Buttered Side Down
Part 1 out of 3
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BUTTERED SIDE DOWN
"And so," the story writers used to say, "they lived happily
Um-m-m--maybe. After the glamour had worn off, and the glass
slippers were worn out, did the Prince never find Cinderella's
manner redolent of the kitchen hearth; and was it never necessary
that he remind her to be more careful of her finger-nails and
grammar? After Puss in Boots had won wealth and a wife for his
young master did not that gentleman often fume with chagrin because
the neighbors, perhaps, refused to call on the lady of the former
poor miller's son?
It is a great risk to take with one's book-children. These
stories make no such promises. They stop just short of the phrase
of the old story writers, and end truthfully, thus: And so they
I. THE FROG AND THE PUDDLE
II. THE MAN WHO CAME BACK
III. WHAT SHE WORE
IV. A BUSH LEAGUE HERO
V. THE KITCHEN SIDE OF THE DOOR
VI. ONE OF THE OLD GIRLS
VI. MAYMEYS FROM CUBA
VIII. THE LEADING LADY
IX. THAT HOME-TOWN FEELING
X. THE HOMELY HEROINE
XI. SUN DRIED
XII. WHERE THE CAR TURNS AT 18TH
BUTTERED SIDE DOWN
THE FROG AND THE PUDDLE
Any one who has ever written for the magazines (nobody could
devise a more sweeping opening; it includes the iceman who does a
humorous article on the subject of his troubles, and the neglected
wife next door, who journalizes) knows that a story the scene of
which is not New York is merely junk. Take Fifth Avenue as a
framework, pad it out to five thousand words, and there you have
the ideal short story.
Consequently I feel a certain timidity in confessing that I do
not know Fifth Avenue from Hester Street when I see it, because
I've never seen it. It has been said that from the latter to the
former is a ten-year journey, from which I have gathered that they
lie some miles apart. As for Forty-second Street, of which musical
comedians carol, I know not if it be a fashionable shopping
thoroughfare or a factory district.
A confession of this kind is not only good for the soul, but
for the editor. It saves him the trouble of turning to page two.
This is a story of Chicago, which is a first cousin of New
York, although the two are not on chummy terms. It is a story of
that part of Chicago which lies east of Dearborn Avenue and south
of Division Street, and which may be called the Nottingham curtain
In the Nottingham curtain district every front parlor window
is embellished with a "Rooms With or Without Board" sign. The
curtains themselves have mellowed from their original
department-store-basement-white to a rich, deep tone of Chicago
smoke, which has the notorious London variety beaten by several
shades. Block after block the two-story-and-basement houses
stretch, all grimy and gritty and looking sadly down upon the five
square feet of mangy grass forming the pitiful front yard of each.
Now and then the monotonous line of front stoops is broken by an
outjutting basement delicatessen shop. But not often. The
Nottingham curtain district does not run heavily to delicacies. It
is stronger on creamed cabbage and bread pudding.
Up in the third floor back at Mis' Buck's (elegant rooms $2.50
and up a week. Gents preferred) Gertie was brushing her hair for
the night. One hundred strokes with a bristle brush. Anyone who
reads the beauty column in the newspapers knows that. There was
something heroic in the sight of Gertie brushing her hair one
hundred strokes before going to bed at night. Only a woman could
understand her doing it.
Gertie clerked downtown on State Street, in a gents' glove
department. A gents' glove department requires careful dressing on
the part of its clerks, and the manager, in selecting them, is
particular about choosing "lookers," with especial attention to
figure, hair, and finger nails. Gertie was a looker. Providence
had taken care of that. But you cannot leave your hair and finger
nails to Providence. They demand coaxing with a bristle brush and
an orangewood stick.
Now clerking, as Gertie would tell you, is fierce on the feet.
And when your feet are tired you are tired all over. Gertie's feet
were tired every night. About eight-thirty she longed to peel off
her clothes, drop them in a heap on the floor, and tumble,
unbrushed, unwashed, unmanicured, into bed. She never did it.
Things had been particularly trying to-night. After washing
out three handkerchiefs and pasting them with practised hand over
the mirror, Gertie had taken off her shoes and discovered a hole
the size of a silver quarter in the heel of her left stocking.
Gertie had a country-bred horror of holey stockings. She darned
the hole, yawning, her aching feet pressed against the smooth, cool
leg of the iron bed. That done, she had had the colossal courage
to wash her face, slap cold cream on it, and push back the cuticle
around her nails.
Seated huddled on the side of her thin little iron bed, Gertie
was brushing her hair bravely, counting the strokes somewhere in
her sub-conscious mind and thinking busily all the while of
something else. Her brush rose, fell, swept downward, rose, fell,
"Ninety-six, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety -- Oh, darn
it! What's the use!" cried Gertie, and hurled the brush across the
room with a crack.
She sat looking after it with wide, staring eyes until the
brush blurred in with the faded red roses on the carpet. When she
found it doing that she got up, wadded her hair viciously into a
hard bun in the back instead of braiding it carefully as usual,
crossed the room (it wasn't much of a trip), picked up the brush,
and stood looking down at it, her under lip caught between her
teeth. That is the humiliating part of losing your temper and
throwing things. You have to come down to picking them up, anyway.
Her lip still held prisoner, Gertie tossed the brush on the
bureau, fastened her nightgown at the throat with a safety pin,
turned out the gas and crawled into bed.
Perhaps the hard bun at the back of her head kept her awake.
She lay there with her eyes wide open and sleepless, staring into
At midnight the Kid Next Door came in whistling, like one
unused to boarding-house rules. Gertie liked him for that. At the
head of the stairs he stopped whistling and came softly into his
own third floor back just next to Gertie's. Gertie liked him for
The two rooms had been one in the fashionable days of the
Nottingham curtain district, long before the advent of Mis' Buck.
That thrifty lady, on coming into possession, had caused a flimsy
partition to be run up, slicing the room in twain and doubling its
Lying there Gertie could hear the Kid Next Door moving about
getting ready for bed and humming "Every Little Movement Has a
Meaning of Its Own" very lightly, under his breath. He polished
his shoes briskly, and Gertie smiled there in the darkness of her
own room in sympathy. Poor kid, he had his beauty struggles, too.
Gertie had never seen the Kid Next Door, although he had come
four months ago. But she knew he wasn't a grouch, because he
alternately whistled and sang off-key tenor while dressing in the
morning. She had also discovered that his bed must run along the
same wall against which her bed was pushed. Gertie told herself
that there was something almost immodest about being able to hear
him breathing as he slept. He had tumbled into bed with a little
grunt of weariness.
Gertie lay there another hour, staring into the darkness.
Then she began to cry softly, lying on her face with her head
between her arms. The cold cream and the salt tears mingled and
formed a slippery paste. Gertie wept on because she couldn't help
it. The longer she wept the more difficult her sobs became, until
finally they bordered on the hysterical. They filled her lungs
until they ached and reached her throat with a force that jerked
her head back.
"Rap-rap-rap!" sounded sharply from the head of her bed.
Gertie stopped sobbing, and her heart stopped ,beating. She
lay tense and still, listening. Everyone knows that spooks rap
three times at the head of one's bed. It's a regular high-sign
Gertie's skin became goose-flesh, and coldwater effects chased
up and down her spine.
"What's your trouble in there?" demanded an unspooky voice so
near that Gertie jumped. "Sick?"
It was the Kid Next Door.
"N-no, I'm not sick," faltered Gertie, her mouth close to the
wall. Just then a belated sob that had stopped halfway when the
raps began hustled on to join its sisters. It took Gertie by
surprise, and brought prompt response from the other side of the
"I'll bet I scared you green. I didn't mean to, but, on the
square, if you're feeling sick, a little nip of brandy will set you
up. Excuse my mentioning it, girlie, but I'd do the same for my
sister. I hate like sin to hear a woman suffer like that, and,
anyway, I don't know whether you're fourteen or forty, so
it's perfectly respectable. I'll get the bottle and leave it
outside your door."
"No you don't!" answered Gertie in a hollow voice, praying
meanwhile that the woman in the room below might be sleeping. "I'm
not sick, honestly I'm not. I'm just as much obliged, and I'm dead
sorry I woke you up with my blubbering. I started out with the
soft pedal on, but things got away from me. Can you hear me?"
"Like a phonograph. Sure you couldn't use a sip of brandy
where it'd do the most good?"
"Well, then, cut out the weeps and get your beauty sleep, kid.
He ain't worth sobbing over, anyway, believe me."
"He!" snorted Gertie indignantly. "You're cold. There never
was anything in peg-tops that could make me carry on like the
heroine of the Elsie series."
"Lost your job?"
"No such luck."
"Well, then, what in Sam Hill could make a woman----"
"Lonesome!" snapped Gertie. "And the floorwalker got fresh
to-day. And I found two gray hairs to-night. And I'd give my next
week's pay envelope to hear the double click that our front gate
gives back home."
"Back home!" echoed the Kid Next Door in a dangerously loud
voice. "Say, I want to talk to you. If you'll promise you won't
get sore and think I'm fresh, I'll ask you a favor. Slip on a
kimono and we'll sneak down to the front stoop and talk it over.
I'm as wide awake as a chorus girl and twice as hungry. I've got
two apples and a box of crackers. Are you on?"
Gertie snickered. "It isn't done in our best sets, but I'm
on. I've got a can of sardines and an orange. I'll be ready in
She was, too. She wiped off the cold cream and salt tears
with a dry towel, did her hair in a schoolgirl braid and tied it
with a big bow, and dressed herself in a black skirt and a baby
blue dressing sacque. The Kid Next Door was waiting outside in the
hall. His gray sweater covered a multitude of sartorial
deficiencies. Gertie stared at him, and he stared at Gertie in the
sickly blue light of the boarding-house hall, and it took her
one-half of one second to discover that she liked his mouth, and
his eyes, and the way his hair was mussed.
