Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Janet Kegg and PG Distributed Proofreaders
AUTHOR OF "DAWN O'HARA," "BUTTERED SIDE DOWN"
"ROAST BEEF MEDIUM," "FANNY HERSELF"
I. CHEERFUL--BY REQUEST
II. THE GAY OLD DOG
III. THE TOUGH GUY
IV. THE ELDEST
V. THAT'S MARRIAGE
VI. THE WOMAN WHO TRIED TO BE GOOD
VII. THE GIRL WHO WENT RIGHT
VIII. THE HOOKER-UP-THE-BACK
IX. THE GUIDING MISS GOWD
XI. THE THREE OF THEM
XII. SHORE LEAVE
The editor paid for the lunch (as editors do). He lighted his seventh
cigarette and leaned back. The conversation, which had zigzagged from
the war to Zuloaga, and from Rasputin the Monk to the number of miles a
Darrow would go on a gallon, narrowed down to the thin, straight line of
"Now don't misunderstand. Please! We're not presuming to dictate. Dear
me, no! We have always felt that the writer should be free to express
that which is in his--ah--heart. But in the last year we've been swamped
with these drab, realistic stories. Strong, relentless things, you know,
about dishwashers, with a lot of fine detail about the fuzz of grease on
the rim of the pan. And then those drear and hopeless ones about fallen
sisters who end it all in the East River. The East River must be choked
up with 'em. Now, I know that life is real, life is earnest, and I'm not
demanding a happy ending, exactly. But if you could--that is--would
you--do you see your way at all clear to giving us a fairly cheerful
story? Not necessarily Glad, but not so darned Russian, if you get me.
Not pink, but not all grey either. Say--mauve." ...
That was Josie Fifer's existence. Mostly grey, with a dash of pink.
Which makes mauve.
Unless you are connected (which you probably are not) with the great
firm of Hahn & Lohman, theatrical producers, you never will have heard
of Josie Fifer.
There are things about the theatre that the public does not know. A
statement, at first blush, to be disputed. The press agent, the special
writer, the critic, the magazines, the Sunday supplement, the divorce
courts--what have they left untold? We know the make of car Miss
Billboard drives; who her husbands are and were; how much the movies
have offered her; what she wears, reads, says, thinks, and eats for
breakfast. Snapshots of author writing play at place on Hudson; pictures
of the play in rehearsal; of the director directing it; of the stage
hands rewriting it--long before the opening night we know more about the
piece than does the playwright himself, and are ten times less eager to
Josie Fifer's knowledge surpassed even this. For she was keeper of the
ghosts of the firm of Hahn & Lohman. Not only was she present at the
birth of a play; she officiated at its funeral. She carried the keys to
the closets that housed the skeletons of the firm. When a play died of
inanition, old age, or--as was sometimes the case--before it was born,
it was Josie Fifer who laid out its remains and followed it to the
Her notification of its demise would come thus:
"Hello, Fifer! This is McCabe" (the property man of H. & L. at the
"A little waspish this morning, aren't you, Josephine?"
"I've got twenty-five bathing suits for the No. 2 'Ataboy' company to
mend and clean and press before five this afternoon. If you think I'm
going to stand here wasting my--"
"All right, all right! I just wanted to tell you that 'My Mistake'
closes Saturday. The stuff'll be up Monday morning early."
A sardonic laugh from Josie. "And yet they say 'What's in a name!'"
The unfortunate play had been all that its title implies. Its purpose
was to star an actress who hadn't a glint. Her second-act costume alone
had cost $700, but even Russian sable bands can't carry a bad play. The
critics had pounced on it with the savagery of their kind and hacked it,
limb from limb, leaving its carcass to rot under the pitiless white
glare of Broadway. The dress with the Russian sable bands went the way
of all Hahn & Lohman tragedies. Josie Fifer received it, if not
reverently, still appreciatively.
"I should think Sid Hahn would know by this time," she observed
sniffily, as her expert fingers shook out the silken folds and smoothed
the fabulous fur, "that auburn hair and a gurgle and a Lucille dress
don't make a play. Besides, Fritzi Kirke wears the biggest shoe of any
actress I ever saw. A woman with feet like that"--she picked up a satin
slipper, size 7-1/2 C--"hasn't any business on the stage. She ought to
travel with a circus. Here, Etta. Hang this away in D, next to the
amethyst blue velvet, and be sure and lock the door."
McCabe had been right. A waspish wit was Josie's.
The question is whether to reveal to you now where it was that Josie
Fifer reigned thus, queen of the cast-offs; or to take you back to the
days that led up to her being there--the days when she was Jose Fyfer on
Her domain was the storage warehouse of Hahn & Lohman, as you may have
guessed. If your business lay Forty-third Street way, you might have
passed the building a hundred times without once giving it a seeing
glance. It was not Forty-third Street of the small shops, the smart
crowds, and the glittering motors. It was the Forty-third lying east of
the Grand Central sluice gates; east of fashion; east, in a word, of
Fifth Avenue--a great square brick building smoke-grimed, cobwebbed, and
having the look of a cold-storage plant or a car barn fallen into
disuse; dusty, neglected, almost eerie. Yet within it lurks Romance, and
her sombre sister Tragedy, and their antic brother Comedy, the cut-up.
A worn flight of wooden steps leads up from the sidewalk to the dim
hallway; a musty-smelling passage wherein you are met by a genial sign
"No admittance. Keep out. This means you."
To confirm this, the eye, penetrating the gloom, is confronted by a
great blank metal door that sheathes the elevator. To ride in that
elevator is to know adventure, so painfully, so protestingly, with such
creaks and jerks and lurchings does it pull itself from floor to floor,
like an octogenarian who, grunting and groaning, hoists himself from his
easy-chair by slow stages that wring a protest from ankle, knee, hip,
back and shoulder. The corkscrew stairway, broken and footworn though it
is, seems infinitely less perilous.
First floor--second--third--fourth. Whew! And there you are in Josie
Fifer's kingdom--a great front room, unexpectedly bright and even cosy
with its whir of sewing machines: tables, and tables, and tables, piled
with orderly stacks of every sort of clothing, from shoes to hats, from
gloves to parasols; and in the room beyond this, and beyond that, and
again beyond that, row after row of high wooden cabinets stretching the
width of the room, and forming innumerable aisles. All of Bluebeard's
wives could have been tucked away in one corner of the remotest and
least of these, and no one the wiser. All grimly shut and locked, they
are, with the key in Josie's pocket. But when, at the behest of McCabe,
or sometimes even Sid Hahn himself, she unlocked and opened one of
these doors, what treasures hung revealed! What shimmer and sparkle and
perfume--and moth balls! The long-tailed electric light bulb held high
in one hand, Josie would stand at the door like a priestess before her
There they swung, the ghosts and the skeletons, side by side. You
remember that slinking black satin snakelike sheath that Gita Morini
wore in "Little Eyolf"? There it dangles, limp, invertebrate, yet how
eloquent! No other woman in the world could have worn that gown, with
its unbroken line from throat to hem, its smooth, high, black satin
collar, its writhing tail that went slip-slip-slipping after her. In it
she had looked like a sleek and wicked python that had fasted for a
long, long time.
Dresses there are that have made stage history. Surely you remember the
beruffled, rose-strewn confection in which the beautiful Elsa Marriott
swam into our ken in "Mississipp'"? She used to say, wistfully, that she
always got a hand on her entrance in that dress. It was due to the sheer
shock of delight that thrilled audience after audience as it beheld her
loveliness enhanced by this floating, diaphanous tulle cloud. There it
hangs, time-yellowed, its pristine freshness vanished quite, yet as
fragrant with romance as is the sere and withered blossom of a dead
white rose pressed within the leaves of a book of love poems. Just next
it, incongruously enough, flaunt the wicked froufrou skirts and the
low-cut bodice and the wasp waist of the abbreviated costume in which
Cora Kassell used so generously to display her charms. A rich and portly
society matron of Pittsburgh now--she whose name had been a synonym for
pulchritude these thirty years; she who had had more cold creams, hats,
cigars, corsets, horses, and lotions named for her than any woman in
history! Her ample girth would have wrought sad havoc with that
eighteen-inch waist now. Gone are the chaste curves of the slim white
silk legs that used to kick so lithely from the swirl of lace and
chiffon. Yet there it hangs, pertly pathetic, mute evidence of her
vanished youth, her delectable beauty, and her unblushing confidence in
Up one aisle and down the next--velvet, satin, lace and broadcloth--here
the costume the great Canfield had worn in Richard III; there the little
cocked hat and the slashed jerkin in which Maude Hammond, as Peterkins,
winged her way to fame up through the hearts of a million children whose
ages ranged from seven to seventy. Brocades and ginghams; tailor suits
and peignoirs; puffed sleeves and tight--dramatic history, all, they
spelled failure, success, hope, despair, vanity, pride, triumph, decay.
