Other People's Shoes by Fannie Hurst
At the close of a grilling summer that had sapped the life from the
city as insidiously as fever runs through veins and licks them upat
the close of a day that had bleached the streets as dry as desert
bonesAbe Ginsburg closed his store half an hour earlier than usual
because his clerk, Miss Ruby Cohn, was enjoying a two days' vacation at
the Long Island Recreation Farm, and because a staggering pain behind
his eyes and zigzag down the back of his neck to his left
shoulder-blade made the shelves of shoe-boxes appear as if they were
wavering with the heat-dance of the atmosphere and ready to cast their
neatly arranged stock in a hopeless fuddle on the center of the floor.
Up-stairs, on an exact level with the elevated trains that tore past
the kitchen windows like speed monsters annihilating distance, Mrs.
Ginsburg poised a pie-pan aloft on the tips of five fingers and waltzed
a knife round the rim of the tin. A ragged ruffle of dough swung for a
moment; she snipped it off, leaving the pie pat and sleek.
Then Mrs. Ginsburg smiled until a too perfect row of badly executed
teeth showed their pink rubber gums, leaned over the delicate lid of
the pie, and with a three-pronged fork pricked out the doughy
inscriptionABE. Sarah baking cakes for Abraham's prophetic visitors
had no more gracious zeal.
The waiting oven filled the kitchen with its gassy breath; a train
hurtled by and rattled the chandeliers, a stack of plates on a shelf,
and a blue-glass vase on the parlor mantel. A buzz-bell rang three
staccato times. Mrs. Ginsburg placed the pie on the table-edge and
hurried down a black aisle of hallway.
Book-agents, harbingers of a
dozen-cabinet-photographs-colored-crayon-thrown-in, and their kin have
all combined to make wary the gentle cliff-dweller. Mrs. Ginsburg
opened her door just wide enough to insert a narrow pencil, placed the
tip of her shoe in the aperture, and leaned her face against the jamb
so that from without half an eye burned through the crack.
Abie? It ain't you, is it, Abie?
Don't get excited, mamma!
It ain't six o'clock yet, Abiesomething ain't right with you!
Don't get excited, mamma! I just closed early for the heat. For
what should I keep open when a patent-leather shoe burns a hole in your
Ach, such a scare as you give me! If I'd 'a' known it I
could have had supper ready. It wouldn't hurt you to call up-stairs
when you close earlyno consideration that boy has got for his mother!
Poor papa! If he so much as closed the store ten minutes earlier he
used to call up for me to heat the thingsno consideration that boy
has got for his old mother!
Mr. Ginsburg placed a heavy hand on each of his mother's shoulders
and kissed her while the words were unfinished and smoking on her lips.
It's too hot to eat, mamma. Ain't I asked you every night during
this heat not to cook so much?
Just the same, when it comes to the table I see you eat. I never
see you refuse nothingI bet you come twice for apple-pie to-night. Is
the hall table the place for your cuffs, Abie? I'm ashamed for the
people the way my house looks when you're homeno order that boy has
got! I go now and put my pie in the oven.
I ain't hungry, mammahonest! Don't fix no supper for meI go in
the front room and lay down for a while. Never have I known such heat
as I had it in the store to-dayand with Miss Ruby gone it was bad
enough, I can tell you.
Mrs. Ginsburg reached up suddenly and turned high a tiny bead of
gas-lightit flared for a moment like a ragged-edged fan and then
settled into a sooty flare. In its low-candle-power light their faces
were far away and without outlinelike shadows seen through the mirage
of a dream.
Abietell mammayou ain't sick, are you? Abie, you look pale.
Now, mamma, begin to worry about nothing when
It ain't like you to come up early, heat or no heat. Ach! I
should have known when he comes up-stairs early it means something.
What hurts you, Abie? That's what I need yet, a sickness! What hurts
Mamma, the way you go on it's enough to make me sick if I ain't.
Can't a boy come up-stairs just because
I know you like a book; when you close the store and lay down
before supper there's something wrong. Tell me, Abie
All right, then! You know it so well I can't tell you nothingall
I got is a little tiredness from the heat.
Go in and lay down. Can't you tell mamma what hurts you, Abie? Are
you afraid it would give me a little pleasure if you tell me? No
consideration that boy has got for his mother!
Honest, mamma, ain't I told you three times I ain't nothing but
He snaps me up yet like he was a turtle and me his worst enemy! For
what should I worry myself? For my part, I don't care. I only say,
Abie, if there's anything hurts youyou know how poor papa started to
complain just one night like this how he fussed at me when I wanted the
doctor. If there's anything hurts you
There ain't, mamma.
Come in and let me fix the sofa for you. I only say when you close
the store early there's something wrong. That Miss Ruby should go off
yetvacation she has to havea girl like that, with her satin shoes
and allcomes into the store at nine o'clock 'cause she runs to the
picture shows all night! Yetta Washeim seen her. Vacation yet she has
to have! Twenty years I spent with poor papa in the store, and no
vacation did I have. Lay down, Abie.
All right, then, said Mr. Ginsburg, as if duty were a geological
eon, and throwing himself across the flowered velvet lounge in the
parlor. I'll lay down if it suits you better.
Mr. Ginsburg was of a cut that never appears on a classy clothes
advertisement or in the silver frame on the bird's-eye maple
dressing-table of sweet sixteen or more; he belonged to the less
ornamented but not unimportant stratum that manufactures the classy
clothes by the hundred thousand, and eventually develops into husbands
and sponsors for full-length double-breasted sealskin coats for the
sweet sixteens and more.
He was as tall as Napoleon, with a round, un-Napoleonic head,
close-shaved so that his short-nap hair grew tight like moss on a rock,
and a beard that defied every hirsute precaution by pricking darkly
through the lower half of his face as phenomenally as the first
grass-blades of spring push out in an hour.
Let me fix you a little something, Abie. I got grand broth in the
ice-boxall I need to do is to heat it.
Ain't I told you I ain't hungry, mamma?
When that boy don't eat he's sick. I should worry yet! Poor papa!
If he'd listened to me he'd be living to-day. I'm your worst enemyI
am! I work against my own childthat's the thanks what I get.
Sappho, who never wore a gingham wrapper and whose throat was
unwrinkled and full of music, never sang more surely than did Mrs.
Ginsburg into the heart-cells of her son. He reached out for her
wrapper and drew her to him.
