essie Birdsong pushed
the knob stealthily inch by inch to save the squeak.
'Sh-h-h-h! Yes, Jimmieit's only me. Why you makin' that noise?
Why's the light burning? What's
Essie! Essie, is that you and
Ma dearie, youWhat's the matter? You ain't sick, are you?
What'swhat's wrong, Jimmie? Please, what's wrong?
She stood with her back to the door, her face struck with fear
suddenly, as with white forked lightning, and her breath coming on
every alternate heart-beat.
Ma! Jimmie! For Gawd's sakes, what's the matter?
The transitional falsetto of her brother's voice came to her gritty
as slate scratching slate, and cold, prickly flesh sprang out over her.
Don't come in here! Youyou and your friend stay out there a
minute till ma kinda gets her breath back; sheshe's all rightain't
you, ma? You and your friend just wait just a minute, Ess.
Yeh; both of you wait. Nothing ain't wrongis it, ma? There, just
lay back on the pillow a minute, ma. Gwan; be a sport! Look, your
cheek's all red from restin' on my shoulder so long. Lemme go a minute
and bring Essie and her gen'l'man friend in to see you. Gee! After you
been waitin' and waitin' youyou ain't goin' to give out the last
minute. There ain't nothin' to be scared about, ma. Lemme go in just a
minute. Here it is, ma; don't break itseven years' bad luck for
smashin' a hand-mirror. Here; you look swell, maswell!
Tell him it ain't like me to give out like this. Take them bottles
and that ice away, Jimmiethrow my flowered wrapper over my shoulders.
There! Now tell him, Jimmie, it ain't like me.
Surest thing, ma. Watch me!
He emerged from the bedroom suddenly, his face twisted and his
whispering voice like cold iron under the stroke of an anvil, and Essie
trembled as she stood.
Youyou devil, you! Where is he?
She edged away from him with limbs that seemed as though they took
root at every step and she must tear each foot from the carpet.
To-morrow night he's comin' sure, Jimmie; he couldn't to-night,
Jimmie's lips drew back from his gums as though too dry to cover
Youyou street-runner, you!
For Gawd's sakes, she'll hear you, Jimmie!
You devil, you! You've killed her, I tell you! I've been holdin'
her in there for two hours, with the sweat standing out on her like
Oh, Gawd! Jimmie, lemme run for old man Gibbs; lemme
Oh no, you don't! Lizzie Marks down-stairs is gone for himbut
that ain't goin' to help none; what she wants is youyou and
your low-down sneaking friend; and she's goin' to have him, too.
He's gone, Jimmie. What
You can't come home here to-night without himyou can't! You
better run after him, and run after him quick. You can't come home here
to-night without him, I tell you! Whatta you going to do about ithuh?
Whatta you going to do? Quick! What?
She trembled so she grasped the back of a chair for support, and
tears ricocheted down her cheeks.
I can't, Jimmie! He's gone by now; he's gone by nowout of sight.
I can't! Please, Jimmie! I'll tell her! I'll tell her! Don'tdon't you
dare come near me! I'll go, JimmieI'll go. 'Sh-h-h!
You gotta get himyou can't come here to-night without him. I
ain't goin' to stand for her not seeing him to-night. II don't care
how you get him, but you ain't going to kill her! You gotta get him, or
Jimmie, tell him it ain't like me to give out like this. Tell
Yes, mawe're comin'. Joe's waitin' down at the door. I'll run
down and bring him up; hehe's so bashful. In a minute, ma darlin'.
She flung open the door and fled, racing down two flights of stairs,
with her steps clattering after her in an avalanche, and out into a
quiet street, which sprung echoes of her flying feet.
After midnight every pedestrian becomes a simulacrum, wrapped in a
black domino of mystery and a starry ephod of romance. A homeward-bound
pedestrian is a faun in evening dress. Fat-and-forty leans from her
window to hurtle a can at a night-yelling cat and becomes a demoiselle
leaning out from the golden bar of Heaven.
In the inspissated gloom of the street occasional silhouettes
hurried in silent haste; and a block ahead of her, just emerging into a
string of shop lights, she could distinguish the uneven-shouldered
outline of Joe Ullman and the unmistakable silhouette of his slightly
She sobbed in her throat and made a cup of her hands to halloo; but
her voice would not come, and she ran faster.
A policeman glanced after her and struck asphalt. A dog yapped at
her tall heels. Even as she sped, her face upturned and her mouth dry
and open, the figure swerved suddenly into a red-lighted doorway with a
crescent burning above it; and, with her eyes on that Mecca, she pulled
at her strength and gathered more speed.
The crescent grew in size and redness, and its lettering sprang out;
and suddenly she stopped, as suddenly as an engine jerking up before a
CRESCENT POOL AND BILLIARD ROOM
OPEN ALL NIGHT
And her heart folded inward like the petals of a moonflower.
Stretched to the limit of their resilience, the nerves act reflexly.
The merest second of incertitude, and then automatically she swung
about, turned her blood-driven face toward the place from whence she
came and groped her way homeward as Polymestor must have groped after
being blinded in the presence of Hecuba.
Tears hot from the geyser of shame and pain magnified her eyes like
high-power spectacle-lenses; and when she reached the dim entrance of
the cliff dwelling she called home an edge of ice stiffened round her
heart and her feet would not enter.
A silhouette lurched round a black corner and zigzagged toward her,
and she held herself flat as a lath against the building until it and
its drunken song had lurched round another corner; a couple hurried
past with interlinked arms; their laughter light as foam. More
silhouettesa flat-chested woman, who wore her shame with the
conscious speciousness of a prisoner promenading in his stripes; a
loutish fellow, who whistled as he hurried and vaulted up the steps of
the Electric Institute three steps at a bound; an old man with an
outline like a crooked finger; a shawled woman; a cab lined with vague
faces, and streamers of laughter floating back from it; and, standing
darkly against the cold wall, Essie, with the tears drying on her
cheeks, and her whole being suddenly galvanized by a new thought.
A momentary lull in the drippy streamlet of pedestrians; she leaned
out into the darkness and peered up, then down the aisle of street. A
shadow came gliding toward her, and she stepped forward; but when the
street-lamp fell on the cold eyes and cuttlefish stare she huddled back
into her corner until the steps had receded like the stick-taps of a
Two women in the professional garb of nurses twinkled past, twitting
each to each like sparrows; a man whose face was narrow and dark,
bespeaking in his ancestry a Latin breed, kept close to the shadow of
the buildings; and, with her finger-nails cutting her palms, she
stepped out from her lair directly in his path and clasped her hands
tighter to keep them from trembling.
He glanced down at her yellowish face, with the daubed-on red
standing out frankly, tossed her a sneer and a foreign expression, and
brushed by. She darted back as though he had struck at her, and panic
closed her in.
A young giant, tall as a Scandinavian out of Valhalla, with wide
shoulders, a wide stride, and heavy-soled, laced-to-the-knee boots that
clattered loudly, ran up the steps of the Electric Institute, and she
flashed across the sidewalk, her arm reaching out.
He paused, with the street lamp full on his smiling mouth and
wide-apart, smiling eyes, one foot in the act of ascending, after the
manner of tailors' fashion-plates, which are for ever in the casual
attitude of mounting stairs.
Aw, little lady, go home and go to bed. This ain't no time and
place for a little thing like you. Here, take this and go home, little
She arrested his arm on its way to his pocket, her breath crowding
out her words, and the stinging red of shame burning through her rouge.
No, no! For Gawd's sakes, no! It'smy mother
He brought his feet down to a level.
Yes; she's sickmaybe dyin'. Ipleaseshe wants to see somebody
What, little lady?
She's sickdyin' maybe. She wants to see somebody that
Take your time, little ladycan't what?
Who can't come?
Hemy younghe's a young man. She's never seen him; and
ifplease, if you'd come and act superjust like you was fillin' in
at a show; if you'd act like my young man just for a minuteplease! My
friend, he can't comehe can never come; but sheshe wants
him. You come, please! You come, please!
She tugged at his arm, and he descended another step and peered into
the exacerbated anxiety of her face.
On the level, little lady?
Pleasejust for a minute! For somebody that's sickmaybe dyin'.
Just tell her you're my young mantell her everything's all
righteverything's comin' all right for all of us, for her andand my
little brother, andand meyou and melike you was my young man,
please, lovin' and all. And tell her how pretty her poor hair is and
how everything's goin'goin' to be all right. Come, pleaseit's just
Why, you poor little thing! I ain't much on play-actin'; and look
at my hands all black from the power-house!
Please! That ain't nothin'. It'll be only a minute. Just kinda say
things after me and don't let her knowdon't let her know that II
ain't got any young man. Don't let her know!
You poor little thing, youshaking like a leaf! Lead the way; but
not so fast, little ladyyou'll give out.
She cried and laughed her relief and dragged him across the
sidewalk; and every step up the two flights she struggled to keep her
hysterical voice within the veil of a whisper.
Just say everythin' right after me. Youyou're my young man and
real sweet on me; and we're going to getyou know; everythin' is goin'
to be fine, and my little brother's going to the Electric Institute,
and everythin's goin' to be swell. Be right lovin' to her, sirshe's
so sick. Oh, Gawd, I
Don't cry, little girl.
I ain't cryin'.
Careful; don't stumble.
Don't you stumble. Can you see? The landing's so dark.
Yes; I can see by the shine of your hair, little lady.
The door stood open at the angle she had left it, and by proxy of
the slab of mirror over the mantelpiece she could see her mother's head
propped against her brother's gold-braided shoulder, and the bright
eyes shining out like a gazelle's in the dark.
We are here, mame and Joe. She threw a last appeal over her
shoulder and led the way into the bedroom; her companion followed,
stooping to accommodate his height to the doorway.
Ma dearie, this is Joe.
Joe! It ain't like me, Joe, not to get up; but I just ain't got the
He bent his six-feet-two over the bed and smiled at her from close
Well, well, well! So this is ma dear, dearie?
That's her, Joe.
This won't do one bit, ma. Me and the little lady's got to get you
cured up in a hurrydon't we, little lady?
Ma dearie, Joe's been wantin' and wantin' to come for so long.
[Illustration: SHE HELD UP A HAND AS LIGHT AS A LEAF, AND HE TOOK IT
IN A WIDE, GENTLE CLASP THAT ENVELOPED IT]
For so long I been wantin' to come, ma dearie; but
But he's so bashful. Ain't you, Joe? Bashful as a banshee.
Bashful ain't no name for me, ma. I'd shy at a baby.
Honest, ma dearie, he's as shy as anything.
If I wasn't, wouldn't I have been up to see my little lady's mother
long agowouldn't I? Ain't you going to shake hands with me, ma
She held up a hand as light as a leaf, and he took it in a wide,
gentle clasp that enveloped it.
Her violet lids fluttered, and she lay back from the gold-braided
shoulder to her pillow, but smiling.
I like your hand, Joe; I like it.
I want you to, ma.
WeI was afraid, Joe, I wouldn't, you never comin' at all. Shake
it, Jimmie, and see.
It's a strong hand, like your papa's was, Essie. Shake it, Jimmie.
I feel just like cryin', it's so good. Shake it, Jimmie.
Across the chasm of youth's prejudice Jimmie held out a reluctant
And this is the big brother, is it, little lady?
That's what he calls hisself, Joehe calls me his little sister.
He's gotta be a big brother to her, Joe; she's soso little.
Shake, old man; and take off that grouch. Over where I live a
fellow'd be fined ten cents for that scowl. If we got anything to
square, you and me'll square it outside after school. What do you say
to that, ma dearie? Ain't it right?
Jimmie's tired out, Joe.
Like fun I am!
