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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 up—at the close of a day that had bleached the streets as dry as desert bones—Abe 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 inscription—ABE. 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, Abie—something 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 hand?”

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 early—no 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 things—no 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 nothing—I 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 home—no order that boy has got! I go now and put my pie in the oven.”

“I ain't hungry, mamma—honest! Don't fix no supper for me—I 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-day—and 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-light—it 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 outline—like shadows seen through the mirage of a dream.

“Abie—tell mamma—you 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 you, Abie?”

“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 nothing—all 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 tired?”

“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 you—you 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 yet—vacation she has to have—a girl like that, with her satin shoes and all—comes 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-box—all 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 enemy—I am! I work against my own child—that'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 talk—her 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, mamma.”

“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 booming—but 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.”

“Yes?”

“Good business to-day—not, 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 wait—that 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, mamma—such a business head I never seen!”

“Like I couldn't have come down and helped you to-day! Believe me—when 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 shoes—five 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 gas—for 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 supper—I 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 and down.

“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. No—it ain't nothing but the heat; but I worry enough, I can tell you.”

“Mamma, don't holler in the telephone so—she can't hear you when you scream.”

“It's always something, ain't it? That's what I tell him; but he's like his poor papa before him—he'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, too—and 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 lodge—not one night since poor papa died—has that boy left me at home alone. Not one step will he take without me.”

“Aw, mamma!”

“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, Yetta—fussing 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 couch.

“A little broth, Abie?”

“No.”

“When you don't eat it's something wrong.”

“You needn't fan me, mamma—I 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, Abie—five years! Gott! When I think of it! Just like his picture he looked up to the last, too—just like his picture.”

“Yes, mamma.”

“I ain't so spry as I used to be, neither, Abie—or, 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 myself.”

“Mamma, you ain't got nothing to worry about.”

“I worry enough.”

“You can take it as easy as you want to now—I 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 store—such 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 enough.”

“Such talk!”

“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 it—she'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 wears—that'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 now—Gott 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 boy—with blood-money.' Poor papa! Already he was asleep when I said it—half 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 neither—with 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 her—the way she looks at me with her eyes and shoots 'em round like I was a three-ringed circus.”

“You're right—for 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 Rosenblatt—a grand, economical girl!”

“Hannah Rosenblatt—a 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 want—not?”

“Sure!”

“Girls you can always get—not? Girls nowadays ain't what they used to be neither. I'd like to see a girl do to-day for papa what I did—how 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, mamma—satin shoes cost no more nowadays as leather. We got a dollar-ninety-eight satin pump, you wouldn't believe it—and 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't—ain'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 eternity—a 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 lightly—ever so lightly—on his mother's knee.

“Abie, you never talked like this before—I 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.

“Who—is—it, 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 broth—you ain't got no fever, Abie—your head is cool like ice.”

“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, Abie—I go me to bed. To-morrow I go to market with Yetta.”

“Aw, mamma, now why for do you—”

“I ain't too proud—such high-toned notions I ain't got. For what I pay forty-two cents for eggs up here when I can get 'em for thirty-eight?”

“Be careful, mamma; don't fall over the chair—you want a light?”

“No. Write me a note for the milkman, Abie, before you go to bed, and leave it out with the bottles—half a pint of double cream I want. I make you cream-potatoes for supper to-morrow. I laid your blue shirt on your bed, Abie—don'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.”

“Yes, mamma.”

“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 you—you'll stumble.”

“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 know—such 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 enough—you got to have the blue-and-white quilt on you, too.”

“Don't, Abie—do you want to suffocate me? I can't stand so much. Take off the quilt.”

“Your rheumatism, you know, mamma—you'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, mamma—half-way open you can have it, but not all. Without me to fuss you'd have a fine rheumatism—like 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 you—poor papa, Abie—not? Poor papa?”

“Good night, mamma.”

Mr. Ginsburg leaned over and kissed his mother lightly on the forehead.

“Double cream did you say I should write the milkman?”

“Yes—and, Abie, don't forget to cover the bird.”

