Un Morso doo Pang by Edna Ferber
When you are twenty you do not patronize sunsets unless you are
unhappy, in love, or both. Tessie Golden was both. Six months ago a
sunset had wrung from her only a casual tribute, such as: "My! Look
how red the sky is!" delivered as unemotionally as a weather bulletin.
Tessie Golden sat on the top step of the back porch now, a slim,
inert heap in a cotton house coat and scuffed slippers. Her head was
propped wearily against the porch post. Her hands were limp in her
lap. Her face was turned toward the west, where shone that mingling
of orange and rose known as salmon pink. But no answering radiance in
the girl's face met the glow in the Wisconsin sky.
Saturday night, after supper in Chippewa, Wisconsin, Tessie Golden
of the presunset era would have been calling from her bedroom to the
kitchen: "Ma, what'd you do with my pink blouse?"
And from the kitchen: "It's in your second bureau drawer. The
collar was kind of mussed from Wednesday night, and I give it a
little pressing while my iron was on."
At seven-thirty Tessie would have emerged from her bedroom in the
pink blouse that might have been considered alarmingly frank as to
texture and precariously low as to neck had Tessie herself not been so
reassuringly unopulent; a black taffeta skirt, very brief; a hat with
a good deal of French blue about it; fragile high-heeled pumps with
As she passed through the sitting room on her way out, her mother
would appear in the doorway, dishtowel in hand. Her pride in this
slim young thing and her love of her she concealed with a thin layer
of carping criticism.
"Runnin' downtown again, I s'pose." A keen eye on the swishing
Tessie, the quick-tongued, would toss the wave of shining hair
that lay against either glowing cheek. "Oh, my, no! I just thought
I'd dress up in case Angie Hatton drove past in her auto and picked me
up for a little ride. So's not to keep her waiting."
Angie Hatton was Old Man Hatton's daughter. Anyone in the Fox
River Valley could have told you who Old Man Hatton was. You saw his
name at the top of every letterhead of any importance in Chippewa,
from the Pulp and Paper Mill to the First National Bank, and including
the watch factory, the canning works, and the Mid-Western Land
Company. Knowing this, you were able to appreciate Tessie's sarcasm.
Angie Hatton was as unaware of Tessie's existence as only a young
woman could be whose family residence was in Chippewa, Wisconsin, but
who wintered in Italy, summered in the mountains, and bought (so the
town said) her very hairpins in New York. When Angie Hatton came home
from the East the town used to stroll past on Mondays to view the
washing on the Hatton line. Angie's underwear, flirting so
audaciously with the sunshine and zephyrs, was of silk and crepe de
Chine and satin--materials that we had always thought of heretofore as
intended exclusively for party dresses and wedding gowns. Of course,
two years later they were showing practically the same thing at
Megan's dry-goods store. But that was always the way with Angie
Hatton. Even those of us who went to Chicago to shop never quite
caught up with her.
Delivered of this ironic thrust, Tessie would walk toward the
screen door with a little flaunting sway of the hips. Her mother's
eyes, following the slim figure, had a sort of grudging love in them.
A spare, caustic, wiry little woman, Tessie's mother. Tessie
resembled her as a water color may resemble a blurred charcoal sketch.
Tessie's wide mouth curved into humor lines. She was the cutup of
the escapement department at the watch factory; the older woman's lips
sagged at the corners. Tessie was buoyant and colorful with youth.
The other was shrunken and faded with years and labor. As the girl
minced across the room in her absurdly high-heeled shoes, the older
woman thought: My, but she's pretty! But she said aloud: "I should
think you'd stay home once in a while and not be runnin' the streets
"Time enough to be sittin' home when I'm old like you."
And yet between these two there was love, and even understanding.
But in families such as Tessie's, demonstration is a thing to be
ashamed of; affection a thing to conceal. Tessie's father was
janitor of the Chippewa High School. A powerful man, slightly
crippled by rheumatism, loquacious, lively, fond of his family, proud
of his neat gray frame house and his new cement sidewalk and his
carefully tended yard and garden patch. In all her life Tessie had
never seen a caress exchanged between her parents.
Nowadays Ma Golden had little occasion for finding fault with
Tessie's evening diversion. She no longer had cause to say, "Always
gaddin' downtown, or over to Cora's or somewhere, like you didn't have
a home to stay in. You ain't been in a evening this week, only when
you washed your hair."
Tessie had developed a fondness for sunsets viewed from the back
porch --she who had thought nothing of dancing until three and rising
at half- past six to go to work.
Stepping about in the kitchen after supper, her mother would eye
the limp, relaxed figure on the back porch with a little pang at her
heart. She would come to the screen door, or even out to the porch on
some errand or other--to empty the coffee grounds, to turn the row of
half-ripe tomatoes reddening on the porch railing, to flap and hang up
a damp tea towel.
"Ain't you goin' out, Tess?"
"What you want to lop around here for? Such a grant evening. Why
don't you put on your things and run downtown, or over to Cora's or
"What for! What does anybody go out for!"
"I don't know."
If they could have talked it over together, these two, the girl
might have found relief. But the family shyness of their class was
too strong upon them. Once Mrs. Golden had said, in an effort at
sympathy, "Person'd think Chuck Mory was the only one who'd gone to
war an' the last fella left in the world."
A grim flash of the old humor lifted the corners of the wide
mouth. "He is. Who's there left? Stumpy Gans, up at the railroad
crossing? Or maybe Fatty Weiman, driving the garbage. Guess I'll doll
up this evening and see if I can't make a hit with one of them."
She relapsed into bitter silence. The bottom had dropped out of
Tessie Golden's world.