"Why, you're only a kid!" whispered the Kid Next Door, in
Gertie smothered a laugh. "You're not the first man that's
been deceived by a pig-tail braid and a baby blue waist. I could
locate those two gray hairs for you with my eyes shut and my feet
in a sack. Come on, boy. These Robert W. Chambers situations make
Many earnest young writers with a flow of adjectives and a
passion for detail have attempted to describe the quiet of a great
city at night, when a few million people within it are sleeping, or
ought to be. They work in the clang of a distant owl car, and the
roar of an occasional "L" train, and the hollow echo of the
footsteps of the late passer-by. They go elaborately into
description, and are strong on the brooding hush, but the thing has
never been done satisfactorily.
Gertie, sitting on the front stoop at two in the morning, with
her orange in one hand and the sardine can in the other, put it
"If I was to hear a cricket chirp now, I'd screech. This
isn't really quiet. It's like waiting for a cannon cracker to go
off just before the fuse is burned down. The bang isn't there yet,
but you hear it a hundred times in your mind before it happens."
"My name's Augustus G. Eddy," announced the Kid Next Door,
solemnly. "Back home they always called me Gus. You peel that
orange while I unroll the top of this sardine can. I'm guilty of
having interrupted you in the middle of what the girls call a good
cry, and I know you'll have to get it out of your system some way.
Take a bite of apple and then wade right in and tell me what you're
doing in this burg if you don't like it."
"This thing ought to have slow music," began Gertie. "It's
pathetic. I came to Chicago from Beloit, Wisconsin, because I
thought that little town was a lonesome hole for a vivacious
creature like me. Lonesome! Listen while I laugh a low mirthless
laugh. I didn't know anything about the three-ply,
double-barreled, extra heavy brand of lonesomeness that a big town
like this can deal out. Talk about your desert wastes! They're
sociable and snug compared to this. I know three-fourths of the
people in Beloit, Wisconsin, by their first names. I've lived here
six months and I'm not on informal terms with anybody except Teddy,
the landlady's dog, and he's a trained rat-and-book-agent terrier,
and not inclined to overfriendliness. When I clerked at the
Enterprise Store in Beloit the women used to come in and ask for
something we didn't carry just for an excuse to copy the way the
lace yoke effects were planned in my shirtwaists. You ought to see
the way those same shirtwaist stack up here. Why, boy, the
lingerie waists that the other girls in my department wear make my
best hand-tucked effort look like a simple English country blouse.
They're so dripping with Irish crochet and real Val and Cluny
insertions that it's a wonder the girls don't get stoop-shouldered
carrying 'em around."
"Hold on a minute," commanded Gus. "This thing is uncanny.
Our cases dovetail like the deductions in a detective story. Kneel
here at my feet, little daughter, and I'll tell you the story of my
sad young life. I'm no child of the city streets, either. Say, I
came to this town because I thought there was a bigger field for me
in Gents' Furnishings. Joke, what?"
But Gertie didn't smile. She gazed up at Gus, and Gus gazed
down at her, and his fingers fiddled absently with the big bow at
the end of her braid.
"And isn't there?" asked Gertie, sympathetically.
"Girlie, I haven't saved twelve dollars since I came. I'm no
tightwad, and I don't believe in packing everything away into a
white marble mausoleum, but still a gink kind of whispers to
himself that some day he'll be furnishing up a kitchen pantry of
"Oh!" said Gertie.
"And let me mention in passing," continued Gus, winding the
ribbon bow around his finger, "that in the last hour or so that
whisper has been swelling to a shout."
"Oh!" said Gertie again.
"You said it. But I couldn't buy a secondhand gas stove with
what I've saved in the last half-year here. Back home they used to
think I was a regular little village John Drew, I was so dressy.
But here I look like a yokel on circus day compared to the other
fellows in the store. All they need is a field glass strung over
their shoulder to make them look like a clothing ad in the back of
a popular magazine. Say, girlie, you've got the prettiest hair
I've seen since I blew in here. Look at that braid! Thick as a
rope! That's no relation to the piles of jute that the Flossies
here stack on their heads. And shines! Like satin."
"It ought to," said Gertrude, wearily. "I brush it a hundred
strokes every night. Sometimes I'm so beat that I fall asleep with
my brush in the air. The manager won't stand for any romping curls
or hooks-and-eyes that don't connect. It keeps me so busy being
beautiful, and what the society writers call `well groomed,' that
I don't have time to sew the buttons on my underclothes."
"But don't you get some amusement in the evening?" marveled
Gus. "What was the matter with you and the other girls in the
store? Can't you hit it off?"
"Me? No. I guess I was too woodsy for them. I went out with
them a couple of times. I guess they're nice girls all right; but
they've got what you call a broader way of looking at things than
I have. Living in a little town all your life makes you narrow.
These girls!--Well, maybe I'll get educated up to their plane some
"No, you don't!" hissed Gus. "Not if I can help it."
"But you can't," replied Gertie, sweetly. "My, ain't this a
grand night! Evenings like this I used to love to putter around
the yard after supper, sprinkling the grass and weeding the
radishes. I'm the greatest kid to fool around with a hose. And
flowers! Say, they just grow for me. You ought to have seen my
pansies and nasturtiums last summer."
The fingers of the Kid Next Door wandered until they found
Gertie's. They clasped them.
"This thing just points one way, little one. It's just as
plain as a path leading up to a cozy little three-room flat up
here on the North Side somewhere. See it? With me and you
married, and playing at housekeeping in a parlor and bedroom and
kitchen? And both of us going down town to work in the morning
just the same as we do now. Only not the same, either."
"Wake up, little boy," said Gertie, prying her fingers away
from those other detaining ones. "I'd fit into a three-room flat
like a whale in a kitchen sink. I'm going back to Beloit,
Wisconsin. I've learned my lesson all right. There's a fellow
there waiting for me. I used to think he was too slow. But say,
he's got the nicest little painting and paper-hanging business you
ever saw, and making money. He's secretary of the K. P.'s back
home. They give some swell little dances during the winter,
especially for the married members. In five years we'll own our
home, with a vegetable garden in the back. I'm a little frog, and
it's me for the puddle."
Gus stood up slowly. Gertie felt a little pang of compunction
when she saw what a boy he was.
"I don't know when I've enjoyed a talk like this. I've heard
about these dawn teas, but I never thought I'd go to one," she
"Good-night, girlie," interrupted Gus, abruptly. "It's the
dreamless couch for mine. We've got a big sale on in tan and black
THE MAN WHO CAME BACK
There are two ways of doing battle against Disgrace. You may live
it down; or you may run away from it and hide. The first method is
heart-breaking, but sure. The second cannot be relied upon because
of the uncomfortable way Disgrace has of turning up at your heels
just when you think you have eluded her in the last town but one.
Ted Terrill did not choose the first method. He had it thrust
upon him. After Ted had served his term he came back home to visit
his mother's grave, intending to take the next train out. He wore
none of the prison pallor that you read about in books, because he
had been shortstop on the penitentiary all-star baseball team, and
famed for the dexterity with which he could grab up red-hot
grounders. The storied lock step and the clipped hair effect also
were missing. The superintendent of Ted's prison had been one of
the reform kind.
You never would have picked Ted for a criminal. He had none
of those interesting phrenological bumps and depressions that
usually are shown to such frank advantage in the Bertillon
photographs. Ted had been assistant cashier in the Citizens'
National Bank. In a mad moment he had attempted a little
sleight-of-hand act in which certain Citizens' National funds were
to be transformed into certain glittering shares and back again so
quickly that the examiners couldn't follow it with their eyes. But
Ted was unaccustomed to these now-you-see-it-and-now-you-don't
feats and his hand slipped. The trick dropped to the floor with an
Ted had been a lovable young kid, six feet high, and blonde,
with a great reputation as a dresser. He had the first yellow
plush hat in our town. It sat on his golden head like a halo. The
women all liked Ted. Mrs. Dankworth, the dashing widow (why will
widows persist in being dashing?), said that he was the only man in
our town who knew how to wear a dress suit. The men were forever
slapping him on the back and asking him to have a little something.
Ted's good looks and his clever tongue and a certain charming Irish
way he had with him caused him to be taken up by the smart set.
Now, if you've never lived in a small town you will be much amused
at the idea of its boasting a smart set. Which proves your
ignorance. The small town smart set is deadly serious about its
smartness. It likes to take six-hour runs down to the city to fit
a pair of shoes and hear Caruso. Its clothes are as well made, and
its scandals as crisp, and its pace as hasty, and its golf club as
dull as the clothes, and scandals, and pace, and golf club of its
The hasty pace killed Ted. He tried to keep step in a set of
young folks whose fathers had made our town. And all the time his
pocketbook was yelling, "Whoa!" The young people ran largely to
scarlet-upholstered touring cars, and country-club doings, and
house parties, as small town younger generations are apt to. When
Ted went to high school half the boys in his little clique spent
their after-school hours dashing up and down Main street in their
big, glittering cars, sitting slumped down on the middle of their
spines in front of the steering wheel, their sleeves rolled up,
their hair combed a militant pompadour. One or the other of them
always took Ted along. It is fearfully easy to develop a taste for
that kind of thing. As he grew older, the taste took root and
became a habit.
Ted came out after serving his term, still handsome, spite of
all that story-writers may have taught to the contrary. But we'll
make this concession to the old tradition. There was a difference.
His radiant blondeur was dimmed in some intangible, elusive way.
Birdie Callahan, who had worked in Ted's mother's kitchen for
years, and who had gone back to her old job at the Haley House
after her mistress's death, put it sadly, thus:
"He was always th' han'some divil. I used to look forward to
ironin' day just for the pleasure of pressin' his fancy shirts for
him. I'm that partial to them swell blondes. But I dinnaw, he's
changed. Doin' time has taken the edge off his hair an'
complexion. Not changed his color, do yuh mind, but dulled it,
like a gold ring, or the like, that has tarnished."
Ted was seated in the smoker, with a chip on his shoulder, and
a sick horror of encountering some one he knew in his heart, when
Jo Haley, of the Haley House, got on at Westport, homeward bound.
