Buttered Side Down
Part 3 out of 3
"`For Gawd's sakes, Lil, does your husband beat you?'
"`Steve!' she shrieks, `beat me! You must be crazy!'
"`Well, if he don't, he ought to. Those clothes are grounds
for divorce,' I says.
"Mr. Guy Peel, it took me just four weeks to get wise to the
fact that the way to cure homesickness is to go home. I spent
those four weeks trying to revolutionize my sister-in-law's house,
dress, kids, husband, wall paper and parlor carpet. I took all the
doilies from under the ornaments and spoke my mind on the subject
of the hand-painted lamp, and Lil hates me for it yet, and will to
her dying day. I fitted three dresses for her, and made her get
some corsets that she'll never wear. They have roast pork for
dinner on Sundays, and they never go to the theater, and they like
bread pudding, and they're happy. I wasn't. They treated me fine,
and it was home, all right, but not my home. It was the same, but
I was different. Eleven years away from anything makes it shrink,
if you know what I mean. I guess maybe you do. I remember that I
used to think that the Grand View Hotel was a regular little
oriental palace that was almost too luxurious to be respectable,
and that the traveling men who stopped there were gods, and just to
prance past the hotel after supper had the Atlantic City board walk
looking like a back alley on a rainy night. Well, everything had
sort of shriveled up just like that. The popcorn gave me
indigestion, and I burned the skin off my nose popping it.
Kneading bread gave me the backache, and the blamed stuff wouldn't
raise right. I got so I was crazy to hear the roar of an L train,
and the sound of a crossing policeman's whistle. I got to thinking
how Michigan Avenue looks, downtown, with the lights shining down
on the asphalt, and all those people eating in the swell hotels,
and the autos, and the theater crowds and the windows, and--well,
I'm back. Glad I went? You said it. Because it made me so darned
glad to get back. I've found out one thing, and it's a great
little lesson when you get it learned. Most of us are where we are
because we belong there, and if we didn't, we wouldn't be. Say,
that does sound mixed, don't it? But it's straight. Now you tell
"I think you've said it all," began Guy Peel. "It's queer,
isn't it, how twelve years of America will spoil one for afternoon
tea, and yew trees, and tapestries, and lace caps, and roses. The
mater was glad to see me, but she said I smelled woolly. They
think a Navajo blanket is a thing the Indians wear on the war path,
and they don't know whether Texas is a state, or a mineral water.
It was slow--slow. About the time they were taking afternoon tea,
I'd be reckoning how the boys would be rounding up the cattle for
the night, and about the time we'd sit down to dinner something
seemed to whisk the dinner table, and the flowers, and the men and
women in evening clothes right out of sight, like magic, and I
could see the boys stretched out in front of the bunk house after
their supper of bacon, and beans, and biscuit, and coffee. They'd
be smoking their pipes that smelled to Heaven, and further, and
Wing would be squealing one of his creepy old Chink songs out in
the kitchen, and the sky would be--say, Miss Meron, did you ever
see the night sky, out West? Purple, you know, and soft as soap-
suds, and so near that you want to reach up and touch it with your
hand. Toward the end my mother used to take me off in a corner and
tell me that I hadn't spoken a word to the little girl that I had
taken in to dinner, and that if I couldn't forget my uncouth
western ways for an hour or two, at least, perhaps I'd better not
try to mingle with civilized people. I discovered that home isn't
always the place where you were born and bred. Home is the place
where your everyday clothes are, and where somebody, or something
needs you. They didn't need me over there in England. Lord no!
I was sick for the sight of a Navajo blanket. My shack's glowing
with them. And my books needed me, and the boys, and the critters,
"Kate?" repeated Miss Meron, quickly.
"Kate's my horse. I'm going back on the 5:25 to-night. This
is my regular trip, you know. I came around here to buy a paper,
because it has become a habit. And then, too, I sort of
felt--well, something told me that you----"
"You're a nice boy," said Miss Meron. "By the way, did I tell
you that I married the manager of the show the week after I got
back? We go to Bloomington to-night, and then we jump to St. Paul.
I came around here just as usual, because--well--because----"
Tony's gift for remembering faces and facts amounts to genius.
With two deft movements he whisked two papers from among the many
in the rack, and held them out.
"Kewaskum Courier?" he suggested.
"Nix," said Mercedes Meron, "I'll take a Chicago Scream."
"London Times?" said Tony.
"No," replied Guy Peel. "Give me the San Antonio Express."
THE HOMELY HEROINE
Millie Whitcomb, of the fancy goods and notions, beckoned me with
her finger. I had been standing at Kate O'Malley's counter,
pretending to admire her new basket-weave suitings, but in reality
reveling in her droll account of how, in the train coming up from
Chicago, Mrs. Judge Porterfield had worn the negro porter's coat
over her chilly shoulders in mistake for her husband's. Kate
O'Malley can tell a funny story in a way to make the after-dinner
pleasantries of a Washington diplomat sound like the clumsy jests
told around the village grocery stove.
"I wanted to tell you that I read that last story of yours,"
said Millie, sociably, when I had strolled over to her counter,
"and I liked it, all but the heroine. She had an `adorable throat'
and hair that `waved away from her white brow,' and eyes that `now
were blue and now gray.' Say, why don't you write a story about an
"My land!" protested I. "It's bad enough trying to make them
accept my stories as it is. That last heroine was a raving beauty,
but she came back eleven times before the editor of Blakely's
succumbed to her charms."
Millie's fingers were busy straightening the contents of a
tray of combs and imitation jet barrettes. Millie's fingers were
not intended for that task. They are slender, tapering fingers,
pink-tipped and sensitive.
"I should think," mused she, rubbing a cloudy piece of jet
with a bit of soft cloth, "that they'd welcome a homely one with
relief. These goddesses are so cloying."
Millie Whitcomb's black hair is touched with soft mists of
gray, and she wears lavender shirtwaists and white stocks edged
with lavender. There is a Colonial air about her that has nothing
to do with celluloid combs and imitation jet barrettes. It
breathes of dim old rooms, rich with the tones of mahogany and old
brass, and Millie in the midst of it, gray-gowned, a soft white
fichu crossed upon her breast.
In our town the clerks are not the pert and gum-chewing young
persons that story-writers are wont to describe. The girls at
Bascom's are institutions. They know us all by our first names,
and our lives are as an open book to them. Kate O'Malley, who has
been at Bascom's for so many years that she is rumored to have
stock in the company, may be said to govern the fashions of our
town. She is wont to say, when we express a fancy for gray as the
color of our new spring suit:
"Oh, now, Nellie, don't get gray again. You had it year
before last, and don't you think it was just the least leetle bit
trying? Let me show you that green that came in yesterday. I said
the minute I clapped my eyes on it that it was just the color for
you, with your brown hair and all."
And we end by deciding on the green.
The girls at Bascom's are not gossips--they are too busy for
that--but they may be said to be delightfully well informed. How
could they be otherwise when we go to Bascom's for our wedding
dresses and party favors and baby flannels? There is news at
Bascom's that our daily paper never hears of, and wouldn't dare
print if it did.