In order to understand the Tessie of today one would have to know
the Tessie of six months ago--Tessie the impudent, the life-loving.
Tessie Golden could say things to the escapement-room foreman that
anyone else would have been fired for. Her wide mouth was capable of
glorious insolences. Whenever you heard shrieks of laughter from the
girls' washroom at noon you knew that Tessie was holding forth to an
admiring group. She was a born mimic; audacious, agile, and with the
gift of burlesque. The autumn that Angie Hatton came home from Europe
wearing the first tight skirt that Chippewa had ever seen, Tessie
gave an imitation of that advanced young woman's progress down Grand
Avenue in this restricting garment. The thing was cruel in its
fidelity, though containing just enough exaggeration to make it
artistic. She followed it up by imitating the stricken look on the
face of Mattie Haynes, cloak-and-suit buyer at Megan's, who, having
just returned from the East with what she considered the most
fashionable of the new fall styles, now beheld Angie Hatton in the
garb that was the last echo of the last cry in Paris modes--and no
model in Mattie's newly selected stock bore even the remotest
resemblance to it.
You would know from this that Tessie was not a particularly deft
worker. Her big-knuckled fingers were cleverer at turning out a
blouse or retrimming a hat. Hers were what are known as handy hands,
but not sensitive. It takes a light and facile set of fingers to fit
pallet and arbor and fork together: close work and tedious. Seated on
low benches along the tables, their chins almost level with the table
top, the girls worked with pincers and flame, screwing together the
three tiny parts of the watch's anatomy that were their particular
specialty. Each wore a jeweler's glass in one eye. Tessie had worked
at the watch factory for three years, and the pressure of the glass on
the eye socket had given her the slightly hollow- eyed appearance
peculiar to experienced watchmakers. It was not unbecoming, though,
and lent her, somehow, a spiritual look which made her impudence all
the more piquant.
Tessie wasn't always witty, really. But she had achieved a
reputation for wit which insured applause for even her feebler
efforts. Nap Ballou, the foreman, never left the escapement room
without a little shiver of nervous apprehension--a feeling justified
by the ripple of suppressed laughter that went up and down the long
tables. He knew that Tessie Golden, like a naughty schoolgirl when
teacher's back is turned, had directed one of her sure shafts at him.
Ballou, his face darkling, could easily have punished her. Tessie
knew it. But he never did, or would. She knew that, too. Her very
insolence and audacity saved her.
"Someday," Ballou would warn her, "you'll get too gay, and then
you'll find yourself looking for a job."
"Go on--fire me," retorted Tessie, "and I'll meet you in
Lancaster"--a form of wit appreciated only by watchmakers. For there
is a certain type of watch hand who is as peripatetic as the old-time
printer. Restless, ne'er-do- well, spendthrift, he wanders from
factory to factory through the chain of watchmaking towns:
Springfield, Trenton, Waltham, Lancaster, Waterbury, Chippewa.
Usually expert, always unreliable, certainly fond of drink, Nap
Ballou was typical of his kind. The steady worker had a mingled
admiration and contempt for him. He, in turn, regarded the other as a
stick-in-the-mud. Nap wore his cap on one side of his curly head, and
drank so evenly and steadily as never to be quite drunk and never
strictly sober. He had slender, sensitive fingers like an artist's or
a woman's, and he knew the parts of that intricate mechanism known as
a watch from the jewel to the finishing room. It was said he had a
wife or two. He was forty- six, good-looking in a dissolute sort of
way, possessing the charm of the wanderer, generous with his money.
It was known that Tessie's barbs were permitted to prick him without
retaliation because Tessie herself appealed to his errant fancy.
When the other girls teased her about this obvious state of
affairs, something fine and contemptuous welled up in her. "Him!
Why, say, he ought to work in a pickle factory instead of a
watchworks. All he needs is a little dill and a handful of grape
leaves to make him good eatin' as a relish."
And she thought of Chuck Mory, perched on the high seat of the
American Express truck, hatless, sunburned, stockily muscular,
clattering down Winnebago Street on his way to the depot and the 7:50
Something about the clear simplicity and uprightness of the firm
little figure appealed to Nap Ballou. He used to regard her
curiously with a long, hard gaze before which she would grow
uncomfortable. "Think you'll know me next time you see me?" But
there was an uneasy feeling beneath her flip exterior. Not that there
was anything of the beautiful, persecuted factory girl and villainous
foreman about the situation. Tessie worked at watchmaking because it
was light, pleasant, and well paid. She could have found another job
for the asking. Her money went for shoes and blouses and lingerie and
silk stockings. She was forever buying a vivid necktie for her father
and dressing up her protesting mother in gay colors that went ill with
the drab, wrinkled face. "If it wasn't for me, you'd go round looking
like one of those Polack women down by the tracks," Tessie would
scold. "It's a wonder you don't wear a shawl!"
That was the Tessie of six months ago, gay, carefree, holding the
reins of her life in her own two capable hands. Three nights a week,
and Sunday, she saw Chuck Mory. When she went downtown on Saturday
night it was frankly to meet Chuck, who was waiting for her on
Schroeder's drugstore corner. He knew it, and she knew it. Yet they
always went through a little ceremony. She and Cora, turning into
Grand from Winnebago Street, would make for the post office. Then
down the length of Grand with a leaping glance at Schroeder's corner
before they reached it. Yes, there they were, very clean-shaven,
clean-shirted, slick-looking. Tessie would have known Chuck's blond
head among a thousand. An air of studied hauteur and indifference as
they approached the corner. Heads turned the other way. A low
whistle from the boys.
"Oh, how do!"
