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The Other Cheek by Fannie Hurst

 

Romance has more lives than a cat. Crushed to earth beneath the double-tube, non-skiddable tires of a sixty-horse-power limousine, she allows her prancing steed to die in the dust of yesterday and elopes with the chauffeur.

Love has transferred his activities from the garden to the electric-heated taxi-cab and suffers fewer colds in the head. No, romance is not dead—only reincarnated; she rode away in divided skirt and side-saddle, and motored back in goggles. The tree-bark messages of the lovers of Arden are the fifty-word night letters of to-day.

The first editions of the Iliad were writ in the tenderest flesh parts of men's hearts, and truly enough did Moses blast his sublime messages out of the marble of all time; but why bury romance with the typewriter as a headstone?

Why, indeed—when up in the ninth-floor offices of A. L. Gregory, stenographers and expert typewriters—Miss Goldie Flint, with hair the color of heat-lightning, and wrists that jangled to the rolled-gold music of three bracelets, could tick-tack a hundred-word-a-minute love scene that was destined, after her neat carbon copies were distributed, to wring tears, laughter, and two dollars each from a tired-business-man audience.

Why, indeed, when the same slow fires that burned in Giaconda's upslanted eyes and made the world her lover lay deep in Goldie's own and invariably won her a seat in the six-o'clock Subway rush, and a bold, bad, flirtatious stare if she ventured to look above the third button of a man's coat.

Goldie Flint, beneath whose too-openwork shirt-waist fluttered a heart the tempo of which was love of life—and love of life on eight dollars a week and ninety per cent. impure food, and a hall-room, more specifically a standing room, is like a pink rose-bush that grows in a slack heap and begs its warmth from ashes.

Goldie, however, up in her ninth-floor offices, and bent to an angle of forty-five degrees over the dénouement of white-slave drama that promised a standing-room-only run and the free advertising of censorship, had little time or concern for her various atrophies.

It was nearly six o'clock, and she wanted half a yard of pink tulle before the shops closed. Besides, hers were the problems of the six-million-dollar incorporateds, who hire girls for six dollars a week; for the small-eyed, large-diamoned birds of prey who haunt the glove-counters and lace departments of the six-million-dollar incorporateds with invitations to dinner; and for the night courts, which are struggling to stanch the open gap of the social wound with medicated gauze instead of a tight tourniquet.

A yard of pink tulle cut to advantage would make a fresh yoke that would brighten even a three-year-old, gasolene-cleaned blouse. Harry Trimp liked pink tulle. Most Harry Trimps do.

At twenty minutes before six the lead-colored dusk of January crowded into the Gregory typewriting office so thick that the two figures before the two typewriters faded into the veil of gloom like a Corot landscape faints into its own mist.

Miss Flint ripped the final sheet of her second act from the roll of her machine, reached out a dim arm that was noisy with bracelets, and clicked on the lights. The two figures at the typewriters, the stationary wash-stand in the corner, a roll-top desk, and the heat-lightning tints in Miss Flint's hair sprang out in the jaundiced low candle-power.

“I'm done the second act, Miss Gregory. May I go now?”

Miss Flint's eyes were shining with the love-of-life lamps, the mica powder of romance, and a brilliant anticipation of Harry Trimp. Miss Gregory's were twenty years older and dulled like glass when you breathed on it.

“Yes; if you got to go I guess you can.”

“Ain't it a swell play, Miss Gregory? Ain't it grand where he pushes her to the edge of the bridge and she throws herself down and hugs his knees?”

“Did you red ink your stage directions in, with the margin wide, like he wants? He was fussy about the first act.”

“Yes'm; and say, ain't it a swell name for a show—'The Last of the Dee-Moolans'? Give me a show to do every time, and you can have all your contracts and statements and multigraph letters. Those love stories that long, narrow fellow brings in are swell to do, too, if he wa'n't such an old grouch about punctuation. Give me stuff that has some reading in it every time!”

Miss Gregory sniffed—the realistic, acidulated sniff of unloved forty and a thin nose.

“The sooner you quit curlin' your side-hair and begin to learn that life's made up of statements and multigraphs, instead of love scenes on papier-mâché bridges and flashy fellows in checked suits and get-rich-quick schemes, the better off you're going to be.”

The light in Goldie's face died out as suddenly as a Jack-o'-lantern when you blow on the taper.

“Aw, Miss Greg-or-ee!” Her voice was the downscale wail of an oboe. “Whatta you always picking on Harry Trimp for? He ain't ever done anything to you—and you said yourself when he brought them circular letters in that he was one handsome kid.”

“Just the same, I knew when he came in here the second time hanging round you with them blue eyes and black lashes, and that batch of get-rich-quick letters, he was as phony as his scarf-pin.”

“I glory in a fellow's spunk that can give up a clerking job and strike out for hisself—that's what I do!”

“He was fired—that's how he started out for himself. Ask Mae Pope; she knows a thing or two about him.”

“Aw, Miss—”

“Wait until you have been dealing with them as long as I have! Once get a line on a man's correspondence, and you can see through him as easy as through a looking-glass with the mercury rubbed off.”

The walls of Jericho fell at the blast of a ram's horn. Not so Miss Flint's frailer fortifications.

“The minute a fellow that doesn't belong to the society of pikers and gets a three-figure salary comes along, and can take a girl to a restaurant where they begin with horse-doovries instead of wiping your cutlery on the table-cloth and deciding whether you want the 'and' with your ham fried or scrambled—the minute a fellow like that comes along and learns one of us girls that taxi-cabs was made for something besides dodging, and pink roses for something besides florist windows—that minute they put on another white-slave play, and your friends begin to recite the doxology to music. Gee! It's fierce!”

“Gimme that second act, Goldie. Thank Gawd I can say that in all my years of experience I've never been made a fool of: and, if I do say it, I had chances in my time!”