Jo Haley is the most eligible bachelor in our town, and the
slipperiest. He has made the Haley House a gem, so that traveling
men will cut half a dozen towns to Sunday there. If he should say
"Jump through this!" to any girl in our town she'd jump.
Jo Haley strolled leisurely up the car aisle toward Ted. Ted
saw him coming and sat very still, waiting.
"Hello, Ted! How's Ted?" said Jo Haley, casually. And
dropped into the adjoining seat without any more fuss.
Ted wet his lips slightly and tried to say something. He had
been a breezy talker. But the words would not come. Jo Haley made
no effort to cover the situation with a rush of conversation. He
did not seem to realize that there was any situation to cover. He
champed the end of his cigar and handed one to Ted.
"Well, you've taken your lickin', kid. What you going to do
The rawness of it made Ted wince. "Oh, I don't know," he
stammered. "I've a job half promised in Chicago."
Ted laughed a short and ugly laugh. "Driving a brewery auto
Jo Haley tossed his cigar dexterously to the opposite corner
of his mouth and squinted thoughtfully along its bulging sides.
"Remember that Wenzel girl that's kept books for me for the
last six years? She's leaving in a couple of months to marry a New
York guy that travels for ladies' cloaks and suits. After she goes
it's nix with the lady bookkeepers for me. Not that Minnie isn't
a good, straight girl, and honest, but no girl can keep books with
one eye on a column of figures and the other on a traveling man in
a brown suit and a red necktie, unless she's cross-eyed, and you
bet Minnie ain't. The job's yours if you want it. Eighty a month
to start on, and board."
"I--can't, Jo. Thanks just the same. I'm going to try to
begin all over again, somewhere else, where nobody knows me."
"Oh yes," said Jo. "I knew a fellow that did that. After he
came out he grew a beard, and wore eyeglasses, and changed his
name. Had a quick, crisp way of talkin', and he cultivated a drawl
and went west and started in business. Real estate, I think.
Anyway, the second month he was there in walks a fool he used to
know and bellows: `Why if it ain't Bill! Hello, Bill! I thought
you was doing time yet.' That was enough. Ted, you can black your
face, and dye your hair, and squint, and some fine day, sooner or
later, somebody'll come along and blab the whole thing. And say,
the older it gets the worse it sounds, when it does come out.
Stick around here where you grew up, Ted."
Ted clasped and unclasped his hands uncomfortably. "I can't
figure out why you should care how I finish."
"No reason," answered Jo. "Not a darned one. I wasn't ever
in love with your ma, like the guy on the stage; and I never owed
your pa a cent. So it ain't a guilty conscience. I guess it's
just pure cussedness, and a hankerin' for a new investment. I'm
curious to know how'll you turn out. You've got the makin's of
what the newspapers call a Leading Citizen, even if you did fall
down once. If I'd ever had time to get married, which I never will
have, a first-class hotel bein' more worry and expense than a
Pittsburg steel magnate's whole harem, I'd have wanted somebody to
do the same for my kid. That sounds slushy, but it's straight."
"I don't seem to know how to thank you," began Ted, a little
husky as to voice.
"Call around to-morrow morning," interrupted Jo Haley.,
briskly, "and Minnie Wenzel will show you the ropes. You and her
can work together for a couple of months. After then she's leaving
to make her underwear, and that. I should think she'd have a bale
of it by this time. Been embroidering them shimmy things and lunch
cloths back of the desk when she thought I wasn't lookin' for the
last six months."
Ted came down next morning at 8 A.M. with his nerve between
his teeth and the chip still balanced lightly on his shoulder.
Five minutes later Minnie Wenzel knocked it off. When Jo Haley
introduced the two jocularly, knowing that they had originally met
in the First Reader room, Miss Wenzel acknowledged the introduction
icily by lifting her left eyebrow slightly and drawing down the
corners of her mouth. Her air of hauteur was a triumph,
considering that she was handicapped by black sateen
I wonder how one could best describe Miss Wenzel? There is
one of her in every small town. Let me think (business of hand on
brow). Well, she always paid eight dollars for her corsets when
most girls in a similar position got theirs for fifty-nine cents in
the basement. Nature had been kind to her. The hair that had been
a muddy brown in Minnie's schoolgirl days it had touched with a
magic red-gold wand. Birdie Callahan always said that Minnie was
working only to wear out her old clothes.
After the introduction Miss Wenzel followed Jo Haley into the
lobby. She took no pains to lower her voice.
"Well I must say, Mr. Haley, you've got a fine nerve! If my
gentleman friend was to hear of my working with an ex-con I
wouldn't be surprised if he'd break off the engagement. I should
think you'd have some respect for the feelings of a lady with a
name to keep up, and engaged to a swell fellow like Mr. Schwartz."
"Say, listen, m' girl," replied Jo Haley. "The law don't
cover all the tricks. But if stuffing an order was a criminal
offense I'll bet your swell traveling man would be doing a life
Ted worked that day with his teeth set so that his jaws ached
next morning. Minnie Wenzel spoke to him only when necessary and
then in terms of dollars and cents. When dinner time came she
divested herself of the black sateen sleevelets, wriggled from the
shoulders down a la Patricia O'Brien, produced a chamois skin, and
disappeared in the direction of the washroom. Ted waited until the
dining-room was almost deserted. Then he went in to dinner alone.
Some one in white wearing an absurd little pocket handkerchief of
an apron led him to a seat in a far corner of the big room. Ted
did not lift his eyes higher than the snowy square of the apron.
The Apron drew out a chair, shoved it under Ted's knees in the way
Aprons have, and thrust a printed menu at him.
"Roast beef, medium," said Ted, without looking up.
"Bless your heart, yuh ain't changed a bit. I remember how
yuh used to jaw when it was too well done," said the Apron, fondly.
Ted's head came up with a jerk.
"So yuh will cut yer old friends, is it?" grinned Birdie
Callahan. "If this wasn't a public dining-room maybe yuh'd shake
hands with a poor but proud workin' girrul. Yer as good lookin' a
divil as ever, Mister Ted."
Ted's hand shot out and grasped hers. "Birdie! I could weep
on your apron! I never was so glad to see any one in my life.
Just to look at you makes me homesick. What in Sam Hill are you
"Waitin'. After yer ma died, seemed like I didn't care t'
work fer no other privit fam'ly, so I came back here on my old job.
I'll bet I'm the homeliest head waitress in captivity."
Ted's nervous fingers were pleating the tablecloth. His voice
sank to a whisper. "Birdie, tell me the God's truth. Did those
three years cause her death?"
"Niver!" lied Birdie. "I was with her to the end. It started
with a cold on th' chest. Have some French fried with yer beef,
Mr. Teddy. They're illigent to-day."
Birdie glided off to the kitchen. Authors are fond of the
word "glide." But you can take it literally this time. Birdie had
a face that looked like a huge mistake, but she walked like a
panther, and they're said to be the last cry as gliders. She
walked with her chin up and her hips firm. That comes from
juggling trays. You have to walk like that to keep your nose out
of the soup. After a while the walk becomes a habit. Any seasoned
dining-room girl could give lessons in walking to the Delsarte
teacher of an Eastern finishing school.
From the day that Birdie Callahan served Ted with the roast
beef medium and the elegant French fried, she appointed herself
monitor over his food and clothes and morals. I wish I could find
words to describe his bitter loneliness. He did not seek
companionship. The men, although not directly avoiding him, seemed
somehow to have pressing business whenever they happened in his
vicinity. The women ignored him. Mrs. Dankworth, still dashing
and still widowed, passed Ted one day and looked fixedly at a point
one inch above his head. In a town like ours the Haley House is
like a big, hospitable clubhouse. The men drop in there the first
thing in the morning, and the last thing at night, to hear the
gossip and buy a cigar and jolly the girl at the cigar counter.
Ted spoke to them when they spoke to him. He began to develop a
certain grim line about the mouth. Jo Haley watched him from afar,
and the longer he watched the kinder and more speculative grew the
look in his eyes. And slowly and surely there grew in the hearts
of our townspeople a certain new respect and admiration for this
boy who was fighting his fight.
Ted got into the habit of taking his meals late, so that
Birdie Callahan could take the time to talk to him.
"Birdie," he said one day, when she brought his soup, "do you
know that you're the only decent woman who'll talk to me? Do you
know what I mean when I say that I'd give the rest of my life if I
could just put my head in my mother's lap and have her muss up my
hair and call me foolish names?"
Birdie Callahan cleared her throat and said abruptly: "I was
noticin' yesterday your gray pants needs pressin' bad. Bring 'em
down tomorrow mornin' and I'll give 'em th' elegant crease in the
So the first weeks went by, and the two months of Miss
Wenzel's stay came to an end. Ted thanked his God and tried hard
not to wish that she was a man so that he could punch her head.
The day before the time appointed for her departure she was
closeted with Jo Haley for a long, long time. When finally she
emerged a bellboy lounged up to Ted with a message.
"Wenzel says th' Old Man wants t' see you. 'S in his office.
Say, Mr. Terrill, do yuh think they can play to-day? It's pretty
Jo Haley was sunk in the depths of his big leather chair. He
did not look up as Ted entered. "Sit down," he said. Ted sat down
and waited, puzzled.
"As a wizard at figures," mused Jo Haley at last, softly as
though to himself, "I'm a frost. A column of figures on paper
makes my head swim. But I can carry a whole regiment of 'em in my
head. I know every time the barkeeper draws one in the dark. I've
been watchin' this thing for the last two weeks hopin' you'd quit
and come and tell me." He turned suddenly and faced Ted. "Ted,
old kid," he said sadly, "what'n'ell made you do it again?"
"What's the joke?" asked Ted.
"Now, Ted," remonstrated Jo Haley, "that way of talkin' won't
help matters none. As I said, I'm rotten at figures. But you're
the first investment that ever turned out bad, and let me tell you
I've handled some mighty bad smelling ones. Why, kid, if you had
just come to me on the quiet and asked for the loan of a hundred or
"What's the joke, Jo?" said Ted again, slowly.