Both greetings done with careful surprise. Then on down the
street. On the way back you took the inside of the walk, and your
hauteur was now stony to the point of insult. Schroeder's corner
simply did not exist. On as far as Megan's, which you entered and
inspected, up one brightly lighted aisle and down the next. At the
dress-goods counter there was a neat little stack of pamphlets
entitled "In the World of Fashion." You took one and sauntered out
leisurely. Down Winnebago Street now, homeward bound, talking
animatedly and seemingly unconscious of quick footsteps sounding
nearer and nearer. Just past the Burke House, where the residential
district began, and where the trees cast their kindly shadows: "Can I
see you home?" A hand slipped through her arm; a little tingling
"Oh, why, how do, Chuck! Hello, Scotty. Sure, if you're going
At every turn Chuck left her side and dashed around behind her in
order to place himself at her right again, according to the rigid
rule of Chippewa etiquette. He took her arm only at street crossings
until they reached the tracks, which perilous spot seemed to justify
him in retaining his hold throughout the remainder of the stroll.
Usually they lost Cora and Scotty without having been conscious of
Their talk? The girls and boys that each knew; the day's
happenings at factory and express office; next Wednesday night's
dance up in the Chute; and always the possibility of Chuck's leaving
the truck and assuming the managership of the office.
"Don't let this go any further, see? But I heard it straight that
old Benke is going to be transferred to Fond du Lac. And if he is,
why, I step in, see? Benke's got a girl in Fondy, and he's been
pluggin' to get there. Gee, maybe I won't be glad when he does!" A
little silence. "Will you be glad, Tess? Hm?"
Tess felt herself glowing and shivering as the big hand closed
more tightly on her arm. "Me? Why, sure I'll be pleased to see you
get a job that's coming to you by rights, and that'll get you better
pay, and all."
But she knew what he meant, and he knew she knew.
No more of that now. Chuck--gone. Scotty--gone. All the boys at
the watchworks, all the fellows in the neighborhood--gone. At first
she hadn't minded. It was exciting. You kidded them at first:
"Well, believe me, Chuck, if you shoot the way you play ball, you're
a gone goon already."
"All you got to do, Scotty, is to stick that face of yours up over
the top of the trench and the Germans'll die of fright and save you
There was a great knitting of socks and sweaters and caps.
Tessie's big- knuckled, capable fingers made you dizzy, they flew so
fast. Chuck was outfitted as for a polar expedition. Tess took half
a day off to bid him good-by. They marched down Grand Avenue, that
first lot of them, in their everyday suits and hats, with their shiny
yellow suitcases and their pasteboard boxes in their hands, sheepish,
red-faced, awkward. In their eyes, though, a certain look. And so
off for Camp Sherman, their young heads sticking out of the car
windows in clusters--black, yellow, brown, red. But for each woman on
the depot platform there was just one head. Tessie saw a blurred
blond one with a misty halo around it. A great shouting and waving of
"Good-by! Good-by! Write, now! Be sure! Mebbe you can get off
in a week, for a visit. Good-by! Good----"
They were gone. Their voices came back to the crowd on the depot
platform-- high, clear young voices; almost like the voices of
Well, you wrote letters--fat, bulging letters--and in turn you
received equally plump envelopes with a red emblem in one corner.
You sent boxes of homemade fudge (nut variety) and cookies and the
more durable forms of cake.
Then, unaccountably, Chuck was whisked all the way to California.
He was furious at parting with his mates, and his indignation was
expressed in his letters to Tessie. She sympathized with him in her
replies. She tried to make light of it, but there was a little clutch
of terror in it, too. California! Might as well send a person to the
end of the world while they were about it. Two months of that. Then,
inexplicably again, Chuck's letters bore the astounding postmark of
New York. She thought, in a panic, that he was Franceward bound, but
it turned out not to be so. Not yet. Chuck's letters were taking on
a cosmopolitan tone. "Well," he wrote, "I guess the little old town
is as dead as ever. It seems funny you being right there all this
time and I've traveled from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Everybody
treats me swell. You ought to seen some of those California houses.
They make Hatton's place look like a dump."
The girls, Cora and Tess and the rest, laughed and joked among
themselves and assured one another, with a toss of the head, that
they could have a good time without the fellas. They didn't need
They gave parties, and they were not a success. There was one of
the type known as a stag. "Some hen party!" they all said. They
danced, and sang "Over There." They had ice cream and chocolate layer
cake and went home in great hilarity, with their hands on each other's
shoulders, still singing.
But the thing was a failure, and they knew it. Next day, at the
lunch hour and in the washroom, there was a little desultory talk
about the stag. But the meat of such an aftergathering is contained
in phrases such as "I says to him"--and "He says to me." They wasted
little conversation on the stag. It was much more exciting to exhibit
letters on blue-lined paper with the red emblem at the top. Chuck's
last letter had contained the news of his sergeancy.
Angie Hatton, home from the East, was writing letters, too.
Everyone in Chippewa knew that. She wrote on that new art paper with
the gnawed- looking edges and stiff as a newly laundered cuff. But
the letters which she awaited so eagerly were written on the same sort
of paper as were those Tessie had from Chuck--blue-lined, cheap in
quality. A New York fellow, Chippewa learned; an aviator. They knew,
too, that young Hatton was an infantry lieutenant somewhere in the
East. These letters were not from him.
Ever since her home-coming, Angie had been sewing at the Red Cross
shop on Grand Avenue. Chippewa boasted two Red Cross shops. The
Grand Avenue shop was the society shop. The East End crowd sewed
there, capped, veiled, aproned--and unapproachable. Were your fingers
ever so deft, your knowledge of seams and basting mathematical, your
skill with that complicated garment known as a pneumonia jacket
uncanny, if you did not belong to the East End set, you did not sew at
the Grand Avenue shop. No matter how grossly red the blood which the
Grand Avenue bandages and pads were ultimately to stanch, the liquid
in the fingers that rolled and folded them was pure cerulean.