So when Millie Whitcomb, of the fancy goods and notions,
expressed her hunger for a homely heroine, I did not resent the
suggestion. On the contrary, it sent me home in thoughtful mood,
for Millie Whitcomb has acquired a knowledge of human nature in the
dispensing of her fancy goods and notions. It set me casting about
for a really homely heroine.
There never has been a really ugly heroine in fiction.
Authors have started bravely out to write of an unlovely woman, but
they never have had the courage to allow her to remain plain. On
Page 237 she puts on a black lace dress and red roses, and the
combination brings out unexpected tawny lights in her hair, and
olive tints in her cheeks, and there she is, the same old beautiful
heroine. Even in the "Duchess" books one finds the simple Irish
girl, on donning a green corduroy gown cut square at the neck,
transformed into a wild-rose beauty, at sight of whom a ball-room
is hushed into admiring awe. There's the case of jane Eyre, too.
She is constantly described as plain and mouse-like, but there are
covert hints as to her gray eyes and slender figure and clear skin,
and we have a sneaking notion that she wasn't such a fright after
Therefore, when I tell you that I am choosing Pearlie Schultz
as my leading lady you are to understand that she is ugly, not only
when the story opens, but to the bitter end. In the first place,
Pearlie is fat. Not, plump, or rounded, or dimpled, or deliciously
curved, but FAT. She bulges in all the wrong places, including her
chin. (Sister, who has a way of snooping over my desk in my
absence, says that I may as well drop this now, because nobody
would ever read it, anyway, least of all any sane editor. I
protest when I discover that Sis has been over my papers. It
bothers me. But she says you have to do these things when you have
a genius in the house, and cites the case of Kipling's
"Recessional," which was rescued from the depths of his wastebasket
by his wife.)
Pearlie Schultz used to sit on the front porch summer evenings
and watch the couples stroll by, and weep in her heart. A fat girl
with a fat girl's soul is a comedy. But a fat girl with a thin
girl's soul is a tragedy. Pearlie, in spite of her two hundred
pounds, had the soul of a willow wand.
The walk in front of Pearlie's house was guarded by a row of
big trees that cast kindly shadows. The strolling couples used to
step gratefully into the embrace of these shadows, and from them
into other embraces. Pearlie, sitting on the porch, could see them
dimly, although they could not see her. She could not help
remarking that these strolling couples were strangely lacking in
sprightly conversation. Their remarks were but fragmentary,
disjointed affairs, spoken in low tones with a queer, tremulous
note in them. When they reached the deepest, blackest, kindliest
shadow, which fell just before the end of the row of trees, the
strolling couples almost always stopped, and then there came a
quick movement, and a little smothered cry from the girl, and then
a sound, and then a silence. Pearlie, sitting alone on the porch
in the dark, listened to these things and blushed furiously.
Pearlie had never strolled into the kindly shadows with a little
beating of the heart, and she had never been surprised with a quick
arm about her and eager lips pressed warmly against her own.
In the daytime Pearlie worked as public stenographer at the
Burke Hotel. She rose at seven in the morning, and rolled for
fifteen minutes, and lay on her back and elevated her heels in the
air, and stood stiff-kneed while she touched the floor with her
finger tips one hundred times, and went without her breakfast. At
the end of each month she usually found that she weighed three
pounds more than she had the month before.
The folks at home never joked with Pearlie about her weight.
Even one's family has some respect for a life sorrow. Whenever
Pearlie asked that inevitable question of the fat woman: "Am I as
fat as she is?" her mother always answered: "You! Well, I should
hope not! You're looking real peaked lately, Pearlie. And your
blue skirt just ripples in the back, it's getting so big for you."
Of such blessed stuff are mothers made.
But if the gods had denied Pearlie all charms of face or form,
they had been decent enough to bestow on her one gift. Pearlie
could cook like an angel; no, better than an angel, for no angel
could be a really clever cook and wear those flowing kimono-like
sleeves. They'd get into the soup. Pearlie could take a piece of
rump and some suet and an onion and a cup or so of water, and
evolve a pot roast that you could cut with a fork. She could turn
out a surprisingly good cake with surprisingly few eggs, all
covered with white icing, and bearing cunning little jelly figures
on its snowy bosom. She could beat up biscuits that fell apart at
the lightest pressure, revealing little pools of golden butter
within. Oh, Pearlie could cook!
On week days Pearlie rattled the typewriter keys, but on
Sundays she shooed her mother out of the kitchen. Her mother went,
"Now, Pearlie, don't fuss so for dinner. You ought to get
your rest on Sunday instead of stewing over a hot stove all
"Hot fiddlesticks, ma," Pearlie would say, cheerily. "It
ain't hot, because it's a gas stove. And I'll only get fat if I
sit around. You put on your black-and-white and go to church.
Call me when you've got as far as your corsets, and I'll puff your
hair for you in the back."
In her capacity of public stenographer at the Burke Hotel, it
was Pearlie's duty to take letters dictated by traveling men and
beginning: "Yours of the 10th at hand. In reply would say. . . ."
or: "Enclosed please find, etc." As clinching proof of her
plainness it may be stated that none of the traveling men, not even
Max Baum, who was so fresh that the girl at the cigar counter
actually had to squelch him, ever called Pearlie "baby doll," or
tried to make a date with her. Not that Pearlie would ever have
allowed them to. But she never had had to reprove them. During
pauses in dictation she had a way of peering near-sightedly, over
her glasses at the dapper, well-dressed traveling salesman who was
rolling off the items on his sale bill. That is a trick which
would make the prettiest kind of a girl look owlish.
On the night that Sam Miller strolled up to talk to her,
Pearlie was working late. She had promised to get out a long and
intricate bill for Max Baum, who travels for Kuhn and Klingman, so
that he might take the nine o'clock evening train. The
irrepressible Max had departed with much eclat and clatter, and
Pearlie was preparing to go home when Sam approached her.
Sam had just come in from the Gayety Theater across the
street, whither he had gone in a vain search for amusement after
supper. He had come away in disgust. A soiled soubrette with
orange-colored hair and baby socks had swept her practiced eye over
the audience, and, attracted by Sam's good-looking blond head in
the second row, had selected him as the target of her song. She
had run up to the extreme edge of the footlights at the risk of
teetering over, and had informed Sam through the medium of song--to
the huge delight of the audience, and to Sam's red-faced
discomfiture--that she liked his smile, and he was just her style,
and just as cute as he could be, and just the boy for her. On
reaching the chorus she had whipped out a small, round mirror and,
assisted by the calcium-light man in the rear, had thrown a
wretched little spotlight on Sam's head.
Ordinarily, Sam would not have minded it. But that evening,
in the vest pocket just over the place where he supposed his heart
to be reposed his girl's daily letter. They were to be married on
Sam's return to New York from his first long trip. In the letter
near his heart she had written prettily and seriously about
traveling men, and traveling men's wives, and her little code for
both. The fragrant, girlish, grave little letter had caused Sam to
sour on the efforts of the soiled soubrette.