Aw, mamma, you know I don't mean nothing; just when you get all
worried over nothing it makes me mad. Come, sit down by me.
To-night we don't go up to Washeims'. I care a lot for Yetta's
talkher Beulah this and her Beulah that! It makes me sick!
I'll take you up, mamma, if you want to go.
Indeed, you stay where you are! For their front steps and
refreshments I don't need to ride in the Subway to Harlem anyway.
What's the difference? A little evening's pleasure won't hurt you,
Such a lunch as she served last time! I got better right now in my
ice-box, and I ain't expecting company. They can buy and sell us, too,
I guess. Sol Washeim don't take a nine-room house when boys' pants
ain't boomingbut such a lunch as she served! You can believe me, I
wouldn't have the nerve to. Abie, I see Herschey's got fall cloth-tops
in their windows already.
Good business to-daynot, Abie?and such heat too! Mrs. Abrahams
called across the hallway just now that she was in for a pair; but you
was so busy with a customer she couldn't waitthat little pink-haired
clerk, with her extravagant ways, had to go off and leave you in the
heat! Shoe-buttoners she puts in every box like they cost nothing. I
told her so last week, too.
She's a grand little clerk, mammasuch a business head I never
Like I couldn't have come down and helped you to-day! Believe
mewhen I was in the store with papa, Abie, we wasn't so up-to-date;
but none of 'em got away.
I should know when Mrs. Abrahams wants shoesfive times a week she
comes in to be sociable.
I used to say to papa: 'Always leave a customer to go take a new
one's shoes off; and then go back and take your time! Two customers in
their stockinged feet is worth more than one in a new pair of shoes!'
Abie, you don't look right. You'll tell me the truth if you don't feel
well, won't you? I always say to have the doctor in time saves nine. If
poor papa had listened to me
I'm all right, mamma. Why don't you sit down by me? Don't light the
gasfor why should you make it hotter? Come, sit down by me.
I go put the oven light out. Apple-pie I was baking for you yet;
for myself I don't need supperI had coffee at five o'clock.
Dusk entered the little apartment and crowded the furniture into
phantoms; a red signal light from the skeleton of the elevated road
threw a glow as mellow as firelight across the mantelpiece. Mrs.
Ginsburg's canary rustled himself until he swelled up twice too fat and
performed the ever-amazing ritual of thrusting his head within himself
as if he would prey on his own vitals. The cooler breath of night; the
smells of neighboring food; the more frequent rushing of trains, and a
navy-blue sky, pit-marked with small stars, came all at once. In the
hallway Mrs. Ginsburg worked the hook of the telephone impatiently up
Audubon 6879! Hello! Washeims' residence? Yetta? Yes, this is
Carrie. Ain't it awful? I'm nearly dead with it. Yetta, Abie ain't
feeling so well; so we won't be up to-night. Noit ain't nothing but
the heat; but I worry enough, I can tell you.
Mamma, don't holler in the telephone soshe can't hear you when
It's always something, ain't it? That's what I tell him; but he's
like his poor papa before himhe's afraid no one can do nothing but
him; his little snip of a clerk he gives a vacation, but none for
himself. I'm glad we ain't going then; you always make yourself so much
trouble. It's too hot to eat, Abie says. Beef with horseradish sauce I
had for supper, tooand apple-pie I baked in the heat for him; but not
a bite will that boy eat! And when he don't eat I know he ain't feeling
well. Who? Beulah? Ain't that grand? Yes, cooking is always good for a
girl to know even if she don't need it. No; I go to work and thicken my
gravy with flour and horseradish. Believe me, I cried enough when I did
it! Ach, Yetta, why should I leave that boy? You can believe me
when I tell you that not one night except when he was took in at the
lodgenot one night since poor papa diedhas that boy left me at home
alone. Not one step will he take without me.
Sometimes I say, 'Abie, go out like other boys and see the girls.'
But he thinks if he ain't home to fix the windows and the covers for my
rheumatism it ain't right. Yes; believe me, when your children ain't
feeling well it's worry enough.
Aw, maw, I can take you up to the Washeims' if you want to go.
You ought to hear him in there, Yettafussing because I want to
keep him laying down. Yes, I go with you; to-morrow at nine I meet you
down by Fulton Street. Up round here they're forty-two cents. Ain't it
so? And I used two whites and a yolk in my pie-dough. Yes; I hope so
too. If not I call a doctor. Nine o'clock! Good-by, Yetta.
Maw, for me you shouldn't stay home.
Mrs. Ginsburg flopped into a rocker beside the flowered velvet
A little broth, Abie?
When you don't eat it's something wrong.
You needn't fan me, mammaI ain't hot now.
Insidious darkness crept into the room like a cool hand descending
on the feverish brow of day; the red glow shifted farther along the
mantel and lay vivid as blood across the blue vase and the photograph
of a grizzled head in a seashell frame. Mrs. Ginsburg rocked over a
loose board in the floor and waved a palm-leaf fan toward the reclining
shadow of her son until he could taste its tape-bound edge.
Next week to-night five years since we lost poor papa, Abiefive
years! Gott! When I think of it! Just like his picture he looked
up to the last, toojust like his picture.
I ain't so spry as I used to be, neither, Abieor, believe me, I
would never let you take on a clerk. Sometimes I think, when the
rheumatism gets up round my heart, it won't be long as I go too. Poor
papa! If I could have gone with him! How he always hated to go alone to
places! To the barber he hated to go, till I got so I could cut it
Mamma, you ain't got nothing to worry about.
I worry enough.
You can take it as easy as you want to nowI even want we should
have a better apartment. We got the best little business between here
and One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street! If poor papa could see it now
he wouldn't know it from five years ago. Poor papa! He wasn't willing
to spend on improvements.
Papa always said you had a good business head on you, Abie; but I
ain't one, neither, for funny businesses like a clerk. And what you
needed them new glass shoe-stands for when the old ones
Now, mamma, don't begin on that again.
When I was down in the store papa used to say to me: 'Wait till
Abie's grown up, mamma! By how his ears stand out from his head I can
tell he's got good business sense.' And to think that so little of you
he had in the storesuch a man that deserved the best of everything!
He had to die just when things might have got easy for him.
Don't cry, mamma; everything is for the best.