“You—you're the safest girl I know, Miss Gregory.”

“What?”

“You're safe if you know the ropes, Miss Gregory.”

“What did you do with the Rheinhardt statement, Goldie? He'll be in for it any minute.”

“It's in your left-hand drawer, along with those contracts, Miss Gregory. I made two carbons.”

Miss Flint slid into her pressed-plush fourteen-dollar-and-a-half copy of a fourteen-hundred-fifty-dollar unborn-lamb coat, pulled her curls out from under the brim of her tight hat, and clasped a dyed-rat tippet about her neck so that her face flowered above it like a small rose out of its calyx.

The Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, the Fifth Dimension, and the American Shopgirl and How She Does Not Look It on Six Dollars a Week, and Milk-Chocolate Lunches are still the subjects that are flung like serpentine confetti across the pink candle-shades of four-fork dinners, and are wound like red tape round Uplift Societies and Ladies' Culture Clubs.

Yet Goldie flourished on milk-chocolate lunches like the baby-food infants on the backs of magazines flourish on an add-hot-water-and-serve, twenty-five-cents-a-can substitute for motherhood.

“Good night, Miss Gregory.”

“Night!”

Goldie closed the door softly behind her as though tiptoeing away from the buzzing gnats of an eight-hour day. Simultaneously across the hall the ground-glass door of the Underwriters' Realty Company swung open with a gust, and Mr. Eddie Bopp, clerk, celibate, and aspirant for the beyond of each state, bowed himself directly in Goldie's path.

“Ed-die! Ain't you early to-night, though! Since when are you keeping board-of-directors hours?”

“I been watching for you, Goldie.”

Eddie needs no introduction. He solicits coffee orders at your door. The shipping-clerks and dustless-broom agents and lottery-ticket buyers of the world are made of his stuff. Bronx apartment houses, with perambulators and imitation marble columns in the down-stairs foyer, are built for his destiny. He sells you a yard of silk; he travels to Coney Island on hot Sunday afternoons; he bleaches on the bleachers; he bookkeeps; he belongs to a building association and wears polka-dot neckties. He is not above the pink evening edition. Ibsen and eugenics and post impressionism have never darkened the door of his consciousness. He is the safe-and-sane strata in the social mountain; not of the base or of the rarefied heights that carry dizziness.

Yet when Eddie regarded Goldie there was that in his eyes which transported him far above the safe-and-sane strata to the only communal ground that men and socialists admit—the Arcadia of lovers.

“I wasn't going to let you get by me to-night, Goldie. I ain't walked home with you for so long I haven't a rag of an excuse left to give Addie.”

Miss Flint colored the faint pink of dawn's first moment.

“I—I got to do some shopping to-night, Eddie. That's why I quit early. Believe me, Gregory'll make me pay up to-morrow.”

“It won't be the first time I shopped with you, Goldie.”

“No.”

“Remember the time we went down in Tracy's basement for a little alcohol-stove you wanted for your breakfasts? The girl at the counter thought we—we were spliced.”

“Yeh!” Miss Flint's voice was faint as the thud of a nut to the ground.

They shot down fifteen fireproof stories in a breath-taking elevator, and then out on the whitest, brightest Broadway in the world, where the dreary trilogy of Wine, Woman, and Song is played from noon to dawn, with woman the cheapest of the three.

“How's Addie?”

“She don't complain, but she gets whiter and whiter—poor kid! I got her some new crutches, Goldie—swell mahogany ones with silver tips. You ought to see her get round on them!”

“I—I been so busy—night-work and—and—”

“She's been asking about you every night, Goldie. It ain't like you to stay away like this.”

Their breaths clouded before them in the stinging air, and down the length of the enchanted highway lights sprang out of the gloom and winked at them like naughty eyes.

“What's the matter, Goldie? You ain't mad at me—us—are you?”

Eddie took her pressed-plush elbow in the cup of his hand and looked down at her, trying in vain to capture the bright flame of her glance.

“Nothing's the matter, Eddie. Why should I be mad? I been busy—that's all.”

The tide of home-going New York caught them in its six-o'clock vortex. Shops emptied and street-cars filled. A newsboy fell beneath a car, and Broadway parted like a Red Sea for an overworked ambulance, the mission of which was futile. A lady in a fourteen-hundred-fifty-dollar unborn-lamb coat and a notorious dog-collar of pearls stepped out of a wine-colored limousine into the gold-leaf foyer of a hotel. A ten-story emporium ran an iron grating across its entrance, and ten watchmen reported for night duty.

“Aw, gee! They're closed! Ain't that the limit now! Ain't that the limit! I wanted some pink tulle.”

“Poor kid! Don't you care! You can get it tomorrow—you can work Gregory.”

“I—I wanted it for tonight.”

“What?”

“I wanted it for my yoke.”

They turned into the dark aisle of a side street; the wind lurked around the corner to leap at them.

“Oh-h-h-h!”

He held tight to her arm.

“It's some night—ain't it, girlie?”

“I should say so!”

“Poor little kid!”

Eddie's voice was suddenly the lover's, full of that quality which is like unto the ting of a silver bell after the clapper is quiet.

“You're coming home to a good hot supper with me, Goldie—ain't you, Goldie? Addie'll like it.”

She withdrew her hand from the curve of his elbow.

“I can't, Eddie—not tonight. I—tell her I'm coming over real soon.”

“Oh!”

“It's sure cold, ain't it?”

“Goldie, can't you tell a fellow what's the matter? Can't you tell me why you been dodging me—us—for two weeks? Can't you tell a fellow—huh, Goldie?”

“Geewhillikins, Eddie! Ain't I told you it's nothing? There ain't a girl could be a better friend to Addie than me.”

“I know that, Goldie; but—”

“Didn't we work in the same office thick as peas for two whole years before her—accident—even before I knew she had a brother? Ain't I stuck to her right through—ain't I?”