He's been proppin' me up all these hours so I could breathe
easierplunkin' and doin' all his funny kid stunts for his old ma,
Essieplunkin' like a banjo, and plunkin'. I liked it. Sometimes it
was like I was floatin' in a skiff with your papa on Sunday afternoons
in the park, Essie. I liked it. He's all tired outain't you, Jimmie,
He's sore at his sister, Joe. But he's a good boy and smart;
you wouldn't believe it, Joe, but when it comes to mechanics hehe's
Aw, cut it, ma! I ain't strikin' to make a hit.
He's only tired, Joe, and don't mean nothin' he says.
Naw; I'm only tryin' my voice out for grand opery!
You're a regular sorehead with me, ain't you, old man?
He ain't easy at makin' up with strangers, Joe; but he's a smart
one. See that on the table? That's his self-chargin' dynamo; it's a
great invention, Joe, the janitor says. You tell him about it, Jimmie.
There ain't nothin' to tell.
Don't believe it, Joe; the janitor's a electrician, and he says
See! There it is, Joe.
Aw, I don't want everybody pokin' and nosin'!
Lemme have a look at it, old man. I know something about dynamos
myself. Say, that looks like a neat little idea. How does she work?
Seeyou generate right down in here. See? She worked that time,
Jimminycracks! Where'd you get your juice andWell, well! Whatta
you know about that? Don't even have to reverse. I guess that storage
down there ain't some stunt!
See, Jimmie, my boy! I told you it was a grand invention. Hear what
Say, kid, you bring thattake that over to the Institute
to-morrow. I know a fellow over there'll protect your rights and work
that out with you swell.
See, Jimmie, youryour old ma was right!
Aw, the generator don't always work like thatonly about four
times out of six. I'm kinda stuck on the
Say, kid, what you wanna do is protect your rights on that,
andand bring it overtake it over to the Institute. You'll give 'em
the jolt of their lives over there. I know a fellow's been chasin' this
idea ten years, and you're fifty per cent. closer to the bull's-eye
than he is.
Hear, Jimmie! Hear, Essie! Just like I been sayin'. I been beggin'
and beggin' him, Joe, but hehe's so stubborn; and
Aw, ma, cut it, can't you?
He's so stubborn about it, Joe.
There's no use tryin' to force him, ma; but he's gotta good idea
there if he handles it right.
Aw, she ain't finished yetshe don't spark right.
That what I'm telling you, kid. What you need is a laboratory,
where you've got the stuff to work with and men who can give you a
steer where you need it, and
I'll go over with you. I know a fellow over therehe's the guy
that helped Kinney win his transmitter prize. You'll give him the jolt
of his life, old man. Huh, kid? Wanna go over? He placed his hand on
the gold-braided shoulder and smiled down. Huh? You on, old man?
Aw, I ain't much for buttin' in places.
Are you on, Jimmie? It's your chance, old man.
Jimmie! Jimmie, my boy, I
Aw, I said I was on, didn't I, ma?
Sure, he said he was on, ma dearie. Shake on it, old man!
Jimmie! Jimmie, my boyhonest!it's just like your papa was
talkin'! Don't leggo my hand, Joe. Layin' here with my eyes shut, it's
just like he was talkin' hisself. He'she's like your papa was, Essie,
big and strong.
Is that the doctor? Is Lizzie Marks come back? Is that
No; not yet, ma.
You're all tired out, Essie baby. Look at your little face! Go wash
it, baby, and cool it off before old man Gibbs comes.
It ain't hot, ma.
He brought you into the world, Essie baby, and I don't want him to
see itto see it allall
I'm all right, ma. Lemme stay by you.
Go wash your face, Ess. Ma says go wash your face.
You shut up, Jimmie Birdsongit ain't your face!
You know all righty, missy, why she wants you to wash ityou
Ma, he keeps fussin' with me! Jimmie, please don't.
Aw, I ain't, neither, ma. She's always peckin' at me. II ain't
mad at her; but I want her to wash thatthat stuff off her face.
Her lips quivered, and she glanced toward the stranger, with her
lips drooping over her eyes like curtains to her shame; and he smiled
at her with eyes as soft as spring rain, his voice a caress.
Go, little lady. You're all tired out and too pretty and too sweet
not to wash your face andcool it off.
She's gotta go, or I'll get her in a corner and rub
I'm goin', ain't I, Jimmie? Honest, the minute we make up you begin
pickin' a fuss again.
Oh, my children!
Oh, Gawd, there she goes off again! Why don't old man Gibbs come?
Lay her down, Joe; she can't breathe that way. Look! Her hands are all
blue-like. Hold her up, Joe! Oh, Gawd, why don't old man Gibbs come?
She's all shakin'all shakin'!
No, I ain't. What you cryin' there at the foot of the bed for,
Essie? It ain't no time to cry now, darlin'. It's like it says on the
crocheted lamp-mat your papa's aunt did for us'God is Good!' Where is
that mat, Essie? II ain't seen it round forsolong. God is good!
Godisgood! Where is that mat, Essie?
It's round somewheres, ma. It's old and worn outin the rag-bag,
Well get it out, Essie.
Sure, ma; we'll get it out and keep it out.
Oh, Joe, why did you keep us waitin' and waitin'? She's so little
and pretty. Look at her dimples, Joe, even when she's cryin'. The
prettiest girl in the notions, she was; and II been so scared for
her, Joe. Why did you keep us waitin' and waitin'?
Me and the little girl was slow in getting here, ma; but wewe're
here for good nowain't we, little lady? Little lady with the hair
just like ma's!
She gets it from me, Joe. Her papa used to say her hair was like
the copper trimmings of his machines. Such machines he kept, Joe! His
boss told me hisself they were just like looking-glasses, Essie, come
closer, darlin'. You won't forget the lamp-mat, will you, darlin'the
Oh no, ma. Oh, Gawd! Ma, you ain't mad at me? Pleaseplease!
Honest, ma, your little Essie didn't know.
Ma knows we didn't know, little lady. She ain't mad at us. She's
glad that everything's going to be all right now; and you and her and
Jimmie and me are
Oh, my children!
She smiled and slipped her fingers between her daughter's face and
Look up, Essie! I feel so light! I feel so light! It's like it says
on the lamp-matjust like it says, Essie.
Ma! Ma darlin', open your eyes!
Here, Jimmie, lend a hand! Lemme hold her upso! No; don't give
her any more of that black stuff, Jimmie, old man. Wait till the doctor
comes. Let her lie quiet on my armjust like that; and hand me that
ammonia-bottle there, Essie, like a sweet little lady. See there! She's
coming round all right. Who says she ain't coming to? Now, manow!
Joe, don't leggo me!
Sure I won't, ma dearie.
She warmed to life slightly, and the tears seeped through her closed
eyes, and she felt of his supporting arm down the length of his sleeve.
Joe! Essie, that you?
Ma darlin', we're all here.
Don't cry, little lady. See, she's coming out of it all right.
Here, gimme a lift, Jimmie. See there! She's got her breath all right
They laid her back on the pillow, and she folded her hands lightly,
ever so lightly, like lilies, one atop the other.
Children! Children, I'm ready.
Ready for what, ma? Some more black medicine?
Just ready, Jimmie, my boy! Here, Joe; hold my hand. It's
like his was, childrenbig and strong.
Aw, ma! Come on! Perk up!
I am, Jimmie, my boy.
Perk up for sure, I mean. Gee, ain't there enough to perk about?
Look at Joe and Essenough to give a fellow the Willies, pipin' at
each other like sugar'd melt in their mouths!
My Jimmie's a great one for teasin' his sister, Joe.
And look at me, maain't I going to take my dynamo over to the
Institute? And ain't the whole bunch of us right here next to your bed?
And just look, malook at the two of 'em turning to sugar right this
minute from lovin' each other! Ain't it the limit? Look at us, maall
here and fine as silkworms.
Yes, yes, Jimmie; that's why I feel so light. I never felt so light
before. It's like it says on the lamp-mat, Jimmiejust like it says.
I'm ready for sure, my darlin's.
Oh, Gawd, maready for what? Look at us, ma dearieall three of
us standing hereready for what, dearie?
You tell 'em, Joe; youyou're big and strong.
II don't know, ma. I don't think II know for sure, dearie.
Ready for what, ma? Tell us, darlin'.
She turned her face toward them, a smile printed on her lips.
Just ready, children.
THE PARADISE TRAIL
At five o'clock the Broadway store braced itself for the last lap of
a nine-hour day. Girls with soul-and-body weariness writ across their
faces in the sure chirography of hair-line wrinkles stood
pelican-fashion, first on one leg and then on the other, to alternate
Floor-walkers directed shoppers with less of the well-oiled suavity
of the morning; a black-and-white-haired woman behind the
corset-counter whitened, sickened, and was revived in the
emergency-room; the jewelry department covered its trays with a tan
canvas sheeting; the stream of shoppers thinned to a trickle.
Across from the notions and buttons the umbrella department suddenly
bloomed forth with a sale of near-silk, wooden-handled umbrellas;
farther down, a special table of three-ninety-eight rubberette
mackintoshes was pushed out into mid-aisle.
Miss Tillie Prokes glanced up at the patch of daylight over the
silk-countersa light rain was driving against the window.
Honest, now, Mame, wouldn't that take the curl out of your hair?
What's hurtin' you?
Rainin' like a needle shower, and I got to wear my new tan coat
to-night, 'cause I told him in the letter I'd wear a tannish-lookin'
jacket with a red bow on the left lapel, so he'd know me when I come in
the drug store.
Mame placed the backs of her hands on her hips, breathed inward like
a soprano testing her diaphragm, and leaned against a wooden
It is rainin' like sixty, ain't it? Say, can you beat it?
Watch the old man put Myrtle out in the aisle at the
mackintosh-tablethere! Didn't I tell you! Gee! I bet she could chew a
diamond, she's so mad.
She ain't as mad as me; but I'm going to wear my tan if it gets
Tillie sold a packet of needles and regarded the patch of window
with a worried pucker on her small, wren-like face.
Honest, ain't it a joke, Til?you havin' the nerve to answer that
ad and all! You better be pretty white to me, or I'll snitch! I'll tell
Angie you're writin' pink notes to Box 25, Evenin' NewsMr. Box
25! Say, can you beat it!
Mame laughed in her throat, smoothed her frizzed blonde hair, sold a
paper of pins and an emery heart.
Like fun you'll tell Angie! I got it all fixed to tell her I'm
going to the picture-show with you and George to-night.
Before I'd let a old grouch like her lord it over me! It ain't like
she was your sister or relation, or somethingbut just because you
live together. Nix on that for mine.
She don't think a girl's got a right to be young or nothin'! Look
at mea regular stick-at-home. Gee! a girl's got to have something.
Sure she does! Ain't that what I've been tryin' to preach to you
ever since we've been chumming together? You ain't a real old maid
yetyou got real takin' ways about you and all; you ought to be havin'
a steady of your own.
Don't I know it?
Look how you got to do nowjust because she never lets you go to
dances or nothin' with us girls.
She ain't never had it, and she don't want me to have it.
Say, tell it to the Danes! She ain't got them snappy black eyes of
hers for nothin'. Whatta you live with her for? There ain't a girl up
in the corsets that's got any use for her.
She's been pretty white to me, just the sameyraised me and all
when I didn't have no one. She's got her faults; but I kinda got the
habit of livin' with her nowI got to stick.
Gee! even a stepmother like Carrie's'll let her have fun once in a
while. It's Angie's own fault that you got to meet 'em in drug stores
and take chances on ads and all.
I'm just answerin' that ad for funI ain't in earnest.
I've always been afraid of matrimonial ads and things like that.
You know I was the first one to preach your gettin' out and gettin'
sprythat's me all over! I believe in bein' spry; but I always used to
say to maw before I was keepin' steady with George, 'Ads ain't safe.'