You're a good boy, Abie. Sometimes I think I stand in your way
Any girl would do well enough for herself to get you. Believe me,
Beulah Washeim don't need a new pair of shoes every two weeks for
nothing! Her mother thinks I don't notice itshe's always braggin' to
me how hard her Beulah is on shoes and what a good customer she makes.
Beulah Washeim! I don't even know what last she wearsthat's how
much I think of Beulah Washeim.
Don't let me stand in your way, Abie. Ain't I often told you, now
since you do a grand business and we're all paid up, don't let your old
mother stand in your way?
Like you could be in my way!
Once I said to poor papa, the night we paid the mortgage off and
had wine for supper: 'Papa,' I said, 'we're out of debt nowGott
sei Dank!except one debt we owe to some girl when Abie grows up;
and that debt we got to pay with money that won't come from work and
struggle and saving; we got to pay that debt with our boywith
blood-money.' Poor papa! Already he was asleep when I said ithalf
a glass of wine, and he was mussy-headed.
Yes, yes, mamma.
A girl like Beulah Washeim I ain't got so much use for
neitherwith her silk petticoats and silk stockings; but Sol Washeim's
got a grand business there, Abie. They don't move in a nine-room house
from a four-room apartment for nothing.
For Beulah's weight in gold I don't want herthe way she looks at
me with her eyes and shoots 'em round like I was a three-ringed
You're rightfor money you shouldn't marry neither; only I always
say it's just as easy to fall in love with a rich one as a poor one.
But I'm the last one to force you. There's Hannah Rosenblatta grand,
Hannah Rosenblatta girl that teaches school, she pushes on me. I
got to get educated yet!
Mrs. Ginsburg rocked and fanned rhythmically; her unsubtle lips
curled upward with the subtle smile of a zingaro. The placidity of
peace on a mountain-top, shade in a dell, and love in a garden crept
into her tones.
I just want you to know I don't stand in your way, Abie. You ain't
a child no more; but while I'm here you got so good a home as you
Girls you can always getnot? Girls nowadays ain't what they used
to be neither. I'd like to see a girl do to-day for papa what I
didhow I was in the store and kitchen all at once; then we didn't
have no satin-shoe clerks! Girls ain't what they used to be; in my day
working-girls had no time for fine-smelling cologne-water and
All girls ain't alike, mammasatin shoes cost no more nowadays as
leather. We got a dollar-ninety-eight satin pump, you wouldn't believe
itand such a seller! All girls ain't alike, mamma.
What you mean, Abie?
Mr. Ginsburg turned on the couch so that his face was close to the
wall, and his voice half lost in the curve of his arm.
Well, once in a while you come across a girl that ain'tain't like
the rest of 'em. Well, there ought to be girls that ain't like the rest
of 'em, oughtn't there?
Mrs. Ginsburg's rocking and fanning slowed down a bit; a curious
moment fell over the little room; a nerve-tingling quiescence that in
its pregnant moment can race the mind back over an eternitya silence
that is cold with sweat, like the second when a doctor removes his
stethoscope from over a patient's left breast and looks at him with a
film of pity glazing his eyes.
What you mean, Abie? Tell mamma what you mean. I ain't the one to
stand in your light. Mrs. Ginsburg's speech clogged in her throat.
You know you always got a home with me, mamma. You know, no matter
what comes, I always got to tuck you in bed at night and fix the
windows for you. You know you always got with me the best kind of a
home I got to give you. Ain't it?
His hand crept out and rested lightlyever so lightlyon his
Abie, you never talked like this beforeI won't stand in your way,
Abie. If you can make up your mind, Beulah Washeim or Hannah
Rosenblatt, either would be
Aw, mamma, it ain't them.
Mrs. Ginsburg's hand closed tightly over her son's; a train swooped
past and created a flurry of warm breeze in the room.
Whoisit, Abie? Don't be afraid to tell mamma.
Why, mamma, it ain't no one! Can't a fellow just talk? You started
it, didn't you? I was just talking 'cause you was.
He scares me yet! No consideration that boy has got for his mother!
Abie, a little brothyou ain't got no fever, Abieyour head is cool
You ain't had no supper yet, mamma.
I had coffee at five o'clock; for myself I never worry. I'm glad
enough you feel all right. It's eight o'clock, AbieI go me to bed.
To-morrow I go to market with Yetta.
Aw, mamma, now why for do you
I ain't too proudsuch high-toned notions I ain't got. For what I
pay forty-two cents for eggs up here when I can get 'em for
Be careful, mamma; don't fall over the chairyou want a light?
No. Write me a note for the milkman, Abie, before you go to bed,
and leave it out with the bottleshalf a pint of double cream I want.
I make you cream-potatoes for supper to-morrow. I laid your blue shirt
on your bed, Abiedon't go to bed on it. It's the last time I iron it;
but once more you can wear it, then I make dust-rags. I ironed it soft
like you like.
Put the cover on the canary, too, Abie. That night you went to the
lodge he chirped and chirped, just like you was lost and he was crying
'cause me and him was lonely.
Yes, mamma. Wait till I light the gas in your room for youyou'll
It's too hot for light; I can see by the Magintys' kitchen light
across the air-shaft. What she does in her kitchen so late I don't
knowsuch housekeeping! Yesterday with my own eyes I seen her shake a
table-cloth out the window with a hole like my hand in it. She should
know what I think of such ways.
Mrs. Ginsburg moved through the gloom, steering carefully round the
phantom furniture. From his place on the couch her son could hear her
moving about her tiny room adjoining the kitchen. A shoe dropped and,
after a satisfying interval, another; the padding of bare feet across a
floor; the tink of a china pitcher against its bowl; the slam of a
drawer; the rusty squeal of spiral bed-springs under pressure.
Abie, I'm ready.
When Mr. Ginsburg groped into his mother's room she lay in the
casual attitude of sleep, but the yellow patch of light from the shaft
fell across her open eyes and gray wisps of hair that lay on her pillow
like a sickly aura.
Good night, Abie. You're a good boy, Abie.
Good night, mamma. A sheet ain't enoughyou got to have the
blue-and-white quilt on you, too.
Don't, Abiedo you want to suffocate me? I can't stand so much.
Take off the quilt.
Your rheumatism, you know, mammayou'll see how much cooler it
will get in the night.
Ach, Abie, leave that window all the way up. So hot, and
that boy closes me up like
When the lace curtain blows in it means you're in a draught,
mammahalf-way open you can have it, but not all. Without me to fuss
you'd have a fine rheumatismlike it ain't dangerous for you to sleep
where there's enough draught to blow the curtain in.