“You know that ain't what I mean, Goldie. You been a swell friend to poor Addie, stayin' with her Sundays when you could be havin' a swell time and all; but it's me I'm talking about, Goldie. Sometimes—sometimes I—”

“Aw!”

“I've never talked straight out about it before, Goldie; but you—you remember the night—the night I rigged up like a Christmas tree, and you said I was all the ice-cream in my white pants—the night Addie was run over and they sent for me?”

“Will I ever forget it!”

“I was tuning up that evening to tell you, Goldie—while we were sitting there on your stoop, with the street-light in our eyes, and you screechin' every time a June-bug bumbled in your face!”

“Gawd, how I hate bugs! There was one in Miss Gregory's—”

“I was going to tell you that night, Goldie, that there was only one girl—one girl for me—and—”

“Yeh; and while we were sittin' there gigglin' and screechin' at June-bugs poor Addie was provin' that a street-car fender has got it all over a mangling-machine.”

“Yes; it's like she says about herself—she was payin' her initiation fee for life membership into the Society of Cripples with a perfectly good hip and a bit of spine.”

“Poor Addie! Gawd, how she loved to dance! She used to spend every noon-hour eatin' marshmallows and learning me new steps.”

The wind soughed in their ears, and Goldie's skirts blew backward like sails.

“You haven't got a better friend than Addie right now, girlie! She always says our little flat is yours. The three of us, Goldie—the three of us could—”

“It's swell for a girl that ain't got none of her own blood to have a friend like that. Swell, lemme tell you!”

“Goldie!”

“Yes.”

“It's like I said—I've never talked right out before, but I got a feelin' you're slippin' away from me like a eel, girlie. You know—aw, you know I ain't much on the elocution stuff; but if it wasn't for Addie and her accident right now—I'd ask you outright—I would. You know what I mean!”

“I don't know anything, Eddie; I'm no mind-reader!”

“Aw, cut it out, Goldie! You know I'm tied up right now and can't say some of the things I was going to say that night on the stoop. You know what I mean—with Addie's doctor's bills and chair and crutches, and all.”

“Sure I do, Eddie. You've got no right to think of anything.”

She turned from him so that her profile was like a white cameo mounted on black velvet.

“You just give me a little time, Goldie, and I'll be on my feet, all righty. I just want some kind of understanding between us—that's all.”

“Oh—you—I—”

“I got Joe's job cinched if he goes over to the other firm in March; and by that time, Goldie, you and me and Addie, on eighty per, could—why, we—”

She swayed back from his close glance and ran up the first three steps of her rooming-house. Her face was struck with fear suddenly, as with a white flame out of the sky.

“'Sh-h-h-h-h-h!” she said. “You mustn't!”

He reached for her hand, caught it and held it—but like a man who feels the rope sliding through his fingers and sees his schooner slipping out to sea—slipping out to sea.

“Lemme go, Eddie! I gotta go—it's late!”

“I know, Goldie. They been guyin' me at the office about you passin' me up; and it's right—ain't it? It's—It's him—” She shook her head and tugged for the freedom of her hand. Tears crowded into her eyes like water to the surface of a tumbler just before the overflow. “It's him—ain't it, Goldie?”

“Well, you won't give—give a girl a chance to say anything. If you'd have given me time I was comin' over and tell you, and—and tell—”

“Goldie!”

“I was—I was—”

“It's none of my business, girlie; but—but he ain't fit for you. He—”

“There you go! The whole crowd of you make me—”

“He ain't fit for no girl, Goldie! Listen to me, girlie! He's just a regular ladykiller! He can't keep a job no more'n a week for the life of him! I used to know him when I worked at Delaney's. Listen to me, Goldie! This here new minin' scheme he's in ain't even on the level! It ain't none of my business; but, good God, Goldie, just because a guy's good-lookin' and a swell dresser and—”

She sprang from his grasp and up the three remaining steps. In the sooty flare of the street lamp she was like Jeanne d'Arc heeding the vision or a suffragette declaiming on a soap-box and equal rights.

“You—the whole crowd of you make me sick! The minute a fellow graduates out of the sixty-dollar-clerk class, and can afford a twenty-dollar suit, without an extra pair of pants thrown in, the whole pack of you begin to yowl and yap at his heels like—”

“Goldie! Goldie, listen—”

“Yes, you do! But I ain't caring. I know him, and I know what I want. We're goin' to get married when we're good and ready, and we ain't apologizing to no one! I don't care what the whole pack of you have to say, except Addie and you; and—and—I—oh—”

Goldie turned and fled into the house, slamming the front door after her so that the stained-glass panels rattled—then up four flights, with the breath soughing in her throat and the fever of agitation racing through her veins.

Her oblong box of a room at the top of the long flights was cold with a cavern damp and musty with the must that is as indigenous to rooming-houses as chorus-girls to the English peerage or insomnia to black coffee.

Even before she lighted her short-armed gas-jet, however, a sweet, insidious, hothouse fragrance greeted her faintly through the must, as the memory of mignonette clings to old lace. Goldie's face softened as if a choir invisible was singing her ragtime from above her skylight. She lighted her fan of gas with fingers that trembled in a pleasant frenzy of anticipation, and the tears dried on her face and left little paths down her cheeks.

A fan of pink roses, fretted with maidenhair fern and caught with a sash of pink tulle, lay on her coarse cot coverlet, as though one of her dreams had ventured out of its long night.

What a witch is love!

Pink leaped into Goldie's cheeks, and into her eyes the light that passeth understanding. Life dropped its dun-colored cloak and stood suddenly garlanded in pink, wire-stemmed roses.

She buried her face in their fragrance. She kissed a cool bud, the heart of which was closed. She unwrapped the pink tulle sash with fingers that were addled—like a child's at the gold cord of a candy-box—and held the filmy streamer against her bosom in the outline of a yoke.