I ain't afraid.
Lola Flint, over in the jewelry, answered one once'Respectable
young man would like to make the acquaintance of a genteel young lady;
red hair preferred.' And when she seen him he had only one eye, and his
left arm shot off.
I ain't afraid. Say, if Effie Jones Lipkind can answer one, with
her behind-the-counter stoop and squint, and get away with it, there
ain't no reason why there ain't more grand fellows like Gus Lipkind
Come out of the dark room, Til! Effie had two hundred saved up.
I ain't ashamed of not havin' any steadies. Where's a
straight-walkin' girl like me goin' to get 'em? Look at that rain, will
you!and me tellin' him I'd be there in tan, with red ribbon on the
Paper says rain for three days, too. Angie's a old devil,
all-righty, or you could meet him in your flat.
He's going to wear a white carnation and a piece of fern on his
left coat lapel; and if he don't look good I ain't going up.
What did he call hisself'a bachelor of refined and retiring
habits'? Thank Gawd!if I do say itGeorge is refined, but he ain't
over-retirin'. It's the retirin' kind that like to sit at home in their
carpet slippers instead of goin' to a picture-show. Straighten that bin
of pearl buttons, will you, Til? Say, how my feet do burn to-night!
It's the weatherI might 'a' known it was goin' to rain.
Tillie ran a nervous finger down inside her collar; there was a
tremolo in her quail-like voice.
A fellow that writes a grand little letter like him can't be so
badand it's better to have 'em retirin'-like than too fresh. Listen!
It's real poetry-like: 'Meet me in the Sixth Avenue Drug Store, Miss
27. I'll have a white carnation and a piece of fern in my left
buttonhole, and a smile that won't come off; and when I spy the yellow
jacket I'm comin' up and say, Hello! And if I look good I want you to
say Hello! back.' ... The invisible hair-pins only come by the box,
ma'am. Umbrellas across the aisle, ma'am.... That ain't so bad for a
start, is it, Mame?... Ten cents a box, ma'am.
You got your nerve, all-righty, Tilbut, gee! I glory in your
spunk. If I was tied to a old devil like Angie I'd try it, too. Is the
back of my collar all right, Til? Look at Myrtle out there, will
youhow she's lovin' that mackintosh sale!
Water spots tan, don't it? said Tillie, balancing her cash-book.
At six o'clock the store finished its last lap with a hysterical
singing of electric bells, grillingly intense and too loud, like a
woman who laughs with a sob in her throat.
Tillie untied her black alpaca apron, snapped a rubber band about
her cash-book, concealed it beneath the notion-shelves, and brushed her
black-serge skirt with a whisk-broom borrowed from stock.
Good night, Mame! I guess you're waitin' for George, ain't you? See
you in the morning. I'll have lots to tell you, too.
Good night, Til! Remember, if he turns out to be a model for a
classy-clothes haberdashery, it was me put you on to the idea.
Tillie pressed a black-felt sailor tight down on her head until only
a rim of brown hair remained, slid into her black jacket, and hurried
out with an army of workers treading at her slightly run-down heels and
Youth, even the fag-end of Youth, is like a red-blooded geranium
that fights to bloom though transplanted from a garden bed to a tin can
in a cellar window. A faint-as-dawn pink persisted in flowing
underneath the indoor white of Miss Prokes's cheeksthe last rosy
shadow of a maltreated girlhood, which too long had defied the
hair-line wrinkles, the notion-counter with the not-to-be-used stool
behind it, nine hours of arc-light substitute for the sunshine on the
hillside and the green shade of the dell.
At the doors a taupe-colored dusk and a cold November rain closed
round her like a wet blanket. She shrank back against the building and
let the army tramp past her. They dissolved into the stream like a
garden hose spraying the ocean.
Broadway was black and shining as polished gunmetal, with
reflections of its million lights staggering down into the wet asphalt.
Umbrellas hurried and bobbed as if an army of giant mushrooms had
suddenly insurrected; cabs skidded, honked, dodged, and doubled their
rates; home-going New York bought evening papers, paid as it entered,
and strap-hung its way to Bronx and Harlem firesides.
The fireside of the Bronx is the steam-radiator. Its lullabies are
sung before a gilded three-coil heater; its shaving-water and kettle
are heated on that same contrivance. It is as much of an epic in
apartment living as condensed milk and folding-davenports.
All of which has little enough to do with Miss Tillie Prokes, except
that in her lifetime she had hammered probably a caskful of nails into
the tops of condensed-milk cans. Also she could unfold her own
red-velours davenport; cold-cream her face; sugar-water her hair and
put it up in kids; climb into bed and fall asleep with a despatch that
might have made more than one potentate, counting sheep in his
hair-mattressed four-poster, aguish with envy.
Miss Prokes yawned as she waited and regarded a brilliantly
illuminated display window of curve-fingered ladies in exquisite waxen
attitudes and nineteen-fifty crêpe-de-Chine gowns. Her breath clouded
the plate-glass, and she drew her initials in the circle and yawned
With the last driblet of employees from the store a woman cut
diagonally through a group and hurried toward Miss Prokes.
Come on, Tillie!
Gee! I was afraid you wouldn't have a umbrella, Angie. What made
you so late? The rest of the corsets have gone long ago.
Oh, I just stopped a minute to take a milk-and-rose-leaves
baththey're doin' it in our best families this year.
Tillie glanced at her companion sharply.
What's the matter, Angie? You ain't had one of your spells again,
have you? Your voice sounds so full of breath and all.
Angie pushed a strand of black-and-white hair up under her nest-like
hat. Her small, black eyes were too far back; and her face was slightly
creased and yellow, like an old college diploma when it is fished out
of the trunk to show the grandchildren.
I just keeled over like a tenpinthat's all! It came on so
suddenwhile I was sellin' a dame a dollar-ninety-eight hiplessthat
even old Higgs was scared and went up to the emergency-room with me
Oh, Angieain't that a shame, now!
Tillie linked her arm in the older woman's and, with their joint
umbrella slanted against the fine-ribbed rain, they plunged into the
surge of the street. Wind scudded the rain along the sidewalks;
electric signs, all blurred and streaky through the mist, were dimmed,
like gas-light seen through tears.
We better ride home to-night, Angieyou with one of your spells,
and this weather and all.
You must 'a' been clipping your gilt-edge bonds this afternoon
instead of sellin' buttons! It would take more'n only a bad heart and a
rainstorm and a pair of thin soles to make me ride five blocks.
II'll take your turn to-night for fixin' supper. You ain't
feelin' well, AngieI'll take your turn to-night.
They turned into a high-walled, black, cross-town street. The wind
turned with them and beat javelin-like against their backs and blew
their skirts forward, then shifted and blew against their breathing.
Gawd! said the older woman, lowering their umbrella against the
onslaught. Honest, sometimes I wish I wuz dead and out of it. Whatta
we get out of livin', anyway?
I do wish it!
They leaned into the wind.
II don't mind rain much. Me and Mame and George are going to the
Gem to-nightthey're showing the airship pictures over there. I ain't
goin' unless you're feelin' all right, though. They've got the swellest
pictures in town over there.
It's much you care about leavin' me alone or not when you can run
round nights like alike a
Don't begin, Angie. A girl's got to have fun once in a while! Gee!
the way you been holding on to me! II ain't even met the fellows like
the other girls. All you think I like to do is sit home nights and sew.
Look at the other girls. Look at Mamie Pluteshe's five years
younger'n meonly twenty-three; and she
That's the thanks I get for protectin' and watchin' and raisin'
Aw, Angie, I
Don't Angie me!
II ain't a kidthe way you fuss at me!
They turned into their apartment house. A fire-escape ran zigzag
down its front, and on each side of the entrance ash-cans stood
sentinel. At each landing of their four flights up a blob of gas-light
filled the hallway with dim yellow fog, and from the cracks of closed
doors came the heterogeneous smells of steam, hot vapors, and dampthe
intermittent crying of children.
After the first and second flights Miss Angie paused and leaned
against the wall. Her breath came from between her dry lips like pants
from an engine, and beneath her eyes the parchment skin wrinkled and
hung in small sacs like those under the eyes of a veteran pelican.
You take your time comin', Angie. I'll go ahead and light up and
put on some coffee for yousome real hot coffee.
Tillie ran lightly up the stairs. Through the opacity of the fog her
small, dark face was outlined as dimly as a ghost's, with somber eyes
burning in the sockets. Theirs was the last of a long hall of closed
doorsdrab-looking doors with perpendicular panels and white-china
Tillie fitted in her key, groped along the shadowy mantel for a
match, and lighted a side gas-bracket. Her dripping umbrella traced a
wet path on the carpet. She carried it out into the kitchenette and
leaned it in a corner of the sink. When Angie faltered in a moment
later a blue-granite coffee-pot was already beginning to bubble on the
two-burner gas-stove and the gentle sizzle of frying bacon sent a
bluish haze through the rooms.
Say, Angie, how you want your egg?
I don't want none.
Sure you do! I'll fry it and bring it in to you. Angie flopped
down on the davenport. Her skirt hung thick and dank about her ankles,
and the back of her coat and her sleeve-tops were rain-spotted and
wet-wool smelling where the umbrella had failed to protect her.
She unbuttoned the coat and the front of her shirt-waist, unlaced
her shoes and kicked them off her feet. In the sallow light her face,
the ocher wallpaper, the light oak center-table, the matting on the
floor, and the small tin trunk were of a color. She took up her shoes
in one hand, her coat in the other, and slouched off to a small
one-window box of a room, with an unmade cot and a straight chair
two-thirds filling it.
Happy the biographers whose Desdemonas burrow damask cheeks into
silken pillows, whose Prosperines limp on slim ghost-feet through Lands
of Fancy! Angie limped, too; but in her flat-arched, stockinged feet,
and to an unmade, tousled bed. And all the handmaids of her sexLove,
Romance, and Beautywere strangely absent; or could the most sybaritic
of biographers find them out?
Only half undressed she tumbled in, pulled the coverings tight up
about her neck, and turned her face to the wall. Poor Angie! Neither
Prosperine, Desdemona, nor any of the Lauras, Catherines, or Juliets,
had ever sold corsets, faced the soul-racking problem of eight dollars
a week, or been untouched by the golden wand that transforms life into
a phantasmagoria of love.
Tillie spread her little meal on the golden-oak table in the front
Come on, Angieor if you ain't feeling well I'll bring you in a
I ain't sick.
Well, if you ain't sick, for Gawd's sake, where did you get the
I'm comin' in if you give me time. Where's my wrapper?
They dined in a desultory sort of way, with Tillie up and down
throughout the meal for a bread-knife, a cup of water, sugar for
Angie's strong coffee.
If you ain't feelin' good to-night I won't go, Angie.
I'm feelin' all rightI'm used to sittin' home alone.
If you talk like thatI won't go, then.
Sure! You go on! Don't mind me.
There's another corset sale advertised for to-morrow, ain't there?
Gee! They don't care how many sales they spring on the girls down
there, do they? Didn't you just have your semi-annual clearin'?
Yes; but they got a batch of Queenly shapestwo-ninety-eightthey
want to get rid of. They're goin' to discontinue the line and put in
the Straight-Front Flexibles.
Angie sipped her coffee in long draughts. Her black flannel wrapper
fell away at the neck to reveal her unbleached throat, with two knobs
Let the dishes be, AngieI'll do 'em in the morning. I wonder if
it's raining yet? It's sure too cold to wear my old black. I'll have to
wear my tan.
Rain beat a fine tattoo against the windows. Tillie crossed and
peered anxiously out, cupping her eyes in her hand and straining
through the reflecting window-pane at the undistinguishable sky; her
little wren-like movements and eyes were full of nerves.
It'll be all right with an umbrella, she urgedeh, Angie?