Tragic ghosts, over which Josie Fifer held grim sway!
Have I told you that Josie Fifer, moving nimbly about the great
storehouse, limped as she went? The left leg swung as a normal leg
should. The right followed haltingly, sagging at hip and knee. And that
brings us back to the reason for her being where she was. And what.
The story of how Josie Fifer came to be mistress of the cast-off robes
of the firm of Hahn & Lohman is one of those stage tragedies that never
have a public performance. Josie had been one of those little girls who
speak pieces at chicken-pie suppers held in the basement of the
Presbyterian church. Her mother had been a silly, idle woman addicted to
mother hubbards and paper-backed novels about the house. Her one passion
was the theatre, a passion that had very scant opportunity for feeding
in Wapello, Iowa. Josie's piece-speaking talent was evidently a direct
inheritance. Some might call it a taint.
Two days before one of Josie's public appearances her mother would twist
the child's hair into innumerable rag curlers that stood out in
grotesque, Topsy-like bumps all over her fair head. On the eventful
evening each rag chrysalis would burst into a full-blown butterfly curl.
In a pale-blue, lace-fretted dress over a pale-blue slip, made in what
her mother called "Empire style," Josie would deliver herself of
"Entertaining Big Sister's Beau" and other sophisticated classics with
an incredible ease and absence of embarrassment. It wasn't a definite
boldness in her. She merely liked standing there before all those
people, in her blue dress and her toe slippers, speaking her pieces with
enhancing gestures taught her by her mother in innumerable rehearsals.
Any one who has ever lived in Wapello, Iowa, or its equivalent,
remembers the old opera house on the corner of Main and Elm, with
Schroeder's drug store occupying the first floor. Opera never came
within three hundred miles of Wapello, unless it was the so-called
comic kind. It was before the day of the ubiquitous moving-picture
theatre that has since been the undoing of the one-night stand
and the ten-twenty-thirty stock company. The old red-brick opera
house furnished unlimited thrills for Josie and her mother. From
the time Josie was seven she was taken to see whatever Wapello was
offered in the way of the drama. That consisted mostly of plays of the
By the time she was ten she knew the whole repertoire of the Maude La
Vergne Stock Company by heart. She was _blase_ with "East Lynne" and
"The Two Orphans," and even "Camille" left her cold. She was as wise to
the trade tricks as is a New York first nighter. She would sit there in
the darkened auditorium of a Saturday afternoon, surveying the stage
with a judicious and undeceived eye, as she sucked indefatigably at a
lollipop extracted from the sticky bag clutched in one moist palm. (A
bag of candy to each and every girl; a ball or a top to each and every
boy!) Josie knew that the middle-aged _soubrette_ who came out between
the first and second acts to sing a gingham-and-sunbonnet song would
whisk off to reappear immediately in knee-length pink satin and curls.
When the heroine left home in a shawl and a sudden snowstorm that
followed her upstage and stopped when she went off, Josie was
interested, but undeceived. She knew that the surprised-looking white
horse used in the Civil War comedy-drama entitled "His Southern
Sweetheart" came from Joe Brink's livery stable in exchange for four
passes, and that the faithful old negro servitor in the white cotton wig
would save somebody from something before the afternoon was over.
In was inevitable that as Josie grew older she should take part in
home-talent plays. It was one of these tinsel affairs that had made
clear to her just where her future lay. The Wapello _Daily Courier_
helped her in her decision. She had taken the part of a gipsy queen,
appropriately costumed in slightly soiled white satin slippers with
four-inch heels, and a white satin dress enhanced by a red sash, a black
velvet bolero, and large hoop earrings. She had danced and sung with a
pert confidence, and the _Courier_ had pronounced her talents not
amateur, but professional, and had advised the managers (who, no doubt,
read the Wapello _Courier_ daily, along with their _Morning Telegraph_)
to seek her out, and speedily.
Josie didn't wait for them to take the hint. She sought them out
instead. There followed seven tawdry, hard-working, heartbreaking years.
Supe, walk-on, stock, musical comedy--Josie went through them all. If
any illusions about the stage had survived her Wapello days, they would
have vanished in the first six months of her dramatic career. By the
time she was twenty-four she had acquired the wisdom of fifty, a
near-seal coat, a turquoise ring with a number of smoky-looking crushed
diamonds surrounding it, and a reputation for wit and for decency. The
last had cost the most.
During all these years of cheap theatrical boarding houses (the most
soul-searing cheapness in the world), of one-night stands, of insult,
disappointment, rebuff, and something that often came perilously near to
want, Josie Fifer managed to retain a certain humorous outlook on life.
There was something whimsical about it. She could even see a joke on
herself. When she first signed her name Jose Fyfer, for example, she did
it with, an appreciative giggle and a glint in her eye as she formed the
accent mark over the e.
"They'll never stop me now," she said. "I'm made. But I wish I knew if
that J was pronounced like H, in humbug. Are there any Spanish blondes?"
It used to be the habit of the other women in the company to say to her:
"Jo, I'm blue as the devil to-day. Come on, give us a laugh."
She always obliged.
And then came a Sunday afternoon in late August when her laugh broke off
short in the middle, and was forever after a stunted thing.
She was playing Atlantic City in a second-rate musical show. She had
never seen the ocean before, and she viewed it now with an appreciation
that still had in it something of a Wapello freshness.
They all planned to go in bathing that hot August afternoon after
rehearsal. Josie had seen pictures of the beauteous bathing girl dashing
into the foaming breakers. She ran across the stretch of glistening
beach, paused and struck a pose, one toe pointed waterward, her arms
"So!" she said mincingly. "So this is Paris!"
It was a new line in those days, and they all laughed, as she had meant
they should. So she leaped into the water with bounds and shouts and
much waving of white arms. A great floating derelict of a log struck her
leg with its full weight, and with all the tremendous force of the
breaker behind it. She doubled up ridiculously, and went down like a
shot. Those on the beach laughed again. When she came up, and they saw
her distorted face they stopped laughing, and fished her out. Her leg
was broken in two places, and mashed in a dozen.
Jose Fyfer's dramatic career was over. (This is not the cheery portion
of the story.)
When she came out of the hospital, three months later, she did very
well indeed with her crutches. But the merry-eyed woman had
vanished--she of the Wapello colouring that had persisted during
all these years. In her place limped a wan, shrunken, tragic little
figure whose humour had soured to a caustic wit. The near-seal coat and
the turquoise-and-crushed-diamond ring had vanished too.
During those agonized months she had received from the others in
the company such kindness and generosity as only stage folk can
show--flowers, candy, dainties, magazines, sent by every one from the
prima donna to the call boy. Then the show left town. There came a few
letters of kind inquiry, then an occasional post card, signed by half a
dozen members of the company. Then these ceased. Josie Fifer, in her
cast and splints and bandages and pain, dragged out long hospital days
and interminable hospital nights. She took a dreary pleasure in
following the tour of her erstwhile company via the pages of the
"They're playing Detroit this week," she would announce to the aloof and
spectacled nurse. Or: "One-night stands, and they're due in Muncie,
Ind., to-night. I don't know which is worse--playing Muncie for one
night or this moan factory for a three month's run."
When she was able to crawl out as far as the long corridor she spoke to
every one she met. As she grew stronger she visited here and there, and
on the slightest provocation she would give a scene ranging all the way
from "Romeo and Juliet" to "The Black Crook." It was thus she first met
Sid Hahn, and felt the warming, healing glow of his friendship.