       * * * * *

In Mrs. McCasky's boarding-house the onward march of night was as regular as a Swiss watch with an American movement.

At nine o'clock Mr. McCasky's tin bucket grated along the hall wall, down two flights of banisters, across the street, and through the knee-high swinging-doors of Joe's place.

At ten o'clock the Polinis, on the third-floor back, let down their folding-bed and shivered the chandelier in Major Florida's second-floor back.

At eleven o'clock Mr. McCasky's tin bucket grated unevenly along the hall wall, down two flights of banisters, across the street, and through the knee-high swinging-doors of Joe's place.

At twelve o'clock the electric piano in Joe's place ceased to clatter through the night like coal pouring into an empty steel bin, and Mrs. McCasky lowered the hall light from a blob the size of a cranberry to a French pea.

At one o'clock the next to the youngest Polini infant lifted its voice to the skylight, and Mr. Trimp's night-key waltzed round the front-door lock, scratch-scratching for its hole.

In the dim-lit first-floor front Mrs. Trimp started from her light doze like a deer in a park, which vibrates to the fall of a lady's feather fan. The criss-cross from the cane chair-back was imprinted on one sleep-flushed cheek, and her eyes, dim with the weariness of the night-watch, flew to the white-china door-knob.

Reader, rest undismayed. Mr. Trimp entered on the banking-hour legs of a scholar and a gentleman. With a white carnation in his buttonhole, his hat unbattered in the curve of his arm, and his blue eyes behind their curtain of black lashes, but slightly watery, like a thawing ice-pond with a film atop.

“Hello, my little Goldie-eyes!”

Mr. Trimp flashed his double deck of girlish-pearlish teeth. When Mr. Trimp smiled Greuze might have wanted to paint his lips for a child-study. Women tightened up about the throat and dared to wonder whether he wore a chest-protector and asafetida bag. Old ladies in street-cars regarded him through the mist of memories, and as if their motherly fingers itched to run through the heavy yellow hemp of his hair. There was that in his smile which seemed to provoke hand-painted sofa-pillows and baby-ribboned coat-hangers, knitted neckties, and cross-stitch slippers. Once he had posed for an Adonis underwear advertisement.

“Hello, baby! Did you wait up for your old man?”

Goldie regarded her husband with eyes that ten months of marriage had dimmed slightly. Her lips were thinner and tighter and silent.

“I think we landed a sucker to-night for fifty shares, kiddo. Ain't so bad, is it? And so you waited up for your tired old man, baby?”

“No!” she said, the words sparking from her lips like the hiss of a hot iron when you test it with a moist forefinger. “No; I didn't wait up. I been out with you—painting the town.”

“I couldn't get home for supper, hon. Me and Cutty—”

“You and Cutty! I wasn't born yesterday!”

“Me and Cutty had a sucker out, baby. He'll bite for fifty shares sure!”

“Gee!” she flamed at him, backing round the rocker from his amorous advances. “Gee! If I was low enough to be a crook—if I was low enough to try and make a livin' sellin' dead dirt for pay dirt—I'd be a successful crook, anyway; I'd—”

“Now, Goldie, hon! Don't—”

“I wouldn't leave my wife havin' heart failure every time McCasky passes the door—I wouldn't!”

“Now, don't fuss at me, Goldie. I'm tired—dog-tired. I got some money comin' in to-morrow that'll—”

“That don't go with me any more!”

“Sure I have.”

“I been set out on the street too many times before on promises like that; and it was always after a week of one of these here slow jags. I know them and how they begin. I know them!”

“'Tain't so this time, honey. I been—”

“I know them and how they begin, with your sweet, silky ways. I'd rather have you come staggering home than like this—with your claws hid. I—I'm afraid of you, I tell you. I ain't forgot the night up at Hinkey's. You haven't been out with Cutty no more than I have. You been up to the Crescent, where the Red Slipper is dancing this week, you—”

Mr. Trimp swayed ever so slightly—slightly as a silver reed in the lightest breeze that blows—and regained his balance immediately. His breath, redolent as a garden of spice and cloves, was close to his wife's neck.

“Baby,” he said, “you better believe your old man. I been out with Cutty, Goldie. We had a sucker out!”

She sprang back from his touch, hot tears in her eyes.

“Believe you! I did till I learnt better. I believed you for four months, sittin' round waiting for you and your goings-on. You ain't been out with Cutty—you ain't been out with him one night this week. You been—you—”

Mrs. Trimp's voice rose to a hysterical crescendo. Her hair, yellow as corn-silk, and caught in a low chignon at her back, escaped its restraint of pins and fell in a whorl down her shirt-waist. She was like a young immortal eaten by the corroding acids of earlier experiences—raw with the vitriol of her deathless destiny.

“You ain't been out with Cutty. You been—”

The piano-salesman in the first-floor back knocked against the closed folding-door for the stilly night that should have been his by right. A distant night-stick struck the asphalt, and across Harry Trimp's features, like filmy clouds across the moon, floated a composite death-mask of Henry the Eighth and Othello, and all their alimony-paying kith. His mouth curved into an expression that did not coincide with pale hair and light eyes.

He slid from his greatcoat, a black one with an astrakan collar and bought in three payments, and inclined closer to his wife, a contumelious quirk on his lips.

“Well, whatta you going to do about it, kiddo—huh?”

“I—I'm going to—quit!”

He laughed and let her squirm from his hold, strolled over to the dresser mirror, pulled his red four-in-hand upward from its knot and tugged his collar open.

“You're not going to quit, kiddo! You ain't got the nerve!”

He leaned to the mirror and examined the even rows of teeth, and grinned at himself like a Hallowe'en pumpkin to flash whiter their whiteness.