Tillie hurried to the little one-window room. There were two carmine
spots high on her cheek-bones; as she dressed herself before a wavy
mirror her lips were open and parted like a child's, and the breath
came warm and fast between them.
I'll be home early to-night, Angie. You sleep on the davenport. I
don't mind the lumps in the cot.
She frizzed her front hair with a curling-iron she heated in the fan
of the gas-flame, and combed out the little spring-tight curls until
they framed her face like a fuzzy halo. Her pink lawn waist came high
up about her neck in a trig, tight-fitting collar; and when she finally
pressed on her sailor hat, and slid into her warm-looking tan jacket
the small magenta bow on her left coat-lapel heaved up and down with
Say, she called through the open doorway, I wish you'd see those
seventy-nine-cent gloves, Angiealready split! How'd yours wear, huh?
You care if I wear yours to-night, Angie?
Aw, Angie, if you're sick why don't you say so and not go spoilin'
my evening? Gee! If a girl would listen to you she'd have a swell time
of itshe would! A girl's gotta have life.
She fastened a slender gold chain with a dangling blue-enamel heart
round her neck.
Aw, I guess I'll stay home. There ain't no fun in anything, with
you poutin' round like this.
Tillie appeared in the doorway, gloves in hand. Angie was still at
the uncleared table; her cheek lay on the red-and-white table-cloth,
and her face was turned away.
The room was quiet with the ear-pressing silence of vacuum. Tillie
crossed and, with hands that trembled a bit, shook the figure at the
table. The limp arms slumped deeper, and the waist-line collapsed like
a meal-sack tied in the middle.
Angie, honey! Tillie's hand touched a cheek that was cold, but not
with the chill of autumn.
Then Tillie cried outthe love-of-life cry of to-day and to-morrow,
and all the echoing and re-echoing yesterdaysand along the dim-lit
hall the rows of doors opened as if she had touched their secret
Hurrying feetwhispersfar-away facesstrange handsa
professional voice and cold, shining instrumentsthe silence of the
tomba sheet-covered form on the red-velvet davenport! The fear of the
Alonethe fear of the Alone!
Miss Angie's funeral-day dawned ashen as duska sodden day, with
the same autumn rain beating its one-tone tap against the windows and
ricochetting down the panes, like tears down a woman's cheeks.
At seven three alarm-clocks behind the various closed doors down the
narrow aisle of hallway sounded a simultaneous call to arms; and a
fourth reveille, promptly muffled beneath a pillow, thridded in the
tiny room with the rumpled cot and the wavy mirror.
Miss Mamie woke reluctantly, crammed the clock beneath the pillow of
her strange bed, and burrowed a precious moment longer in the tangled
bedclothes. Sleep tugged at her tired lids and oppressed her limbs. She
drifted for the merest second, floating off on the silken weft of a
half-conscious dream. Then memory thudded within her, and the
alarm-clock again thudded beneath the pillow.
She sprang out of bed, brushed the yellow mat of hair out of her
eyes, and wriggled into her clothes in tiptoe haste.
Til! she cried, peering into the darkened room beyond and pitching
her voice to a raspy little whisper. Why didn't you wake me?
She veered carefully round the gloom-shrouded furniture and
dim-shaped, black-covered object that occupied the center of the room,
into the kitchenette.
I didn't mean to fall asleep, Til; honest, I didn't. Gee! Ain't I a
swell friend to have, comin' to stay with you all night and goin' dead
on you? But, honest, Tilmay I die if it ain't sowith you away from
the counter all day yesterday, and the odds-and-ends sale on, I was so
tired last night I could 'a' dropped.
Tillie raised the gas-flame and pushed the coffee-pot forward.
Through the wreath of hot steam her little face was far away and
Come on, Mame; I got your breakfast. Ain't it a day, though? Poor
Angiehow she did hate the rain, and her havin' to be buried in it!
Ain't it a shame?and her such a good soul! Honest, Til, ain't it
funny her being dead? Think of itus home from the store and Angie
dead! Who'd 'a' thought one of them heart spells would take her off?
I ain't goin' to let you stay here only up to noon, Mame. There's
no use your gettin' docked a whole day. It's enough for me to go out to
the cemetery. You report at noon for half a day.
Like fun I'm goin' to work at noon! You think I'm goin' to quit you
and leave you here alone? If Higgs don't like two of us being away from
the counter the old skinflint knows what he can do! He can regulate our
livin' with his stop-watch, but not our dyin'.
There ain't nothin' for you to do round here, Mamehonest, there
ain'texcept ride 'way out there in the rain and lose half a day.
Sheshe's all ready in her black-silk dressall I got to do is follow
her out now.
Gawd! What a day, too!
Carrie and Lil was going to stay with me this morning, too; but I
says to them, I says, there wasn't any use gettin' 'em down on us at
the store. What's the use of us all getting docked when you can't do
any good here? The undertaker's a nice-mannered man, and he'll
rideride out with me.
You all alone and
Everything's fixedthey sent up her benefit money from the store,
and I got enough for expenses and all; and sheshe wouldn't want you
to. She was a great one herself for never missin' a day at the store.
Large tears welled in Tillie's eyes.
She was a grand woman! said Mame, warm tears in her own eyes,
taking a bite out of her slice of bread and washing it down with a swab
of coffee. Therethere wasn't a girl in the corsets wasn't crying
yesterday when they was gettin' up the collection for her flowers.
Tillie's lower lip quivered, and she set down her coffee untasted.
She might have been a man-hater and strict with me, and all
thatbut what did she have out of it? She was nothing but a drudge all
her life. Since I was a cash-girl she stuck to me like shewas my
mother, all-righty; and once, when II had the mumps, sheshe
Tillie melted into the wide-armed embrace of her friend, and
together they wept, with the tap-tapping of the rain on the window
behind them, and the coffee-pot boiling over through the spout, singing
as it doused the gas-flames.
She used to mend my s-stockings onon the sly.
She was always so careful and all about you keepin' the right
companyit was a grand thing for you that you had her to live withI
always used to say that to maw. And what a trade she had! She could
look at your figure and lace you up in a straight-front quicker'n any
of the young girls in the department.
II know it. Why, even in the Subway she could tell by just
lookin' at a hip whether it was wearin' one of her double bones or
girdle tops. If ever a soul deserved a raise it was Angie. She'd 'a'
got it, too!
She was a grand woman, Til!
You tell the girls at the store, Mame, II'm much obliged for the
flowers. Angie would have loved 'em, too; but gettin' 'em when she was
dead didn't give her the chance to enjoy them.
She's up in Heaven, sitting next to the gold-and-ivory throne, now;
and she knows they're here, Tilshe can look right down and see 'em.
I'm glad they sent her carnations, thenshe loved 'em so!
I kinda hate to leave you at noon, Tilthe funeral and all.
It's all right, Mame. You can look at her asleep before you go.
They tiptoed to the front room and raised the shades gently. Angie
lay in the cold sleep of death, her wax-like hands folded on her flat
breast, and quiet, as if the grubbing years had fallen from her like a
husk; and in their place a madonna calm, a sleep, and a forgetting.
They regarded her; the sobs rising in their throats.
She looks just like she fell asleep, Tilonly younger-like. And,
say, but that is a swell coffin, dearie!
Like Niobe all tears, Tillie dabbed at her eyes and dewy cheeks.
She was always kickingpoor dear!at having to pay a dime a week
to the Mutual Aid; but she'd be glad if she could seefirst-class
undertaking and alleverything paid for.
I've kicked more'n once, too, but I'm glad I belong now. Honest,
for a dime a weeksilver handles and all. Poor Angie! Poor Angie!
Poor Angie, indeed! who never in all the forty-odd years of her life
had been so rich; with her head on a decent satin pillow, and a white
carnation at her breast; her black-and-white dotted foulard dress
draped skilfully about her; and her feet, that would never more ache,
resting upward like a doll's in its box!
Oh, Gawd, ain't I all alone, though; ain't I, though?
Watch out, honeyyou're crushing all the grand white carnations
the girls sent! Say, wouldn't Angie be pleased! 'Rest in Peace,' it
says. See, honey! Don't you cry, for it says for her to rest in peace;
and there's the beautiful white dove on top and alla swell white
bird. Don't you cry, honey.
Me and George won't forget you. Honest, you never knew any one more
sympathizing-like than George; there ain't a funeral that boy misses if
he can help it. He's good at pall-bearing, too. If it was Sunday
instead of Friday that boy would be right on tap. There, dearie, don't
Again Mame's tears of real sympathy mingled with her friend's; and
they wept in a tight embrace, with the hot tears seeping through their
At eleven o'clock a carriage and a black hearse embossed in Grecian
urns drew up in the rain-swept street. Windows shrieked upward and
heads leaned out. A passing child, scuttling along the bubbly
sidewalks, ran his forefinger along the sweating glass sides of the
hearse, and a buttoned-up, oilskinned driver flecked at him with his
whip. Street-cars grazed close to the carriage-wheels, and once a
grocery's delivery automobile skidded from its course and bumped
smartly into the rear. The horses plunged and backed in their traces.
Mame reached her yellow head far out of the window.
They're here, Til. I wish you could see the hearseone that any
one could be proud to ride in! Here, let me help you on with your coat,
dearie. I hope it's warm enough; but, anyway, it's black. Say, if Angie
could only see how genteel everything is! The men are comin' uphere,
lemme go to the door. Good morning, gen'l'men! Step right in.
Miss Angie's undertaker was all that she could have wisheda
deep-eyed young man, with his carefully brushed hair parted to the
extreme left and swept sidewise across his head; and his hand inserted
like a Napoleon's between the second and third buttons of his long,
black broadcloth coat.
Good morning, Miss Prokes! It's a sad day, ain't it?
Tears trembled along her lids.
Yes, sir, Mr. Lux; it's a sad day.
A sad, sad day, he repeated, stepping farther into the room, with
his two attendants at a respectful distance behind him.
There were no rites. Tillie mumbled a few lines to herself out of a
little Bible with several faded-ribbon bookmarks dangling from between
This was poor Angie's book. I'll keep it for remembrance.
Poor Angie! said Mame.
'In the midst of life we are in death,' said Mr. Lux. If you're
all ready now we can start, Miss Prokes. Don't be scared, little
There was a moment of lead-heavy silence; then the two attendants
stepped forward, and Tillie buried her face and ears on Mame's
sympathetic shoulder. And so Angie's little procession followed her.
I'm all for going along, Mr. Lux; but Tillie's that bent on my
going back to the store for the half-day. II hate to let her go out
there alone and all.
I'm going out in the carriage myself, missy. There ain't a thing a
soul could do for the little girl. I'll see that she ain't wantin' for
nothin'a Lux funeral leaves no stone unturned.
Youyou been awful good to me, Mame! I'll be back at the store
Good-by, honey! Here, let me hold the umbrella while you get in the
carriage. Gawd! ain't this a day, though? I'll go back up-stairs and
straighten up a bit before I go to the store. Good-by, honey! Just
don't you worry.
A few rain-beaten passersby huddled in the doorway to watch the
procession off. Heads leaned farther from their windows. Within the
hearse the Dove of Peace titillated on its white-carnation pillow as
they moved off.
Tillie sank back against a soft corner of the carriage's black rep
upholstery, which was punctured ever so often with deep-sunk buttons.
There was a wide strap dangling beside the window for an arm-rest, and
a strip of looking-glass between the front windows.
I hope you are comfortable, little missy. If I say it myself, our
carriages are comfortablethat's one thing about a Lux funeral. There
ain't a trust concern in the business can show finer springs or better
tufting. But it's a easy matter to take cold in this damp. I've seen
'em healthy as a herring go off just like that! said Mr. Lux, snapping
his fingers to emphasize the precipitousness of sudden death.