As soon as possible he had fled up the aisle and across the
street to the hotel writing-room. There he had spied Pearlie's
good-humored, homely face, and its contrast with the silly, red
and-white countenance of the unlaundered soubrette had attracted
his homesick heart.
Pearlie had taken some letters from him earlier in the day.
Now, in his hunger for companionship, he, strolled up to her desk,
just as she was putting her typewriter to bed.
"Gee I This is a lonesome town!" said Sam, smiling down at
Pearlie glanced up at him, over her glasses. "I guess you
must be from New York," she said. "I've heard a real New Yorker
can get bored in Paris. In New York the sky is bluer, and the
grass is greener, and the girls are prettier, and the steaks are
thicker, and the buildings are higher, and the streets are wider,
and the air is finer, than the sky, or the grass, or the girls, or
the steaks, or the air of any place else in the world. Ain't
"Oh, now," protested Sam, "quit kiddin' me! You'd be lonesome
for the little old town, too, if you'd been born and dragged up in
it, and hadn't seen it for four months."
"New to the road, aren't you?" asked Pearlie.
Sam blushed a little. "How did you know?"
"Well, you generally can tell. They don't know what to do
with themselves evenings, and they look rebellious when they go
into the dining-room. The old-timers just look resigned."
"You've picked up a thing or two around here, haven't you? I
wonder if the time will ever come when I'll look resigned to a
hotel dinner, after four months of 'em. Why, girl, I've got so I
just eat the things that are covered up--like baked potatoes in the
shell, and soft boiled eggs, and baked apples, and oranges that I
can peel, and nuts."
"Why, you poor kid," breathed Pearlie, her pale eyes fixed on
him in motherly pity. "You oughtn't to do that. You'll get so
thin your girl won't know you."
Sam looked up quickly. "How in thunderation did you
Pearlie was pinning on her hat, and she spoke succinctly, her
hatpins between her teeth: "You've been here two days now, and I
notice you dictate all your letters except the longest one, and you
write that one off in a corner of the writing-room all by yourself,
with your cigar just glowing like a live coal, and you squint up
through the smoke, and grin to yourself."
"Say, would you mind if I walked home with you?" asked Sam.
If Pearlie was surprised, she was woman enough not to show
it. She picked up her gloves and hand bag, locked her drawer with
a click, and smiled her acquiescence. And when Pearlie smiled she
It was a glorious evening in the early summer, moonless,
velvety, and warm. As they strolled homeward, Sam told her all
about the Girl, as is the way of traveling men the world over. He
told her about the tiny apartment they had taken, and how he would
be on the road only a couple of years more, as this was just a
try-out that the firm always insisted on. And they stopped under
an arc light while Sam showed her the picture in his watch, as is
also the way of traveling men since time immemorial.
Pearlie made an excellent listener. He was so boyish, and so
much in love, and so pathetically eager to make good with the firm,
and so happy to have some one in whom to confide.
"But it's a dog's life, after all," reflected Sam, again after
the fashion of all traveling men. "Any fellow on the road earns
his salary these days, you bet. I used to think it was all getting
up when you felt like it, and sitting in the big front window of
the hotel, smoking a cigar and watching the pretty girls go by. I
wasn't wise to the packing, and the unpacking, and the rotten train
service, and the grouchy customers, and the canceled bills, and the
Pearlie nodded understandingly. "A man told me once that
twice a week regularly he dreamed of the way his wife cooked
"My folks are German," explained Sam. "And my mother--can she
cook! Well, I just don't seem able to get her potato pancakes out
of my mind. And her roast beef tasted and looked like roast beef,
and not like a wet red flannel rag."
At this moment Pearlie was seized with a brilliant idea.
"To-morrow's Sunday. You're going to Sunday here, aren't you?
Come over and eat your dinner with us. If you have forgotten the
taste of real food, I can give you a dinner that'll jog your
"Oh, really," protested Sam. "You're awfully good, but I
couldn't think of it. I----"
"You needn't be afraid. I'm not letting you in for anything.
I may be homelier than an English suffragette, and I know my lines
are all bumps, but there's one thing you can't take away from me,
and that's my cooking hand. I can cook, boy, in a way to make your
mother's Sunday dinner, with company expected, look like Mrs.
Newlywed's first attempt at `riz' biscuits. And I don't mean any
disrespect to your mother when I say it. I'm going to have
noodle-soup, and fried chicken, and hot biscuits, and creamed beans
from our own garden, and strawberry shortcake with real----"
"Hush!" shouted Sam. "If I ain't there, you'll know that I
passed away during the night, and you can telephone the clerk to
break in my door."
The Grim Reaper spared him, and Sam came, and was introduced
to the family, and ate. He put himself in a class with Dr.
Johnson, and Ben Brust, and Gargantua, only that his table manners
were better. He almost forgot to talk during the soup, and he came
back three times for chicken, and by the time the strawberry
shortcake was half consumed he was looking at Pearlie with a sort
of awe in his eyes.
That night he came over to say good-bye before taking his
train out for Ishpeming. He and Pearlie strolled down as far as
the park and back again.
"I didn't eat any supper," said Sam. "It would have been
sacrilege, after that dinner of yours. Honestly, I don't know how
to thank you, being so good to a stranger like me. When I come
back next trip, I expect to have the Kid with me, and I want her to
meet you, by George! She's a winner and a pippin, but she wouldn't
know whether a porterhouse was stewed or frapped. I'll tell her
about you, you bet. In the meantime, if there's anything I can do
for you, I'm yours to command."
Pearlie turned to him suddenly. "You see that clump of thick
shadows ahead of us, where those big trees stand in front of our
"Sure," replied Sam.
"Well, when we step into that deepest, blackest shadow, right
in front of our porch, I want you to reach up, and put your arm
around me and kiss me on the mouth, just once. And when you get
back to New York you can tell your girl I asked you to."
There broke from him a little involuntary exclamation. It
might have been of pity, and it might have been of surprise. It
had in it something of both, but nothing of mirth. And as they
stepped into the depths of the soft black shadows he took off his
smart straw sailor, which was so different from the sailors that
the boys in our town wear. And there was in the gesture something
Millie Whitcomb didn't like the story of the homely heroine,
after all. She says that a steady diet of such literary fare would
give her blue indigestion. Also she objects on the ground that no
one got married--that is, the heroine didn't. And she says that a
heroine who does not get married isn't a heroine at all. She
thinks she prefers the pink-cheeked, goddess kind, in the end.
There come those times in the life of every woman when she feels
that she must wash her hair at once. And then she does it. The
feeling may come upon her suddenly, without warning, at any hour of
the day or night; or its approach may be slow and insidious, so
that the victim does not at first realize what it is that fills her
with that sensation of unrest. But once in the clutches of the
idea she knows no happiness, no peace, until she has donned a
kimono, gathered up two bath towels, a spray, and the green soap,
and she breathes again only when, head dripping, she makes for the
back yard, the sitting-room radiator, or the side porch (depending
on her place of residence, and the time of year).