“Ain't I! Which takes the most nerve, I'd like to know, stickin' to you and your devilishness or strikin' out for myself like I been raised to do? I was born a worm, and I ain't never found the cocoon that would change me into a butterfly. I—I had as swell a job up at Gregory's as a girl ever had. I'm an expert stenographer, I am! I got a diploma from—”

“Why don't you get your job back, baby? You been up there twice to my knowin'; maybe the third time'll be a charm. Don't let me keep you, kiddo.”

The sluice-gates of her fear and anger opened suddenly, and tears rained down her cheeks. She wiped them away with her bare palm.

“It's because you took the life and soul out of me! They don't want me back because I ain't nothin' but a rag any more. I guess they're ashamed to take me back cause I'm in—in your class. Ten months of standing for your funny business and dodging landladies, and waitin' up nights, and watchin' you and your crooked starvation game would take the life out of any girl. It would! It would!”

“Don't fuss at me any more, Goldie-eyes. It's gettin' hard for me to keep down; and I don't want—want to begin gettin' ugly.”

Mr. Trimp advanced toward his wife gently—gently.

“Don't come near me! I know what's coming; but you ain't going to get me this time with your oily ways. You're the kind that, walks on a girl with spiked heels and tries to kiss the sores away. I'm going to quit!”

Mr. Trimp plucked at the faint hirsute adornment of his upper lip and folded his black-and-white waistcoat over the back of a chair. He fumbled it a bit.

“Stay where you're put, you—you bloomin' vest, you!”

“I—I got friends that'll help me, I have—even if I ain't ever laid eyes on 'em since the day I married you. I got friends—real friends! Addie'll take me in any minute, day or night. Eddie Bopp could get me a job in his firm to-morrow if—if I ask him. I got friends! You've kept me from 'em; but I ain't afraid to look 'em up. I'm not!”

He advanced to where she stood beneath the waving gas-flame, a pet phrase clung to his lips, and he stumbled over it.

“My—my little—pussy-cat!”

“You're drunk!”

“No, I ain't, baby—only dog-tired. Dog-tired! Don't fuss at me! You just don't know how much I love you, baby!”

“Who wouldn't fuss, I'd like to know?”

Her voice was like ice crackling with thaw. He took her lax waist in his embrace and kissed her on the brow.

“Don't, honey—don't! Me and Cutty had a sucker out, I tell you.”

“You—you always get your way with me. You treat me like a dog; but you know you can wind me round—wind me round.”

“Baby! Baby!”

He smoothed her hair away from her salt-bitten eyes, laid his cheek pat against hers, and murmured to her through the scratch in his throat, like a parrakeet croons to its mate.

“Pussy-cat! Pussy!”

The river of difference between them dried in the warm sun of her forgiveness, and she sobbed on his shoulder with the exhaustion of a child after a tantrum.

“You won't leave me alone nights no more, Harry?”

“Thu—thu—thu—such a little Goldie-eyes!”

“I can't stand for the worry of the board no more, Harry. McCaskys are gettin' ugly. I ain't got a decent rag to my back, neither.”

“I'm going to take a shipping-room job next week, honey, and get back in harness. Bill's going to fix me up. There ain't nothin' in this rotten game, and I'm going to get out.”

“Sure?”

“Sure, Goldie.”

“You ain't been drinking, Harry?”

“Sure I ain't. Me and Cutty had a rube out, I tell you.”

“You'll keep straight, won't you, Harry? You're killin' me, boy, you are.”

“Come, dry your face, baby.”

He reached to his hip-pocket for his handkerchief, and with it a sparse shower of red and green and pink and white and blue confetti showered to the floor like snow through a spectrum. Goldie slid from his embrace and laughed—a laugh frappéd with the ice of scorn and chilled as her own chilled heart.

“Liar!” she said, and trembled as she stood.

His lips curled again into the expression that so ill-fitted his albinism.

“You little cat! You can bluff me!”

“I knew you was up at the Crescent Cotillon! I felt it in my bones. I knew you was up there when I read on the bill-boards that the Red Slipper was dancing there. I knew where you was every night while I been sittin' here waitin'! I knew—I knew—”

The piano-salesman rapped against the folding-doors thrice, with distemper and the head of a cane. At that instant the lower half of Mr. Trimp's face protruded suddenly into a lantern-jawed facsimile of a blue-ribbon English bull; his hand shot out and hurled the chair that stood between them half-way across the room, where it fell on its side against the wash-stand and split a rung.

“You—you little devil, you!”

The second-floor front beat a tattoo of remonstrance; but there was a sudden howling as of boiling surf in Mr. Trimp's ears, and the hot ember of an oath dropped from his lips.

“You little devil! You been hounding me with the quit game for eight months. Now you gotta quit!”

“I—I—”

“There ain't a man livin' would stand for your long face and naggin'! If you don't like my banking-hours and my game and the company I keep you quit, kiddo! Quit! Do you hear?”

“Will—I—quit? Well—”

“Yeh; I been up to the Crescent Confetti—every night this week, just like you say! I been round live wires, where there ain't no long, white faces shoving board bills and whining the daylights out of me.”

“Oh, you—you ain't nothing but—”

“Sure, I been up there! I can get two laughs for every long face you pull on me. You quit if you want to, kiddo—there ain't no strings to you. Quit—and the sooner the better!” Mr. Trimp grasped his wife by her taut wrists and jerked her to him until her head fell backward and the breath jumped out of her throat in a choke. “Quit—and the sooner the better!”

“Lemme go! Lem-me-go!”

He tightened his hold and inclined toward her, so close that their faces almost touched. With his hot clutches on her wrists and his hot breath in her face it seemed to her that his eyes fused into one huge Cyclopean circle that spun and spun in the center of his forehead, like a fiery Catharine Wheel against a night sky.

“Bah! You little whiteface, you! You played a snide trick on me, anyway—lost your looks the second month and went dead like a punctured tire! Quit when you want to—there ain't no strings. Quit now!”