I ain't much of a one to take coldneither was poor Angie. There
wasn't a girl in the corsets had a better constitution than poor Angie.
She always ailed a lot with her heart; but we never thought much of
I thought she was your sister; but they say she was just your
Yes; but she was all I hadall I had.
Such is life.
Such is life.
They crept through the city streets, stopping to let cars rumble
past them, pulling up sharply before reckless pedestrians; then a
smooth bowling over a bridge as wide as a boulevard and out into the
rain-sopped country, with leafless trees stretching their black arms
against a rain-swollen sky, and the wheels cutting the mud road like a
knife through cold grease.
Angie would have loved this ride! She was always hatin' the rich
for ridin' when she couldn't.
There ain't a trust company in town can beat my carriages. I got a
fifty-dollar, one-carriage funeral here that can't be beat.
Everything is surely fine, Mr. Lux.
Lemme cover your knees with this rug, missy. We have one in all the
carriages. You look real worn out, poor little missy. It's a sad day
for you. Here, sit over on this sideit's quit rainin' now, and I'll
open the window.
The miles lengthened between them and the city, the horses were
mud-splashed to their flanks. They turned into a gravel way and up an
incline of drive. At its summit the white monuments of the dead spread
in an extensive city before thema calm city, with an occasional cross
standing boldly against the sky.
Lots of these were my funerals, explained Mr. Lux. That granite
block over therethis marble-base column. I buried old man Snift of
the Bronx last July. They've been four Lux funerals in that family the
past two years. His cross over there's the whitest Carrara in this
Tillie turned her little tear-ravaged face toward the window, but
her eyes were heavy and without life.
II don't know what I'd do if you wasn't along, Mr. Lux. II'm
I'm heredon't you worry. Don't you worry. I'm just afraid that
little lightweight jacket ain't warm enough.
I got a heavier one; but this is mournin', and it's all I got in
It's not the outside mournin' that counts for anything, missy; it's
the crape you wear on your heart.
They buried Angie on a modest hillside, where the early sun could
warm her and where the first spring anemones might find timid place.
The soggy, new-turned earth filled up her grave with muffled thumps
that fell dully on Tillie's heart and tortured her nerve-ends.
Oh! oh! oh! Her near-the-surface tears fell afresh; and when the
little bed was completed, and the pillow of peace placed at its head,
she was weak and tremble-lipped, like a child who has cried itself into
Ah, little missy! said Mr. Lux, breathing outward and passing his
hand over his side-swept hair. Life is lonely, ain't it?
Y-yes, she said.
The rain had ceased, but a cold wind flapped Tillie's skirts and
wrapped them about her limbs. They were silhouetted on their little
hilltop against the slate-colored sky, and all about them were the
marble monoliths and the Rocks of Ages of the dead.
Goodbye, Angie! she said, through her tears. Goodbye, Angie! And
they went down the hillside, with the wind tugging at their hats, into
their waiting carriage, and back as they had come, except that the
hearse rolled swifter and lighter and the raindrops had dried on the
Oh-ah! said Mr. Lux, breathing outward again and blinking his
deep-set eyes. Life is lonelylonely, ain't it?for those like you
Lonely, she repeated.
He patted her little black handbag, that lay on the seat beside her,
timidly, like a man touching a snapping-turtle.
You poor, lonely little missyand, if you don't mind my saying it,
so pretty and all.
My nose is red! she said, dabbing at it with her handkerchief and
observing herself in the strip of mirror.
Like I care! I've seen a good many funerals in my dayand give me
a healthy red-nose cry every time! I've had dry funerals and wet ones;
and of the two it's the wet ones that go off easiest. Gimme a wet
funeral, and I'll run it off on schedule time, and have the horses back
in the stable to the minute! It's at the dry funerals that the wimmin
go off in swoons and hold up things in every other drug store. I'm the
last one to complain of a red nose, little missy.
Oh, she said, catching her breath on the end of a sob, I know I'm
a sight! Poor Angieshe used to say a lot of women get credit for
bein' tender-hearted when their red noses wasn't from cryin' at all,
but from a small size and tight-lacin'. Poor Angieto think that only
day before yesterday we were going down to work together! She always
liked to walk next to the curb, 'cause she said that's where the oldest
ought to walk.
'In the midst of life we are in death,' said Mr. Lux. The wind
stiffened and blew more sharply still. Lemme raise that window, little
missy. It's gettin' real Novemberyand you in that thin jacket and
all. Hadn't we better stop off and get you a cup of coffee?
When I get home I'll fix it, she said. WhenIgethome. She
lowered her faintly purple lids and shivered.
Poor little missy!
Toward the close of their long drive a heavy dusk came early and
shut out the dim afternoon; the lights of the city began to show
whimsically through the haze.
We're almosthome, she said.
Almost; and if you don't mind I ain't going to leave you all alone
up there. I'll go up with you and kinda stay a few minutes tilltill
the newness wears off. I know what them returns home mean. I'd kinda
like to stay with you awhile, if you'll let me, Miss Prokes.
Oh, Mr. Lux, you're so kind and all; but some of the girls from the
store'll be over this eveningand Mame and George.
I'll just come up a minute, then, said Mr. Lux, and see if the
boys got all the things out of the flat. Only last week they forgot and
left a ebony coffin-stand at a place.
The din of the city closed in about them: the streets, already
lashed dry by the wind, spread like a maze as they rolled off the
bridge; then the halting and the jerking, the dodging of streetcars,
and finally her own apartment building.
Mr. Lux unlocked the door and held her arm gently as they entered.
The sweet, damp smell of carnations came out to meet them, and Tillie
swayed a bit as she stood.
Easy there, little one. It'll be all right. It's pretty bleak at
first, but it'll come round all right. He groped for a match and lit
the gas. Thereyou set a bit and take it easy.
A little blue-glass vase with three fresh white carnations decorated
the center of the small table.
See! said Mr. Lux, bent on diverting. Ain't they pretty? A
gentleman friend, I guess, sent them to cheer you upnot? My! ain't
they pretty, though?
Just thinkMame doin' all that for me! Straightening up and going
out and getting me them flowers before she went to work! Andand Angie
Little missy, you need to drink somethin' hot. Ain't there some
coffee round, or somethin'?
Yes, she said; but II got to get used to bein' herebein' here
Come nowthe carriage is downstairs yet, and there's a little
bakeshop, with a table in the back, over on Twentieth Street. If you'll
let me take you over there it'll fix you up fine, and then I'll bring
you back; and by that time your friends'll be here, and it won't be so
She rose to her feet.
I wanna go, she said. I don't wanna stay here.
That's the way to talk! he said, smiling and showing a flash of
strong, even teeth. We'll fix you up all right!
She looked up at him and half smiled.
You're so nice to me and all, she said.
He felt of her coat-sleeve between his thumb and forefinger.
Ain't you got somethin' warmer? It's gettin' cold, and you'll need
Yes; but notnot mournin'.
It's the crape of the heart that counts, he repeated.
All right, she said, like a child. I'll wear my heavier one. And
she walked half fearfully into the little room adjoining.
When she returned her face was freshly powdered and the pink rims
about her eyes fainter. Her tan jacket was buttoned snugly about her.
She stood for a moment under the bracket of light and smiled gratefully
Mr. Lux stepped toward her and hooked his arm, like a cotillion
leader asking a débutante into the dinner-hall; then stopped, took
another step, and paused again. A quick wave of red swept over his
Why! he began; why! Well!
She looked down at her skirt with a woman's quick consciousness of
I told you, she said, with her words falling one over the other;
I told you it wasn't mournin'! II
She followed his gaze to her coat-lapel and to the magenta bow. A
hot pink flowed under her skin.
Oh! she cried. Ain't I the limit? Thatthat bow was on, and I
forgotme wearin' a red bow on poor Angie's funeral day! Meoh
Her fingers fumbled at the bow, and smarting tears stung her eyes.
But Mr. Lux stepped to the blue-glass vase on the table, snapped a
white carnation at the neck, and stuck it in his left coat-lapel; then
he tore off a bit of fern and added it as a lacy background. His
deep-set eyes were as mellow as sunlight.
Hello! he whispered, extending both hands and smiling at her until
all his teeth showed. Hello!
Hello! she said, like one in a dream.
[Illustration: HELLO! HE WHISPERED, EXTENDING BOTH HANDS AND
SMILING AT HER UNTIL ALL HIS TEETH SHOWED]
Lilly raised the gas-flame beneath the coffee-pot and poked with a
large three-pronged fork at the snapping chops in the skillet. The
spark-spark of frying and the purl of boiling water grew madder and
merrier, and a haze of blue smoke and steam rose from the little stove.
I don't see why you can't stay for supper, Loo.
Miss Lulu Tracy opened her arms widelike Juliet greeting the
What's the use stickin' round? she said, in gapey tones. What's
the use stickin' round where I ain't wanted? Charley ain't got no use
for me, and you know it. I'll go over to the room and wait for you.
Well, I like that! I guess I can have who I want in my own flat; he
isn't bossin' me roundlet me tell you that much. But she did not
Oh, my feelin's ain't hurt, Lil. I jest dropped in on my way home
from the store to see how things was comin' with you.
Lilly banged the little oven door shut with the toe of her shoe and,
holding her brown-checked apron against her hand for protection,
drained hot water from off a pan of jacketed potatoesa billow of
steam mounted to the ceiling, enveloping her.
I've made up my mind, Loo. There's a whole lot of sense in what
you've been sayingan' I'm going to do it.
Now remember, Lil, I ain't buttin' inI ain't the kind that butts
into other people's business; but, when you come down to the store the
other day and I seen how blue you was I got to talkin' before I meant
to. That's the way with me when I get to feelin' sorry for anybody; I
ain't always understood.
You're just right in everything you said. It ain't like I was a
girl that wasn't used to anything. If I do say so myself, there never
was a more popular girl in the gloves than I wasyou know what refined
and genteel friends I had, Loo.
That's what I always saysome girls could put up with this all
right; but a person that had the swell time an' friends you didto
marry an' have to settle down like thisit just don't seem right. I
always said, the whole time we was chumming together, you was cut out
for a society life if ever a girl was. Of course, I ain't saying
nothing against Charley, but no fellow can expect a girl like you to
stick to this.
Miss Tracy fanned herself with a folded newspaper; her large,
even-featured face glistened with tiny globules of perspiration; her
blond hair had lost some of its crimp.
Nobody can say I haven't done my duty by Charley, Loo. If ever a
girl had a slow time it's been me; but I have been holdin' off, hoping
he might get into something else. He ain't never wanted to stick
himself; but it just seems like poundin' ragtime is all he's cut out
A girl's gotta have lifethat's what I always say. Just because
you're married ain't no sign you're an old woman; but I don't want to
poke into your business. If you make up your mind just you come over
tonight after he leaves, and you can bunk with me in the old room, just
like we used to. Lordy! wasn't them good old times?
Don't be surprised to see me, Loo. I ain't never let on to Charley,
but it's been in my head a long time. I'd a whole lot rather be back in
the department again than watchin' these four wallsI would.
It's a darn shame! Why, I'd go clean daffy, Lil, if I had to stick
round the way you do. What's the use o' bein' married, I'd like to
It won't be so easy to get back in the department, I'm afraid.
Easy? Why, you can get your old job back like that! Miss Tracy
snapped her fingers with gusto. It was only yesterday that an ancient
dame with a glass eye bought a pair of chamois and asked for youand
Skinny heard her, too. He knows you had a good, genteel tradeand
watch him grab you back! You ain't no dead one if you have been buried
nearly two years.
Ain't it so, Loo? Here I have been married going on two years! I
ain't never let on even to you what I've been through. Charley's all
Yes, but I could tell. You can ask any of the girls down at the
store if I wasn't always sayin' it was a shame for a girl with your
looks to 'a' throwed herself away.