Tessie and her crowd had never thought of giving any such service
to their country. They spoke of the Grand Avenue workers as "that
stinkin' bunch." Yet each one of the girls was capable of starting a
blouse in an emergency on Saturday night and finishing it in time for
a Sunday picnic, buttonholes and all. Their help might have been
invaluable. It never was asked.
Without warning, Chuck came home on three days' furlough. It
meant that he was bound for France right enough this time. But
Tessie didn't care.
"I don't care where you're goin'," she said exultantly, her eyes
lingering on the stocky, straight, powerful figure in its rather
ill-fitting khaki. "You're here now. That's enough. Ain't you
tickled to be home, Chuck? Gee!" `
`I'll say," responded Chuck. But even he seemed to detect some
lack in his tone and words. He elaborated somewhat shamefacedly:
"Sure. It's swell to be home. But I don't know. After you've
traveled around, and come back, things look so kind of little to you.
I don't know--kind of----" He floundered about, at a loss for
expression. Then tried again: "Now, take Hatton's place, for
example. I always used to think it was a regular palace, but, gosh,
you ought to see places where I was asked to in San Francisco and
around there. Why, they was--were--enough to make the Hatton house
look like a shack. Swimmin' pools of white marble, and acres of yard
like a park, and the help always bringing you something to eat or
drink. And the folks themselves--why, say! Here we are scraping and
bowing to Hattons and that bunch. They're pikers to what some people
are that invited me to their houses in New York and Berkeley, and
treated me and the other guys like kings or something. Take Megan's
store, too"--he was warming to his subject, so that he failed to
notice the darkening of Tessie's face--"it's a joke compared to New
York and San Francisco stores. Reg'lar hick joint."
Tessie stiffened. Her teeth were set, her eyes sparkled. She
tossed her head. "Well, I'm sure, Mr. Mory, it's good enough for me.
Too bad you had to come home at all now you're so elegant and swell,
and everything. You better go call on Angie Hatton instead of wasting
time on me. She'd probably be tickled to see you."
He stumbled to his feet, then, awkwardly. "Aw, say, Tessie, I
didn't mean--why, say--you don't suppose--why, believe me, I pretty
near busted out cryin' when I saw the Junction eatin' house when my
train came in. And I been thinking of you every minute. There wasn't
"Tell that to your swell New York friends. I may be a hick but I
ain't a fool." She was near to tears.
"Why, say, Tess, listen! Listen! If you knew--if you knew--A
guy's got to--he's got no right to----"
And presently Tessie was mollified, but only on the surface. She
smiled and glanced and teased and sparkled. And beneath was terror.
He talked differently. He walked differently. It wasn't his clothes
or the army. It was something else--an ease of manner, a new
leisureliness of glance, an air. Once Tessie had gone to Milwaukee
over Labor Day. It was the extent of her experience as a traveler.
She remembered how superior she had felt for at least two days after.
But Chuck! California! New York! It wasn't the distance that
terrified her. It was his new knowledge, the broadening of his
vision, though she did not know it and certainly could not have put it
They went walking down by the river to Oneida Springs, and drank
some of the sulphur water that tasted like rotten eggs. Tessie drank
it with little shrieks and shudders and puckered her face up into an
expression indicative of extreme disgust.
"It's good for you," Chuck said, and drank three cups of it,
manfully. "That taste is the mineral qualities the water
contains--sulphur and iron and so forth."
"I don't care," snapped Tessie irritably. "I hate it!" They had
often walked along the river and tasted of the spring water, but Chuck
had never before waxed scientific. They took a boat at Baumann's
boathouse and drifted down the lovely Fox River.
"Want to row?" Chuck asked. "I'll get an extra pair of oars if
"I don't know how. Besides, it's too much work. I guess I'll let
you do it."
Chuck was fitting his oars in the oarlocks. She stood on the
landing looking down at him. His hat was off. His hair seemed
blonder than ever against the rich tan of his face. His neck muscles
swelled a little as he bent. Tessie felt a great longing to bury her
face in the warm red skin. He straightened with a sigh and smiled at
her. "I'll be ready in a minute." He took off his coat and turned
his khaki shirt in at the throat, so that you saw the white line of
his untanned chest in strange contrast to his sun- burned throat. A
feeling of giddy faintness surged over Tessie. She stepped blindly
into the boat and would have fallen if Chuck's hard, firm grip had not
steadied her. "Whoa, there! Don't you know how to step into a boat?
There. Walk along the middle."
She sat down and smiled up at him. "I don't know how I come to do
that. I never did before."
Chuck braced his feet, rolled up his sleeves, and took an oar in
each brown hand, bending rhythmically to his task. He looked about
him, then at the girl, and drew a deep breath, feathering his oars.
"I guess I must have dreamed about this more'n a million times."
"Have you, Chuck?"
They drifted on in silence. "Say, Tess, you ought to learn to
row. It's good exercise. Those girls in California and New York,
they play tennis and row and swim as good as the boys. Honest, some of
'em are wonders!"
Oh, I'm sick of your swell New York friends! Can't you talk about
He saw that he had blundered without in the least understanding
how or why. "All right. What'll we talk about?" In itself a fatal
"About--you." Tessie made it a caress.
"Me? Nothin' to tell about me. I just been drillin' and studyin'
and marchin' and readin' some---- Oh, say, what d'you think?"