Some said that Sid Hahn's brilliant success as a manager at thirty-five
was due to his ability to pick winners. Others thought it was his
refusal to be discouraged when he found he had picked a failure. Still
others, who knew him better, were likely to say: "Why, I don't know.
It's a sort of--well, you might call it charm--and yet--. Did you ever see
him smile? He's got a million-dollar grin. You can't resist it."
None of them was right. Or all of them. Sid Hahn, erstwhile usher, call
boy, press agent, advance man, had a genius for things theatrical. It
was inborn. Dramatic, sensitive, artistic, intuitive, he was often
rendered inarticulate by the very force and variety of his feelings. A
little, rotund, ugly man, Sid Hahn, with the eyes of a dreamer, the
wide, mobile mouth of a humourist, the ears of a comic ol'-clo'es man.
His generosity was proverbial, and it amounted to a vice.
In September he had come to Atlantic City to try out "Splendour." It was
a doubtful play, by a new author, starring Sarah Haddon for the first
time. No one dreamed the play would run for years, make a fortune for
Hahn, lift Haddon from obscurity to the dizziest heights of stardom, and
become a classic of the stage.
Ten minutes before the curtain went up on the opening performance Hahn
was stricken with appendicitis. There was not even time to rush him to
New York. He was on the operating table before the second act was
begun. When he came out of the ether he said: "How did it go?"
"Fine!" beamed the nurse. "You'll be out in two weeks."
"Oh, hell! I don't mean the operation. I mean the play."
He learned soon enough from the glowing, starry-eyed Sarah Haddon and
from every one connected with the play. He insisted on seeing them all
daily, against his doctor's orders, and succeeded in working up a
temperature that made his hospital stay a four weeks' affair. He refused
to take the tryout results as final.
"Don't be too bubbly about this thing," he cautioned Sarah Haddon. "I've
seen too many plays that were skyrockets on the road come down like
sticks when they struck New York."
The company stayed over in Atlantic City for a week, and Hahn held
scraps of rehearsals in his room when he had a temperature of 102. Sarah
Haddon worked like a slave. She seemed to realise that her great
opportunity had come--the opportunity for which hundreds of gifted
actresses wait a lifetime. Haddon was just twenty-eight then--a year
younger than Josie Fifer. She had not yet blossomed into the full
radiance of her beauty. She was too slender, and inclined to stoop a
bit, but her eyes were glorious, her skin petal-smooth, her whole face
reminding one, somehow, of an intelligent flower. Her voice was a
golden, liquid delight.
Josie Fifer, dragging herself from bed to chair, and from chair to bed,
used to watch for her. Hahn's room was on her floor. Sarah Haddon, in
her youth and beauty and triumph, represented to Josie all that she had
dreamed of and never realised; all that she had hoped for and never
could know. She used to insist on having her door open, and she would
lie there for hours, her eyes fixed on that spot in the hall across
which Haddon would flash for one brief instant on her way to the room
down the corridor. There is about a successful actress a certain radiant
something--a glamour, a luxuriousness, an atmosphere that suggest a
mysterious mixture of silken things, of perfume, of adulation, of all
that is rare and costly and perishable and desirable.
Josie Fifer's stage experience had included none of this. But she knew
they were there. She sensed that to this glorious artist would come all
those fairy gifts that Josie Fifer would never possess. All things about
her--her furs, her gloves, her walk, her hats, her voice, her very shoe
ties--were just what Josie would have wished for. As she lay there she
developed a certain grim philosophy.
"She's got everything a woman could wish for. Me, I haven't got a thing.
Not a blamed thing! And yet they say everything works out in the end
according to some scheme or other. Well, what's the answer to this, I
wonder? I can't make it come out right. I guess one of the figures must
have got away from me."
In the second week of Sid Hahn's convalescence he heard, somehow, of
Josie Fifer. It was characteristic of him that he sent for her. She put
a chiffon scarf about the neck of her skimpy little kimono, spent an
hour and ten minutes on her hair, made up outrageously with that sublime
unconsciousness that comes from too close familiarity with rouge pad and
grease jar, and went. She was trembling as though facing a first-night
audience in a part she wasn't up on. Between the crutches, the lameness,
and the trembling she presented to Sid Hahn, as she stood in the
doorway, a picture that stabbed his kindly, sensitive heart with a quick
pang of sympathy.
He held out his hand. Josie's crept into it. At the feel of that
generous friendly clasp she stopped trembling. Said Hahn:
"My nurse tells me that you can do a bedside burlesque of 'East Lynne'
that made even that Boston-looking interne with the thick glasses laugh.
Go on and do it for me, there's a good girl. I could use a laugh myself
And Josie Fifer caught up a couch cover for a cloak, with the scarf that
was about her neck for a veil, and, using Hahn himself as the ailing
chee-ild, gave a biting burlesque of the famous bedside visit that
brought the tears of laughter to his eyes, and the nurse flying from
down the hall. "This won't do," said that austere person.
"Won't, eh? Go on and stick your old thermometer in my mouth. What do I
care! A laugh like that is worth five degrees of temperature."
When Josie rose to leave he eyed her keenly, and pointed to the dragging
"How about that? Temporary or permanent?"
"Oh, fudge! Who's telling you that? These days they can do--"
"Not with this, though. That one bone was mashed into about twenty-nine
splinters, and when it came to putting 'em together again a couple of
pieces were missing. I must've mislaid 'em somewhere. Anyway, I make a
limping exit--for life."
"Then no more stage for you--eh, my girl?"
"No more stage."
Hahn reached for a pad of paper on the table at his bedside, scrawled a
few words on it, signed it "S.H." in the fashion which became famous,
and held the paper out to her.
"When you get out of here," he said, "you come to New York, and up to my
office; see? Give 'em this at the door. I've got a job for you--if you
And that was how Josie Fifer came to take charge of the great Hahn &
Lohman storehouse. It was more than a storehouse. It was a museum. It
housed the archives of the American stage. If Hahn & Lohman prided
themselves on one thing more than on another, it was the lavish
generosity with which they invested a play, from costumes to carpets. A
period play was a period play when they presented it. You never saw a
French clock on a Dutch mantel in a Hahn & Lohman production. No hybrid
hangings marred their back drop. No matter what the play, the firm
provided its furnishings from the star's slippers to the chandeliers.
Did a play last a year or a week, at the end of its run furniture,
hangings, scenery, rugs, gowns, everything, went off in wagonloads to
the already crowded storehouse on East Forty-third Street.
Sometimes a play proved so popular that its original costumes, outworn,
had to be renewed. Sometimes the public cried "Thumbs down!" at the
opening performance, and would have none of it thereafter. That meant
that costumes sometimes reached Josie Fifer while the wounds of the
dressmaker's needle still bled in them. And whether for a week or a year
fur on a Hahn & Lohman costume was real fur; its satin was silk-backed,
its lace real lace. No paste, or tinsel, or cardboard about H. & L.!
Josie Fifer could recall the scenes in a play, step by step from noting
with her keen eye the marks left on costume after costume by the ravages
of emotion. At the end of a play's run she would hold up a dress for
critical inspection, turning it this way and that.
"This is the dress she wore in her big scene at the end of the second
act where she crawls on her knees to her wronged husband and pounds on
the door and weeps. She certainly did give it some hard wear. When
Marriott crawls she crawls, and when she bawls she bawls. I'll say that
for her. From the looks of this front breadth she must have worn a
groove in the stage at the York."
No gently sentimental reason caused Hahn & Lohman to house these
hundreds of costumes, these tons of scenery, these forests of furniture.
Neither had Josie Fifer been hired to walk wistfully among them like a
spinster wandering in a dead rose garden. No, they were stored for a
much thriftier reason. They were stored, if you must know, for possible
future use. H. & L. were too clever not to use a last year's costume for
a this year's road show. They knew what a coat of enamel would do for a
bedroom set. It was Josie Fifer's duty not only to tabulate and care for
these relics, but to refurbish them when necessary. The sewing was done
by a little corps of assistants under Josie's direction.
But all this came with the years. When Josie Fifer, white and weak,
first took charge of the H. & L. _lares et penates_, she told herself it
was only for a few months--a year or two at most. The end of sixteen
years found her still there.