Lilly dabbed and swabbed at the inside of a stew-pan; the irises of
her eyes were unnaturally largea wisp of hair, dry and electric,
drifted across her face. She blew at it, pursing out her lower lip.
I've been a fool! she said.
There's Maisiebeen married just as long as you; and honest, Lil,
I ain't been to a dance that I ain't seen her and Buck. Of course, Buck
has got his faults, but when he's sober there ain't nothin' he won't do
to give Maisie a swell time.
Lilly bristled. One thing I will say for CharleyI believe in
givin' everybody his duesCharley's never laid a hand on me; and
that's more'n Maisie Cloot can say! She finished with some asperity.
I guess there ain't none of them perfect when it comes right down
to itain't it so? I seen Maisie the week after she had that bad eye,
and I never see a sweller seal-ring than she was wearin'. Buck's rough,
but he tries to make up for itnot that I got anything against
Miss Tracy took a few steps that were suggestive of departure.
I always say, Lil, it ain't so much the feller as how he treats
you. It ain't none of my put-in, but I'd like to see the man that could
make me sit at home alone seven nights in the weekthat's what I
Well, if you gotta go, Loo, you gotta go. I'm so excited-like I
kind o' hate to have you leave.
There's nothin' to get excited about. It's just like you say:
you've been thinkin', and now you've made up your mind. Now all you got
to do is actyou got the note written, ain't you?
Lilly took a small square of yellow paper from her blouse and passed
it to her friend.
Are you sure it reads all right, Loo?
Miss Tracy read carefully:
DEAR CHARLIE,You do not need to come after me,
as I am not coming back. I could not stand itno girl could.
Yes; that's great. So long as you ain't sore at him for no other
reason, there ain't no use kickin' up. That just shows him where he
stands. There ain't no use fightin'just quit!
Lilly slipped the bit of paper back into her blouse.
I'll see you later, she said, with new determination.
Now don't let me influence you. Make up your mind and do what you
think is best. Then don't be a quitterwhen I start a thing I always
see it through. Give me a girl with backbone every time. I glory in
Oh, I got the spunk, all right, Loo. They linked arms and went
through the little bedroom into the parlor. At the door Miss Tracy
Your flat's got the room beat by a long shot; but I always say it
don't make no difference whether you live in a palace or a cottage,
just so you're happy. Gimme one room and what I want, and you can have
all your swell marble-entrance apartments. Ain't that right?
You've hit it, Loo. Take this here red parlor setwhen me and
Charley went down to pick it out I couldn't hardly wait till we got it
up in the flat; and now just look! I can't look red plush in the face
That's the way of the world, said Loo. She sucked in her breath
and cluck-clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth.
I'll be over about eight, thenafter he goes.
All right. Bring what you need, and send for the other stuff. You
better put in a party dress; we might get a date for to-night, for all
I know. You know you always brought me luck when it come to dates. I
ain't had a chum since that could bring them round like you.
Oh, Loo! I ain't thinkin' about such things.
Sure you ain't; but it won't hurt you to know you're livin', will
it?and to chaperon your friend?
No, admitted Lil.
Well, so long! I'll see you later. Don't let on to Charley I was
over. He ain't got no truck for me.
Good-by for a little while, Loo.
Lilly watched her friend pass down the narrow hall, then she closed
the door. Left alone, she crossed to the window and leaned out well
beyond the casementa Demoiselle whose three lilies were
despair, anger, and fear. The stagnant air, savored with frying pork,
weighted her down with its humidity; her brow puckered into tiny lines.
Do not, reader, construe this setting too lightly. The most pungent
essay in all literature is devoted to the succulency of roast pig;
Sappho was most lyric after she had rubbed her wine goblet with
garlic-flavored ewe meat. But such kindly reflection was not
Lilly'sfleshpots and life alike were unsavory.
The Nottingham lace curtains hung limp and motionless round her, and
waves of heat deflected from the asphalt came up heavy as fog. Three
stories beneath, Third Avenue spluttered on the griddle of a merciless
Augustan exhausted day was duskening into a scarcely less kind
twilight; she could feel the brick wall of the building exhaling like a
It was characteristic of Lilly that, with the thermometer up in
three figures and her own mental mercury well toward the top of the
tube, she should strike the one note of relief in a Saharan aridness.
She suggested the drip of clear water in a grotto or the inmost petals
of a tight-closed rose. If her throat ached and strained to keep down
the tears, her neck, where the sheer white collar fell away, was cold
and chaste; if anger and resentment were pounding through her veins the
fresh firmness of her flesh did not betray it.
She leaned her head against the window-frame and looked down with a
certain remoteness upon the human caldron three stories removed. Lights
were beginning to prick out wanly; the bang and clang of humanity,
distant, but none the less insistent, came up to her in a medley of
street-car clangs, shouts, and hum-hum. Children cried.
Upon a fire-escape level with her own window a child, with bare feet
extended over the iron rail, slept on an improvised bed; from the
interior of that same apartment came the wail of a sick infant. A woman
nude to the waist passed to and fro before the open window, crooning to
the bundle she carried in the crook of her arm. Lilly's mouth hung at
Came darkness, she passed out into the kitchen and covered the
slow-cooking chops with a tin lid, lighted the gas-jet, turning the
flame down into a mere bead, and resumed her watch at the front window.
Clear like a clarion a familiar whistle ripped through the din of
the street and came up to her sharp and undivertedtwo clean calls and
a long, quavering ritornelle. At that signal, for the year and a half
of their married life, Lilly had unfailingly fluttered a white
handkerchief of greeting from the three flights up. Her arm contracted
reflexly, but she stayed it and stepped back into the frame of the
window, leaning straight and tense against the jamb. Her pulse leaped
into the hundreds as she stood there, her arms hugging her sides and
her blouse rising and falling with the heave of her bosom, her
handkerchief a tight little wad in the palm of her hand.
Again the call, tearing straight and true to its destination! She
remained taut as stretched elastic. There was a wondering interimand
a third time the signal split the air, sharp-questioning, insistent.
Then a silence.
Lilly darted into the kitchen and stooped absorbed over the burbling
coffee. A key rattled the front-room lock, and she bent lower over the
stove. She heard her name called sharply; a door slammed, and her
husband bounded into the kitchen, his face streaming perspiration and
his collar like a rag about his neck.
Hello, honey! Gee! You gimme a scare there fer a minute. I thought
the heat might 'a' got you.
He gathered her in his arms, pushed back her head, and looked into
her reluctant eyes.
What's the matter, hon? You ain't sick, are you?
She wriggled herself free of his arms and turned to the stove.
No, she said, in a monotone, I ain't sick.
He regarded her with a worried pucker between his eyes.
Aw, come on, Liltell a fellow what's the matter, can't you? It
ain't like you to be like this.
Nothin'! she insisted.
You gimme a swell turn there fer a minute. They're droppin' like
flies to-dayhottest day in five summers.
Whew! He peeled off his coat and hung it, with his imitation
Panama hat, behind the door; his pink shirt showed dark streaks of
perspiration; and he tugged at the rear button of his limp collar.
Be-e-lieve me, the pianner business ain't what it's cracked up to
be! There ain't a picture house in town got the Gem beat when it comes
to heat. Had to take off the Flyin' Papinta act to-day and run in an
extry picture because two of the kids give out with the heat. I've
played to over ten thousand feet o' films to-day; and be-e-lieve me, it
was some stunt!
He sluiced his face with cold water at the sink, and slush-slushed
his head in a roller-towel, talking the while.
I never seen theextry picturetheyrun in to cover thePapinta
act; and before Icould keep upwith the filmI was givin' ragtime
fer a funeral. You oughta heard Joe squeal! He laughed and threw his
arms affectionately across his wife's shoulder. Ehragtime fer a
funeral! Fine pianner-player you got fer a husband, honey!
Given a checked suit, a slender bamboo cane, and a straw Katy
slightly askew, Charley might have epitomized vaudeville. He had once
won a silver watch-fob for pre-eminent buck-dancing at a Coney Island
informal, and could sing Oh, You Great Big Beautiful Doll! with nasal
Yes, sirree, Lil; you got a fine pianner-player fer a husband!
She squirmed away from his touch and carried the coffee-pot to the
little set-for-two table. The chops steamed from a blue-and-white
plate. Her husband, unburdened with subtleties, straddled his chair and
scraped up to the table; his collapsed collar, with two protruding ends
of red necktie, lay on the window-sill; the sleeves of his pink shirt
were rolled back to the elbow.
The meal opened in a silence broken only by the clat-clat of dishes
and the wail of suffering babies.
Poor kiddies, they ain't got a chance in a hundred. Gee! If I had
the coin, wouldn't I give them a handout of fresh air and milk? I'd
give every one of the durn little things a Delmonico banquet. I'd jest
as soon get hit in the head as hear them kids bawl.
Suddenly he glanced up from his plate and pushed himself from the
table; his wife was making bread-crumbs out of her bread.
Say, Lil, I ain't never seen you like this before! Ain't you
feeling good? Come ontell a feller what's the matter with you.
He rose and came round to her chair, leaning over its back and
taking her cheeks between thumb and forefinger.
Come on, Lil; what's the matter? You ain't sore at me, are you?
Can't a girl get tired once in a while? she said.
Poor little pussy! He patted her hair and returned to his place.
Guess what I got! groping significantly in the direction of his
hip-pocket. Something you been havin' your heart set on fer a long
I dunno, she said.
Aw, gwan, kiddo! Give a guess.
I can't guess, Charley.
Well, then, I'll give you three guesses.
Looknow can you?
He showed her the top of a small, square box tied with blue cord. It
bore a jeweler's mark.
Can you guess now, Lil? It's something you been aching fer.
Lemme alone! she said.
He looked at her in frank surprise, slowly replacing the box in his
Durned if I know what's got you! he muttered.
Nothing ain't got me, she insisted.
Poor little girl! Never mind; next summer I'm goin' to grab that
Atlantic City job I been tellin' you about. The old man said again
yesterday that, jest as sure as he opens his sheet-music bazar down
there next season, it's me fer the keyboard.
His schemes don't ever turn out. I know his talk, his wife
Sure they will this time, Lil; he's got a feller to back it. He
dropped in special to hear me play the 'Louisanner Rusticanner Rag'
to-day; an' honest, Lil, he couldn't keep his feet still! I sprung that
new one on him, toothe 'Giddy Glide'an' I had to laugh; the old man
nearly jumped over the piannercouldn't sit quiet! Just you wait, Lil.
I got that job cinchedno more picture-show stuff fer me! It'll be us
fer the board-walk next summer!
That's jest what you said about grabbin' that Coney Island job this
I couldn't help it that they cut out the pianner at the Concession,
could I? The films ain't no more fun fer me than fer you, honey.
It's pretty lonesome for a girl sitting here alone every night. It
was bad enough before you took the twelve-to-two job; but I never have
no evenin's nohow.
He looked at her with wide-open eyes.
I didn't know you were sore, Lilon the real, I didn't! I jest
took that café job fer a few weeks to help along the surprise. His
hand went to his hip-pocket.
Oh, she said, her lips curling, I'm sick of that line of talk.
There was a count-five pause; and then the old cheeriness came back
into his voice.
I'm going to cut out the café job, anyway, now that
Oh, never mind, she said, indifferently. What's it matter whether
you are home at twelve or two? I ain't had no evenin's for a good long
I guess you're right. Don't I wish I had some steady clerkin' job,
like Bill! But it don't seem like I am cut out fer anything but
pounding ragtimeyou knew that, honey, before we was He stopped,
No, I didn't! If I'd known before we was married what I know now,
things might be different. How was I to know that you was goin' to be
changed from matinée work to all-night shows? How was I to know you was
goin' to make me put up with a life like this? When I see other girls
that's married out of the department, and me, I jest wanna die! Look at
Sally Lee and Jimmythey go to vaudyville every week and to Coney
Saturdays. You even kick if I wanna go over to Loo's to spend a
I don't kick, Lil; I jest don't like to have you running round with
that live wire. She ain't your style.