Abie, if you don't feel good, in two minutes I can get up and heat
the broth if
I'm grand, mamma. Here, I move this chair so the light from
Magintys' don't shine in your eyes.
What she does in her kitchen so late I don't know. Good night,
Abie. In the dark you look like poor papa. How he used to fuss round
the room at night fixing me just like youpoor papa, Abienot? Poor
Good night, mamma.
Mr. Ginsburg leaned over and kissed his mother lightly on the
Double cream did you say I should write the milkman?
Yesand, Abie, don't forget to cover the bird.
Yes. Here, I leave the door half-way open, mamma. Good night.
Oh, it ain't nothing at all, Abienever mind.
I'm right here, mamma. Anything you want me to do?
Nothing. Good night, Abie.
Good night, mamma.
* * * * *
At eight-fifteen Monday morning Miss Ruby Cohn blew into the
Ginsburg & Son's shoe store like a breath of thirty-nine-cents-an-ounce
perfume shot from a strong-spray atomizer. The street hung with the
strong breath of Mayflower a full second after her small, tall-heeled
feet had crossed its soft asphalt.
At the first whiff Mr. Ginsburg drew the upper half of his body out
from a case of misses' ten-button welt soles he was unpacking and
smiled as if Aurora and spring, and all the heyday misses that Guido
Reni and Botticelli loved to paint, had suddenly danced into his shop.
Well, well, Miss Ruby, are you back?
Miss Cohn titillated toward the rear of the store, the tail of a
cockatoo titillated at a sharp angle from her hat, a patent-leather
handbag titillated from a long cord at her wrist, and a smile
iridescent as sunlight on spray played about her lips. She placed her
hand blinker-fashion against her mouth as if she would curb the smile.
Don't tell anybody, Mr. Ginsburg, and I'll whisper you something.
Listen! I ain't back; I'm shooting porcelain ducks off the shelf in a
Ah, you're back again with your fun, ain't you? Miss Rubybelieve
meI missed you enough. I bet you had a grand time at the farm!
Mr. Ginsburg shook hands with her shyly, with a sudden red in his
face, and as if her fingers were holy with the dust of a butterfly's
wings and he feared to brush it off.
Say, Mr. Ginsburg, you should have seen me! What I think of a
shoe-tree after laying all yesterday afternoon under a oak-tree next to
a brook that made a noise like playing a tune on wine-glasses, I'd hate
to tell you. Say, you're unpacking them ten-button welts, ain't you?
Good! It ain't too soon for the school stock.
Miss Cohn withdrew two super-long, sapphire-headed hat-pins from her
super-small hat, slid out of a tan summer-silk jacket, dallied with the
froth of white frills at her throat, ran her fingers through the flame
of her hair and turned to Mr. Ginsburg. Her skin was like thick cream
and smattered with large, light-brown freckles, which enhanced its
creaminess as a crescent of black plaster laid against a lady's cheek
makes fairness fairer.
Well, how's business? I've come back feeling like I could sell
storm rubbers to a mermaid.
You look grand for certain, Miss Ruby. They just can't look any
grander'n you. Believe me, I missed you enough! To-day it's cool; but
the day before yesterday you can know I was done up when I closed
Can you beat it? And I was laying flat on the grass, with ants
running up my sleeves and down my neck and wishing for my sealskinit
was so cool. I see Herschey's got cloth-tops in his windows. What's the
matter with us springing them patent-tip kids? Say, I got a swell idea
for a window comin' home on the trainlookin' at the wheat-fields made
me think of it.
Whatta you know about that? Wheat-fields made her think of a shoe
windowlike a whip she isso sharp!
It's a yellow season, Mr. Ginsburg; and we can use them old-oak
stands and have a tan school window that'll make every plate-glass
front between here and One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street look like a
Sixth Avenue slightly worn display.
Good! You can have just what kind of a window you like, Miss
Rubyjust anything youyou like. After such a summer we can afford
such a fall window as we want. I see the Busy Bee's got red-paper
poppies in theirssomething like that, maybe, with
Nix on paper flowers for us! I got a china-silk idea from a little
drummer I met up in the countryone nice little fellow! I wonder if
you know him? Simon Leavitt; he says he sold you goods. Simon Leavitt.
One nice little fellow!
I missed you lots, Miss Ruby. When Saturday came I said to mamma:
'How I miss that girl! Only one month she's been with us, but how I
miss that girl!' Oheh, Miss Ruby!
Miss Cohn adjusted a pair of tissue-paper sleevelets and smoothed
her smooth tan hips as if she would erase them entirely; then she
looked up at him delicately, and for the instant the pink aura of her
hair and the rise and fall of her too high bosom gave her some of the
fleshly beauty of a Flora.
Like you had time to think of me! I bet the Washeim girl was in
every other day for a pair of
Now, Miss Ruby, you
'Sh! There's some one out front. It's that cashier from Truman's
grocery. You finish unpacking that case, Mr. Ginsburg. I'll wait on
her. I bet she wants tango slippers.
Miss Cohn flitted to the front of the store as rapidly as the span
of her narrow skirt would permit, and Mr. Ginsburg dived deep into the
depths of his wooden case. But in his nostrils, in the creases of his
coat, and in the recesses of his heart was the strong breath of the
Mayflower; and in the phantasmagoria of bonfire-colored hair and
cream-colored skin, and the fragrance of his own emotions, he bent so
dreamily over the packing-case that the blood rushed as if by capillary
attraction to his temples; and when he staggered to an upright posture
large black blotches were doing an elf dance before his eyes.
Mr. Ginsburg! Oh, Mr. Ginsburg!
Yes, Miss Ruby.
From the highest rung of a ladder, parallel with the top row of a
wall of shoe-boxes, Miss Cohn poised like a humming-bird.
Say, have we got any more of them 4567 French heel, chiffon
Yes, Miss Rubyright there under the 5678's.
Sure enough. Never mind coming out; I can find 'emyes, here they
From her height she smiled down at him, pushed her ladder leftward
along its track, clapped a shoe-box under her arm, and hurried down,
her shoe-buttoner jangling from a pink ribbon at her waist-line. Mr.
Ginsburg delved deeper.
Yes, Miss Ruby.
Just a moment, pleasethere's a lady out here wants low-cuts, and
I'm busy with a customer. Front, pleasejust this way, madam. I'll
have some one to wait on you in a moment.