When she came to New York, "Splendour" was just beginning its phenomenal
three years' run. The city was mad about the play. People came to see
it again and again--a sure sign of a long run. The Sarah Haddon second-act
costume was photographed, copied (unsuccessfully), talked about, until
it became as familiar as a uniform. That costume had much to do
with the play's success, though Sarah Haddon would never admit it.
"Splendour" was what is known as a period play. The famous dress was of
black velvet, made with a quaint, full-gathered skirt that made Haddon's
slim waist seem fairylike and exquisitely supple. The black velvet
bodice outlined the delicate swell of the bust. A rope of pearls
enhanced the whiteness of her throat. Her hair, done in old-time
scallops about her forehead, was a gleaming marvel of simplicity, and
the despair of every woman who tried to copy it. The part was that of an
Italian opera singer. The play pulsated with romance and love, glamour
and tragedy. Sarah Haddon, in her flowing black velvet robe and her
pearls and her pallor, was an exotic, throbbing, exquisite realisation
of what every woman in the audience dreamed of being and every man
dreamed of loving.
Josie Fifer saw the play for the first time from a balcony seat given
her by Sid Hahn. It left her trembling, red-eyed, shaken. After that she
used to see it, by hook or crook whenever possible. She used to come in
at the stage door and lurk back of the scenes and in the wings when she
had no business there. She invented absurd errands to take her to the
theatre where "Splendour" was playing. Sid Hahn always said that after
the big third-act scene he liked to watch the audience swim up the
aisle. Josie, hidden in the back-stage shadows, used to watch,
fascinated, breathless. Then, one night, she indiscreetly was led, by
her, absorbed interest, to venture too far into the wings. It was
during the scene where Haddon, hearing a broken-down street singer
cracking the golden notes of "Aida" into a thousand mutilated fragments,
throws open her window and, leaning far out, pours a shower of Italian
and broken English and laughter and silver coin upon her amazed
When the curtain went down she came off raging.
"What was that? Who was that standing in the wings? How dare any one
stand there! Everybody knows I can't have any one in the wings. Staring!
It ruined my scene to-night. Where's McCabe? Tell Mr. Hahn I want to see
him. Who was it? Staring at me like a ghost!"
Josie had crept away, terrified, contrite, and yet resentful. But the
next week saw her back at the theatre, though she took care to stay in
She was waiting for the black velvet dress. It was more than a dress to
her. It was infinitely more than a stage costume. It was the habit of
glory. It epitomised all that Josie Fifer had missed of beauty and
homage and success.
The play ran on, and on, and on. Sarah Haddon was superstitious about
the black gown. She refused to give it up for a new one. She insisted
that if ever she discarded the old black velvet for a new the run of the
play would stop. She assured Hahn that its shabbiness did not show from
the front. She clung to it with that childish unreasonableness that is
so often found in people of the stage.
But Josie waited patiently. Dozens of costumes passed through her
hands. She saw plays come and go. Dresses came to her whose lining bore
the mark of world-famous modistes. She hung them away, or refurbished
them if necessary with disinterested conscientiousness. Sometimes her
caustic comment, as she did so, would have startled the complacency of
the erstwhile wearers of the garments. Her knowledge of the stage, its
artifices, its pretence, its narrowness, its shams, was widening and
deepening. No critic in bone-rimmed glasses and evening clothes was more
scathingly severe than she. She sewed on satin. She mended fine lace.
She polished stage jewels. And waited. She knew that one day her
patience would be rewarded. And then, at last came the familiar voice
over the phone: "Hello, Fifer! McCabe talking."
"'Splendour' closes Saturday. Haddon says she won't play in this heat.
They're taking it to London in the autumn. The stuff'll be up Monday,
Josie Fifer turned away from the telephone with a face so radiant that
one of her sewing women, looking up, was moved to comment.
"Got some good news, Miss Fifer?"
"'Splendour' closes this week."
"Well, my land! To look at you a person would think you'd been losing
money at the box office every night it ran."
The look was still on her face when Monday morning came. She was sewing
on a dress just discarded by Adelaide French, the tragedienne.
Adelaide's maid was said to be the hardest-worked woman in the
profession. When French finished with a costume it was useless as a
dress; but it was something historic, like a torn and tattered battle
McCabe, box under his arm, stood in the doorway. Josie Fifer stood up so
suddenly that the dress on her lap fell to the floor. She stepped over
it heedlessly, and went toward McCabe, her eyes on the pasteboard box.
Behind McCabe stood two more men, likewise box-laden.
"Put them down here," said Josie. The men thumped the boxes down on the
long table. Josie's fingers were already at the strings. She opened the
first box, emptied its contents, tossed them aside, passed on to the
second. Her hands busied themselves among the silks and broadcloth of
this; then on to the third and last box. McCabe and his men, with
scenery and furniture still to unload and store, turned to go. Their
footsteps echoed hollowly as they clattered down the worn old stairway.
Josie snapped the cord that bound the third box. Her cheeks were
flushed, her eyes bright. She turned it upside down. Then she pawed it
over. Then she went back to the contents of the first two boxes, clawing
about among the limp garments with which the table was strewn. She was
breathing quickly. Suddenly: "It isn't here!" she cried. "It isn't
here!" She turned and flew to the stairway. The voices of the men came
up to her. She leaned far over the railing. "McCabe! McCabe!"
"Yeh? What do you want?"
"The black velvet dress! The black velvet dress! It isn't there."
"Oh, yeh. That's all right. Haddon, she's got a bug about that dress,
and she says she wants to take it to London with her, to use on the
opening night. She says if she wears a new one that first night, the
play'll be a failure. Some temperament, that girl, since she's got to be
Josie stood clutching the railing of the stairway. Her disappointment
was so bitter that she could not weep. She felt cheated, outraged. She
was frightened at the intensity of her own sensations. "She might have
let me have it," she said aloud in the dim half light of the hallway.
"She's got everything else in the world. She might have let me have
Then she went back into the big, bright sewing room. "Splendour" ran
three years in London.
During those three years she saw Sid Hahn only three or four times. He
spent much of his time abroad. Whenever opportunity presented itself she
would say: "Is 'Splendour' still playing in London?"
The last time Hahn, intuitive as always, had eyed her curiously. "You
seem to be interested in that play."
"Oh, well," Josie had replied with assumed carelessness, "it being in
Atlantic City just when I had my accident, and then meeting you through
that, and all, why, I always kind of felt a personal interest in it." ...
At the end of three years Sarah Haddon returned to New York with an
English accent, a slight embonpoint, and a little foreign habit of
rushing up to her men friends with a delighted exclamation (preferably
French) and kissing them on both cheeks. When Josie Fifer, happening
back stage at a rehearsal of the star's new play, first saw her do this
a grim gleam came into her eyes.
"Bernhardt's the only woman who can spring that and get away with it,"
she said to her assistant. "Haddon's got herself sized up wrong. I'll
gamble her next play will be a failure."
And it was.
The scenery, props, and costumes of the London production of "Splendour"
were slow in coming back. But finally they did come. Josie received them
with the calmness that comes of hope deferred. It had been three years
since she last saw the play. She told herself, chidingly, that she had
been sort of foolish over that play and this costume. Her recent glimpse
of Haddon had been somewhat disillusioning. But now, when she finally
held the gown itself in her hand--the original "Splendour" second-act
gown, a limp, soft black mass: just a few yards of worn and shabby
velvet--she found her hands shaking. Here was where she had hugged the
toy dog to her breast. Here where she had fallen on her knees to pray
before the little shrine in her hotel room. Every worn spot had a
meaning for her. Every mark told a story. Her fingers smoothed it
"Not much left of that," said one of the sewing girls, glancing up. "I
guess Sarah would have a hard time making the hooks and eyes meet now.
They say she's come home from London looking a little too prosperous."
Josie did not answer. She folded the dress over her arm and carried it
to the wardrobe room. There she hung it away in an empty closet, quite
apart from the other historic treasures. And there it hung, untouched,
until the following Sunday.