That's rightrun down my friends that I worked next to in the
gloves fer four years! She was good enough fer me then. Me and her is
old friends, and jest 'cause I'm married don't make me better'n her.
I'm sorry I kicked up about it, honey. Maybe I was wrong.
She can tell you that I had swell times when I was in the
gloveseven when I was in the notions, too. There wasn't a night I
didn't have a bid for some dance or something.
Well, if this ain't a darn sight better'n pushing gloves at six per
I'll give you to understand, Charley Harkins, that I was making
eight dollars when I married you, and everybody said that I'd 'a' been
promoted to the jewelry in another year.
She rose, gathered a pyramid of dishes, and clattered them into the
dish-pan as he talked. He followed after her.
Aw, quit your foolin', Lil, can't you? Don't treat a feller like
this when he comes home at night. I'll get Shorty to take the piano
next Saturday, and we'll do Coney from one end to the other. We only
live once, anyway. Come on, Lil; be nice and see what I got fer you,
Don't treat me like I was a kid! When I was in the gloves I didn't
think nothin' of goin' to Coney every other night, and you know it, all
The red surged back into his face.
Yes, you had a swell time shooting gloves! You used to tell me
yourself you was ready to drop at night.
Ain't I ready to drop here? she flashed back at him. Am I any
better off here doin' my work in the hottest flat on Third Avenue?
Things'll come out all right, honey. Come on and kiss me before I
She submitted to his embrace passively enough, and at his request
retied his necktie round a fresh collar for him.
Good night, pussy! I'll come in soft so as not to wake youthere
ain't goin' to be no more of this two-o'clock business. I'm goin' to
cut out the café. Put a glass of milk out fer me, honey. I'm near dead
when I get in.
He struggled into his coat before the little dressing-table mirror
of their bedroom and with a sly smile slipped the blue-corded box into
a top drawer.
I got a surprise fer you, Lilonly you ain't in no mood fer it
I ain't in no humor for nothin', she said.
It's going to be a scorcher. You take it easy and get rid of these
blues you been gettin' here lately. You ain't got no better friend than
your old man or any one who wants to do more of the right thing by
I'll take a car-ride over to Loo's to cool off, she said,
He opened his lips to speak; instead he nodded and kissed her twice.
Then he hurried out.
After he left her she sank down on the little divan of highly
magnetized red plush and stared into space. Face to face with her
weeks-old resolve, her courage fainted, and a shudder like ague passed
over her. She could hear herself wheeze in her throat; and her
petal-like skin, unrelieved by moisture, was alternately hot and cold.
The low-ceiled room, dark except for a reflected slant of yellow
gas-light coming in from the kitchen, closed down like an inverted
bowl. She went to the window.
On the fire-escape opposite, the child still slept, one little ghost
of a bare foot extending over the rail. As she watched, a woman's voice
from within the apartment cried out sharplya panicky cry filled with
terror; then a silencemore pregnant than the call itself. Lily knew,
with a dull tugging at her heartstrings, that the babe had died. Only a
week before she and Charley had seen a little life snuffed out in the
apartment above, and she knew the mother-cry. Charley had dressed the
child and cried hot, unashamed tears; then, as now, her own eyes were
dry, but her throat ached.
East Side tradition has it that every tenth year exacts the largest
share of human toilthis might have been Death's Oberammergau!
Trembling, Lilly turned and groped her way into the little bedroom;
drawers slid open and slammed shut, tissue-paper rattled, the hasps of
a trunk snapped; then came the harsh sing of water pouring from a
faucet. Presently she reappeared in the doorway in a fresh white blouse
and a dark-blue skirt; there were pink cotton rosebuds on her hat and a
long pair of white silk gloves dangling from one hand. In the other she
carried a light wicker hand-satchel.
By the shaft of light she reread the small square of yellow paper
and impaled it carefully, face up, on the pincushion of their little
dressing-table. It poised like a conspicuous butterfly. Then she went
out into the kitchen, poured a glass of milk, placed it beside a small
cake of ice in a correspondingly small refrigerator, turned off the
gas-light, and went out of the apartment without once glancing behind
* * * * *
Miss Lulu Tracy lived in a lower West Side rooming-house. Lily had
once dwelt in that same dingy-fronted building, in a room which, like
her friend's, was reduced to its lowest terms. The familiar cryptic
atmosphere met her as she crossed the threshold. Loo greeted her
Lordy, Lil, I was afraid you was gettin' cold feet! Sit right down
there on the trunk till I get some of this cold-cream off. I'm ready to
drop in my tracks, I am. Three of the lace-girls fainted to-day and had
to be took home. Ain't this room awful?
Lilly sank in a little heap on the trunk.
It is hot, she admitted.
Hot? You look like a cucumber. Wait'll I get this cold-cream off,
and tell me all about it. I'm here to tell you that you're all right,
you are. Give me a game one every time! But wait till I tell you what's
Miss Tracy laved her face with layers of cold-cream, which she
presently removed with a towel.
Don't I wish I had your skin, Lil!
Quit your kiddin', Loo, she said. I ain't used to jollying no
You know yourself you was the best looker we ever had at the
counter. Skinny calls you The Lily to this day.
I ain't got the looks I once had, Loo. But her fair face flushed.
Wait till you get round a littleyou'll look five years younger.
Lilly giggled. On the real, Lil, there wasn't a girl in the department
didn't expect you to marry some swell instead of Charley Harkins. If
I'd 'a' had your looks I wouldn't been satisfied with nothin' but the
real thing. Look at Tootsie grabbin' old man Rickman! She can't hold a
candle to you.
Just the samey, she'd 'a' rather had Charley if she could 'a' got
him. I know a thing or two about that.
Cold-cream removed, Miss Tracy enveloped her friend in an embrace.
So you're goin' to bunk with me to-night! Seems like old times,
Just like old times, said Lilly.
Now tell me how you got away. He didn't get wise, did he?
No; I just left the note, Loo.
That'll hold him for a while. You're the real thing, you are! Not
that I want to make any trouble, but a blind man could see that you're
a fool to spend your time that way. Huh! Sellin' gloves ain't no cinch,
but if it ain't got being buried alive beat by a long shot I'll eat my
Impressed by her friend's gastronomic heroism, Lilly acquiesced.
You're right. I'll try to get my job back to-morrow. Maybe it won't be
Easy? cried Loo. Why, the easiest thing you ever tried! The
gloves haven't forgot you.
I hope not, sighed Lilly.
You're game, all right! I like to see a girl stand up for her
rightsthere ain't no man livin' could boss me! I'd like to see the
King of Germany hisself coop me up seven nights in the week an' me
stand for it. Not muchy! I got as much fight in me as any man. That's
the kind of a hair-pin I am!
I'm like you, Loo. I got to thinking over what you told me the
other day, and you're right: there ain't no girl would stand for it.
Girls gotta have life.
Of course they do! And you're going to have some to-nightthat's
what I got up my sleeve. Mr. Polly, in the laces, is comin' to take me
to the Shippin' Clerks' dance up at the One Hundred and Fifteenth
Street Halland you're coming right along with us.
Lilly lowered her eyes like a débutante.
Oh, Loo, II can't go to no dances. ICharleyI didn't mean
I'd like to know what harm there is goin' to a dance with me and my
gentleman friend? Didn't Aggie go with us all the time Bill was doin'
night-work? Before she got her divorce there wasn't a week she wasn't
somewhere with us. Besides, Polly is a perfect gentleman.
But I ain't got nothin' to wear, Loo.
Didn't you bring what I told you?
Well, then, you're goin'. If Charley Harkins don't like it he
should have taken you to dances hisself.
I ain't been to a dance since the Ladies' Mask me and Charley went
to when he was still playing matinées. I've almost forgot how.
Her eyes were like stars.
Swell dancers like you used to be don't forget so easy.
My dress is old, but it is low-neck.
It's all right; and you can wear my forget-me-not wreath in your
hairit'll just match your dress.
They took the frock from the wicker bag and held it up.
That's just fine, Lil; and you can carry my old fanI got a new
one from a gentleman friend for Christmas.
Lulu piled her hair into an impressive coiffure.
Oh, Loo, you look just like that picture that's on cigar-boxes!
You got the littlest waist I ever seen, reciprocated Lulu,
regarding Lilly's sylphid figure with admiring eyes.
You ought to have seen me the first year I was working, Loo. I
ain't got such a little waist any more, but I did have some figure
They dressed in relays, taking turns about before the splotched
Here, Lil, let me pin up them sleeves a little. Mame says all the
swell waists up in the ready-to-wears have short sleeves.
I've had my eye on a swell silver bracelet in Shank's window, Loo,
for a long time; they are so pretty with elbow-sleeves.
They pecked at each other like preening birds. At seven Lulu's
suitor arrived. They took final dabs at themselves.
He ain't such a nifty looker, Lil, but he sure knows how to treat a
girl swell. He ain't none of your piker kind that runs past a drug
store like the soda-fountain was after him. Why, I've known him to
treat to as many as three sodas in an evenin'! And say, kid, he is some
classy dresserlatest jewelry and black-and-white initials worked on
his shirt-sleeves. I met him at a mask, and he give me his card.
Does he know you work?
Yes; but he said he'd rather have a girl tell him she's workin'
like I did than to have her stuff him.
That's what I used to say; they find out, anyway.
Sure they do; the only time I told a guy I didn't work was that
time with you.
That time you told Mr. Evans you was goin' to school?
Yes; and he up and said: 'Yes; you go to school! You wrestle with
pots, you do, sis.'
They laughed reminiscently.
We sure used to have swell times together, Lulu.
Swell timeswell, I guess yes! I never did have the same good
times with no chum of the department since you left.
They descended to meet Mr. Polly in the lower hall. That gentleman
rose from the hat-tree. Four fingers of a tan glove protruded with
studied intent from the breast-pocket of his coat; his trousers and
sleeves were creased as definitely as paper. Mr. Polly's features were
strictly utilitarianit was his boast that by a peculiar muscular
contraction he could waggle his ears with fidelity to asinine effect.
His mouth was of such proportions that the slightest smile revealed
his teeth back to the molars. He smiled as he rose from the hat-tree.
Howdy-do, Mr. Polly? Is it warm enough for you? I want to make you
acquainted with my friend, Lilly Harkins.
Pleased to meet you, said Mr. Polly.
I didn't think you'd mind my bringin' a lady friend along to-night.
I thought maybe you could find her a friend up at the hall, Mr. Polly.
He bowed with alacrity.
Always ready to do the ladies a favor, he said, extending both
arms akimbo and stepping between them.
Lilly hung back with becoming reticence.
I'm afraid I'm butting intwo's company an' three's a crowd.
They hastened to reassure her.
You just make yourself right at home. I'm always ready to do the
ladies a favor, Miss Harkins.
A startled expression flashed across Lilly's face. Her friend sprang
into the breach like a life-saver off a pier.
Miss Harkins ain't the kind of a girl to sponge on nobody.
Mr. Polly knows if she's my friend she's all right.
That's the idea, agreed Mr. Polly. I like to see girls good
friends. The trio swung down the street.
That's what I always say. Why, before Lil was marWhy, me and Lil
never are stingy with our gentlemen friends. I was always the first one
to introduce youwasn't I, Lil?
Yes; and me the same way, amended Lilly. I think it's the right
way to be.