"They been learnin' us--teachin' us, I mean--French. It's the
darnedest language! Bread is pain. Can you beat that? If you want
to ask for a piece of bread, you say like this: DONNAY MA UN MORSO
DOO PANG. See?"
"My!" breathed Tessie.
And within her something was screaming: Oh, my God! Oh, my God!
He knows French. And those girls that can row and swim and
everything. And me, I don't know anything. Oh, God, what'll I do?
It was as though she could see him slipping away from her, out of
her grasp, out of her sight. She had no fear of what might come to
him in France. Bullets and bayonets would never hurt Chuck. He'd make
it, just as he always made the 7:50 when it seemed as if he was going
to miss it sure. He'd make it there and back, all right. But he'd be
a different Chuck, while she stayed the same Tessie. Books, travel,
French, girls, swell folks----
And all the while she was smiling and dimpling and trailing her
hand in the water. "Bet you can't guess what I got in that lunch
"Well, of course I've got chocolate cake. I baked it myself this
"Yes, you did!" "Why, Chuck Mory, I did so! I guess you think I
can't do anything, the way you talk."
"Oh, don't I! I guess you know what I think."
"Well, it isn't the cake I mean. It's something else."
"Oh, now you've gone and guessed it." She pouted prettily.
"You asked me to, didn't you?"
Then they laughed together, as at something exquisitely witty.
Down the river, drifting, rowing. Tessie pointed to a house half
hidden among the trees on the farther shore: "There's Hatton's camp.
They say they have grand times there with their swell crowd some
Saturdays and Sundays. If I had a house like that, I'd live in it all
the time, not just a couple of days out of the whole year." She
hesitated a moment. "I suppose it looks like a shanty to you now."
Chuck surveyed it, patronizingly. "No, it's a nice little place."
They beached their boat, and built a little fire, and had supper
on the riverbank, and Tessie picked out the choice bits for him--the
breast of the chicken, beautifully golden brown; the ripest tomato;
the firmest, juiciest pickle; the corner of the little cake which
would give him a double share of icing.
From Chuck, between mouthfuls: "I guess you don't know how good
this tastes. Camp grub's all right, but after you've had a few
months of it you get so you don't believe there IS such a thing as
real fried chicken and homemade chocolate cake."
"I'm glad you like it, Chuck. Here, take this drumstick. You
ain't eating a thing!" His fourth piece of chicken.
Down the river as far as the danger line just above the dam, with
Tessie pretending fear just for the joy of having Chuck reassure her.
Then back again in the dusk, Chuck bending to the task now against
the current. And so up the hill, homeward bound. They walked very
slowly, Chuck's hand on her arm. They were dumb with the tragic,
eloquent dumbness of their kind. If she could have spoken the words
that were churning in her mind, they would have been something like
"Oh, Chuck, I wish I was married to you. I wouldn't care if only
I had you. I wouldn't mind babies or anything. I'd be glad. I want
our house, with a dining-room set, and a mahogany bed, and one of
those overstuffed sets in the living room, and all the housework to
do. I'm scared. I'm scared I won't get it.
What'll I do if I don't?"
And he, wordlessly: "Will you wait for me, Tessie, and keep on
thinking about me? And will you keep yourself like you are so that
if I come back----"
Aloud, she said: "I guess you'll get stuck on one of those French
girls. I should worry! They say wages at the watch factory are going
to be raised, workers are so scarce. I'll probably be as rich as
Angie Hatton time you get back."
And he, miserably: "Little old Chippewa girls are good enough for
Chuck. I ain't counting on taking up with those Frenchies. I don't
like their jabber, from what I know of it. I saw some pictures of
'em, last week, a fellow in camp had who'd been over there. Their
hair is all funny, and fixed up with combs and stuff, and they look
real dark like foreigners."
It had been reassuring enough at the time. But that was six
months ago. And now here was the Tessie who sat on the back porch,
evenings, surveying the sunset. A listless, lackadaisical, brooding
Tessie. Little point to going downtown Saturday nights now. There
was no familiar, beloved figure to follow you swiftly as you turned
off Elm Street, homeward bound. If she went downtown now, she saw only
those Saturday-night family groups which are familiar to every small
town. The husband, very damp as to hair and clean as to shirt,
guarding the gocart outside while the woman accomplished her
Saturday-night trading at Ding's or Halpin's. Sometimes there were as
many as half a dozen gocarts outside Halpin's, each containing a
sleeping burden, relaxed, chubby, fat-cheeked. The waiting men smoked
their pipes and conversed largely. "Hello, Ed. The woman's inside,
buyin' the store out, I guess."
"That so? Mine, to. Well, how's everything?"
Tessie knew that presently the woman would come out, bundle laden,
and that she would stow these lesser bundles in every corner left
available by the more important sleeping bundle--two yards of
oilcloth; a spool of 100, white; a banana for the baby; a new stewpan
at the five-and-ten.
There had been a time when Tessie, if she thought of these women
at all, felt sorry for them--worn, drab, lacking in style and figure.
Now she envied them.
There were weeks upon weeks when no letter came from Chuck. In
his last letter there had been some talk of his being sent to Russia.
Tessie's eyes, large enough now in her thin face, distended with a
great fear. Russia! His letter spoke, too, of French villages and
chateaux. He and a bunch of fellows had been introduced to a princess
or a countess or something--it was all one to Tessie--and what do you
think? She had kissed them all on both cheeks! Seems that's the way
they did in France.
The morning after the receipt of this letter the girls at the
watch factory might have remarked her pallor had they not been so
occupied with a new and more absorbing topic.
"Tess, did you hear about Angie Hatton?"
"What about her?"