On Sunday morning East Forty-third Street bears no more resemblance to
the week-day Forty-third than does a stiffly starched and subdued
Sabbath-school scholar to his Monday morning self. Strangely quiet it
is, and unfrequented. Josie Fifer, scurrying along in the unwonted
stillness, was prompted to throw a furtive glance over her shoulder now
and then, as though afraid of being caught at some criminal act. She ran
up the little flight of steps with a rush, unlocked the door with
trembling fingers, and let herself into the cool, dank gloom of the
storehouse hall. The metal door of the elevator stared inquiringly after
her. She fled past it to the stairway. Every step of that ancient
structure squeaked and groaned. First floor, second, third, fourth. The
everyday hum of the sewing machines was absent. The room seemed to be
holding its breath. Josie fancied that the very garments on the
worktables lifted themselves inquiringly from their supine position to
see what it was that disturbed their Sabbath rest. Josie, a tense,
wide-eyed, frightened little figure, stood in the centre of the vast
room, listening to she knew not what. Then, relaxing, she gave a nervous
little laugh and, reaching up, unpinned her hat. She threw it on a
near-by table and disappeared into the wardrobe room beyond.
Minutes passed--an hour. She did not come back. From the room beyond
came strange sounds--a woman's voice; the thrill of a song; cries; the
anguish of tears; laughter, harsh and high, as a desperate and deceived
woman laughs--all this following in such rapid succession that Sid Hahn,
puffing laboriously up the four flights of stairs leading to the
wardrobe floor, entered the main room unheard. Unknown to any one, he
was indulging in one of his unsuspected visits to the old wareroom that
housed the evidence of past and gone successes--successes that had
brought him fortune and fame, but little real happiness, perhaps. No one
knew that he loved to browse among these pathetic rags of a forgotten
triumph. No one would have dreamed that this chubby little man could
glow and weep over the cast-off garment of a famous Cyrano, or the faded
finery of a Zaza.
At the doorway he paused now, startled. He was listening with every
nerve of his taut body. What? Who? He tiptoed across the room with a
step incredibly light for one so stout, peered cautiously around the
side of the doorway, and leaned up against it weakly. Josie Fifer, in
the black velvet and mock pearls of "Splendour," with her grey-streaked
blonde hair hidden under the romantic scallops of a black wig, was
giving the big scene from the third act. And though it sounded like a
burlesque of that famous passage, and though she limped more than ever
as she reeled to an imaginary shrine in the corner, and though the black
wig was slightly askew by now, and the black velvet hung with bunchy
awkwardness about her skinny little body, there was nothing of mirth in
Sid Hahn's face as he gazed. He shrank back now.
She was coming to the big speech at the close of the act--the big
renunciation speech that was the curtain. Sid Hahn turned and tiptoed
painfully, breathlessly, magnificently, out of the big front room, into
the hallway, down the creaking stairs, and so to the sunshine of
Forty-third Street, with its unaccustomed Sunday-morning quiet. And he
was smiling that rare and melting smile of his--the smile that was said
to make him look something like a kewpie, and something like a cupid,
and a bit like an imp, and very much like an angel. There was little of
the first three in it now, and very much of the last. And so he got
heavily into his very grand motor car and drove off.
"Why, the poor little kid," said he--"the poor, lonely, stifled little
"I beg your pardon, sir?" inquired his chauffeur.
"Speak when you're spoken to," snapped Sid Hahn.
And here it must be revealed to you that Sid Hahn did not marry the
Cinderella of the storage warehouse. He did not marry anybody, and
neither did Josie. And yet there is a bit more to this story--ten years
more, if you must know--ten years, the end of which found Josie a
sparse, spectacled, and agile little cripple, as alert and caustic as
ever. It found Sid Hahn the most famous theatrical man of his day. It
found Sarah Haddon at the fag-end of a career that had blazed with
triumph and adulation. She had never had a success like "Splendour."
Indeed, there were those who said that all the plays that followed had
been failures, carried to semi-success on the strength of that play's
glorious past. She eschewed low-cut gowns now. She knew that it is the
telltale throat which first shows the marks of age. She knew, too, why
Bernhardt, in "Camille," always died in a high-necked nightgown. She
took to wearing high, ruffled things about her throat, and softening,
And then, in a mistaken moment, they planned a revival of "Splendour."
Sarah Haddon would again play the part that had become a classic.
Fathers had told their children of it--of her beauty, her golden voice,
the exquisite grace of her, the charm, the tenderness, the pathos. And
they told them of the famous black velvet dress, and how in it she had
moved like a splendid, buoyant bird.
So they revived "Splendour." And men and women brought their sons and
daughters to see. And what they saw was a stout, middle-aged woman in a
too-tight black velvet dress that made her look like a dowager. And when
this woman flopped down on her knees in the big scene at the close of
the last act she had a rather dreadful time of it getting up again.
And the audience, resentful, bewildered, cheated of a precious memory,
laughed. That laugh sealed the career of Sarah Haddon. It is a
fickle thing, this public that wants to be amused; fickle and cruel
and--paradoxically enough--true to its superstitions. The Sarah Haddon
of eighteen years ago was one of these. They would have none of this
fat, puffy, ample-bosomed woman who was trying to blot her picture from
their memory. "Away with her!" cried the critics through the columns of
next morning's paper. And Sarah Haddon's day was done.
"It's because I didn't wear the original black velvet dress!" cried she,
with the unreasoning rage for which she had always been famous. "If I
had worn it, everything would have been different. That dress had a
good-luck charm. Where is it? I want it. I don't care if they do take
off the play. I want it. I want it."
"Why, child," Sid Hahn said soothingly, "that dress has probably fallen
into dust by this time."
"Dust! What do you mean? How old do you think I am? That you should say
that to me! I've made millions for you, and now--"
"Now, now, Sally, be a good girl. That's all rot about that dress being
lucky. You've grown out of this part; that's all. We'll find another
"I want that dress."
Sid Hahn flushed uncomfortably. "Well, if you must know, I gave it
"To--to Josie Fifer. She took a notion to it, and so I told her she
could have it." Then, as Sarah Haddon rose, dried her eyes, and began to
straighten her hat: "Where are you going?" He trailed her to the door
worriedly. "Now, Sally, don't do anything foolish. You're just tired and
overstrung. Where are you--"
"I am going to see Josie Fifer."
"Now, look here, Sarah!"
But she was off, and Sid Hahn could only follow after, the showman in
him anticipating the scene that was to follow. When he reached the
fourth floor of the storehouse Sarah Haddon was there ahead of him. The
two women--one tall, imperious, magnificent in furs; the other shrunken,
deformed, shabby--stood staring at each other from opposites sides of
the worktable. And between them, in a crumpled, grey-black heap, lay the
"I don't care who says you can have it," Josie Fifer's shrill voice was
saying. "It's mine, and I'm going to keep it. Mr. Hahn himself gave it
to me. He said I could cut it up for a dress or something if I wanted
to. Long ago." Then, as Sid Hahn himself appeared, she appealed to him.
"There he is now. Didn't you, Mr. Hahn? Didn't you say I could have it?
"Yes, Jo," said Sid Hahn. "It's yours, to do with as you wish."
Sarah Haddon, who never had been denied anything in all her pampered
life, turned to him now. Her bosom rose and fell. She was breathing
sharply. "But S.H.!" she cried, "S.H., I've got to have it. Don't you
see, I want it! It's all I've got left in the world of what I used to
be. I want it!" She began to cry, and it was not acting.
Josie Fifer stood staring at her, her eyes wide with horror and
"Why, say, listen! Listen! You can have it. I didn't know you wanted it
as bad as that. Why, you can have it. I want you to take it. Here."
She shoved it across the table. Sarah reached out for it quickly. She
rolled it up in a tight bundle and whisked off with it without a
backward glance at Josie or at Hahn. She was still sobbing as she went
down the stairs.
The two stood staring at each other ludicrously. Hahn spoke first.
"I'm sorry, Josie. That was nice of you, giving it to her like that."
But Josie did not seem to hear. At least she paid no attention to his
remark. She was staring at him with that dazed and wide-eyed look of
one upon whom a great truth has just dawned. Then, suddenly, she began
to laugh. She laughed a high, shrill laugh that was not so much an
expression of mirth as of relief.
Sid Hahn put up a pudgy hand in protest. "Josie! Please! For the love of
Heaven don't _you_ go and get it. I've had to do with one hysterical
woman to-day. Stop that laughing! Stop it!"