I got a friend comin' up to the dance to-night, just about your
style of a fellow, Miss Harkins. One nice chaphe's been in the
stock-room at Tracy's for years; some little sport, too.
Ain't that grand! beamed Lulu. Two couple of us!
Lilly hummed a little air as they walked along, both girls receiving
the slightest of Mr. Polly's sallies with effusion.
Oh, dear; it's just like going to a show to be with you, Mr.
Polly, gasped Lulu, after the gentleman had waggled his ears beneath
his hat until it rose from his head with magician's skill. How can you
be so comical! You ought to be on the stage.
That ain't nothin'. You ought to see me keep all the girls in the
laces laughin'! I believe in laughin', not cryin'. By the way, he
said, elated with success, guess this riddle: Why is a doughnut like a
Both puckered their brows and sought in vain for a similarity
between those widely diversified objects. After breathless volunteers
the girls owned themselves outwitted; then Mr. Polly relieved the
A doughnut is like a life-preserver, he explained, because
they're both sinkers.
The two gasped with laughter, Lulu placing a helpful hand on her
Oh, Mr. Polly, she panted, you're simply killin'!
Sim-ply kill-in'! echoed Lilly.
They turned into the dance-hall. Lilly's nostrils widened; the pink
flew into her cheeks.
Oh, say! she cried; I'd rather dance than eat.
Mr. Polly excused himself and hastened away to find his friend. He
returned with a dark young man, whose sartorial perfection left nothing
to be desired. He had been dancing, and wiped about the edge of his
tall collar with a purple-bordered silk handkerchief.
Ladies, announced Mr. Polly, I want to introduce you to the
swellest dancer on the floor to-nightyou may think I'm kiddin', but
I'm not. Miss Tracy and Miss Harkins, this is my friend, Mr. George
Mr. Sippy pirouetted on one tan oxford and cast his eyes upward.
I'm all fussed, he said; but pleased to meet you, ladies.
The girls laughed again. Then they strolled toward the dance-hall,
where the gentleman bought tickets. Dancing at the One Hundred and
Fifteenth Street Hall was five cents the selection.
The music struck up. Lulu crossed both hands upon her chest, Mr.
Polly clasped her round the waist, and they moved off with that sinew
tension peculiar to dance-halls. Mr. Sippy turned to Lilly.
Will you go round, Miss Harkins?
They melted into the embrace of the dance and moved off. When Mr.
Sippy danced every faculty was pressed into servicehis head was
thrown back and his feet glided like well-trained automatons.
Wasn't that just grand! breathed Lilly, when the music ceased. She
was softly radiant.
Swell! agreed Mr. Sippy, applauding for an encore. Swell! He
regarded her with new interest. You're some dancer, kid, he said.
Oh, Mr. Sippy, who could help dancin' good with you?
They glided away again. After the waltz they sought the side-lines,
where soft drinks were served. A waiter dabbed at the table-top; Lilly
fanned herself and ordered sarsaparilla.
You don't look hotyou look cool, said Mr. Sippy, admiringly.
She took a dainty draught through her straw.
I'm just happythat's all, she replied.
The misery, the monotony, the wail of the mother, her own
desperationwere away back in the experience of another self. Life had
turned on its axis and swung her out of darkness into light. Girls in
lacy waists and with swagger hips laughed into her eyes; men looked at
her with frank admiration. George Sippy leaned toward her and looked
intimately into her face.
Say, he said, Polly must have known I like blondes.
Oh, and I'm always wishin' to be a brunette!
You're my style, all right.
I'll bet you say that to every girl.
Nix I do. You can ask Polly if I ain't hard to suit. I know just
what style of girl I like.
There's a lot in knowin' just what you like, she said, archly.
That's some yellow hair you got, he observed, irrelevantly. My
sister used to have hair like that.
She felt of her coiffure.
Do you like 'em? You ought to see 'em just after they been washed.
Mr. Sippy expressed a polite desire to observe the phenomenon. They
danced again. Once in the maze of couples, they caught sight of Lulu
and Mr. Polly, and they changed partners; but after a while they
drifted together again.
Gee! said Mr. Sippy. I'd rather dance with you.
Ain't that funny? said Lilly. That's just what I was thinkin'.
They looked into each other's eyes.
I ain't the kind of a fellow that takes up with every girl,
explained Mr. Sippy, in self-elucidation.
That's just what I like, said Lilly; that's just the way with me.
It ain't everybody I take a likin' to; but when I do like a person I
Now just look at me, went on Mr. Sippy. If I wanted to I could
bring a girl down here every night; but I don't, just because it ain't
often I take a fancy to a girl.
I like for a gentleman not to be so common-like.
I like a person or I don't like them, that's all. He looked at her
ringless hands. You ain't keepin' no steady company, are you?
She colored clear up into her hair.
No, she replied, in a breathy voice.
Can I have the pleasure of escorting you to Coney to-morrow night?
I'll be pleased to accept your company, she said.
They danced again, and her hair brushed his cheek.
You're some girl, all right! he said, holding her close.
She giggled on his shoulder.
Gee, but I love to dance!
Say, he said, looking down at her suspiciously, is it my dancing
you like or me?
Silly! she whispered. I like you and your dancing.
You're all right, little one! he assured her.
When they finally left the hall the lights were beginning to dim.
The four of them went out into the quiet streets together. The
street-cars had ceased to rattle except at long intervals. They walked
in twos, arms interlaced, talking in subdued tones. A cool breeze had
At a corner drug store they partook of foamy soda-water and scooped,
with long-handled spoons, refreshing mouthfuls of ice-cream from their
glasses. Perched on high stools before an onyx fountain, they regarded
themselves in the mirror and smiled at each other in the reflection.
At Lulu's rooming-house they lingered again, talking in subdued
tones on the brownstone stoop.
I'll call for you early to-morrow night, Miss Harkins; and, since
we decided to make a party of it, me and Polly'll call for you and Miss
That'll be nice, she said.
I'm glad you have no other fellowI don't like no partnership
I love Coney, she said.
At last they separated, and the two girls tiptoed up to the terrific
heat of their box.
Phew! gasped Lilly. Ain't this just awful?
Lulu lighted the gas and turned ecstatic eyes upon her friend.
Lil, I always did say you brought me luck when it came to
fellersI think I got him to-night, all right.
Oh, Loo, ain't I glad!
Just feel my hand, Lilhow excited I am!
I'm sure glad for you, dearie.
Glad! Girl, you don't know what I'd give to own a corner of my own,
where I'd never have to see a glove no more!
She curled up on the bed, forgetful of everything but her own
He sure did everything but pop to-night. Come over here and kiss
My red kimono's on the top shelfyou undress first; just help
yourself. She slumped deeper in bed. I guess you didn't make some hit
yourself to-night, Miss Harkinsand I guess I didn't make some
Lulu laughed immoderately. Lilly fingered the lace at her throat.
What's the matter? You ain't sore at the joke, are you, Miss
No, replied Lilly; she spoke through a mental and physical
nauseaa reaction which laid violent hold of and sickened her. Lulu
loomed to her like a grotesque figure. The imprint of Mr. Sippy's
farewell hand-shake was still moist in her own hand.
What time is it, Loo?
Well, what do you know about that? It's ten after one! Gee! don't I
wish to-morrow was Sunday? You gotta climb out early with me if you're
goin' to that job.
One o'clock! Lilly's voice caught in terror. One o'clock! I can't
beat Charley home no more now.
Whatta you mean? Ain't you goin' to stay here with me? You ain't
quittin' now, are youafter all the trouble I went to to interdooce
you to my gentlemen friends?
You been awfully good, Loo; but I ain't got the nerve. I gotta go
back to Charley.
Lulu jerked to a sitting posture, her feet dangling over the edge of
Well, ain't this a fine come-off! What'll my friends think of me? I
always say you never get no thanks for tryin' to help other people;
that's what I get for tryin' to do the right thing by you.
It ain't you, LooI had a fine and dandy time.
Come on, Lilcome to bed, and you'll be all right in the mornin'.
Gee! Won't the girls be glad to see the beauty back? Come on to
bedit's too late for you to go back to-night, anyhow; there's time to
talk 'bout things in the mornin'. I wouldn't let any man know I
couldn't get along without him! Come on, Lil, and tell me what the guy
to-night was like.
Lilly was pinning on her hat in an agony of haste.
I left the note on the pincushion. If he goes in the kitchen for
his milk first, like he does on hot nights, maybe I can beat him! He
Her voice trailed down the hall. She fumbled a little at the street
door, hot flushes darting over her body.
In the street-car Lilly dug her nails through the silk palms of her
gloves and sat on the edge of the seat, her pulse pounding in her ear.
Her voiceless prayer beat against her brain. She did not see or think
beyond the possibility of reaching their bedroom before her husband.
Charley was due home nowas she was lumbering across town in a
lethargic street-car. Her whole destiny hung on the frail thread of
possibilitythe possibility that her husband would follow his wont of
warm nights and browse round the kitchen larder before entering their
room. She drew in a suffocating breath at the thought of Charley's
wrathshe had once seen him on the verge of anger.
To reach home and the note first! That hope beat against her
temples; it flooded her face with color; it turned her cold and clammy.
She left the car a corner too soon and ran the block, thinking to gain
time over the jogging street-car; it passed her midblock, and she
sobbed in her throat.
She turned the corner sharply. From the street she could see the
yellow glow of gas coming from a side-window of her apartment; the
light must come from one of two roomsher sick senses could not
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh! her breath came in long, inarticulate wheezes.
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh! A policeman eyed her suspiciously and struck the
asphalt with his stick. She turned into the embrace of the apartment
house and ran up the three flights of stairs with limbs that trembled
under her; her cold fingers groped about before she could muster
strength to turn the key in the lock.
Lilly entered noiselessly. The bedroom was dark. Tears sprang to her
eyes. For a moment she reeled; then she felt along the parlor wall to
the middle room. By the shaft of light from the kitchen she could see
the yellow note undisturbed, poised like a conspicuous butterfly. Her
hand closed over itshe crushed it in her palm.
Charley! she called, and entered the kitchen.
Her husband was standing by the windowhis face the white of cold
ashes. He looked up at her like a man coming out of a dream.
Charley, she cried, I was afraid you'd get worried. I went over
to Loo's, and we stayed up and talked so lateI didn't know
She stopped at the sight of his face; her fear returned.
He regarded her, with the life coming back into his eyes and warming
It's this heat; this pesky old heat almost got me!
My poor, sweet boy! she said, with a sob of relief. My poor,
He caressed her weakly, like a man whose strength has been drained
You ain't mad at me because I kicked up at supper, are you,
Charley? You know I don't mean what I say when I'm out of sortsyou
know there ain't nobody like my boy!
[Illustration: I WENT OVER TO LOO's, AND WE STAYED UP AND TALKED SO
LATEI DIDN'T KNOW]
He kissed her.
No; I ain't sore, honey.
Here's your milk in the ice-box. You must have just got in before
me. An' let me fix you a sardine sandwich, lovey.
II ain't hungry, Lil. II can't eat nothin'honest.
I want you to, Charleyyou've had a hard day.
Yes, a hard day! he repeated, smiling.
She prepared him a sandwich. At the sink her foot struck a small,
square package bearing a jeweler's stamp. It might have dropped there
from nerveless fingers or been wilfully hurled.
She picked it up wonderingly. It was neatly tied with blue cord.
Her husband started.
That? Oh, that's the little surprise I was tellin' you 'bout. I
started to fix it fer to-morrow; butbut His voice died in his
She opened it with trembling fingers.
It's the silver bracelet! she cried. It's the silver bracelet!
The unshed tears sprang to her eyes.
Oh, Charley dear, you ain'tyou ain't The tears came like an
avalanche down an incline and choked off her speech.
He folded her to him.
No, dear; I ain't! he soothed.