"This ain't my notion of a joke," came the terse answer.
"We're three hundred short."
The last vestige of Ted Terrill's old-time radiance seemed to
flicker and die, leaving him ashen and old.
"Short?" he repeated. Then, "My God!" in a strangely
colorless voice--"My God!" He looked down at his fingers
impersonally, as though they belonged to some one else. Then his
hand clutched Jo Haley's arm with the grip of fear. "Jo! Jo!
That's the thing that has haunted me day and night, till my nerves
are raw. The fear of doing it again. Don't laugh at me, will you?
I used to lie awake nights going over that cursed business of the
bank--over and over--till the cold sweat would break out all over
me. I used to figure it all out again, step by step, until--Jo,
could a man steal and not know it? Could thinking of a thing like
that drive a man crazy? Because if it could--if it
"I don't know," said Jo Haley, "but it sounds darned fishy."
He had a hand on Ted's shaking shoulder, and was looking into the
white, drawn face. "I had great plans for you, Ted. But Minnie
Wenzel's got it all down on slips of paper. I might as well call
her, in again, and we'll have the whole blamed thing out."
Minnie Wenzel came. In her hand were slips of paper, and
books with figures in them, and Ted looked and saw things written
in his own hand that should not have been there. And he covered
his shamed face with his two hands and gave thanks that his mother
There came three sharp raps at the office door. The tense
figures within jumped nervously.
"Keep out!" called Jo Haley, "whoever you are." Whereupon the
door opened and Birdie Callahan breezed in.
"Get out, Birdie Callahan," roared Jo. "You're in the wrong
Birdie closed the door behind her composedly and came farther
into the room. "Pete th' pasthry cook just tells me that Minnie
Wenzel told th' day clerk, who told the barkeep, who told th'
janitor, who told th' chef, who told Pete, that Minnie had caught
Ted stealin' some three hundred dollars."
Ted took a quick step forward. "Birdie, for Heaven's sake
keep out of this. You can't make things any better. You may
believe in me, but----"
"Where's the money?" asked Birdie.
Ted stared at her a moment, his mouth open ludicrously.
"Why--I--don't--know," he articulated, painfully. "I never
thought of that."
Birdie snorted defiantly. "I thought so. D'ye know,"
sociably, "I was visitin' with my aunt Mis' Mulcahy last evenin'."
There was a quick rustle of silks from Minnie Wenzel's
"Say, look here----" began Jo Haley, impatiently.
"Shut up, Jo Haley!" snapped Birdie. "As I was sayin', I was
visitin' with my aunt Mis' Mulcahy. She does fancy washin' an'
ironin' for the swells. An' Minnie Wenzel, there bein' none
sweller, hires her to do up her weddin' linens. Such smears av
hand embridery an' Irish crochet she never see th' likes, Mis'
Mulcahy says, and she's seen a lot. And as a special treat to the
poor owld soul, why Minnie Wenzel lets her see some av her weddin'
clo'es. There never yet was a woman who cud resist showin' her
weddin' things to every other woman she cud lay hands on. Well,
Mis' Mulcahy, she see that grand trewsow and she said she never saw
th' beat. Dresses! Well, her going away suit alone comes to
eighty dollars, for it's bein' made by Molkowsky, the little Polish
tailor. An' her weddin' dress is satin, do yuh mind! Oh, it was
a real treat for my aunt Mis' Mulcahy."
Birdie walked over to where Minnie Wenzel sat, very white and
still, and pointed a stubby red finger in her face. "'Tis the
grand manager ye are, Miss Wenzel, gettin' satins an' tailor-mades
on yer salary. It takes a woman, Minnie Wenzel, to see through a
"Well I'll be dinged!" exploded Jo Haley.
"Yuh'd better be!" retorted Birdie Callahan.
Minnie Wenzel stood up, her lip caught between her teeth.
"Am I to understand, Jo Haley, that you dare to accuse me of
taking your filthy money, instead of that miserable ex-con there
who has done time?"
"That'll do, Minnie," said Jo Haley, gently. "That's
"Prove it," went on Minnie, and then looked as though she
wished she hadn't.
"A business college edjication is a grand foine thing,"
observed Birdie. "Miss Wenzel is a graduate av wan. They teach
you everything from drawin' birds with tail feathers to plain and
fancy penmanship. In fact, they teach everything in the writin'
line except forgery, an' I ain't so sure they haven't got a coorse
"I don't care," whimpered Minnie Wenzel suddenly, sinking in
a limp heap on the floor. "I had to do it. I'm marrying a swell
fellow and a girl's got to have some clothes that don't look like
a Bird Center dressmaker's work. He's got three sisters. I saw
their pictures and they're coming to the wedding. They're the kind
that wear low-necked dresses in the evening, and have their hair
and nails done downtown. I haven't got a thing but my looks.
Could I go to New York dressed like a rube? On the square, Jo, I
worked here six years and never took a sou. But things got away
from me. The tailor wouldn't finish my suit unless I paid him fifty
dollars down. I only took fifty at first, intending to pay it
back. Honest to goodness, Jo, I did."
"Cut it out," said Jo Haley, "and get up. I was going to give
you a check for your wedding, though I hadn't counted on no three
hundred. We'll call it square. And I hope you'll be happy, but I
don't gamble on it. You'll be goin' through your man's pants
pockets before you're married a year. You can take your hat and
fade. I'd like to know how I'm ever going to square this thing
with Ted and Birdie."
"An' me standin' here gassin' while them fool girls in the
dinin'-room can't set a table decent, and dinner in less than ten
minutes," cried Birdie, rushing off. Ted mumbled something
unintelligible and was after her.
"Birdie! I want to talk to you."
"Say it quick then," said Birdie, over her shoulder. "The
doors open in three minnits."
"I can't tell you how grateful I am. This is no place to talk
to you. Will you let me walk home with you to-night after your
"Will I?" said Birdie, turning to face him. "I will not. Th'
swell mob has shook you, an' a good thing it is. You was travelin'
with a bunch of racers, when you was only built for medium speed.
Now you're got your chance to a fresh start and don't you ever
think I'm going to be the one to let you spoil it by beginnin' to
walk out with a dinin'-room Lizzie like me."
"Don't say that, Birdie," Ted put in.
"It's the truth," affirmed Birdie. "Not that I ain't a
perfec'ly respectable girrul, and ye know it. I'm a good slob, but
folks would be tickled for the chance to say that you had nobody to
go with but the likes av me. If I was to let you walk home with me
to-night, yuh might be askin' to call next week. Inside half a
year, if yuh was lonesome enough, yuh'd ask me to marry yuh. And
b'gorra," she said softly, looking down at her unlovely red hands,
"I'm dead scared I'd do it. Get back to work, Ted Terrill, and
hold yer head up high, and when yuh say your prayers to-night,
thank your lucky stars I ain't a hussy."
WHAT SHE WORE
Somewhere in your story you must pause to describe your heroine's
costume. It is a ticklish task. The average reader likes his
heroine well dressed. He is not satisfied with knowing that she
looked like a tall, fair lily. He wants to be told that her gown
was of green crepe, with lace ruffles that swirled at her feet.
Writers used to go so far as to name the dressmaker; and it was a
poor kind of a heroine who didn't wear a red velvet by Worth. But
that has been largely abandoned in these days of commissions.
Still, when the heroine goes out on the terrace to spoon after
dinner (a quaint old English custom for the origin of which see any
novel by the "Duchess," page 179) the average reader wants to know
what sort of a filmy wrap she snatches up on the way out. He
demands a description, with as many illustrations as the publisher
will stand for, of what she wore from the bedroom to the street,
with full stops for the ribbons on her robe de nuit, and the
buckles on her ballroom slippers. Half the poor creatures one sees
flattening their noses against the shop windows are authors getting
a line on the advance fashions. Suppose a careless writer were to
dress his heroine in a full-plaited skirt only to find, when his
story is published four months later, that full-plaited skirts have
been relegated to the dim past!
I started to read a story once. It was a good one. There was
in it not a single allusion to brandy-and-soda, or divorce, or the
stock market. The dialogue crackled. The hero talked like a live
man. It was a shipboard story, and the heroine was charming so
long as she wore her heavy ulster. But along toward evening she
blossomed forth in a yellow gown, with a scarlet poinsettia at her
throat. I quit her cold. Nobody ever wore a scarlet poinsettia;
or if they did, they couldn't wear it on a yellow gown. Or if they
did wear it with a yellow gown, they didn't wear it at the throat.
Scarlet poinsettias aren't worn, anyhow. To this day I don't know
whether the heroine married the hero or jumped overboard.
You see, one can't be too careful about clothing one's
I hesitate to describe Sophy Epstein's dress. You won't like
it. In the first place, it was cut too low, front and back, for a
shoe clerk in a downtown loft. It was a black dress, near-princess
in style, very tight as to fit, very short as to skirt, very sleazy
as to material. It showed all the delicate curves of Sophy's
under-fed, girlish body, and Sophy didn't care a bit. Its most
objectionable feature was at the throat. Collarless gowns were in
vogue. Sophy's daring shears had gone a snip or two farther. They
had cut a startlingly generous V. To say that the dress was
elbow-sleeved is superfluous. I have said that Sophy clerked in a
Sophy sold "sample" shoes at two-fifty a pair, and from where
you were standing you thought they looked just like the shoes that
were sold in the regular shops for six. When Sophy sat on one of
the low benches at the feet of some customer, tugging away at a
refractory shoe for a would-be small foot, her shameless little
gown exposed more than it should have. But few of Sophy's
customers were shocked. They were mainly chorus girls and ladies
of doubtful complexion in search of cheap and ultra footgear,
and--to use a health term--hardened by exposure.