Mary Louise was seized with the feeling at ten o'clock on a
joyous June morning. She tried to fight it off because she had got
to that stage in the construction of her story where her hero was
beginning to talk and act a little more like a real live man, and
a little less like a clothing store dummy. (By the way, they don't
seem to be using those pink-and-white, black-mustachioed figures
any more. Another good simile gone.)
Mary Louise had been battling with that hero for a week. He
wouldn't make love to the heroine. In vain had Mary Louise striven
to instill red blood into his watery veins. He and the beauteous
heroine were as far apart as they had been on Page One of the
typewritten manuscript. Mary Louise was developing nerves over
him. She had bitten her finger nails, and twisted her hair into
corkscrews over him. She had risen every morning at the chaste
hour of seven, breakfasted hurriedly, tidied the tiny two-room
apartment, and sat down in the unromantic morning light to wrestle
with her stick of a hero. She had made her heroine a creature of
grace, wit, and loveliness, but thus far the hero had not once
clasped her to him fiercely, or pressed his lips to her hair, her
eyes, her cheeks. Nay (as the story-writers would put it), he
hadn't even devoured her with his gaze.
This morning, however, he had begun to show some signs of
life. He was developing possibilities. Whereupon, at this
critical stage in the story-writing game, the hair-washing mania
seized Mary Louise. She tried to dismiss the idea. She pushed it
out of her mind, and slammed the door. It only popped in again.
Her fingers wandered to her hair. Her eyes wandered to the June
sunshine outside. The hero was left poised, arms outstretched, and
unquenchable love-light burning in his eyes, while Mary Louise
"It certainly feels sticky. It's been six weeks, at least.
And I could sit here-by the window--in the sun--and dry it----"
With a jerk she brought her straying fingers away from her
hair, and her wandering eyes away from the sunshine, and her
runaway thoughts back to the typewritten page. For three minutes
the snap of the little disks crackled through the stillness of the
tiny apartment. Then, suddenly, as though succumbing to an
irresistible force, Mary Louise rose, walked across the room (a
matter of six steps), removing hairpins as she went, and shoved
aside the screen which hid the stationary wash-bowl by day.
Mary Louise turned on a faucet and held her finger under it,
while an agonized expression of doubt and suspense overspread her
features. Slowly the look of suspense gave way to a smile of
beatific content. A sigh--deep, soul-filling, satisfied--welled up
from Mary Louise's breast. The water was hot.
Half an hour later, head swathed turban fashion in a towel,
Mary Louise strolled over to the window. Then she stopped, aghast.
In that half hour the sun had slipped just around the corner, and
was now beating brightly and uselessly against the brick wall a few
inches away. Slowly Mary Louise unwound the towel, bent double in
the contortionistic attitude that women assume on such occasions,
and watched with melancholy eyes while the drops trickled down to
the ends of her hair, and fell, unsunned, to the floor.
"If only," thought Mary Louise, bitterly, "there was such a
thing as a back yard in this city--a back yard where I could squat
on the grass, in the sunshine and the breeze-- Maybe there is.
I'll ask the janitor."
She bound her hair in the turban again, and opened the door.
At the far end of the long, dim hallway Charlie, the janitor, was
doing something to the floor with a mop and a great deal of sloppy
water, whistling the while with a shrill abandon that had announced
his presence to Mary Louise.
"Oh, Charlie!" called Mary Louise. "Charlee! Can you come
here just a minute?"
"You bet!" answered Charlie, with the accent on the you; and
"Charlie, is there a back yard, or something, where the sun
is, you know--some nice, grassy place where I can sit, and dry my
hair, and let the breezes blow it?"
"Back yard!" grinned Charlie. "I guess you're new to N' York,
all right, with ground costin' a million or so a foot. Not much
they ain't no back yard, unless you'd give that name to an
ash-barrel, and a dump heap or so, and a crop of tin cans. I
wouldn't invite a goat to set in it."
Disappointment curved Mary Louise's mouth. It was a lovely
enough mouth at any time, but when it curved in
disappointment--ell, janitors are but human, after all.
"Tell you what, though," said Charlie. "I'll let you up on
the roof. It ain't long on grassy spots up there, but say, breeze!
Like a summer resort. On a clear day you can see way over 's far
's Eight' Avenoo. Only for the love of Mike don't blab it to the
other women folks in the buildin', or I'll have the whole works of
'em usin' the roof for a general sun, massage, an' beauty parlor.
"I'll never breathe it to a soul," promised Mary Louise,
solemnly. "Oh, wait a minute."
She turned back into her room, appearing again in a moment
with something green in her hand.
"What's that?" asked Charlie, suspiciously.
Mary Louise, speeding down the narrow hallway after Charlie,
blushed a little. "It--it's parsley," she faltered.
"Parsley!" exploded Charlie. "Well, what the----"
"Well, you see. I'm from the country," explained Mary Louise,
"and in the country, at this time of year, when you dry your hair
in the back yard, you get the most wonderful scent of green and
growing things--not only of flowers, you know, but of the new
things just coming up in the vegetable garden, and--and--well, this
parsley happens to be the only really gardeny thing I have, so I
thought I'd bring it along and sniff it once in a while, and make
believe it's the country, up there on the roof."
Half-way up the perilous little flight of stairs that led to
the roof, Charlie, the janitor, turned to gaze down at Mary Louise,
who was just behind, and keeping fearfully out of the way of
"Wimmin," observed Charlie, the janitor, "is nothin' but
little girls in long skirts, and their hair done up."
"I know it," giggled Mary Louise, and sprang up on the roof,
looking, with her towel-swathed head, like a lady Aladdin leaping
from her underground grotto.
The two stood there a moment, looking up at the blue sky, and
all about at the June sunshine.
"If you go up high enough," observed Mary Louise, "the
sunshine is almost the same as it is in the country, isn't it?"
"I shouldn't wonder," said Charlie, "though Calvary cemetery
is about as near's I'll ever get to the country. Say, you can set
here on this soap box and let your feet hang down. The last
janitor's wife used to hang her washin' up here, I guess. I'll
leave this door open, see?"
"You're so kind," smiled Mary Louise.
"Kin you blame me?" retorted the gallant Charles. And vanished.
Mary Louise, perched on the soap box, unwound her turban,
draped the damp towel over her shoulders, and shook out the wet
masses of her hair. Now the average girl shaking out the wet
masses of her hair looks like a drowned rat. But Nature had been
kind to Mary Louise. She had given her hair that curled in little
ringlets when wet, and that waved in all the right places when dry.
Just now it hung in damp, shining strands on either side of her
face, so that she looked most remarkably like one of those
oval-faced, great-eyed, red-lipped women that the old Italian
artists were so fond of painting.
Below her, blazing in the sun, lay the great stone and iron
city. Mary Louise shook out her hair idly, with one hand, sniffed
her parsley, shut her eyes, threw back her head, and began to sing,
beating time with her heel against the soap box, and forgetting all
about the letter that had come that morning, stating that it was
not from any lack of merit, etc. She sang, and sniffed her
parsley, and waggled her hair in the breeze, and beat time, idly,
with the heel of her little boot, when----
"Holy Cats!" exclaimed a man's voice. "What is this, anyway?