Josie stopped, not abruptly, but in a little series of recurring
giggles. Then these subsided and she was smiling. It wasn't at all her
usual smile. The bitterness was quite gone from it. She faced Sid Hahn
across the table. Her palms were outspread, as one who would make things
plain. "I wasn't hysterical. I was just laughing. I've been about
seventeen years earning that laugh. Don't grudge it to me."
"Let's have the plot," said Hahn.
"There isn't any. You see, it's just--well, I've just discovered how it
works out. After all these years! She's had everything she wanted all
her life. And me, I've never had anything. Not a thing. She's travelled
one way, and I've travelled in the opposite direction, and where has it
brought us? Here we are, both fighting over an old black velvet rag.
Don't you see? Both wanting the same--" She broke off, with the little
twisted smile on her lips again. "Life's a strange thing, Mr. Hahn."
"I hope, Josie, you don't claim any originality for that remark,"
replied Sid Hahn dryly.
"But," argued the editor, "you don't call this a cheerful story, I
"Well, perhaps not exactly boisterous. But it teaches a lesson, and all
that. And it's sort of philosophical and everything, don't you think?"
The editor shuffled the sheets together decisively, so that they formed
a neat sheaf. "I'm afraid I didn't make myself quite clear. It's
entertaining, and all that, but--ah--in view of our present needs, I'm
sorry to say we--"
THE GAY OLD DOG
Those of you who have dwelt--or even lingered--in Chicago, Illinois
(this is not a humorous story), are familiar with the region known as
the Loop. For those others of you to whom Chicago is a transfer point
between New York and San Francisco there is presented this brief
The Loop is a clamorous, smoke-infested district embraced by the iron
arms of the elevated tracks. In a city boasting fewer millions, it would
be known familiarly as downtown. From Congress to Lake Street, from
Wabash almost to the river, those thunderous tracks make a complete
circle, or loop. Within it lie the retail shops, the commercial hotels,
the theatres, the restaurants. It is the Fifth Avenue (diluted) and the
Broadway (deleted) of Chicago. And he who frequents it by night in
search of amusement and cheer is known, vulgarly, as a Loop-hound.
Jo Hertz was a Loop-hound. On the occasion of those sparse first nights
granted the metropolis of the Middle West he was always present, third
row, aisle, left. When a new loop cafe was opened Jo's table always
commanded an unobstructed view of anything worth viewing. On entering
he was wont to say, "Hello, Gus," with careless cordiality to the head
waiter, the while his eye roved expertly from table to table as he
removed his gloves. He ordered things under glass, so that his table, at
midnight or thereabouts, resembled a hot-bed that favours the bell
system. The waiters fought for him. He was the kind of man who mixes his
own salad dressing. He liked to call for a bowl, some cracked ice,
lemon, garlic, paprika, salt, pepper, vinegar, and oil and make a rite
of it. People at near-by tables would lay down their knives and forks to
watch, fascinated. The secret of it seemed to lie in using all the oil
in sight and calling for more.
That was Jo--a plump and lonely bachelor of fifty. A plethoric,
roving-eyed and kindly man, clutching vainly at the garments of a youth
that had long slipped past him. Jo Hertz, in one of those pinch-waist
belted suits and a trench coat and a little green hat, walking up
Michigan Avenue of a bright winter's afternoon, trying to take the curb
with a jaunty youthfulness against which every one of his fat-encased
muscles rebelled, was a sight for mirth or pity, depending on one's
The gay-dog business was a late phase in the life of Jo Hertz. He had
been a quite different sort of canine. The staid and harassed brother of
three unwed and selfish sisters is an under dog. The tale of how Jo
Hertz came to be a Loop-hound should not be compressed within the
limits of a short story. It should be told as are the photo plays, with
frequent throwbacks and many cut-ins. To condense twenty-three years of
a man's life into some five or six thousand words requires a verbal
economy amounting to parsimony.
At twenty-seven Jo had been the dutiful, hard-working son (in the
wholesale harness business) of a widowed and gummidging mother, who
called him Joey. If you had looked close you would have seen that now
and then a double wrinkle would appear between Jo's eyes--a wrinkle that
had no business there at twenty-seven. Then Jo's mother died, leaving
him handicapped by a death-bed promise, the three sisters and a
three-story-and-basement house on Calumet Avenue. Jo's wrinkle became a
Death-bed promises should be broken as lightly as they are seriously
made. The dead have no right to lay their clammy fingers upon the
"Joey," she had said, in her high, thin voice, "take care of the girls."
"I will, Ma," Jo had choked.
"Joey," and the voice was weaker, "promise me you won't marry till the
girls are all provided for." Then as Joe had hesitated, appalled: "Joey,
it's my dying wish. Promise!"
"I promise, Ma," he had said.
Whereupon his mother had died, comfortably, leaving him with a
completely ruined life.
They were not bad-looking girls, and they had a certain style, too.
That is, Stell and Eva had. Carrie, the middle one, taught school over
on the West Side. In those days it took her almost two hours each way.
She said the kind of costume she required should have been corrugated
steel. But all three knew what was being worn, and they wore it--or
fairly faithful copies of it. Eva, the housekeeping sister, had a needle
knack. She could skim the State Street windows and come away with a
mental photograph of every separate tuck, hem, yoke, and ribbon. Heads
of departments showed her the things they kept in drawers, and she went
home and reproduced them with the aid of a two-dollar-a-day seamstress.
Stell, the youngest, was the beauty. They called her Babe. She wasn't
really a beauty, but some one had once told her that she looked like
Janice Meredith (it was when that work of fiction was at the height of
its popularity). For years afterward, whenever she went to parties, she
affected a single, fat curl over her right shoulder, with a rose stuck
Twenty-three years ago one's sisters did not strain at the household
leash, nor crave a career. Carrie taught school, and hated it. Eva kept
house expertly and complainingly. Babe's profession was being the family
beauty, and it took all her spare time. Eva always let her sleep until
This was Jo's household, and he was the nominal head of it. But it was
an empty title. The three women dominated his life. They weren't
consciously selfish. If you had called them cruel they would have put
you down as mad. When you are the lone brother of three sisters, it
means that you must constantly be calling for, escorting, or dropping
one of them somewhere. Most men of Jo's age were standing before their
mirror of a Saturday night, whistling blithely and abstractedly while
they discarded a blue polka-dot for a maroon tie, whipped off the maroon
for a shot-silk, and at the last moment decided against the shot-silk in
favor of a plain black-and-white, because she had once said she
preferred quiet ties. Jo, when he should have been preening his feathers
for conquest, was saying:
"Well, my God, I _am_ hurrying! Give a man time, can't you? I just got
home. You girls have been laying around the house all day. No wonder
He took a certain pride in seeing his sisters well dressed, at a time
when he should have been reveling in fancy waistcoats and brilliant-hued
socks, according to the style of that day, and the inalienable right of
any unwed male under thirty, in any day. On those rare occasions when
his business necessitated an out-of-town trip, he would spend half a day
floundering about the shops, selecting handkerchiefs, or stockings, or
feathers, or fans, or gloves for the girls. They always turned out to be
the wrong kind, judging by their reception.
From Carrie, "What in the world do I want of a fan!"
"I thought you didn't have one," Jo would say.
"I haven't. I never go to dances."
Jo would pass a futile hand over the top of his head, as was his way
when disturbed. "I just thought you'd like one. I thought every girl
liked a fan. Just," feebly, "just to--to have."
"Oh, for pity's sake!"
And from Eva or Babe, "I've _got_ silk stockings, Jo." Or, "You brought
me handkerchiefs the last time."