"She's going to France. It's in the Milwaukee paper, all about
her being Chippewa's fairest daughter, and a picture of the house,
and her being the belle of the Fox River Valley, and she's giving up
her palatial home and all to go to work in a canteen for her country
and bleeding France."
"Ya-as she is!" sneered Tessie, and a dull red flush, so deep as
to be painful, swept over her face from throat to brow. "Ya-as she is,
the doll-faced simp! Why, say, she never wiped up a floor in her
life, or baked a cake, or stood on them feet of hers. She couldn't
cut up a loaf of bread decent. Bleeding France! Ha! That's rich,
that is." She thrust her chin out brutally, and her eyes narrowed to
slits. "She's going over there after that fella of hers. She's
chasing him. It's now or never, and she knows it and she's scared,
same's the rest of us. On'y we got to set home and make the best of
it. Or take what's left." She turned her head slowly to where Nap
Ballou stood over a table at the far end of the room. She laughed a
grim, un- lovely little laugh. "I guess when you can't go after what
you want, like Angie, why you gotta take second choice."
All that day, at the bench, she was the reckless, insolent,
audacious Tessie of six months ago. Nap Ballou was always standing
over her, pretending to inspect some bit of work or other, his
shoulder brushing hers. She laughed up at him so that her face was
not more than two inches from his. He flushed, but she did not. She
laughed a reckless little laugh.
"Thanks for helping teach me my trade, Mr. Ballou. 'Course I only
been at it over three years now, so I ain't got the hang of it yet."
He straightened up slowly, and as he did so he rested a hand on
her shoulder for a brief moment. She did not shrug it off.
That night, after supper, Tessie put on her hat and strolled down
to Park Avenue. It wasn't for the walk. Tessie had never been told
to exercise systematically for her body's good, or her mind's. She
went in a spirit of unwholesome brooding curiosity and a bitter
resentment. Going to France, was she? Lots of good she'd do there.
Better stay home and--and what? Tessie cast about in her mind for a
fitting job for Angie. Guess she might's well go, after all.
Nobody'd miss her, unless it was her father, and he didn't see her
but about a third of the time. But in Tessie's heart was a great envy
of this girl who could bridge the hideous waste of ocean that
separated her from her man. Bleeding France. Yeh! Joke!
The Hatton place, built and landscaped twenty years before,
occupied a square block in solitary grandeur, the show place of
Chippewa. In architectural style it was an impartial mixture of
Norman castle, French chateau, and Rhenish schloss, with a dash of
Coney Island about its facade. It represented Old Man Hatton's
realized dream of landed magnificence.
Tessie, walking slowly past it, and peering through the high iron
fence, could not help noting an air of unwonted excitement about the
place, usually so aloof, so coldly serene. Automobiles standing out
in front. People going up and down. They didn't look very cheerful.
Just as if it mattered whether anything happened to her or not!
Tessie walked around the block and stood a moment, uncertainly.
Then she struck off down Grand Avenue and past Donovan's pool shack.
A little group of after-supper idlers stood outside, smoking and
gossiping, as she knew there would be. As she turned the corner she
saw Nap Ballou among them. She had known that, too. As she passed
she looked straight ahead, without bowing. But just past the Burke
House he caught up with her. No half-shy "Can I walk home with you?"
from Nap Ballou. No. Instead: "Hello, sweetheart!"
"Somebody's looking mighty pretty this evening, all dolled up in
"Think so?" She tried to be pertly indifferent, but it was good
to have someone following, someone walking home with you. What if he
was old enough to be her father, with graying hair? Lots of the movie
heroes had graying hair at the sides.
They walked for an hour. Tessie left him at the corner. She had
once heard her father designate Ballou as "that drunken skunk." When
she entered the sitting room her cheeks held an unwonted pink. Her
eyes were brighter than they had been in months. Her mother looked up
quickly, peering at her over a pair of steel-rimmed spectacles, very
"Where you been, Tessie?"
"Why, she was here, callin' for you, not more'n an hour ago."
Tessie, taking off her hat on her way upstairs, met this coolly.
"Yeh, I ran into her comin' back."
Upstairs, lying fully dressed on her hard little bed, she stared
up into the darkness, thinking, her hands limp at her sides. Oh,
well, what's the diff? You had to make the best of it. Everybody
makin' a fuss about the soldiers--feeding 'em, and asking 'em to their
houses, and sending 'em things, and giving dances and picnics and
parties so they wouldn't be lonesome. Chuck had told her all about it.
The other boys told the same. They could just pick and choose their
good times. Tessie's mind groped about, sensing a certain injustice.
How about the girls? She didn't put it thus squarely. Hers was not a
logical mind. Easy enough to paw over the men- folks and get silly
over brass buttons and a uniform. She put it that way. She thought
of the refrain of a popular song: "What Are You Going to Do to Help
the Boys?" Tessie, smiling a crooked little smile up there in the
darkness, parodied the words deftly: "What're you going to do to help
the girls?" she demanded. "What're you going to do----" She rolled
over on one side and buried her head in her arms.
There was news again next morning at the watch factory. Tessie of
the old days had never needed to depend on the other girls for the
latest bit of gossip. Her alert eye and quick ear had always caught
it first. But of late she had led a cloistered existence, indifferent
to the world about her. The Chippewa Courier went into the newpaper
pile behind the kitchen door without a glance from Tessie's incurious
She was late this morning. As she sat down at the bench and
fitted her glass in her eye, the chatter of the others, pitched in
the high key of unusual excitement, penetrated even her listlessness.