A Coney Island concession gone wrong?"
Mary Louise's eyes unclosed in a flash, and Mary Louise gazed
upon an irate-looking, youngish man, who wore shabby slippers, and
no collar with a full dress air.
"I presume that you are the janitor's beautiful daughter,"
growled the collarless man.
"Well, not precisely," answered Mary Louise, sweetly. "Are
you the scrub-lady's stalwart son?"
"Ha!" exploded the man. "But then, all women look alike with
their hair down. I ask your pardon, though."
"Not at all," replied Mary Louise. "For that matter, all men
look like picked chickens with their collars off."
At that the collarless man, who until now had been standing on
the top step that led up to the roof, came slowly forward, stepped
languidly over a skylight or two, draped his handkerchief over a
convenient chimney and sat down, hugging his long, lean legs to
"Nice up here, isn't it?" he remarked.
"It was," said Mary Louise.
"Ha!" exploded he, again. Then, "Where's your mirror?" he
"Mirror?" echoed Mary Louise.
"Certainly. You have the hair, the comb, the attitude, and
the general Lorelei effect. Also your singing lured me to your
"You didn't look lured," retorted Mary Louise. "You looked
"What's that stuff in your hand?" next demanded he. He really
was a most astonishingly rude young man.
"Parsley!" shouted he, much as Charlie had done. "Well, what
"Back home," elucidated Mary Louise once more, patiently,
"after you've washed your hair you dry it in the back yard, sitting
on the grass, in the sunshine and the breeze. And the garden
smells come to you--the nasturtiums, and the pansies, and the
geraniums, you know, and even that clean grass smell, and the
pungent vegetable odor, and there are ants, and bees, and
"Go on," urged the young man, eagerly.
"And Mrs. Next Door comes out to hang up a few stockings, and
a jabot or so, and a couple of baby dresses that she has just
rubbed through, and she calls out to you:
"`Washed your hair?'
"`Yes,' you say. `It was something awful, and I wanted it
nice for Tuesday night. But I suppose I won't be able to do a
thing with it.'
"And then Mrs. Next Door stands there a minute on the
clothes-reel platform, with the wind whipping her skirts about her,
and the fresh smell of the growing things coming to her. And
suddenly she says: `I guess I'll wash mine too, while the baby's
The collarless young man rose from his chimney, picked up his
handkerchief, and moved to the chimney just next to Mary Louise's
"Live here?" he asked, in his impolite way.
"If I did not, do you think that I would choose this as the
one spot in all New York in which to dry my hair?"
"When I said, `Live here,' I didn't mean just that. I meant
who are you, and why are you here, and where do you come from, and
do you sign your real name to your stuff, or use a nom de plume?"
"Why--how did you know?" gasped Mary Louise.
"Give me five minutes more," grinned the keen-eyed young man,
"and I'll tell you what make your typewriter is, and where the last
rejection slip came from."
"Oh!" said Mary Louise again. "Then you are the scrub-lady's
stalwart son, and you've been ransacking my waste-basket."
Quite unheeding, the collarless man went on, "And so you
thought you could write, and you came on to New York (you know one
doesn't just travel to New York, or ride to it, or come to it; one
`comes on' to New York), and now you're not so sure about the
writing, h'm? And back home what did you do?"
"Back home I taught school--and hated it. But I kept on
teaching until I'd saved five hundred dollars. Every other school
ma'am in the world teaches until she has saved five hundred
dollars, and then she packs two suit-cases, and goes to Europe from
June until September. But I saved my five hundred for New York.
I've been here six months now, and the five hundred has shrunk to
almost nothing, and if I don't break into the magazines pretty
"Then," said Mary Louise, with a quaver in her voice, "I'll
have to go back and teach thirty-seven young devils that six times
five is thirty, put down the naught and carry six, and that the
French are a gay people, fond of dancing and light wines. But I'll
scrimp on everything from hairpins to shoes, and back again,
including pretty collars, and gloves, and hats, until I've saved up
another five hundred, and then I'll try it all over again, because
From the depths of one capacious pocket the inquiring man took
a small black pipe, from another a bag of tobacco, from another a
match. The long, deft fingers made a brief task of it.
"I didn't ask you," he said, after the first puff, "because I
could see that you weren't the fool kind that objects." Then, with
amazing suddenness, "Know any of the editors?"
"Know them!" cried Mary Louise. "Know them! If camping on
their doorsteps, and haunting the office buildings, and cajoling,
and fighting with secretaries and office boys, and assistants and
things constitutes knowing them, then we're chums."
"What makes you think you can write?" sneered the thin man.
Mary Louise gathered up her brush, and comb, and towel, and
parsley, and jumped off the soap box. She pointed belligerently at
her tormentor with the hand that held the brush.
"Being the scrub-lady's stalwart son, you wouldn't understand.
But I can write. I sha'n't go under. I'm going to make this town
count me in as the four million and oneth. Sometimes I get so
tired of being nobody at all, with not even enough cleverness in me
to wrest a living from this big city, that I long to stand out at
the edge of the curbing, and take off my hat, and wave it, and
shout, `Say, you four million uncaring people, I'm Mary Louise
Moss, from Escanaba, Michigan, and I like your town, and I want to
stay here. Won't you please pay some slight attention to me. No
one knows I'm here except myself, and the rent collector.'"
"And I," put in the rude young man.
"O, you," sneered Mary Louise, equally rude, "you don't
The collarless young man in the shabby slippers smiled a
curious little twisted smile. "You never can tell," he grinned, "I
might." Then, quite suddenly, he stood up, knocked the ash out of
his pipe, and came over to Mary Louise, who was preparing to
descend the steep little flight of stairs.
"Look here, Mary Louise Moss, from Escanaba, Michigan, you
stop trying to write the slop you're writing now. Stop it. Drop
the love tales that are like the stuff that everybody else writes.
Stop trying to write about New York. You don't know anything about
it. Listen. You get back to work, and write about Mrs. Next Door,
and the hair-washing, and the vegetable garden, and bees, and the
back yard, understand? You write the way you talked to me, and
then you send your stuff in to Cecil Reeves."
"Reeves!" mocked Mary Louise. "Cecil Reeves, of The Earth?
He wouldn't dream of looking at my stuff. And anyway, it really
isn't your affair." And began to descend the stairs.
"Well, you know you brought me up here, kicking with your
heels, and singing at the top of your voice. I couldn't work. So
it's really your fault." Then, just as Mary Louise had almost
disappeared down the stairway he put his last astonishing question.
"How often do you wash your hair?" he demanded.
"Well, back home," confessed Mary Louise, "every six weeks or
so was enough, but----"
"Not here," put in the rude young man, briskly. "Never.
That's all very well for the country, but it won't do in the city.
Once a week, at least, and on the roof. Cleanliness demands it."