There was something selfish in his giving, as there always is in any
gift freely and joyfully made. They never suspected the exquisite
pleasure it gave him to select these things; these fine, soft, silken
things. There were many things about this slow-going, amiable brother of
theirs that they never suspected. If you had told them he was a dreamer
of dreams, for example, they would have been amused. Sometimes,
dead-tired by nine o'clock, after a hard day down town, he would doze
over the evening paper. At intervals he would wake, red-eyed, to a
snatch of conversation such as, "Yes, but if you get a blue you can wear
it anywhere. It's dressy, and at the same time it's quiet, too." Eva,
the expert, wrestling with Carrie over the problem of the new spring
dress. They never guessed that the commonplace man in the frayed old
smoking-jacket had banished them all from the room long ago; had
banished himself, for that matter. In his place was a tall, debonair,
and rather dangerously handsome man to whom six o'clock spelled evening
clothes. The kind of man who can lean up against a mantel, or propose a
toast, or give an order to a man-servant, or whisper a gallant speech in
a lady's ear with equal ease. The shabby old house on Calumet Avenue was
transformed into a brocaded and chandeliered rendezvous for the
brilliance of the city. Beauty was here, and wit. But none so beautiful
and witty as She. Mrs.--er--Jo Hertz. There was wine, of course; but no
vulgar display. There was music; the soft sheen of satin; laughter. And
he the gracious, tactful host, king of his own domain--
"Jo, for heaven's sake, if you're going to snore go to bed!"
"Why--did I fall asleep?"
"You haven't been doing anything else all evening. A person would think
you were fifty instead of thirty."
And Jo Hertz was again just the dull, grey, commonplace brother of three
Babe used to say petulantly, "Jo, why don't you ever bring home any of
your men friends? A girl might as well not have any brother, all the
good you do."
Jo, conscience-stricken, did his best to make amends. But a man who
has been petticoat-ridden for years loses the knack, somehow, of
comradeship with men. He acquires, too, a knowledge of women, and
a distaste for them, equalled only, perhaps, by that of an
elevator-starter in a department store.
Which brings us to one Sunday in May. Jo came home from a late Sunday
afternoon walk to find company for supper. Carrie often had in one of
her school-teacher friends, or Babe one of her frivolous intimates, or
even Eva a staid guest of the old-girl type. There was always a Sunday
night supper of potato salad, and cold meat, and coffee, and perhaps a
fresh cake. Jo rather enjoyed it, being a hospitable soul. But he
regarded the guests with the undazzled eyes of a man to whom they were
just so many petticoats, timid of the night streets and requiring escort
home. If you had suggested to him that some of his sisters' popularity
was due to his own presence, or if you had hinted that the more
kittenish of these visitors were probably making eyes at him, he would
have stared in amazement and unbelief.
This Sunday night it turned out to be one of Carrie's friends.
"Emily," said Carrie, "this is my brother, Jo."
Jo had learned what to expect in Carrie's friends. Drab-looking women in
the late thirties, whose facial lines all slanted downward.
"Happy to meet you," said Jo, and looked down at a different sort
altogether. A most surprisingly different sort, for one of Carrie's
friends. This Emily person was very small, and fluffy, and blue-eyed,
and sort of--well, crinkly looking. You know. The corners of her mouth
when she smiled, and her eyes when she looked up at you, and her hair,
which was brown, but had the miraculous effect, somehow, of being
Jo shook hands with her. Her hand was incredibly small, and soft, so
that you were afraid of crushing it, until you discovered she had a firm
little grip all her own. It surprised and amused you, that grip, as does
a baby's unexpected clutch on your patronising forefinger. As Jo felt it
in his own big clasp, the strangest thing happened to him. Something
inside Jo Hertz stopped working for a moment, then lurched sickeningly,
then thumped like mad. It was his heart. He stood staring down at her,
and she up at him, until the others laughed. Then their hands fell
"Are you a school-teacher, Emily?" he said.
"Kindergarten. It's my first year. And don't call me Emily, please."
"Why not? It's your name. I think it's the prettiest name in the world."
Which he hadn't meant to say at all. In fact, he was perfectly aghast to
find himself saying it. But he meant it.
At supper he passed her things, and stared, until everybody laughed
again, and Eva said acidly, "Why don't you feed her?"
It wasn't that Emily had an air of helplessness. She just made you feel
you wanted her to be helpless, so that you could help her.
Jo took her home, and from that Sunday night he began to strain at the
leash. He took his sisters out, dutifully, but he would suggest, with a
carelessness that deceived no one, "Don't you want one of your girl
friends to come along? That little What's-her-name--Emily, or something.
So long's I've got three of you, I might as well have a full squad."
For a long time he didn't know what was the matter with him. He only
knew he was miserable, and yet happy. Sometimes his heart seemed to ache
with an actual physical ache. He realised that he wanted to do things
for Emily. He wanted to buy things for Emily--useless, pretty, expensive
things that he couldn't afford. He wanted to buy everything that Emily
needed, and everything that Emily desired. He wanted to marry Emily.
That was it. He discovered that one day, with a shock, in the midst of a
transaction in the harness business. He stared at the man with whom he
was dealing until that startled person grew uncomfortable.
"What's the matter, Hertz?"
"You look as if you'd seen a ghost or found a gold mine. I don't know
"Gold mine," said Jo. And then, "No. Ghost."
For he remembered that high, thin voice, and his promise. And the
harness business was slithering downhill with dreadful rapidity, as the
automobile business began its amazing climb. Jo tried to stop it. But he
was not that kind of business man. It never occurred to him to jump out
of the down-going vehicle and catch the up-going one. He stayed on,
vainly applying brakes that refused to work.
"You know, Emily, I couldn't support two households now. Not the way
things are. But if you'll wait. If you'll only wait. The girls
might--that is, Babe and Carrie--"
She was a sensible little thing, Emily. "Of course I'll wait. But we
mustn't just sit back and let the years go by. We've got to help."
She went about it as if she were already a little match-making matron.
She corralled all the men she had ever known and introduced them to
Babe, Carrie, and Eva separately, in pairs, and _en masse_. She arranged
parties at which Babe could display the curl. She got up picnics. She
stayed home while Jo took the three about. When she was present she
tried to look as plain and obscure as possible, so that the sisters
should show up to advantage. She schemed, and planned, and contrived,
and hoped; and smiled into Jo's despairing eyes.
And three years went by. Three precious years. Carrie still taught
school, and hated it. Eva kept house, more and more complainingly as
prices advanced and allowance retreated. Stell was still Babe, the
family beauty; but even she knew that the time was past for curls.
Emily's hair, somehow, lost its glint and began to look just plain
brown. Her crinkliness began to iron out.
"Now, look here!" Jo argued, desperately, one night. "We could be happy,
anyway. There's plenty of room at the house. Lots of people begin that
way. Of course, I couldn't give you all I'd like to, at first. But
maybe, after a while--"
No dreams of salons, and brocade, and velvet-footed servitors, and satin
damask now. Just two rooms, all their own, all alone, and Emily to work
for. That was his dream. But it seemed less possible than that other
absurd one had been.
You know that Emily was as practical a little thing as she looked
fluffy. She knew women. Especially did she know Eva, and Carrie, and
Babe. She tried to imagine herself taking the household affairs and the
housekeeping pocketbook out of Eva's expert hands. Eva had once
displayed to her a sheaf of aigrettes she had bought with what she saved
out of the housekeeping money. So then she tried to picture herself
allowing the reins of Jo's house to remain in Eva's hands. And
everything feminine and normal in her rebelled. Emily knew she'd want to
put away her own freshly laundered linen, and smooth it, and pat it. She
was that kind of woman. She knew she'd want to do her own delightful
haggling with butcher and vegetable pedlar. She knew she'd want to muss
Jo's hair, and sit on his knee, and even quarrel with him, if necessary,
without the awareness of three ever-present pairs of maiden eyes and
"No! No! We'd only be miserable. I know. Even if they didn't object. And
they would, Jo. Wouldn't they?"
His silence was miserable assent. Then, "But you do love me, don't you,
"I do, Jo. I love you--and love you--and love you. But, Jo, I--can't."
"I know it, dear. I knew it all the time, really. I just thought, maybe,
The two sat staring for a moment into space, their hands clasped. Then
they both shut their eyes, with a little shudder, as though what they
saw was terrible to look upon. Emily's hand, the tiny hand that was so
unexpectedly firm, tightened its hold on his, and his crushed the absurd
fingers until she winced with pain.
That was the beginning of the end, and they knew it.
Emily wasn't the kind of girl who would be left to pine. There are too
many Jo's in the world whose hearts are prone to lurch and then thump at
the feel of a soft, fluttering, incredibly small hand in their grip. One
year later Emily was married to a young man whose father owned a large,
pie-shaped slice of the prosperous state of Michigan.