"And they say she never screeched or fainted or anything. She
stood there, kind of quiet, looking straight ahead, and then all of a
sudden she ran to her pa----"
"I feel sorry for her. She never did anything to me. She----"
Tessie spoke, her voice penetrating the staccato fragments all
about her and gathering them into a whole. "Say, who's the heroine
of this picture? I come in in the middle of the film, I guess."
They turned on her with the unlovely eagerness of those who have
ugly news to tell. They all spoke at once, in short sentences, their
voices high with the note of hysteria.
"Angie Hatton's beau was killed----"
"They say his airyoplane fell ten thousand feet----"
"The news come only last evening about eight----"
"She won't see nobody but her pa----"
Eight! At eight Tessie had been standing outside Hatton's house,
envying Angie and hating her. So that explained the people, and the
automobiles, and the excitement. Tessie was not receiving the news
with the dramatic reaction which its purveyors felt it deserved.
Tessie, turning from one to the other quietly, had said nothing. She
was pitying Angie. Oh, the luxury of it! Nap Ballou, coming in
swiftly to still the unwonted commotion in work hours, found Tessie
the only one quietly occupied in that chatter-filled room. She was
smiling as she worked. Nap Ballou, bending over her on some pretense
that deceived no one, spoke low-voiced in her ear. But she veiled her
eyes insolently and did not glance up. She hummed contentedly all the
morning at her tedious work.
She had promised Nap Ballou to go picknicking with him Sunday.
Down the river, boating, with supper on shore. The small, still
voice within her had said, "Don't go! Don't go!" But the harsh,
high-pitched, reckless overtone said, "Go on! Have a good time. Take
all you can get."
She would have to lie at home and she did it. Some fabrication
about the girls at the watchworks did the trick. Fried chicken,
chocolate cake. She packed them deftly and daintily. High-heeled
shoes, flimsy blouse, rustling skirt. Nap Ballou was waiting for her
over in the city park. She saw him before he espied her. He was
leaning against a tree, idly, staring straight ahead with queer,
lackluster eyes. Silhouetted there against the tender green of the
pretty square, he looked very old, somehow, and different-- much older
than he looked in his shop clothes, issuing orders. Tessie noticed
that he sagged where he should have stuck out, and protruded where he
should have been flat. There flashed across her mind a vividly clear
picture of Chuck as she had last seen him--brown, fit, high of chest,
flat of stomach, slim of flank.
Ballou saw her. He straightened and came toward her swiftly.
"Somebody looks mighty sweet this afternoon."
Tessie plumped the heavy lunch box into his arms. "When you get a
line you like you stick to it, don't you?"
Down at the boathouse even Tessie, who had confessed ignorance of
boats and oars, knew that Ballou was fumbling clumsily. He stooped
to adjust the oars to the oarlocks. His hat was off. His hair looked
very gray in the cruel spring sunshine. He straightened and smiled up
"Ready in a minute, sweetheart," he said. He took off his collar
and turned in the neckband of his shirt. His skin was very white.
Tessie felt a little shudder of disgust sweep over her, so that she
stumbled a little as she stepped into the boat.
The river was very lovely. Tessie trailed her fingers in the
water and told herself that she was having a grand time. She told
Nap the same when he asked her.
"Having a good time, little beauty?" he said. He was puffing a
little with the unwonted exercise.
Tessie tried some of her old-time pertness of speech. "Oh, good
enough, considering the company."
He laughed admiringly at that and said she was a sketch.
When the early evening came on they made a clumsy landing and had
supper. This time Nap fed her the tidbits, though she protested.
"White meat for you," he said, "with your skin like milk."
"You must of read that in a book," scoffed Tessie. She glanced
around her at the deepening shadows. "We haven't got much time.
It gets dark so early."
"No hurry," Nap assured her. He went on eating in a leisurely,
finicking sort of way, though he consumed very little food, actually.
"You're not eating much," Tessie said once, halfheartedly. She
decided that she wasn't having such a very grand time, after all, and
that she hated his teeth, which were very bad. Now, Chuck's strong,
white, double row----
"Well," she said, "let's be going."
"No hurry," again.
Tessie looked up at that with the instinctive fear of her kind.
"What d'you mean, no hurry! 'Spect to stay here till dark?" She
laughed at her own joke.
She got up then, the blood in her face. "Well, _I_ don't."
He rose, too. "Why not?"
"Because I don't, that's why." She stooped and began picking up
the remnants of the lunch, placing spoons and glass bottles swiftly
and thriftily into the lunch box. Nap stepped around behind her.
"Let me help," he said. And then his arm was about her and his
face was close to hers, and Tessie did not like it. He kissed her
after a little wordless struggle. And then she knew. She had been
kissed before. But not like this. Not like this! She struck at him
furiously. Across her mind flashed the memory of a girl who had
worked in the finishing room. A nice girl, too. But that hadn't
helped her. Nap Ballou was laughing a little as he clasped her.
At that she heard herself saying: "I'll get Chuck Mory after
you--you drunken bum, you! He'll lick you black and blue. He'll----"
The face, with the ugly, broken brown teeth, was coming close
again. With all the young strength that was in her she freed one
hand and clawed at that face from eyes to chin. A howl of pain
rewarded her. His hold loosened. Like a flash she was off. She
ran. It seemed to her that her feet did not touch the earth. Over
brush, through bushes, crashing against trees, on and on. She heard
him following her, but the broken-down engine that was his heart
refused to do the work. She ran on, though her fear was as great as
before. Fear of what might have happened--to her, Tessie Golden, that
nobody could even talk fresh to. She gave a sob of fury and fatigue.
She was stumbling now. It was growing dark. She ran on again, in
fear of the overtaking darkness. It was easier now. Not so many
trees and bushes. She came to a fence, climbed over it, lurched as
she landed, leaned against it weakly for support, one hand on her
aching heart. Before her was the Hatton summer cottage, dimly outlined
in the twilight among the trees.