"But if I'm going back to the country," replied Mary Louise,
"it won't be necessary."
"But you're not," calmly said the collarless young man, just
as Mary Louise vanished from sight.
Down at the other end of the hallway on Mary Louise's floor
Charlie, the janitor, was doing something to the windows now, with
a rag, and a pail of water.
"Get it dry?" he called out, sociably.
"Yes, thank you," answered Mary Louise, and turned to enter
her own little apartment. Then, hesitatingly, she came back to
"There--there was a man up there--a very tall, very thin, very
rude, very--that is, rather nice youngish oldish man, in slippers,
and no collar. I wonder----"
"Oh, him!" snorted Charlie. "He don't show himself onct in a
blue moon. None of the other tenants knows he's up there. Has the
whole top floor to himself, and shuts himself up there for weeks at
a time, writin' books, or some such truck. That guy, he owns the
"Owns the building!" said Mary Louise, faintly. "Why he
"Sure," grinned Charlie. "That's him. Name's Reeves--Cecil
Reeves. Say, ain't that a divil of a name?"
WHERE THE CAR TURNS AT 18TH
This will be a homing pigeon story. Though I send it ever so
far--though its destination be the office of a home-and-fireside
magazine or one of the kind with a French story in the back, it
will return to me. After each flight its feathers will be a little
more rumpled, its wings more weary, its course more wavering,
until, battered, spent, broken, it will flutter to rest in the
And yet, though its message may never be delivered, it must be
sent, because--well, because----
You know where the car turns at Eighteenth? There you see a
glaringly attractive billboard poster. It depicts groups of
smiling, white-clad men standing on tropical shores, with waving
palms overhead, and a glimpse of blue sea in the distance. The
wording beneath the picture runs something like this:
"Young men wanted. An unusual opportunity for travel,
education, and advancement. Good pay. No expenses."
When the car turns at Eighteenth, and I see that, I remember
Eddie Houghton back home. And when I remember Eddie Houghton I see
The day after Eddie Houghton finished high school he went to
work. In our town we don't take a job. We accept a position. Our
paper had it that "Edwin Houghton had accepted a position as clerk
and assistant chemist at the Kunz drugstore, where he would take up
his new duties Monday."
His new duties seemed, at first, to consist of opening the
store in the morning, sweeping out, and whizzing about town on a
bicycle with an unnecessarily insistent bell, delivering
prescriptions which had been telephoned for. But by the time the
summer had really set in Eddie was installed back of the soda
There never was anything better looking than Eddie Houghton in
his white duck coat. He was one of those misleadingly gold and
pink and white men. I say misleadingly because you usually
associate pink-and-whiteness with such words as sissy and
mollycoddle. Eddie was neither. He had played quarter-back every
year from his freshman year, and he could putt the shot and cut
classes with the best of 'em. But in that white duck coat with the
braiding and frogs he had any musical-comedy, white-flannel tenor
lieutenant whose duty it is to march down to the edge of the
footlights, snatch out his sword, and warble about his country's
flag, looking like a flat-nosed, blue-gummed Igorrote. Kunz's soda
water receipts swelled to double their usual size, and the girls'
complexions were something awful that summer. I've known Nellie
Donovan to take as many as three ice cream sodas and two phosphates
a day when Eddie was mixing. He had a way of throwing in a
good-natured smile, and an easy flow of conversation with every
drink. While indulging in a little airy persiflage the girls had
a great little trick of pursing their mouths into rosebud shapes
over their soda straws, and casting their eyes upward at Eddie.
They all knew the trick, and its value, so that at night Eddie's
dreams were haunted by whole rows of rosily pursed lips, and seas
of upturned, adoring eyes. Of course we all noticed that on those
rare occasions when Josie Morehouse came into Kunz's her glass was
heaped higher with ice cream than that of any of the other girls,
and that Eddie's usually easy flow of talk was interspersed with
certain stammerings and stutterings. But Josie didn't come in
often. She had a lot of dignity for a girl of eighteen. Besides,
she was taking the teachers' examinations that summer, when the
other girls were playing tennis and drinking sodas.
Eddie really hated the soda water end of the business, as
every soda clerk in the world does. But he went about it
good-naturedly. He really wanted to learn the drug business, but
the boss knew he had a drawing card, and insisted that Eddie go
right on concocting faerie queens and strawberry sundaes, and
nectars and Kunz's specials. One Saturday, when he happened to
have on hand an over-supply of bananas that would have spoiled over
Sunday, he invented a mess and called it the Eddie Extra, and the
girls swarmed on it like flies around a honey pot.
That kind of thing would have spoiled most boys. But Eddie
had a sensible mother. On those nights when he used to come home
nauseated with dealing out chop suey sundaes and orangeades, and
saying that there was no future for a fellow in our dead little
hole, his mother would give him something rather special for
supper, and set him hoeing and watering the garden.
So Eddie stuck to his job, and waited, and all the time he was
saying, with a melting look, to the last silly little girl who was
drinking her third soda, "Somebody looks mighty sweet in pink
to-day," or while he was doping to-morrow's ball game with one of
the boys who dropped in for a cigar, he was thinking of bigger
things, and longing for a man-size job.
The man-size job loomed up before Eddie's dazzled eyes when he
least expected it. It was at the close of a particularly hot day
when it seemed to Eddie that every one in town had had everything
from birch beer to peach ice cream. On his way home to supper he
stopped at the postoffice with a handful of letters that old man
Kunz had given him to mail. His mother had told him that they
would have corn out of their own garden for supper that night, and
Eddie was in something of a hurry. He and his mother were great
In one corner of the dim little postoffice lobby a man was
busily tacking up posters. The whitewashed walls bloomed with
them. They were gay, attractive-looking posters, done in red and
blue and green, and after Eddie had dumped his mail into the slot,
and had called out, "Hello, Jake!" to the stamp clerk, whose back
was turned to the window, he strolled idly over to where the man
was putting the finishing touches to his work. The man was dressed
in a sailor suit of blue, with a picturesque silk scarf knotted at
his hairy chest. He went right on tacking posters.
They certainly were attractive pictures. Some showed groups
of stalwart, immaculately clad young gods lolling indolently on
tropical shores, with a splendor of palms overhead, and a sparkling
blue sea in the distance. Others depicted a group of white-clad
men wading knee-deep in the surf as they laughingly landed a cutter
on the sandy beach. There was a particularly fascinating one
showing two barefooted young chaps on a wave-swept raft engaged in
that delightfully perilous task known as signaling. Another showed
the keen-eyed gunners busy about the big guns.
Eddie studied them all.
The man finished his task and looked up, quite casually.
"Hello, kid," he said.
"Hello," answered Eddie. Then--"That's some picture gallery
you're giving us."
The man in the sailor suit fell back a pace or two and
surveyed his work with a critical but satisfied eye.
"Pitchers," he said, "don't do it justice. We've opened a
recruiting office here. Looking for young men with brains, and
muscle, and ambition. It's a great chance. We don't get to these
here little towns much."