Mr. Ginsburg clapped his hands dry of dust, wriggled into his
unlined alpaca coat, brushed his plush-like hair with his palms, and
advanced to the front of the store. His voice was lubricated with the
sweet-oil of willing servitude.
What can I do for you, madam? Low-cuts for yourself?
He straddled a stool and took the foot in the cup of his hand.
Beside him on a similar stool that brought their heads parallel Miss
Ruby smoothed her hand across her customer's instep.
Ain't that effect great, Mr. Ginsburg, with that swell little
rosette? I was just telling this young lady if I had her instep I'd
never wear anything but our dancing-shoes.
It certainly is swell, agreed Mr. Ginsburg, peering into the
lining of the shoe he removed to read its size.
The day's tide quickened; the yellow benches, with ceiling fans
purring over them, were filled with rows of trade who tamped the floor
with shiny, untried soles, bent themselves double to feel of toe and
instep, and walked the narrow strip of green felt as if on clay feet
they feared would break.
Came noon and afternoon. Miss Cohn ascended and descended the ladder
with the agility of a street vender's mechanical toy, shoes tucked
under each arm, and a pencil at a violent angle in the nest of her
Have we got any more of them 543 flat heels, Mr. Ginsburg?
Yes, Miss Rubyright there in back of you.
Say, you'd think I was using my eyes for something besides seeing,
wouldn't you? Wait on that lady next, Mr. Ginsburg. She wants white
Yes'm; we sell lots of them russet browns. It's a little shoe that
gives satisfaction every time. Mr. Ginsburg is always ordering more. I
wore a pair of them for two years myself. There ain't no wear-out to
them. We carry that in stock, too, and it keeps them like newjust rub
with a flannel clothfifteen cents a bottle. Just a moment, madam;
I'll be over to you as soon as I'm finished here. Mr. Ginsburg, take
off that lady's shoe and show her a pair of them dollar-ninety-eight
elastic sides while I finish with this lady. Sure, you can have 'em by
five, madam. Name? Hornschein, 3456 Eighth Avenue? Dollar-eighty out of
two. Thank you! Call again. Now, madam, what can I do for you? Yes, we
have them in moccasins in year-old sizesixty cents, and grand and
soft for their little feet. Wait; I'll see. Mr. Ginsburg, have we got
those 672 infants' in pink?
Sure thing. Wait, Miss RubyI'll climb for you. I have to go up
Aw, you're busy with your own customers. Don't trouble.
Nothing's trouble when it's for you, Miss Ruby. Show her those
tassel tops, too.
Oh, Mr. Ginsburg, ain't you the kidder, though! Yes'm; the tassel
tops are eighty. Ain't they the cutest little things?
At six o'clock a medley of whistles shrieked out the
eventideclarions that ripped upward like sky-rockets in flight;
hard-throated soprano whistles that juggled with the topmost note like
a colorature diva. The oak benches emptied, Mr. Ginsburg raised the
front awning and kicked the carpet-covered brick away from the door, so
that it swung quietly closed; daubed at his wrists and collar-top with
a damp handkerchief.
First breathing space we've had to-day, ain't it, Miss Ruby?
Miss Cohn flopped down on a bench and breathed heavily; her hair lay
damp on her temples; the ruffles at her neck were limp as the ruff of a
Pierette the morning after the costume ball.
You should worry, Mr. Ginsburg! With such a business next year at
this time you'll have two clerks and more breathing space than you got
Mr. Ginsburg seated himself carefully beside her at a wide range, so
that a customer for a seven-E last could have fitted in between them.
I've built up a good business here, Miss Ruby. The trouble with
poor papa was he was afraid to spend, and he was afraid of novelties. I
couldn't learn him that a windowful of satin pumps helps swell the
storm-rubber sale. Those little dollar-ninety-eights look swell on your
feet, Miss Ruby; you're a good advertisement for the stocknot?
Funny what a hit them pumps make! Mr. Leavitt was crazy about them,
too; but, say, what your mother thinks of these satin slippers I'd hate
to tell you. When she was down the day before I left she looked at 'em
till I got so nervous I tripped over the cracks between the boards.
Say, but wasn't she sore about the new glass fixtures! I kinda felt
like it was my fault, too; but I was strong for 'em because
Mamma's the old-fashioned kind, Miss Rubyher and poor papa like
the old way of doing things. She's getting old, Miss Ruby, but she
means well. She's a good mothera good mother.
She's sure a grand womancarrying soup across to old Levinsky
every day, and all.
She's more'n you know she is, too, Miss Rubylittle things that
woman does I could tell you aboutwhen she didn't have it so good as
Miss Ruby dropped her lids until her eyes were as soft as plush
behind the portières of her lashes; her voice dropped into a throat
that might have been lined with that same soft plush.
I had a mother for two dayslike I said to Mr. Leavitt the other
day up in the countrywe was talking about different things. I says to
him, I says, she quit when she looked at mejust laid down and died
when I was two days old. I must have been enough to scare the daylights
out of any one. Next to a pink worm on a fish-hook gimme a red-headed
baby for the horrors! Say, you ought to seen Mr. Leavitt fish! Six bass
he caught in one dayI sat next him and watched; we had 'em fried for
supper. He's some little
What a pleasure you'd 'a' been to your mother, Miss Ruby! Such a
girl like you I could wish my own mother.
That's just what Mr. Leavitt used to tell me; but, gee! he was a
kidder! II oughtta had a mother! Sometimes Isometimes in the night
when I can't sleepdaytimes you don't care so muchbut sometimes at
night II just don't care about nothing. With a girl like me, that
ain't even known a mother or father, it ain't always so easy to keep
her head above water.
Poor little girl!
Since the day I left the Institootion I been dodging the city and
jumping its mud-holes like a lady trying to cross Sixth Avenue when
it's torn up. Ioh, ain't I the silly one?treating you to my
troubles! Say, I got a swell riddle! I can't give it like Leavittlike
Simon did; but
Always Mr. Leavitt, and now it's Simon yetsuch a hit as that man
made with younot?
Hit! Can't a girl have a gentleman friend? Can't you have a lady
frienda friend like Miss Washeim, who comes in for shoes three
Ruby, can I help it when she comes in here?
Can I help it when I go to the country and meet Mr. Leavitt?