“Yes. Here, I leave the door half-way open, mamma. Good night.”

“Abie! Abie!”

“Yes?”

“Oh, it ain't nothing at all, Abie—never 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 china shop.”

“Ah, you're back again with your fun, ain't you? Miss Ruby—believe me—I 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 before six.”

“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 sealskin—it 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 train—lookin' at the wheat-fields made me think of it.”

“Whatta you know about that? Wheat-fields made her think of a shoe window—like a whip she is—so 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 Ruby—just anything you—you 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 theirs—something 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 country—one nice little fellow! I wonder if you know him? Simon Leavitt; he says he sold you goods. Simon Leavitt. Know him?”

“No.”

“One nice little fellow!”

Silence.

“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!' Oh—eh, 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 rosette?”

“Yes, Miss Ruby—right there under the 5678's.”

“Sure enough. Never mind coming out; I can find 'em—yes, here they are.”

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.

“Mr. Ginsburg!”

“Yes, Miss Ruby.”

“Just a moment, please—there's a lady out here wants low-cuts, and I'm busy with a customer. Front, please—just 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 hair.

“Have we got any more of them 543 flat heels, Mr. Ginsburg?”

“Yes, Miss Ruby—right 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 kids.”

“Certainly.”

“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 new—just rub with a flannel cloth—fifteen 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 size—sixty 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 Ruby—I'll climb for you. I have to go up anyway.”

“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 eventide—clarions 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 breath.”

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 stock—not?”

“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 Ruby—her and poor papa like the old way of doing things. She's getting old, Miss Ruby, but she means well. She's a good mother—a good mother.”

“She's sure a grand woman—carrying soup across to old Levinsky every day, and all.”

“She's more'n you know she is, too, Miss Ruby—little things that woman does I could tell you about—when she didn't have it so good as now neither.”

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 days—like I said to Mr. Leavitt the other day up in the country—we was talking about different things. I says to him, I says, she quit when she looked at me—just 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 day—I 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! I—I oughtta had a mother! Sometimes I—sometimes in the night when I can't sleep—daytimes you don't care so much—but sometimes at night I—I 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. I—oh, ain't I the silly one?—treating you to my troubles! Say, I got a swell riddle! I can't give it like Leavitt—like Simon did; but—”

“Always Mr. Leavitt, and now it's Simon yet—such a hit as that man made with you—not?”

“Hit! Can't a girl have a gentleman friend? Can't you have a lady friend—a friend like Miss Washeim, who comes in for shoes three times—”

“Ruby, can I help it when she comes in here?”

“Can I help it when I go to the country and meet Mr. Leavitt?”

“Ruby!”

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.

“Ruby—I can't keep it back no longer—since 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—”

“What—what you—”

“I—I 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, but—a girl could do worse than me—not, 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 all—you 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's—all 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 daughter—not, Ruby?”

“She's a grand woman, Abie; she—”

“Ruby!”

“Oh! Oh!”

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 thrice—once on each lowered eyelid, and once on her lips, which were puckered to resemble a rosebud.

“Abie, you—you mustn't! We're in the store!”

“I should worry!”

“What will—what 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 jewelry store?”

Miss Cohn raised her smooth cheek from the rough weft of Mr. Ginsburg's sleeve.

“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 catches—I ain't bringing you nothing, Abie.”

“We're going to make it grand for mamma, Ruby—that'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 her—not, 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 tasted—like they serve it in the finest restaurant! I got the recipe from my landlady. If we take a bigger apartment—”

“What mamma wants we do—how'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 now—you should go up to your supper. I must go, too; my landlady gets mad when I'm late—it'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 other—grand!”

“Your mamma's calling like she was mad, Abie.”

“To-night, Ruby, you come up to us for supper—we bring her a surprise-party.”

“Oh, you ain't going to tell her to-night—right away—are 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, are you?”

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 love—you 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 show-window display.

“Abe, you got the double switch on! What you think this is—convention 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.”

“Abe!”