He placed a handbill in Eddie's hand. Eddie glanced down at
"I've heard," he said, "that it's a hard life."
The man in the sailor suit threw back his head and laughed,
displaying a great deal of hairy throat and chest. "Hard!" he
jeered, and slapped one of the gay-colored posters with the back
of his hand. "You see that! Well, it ain't a bit exaggerated.
Not a bit. I ought to know. It's the only life for a young man,
especially for a guy in a little town. There's no chance here for
a bright young man, and if he goes to the city, what does he get?
The city's jam full of kids that flock there in the spring and
fall, looking for jobs, and thinking the city's sittin' up waitin'
for 'em. And where do they land? In the dime lodging houses,
that's where. In the navy you see the world, and it don't cost you
a cent. A guy is a fool to bury himself alive in a hole like this.
You could be seeing the world, traveling by sea from port to port,
from country to country, from ocean to ocean, amid ever-changing
scenery and climatic conditions, to see and study the habits and
conditions of the strange races----"
It rolled off his tongue with fascinating glibness. Eddie
glanced at the folder in his hand.
"I always did like the water," he said.
"Sure," agreed the hairy man, heartily. "What young feller
don't? I'll tell you what. Come on over to the office with me and
I'll show you some real stuff."
"It's my supper time," hesitated Eddie. "I guess I'd better
"Oh, supper," laughed the man. "You come on and have supper
with me, kid."
Eddie's pink cheeks went three shades pinker. "Gee! That'd
be great. But my mother--that is--she----"
The man in the sailor suit laughed again--a laugh with a sting
in it. "A great big feller like you ain't tied to your ma's apron
strings are you?"
"Not much I'm not!" retorted Eddie. "I'll telephone her when
I get to your hotel, that's what I'll do."
But they were such fascinating things, those new booklets, and
the man had such marvelous tales to tell, that Eddie forgot trifles
like supper and waiting mothers. There were pictures taken on
board ship, showing frolics, and ball games, and minstrel shows and
glee clubs, and the men at mess, and each sailor sleeping snug as
a bug in his hammock. There were other pictures showing foreign
scenes and strange ports. Eddie's tea grew cold, and his apple pie
and cheese lay untasted on his plate.
"Now me," said the recruiting officer, "I'm a married man.
But my wife, she wouldn't have it no other way. No, sir! She'll
be in the navy herself, I'll bet, when women vote. Why, before I
joined the navy I didn't know whether Guam was a vegetable or an
island, and Culebra wasn't in my geography. Now? Why, now I'm as
much at home in Porto Rico as I am in San Francisco. I'm as well
acquainted in Valparaiso as I am in Vermont, and I've run around
Cairo, Egypt, until I know it better than Cairo, Illinois. It's
the only way to see the world. You travel by sea from port to
port, from country to country, from ocean to ocean, amid
ever-changing scenery and climatic conditions, to see and study
And Eddie forgot that it was Wednesday night, which was the
prescription clerk's night off; forgot that the boss was awaiting
his return that he might go home to his own supper; forgot his
mother, and her little treat of green corn out of the garden;
forgot everything in the wonder of this man's tales of people and
scenes such as he never dreamed could exist outside of a Jack
London story. Now and then Eddie interrupted with a, "Yes,
but----" that grew more and more infrequent, until finally they
ceased altogether. Eddie's man-size job had come.
When we heard the news we all dropped in at the drug store to
joke with him about it. We had a good deal to say about rolling
gaits, and bell-shaped trousers, and anchors and sea serpents
tattooed on the arm. One of the boys scored a hit by slapping his
dime down on the soda fountain marble and bellowing for rum and
salt horse. Some one started to tease the little Morehouse girl
about sailors having sweethearts in every port, but when they saw
the look in her eyes they changed their mind, and stopped. It's
funny how a girl of twenty is a woman, when a man of twenty is a
Eddie dished out the last of his chocolate ice cream sodas and
cherry phosphates and root beers, while the girls laughingly begged
him to bring them back kimonos from China, and scarves from the
Orient, and Eddie promised, laughing, too, but with a far-off,
eager look in his eyes.
When the time came for him to go there was quite a little
bodyguard of us ready to escort him down to the depot. We picked
up two or three more outside O'Rourke's pool room, and a couple
more from the benches outside the hotel. Eddie walked ahead with
his mother. I have said that Mrs. Houghton was a sensible woman.
She was never more so than now. Any other mother would have gone
into hysterics and begged the recruiting officer to let her boy
off. But she knew better. Still, I think Eddie felt some
uncomfortable pangs when he looked at her set face. On the way to
the depot we had to pass the Agassiz School, where Josie Morehouse
was substituting second reader for the Wilson girl, who was sick.
She was standing in the window as we passed. Eddie took off his
cap and waved to her, and she returned the wave as well as she
could without having the children see her. That would never have
done, seeing that she was the teacher, and substituting at that.
But when we turned the corner we noticed that she was still
standing at the window and leaning out just a bit, even at the risk
of being indiscreet.
When the 10:15 pulled out Eddie stood on the bottom step, with
his cap off, looking I can't tell you how boyish, and straight, and
clean, and handsome, with his lips parted, and his eyes very
bright. The hairy-chested recruiting officer stood just beside
him, and suffered by contrast. There was a bedlam of good-byes,
and last messages, and good-natured badinage, but Eddie's mother's
eyes never left his face until the train disappeared around the
curve in the track.
Well, they got a new boy at Kunz's--a sandy-haired youth, with
pimples, and no knack at mixing, and we got out of the habit of
dropping in there, although those fall months were unusually warm.
It wasn't long before we began to get postcards--pictures of
the naval training station, and the gymnasium, and of model camps
and of drills, and of Eddie in his uniform. His mother insisted on
calling it his sailor suit, as though he were a little boy. One
day Josie Morehouse came over to Mrs. Houghton's with a group
picture in her hand. She handed it to Eddie's mother without
comment. Mrs. Houghton looked at it eagerly, her eye selecting her
own boy from the group as unerringly as a mother bird finds her
nest in the forest.
"Oh, Eddie's better looking than that!" she cried, with a
tremulous little laugh. "How funny those pants make them look,
don't they? And his mouth isn't that way, at all. Eddie always
had the sweetest mouth, from the time he was a baby. Let's see
some of these other boys. Why--why----"
Then she fell silent, scanning those other faces. Presently
Josie bent over her and looked too, and the brows of both women
knitted in perplexity. They looked for a long, long minute, and
the longer they looked the more noticeable became the cluster of
fine little wrinkles that had begun to form about Mrs. Houghton's
When finally they looked up it was to gaze at one another
"Those other boys," faltered Eddie's mother, "they--they don't
look like Eddie, do they? I mean----"
"No, they don't," agreed Josie. "They look older, and they
have such queer-looking eyes, and jaws, and foreheads. But then,"
she finished, with mock cheerfulness, "you can never tell in those
silly kodak pictures."
Eddie's mother studied the card again, and sighed gently. "I
hope," she said, "that Eddie won't get into bad company."