Mr. Ginsburg slid himself along the bench until a customer for a AA
misses' last would have fitted with difficulty between, and looked at
her as ancient Phidias must have looked at his Athene.
RubyI can't keep it back no longersince you went away on your
vacation I've had it inside of me, but I never knew what it was till
you walked back this morning. First, I thought I was sick with the
heat; but now I know it was you
II invite you to get married, Ruby. I got a feeling for you like
I never had for any girl! I want it that mamma should have a good girl
like you to make it easy for her. I can't say what I want to say, Ruby;
I don't say it so good, buta girl could do worse than menot, Ruby?
Miss Cohn's fingers closed over the shoe-hook at her belt until the
knuckles sprang out whiter than her white skin.
Oh, Mr. Ginsburg! What would your mamma say? A young man like you,
with a grand business and allyou could do for yourself what you
wanted. If you was only a drummer like Simon; but
A wisp of Miss Cohn's hair, warm as sunset, brushed close to Mr.
Ginsburg's lips; he groped for her hand, because the mist of his
emotions was over his eyes.
Ruby, I invite you to get married; that'sall I want is that mamma
should have it good with me always like she has it now. She's getting
old, Ruby, and I always say what's the difference if I humor her? When
she don't want to move in an apartment with a marble hall and built-in
wash-tubs, I say: All right; we stay over the store. When she don't
like it that I put a telephone in, I tell her I got a friend in the
business put it in for nothing. You could give it to her as good as a
She's a grand woman, Abie; she
In the eventide quiescence of the shop, with the heliotrope of early
dusk about them, and passers-by flashing by the plate-glass window in a
stream that paused neither for love nor life, Mr. Ginsburg leaned over
and gathered Miss Cohn in his arms, pushed back the hair from her
forehead and kissed her thriceonce on each lowered eyelid, and once
on her lips, which were puckered to resemble a rosebud.
Abie, youyou mustn't! We're in the store!
I should worry!
What willwhat will they say?
For what they say I care that much! cried Mr. Ginsburg, with
insouciance. Ain't I got a ruby finer than what they got in the finest
Miss Cohn raised her smooth cheek from the rough weft of Mr.
What your mamma will say I don't know! You that could have Beulah
Washeim or Birdie Harburger, or any of those grand girls that are grand
catchesI ain't bringing you nothing, Abie.
We're going to make it grand for mamma, Rubythat's all I want you
to bring me. She'll have it so good as never in her life. You are going
to be a good daughter to hernot, Ruby?
Yes, Abe. If we take a bigger apartment she can have an outside
room, and I can take all the housekeeping off her hands. Such nut-salad
as I can make you never tastedlike they serve it in the finest
restaurant! I got the recipe from my landlady. If we take a bigger
What mamma wants we dohow's that? She's so used to having her own
way I always say, What's the difference? When poor papa lived she
Abe, there's your mamma calling you down the back stairs nowyou
should go up to your supper. I must go, too; my landlady gets mad when
I'm lateit's half past six already. Oh, I feel scared! What'll she
say when she hears?
Scared for what, my little girl?... Yes, mamma; I'm coming!...
There ain't a week passes that mamma don't say if I find the right girl
I should get married. Even the other night, before I knew it myself,
she said it to me. 'Abie,' she always says, 'don't let me stand in your
way!'... Yes, mamma; I'll be right up!... You and her can get along
grand when you two know each othergrand!
Your mamma's calling like she was mad, Abie.
To-night, Ruby, you come up to us for supperwe bring her a
Oh, you ain't going to tell her to-nightright awayare you?
For what I have secrets from my own mother? She should know the
good news. Get your hat, Ruby. Come on, Ruby-la! Come on!
Oh, Abie, you ain't going to forget to lock the front store door,
Ach!that should happen to me yet. The things a man don't
do when he's engaged! If mamma should know I forget to lock the store
she'd think I've gone crazy with being in loveyou little Ruby-la!
Mr. Ginsburg hastened to the front of the store on feet that bounded
off the floor like rubber balls, and switched on the electric
Abe, you got the double switch on! What you think this
isconvention or Christmas week?
To-night we celebrate with double window lights. What's the
difference if it costs a little more or a little less? The night he
gets engaged a fellow should afford what he wants.
There nowwith two locks on the door we should worry about
burglars! I'm the burglar that's stealing the ruby, ain't I?... One,
two, threeup we go, to mamma and supper. Watch out for the step
there! I want her to see my Rubyfiner than you can buy in the finest
jewelry store! cried Mr. Ginsburg, clinging proudly to his metaphor.
Any of three emotions were crowded into his voiceexcitement,
trepidation, the love that is beyond understandingor the trilogy of
Come along, Ruby-la!
Through the rear of the store and up a winding back stairway they
marched like glorified children; and at the first landing he must pause
and kiss away the words of fear and nervousness from her lips and look
into her diffident eyes with the same rapture that was Jupiter's when
he gazed on Antiope.
Such a little scarey she islike mamma was going to bite!
At the top of the flight the door of the apartment stood open; a
blob of gas lighted a yellowish way to the kitchen, and through the
yellow Mrs. Ginsburg's voice drifted out to them:
Once more I call you, Abie, and then I dish up supper and eat
aloneno consideration that boy has got for his mother! He should know
what it is not to have a mother who fixes him Pfannküchen in
this heat! Don't complain to me if everything is not fit to eat! In the
heat I stand and cook, and that boy closes so lateAbie! Once more I
call you and then I dish up. Ab-ie! Mrs. Ginsburg's voice rose to an
acidulated high C.
Mamma! Mamma, don't get so excitedit ain't late. The days get
shorter, that's all. Look! I brought company for supper. We don't stand
on no ceremony. Come right in the kitchen, Ruby.
Mr. Ginsburg pushed Miss Cohn into the room before him, and Mrs.
Ginsburg raised her face from over the steaming stove-topthe pink of
heat and exertion high in her cheek. Reflexly her hand clutched at the
collar of her black wrapper, where it fell away to reveal the line
where the double scallop of her chin met the high swell of her bosom.
Miss Cohn! Miss Cohn!
How do you do, Mrs. Ginsburg? I
Sit right down, Miss Cohnor you and Abie go in the front room
till I dish up. You must excuse me the way I holler, but so mad that
boy makes me. Just like his poor papa, he makes a long face if his
supper is cold, but not once does he come up on time.