He flung her from him, so that she staggered backward four steps and struck her right cheek sharply against the mantel corner. A blue-glass vase fell to the hearth and was shattered. With the salt of fray on his lips, he kicked at the overturned chair and slammed a closet door so that the windows rattled. A carpet-covered hassock lay in his path, and he hurled it across the floor. Goldie edged toward the wardrobe, hugging the wall like one who gropes in the dark.

“If you're right bright, kiddo, you'll keep out of my way. You got me crazy to-night—crazy! Do you hear me, you little—”

“My hat!”

He flung it to her from its peg, with her jacket, so that they fell crumpled at her feet.

“You're called on your bluff this time, little one. This is one night it's quits for you—and I ain't drunk, neither!”

She crowded her rampant hair, flowing as Ophelia's, into her cheap little boyish hat and fumbled into her jacket. A red welt, shaped like a tongue of flame, burned diagonally down her right cheek.

“Keep out of my way—you! You got me crazy to-night—crazy to-night!”

He watched her from the opposite side of the room with lowered head, like a bull lunging for onslaught.

She moved toward the door with the rigidity of an automaton doll, her magnetized eyes never leaving his reddening face and her hands groping ahead. Her mouth was moist and no older than a child's; but her skin dead, as if coated over with tallow. She opened the door slowly, fearing to break the spell—then suddenly slipped through the aperture and slammed it after her. Then the slam of another door; the scurrying of feet down cold stone steps that sprung echoes in the deserted street.

The douse of cold air stung her flaming cheek; a policeman glanced after her; a drunken sailor staggered out of a black doorway, and her trembling limbs sped faster—a labyrinth of city streets and rows of blank-faced houses; an occasional pedestrian, who glanced after her because she wheezed in her throat, and ever so often gathered her strength and broke into a run; then a close, ill-smelling apartment house, with a tipsy gas-light mewling in the hall, and a dull-brown door that remained blank to her knocks and rings. The sobs were rising in her throat, and the trembling in her limbs shook her as with ague.

A knock that was more of a pound and a frenzied rattling of the knob! Finally from the inside of the door a thump-thump down a long hallway—and the door creaked open cautiously, suspiciously!

In its frame a pale figure, in the rumpled clothes of one always sitting down and hunched on a pair of silver-mounted mahogany crutches that slanted from her sides like props.

“Goldie! Little Goldie!”

“Oh, Addie! Addie!”

       * * * * *

Youth has rebound like a rubber ball. Batted up against the back fence, she bounces back into the heart of a rose-bush or into the carefully weeded, radishless radish-bed of the kitchen garden.

Mrs. Trimp rose from the couch-bed davenport of the Bopp sitting-dining-sleeping-room, with something of the old lamps burning in her eyes and a full-lipped mouth to which clung the memory of smiles. Even Psyche, abandoned by love, smiled a specious smile when she posed for the scalpel.

Eddie Bopp reached out a protective arm and drew Goldie by the sleeve of her shirt-waist down to the couch-bed davenport again.

“Take it easy there, Goldie. Don't get yourself all excited again.”

“But it's just like you say, Eddie—I got the law on my side. I got him on the grounds of cruelty if—if I show nothin' but—but this cheek.”

“Sure, you have, Goldie; but you just sit quiet. Addie, come in here and make Goldie behave her little self.”

“I'm all right, Eddie. Gee! With Addie treating me like I was a queen in a gilt crown, and you skidding round me like a tire, I feel like cream!”

Eddie regarded her with eyes that were soft as rose-colored lamps at dusk.

“You poor little kid!”

Addie hobbled in from the kitchen.

“I got something you'll like, Goldie. It's hot and good for you, too.”

God alone knew the secret of Addie. He had fashioned her in clay and water, even as you and me—from the same earthy compound from which is sprung ward politicians and magic-throated divas, editors and plumbers, poet laureates and Polish immigrants, kings and French ballet dancers, propagandists and piece-workers, single-taxers and suffragettes.

He fashioned her in clay; and it was as if she came from under the teeth of a Ninth Avenue street-car fender—broken, but remolded in alabaster, and with the white light of her stanch spirit shining through—Addie, whose side, up as high as her ribs, was a flaming furnace and whose smile was sunshine on dew.

“You wouldn't eat no supper; so I made you some chicken broth, Goldie. You remember when we was studying shorthand at night school how we used to send Jimmie over to White's lunch-room for chickenette broth and a slab of milk chocolate?”

“Do I? Gee! You were the greatest kid, Addie!”

“Eat, Goldie—gwan.”

“I ain't hungry—honest!”

“Quit standing over her, Eddie; you make her nervous. Let me feed you, Goldie.”

“Gee! Ain't you swell to me!” Ready tears sprang to her eyes.

“Like you ain't my old chum, Goldie! It don't seem so long since we were working in the same office and going to Recreation Pier dances together, does it?”

“Addie! Addie!”

“Do you remember how you and me and Ed and Charley Snuggs used to walk up and down Ninth Avenue summer evenings eating ice-cream cones?”

“Do I? Oh, Addie, do I?”

“I'm glad we had them ice-cream days, Goldie. They're melted, but the flavor ain't all gone.” Addie's face was large and white and calm-featured, like a Botticelli head.

“You two girls sure was cut-ups! Remember the night Addie first introduced us, Goldie? You came over to call for her, and us three went to the wax-works show on Twenty-third Street. Lordy, how we cut up!”

“And I started to ask the wax policeman if we was allowed to go past the rail!” They laughed low in their throats, as if they feared to raise an echo in a vale of tears. “It's like old times for me to be staying all night with you again, Addie. It's been so long! He—he used to get mad like anything if I wanted to see any of the old crowd. He knew they didn't know any good of him. He was always for the sporty, all-night bunch.”

“Poor kid!”