Have I told you how pretty she was? She was so pretty that
you immediately forgave her the indecency of her pitiful little
gown. She was pretty in a daringly demure fashion, like a wicked
little Puritan, or a poverty-stricken Cleo de Merode, with her
smooth brown hair parted in the middle, drawn severely down over
her ears, framing the lovely oval of her face and ending in a
simple coil at the neck. Some serpent's wisdom had told Sophy to
eschew puffs. But I think her prettiness could have triumphed even
If Sophy's boss had been any other sort of man he would have
informed Sophy, sternly, that black princess effects, cut low, were
not au fait in the shoe-clerk world. But Sophy's boss had a
rhombic nose, and no instep, and the tail of his name had been
amputated. He didn't care how Sophy wore her dresses so long as
she sold shoes.
Once the boss had kissed Sophy--not on the mouth, but just
where her shabby gown formed its charming but immodest V. Sophy
had slapped him, of course. But the slap had not set the thing
right in her mind. She could not forget it. It had made her
uncomfortable in much the same way as we are wildly ill at ease
when we dream of walking naked in a crowded street. At odd moments
during the day Sophy had found herself rubbing the spot furiously
with her unlovely handkerchief, and shivering a little. She had
never told the other girls about that kiss.
So--there you have Sophy and her costume. You may take her or
leave her. I purposely placed these defects in costuming right at
the beginning of the story, so that there should be no false
pretenses. One more detail. About Sophy's throat was a slender,
near-gold chain from which was suspended a cheap and glittering La
Valliere. Sophy had not intended it as a sop to the conventions.
It was an offering on the shrine of Fashion, and represented many
At eleven o'clock one August morning, Louie came to Chicago
from Oskaloosa, Iowa. There was no hay in his hair. The comic
papers have long insisted that the country boy, on his first visit
to the city, is known by his greased boots and his high-water
pants. Don't you believe them. The small-town boy is as
fastidious about the height of his heels and the stripe of his
shift and the roll of his hat-brim as are his city brothers. He
peruses the slangily worded ads of the "classy clothes" tailors,
and when scarlet cravats are worn the small-town boy is not more
than two weeks late in acquiring one that glows like a headlight.
Louie found a rooming-house, shoved his suitcase under the
bed, changed his collar, washed his hands in the gritty water of
the wash bowl, and started out to look for a job.
Louie was twenty-one. For the last four years he had been
employed in the best shoe store at home, and he knew shoe leather
from the factory to the ash barrel. It was almost a religion with
Curiosity, which plays leads in so many life dramas, led Louie
to the rotunda of the tallest building. It was built on the hollow
center plan, with a sheer drop from the twenty-somethingth to the
main floor. Louie stationed himself in the center of the mosaic
floor, took off his hat, bent backward almost double and gazed, his
mouth wide open. When he brought his muscles slowly back into
normal position he tried hard not to look impressed. He glanced
about, sheepishly, to see if any one was laughing at him, and his
eye encountered the electric-lighted glass display case of the shoe
company upstairs. The case was filled with pink satin slippers and
cunning velvet boots, and the newest thing in bronze street shoes.
Louie took the next elevator up. The shoe display had made him
feel as though some one from home had slapped him on the back.
The God of the Jobless was with him. The boss had fired two
boys the day before.
"Oskaloosa!" grinned the boss, derisively. "Do they wear
shoes there? What do you know about shoes, huh boy?"
Louie told him. The boss shuffled the papers on his desk, and
chewed his cigar, and tried not to show his surprise. Louie, quite
innocently, was teaching the boss things about the shoe business.
When Louie had finished--"Well, I try you, anyhow," the boss
grunted, grudgingly. "I give you so-and-so much." He named a wage
that would have been ridiculous if it had not been so pathetic.
"All right, sir," answered Louie, promptly, like the boys in
the Alger series. The cost of living problem had never bothered
Louie in Oskaloosa.
The boss hid a pleased smile.
"Miss Epstein!" he bellowed, "step this way! Miss Epstein,
kindly show this here young man so he gets a line on the stock. He
is from Oskaloosa, Ioway. Look out she don't sell you a gold
But Louie was not listening. He was gazing at the V in Sophy
Epstein's dress with all his scandalized Oskaloosa, Iowa, eyes.
Louie was no mollycoddle. But he had been in great demand as
usher at the Young Men's Sunday Evening Club service at the
Congregational church, and in his town there had been no Sophy
Epsteins in too-tight princess dresses, cut into a careless V. But
Sophy was a city product--I was about to say pure and simple, but
I will not--wise, bold, young, old, underfed, overworked, and
"How-do!" cooed Sophy in her best baby tones. Louie's
disapproving eyes jumped from the objectionable V in Sophy's dress
to the lure of Sophy's face, and their expression underwent a
lightning change. There was no disapproving Sophy's face, no
matter how long one had dwelt in Oskaloosa.
"I won't bite you," said Sophy. "I'm never vicious on
Tuesdays. We'll start here with the misses' an' children's, and
work over to the other side."
Whereupon Louie was introduced into the intricacies of the
sample shoe business. He kept his eyes resolutely away from the V,
and learned many things. He learned how shoes that look like six
dollar values may be sold for two-fifty. He looked on in wide-eyed
horror while Sophy fitted a No. 5 C shoe on a 6 B foot and assured
the wearer that it looked like a made-to-order boot. He picked up
a pair of dull kid shoes and looked at them. His leather-wise eyes
saw much, and I think he would have taken his hat off the hook, and
his offended business principles out of the shop forever if Sophy
had not completed her purchase and strolled over to him at the
She smiled up at him, impudently. "Well, Pink Cheeks," she
said, "how do you like our little settlement by the lake, huh?"
"These shoes aren't worth two-fifty," said Louie, indignation
in his voice.
"Well, sure," replied Sophy. "I know it. What do you think
this is? A charity bazaar?"
"But back home----" began Louie, hotly.
"Ferget it, kid," said Sophy. "This is a big town, but it
ain't got no room for back-homers. Don't sour on one job till
you've got another nailed. You'll find yourself cuddling down on
a park bench if you do. Say, are you honestly from Oskaloosa?"
"I certainly am," answered Louie, with pride.
"My goodness!" ejaculated Sophy. "I never believed there was
no such place. Don't brag about it to the other fellows."
"What time do you go out for lunch?" asked Louie.
"What's it to you?" with the accent on the "to."
"When I want to know a thing, I generally ask," explained
Sophy looked at him--a long, keen, knowing look. "You'll
learn," she observed, thoughtfully.
Louie did learn. He learned so much in that first week that
when Sunday came it seemed as though aeons had passed over his
head. He learned that the crime of murder was as nothing compared
to the crime of allowing a customer to depart shoeless; he learned
that the lunch hour was invented for the purpose of making dates;
that no one had ever heard of Oskaloosa, Iowa; that seven dollars
a week does not leave much margin for laundry and general reck-
lessness; that a madonna face above a V-cut gown is apt to distract
one's attention from shoes; that a hundred-dollar nest egg is as
effective in Chicago as a pine stick would be in propping up a
stone wall; and that all the other men clerks called Sophy
Some of his newly acquired knowledge brought pain, as
knowledge is apt to do.
He saw that State Street was crowded with Sophys during the
noon hour; girls with lovely faces under pitifully absurd hats.
Girls who aped the fashions of the dazzling creatures they saw
stepping from limousines. Girls who starved body and soul in order
to possess a set of false curls, or a pair of black satin shoes
with mother-o'-pearl buttons. Girls whose minds were bounded on
the north by the nickel theatres; on the east by "I sez to him"; on
the south by the gorgeous shop windows; and on the west by "He sez
Oh, I can't tell you how much Louie learned in that first week
while his eyes were getting accustomed to the shifting, jostling,
pushing, giggling, walking, talking throng. The city is justly
famed as a hot house of forced knowledge.
One thing Louie could not learn. He could not bring himself
to accept the V in Sophy's dress. Louie's mother had been one of
the old-fashioned kind who wore a blue-and-white checked gingham
apron from 6 A.M. to 2 P.M., when she took it off to go downtown
and help the ladies of the church at the cake sale in the empty
window of the gas company's office, only to don it again when she
fried the potatoes for supper. Among other things she had taught
Louie to wipe his feet before coming in, to respect and help women,
and to change his socks often.
After a month of Chicago Louie forgot the first lesson; had
more difficulty than I can tell you in reverencing a woman who only
said, "Aw, don't get fresh now!" when the other men put their arms
about her; and adhered to the third only after a struggle, in which
he had to do a small private washing in his own wash-bowl in the
Sophy called him a stiff. His gravely courteous treatment of
her made her vaguely uncomfortable. She was past mistress in the
art of parrying insults and banter, but she had no reply ready for
Louie's boyish air of deference. It angered her for some
There came a day when the V-cut dress brought them to open
battle. I think Sophy had appeared that morning minus the chain
and La Valliere. Frail and cheap as it was, it had been the only
barrier that separated Sophy from frank shamelessness. Louie's
outraged sense of propriety asserted itself.
"Sophy," he stammered, during a quiet half-hour, "I'll call
for you and take you to the nickel show to-night if you'll promise
not to wear that dress. What makes you wear that kind of a get-up,
"Dress?" queried Sophy, looking down at the shiny front
breadth of her frock. "Why? Don't you like it?"
"Like it! No!" blurted Louie.
"Don't yuh, rully! Deah me! Deah me! If I'd only knew that
this morning. As a gen'ral thing I wear white duck complete down
t' work, but I'm savin' my last two clean suits f'r gawlf."
Louie ran an uncomfortable finger around the edge of his
collar, but he stood his ground. "It--it--shows your--neck so," he
Sophy opened her great eyes wide. "Well, supposin' it does?"
she inquired, coolly. "It's a perfectly good neck, ain't it?"
Louie, his face very red, took the plunge. "I don't know. I
guess so. But, Sophy, it--looks so--so--you know what I mean. I
hate to see the way the fellows rubber at you. Why don't you wear
those plain shirtwaist things, with high collars, like my mother
wears back home?"
Sophy's teeth came together with a click. She laughed a short
cruel little laugh. "Say, Pink Cheeks, did yuh ever do a washin'
from seven to twelve, after you got home from work in the evenin'?