All men are alike, Mrs. Ginsburgthat's what they say about 'em
Such a supper we got you'll have to excuse, Miss Cohn. Abie, take
them German papers off the chair. Miss Cohn can sit out here a minute
if she don't mind such heat. If Abie had taken the trouble to tell me
you was coming I'd have fixed
I am glad you don't fix no extras for me, Mrs. Ginsburg. I like to
take just pot-luck.
Abie likes Pfannküchen and pot-roast better than the finest
I can fix him, and this morning at Fulton Market I seen such grand
green beans; and I said to Yetta, 'I fix 'em sweet-sour for supper; he
likes them so.'
I love sweet-sour beans, too, Mrs. Ginsburg. My landlady fixes all
them German dishes swell.
Well, you don't mind that I don't make no extras for you? You had a
nice vacation? I tell Abie he should take one himselfnot? He worked
hisself sick last week. I was scared enough about him. Abie, why don't
you find a chair for yourself? Why you stand there likelike
Even as she spoke the red suddenly ran out of Mrs. Ginsburg's face,
leaving it the color of oysters packed in ice.
For answer Mr. Ginsburg crossed the room and took his mother in a
wide-armed embrace, so that his mouth was close to her ear. His lips
were pale and tinged with a faintly green aura, like a child's who
holds his breath from rage or a lyceum reader's who feels the icy
clutch of stage-panic on him.
Mamma, weweme and Ruby got a surprise-party for you. Guess,
mammasuch a grand surprise for you!
Mrs. Ginsburg placed her two fists against her son's blue
shirt-front, threw back her head, and looked into his eyes; her heavy
waist-line swayed backward against his firm embrace; immediate tears
sprang into her eyes.
Mamma, look how happy you should be! Ain't you always wanted a
daughter, mamma? For joy she cries, Ruby.
Abie, my boy! Ach, Miss Cohn, you must excuse me.
Aw, now, mamma, don't cry so. Look! You make my shoulder all
wetshame on you! You should laugh like never in your life! Ruby, you
and mamma kiss right awayyou should get to know each other now.
Ach, Miss Cohn, you must excuse me. I always told him I
mustn't stand in his way; but what that boy is to me, Miss
Rubymamma, call her Ruby. Ain't she your little Ruby as much as
minenow, ain't she?
Yes; come here, Ruby, and let me kiss you. Since poor papa's gone
you can never know what that boy has been to me, Rubysuch a son; not
out of the house would he go without me! It's like I was giving away my
heart to give him uplike I was tearing it right out from inside of
me! Ach, but how glad I am for him!
Aw, mammalike you was giving me up!
Mr. Ginsburg swallowed with such difficulty that the tears sprang
into his eyes.
I ain't taking him away from you, Mrs. Ginsburghe's your son as
much as everand more.
Call her mamma, Rubyjust like I do.
Mamma! Just don't you worry, mamma; it's going to be grand for you
and me and all of us.
Hear her, mamma, how she talks! Ain't she a girl for you?
Youyou children mustn't mind meI'm an old woman. You go in the
front room, and I'll be all right in a minuteso happy I am for my
boy. You bad boy, younot to tell your mamma the other night!
Mamma, so help me, I didn't know it myself till I seen her come
back to-day so pretty, and allI just felt it inside of me all of a
Aw, Abeain't he the silly talker, Mrs. Ginsburg?mamma! You
mustn't cry, mamma; we'll make it grand for you.
Ain't I the silly one myself to cry when I'm so happy for you? I'll
be all right in a minuteso happy I am!
Ruby, you tell mamma how grand it'll be.
Miss Cohn placed her arms about Mrs. Ginsburg's neck, stood on
tiptoe, and kissed her on the tear-wet lips.
You always got a home with us, mamma. Me and Abie wouldn't be
engaged this minute if it wasn't that you would always have a home with
With one swoop Mr. Ginsburg gathered the two women in a mutual
embrace that strained his arms from their sockets; his voice was taut,
like one who talks through a throat that aches.
My little mamma and my little Rubyain't it?
Mrs. Ginsburg dried her eyes on a corner of her apron and smiled at
them with fresh tears forming instantly.
He's been a good boy, Ruby. I only want that he should make just so
good a husband. I always said the girl that gets him does well enough
for herself. I don't want to brag on my own child, butif
But, if I do say it myself, he's been a good boy to his mother.
Now, mamma, don't begin
I always said to him, Ruby, looks in a girl don't count the
mostsuch girls as you see nowadays, with their big ideas, ain't worth
house-room. I always say to him, Ruby, a girl that ain't ashamed to
work and knows the value of a dollar, and can help a young man save and
get a start without such big ideas like apartments and dummy waiters
Honest, wouldn't you think this was a funeral! Mamma, to-night we
have a partynot? I go down and get up that bottle of wine!
Himmel! My Pfannküchen! Yes, Abie, run down in the
cellar; on the top shelf it is, under the grape-jelly rowleft yet
from poor papa's last birthday. Ach, Ruby, you should have known
poor papathat such a man could have been taken before his time! Sit
down, Ruby, while I dish up.
The tears dried on Mrs. Ginsburg's cheeks, leaving the ravages of
dry paths down them; Mr. Ginsburg's footsteps clacked down the bare
flight of stairs.
Abie! Oh, Abie!
His voice came up remotely from two flights down, like a banshee
voice drifting through a yellow sheol of dim-lit hallway.
Abe, bring up some dill pickles from the jarthere's a dish in the
Yes, I bring them.
Between the two women fell silencea silence that in its brief
moment spawned the eggs of a thousand unborn thoughts.
From her corner the girl regarded the older woman with a nervous
diffidence, her small, black-satin feet curled well inward and round
the rungs of the chair.
II hope you ain't mad at me, Mrs. Ginsburgyou ain't more
surprised than me.
A note as thin as sheet tin crept into Mrs. Ginsburg's voice.
He's my boy, Ruby, and what he wants I want. I know you ain't the
kind of a girl, Ruby, that won't help my boy alongnot? Extravagant
ways and high living never got a young couple nowheres. Abie should
take out a thousand more life insurance now; and, with economical ways,
you got a grand future. For myself I don't careI ain't so young any
You always got a home with us, Mrs. Ginsburg. You won't know
yourself, you'll have it so good! If we move you with us out of this
dark little flat weyou won't know yourself, you'll have it so good!