“Don't get her to talking about it again, Eddie; it gets her all excited.”

“He could have turned me against my own mother, I was that crazy over him.”

“That,” said Addie, softly, “was love! And only women can love like that; and women who do love like that are cursed—and blessed.”

“I'm out of it now, Addie. You won't never send me back to him—you won't ever?”

“There now, dearie, you're gettin' worked up again. Ain't you right here, safe with us?”

“That night at Hinkey's was the worst, Goldie,” said Eddie. “It makes my blood boil! Why didn't you quit then; why?”

“I ain't told you all, neither, Eddie. One night he came home about two o'clock, and I had been—”

“Just quit thinking and talking about him, Goldie. You're right here, safe with me and Eddie; and he's going to get you a job when you're feeling stronger. And then, when you're free—when you're free—”

Addie regarded her brother with the tender aura of a smile on her lips and a tender implication in her eyes that scurried like a frightened mouse back into its hole. Eddie flamed red; and his ears, by a curious physiological process, seemed to take fire and contemplate instant flight from his head.

“Oh, look, Ad. We got to get a new back for your chair. The stuffin's all poking through the velvet.”

“So it is, Eddie. It's a good thing you got your raise, with all these new-fangled dangles we need.”

“To-night's his lodge night. He never came home till three—till three o'clock, lodge nights.”

“There you go, Goldie—back on the subject, makin' yourself sick.”

“Gee!”

“What's the matter, Goldie?”

“To-night's his lodge. I could go now and get my things while he ain't there—couldn't I?”

“Swell! I'll take you, Goldie, and wait outside for you.”

“Eddie, can't you see she ain't in any condition to go running round nights? There's plenty time yet, Goldie. You can wear my shirt-waists and things. Wait till—”

“I got to get it over with, Addie; and daytimes Eddie's working, and I'd have to go alone. I—I don't want to go alone.”

“Sure; she can't go alone, Addie; and she's got to have her things.”

Eddie was on his feet and beside Goldie's palpitating figure, as though he would lay his heart, a living stepping-stone, at her feet.

“We better go now, Addie; honest we had! Eddie'll wait outside for me.”

“You poor kid! You want to get it over with, don't you? Get her coat, Eddie, and bring her my sweater to wear underneath. It's getting colder every minute.”

“I ain't scared a bit, Addie. I'll just go in and pack my things together and hustle out again.”

“Here's a sweater, Goldie, and your coat and hat.”

“Take care, children; and, Goldie, don't forget all the things you need. Just take your time and get your things together—warm clothes and all.”

“I'll be waiting right outside for you, Goldie.”

“I'm ready, Eddie.”

“Don't let her get excited and worked up, Eddie.”

“I ain't scared a bit, Addie.”

“Sure you ain't?”

“Not a bit!”

“Good-by, Addie. Gee, but you're swell to me!”

“Don't forget to bring your rubbers, Goldie; going to work on wet mornings you'll need them.”

“I—I ain't got none.”

“You can have mine. I—I don't need them any more.”

“Good-by, Ad—leave the dishes till we come back. I can do 'em swell myself after you two girls have gone to bed.”

“Yes. I'll be waiting, Goldie; and we'll talk in bed like old times.”

“Yes, yes!” It was as if Addie's frail hands were gripping Goldie's heart and clogging her speech.

“Good-by, children!”

“Good-by.”

“S'long!”

The night air met them with a whoop and tugged and pulled at Goldie's hat.

“Take my arm, Goldie. It's some howler, ain't it?”

Their feet clacked on the cold, dry pavement, and passers-by leaned into the wind.

“He was a great one for hating the cold, Eddie. Gee, how he hated winter!”

“That's why he wears a fur-collared coat and you go freezing along in a cheese-cloth jacket, I guess.”

“It always kind of got on his chest and gave him fever.”

“What about you? You just shivered along and dassent say anything!”

“And I used to fix him antiphlogistin plasters half the night. When he wasn't mad or drunk he was just like a kid with the measles! It used to make me laugh so—he'd—”

“Humph!”

“But one night—one night I got the antiphlogistin too hot while I was straightening up—'cause he never liked a messy-looking room when he was sick—and he was down and out from one of his bad nights; and it—and it got too hot, and—” She turned away and finished her sentence in the teeth of the wind; but Eddie's arm tightened on hers until she could feel each distinct finger.

“God!” he said.

“I ain't scared a bit, Eddie.”

“For what, I'd like to know! Ain't I going to be waiting right here across the street?”

“See! That's the room over there—the dark one, with the shade half-way up. Gee, how I hate it!”

“I'll be waiting right here in front of Joe's place, Goldie. If you need me just shoot the shade all the way up.”

“I won't need you.”

“Well, then, light the gas, pull the shade all the way down, and that'll mean all's well.”

“Swell!” she said. “Down comes the shade—and all's well!”

“Good!”

They smiled, and their breaths clouded between them; and down through the high-walled street the wind shot javelin-like and stung red into their cheeks, and in Eddie's ears and round his heart the blood buzzed.

Goldie crossed the street and went up the steps lightly, her feet grating the brown stone like fine-grained sandpaper. When she unlocked the front door the cave-like mustiness and the cold smell of unsunned hallways and the conglomerate of food smells from below met her at the threshold. Memories like needle-tongued insects stung her.

The first-floor front she opened slowly, pausing after every creak of the door; and the gas she fumbled because her hand trembled, and the match burned close to her fingers before she found the tip.

She turned up the flame until it sang, and glanced about her fearfully, with one hand on her bruised cheek and her underlip caught in by her teeth.

Mr. Trimp's room was as expressive as a lady's glove still warm from her hand. He might have slipped out of it and let it lie crumpled, but in his own image.

The fumes of bay-rum and stale beer struggled for supremacy. The center-table, with a sickening litter of empty bottles and dead ashes, was dreary as cold mutton in its grease, or a woman's painted face at crack o' dawn, or the moment when the flavor of love becomes as tansy.

