The Squall by Fannie Hurst
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.