“There now—with two locks on the door we should worry about burglars! I'm the burglar that's stealing the ruby, ain't I?... One, two, three—up we go, to mamma and supper. Watch out for the step there! I want her to see my Ruby—finer 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 voice—excitement, trepidation, the love that is beyond understanding—or the trilogy of them all.

“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 is—like 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 alone—no 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 late—Abie! 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 excited—it 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-top—the 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 Cohn—or 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. Ginsburg—that's what they say about 'em anyway.”

“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 himself—not? 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 like—like—”

Even as she spoke the red suddenly ran out of Mrs. Ginsburg's face, leaving it the color of oysters packed in ice.

“Abie!”

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, we—we—me and Ruby got a surprise-party for you. Guess, mamma—such 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.

“Abie! Abie!”

“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 wet—shame on you! You should laugh like never in your life! Ruby, you and mamma kiss right away—you 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 Cohn—what—what—”

“Ruby—mamma, call her Ruby. Ain't she your little Ruby as much as mine—now, 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, Ruby—such a son; not out of the house would he go without me! It's like I was giving away my heart to give him up—like I was tearing it right out from inside of me! Ach, but how glad I am for him!”

“Aw, mamma—like 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. Ginsburg—he's your son as much as ever—and more.”

“Call her mamma, Ruby—just 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?”

“You—you children mustn't mind me—I'm an old woman. You go in the front room, and I'll be all right in a minute—so happy I am for my boy. You bad boy, you—not 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 all—I just felt it inside of me all of a sudden.”

“Aw, Abe—ain'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 minute—so 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 us.”

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 Ruby—ain'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, but—if—”

“Aw, mamma!”

“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 most—such 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 party—not? 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 row—left yet from poor papa's last birthday. Ach, Ruby, you should have known poor papa—that 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!”

“Yes, mamma!”

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 jar—there's a dish in the closet.”

“Yes, I bring them.”

Between the two women fell silence—a 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.

“I—I hope you ain't mad at me, Mrs. Ginsburg—you 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 along—not? 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 care—I ain't so young any more, and—”

“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 we—you won't know yourself, you'll have it so good!”

“I hope you ain't starting out with no big ideas, Ruby—this 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 year—not, mamma?... Come; we sit down now. We can all eat in the kitchen, mamma. Don't make company out of Ruby—she 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 away—sit 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 away—we 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 each eye.

“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 me—just like it wasn't all settled.”

“Abie, pass Ruby the beans. Honest, for a beau, you don't know nothing—your 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; he—he—”

“Now, mamma, don't you go getting sad again like a funeral.”

“I ain't, Abie. I'm—so happy—for you.”

“To-night we just play, and to-morrow mamma decides when we get married—not, Ruby? We do like she wants it—to-night we just play. Ruby, pass your glass and mamma's, and we drink to our three selves with claret.”

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 it—that 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 half-hour.

“So late, children! Ach, how time flies when there's excitement! You and Ruby go in the parlor—I 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 show—nine o'clock!”

“There's always two shows, Mrs. Ginsburg—the second don't begin till then. I always go to the second show—it'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 me—in 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 go—me and Ruby won't go then.”

“We won't go, then, like Abe says—we won't go then.”

“Abie, if it pleases me that you go to the picture show for an hour—you 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 hour—you 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 so—wouldn't you, Mrs. Ginsburg—mamma?”

“Afraid of what? Nobody won't steal me!”

“Sure, mamma?”

“Get Ruby's hat and coat, Abie. Good-by, you children, you! Have a good time. Abie, stop with your nonsense—on the nose he has to kiss me!”

“Ruby, just as easy we can stay at home with mamma—not?”

“Sure! Aw, Abe, don't you know how to hold a girl's coat? So clumsy he is!”

“Good night, Ruby. I congratulate you on being my daughter. Good night, Ruby—you come to-morrow.”

“Good night, mamma—to-morrow I see you.”

“Good night, mamma. In less than an hour I be back—before the clock strikes ten. You shouldn't make me go—I 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-by, Abie.”

“What?”

“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 shoes—expressive 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 moan—the sob of a heart that aches and, aching, dares not break.

 
 
 

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