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Marked Down by Fannie Hurst

 

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 whist—an 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.

“Aw—yaw—yaw—mamma! 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 sleep—can't you? I'll get up in a minute.”

“So close-mouthed she is—goes 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 morning—that'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 away—you 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 the grove.

“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 windows.

“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 Adler—you know those Adlers in the millinery business?”

“Nice people!”

“You couldn't get a pin between Tekla and him—honest, how that girl worked for him! Selma Blumenthal was there, too, and I must say she looked grand—those 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 Graudenheimer—high school she had to have yet! What good does it do? Not a thing does that girl have—and her mother worries enough about it, too.”

“That's what Marcus says about her—he 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 he—he'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 up—me and Tillie can do this little work.”

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 factory—think 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 Newark?”

“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 get—just 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 delicatessen?”

“I'll fix the cut-glass bowl with fruit for the center of the table.”

“It's like papa and me said last night, Birdie—a 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 he—he said I looked like last night?”

“What?”

“He said—he said—”

Mrs. Katzenstein paused in her dusting.

“He—said—Aw, mamma, I can't go telling it—so silly it sounds.”

Ach! For nonsense I got no time—such silliness for two grown-up children! That gets you nowhere. Plain talking is what does it.”

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 Mrs. Katzenstein.

“Go 'way! That glass pickle-dish I won at Silverman's three weeks ago is the last luck I had. Your mamma's the winner—ain't she, Birdie? At my house she always carries off the prize. I bet I helped furnish her china-closet.”

“You should worry, Mrs. Ginsburg, when your husband owns the Cut-Glass Palace!”

“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 rooms after.”

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 party—it'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. Katzenstein—believe 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 family—when 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 at home.”

“Come right with me, Mrs. Gump; me and mamma was so afraid maybe you wouldn't come.”

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. Mince—you 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 says—I 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 stout—he takes after his poor father,” said Mrs. Gump.

“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 it.”

“Honest now, Mrs. Mince, how I wish my Marcus had such a determination! But that boy loves to eat—Didn't you see me discard, Mrs. Weissenheimer?”

“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 it—a 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 her—massage and diet did it. She ain't feeling so well; but she looks grand—not a sign of hips!”

From an adjoining table Mrs. Silverman waved a plump and deprecatory hand.

“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 me!”

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 skirt-band.”

“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 stout—I 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 is—there'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!”

“Grand!”

“I'll give you her address if you don't tell everybody. You know how it is when you begin to recommend a dressmaker—up 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. Adler—only 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 boy—and how hard that girl is to suit you wouldn't believe it!”

“Aw, mamma!”

“Change partners, ladies!”

Birdie hurried out into the dining-room; a flush branded her cheeks—Daphne fleeing from Apollo could not have been more deliciously agitated.

“Tillie,” she directed, “you can make the coffee now and put the finger-rolls on.”

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, ladies—Tillie, bring in some of the chairs from the parlor—but 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 comes—God forbid!—when they should need it they'll know how.”

“Exactly.”

“When my Ray got engaged she made every monogram for her trousseau. I can prove it by Batta what a trousseau that girl had—and 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 to—but 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, Salcha?”

“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, too!”

“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 myself.”

“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 Cleveland—I don't wish it to her to live in Cleveland—not 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 pantry—as 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 marry—and I'm the last one to stand in his way—if 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 understand—they'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, too—a 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 prizes—salts and peppers always come in handy.”

“That's the way me and Birdie felt when we picked them out—you 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 engagements—I 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 me—One 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 matinée—we'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 us—Birdie'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 appetite.”

“Good-by, Mrs. Ginsburg. Ach, that's right—I 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 wash—just like new!”

“I'll try her next week,” said Mrs. Ginsburg, buckling her fur neckpiece.

“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 salt-cellars.”

“Such a grand woman as she is—plain and unassuming! He left her real comfortable, too—not 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 night—it 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 straight—nice—Miss 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 things—but the Gumps don't start things without intentions. Flora told me herself that Ben Gump got engaged to her sister the second time he called.”

“Aw, mamma!”

“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.”

“Such talk!”

“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 Ray—she 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 herself—kind 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, mamma—it looks better that way.”

“You want it to look like we was stingy with light yet! How does that look—just the gas-logs going! You tell Mr. Katzenstein, Tillie, that I insist that he should put on his coat to meet Birdie's company—his newspaper will keep. There's the bell! Tillie, go to the door.”

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 room—glinting 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 abruptly.

“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 man—solidly knit and close packed—but five inches short of the stuff that matinée idols and policemen are made of. Napoleon and Don Quixote lacked those same five inches.

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 geniality.

“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 walk—it'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 now—but—Oh, well, what's the use of talking?”

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 understanding.

“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 horses—a sloe black and a virgin white—rearing 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 night—if 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 like that!”

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 well—ain't it?”

“That's right,” he agreed, reseating himself. “I'm pretty tired from a hard day; but work can't hurt anybody.”

“Just like Mr. Katzenstein—ain'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's—the Morris Jacobs—live in this same house.”

“Are those Jacobs your cousins? Such grand people—the 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, mamma.”

“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 home—not 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 Ray—two hours before she was engaged she didn't know it was going to happen!”