After that our postal cards ceased. I wish that there was
some way of telling this story so that the end wouldn't come in the
middle. But there is none. In our town we know the news before
the paper comes out, and we only read it to verify what we have
heard. So that long before the paper came out in the middle of the
afternoon we had been horrified by the news of Eddie Houghton's
desertion and suicide. We stopped one another on Main Street to
talk about it, and recall how boyish and handsome he had looked in
his white duck coat, and on that last day just as the 10:I5 pulled
out. "It don't seem hardly possible, does it?" we demanded of each
But when Eddie's mother brought out the letters that had come
after our postal cards had ceased, we understood. And when they
brought him home, and we saw him for the last time, all those of us
who had gone to school with him, and to dances, and sleigh rides,
and hayrack parties, and picnics, and when we saw the look on his
face--the look of one who, walking in a sunny path has stumbled
upon something horrible and unclean--we forgave him his neglect of
us, we forgave him desertion, forgave him the taking of his own
life, forgave him the look that he had brought into his mother's
There had never been anything extraordinary about Eddie
Houghton. He had had his faults and virtues, and good and bad
sides just like other boys of his age. He--oh, I am using too many
words, when one slang phrase will express it. Eddie had been just
a nice young kid. I think the worst thing he had ever said was
"Damn!" perhaps. If he had sworn, it was with clean oaths,
calculated to relieve the mind and feelings.
But the men that he shipped with during that year or more--I
am sure that he had never dreamed that such men were. He had never
stood on the curbing outside a recruiting office on South State
Street, in the old levee district, and watched that tragic panorama
move by--those nightmare faces, drink-marred, vice-scarred, ruined.
I know that he had never seen such faces in all his clean,
hard-working young boy's life, spent in our prosperous little
country town. I am certain that he had never heard such words as
came from the lips of his fellow seamen--great mouth-filling,
soul-searing words--words unclean, nauseating, unspeakable, and yet
I don't say that Eddie Houghton had not taken his drink now
and then. There were certain dark rumors in our town to the effect
that favored ones who dropped into Kunz's more often than seemed
needful were privileged to have a thimbleful of something choice in
the prescription room, back of the partition at the rear of the
drug store. But that was the most devilish thing that Eddie had
I don't say that all crews are like that one. Perhaps he was
unfortunate in falling in with that one. But it was an Eastern
trip, and every port was a Port Said. Eddie Houghton's thoughts
were not these men's thoughts; his actions were not their actions,
his practices were not their practices. To Eddie Houghton, a
Chinese woman in a sampan on the water front at Shanghai was
something picturesque; something about which to write home to his
mother and to Josie. To those other men she was possible prey.
Those other men saw that he was different, and they pestered
him. They ill-treated him when they could, and made his life a
hellish thing. Men do those things, and people do not speak of it.
I don't know all the things that he suffered. But in his mind, day
by day, grew the great, overwhelming desire to get away from it
all--from this horrible life that was such a dreadful mistake. I
think that during the long night watches his mind was filled with
thoughts of our decent little town--of his mother's kitchen, with
its Wednesday and Saturday scent of new-made bread--of the shady
front porch, with its purple clematis--of the smooth front yard
which it was his Saturday duty to mow that it might be trim and
sightly for Sunday--of the boys and girls who used to drop in at
the drug store--those clear-eyed, innocently coquettish, giggling,
blushing girls in their middy blouses and white skirts, their
slender arms and throats browned from tennis and boating, their
eyes smiling into his as they sat perched at the fountain after a
hot set of tennis--those slim, clean young boys, sun-browned,
laughing, their talk all of swimming, and boating, and tennis, and
He did not realize that it was desertion--that thought that
grew and grew in his mind. In it there was nothing of
faithlessness to his country. He was only trying to be true to
himself, and to the things that his mother had taught him. He only
knew that he was deadly sick of these sights of disease, and vice.
He only knew that he wanted to get away--back to his own decent
life with the decent people to whom he belonged. And he went. He
went, as a child runs home when it had tripped and fallen in the
mud, not dreaming of wrong-doing or punishment.
The first few hundred miles on the train were a dream. But
finally Eddie found himself talking to a man--a big, lean,
blue-eyed western man, who regarded Eddie with kindly, puzzled
eyes. Eddie found himself telling his story in a disjointed,
breathless sort of way. When he had finished the man uncrossed his
long lean legs, took his pipe out of his mouth, and sat up. There
was something of horror in his eyes as he sat, looking at Eddie.
"Why, kid," he said, at last. "You're deserting! You'll get
the pen, don't you know that, if they catch you? Where you going?"
"Going!" repeated Eddie. "Going! Why, I'm going home, of
"Then I don't see what you're gaining," said the man, "because
they'll sure get you there."
Eddie sat staring at the man for a dreadful minute. In that
minute the last of his glorious youth, and ambition, and zest of
life departed from him.
He got off the train at the next town, and the western man
offered him some money, which Eddie declined with all his old-time
sweetness of manner. It was rather a large town, with a great many
busy people in it. Eddie went to a cheap hotel, and took a room,
and sat on the edge of the thin little bed and stared at the car-
pet. It was a dusty red carpet. In front of the bureau many feet
had worn a hole, so that the bare boards showed through, with a
tuft of ragged red fringe edging them. Eddie Houghton sat and
stared at the worn place with a curiously blank look on his face.
He sat and stared and saw many things. He saw his mother, for one
thing, sitting on the porch with a gingham apron over her light
dress, waiting for him to come home to supper; he saw his own
room--a typical boy's room, with camera pictures and blue prints
stuck in the sides of the dresser mirror, and the boxing gloves on
the wall, and his tennis racquet with one string broken (he had
always meant to have that racquet re-strung) and his track shoes,
relics of high school days, flung in one corner, and his
gay-colored school pennants draped to form a fresco, and the cush-
ion that Josie Morenouse had made for him two years ago, at
Christmas time, and the dainty white bedspread that he, fussed
about because he said it was too sissy for a boy's room--oh, I
can't tell you what he saw as he sat and stared at that worn place
in the carpet. But pretty soon it began to grow dark, and at last
he rose, keeping his fascinated eyes still on the bare spot, walked
to the door, opened it, and backed out queerly, still keeping his
eyes on the spot.
He was back again in fifteen minutes, with a bottle in his
hand. He should have known better than to choose carbolic, being
a druggist, but all men are a little mad at such times. He lay
down at the edge of the thin little bed that was little more than
a pallet, and he turned his face toward the bare spot that could
just be seen in the gathering gloom. And when he raised the bottle
to his lips the old-time sweetness of his smile illumined his face.
Where the car turns at Eighteenth Street there is a big,
glaring billboard poster, showing a group of stalwart young men in
white ducks lolling on shores, of tropical splendor, with palms
waving overhead, and a glimpse of blue sea in the distance. The
wording beneath it runs something like this:
"Young men wanted. An unusual opportunity for travel,
education and advancement. Good pay. No expenses."
When I see that sign I think of Eddie Houghton back home. And
when I think of Eddie Houghton I see red.
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