It's great! 'Specially when you're living in a six-by-ten room
with all the modern inconveniences, includin' no water except on
the third floor down. Simple! Say, a child could work it. All
you got to do, when you get home so tired your back teeth ache, is
to haul your water, an' soak your clothes, an' then rub 'em till
your hands peel, and rinse 'em, an' boil 'em, and blue 'em, an'
starch 'em. See? Just like that. Nothin' to it, kid. Nothin' to
Louie had been twisting his fingers nervously. Now his hands
shut themselves into fists. He looked straight into Sophy's angry
"I do know what it is," he said, quite simply. "There's been
a lot written and said about women's struggle with clothes. I
wonder why they've never said anything about the way a man has to
fight to keep up the thing they call appearances. God knows it's
pathetic enough to think of a girl like you bending over a tubful
of clothes. But when a man has to do it, it's a tragedy."
"That's so," agreed Sophy. "When a girl gets shabby, and her
clothes begin t' look tacky she can take a gore or so out of her
skirt where it's the most wore, and catch it in at the bottom, and
call it a hobble. An' when her waist gets too soiled she can cover
up the front of it with a jabot, an' if her face is pretty enough
she can carry it off that way. But when a man is seedy, he's
seedy. He can't sew no ruffles on his pants."
"I ran short last week, continued Louie. "That is, shorter
than usual. I hadn't the fifty cents to give to the woman. You
ought to see her! A little, gray-faced thing, with wisps of hair,
and no chest to speak of, and one of those mashed-looking black
hats. Nobody could have the nerve to ask her to wait for her
money. So I did my own washing. I haven't learned to wear soiled
clothes yet. I laughed fit to bust while I was doing it.
But--I'll bet my mother dreamed of me that night. The way they do,
you know, when something's gone wrong."
Sophy, perched on the third rung of the sliding ladder, was
gazing at him. Her lips were parted slightly, and her cheeks were
very pink. On her face was a new, strange look, as of something
half forgotten. It was as though the spirit of
Sophy-as-she-might-have-been were inhabiting her soul for a brief
moment. At Louie's next words the look was gone.
"Can't you sew something--a lace yoke--or whatever you call
'em--in that dress?" he persisted.
"Aw, fade!" jeered Sophy. "When a girl's only got one dress
it's got to have some tong to it. Maybe this gown would cause a
wave of indignation in Oskaloosa, Iowa, but it don't even make a
ripple on State Street. It takes more than an aggravated Dutch
neck to make a fellow look at a girl these days. In a town like
this a girl's got to make a showin' some way. I'm my own stage
manager. They look at my dress first, an' grin. See? An' then
they look at my face. I'm like the girl in the story. Muh face is
muh fortune. It's earned me many a square meal; an' lemme tell
you, Pink Cheeks, eatin' square meals is one of my favorite pas-
"Say looka here!" bellowed the boss, wrathfully. "Just cut
out this here Romeo and Juliet act, will you! That there ladder
ain't for no balcony scene, understand. Here you, Louie, you
shinny up there and get down a pair of them brown satin pumps,
Sophy continued to wear the black dress. The V-cut neck
seemed more flaunting than ever.
It was two weeks later that Louie came in from lunch, his face
radiant. He was fifteen minutes late, but he listened to the
boss's ravings with a smile.
"You grin like somebody handed you a ten-case note," commented
Sophy, with a woman's curiosity. "I guess you must of met some
rube from home when you was out t' lunch."
"Better than that! Who do you think I bumped right into in
the elevator going down?"
"Well, Brothah Bones," mimicked Sophy, who did you meet in the
elevator going down?"
"I met a man named Ames. He used to travel for a big Boston
shoe house, and he made our town every few months. We got to be
good friends. I took him home for Sunday dinner once, and he said
it was the best dinner he'd had in months. You know how tired
those traveling men get of hotel grub."
"Cut out the description and get down to action," snapped
"Well, he knew me right away. And he made me go out to lunch
with him. A real lunch, starting with soup. Gee! It went big.
He asked me what I was doing. I told him I was working here, and
he opened his eyes, and then he laughed and said: `How did you get
into that joint?' Then he took me down to a swell little shoe shop
on State Street, and it turned out that he owns it. He introduced
me all around, and I'm going there to work next week. And wages!
Why say, it's almost a salary. A fellow can hold his head up in a
place like that."
"When you leavin'?" asked Sophy, slowly.
"Monday. Gee! it seems a year away."
Sophy was late Saturday morning. When she came in, hurriedly,
her cheeks were scarlet and her eyes glowed. She took off her hat
and coat and fell to straightening boxes and putting out stock
without looking up. She took no part in the talk and jest that was
going on among the other clerks. One of the men, in search of the
missing mate to the shoe in his hand, came over to her, greeting
her carelessly. Then he stared.
"Well, what do you know about this!" he called out to the
others, and laughed coarsely, "Look, stop, listen! Little Sophy
Bright Eyes here has pulled down the shades."
Louie turned quickly. The immodest V of Sophy's gown was
filled with a black lace yoke that came up to the very lobes of her
little pink ears. She had got some scraps of lace from--Where do
they get those bits of rusty black? From some basement bargain
counter, perhaps, raked over during the lunch hour. There were
nine pieces in the front, and seven in the back. She had sat up
half the night putting them together so that when completed they
looked like one, if you didn't come too close. There is a certain
strain of Indian patience and ingenuity in women that no man has
ever been able to understand.
Louie looked up and saw. His eyes met Sophy's. In his there
crept a certain exultant gleam, as of one who had fought for
something great and won. Sophy saw the look. The shy questioning
in her eyes was replaced by a spark of defiance. She tossed her
head, and turned to the man who had called attention to her
"Who's loony now?" she jeered. "I always put in a yoke when
it gets along toward fall. My lungs is delicate. And anyway, I
see by the papers yesterday that collarless gowns is slightly
passay f'r winter."
A BUSH LEAGUE HERO
This is not a baseball story. The grandstand does not rise as one
man and shout itself hoarse with joy. There isn't a three-bagger
in the entire three thousand words, and nobody is carried home on
the shoulders of the crowd. For that sort of thing you need not
squander fifteen cents on your favorite magazine. The modest sum
of one cent will make you the possessor of a Pink 'Un. There you
will find the season's games handled in masterly fashion by a
six-best-seller artist, an expert mathematician, and an
original-slang humorist. No mere short story dub may hope to
compete with these.
In the old days, before the gentry of the ring had learned the
wisdom of investing their winnings in solids instead of liquids,
this used to be a favorite conundrum: When is a prize-fighter not
Chorus: When he is tending bar.
I rise to ask you Brothah Fan, when is a ball player not a
ball player? Above the storm of facetious replies I shout the
When he's a shoe clerk.
Any man who can look handsome in a dirty baseball suit is an
Adonis. There is something about the baggy pants, and the
Micawber-shaped collar, and the skull-fitting cap, and the foot or
so of tan, or blue, or pink undershirt sleeve sticking out at the
arms, that just naturally kills a man's best points. Then too, a
baseball suit requires so much in the matter of leg. Therefore,
when I say that Rudie Schlachweiler was a dream even in his
baseball uniform, with a dirty brown streak right up the side of
his pants where he had slid for base, you may know that the girls
camped on the grounds during the season.
During the summer months our ball park is to us what the Grand
Prix is to Paris, or Ascot is to London. What care we that Evers
gets seven thousand a year (or is it a month?); or that Chicago's
new South-side ball park seats thirty-five thousand (or is it
million?). Of what interest are such meager items compared with
the knowledge that "Pug" Coulan, who plays short, goes with Undine
Meyers, the girl up there in the eighth row, with the pink dress
and the red roses on her hat? When "Pug" snatches a high one out
of the firmament we yell with delight, and even as we yell we turn
sideways to look up and see how Undine is taking it. Undine's
shining eyes are fixed on "Pug," and he knows it, stoops to brush
the dust off his dirt-begrimed baseball pants, takes an attitude of
careless grace and misses the next play.
Our grand-stand seats almost two thousand, counting the boxes.
But only the snobs, and the girls with new hats, sit in the boxes.
Box seats are comfortable, it is true, and they cost only an
additional ten cents, but we have come to consider them
undemocratic, and unworthy of true fans. Mrs. Freddy Van Dyne, who
spends her winters in Egypt and her summers at the ball park, comes
out to the game every afternoon in her automobile, but she never
occupies a box seat; so why should we? She perches up in the
grand-stand with the rest of the enthusiasts, and when Kelly puts
one over she stands up and clinches her fists, and waves her arms
and shouts with the best of 'em. She has even been known to cry,
"Good eye! Good eye!" when things were at fever heat. The only
really blase individual in the ball park is Willie Grimes, who
peddles ice-cream cones. For that matter, I once saw Willie turn
a languid head to pipe, in his thin voice, "Give 'em a dark one,
Dutch! Give 'em a dark one!"
Well, that will do for the firsh dash of local color. Now for
Ivy Keller came home June nineteenth from Miss Shont's select
school for young ladies. By June twenty-first she was bored limp.
You could hardly see the plaits of her white tailored shirtwaist
for fraternity pins and secret society emblems, and her bedroom was
ablaze with college banners and pennants to such an extent that the
maid gave notice every Thursday--which was upstairs cleaning day.
For two weeks after her return Ivy spent most of her time
writing letters and waiting for them, and reading the classics on
the front porch, dressed in a middy blouse and a blue skirt, with
her hair done in a curly Greek effect like the girls on the covers
of the Ladies' Magazine. She posed against the canvas bosom of the
porch chair with one foot under her, the other swinging free,
showing a tempting thing in beaded slipper, silk stocking, and what
the story writers call "slim ankle."
On the second Saturday after her return her father came home
for dinner at noon, found her deep in Volume Two of "Les
"Whew! This is a scorcher!" he exclaimed, and dropped down on
a wicker chair next to Ivy. Ivy looked at her father with languid
interest, and smiled a daughterly smile. Ivy's father was an
insurance man, alderman of his ward, president of the Civic
Improvement club, member of five lodges, and an habitual delegate.