A warm, flickering light danced in the window. Tessie stood a
moment, breathing painfully, sobbingly. Then, with an instinctive
gesture, she patted her hair, tidied her blouse, and walked
uncertainly toward the house, up the steps to the door. She stood
there a moment, swaying slightly. Somebody'd be there.
The light. The woman who cooked for them or the man who took care
of the place. Somebody'd----
She knocked at the door feebly. She'd tell 'em she had lost her
way and got scared when it began to get dark. She knocked again,
louder now. Footsteps. She braced herself and even arranged a
crooked smile. The door opened wide. Old Man Hatton!
She looked up at him, terror and relief in her face. He peered
over his glasses at her. "Who is it?" Tessie had not known,
somehow, that his face was so kindly.
Tessie's carefully planned story crumbled into nothingness. "It's
me!" she whimpered. "It's me!"
He reached out and put a hand on her arm and drew her inside.
"Angie! Angie! Here's a poor little kid----"
Tessie clutched frantically at the last crumbs of her pride. She
tried to straighten, to smile with her old bravado. What was that
story she had planned to tell?
"Who is it, Dad? Who----?" Angie Hatton came into the hallway.
She stared at Tessie. Then: "Why, my dear!" she said. "My dear!
Come in here."
Angie Hatton! Tessie began to cry weakly, her face buried in
Angie Hatton's expensive shoulder. Tessie remembered later that she
had felt no surprise at the act.
"There, there!" Angie Hatton was saying. "Just poke up the fire,
Dad. And get something from the dining room. Oh, I don't know. To
drink, you know. Something----"
Then Old Man Hatton stood over her, holding a small glass to her
lips. Tessie drank it obediently, made a wry little face, coughed,
wiped her eyes, and sat up. She looked from one to the other, like a
trapped little animal. She put a hand to her tousled head.
"That's all right," Angie Hatton assured her. "You can fix it
after a while."
There they were, the three of them: Old Man Hatton with his back
to the fire, looking benignly down upon her; Angie seated, with some
knitting in her hands, as if entertaining bedraggled, tear-stained
young ladies at dusk were an everyday occurrence; Tessie, twisting her
handkerchief in a torment of embarrassment. But they asked no
questions, these two. They evinced no curiosity about this disheveled
creature who had flung herself in upon their decent solitude.
Tessie stared at the fire. She looked up at Old Man Hatton's face
and opened her lips. She looked down and shut them again. Then she
flashed a quick look at Angie, to see if she could detect there some
suspicion, some disdain. None. Angie Hatton looked--well, Tessie put
it to herself, thus: "She looks like she'd cried till she couldn't
cry no more--only inside."
And then, surprisingly, Tessie began to talk. "I wouldn't never
have gone with this fella, only Chuck, he was gone. All the boys're
gone. It's fierce. You get scared, sitting home, waiting, and
they're in France and everywhere, learning French and everything, and
meeting grand people and having a fuss made over 'em. So I got mad
and said I didn't care, I wasn't going to squat home all my life,
Angie Hatton had stopped knitting now. Old Man Hatton was looking
down at her very kindly. And so Tessie went on. The pent-up emotions
and thoughts of these past months were finding an outlet at last.
These things which she had never been able to discuss with her mother
she now was laying bare to Angie Hatton and Old Man Hatton! They
asked no questions. They seemed to understand. Once Old Man Hatton
interrupted with: "So that's the kind of fellow they've got as
escapement-room foreman, eh?"
Tessie, whose mind was working very clearly now, put out a quick
hand. "Say, it wasn't his fault. He's a bum, all right, but I knew
it, didn't I? It was me. I didn't care. Seemed to me it didn't make
no difference who I went with, but it does." She looked down at her
hands clasped so tightly in her lap.
"Yes, it makes a whole lot of difference," Angie agreed, and
looked up at her father.
At that Tessie blurted her last desperate problem: "He's learning
all kind of new things. Me, I ain't learning anything. When Chuck
comes home he'll just think I'm dumb, that's all. He----"
"What kind of thing would you like to learn, Tessie, so that when
Chuck comes home----"
Tessie looked up then, her wide mouth quivering with eagerness.
"I'd like to learn to swim--and row a boat--and play tennis--like the
rich girls-- like the girls that's making such a fuss over the
Angie Hatton was not laughing. So, after a moment's hesitation,
Tessie brought out the worst of it. "And French. I'd like to learn
to talk French."
Old Man Hatton had been surveying his shoes, his mouth grim. He
looked at Angie now and smiled a little. "Well, Angie, it looks as
if you'd found your job right here at home, doesn't it? This young
lady's just one of hundreds, I suppose. Thousands. You can have the
whole house for them, if you want it, Angie, and the grounds, and all
the money you need. I guess we've kind of overlooked the girls. Hm,
Angie? What d'you say?"
But Tessie was not listening. She had scarcely heard. Her face
was white with earnestness.
"Can you speak French?"
"Yes," Angie answered.
"Well," said Tessie, and gulped once, "well, how do you say in
French: `Give me a piece of bread'? That's what I want to learn
Angie Hatton said it correctly.
"That's it! Wait a minute! Say it again, will you?"
Angie said it again, Tessie wet her lips. Her cheeks were
smeared with tears and dirt. Her hair was wild and her blouse awry.
"DONNAY-MA-UN-MORSO-DOO-PANG," she articulated painfully. And in
that moment, as she put her hand in that of Chuck Mory, across the
ocean, her face was very beautiful with contentment.