I hope you ain't starting out with no big ideas, Rubythis flat
ain't so dark but it could be worse. For young people with good eyes it
should do all right. If it was good enough for Abie's papa and me it
Mr. Ginsburg burst into the kitchen, a wine-bottle tucked under one
arm and a white china dish held at arm's-length.
Such pickles as mamma makes, Ruby, you never tasted! You should
learn how. You two can get out here in the kitchen, with your sleeves
rolled up to your elbows, and such housekeeping times you can have!
I'll get dill down by Anchute's like last yearnot, mamma?... Come; we
sit down now. We can all eat in the kitchen, mamma. Don't make company
out of Rubyshe knows we got a front room to eat in if we want it.
Come and sit down, Ruby, across from mamma, so we get used to it right
awaysit here, you little Ruby-la, you!
Mr. Ginsburg exuded radiance like August bricks exude the heat of
day. He kissed Miss Cohn playfully under the pink lobe of each ear and
repeated the performance beneath Mrs. Ginsburg's not so pink lobes;
carved the gravy-oozing slices of pot-roast with a hand that was no
less skilful because it trembled under pressure of a sublime agitation.
Ruby, I learn you right awaywe always got to save mamma the heel
of the bread, 'cause she likes it.
Miss Cohn smiled and regarded Mr. Ginsburg from the left corner of
I wasn't so slow learning the shoe business, was I, Abe?
You look at me so cute-like, and I'll come over to you right this
minute! Look at her, mamma, how she flirts with mejust like it wasn't
Abie, pass Ruby the beans. Honest, for a beau, you don't know
nothingyour papa was a better beau as you. Pass her the beans. Don't
you see she ain't got none? You two with your love-making! You remind
me of me and poor papa; hehe
Now, mamma, don't you go getting sad again like a funeral.
I ain't, Abie. I'mso happyfor you.
To-night we just play, and to-morrow mamma decides when we get
marriednot, Ruby? We do like she wants itto-night we just play.
Ruby, pass your glass and mamma's, and we drink to our three selves
Mr. Ginsburg poured with agitated hand, and the red in his face
mounted even as the wine in the glass.
To the two grandest women in the world! May we all be happy and
prosperous from to-night! Mr. Ginsburg swung his right arm far from
him and brought his glass round to his lips in a grand semi-circle. To
the two grandest women in the world!
Mrs. Ginsburg tipped the glass against her lips.
To my two children! God bless them and poor papa!
The first time I ever seen mamma drink wine, Ruby. She hates
itthat shows how much she likes you already. Eat your dessert, mamma;
it'll take the taste away. You like noodle dumplings? Such dumplings as
these you should learn to make, Ruby-la.
Children, you have had enough supper?
It was a grand supper, mamma.
They scraped their chairs backward from the table and smiled
satiated, soul-deep smiles. From the sitting-room a clock chimed the
So late, children! Ach, how time flies when there's
excitement! You and Ruby go in the parlorI do the dishes so quick you
won't know it.
Ruby can help you with the dishes, mamma.
Sure I can; we can do 'em in a hurry, and then go maybe to a
picture show or some place.
Picture shownine o'clock!
There's always two shows, Mrs. Ginsburgthe second don't begin
till then. I always go to the second showit's always the liveliest.
Come on, mamma; you and Ruby do the dishes, and we go. It's a grand
night, and for once late hours won't hurt you.
Ach, you ain't got no time for a old lady like mein the
night air I get rheumatism. Abie can tell you how on cool nights like
this I get rheumatism. You two children go. I'm sleepy already. These
few dishes I can do quicker as with you, Ruby.
Without you we don't gome and Ruby won't go then.
We won't go, then, like Abe sayswe won't go then.
Abie, if it pleases me that you go to the picture show for an
houryou can do that much for mamma the first night you're engaged;
some other night maybe I go too. Let me stay at home, Abie, and get my
sleep like always.
Ah, mamma, you're afraid. I know you even get scared when the
bed-post creaks. We stay home, too.
Ruby, for me will you make him go?
Abie, if your mamma wants you to go for an houryou go. If she
comes, too, we're glad; but many a night I've stayed in the
boarding-house alone. If you was afraid you'd say sowouldn't you,
Afraid of what? Nobody won't steal me!
Get Ruby's hat and coat, Abie. Good-by, you children, you! Have a
good time. Abie, stop with your nonsenseon the nose he has to kiss
Ruby, just as easy we can stay at home with mammanot?
Sure! Aw, Abe, don't you know how to hold a girl's coat? So clumsy
Good night, Ruby. I congratulate you on being my daughter. Good
night, Rubyyou come to-morrow.
Good night, mammato-morrow I see you.
Good night, mamma. In less than an hour I be backbefore the clock
strikes ten. You shouldn't make me goI don't like to leave you here.
Ach, you silly children! I'm glad for peace by myself. Look! I
close the door right on you.
Good night, mamma. I be back by ten.
Good night, children!
* * * * *
When the clock in the parlor struck eleven Mrs. Ginsburg wiped dry
her last dish, flapped out her damp dish-towel, and hung it over a cord
stretched diagonally across a corner of the kitchen. Then she closed
the cupboard door on the rows of still warm dishes, slammed down the
window and locked it, reached up, turned out the gas, and groped into
her adjoining bedroom.
Reflected light from the Maginty kitchen lay in an oblong on the
floor and climbed half-way on the bed. By aid of the yellow oblong Mrs.
Ginsburg undressed slowly and like a withered Suzanne, who dared not
blush through her wrinkles.
The black wrapper, with empty arms dangling, she spread across a
chair, and atop of it a black cotton petticoat, sans all the gentle
mysteries of lace and frill. Lastly, beside the bed, in the very
attitude of the service of love, she placed her shoesexpressive
shoes, swollen from swollen joints, and full of the capacity for labor.
Then Mrs. Ginsburg climbed into bed, knees first, threw backward
over the foot-board the blue-and-white coverlet, and drew the sheet up
about her. A fresh-as-water breeze blew inward the lace curtain,
admitting a streak of light across her eyes and a merry draught about
her head. The parlor clock tonged the half-hour.
Silence for a while, then the black rush of a train, an intermittent
little plaint like the chirrup of a bird in its cage, the squeak of a
bed-post, and a succession of the unimportant noises that belong solely
to the mystery of night.
Finally, from under the sheet, the tremolo of a moanthe sob of a
heart that aches and, aching, dares not break.