It generally was he who introduced distinguished guests who spoke
at the opera house on Decoration Day. He called Mrs. Keller
"Mother," and he wasn't above noticing the fit of a gown on a
pretty feminine figure. He thought Ivy was an expurgated edition
of Lillian Russell, Madame De Stael, and Mrs. Pankburst.
"Aren't you feeling well, Ivy?" he asked. "Looking a little
pale. It's the heat, I suppose. Gosh! Something smells good.
Run in and tell Mother I'm here."
Ivy kept one slender finger between the leaves of her book.
"I'm perfectly well," she replied. "That must be beefsteak and
onions. Ugh!" And she shuddered, and went indoors.
Dad Keller looked after her thoughtfully. Then he went in,
washed his hands, and sat down at table with Ivy and her mother.
"Just a sliver for me," said Ivy, "and no onions."
Her father put down his knife and fork, cleared his throat,
and spake, thus:
"You get on your hat and meet me at the 2:45 inter-urban.
You're going to the ball game with me."
"Ball game!" repeated Ivy. "I? But I'd----"
"Yes, you do," interrupted her father. "You've been moping
around here looking a cross between Saint Cecilia and Little Eva
long enough. I don't care if you don't know a spitball from a
fadeaway when you see it. You'll be out in the air all afternoon,
and there'll be some excitement. All the girls go. You'll like
it. They're playing Marshalltown."
Ivy went, looking the sacrificial lamb. Five minutes after
the game was called she pointed one tapering white finger in the
direction of the pitcher's mound.
"Who's that?" she asked.
"Pitcher," explained Papa Keller, laconically. Then,
patiently: "He throws the ball."
"Oh," said Ivy. "What did you say his name was?"
"I didn't say. But it's Rudie Schlachweiler. The boys call
him Dutch. Kind of a pet, Dutch is."
"Rudie Schlachweiler!" murmured Ivy, dreamily. "What a strong
"Want some peanuts?" inquired her father.
"Does one eat peanuts at a ball game?"
"It ain't hardly legal if you don't," Pa Keller assured her.
"Two sacks," said Ivy. "Papa, why do they call it a diamond,
and what are those brown bags at the corners, and what does it
count if you hit the ball, and why do they rub their hands in the
dust and then--er--spit on them, and what salary does a pitcher
get, and why does the red-haired man on the other side dance around
like that between the second and third brown bag, and doesn't a
pitcher do anything but pitch, and wh----?"
"You're on," said papa.
After that Ivy didn't miss a game during all the time that the
team played in the home town. She went without a new hat, and
didn't care whether Jean Valjean got away with the goods or not,
and forgot whether you played third hand high or low in bridge.
She even became chummy with Undine Meyers, who wasn't her kind of
a girl at all. Undine was thin in a voluptuous kind of way, if
such a paradox can be, and she had red lips, and a roving eye, and
she ran around downtown without a hat more than was strictly
necessary. But Undine and Ivy had two subjects in common. They
were baseball and love. It is queer how the limelight will make
heroes of us all.
Now "Pug" Coulan, who was red-haired, and had shoulders like
an ox, and arms that hung down to his knees, like those of an
orang-outang, slaughtered beeves at the Chicago stockyards in
winter. In the summer he slaughtered hearts. He wore mustard
colored shirts that matched his hair, and his baseball stockings
generally had a rip in them somewhere, but when he was on the
diamond we were almost ashamed to look at Undine, so wholly did her
heart shine in her eyes.
Now, we'll have just another dash or two of local color. In
a small town the chances for hero worship are few. If it weren't
for the traveling men our girls wouldn't know whether stripes or
checks were the thing in gents' suitings. When the baseball season
opened the girls swarmed on it. Those that didn't understand
baseball pretended they did. When the team was out of town our
form of greeting was changed from, "Good-morning!" or "Howdy-do!"
to "What's the score?" Every night the results of the games
throughout the league were posted up on the blackboard in front of
Schlager's hardware store, and to see the way in which the crowd
stood around it, and streamed across the street toward it, you'd
have thought they were giving away gas stoves and hammock couches.
Going home in the street car after the game the girls used to
gaze adoringly at the dirty faces of their sweat-begrimed heroes,
and then they'd rush home, have supper, change their dresses, do
their hair, and rush downtown past the Parker Hotel to mail their
letters. The baseball boys boarded over at the Griggs House, which
is third-class, but they used their tooth-picks, and held the
postmortem of the day's game out in front of the Parker Hotel,
which is our leading hostelry. The postoffice receipts record for
our town was broken during the months of June, July, and August.
Mrs. Freddy Van Dyne started the trouble by having the team
over to dinner, "Pug" Coulan and all. After all, why not? No
foreign and impecunious princes penetrate as far inland as our
town. They get only as far as New York, or Newport, where they are
gobbled up by many-moneyed matrons. If Mrs. Freddy Van Dyne found
the supply of available lions limited, why should she not try to
content herself with a jackal or so?
Ivy was asked. Until then she had contented herself with
gazing at her hero. She had become such a hardened baseball fan
that she followed the game with a score card, accurately jotting
down every play, and keeping her watch open on her knee.
She sat next to Rudie at dinner. Before she had nibbled her
second salted almond, Ivy Keller and Rudie Schlachweiler understood
each other. Rudie illustrated certain plays by drawing lines on
the table-cloth with his knife and Ivy gazed, wide-eyed, and
allowed her soup to grow cold.
The first night that Rudie called, Pa Keller thought it a
great joke. He sat out on the porch with Rudie and Ivy and talked
baseball, and got up to show Rudie how he could have got the goat
of that Keokuk catcher if only he had tried one of his famous
open-faced throws. Rudie looked politely interested, and laughed
in all the right places. But Ivy didn't need to pretend. Rudie
Schlachweiler spelled baseball to her. She did not think of her
caller as a good-looking young man in a blue serge suit and a white
shirtwaist. Even as he sat there she saw him as a blonde god
standing on the pitcher's mound, with the scars of battle on his
baseball pants, his left foot placed in front of him at right
angles with his right foot, his gaze fixed on first base in a
cunning effort to deceive the man at bat, in that favorite attitude
of pitchers just before they get ready to swing their left leg and
h'ist one over.
The second time that Rudie called, Ma Keller said:
"Ivy, I don't like that ball player coming here to see you.
The neighbors'll talk."
The third time Rudie called, Pa Keller said: "What's that guy
doing here again?"
The fourth time Rudie called, Pa Keller and Ma Keller said, in
unison: "This thing has got to stop."
But it didn't. It had had too good a start. For the rest of
the season Ivy met her knight of the sphere around the corner.
Theirs was a walking courtship. They used to roam up as far as the
State road, and down as far as the river, and Rudie would fain have
talked of love, but Ivy talked of baseball.
"Darling," Rudie would murmur, pressing Ivy's arm closer,
"when did you first begin to care?"
"Why I liked the very first game I saw when Dad----"
"I mean, when did you first begin to care for me?"
"Oh! When you put three men out in that game with
Marshalltown when the teams were tied in the eighth inning.
Remember? Say, Rudie dear, what was the matter with your arm
to-day? You let three men walk, and Albia's weakest hitter got a
home run out of you."
"Oh, forget baseball for a minute, Ivy! Let's talk about
something else. Let's talk about--us."
"Us? Well, you're baseball, aren't you?" retorted Ivy. "And
if you are, I am. Did you notice the way that Ottumwa man pitched
yesterday? He didn't do any acting for the grandstand. He didn't
reach up above his head, and wrap his right shoulder with his left
toe, and swing his arm three times and then throw seven inches
outside the plate. He just took the ball in his hand, looked at it
curiously for a moment, and fired it--zing!--like that, over the
plate. I'd get that ball if I were you."
"Isn't this a grand night?" murmured Rudie.
"But they didn't have a hitter in the bunch," went on Ivy.
"And not a man in the team could run. That's why they're
tail-enders. Just the same, that man on the mound was a wizard,
and if he had one decent player to give him some support----"
Well, the thing came to a climax. One evening, two weeks
before the close of the season, Ivy put on her hat and announced
that she was going downtown to mail her letters.
"Mail your letters in the daytime," growled Papa Keller.
"I didn't have time to-day," answered Ivy. "It was a thirteen
inning game, and it lasted until six o'clock."
It was then that Papa Keller banged the heavy fist of decision
down on the library table.
"This thing's got to stop!" he thundered. "I won't have any
girl of mine running the streets with a ball player, understand?
Now you quit seeing this seventy-five-dollars-a-month bush leaguer
or leave this house. I mean it."
"All right," said Ivy, with a white-hot calm. "I'll leave.
I can make the grandest kind of angel-food with marshmallow icing,
and you know yourself my fudges can't be equaled. He'll be playing
in the major leagues in three years. Why just yesterday there was
a strange man at the game--a city man, you could tell by his
hat-band, and the way his clothes were cut. He stayed through the
whole game, and never took his eyes off Rudie. I just know he was
a scout for the Cubs."
"Probably a hardware drummer, or a fellow that Schlachweiler
owes money to."
Ivy began to pin on her hat. A scared look leaped into Papa
Keller's eyes. He looked a little old, too, and drawn, at that
minute. He stretched forth a rather tremulous hand.
"Ivy-girl," he said.
"What?" snapped Ivy.
"Your old father's just talking for your own good. You're
breaking your ma's heart. You and me have been good pals, haven't
"Yes," said Ivy, grudgingly, and without looking up.
"Well now, look here. I've got a proposition to make to you.
The season's over in two more weeks. The last week they play out
of town. Then the boys'll come back for a week or so, just to hang
around town and try to get used to the idea of leaving us. Then
they'll scatter to take up their winter jobs-cutting ice, most of
'em," he added, grimly.
"Mr. Schlachweiler is employed in a large establishment in
Slatersville, Ohio," said Ivy, with dignity. "He regards baseball
as his profession, and he cannot do anything that would affect his
Pa Keller put on the tremolo stop and brought a misty look
into his eyes.
"Ivy, you'll do one last thing for your old father, won't
"Maybe," answered Ivy, coolly.