A red-satin slipper, an unhygienic drinking-goblet, which has leaked and slopped over full many a non-waterproof romance, lay on the floor, with its red run into many pinks and its rosette limp as a wad of paper. Goldie picked her careful way round it. Fear and nausea and sickness at the heart made her dizzy.

The dresser, with its wavy mirror, was strewn with her husband's neckties; an uncorked bottle of bay-rum gave out its last faint fumes.

She opened the first long drawer with a quivering intake of breath and pulled out a shirt-waist, another, and yet another, and a coarse white petticoat with a large-holed embroidery flounce. Then she dragged a suit-case, which was wavy like the mirror, through the blur of her tears, out from under the bed; and while she fumbled with the lock the door behind her opened, and her heart rose in her throat with the sudden velocity of an express elevator shooting up a ten-story shaft.

In the dresser mirror, and without turning her head or gaining her feet, she looked into the eyes of her husband.

“Pussy-cat!” he said, and came toward her with his teeth flashing like Carrara marble in sunlight.

She sprang to her feet and backed against the dresser.

“Don't! Don't you come near me!”

“You don't mean that, Goldie.”

She shivered in her scorn.

“Don't you come near me! I came—to get my things.”

“Oh!” he said, and tossed his hat on the bed and peeled off his coat. “Help yourself, kiddo. Go as far as you like.”

She fell to tearing at the contents of her drawer without discrimination, cramming them into her bag and breathing furiously, like a hare in the torture of the chase. The color sprang out in her cheeks, and her eyes took fire.

Her husband threw himself, in his shirt-sleeves and waistcoat, across the bed and watched her idly. Only her fumbling movements and the sing of the too-high gas broke the silence. He rose, lowered the flame, and lay down again.

Her little box of poor trinkets spilled its contents as she packed it; her hair-brush fell from her trembling fingers and clattered to the floor.

“Can I help you, Goldie-eyes?”

Silence. He coughed rather deep in his chest, and she almost brushed his hand as she passed to the clothes wardrobe. He reached out and caught her wrist.

“Now, Goldie, you—”

“Don't—don't you touch me! Let go!”

He drew her down to the bed beside him.

“Can't you give a fellow another chance, baby? Can't you?” She tugged for her freedom, but his clasp was tight as steel and tender as love. “Can't you, baby?”

“You!” she said, kicking at the sloppy satin slipper at her feet, as if it were a loathsome thing that crawled. “I—I don't ever want to see you again, you—you—”

“You drove me to it, pussy; honest you did!”

“You didn't need no driving. You take to it like a fish to water—nobody can drive you. You just ain't—no—good!”

“You drove me to it. When you quit I just went crazy mad. I kicked the skylight—I tore things wide open. I was that sore for you—honest, baby!”

“I've heard that line of talk before. I ain't forgot the night at Hinkey's. I ain't forgot nothing. You or horses can't hold me here!” She wrenched at her wrists.

“I got a job yesterday, baby. Bill made good. Eighty dollars, honey! Me and Cutty are quits for good. Ain't that something—now, ain't it?”

“Let me go!”

“Pussy-cat!”

“Let me go, I say!”

He coughed and turned on his side toward her.

“You don't mean it.”

“I do! I do! Let go! Let go!”

She tore herself free and darted to the wardrobe door. He closed his eyes and his lashes lay low on his cheeks.

“Before you go, Goldie, where's the antiphlogistin? I got a chest on me like an ice-wagon.”

“Sure, you have. That's the only time you ever show up before crack of dawn.”

He reached out and touched her wrist.

“I'm hot, ain't I?”

She placed a reluctant hand on his brow.

“Fever?”

“It ain't nothing much. I'll be all right.”

“It's just one of your spells. Stay in bed a couple of days, and you'll soon be ready for another jamboree!”

“Don't fuss at me, baby.”

“It's in the wash-stand drawer in a little tin can. Don't make the plaster too hot.”

“Sure, I won't. I'll get along all righty.”

She threw a shabby cloth skirt over her arm and a pressed-plush coat that was gray at the elbows and frayed at the hem. He reached out for the dangling empty sleeve as she passed.

“You was married in that coat, wasn't you, hon?”

“Yes,” she said, and her lips curled like burning paper; “I was married in that coat.”

“Goldie-eyes, you know I can't get along without my petsie; you know it. There ain't no one can hold a candle to you, baby!”

“Yes, yes!”

“There ain't! I wish I was feelin' well enough to tell you how sorry, baby—how sorry a fellow like me can get. I just wish it, baby—baby—”

She surrendered like a reed to the curve of a scythe and crumpled in a contortional heap beside the bed.

“You—you always get me!”

He gathered her up and laid her head backward on his shoulder, so that her face was foreshortened and close to his.

“Goldie-eyes,” he said, “I'll make it up to you! I'll make it up to you!” And he made a motion as though to kiss her where the curls lay on her face, but drew back as if sickened.

“Good God!” he said. “Poor little baby!”

Quick as a throb of a heart she turned her left cheek, smooth as a lily petal, to his lips.

“It's all right, Harry!” she said, in a voice that was tight. “I'm crazy, I guess; but, gee, it's great to be crazy!”

“I'll make it up to you, baby. See if I don't! I'll make it up to you.”

She kissed him, and his lips were hot and dry.

“Lemme fix your plaster, dearie; you got one of your colds.”

“Don't get it too hot, hon.”

“Gee! Lemme straighten up. Say, ain't you a messer, though! Look at this here wash-stand and those neckties! Ain't you a messer, though, dearie!”

She crammed the ties into a dresser drawer, dragged a chair into place, removed a small tin can from the wash-stand drawer, hung her hat and jacket on their peg, and lowered the shade.

 
 
 

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