“Come right in, papa. Mr. Gump is here—so tired he is he hates to come in.”

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 Wagner—facing 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 his hands.

“Good evening, Mr. Gump—good 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 so—yes. 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 you—he was a good silk man, was Rudolph Gump. Have a cigar, young man?”

“Thanks—I 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 interest.

“Wonders never cease!” she said.

“Birdie, go get your papa his chair out from the dining-room—since he's got lumbago these straight-backs ain't comfortable for him.”

“Let me go for you, Miss Birdie.”

“Oh no, Marcus—I know just where it is.” She smiled at him with her eyes—bright 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 factory—eh?”

“Oh, I can't say that, Mr. Katzenstein; in fact—”

Ach, papa, I didn't say for sure; the ladies this afternoon—”

“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 one—not?”

“Aw, now, papa, you quit! What'll Marcus think—such 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 daughter!”

“Papa!”

“Papa!”

“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 raised—as 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 hurt her—eh?”

“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 back.”

“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.

“Good night!”

“Good night!”

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 room.

“What a grand old pair, Birdie!”

“Yes,” she said, softly—very softly.

Silence.

“Say—Birdie! Say—”

“What?”

“I didn't say anything.”

“Oh!” The red in her face ran down into the square-shape neck of her dress.

Silence.

“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 in—er—”

“Yes?”

“What I started to say was, so long as a fellow's got intentions it's all right for him to call on a girl—er—regular, like this.” Her soft breathing answered him. “But—well, I mustn't—I 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; but—well, now I ain't.”

“Ain't what?” Her breath came more rapidly between her lips.

“I was starting to say before they came in, Birdie—I came here straight from the office to tell you—even 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.”

“Marcus!”

“Yes! You can't be so sore as I am—a 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 much—not 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 them—and 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 I—was.”

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 bad—you got plenty good chances yet. But if you knew what feelings I got for you! With me there ain't no more Birdies.”

She turned her head slowly toward him; her throat throbbing and a delicate pink under her skin.

“I should care, Marcus!” she said, softly.

“What?”

“I should care!” she repeated. “We should live little then, if we can't live big—live 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! I—I—you been used to so much. With you it ain't like with most girls—your 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 meant—you—meant 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, Marcus—they 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, Birdie.”

“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 Harlem—Flossie Marks says they're just perfect; and mamma and papa lived right in back of the factory—I remember it myself. Which is worse?”

“That's why I hate it for them, Birdie; your mamma wants you to have the best like she didn't have—I 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 you—a little birdie like flies in the woods!”

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.

“Birdie! Birdie!”

“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 get—like Ray—two 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 crowd—not? Batta, I got news for you! Guess! Yes; it just happened—such 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 want—yes; 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 Brothers—manager 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 papa—she'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 enough—to-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 kisses—one 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 it—even in the factory to-day I hear about it.”

Laughter.

“What could we do, papa—wake you up last night?”

“He should pay your bills awhile, and then he won't feel so glad—ain'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 good money.”

“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 his face.

“Go on, Marcus,” she said, with a note of reassurance in her voice.

“Everything as you say is grand and fine, Mr. Katzenstein, except—except—well, to-day at lunch I told Birdie some news I just heard, which—which 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 quickly.

“What's wrong? Ain't everything all right, children?”

“Aw, mamma, it ain't nothing wrong! Don't get so excited over everything.”

“Birdie's right, mamma—what 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 get—instead 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 worse—believe me—”

“Oh! And I thought he was going to have that grand position and give it to her so fine—how 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 hand.

“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?”

“Mamma!”

“Nowadays in New York it ain't like it used to be, Mr. Gump; people can't start in on so little—half of what you make costs Birdie's clothes. Ach, when I think what that girl is used to! Every comfort she has—you can't give her like she's used to, Mr. Gump.”

“I told all that to Birdie, Mrs. Katzenstein—I 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. Katzenstein—“a 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 act—what 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 is—ain'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 I—I hate it how everybody can talk now—something 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 him—but how I had plans for that girl!”

“I'll work for her, all right, Mrs. Katzenstein. It will be five rooms before you know it—this don't mean, Mrs. Katzenstein—maw!—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 husband—that's more than Meena Ginsburg's got.”

“Run along, you children,” said Mr. Katzenstein. “Here, Marcus, put a cigar in your pocket—one 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 backward.

Mrs. Katzenstein resumed her chair in the warm glow of the logs—her 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 boy—ach, 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 his shoulders.

“You've been a good mother, Salcha.”

“Not such a mother as you've been a father—me and them girls never wanted for one thing, even when you couldn't afford it as now.”

“Ah—ho!” sighed Mr. Katzenstein.

“You're tired, papa, and it's late. Here, I'll unlace your shoes for you.”

“No; in a minute I go to bed—such 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 the money.”

Ya, ya!” said Mr. Katzenstein.

“Look at us when we was down on Grand Street! We was happy—You remember that green-plush dress I had, papa?”

“Yes, Salcha.”

“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 best.”

“Yes, mamma.”

“She's happy—and 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 old—ain't it, old lady?”

“Yes,” she said, rocking rhythmically; “twenty-eight years now! We've had good times, and we've had bad times.”

“Good—and—bad—times,” 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.”

 
 
 

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