"Don't make that fellow any promises. Now wait a minute! Let
me get through. I won't put any crimp in your plans. I won't
speak to Schlachweiler. Promise you won't do anything rash until
the ball season's over. Then we'll wait just one month, see? Till
along about November. Then if you feel like you want to see
"Hold on. You mustn't write to him, or see him, or let him
write to you during that time, see? Then, if you feel the way you
do now, I'll take you to Slatersville to see him. Now that's fair,
ain't it? Only don't let him know you're coming."
" M-m-m-yes," said Ivy.
"Shake hands on it." She did. Then she left the room with a
rush, headed in the direction of her own bedroom. Pa Keller
treated himself to a prodigious wink and went out to the vegetable
garden in search of Mother.
The team went out on the road, lost five games, won two, and
came home in fourth place. For a week they lounged around the
Parker Hotel and held up the street corners downtown, took many
farewell drinks, then, slowly, by ones and twos, they left for the
packing houses, freight depots, and gents' furnishing stores from
whence they came.
October came in with a blaze of sumac and oak leaves. Ivy
stayed home and learned to make veal loaf and apple pies. The
worry lines around Pa Keller's face began to deepen. Ivy said that
she didn't believe that she cared to go back to Miss Shont's select
school for young ladies.
October thirty-first came.
"We'll take the eight-fifteen to-morrow," said her father to
"All right," said Ivy.
"Do you know where he works?" asked he.
"No," answered Ivy.
"That'll be all right. I took the trouble to look him up last
The short November afternoon was drawing to its close (as our
best talent would put it) when Ivy and her father walked along the
streets of Slatersville. (I can't tell you what streets, because
I don't know.) Pa Keller brought up before a narrow little shoe
"Here we are," he said, and ushered Ivy in. A short, stout,
proprietary figure approached them smiling a mercantile smile.
"What can I do for you?" he inquired.
Ivy's eyes searched the shop for a tall, golden-haired form in
a soiled baseball suit.
"We'd like to see a gentleman named Schlachweiler--Rudolph
Schlachweiler," said Pa Keller.
"Anything very special?" inquired the proprietor.
"He's--rather busy just now. Wouldn't anybody else do? Of course,
"No," growled Keller.
The boss turned. "Hi! Schlachweiler!" he bawled toward the
rear of the dim little shop.
"Yessir," answered a muffled voice.
"Front!" yelled the boss, and withdrew to a safe listening
A vaguely troubled look lurked in the depths of Ivy's eyes.
From behind the partition of the rear of the shop emerged a tall
figure. It was none other than our hero. He was in his shirt-
sleeves, and he struggled into his coat as he came forward, wiping
his mouth with the back of his hand, hurriedly, and swallowing.
I have said that the shop was dim. Ivy and her father stood
at one side, their backs to the light. Rudie came forward, rubbing
his hands together in the manner of clerks.
"Something in shoes?" he politely inquired. Then he saw.
"Ivy!--ah--Miss Keller!" he exclaimed. Then, awkwardly:
"Well, how-do, Mr. Keller. I certainly am glad to see you both.
How's the old town? What are you doing in Slatersville?"
"Why--Ivy----" began Pa Keller, blunderingly.
But Ivy clutched his arm with a warning hand. The vaguely
troubled look in her eyes had become wildly so.
"Schlachweiler!" shouted the voice of the boss. "Customers!"
and he waved a hand in the direction of the fitting benches.
"All right, sir," answered Rudie. "Just a minute."
"Dad had to come on business," said Ivy, hurriedly. "And he
brought me with him. I'm--I'm on my way to school in Cleveland,
you know. Awfully glad to have seen you again. We must go. That
lady wants her shoes, I'm sure, and your employer is glaring at us.
At the door she turned just in time to see Rudie removing the
shoe from the pudgy foot of the fat lady customer.
We'll take a jump of six months. That brings us into the lap
Pa Keller looked up from his evening paper. Ivy, home for the
Easter vacation, was at the piano. Ma Keller was sewing.
Pa Keller cleared his throat. "I see by the paper," he
announced, "that Schlachweiler's been sold to Des Moines. Too bad
we lost him. He was a great little pitcher, but he played in bad
luck. Whenever he was on the slab the boys seemed to give him poor
"Fudge!" exclaimed Ivy, continuing to play, but turning a
spirited face toward her father. "What piffle! Whenever a player
pitches rotten ball you'll always hear him howling about the
support he didn't get. Schlachweiler was a bum pitcher. Anybody
could hit him with a willow wand, on a windy day, with the sun in
THE KITCHEN SIDE OF THE DOOR
The City was celebrating New Year's Eve.
Spelled thus, with a capital C, know it can mean but New York.
In the Pink Fountain room of the Newest Hotel all those grand old
forms and customs handed down to us for the occasion were being
rigidly observed in all their original quaintness. The Van Dyked
man who looked like a Russian Grand Duke (he really was a
chiropodist) had drunk champagne out of the pink satin slipper of
the lady who behaved like an actress (she was forelady at Schmaus'
Wholesale Millinery, eighth floor). The two respectable married
ladies there in the corner had been kissed by each other's
husbands. The slim, Puritan-faced woman in white, with her black
hair so demurely parted and coiled in a sleek knot, had risen
suddenly from her place and walked indolently to the edge of the
plashing pink fountain in the center of the room, had stood
contemplating its shallows with a dreamy half-smile on her lips,
and then had lifted her slim legs slowly and gracefully over its
fern-fringed basin and had waded into its chilling midst, trailing
her exquisite white satin and chiffon draperies after her, and
scaring the goldfish into fits. The loudest scream of approbation
had come from the yellow-haired, loose-lipped youth who had made
the wager, and lost it. The heavy blonde in the inevitable violet
draperies showed signs of wanting to dance on the table. Her
companion--a structure made up of layer upon layer, and fold upon
fold of flabby tissue--knew all the waiters by their right names,
and insisted on singing with the orchestra and beating time with a
rye roll. The clatter of dishes was giving way to the clink of
In the big, bright kitchen back, of the Pink Fountain room
Miss Gussie Fink sat at her desk, calm, watchful, insolent-eyed, a
goddess sitting in judgment. On the pay roll of the Newest Hotel
Miss Gussie Fink's name appeared as kitchen checker, but her
regular job was goddessing. Her altar was a high desk in a corner
of the busy kitchen, and it was an altar of incense, of
burnt-offerings, and of showbread. Inexorable as a goddess of the
ancients was Miss Fink, and ten times as difficult to appease. For
this is the rule of the Newest Hotel, that no waiter may carry his
laden tray restaurantward until its contents have been viewed and
duly checked by the eye and hand of Miss Gussie Fink, or her
assistants. Flat upon the table must go every tray, off must go
each silver dish-cover, lifted must be each napkin to disclose its
treasure of steaming corn or hot rolls. Clouds of incense rose
before Miss Gussie Fink and she sniffed it unmoved, her eyes,
beneath level brows, regarding savory broiler or cunning ice with
equal indifference, appraising alike lobster cocktail or onion
soup, traveling from blue points to brie. Things a la and things
glace were all one to her. Gazing at food was Miss Gussie Fink's
occupation, and just to see the way she regarded a boneless squab
made you certain that she never ate.
In spite of the I-don't-know-how-many (see ads) New Year's Eve
diners for whom food was provided that night, the big, busy kitchen
was the most orderly, shining, spotless place imaginable. But Miss
Gussie Fink was the neatest, most immaculate object in all that
great, clean room. There was that about her which suggested
daisies in a field, if you know what I mean. This may have been
due to the fact that her eyes were brown while her hair was gold,
or it may have been something about the way her collars fitted
high, and tight, and smooth, or the way her close white sleeves
came down to meet her pretty hands, or the way her shining hair
sprang from her forehead. Also the smooth creaminess of her clear
skin may have had something to do with it. But privately, I think
it was due to the way she wore her shirtwaists. Miss Gussie Fink
could wear a starched white shirtwaist under a close-fitting winter
coat, remove the coat, run her right forefinger along her collar's
edge and her left thumb along the back of her belt and disclose to
the admiring world a blouse as unwrinkled and unsullied as though
it had just come from her own skilful hands at the ironing board.
Miss Gussie Fink was so innately, flagrantly, beautifully
clean-looking that--well, there must be a stop to this description.
She was the kind of girl you'd like to see behind the counter of
your favorite delicatessen, knowing that you need not shudder as
her fingers touch your Sunday night supper slices of tongue, and
Swiss cheese, and ham. No girl had ever dreamed of refusing to
allow Gussie to borrow her chamois for a second.
To-night Miss Fink had come on at 10 P.M., which was just two
hours later than usual. She knew that she was to work until 6
A.M., which may have accounted for the fact that she displayed very
little of what the fans call ginger as she removed her hat and coat
and hung them on the hook behind the desk. The prospect of that
all-night, eight-hour stretch may have accounted for it, I say.
But privately, and entre nous, it didn't. For here you must know
of Heiny. Heiny, alas! now Henri.
Until two weeks ago Henri had been Heiny and Miss Fink had
been Kid. When Henri had been Heiny he had worked in the kitchen
at many things, but always with a loving eye on Miss Gussie Fink.
Then one wild night there had been a waiters' strike--wages or
hours or tips or all three. In the confusion that followed Heiny
had been pressed into service and a chopped coat. He had fitted
into both with unbelievable nicety, proving that waiters are born,
not made. Those little tricks and foibles that are characteristic
of the genus waiter seemed to envelop him as though a fairy garment
had fallen upon his shoulders. The folded napkin under his left
arm seemed to have been placed there by nature, so perfectly did it
fit into place. The ghostly tread, the little whisking skip, the
half-simper, the deferential bend that had in it at the same time
something of insolence, all were there; the very "Yes, miss," and
"Very good, sir," rose automatically and correctly to his untrained
lips. Cinderella rising resplendent from her ash-strewn hearth was
not more completely transformed than Heiny in his role of Henri.
And with the transformation Miss Gussie Fink had been left behind
her desk disconsolate.
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