That being safely accomplished, there was something grimly humorous in
the trend taken by affairs in the old house on Calumet. For Eva
married. Of all people, Eva! Married well, too, though he was a great
deal older than she. She went off in a hat she had copied from a French
model at Field's, and a suit she had contrived with a home dressmaker,
aided by pressing on the part of the little tailor in the basement over
on Thirty-first Street. It was the last of that, though. The next time
they saw her, she had on a hat that even she would have despaired of
copying, and a suit that sort of melted into your gaze. She moved to the
North Side (trust Eva for that), and Babe assumed the management of the
household on Calumet Avenue. It was rather a pinched little household
now, for the harness business shrank and shrank.
"I don't see how you can expect me to keep house decently on this!" Babe
would say contemptuously. Babe's nose, always a little inclined to
sharpness, had whittled down to a point of late. "If you knew what Ben
"It's the best I can do, Sis. Business is something rotten."
"Ben says if you had the least bit of--" Ben was Eva's husband, and
quotable, as are all successful men.
"I don't care what Ben says," shouted Jo, goaded into rage. "I'm sick of
your everlasting Ben. Go and get a Ben of your own, why don't you, if
you're so stuck on the way he does things."
And Babe did. She made a last desperate drive, aided by Eva, and she
captured a rather surprised young man in the brokerage way, who had made
up his mind not to marry for years and years. Eva wanted to give her her
wedding things, but at that Jo broke into sudden rebellion.
"No sir! No Ben is going to buy my sister's wedding clothes, understand?
I guess I'm not broke--yet. I'll furnish the money for her things, and
there'll be enough of them, too."
Babe had as useless a trousseau, and as filled with extravagant
pink-and-blue and lacy and frilly things as any daughter of doting
parents. Jo seemed to find a grim pleasure in providing them. But it
left him pretty well pinched. After Babe's marriage (she insisted that
they call her Estelle now) Jo sold the house on Calumet. He and Carrie
took one of those little flats that were springing up, seemingly over
night, all through Chicago's South Side.
There was nothing domestic about Carrie. She had given up teaching two
years before, and had gone into Social Service work on the West Side.
She had what is known as a legal mind--hard, clear, orderly--and she
made a great success of it. Her dream was to live at the Settlement
House and give all her time to the work. Upon the little household she
bestowed a certain amount of grim, capable attention. It was the same
kind of attention she would have given a piece of machinery whose oiling
and running had been entrusted to her care. She hated it, and didn't
hesitate to say so.
Jo took to prowling about department store basements, and household
goods sections. He was always sending home a bargain in a ham, or a sack
of potatoes, or fifty pounds of sugar, or a window clamp, or a new kind
of paring knife. He was forever doing odd little jobs that the janitor
should have done. It was the domestic in him claiming its own.
Then, one night, Carrie came home with a dull glow in her leathery
cheeks, and her eyes alight with resolve. They had what she called a
"Listen, Jo. They've offered me the job of first assistant resident
worker. And I'm going to take it. Take it! I know fifty other girls
who'd give their ears for it. I go in next month."
They were at dinner. Jo looked up from his plate, dully. Then he glanced
around the little dining room, with its ugly tan walls and its heavy,
dark furniture (the Calumet Avenue pieces fitted cumbersomely into the
"Away? Away from here, you mean--to live?" Carrie laid down her fork.
"Well, really, Jo! After all that explanation."
"But to go over there to live! Why, that neighbourhood's full of dirt,
and disease, and crime, and the Lord knows what all. I can't let you do
Carrie's chin came up. She laughed a short little laugh. "Let me!
That's eighteenth-century talk, Jo. My life's my own to live. I'm
And she went.
Jo stayed on in the apartment until the lease was up. Then he sold what
furniture he could, stored or gave away the rest, and took a room on
Michigan Avenue in one of the old stone mansions whose decayed splendour
was being put to such purpose.
Jo Hertz was his own master. Free to marry. Free to come and go. And he
found he didn't even think of marrying. He didn't even want to come or
go, particularly. A rather frumpy old bachelor, with thinning hair and a
thickening neck. Much has been written about the unwed, middle-aged
woman; her fussiness, her primness, her angularity of mind and body. In
the male that same fussiness develops, and a certain primness, too. But
he grows flabby where she grows lean.
Every Thursday evening he took dinner at Eva's, and on Sunday noon at
Stell's. He tucked his napkin under his chin and openly enjoyed the
home-made soup and the well-cooked meats. After dinner he tried to talk
business with Eva's husband, or Stell's. His business talks were the
old-fashioned kind, beginning:
"Well, now, looka here. Take, f'rinstance your raw hides and leathers."
But Ben and George didn't want to "take, f'rinstance, your raw hides and
leathers." They wanted, when they took anything at all, to take golf,
or politics or stocks. They were the modern type of business man who
prefers to leave his work out of his play. Business, with them, was a
profession--a finely graded and balanced thing, differing from Jo's
clumsy, downhill style as completely as does the method of a great
criminal detective differ from that of a village constable. They would
listen, restively, and say, "Uh-uh," at intervals, and at the first
chance they would sort of fade out of the room, with a meaning glance at
their wives. Eva had two children now. Girls. They treated Uncle Jo with
good-natured tolerance. Stell had no children. Uncle Jo degenerated, by
almost imperceptible degrees, from the position of honoured guest, who
is served with white meat, to that of one who is content with a leg and
one of those obscure and bony sections which, after much turning with a
bewildered and investigating knife and fork, leave one baffled and
Eva and Stell got together and decided that Jo ought to marry.
"It isn't natural," Eva told him. "I never saw a man who took so little
interest in women."
"Me!" protested Jo, almost shyly. "Women!"
"Yes. Of course. You act like a frightened schoolboy."
So they had in for dinner certain friends and acquaintances of fitting
age. They spoke of them as "splendid girls." Between thirty-six and
forty. They talked awfully well, in a firm, clear way, about civics,
and classes, and politics, and economics, and boards. They rather
terrified Jo. He didn't understand much that they talked about, and he
felt humbly inferior, and yet a little resentful, as if something had
passed him by. He escorted them home, dutifully, though they told him
not to bother, and they evidently meant it. They seemed capable, not
only of going home quite unattended, but of delivering a pointed lecture
to any highwayman or brawler who might molest them.
The following Thursday Eva would say, "How did you like her, Jo?"
"Like who?" Jo would spar feebly.
"Now, don't be funny, Jo. You know very well I mean the girl who was
here for dinner. The one who talked so well on the emigration question.
"Oh, her! Why, I liked her all right. Seems to be a smart woman."
"Smart! She's a perfectly splendid girl."
"Sure," Jo would agree cheerfully.
"But didn't you like her?"
"I can't say I did, Eve. And I can't say I didn't. She made me think a
lot of a teacher I had in the fifth reader. Name of Himes. As I recall
her, she must have been a fine woman. But I never thought of her as a
woman at all. She was just Teacher."
"You make me tired," snapped Eva impatiently. "A man of your age. You
don't expect to marry a girl, do you? A child!"
"I don't expect to marry anybody," Jo had answered.
And that was the truth, lonely though he often was.
The following spring Eva moved to Winnetka. Any one who got the meaning
of the Loop knows the significance of a move to a north-shore suburb,
and a house. Eva's daughter, Ethel, was growing up, and her mother had
an eye on society.
That did away with Jo's Thursday dinner. Then Stell's husband bought a
car. They went out into the country every Sunday. Stell said it was
getting so that maids objected to Sunday dinners, anyway. Besides, they
were unhealthy, old-fashioned things. They always meant to ask Jo to
come along, but by the time their friends were placed, and the lunch,
and the boxes, and sweaters, and George's camera, and everything, there
seemed to be no room for a man of Jo's bulk. So that eliminated the
"Just drop in any time during the week," Stell said, "for dinner. Except
Wednesday--that's our bridge night--and Saturday. And, of course,
Thursday. Cook is out that night. Don't wait for me to phone."
And so Jo drifted into that sad-eyed, dyspeptic family made up of those
you see dining in second-rate restaurants, their paper propped up
against the bowl of oyster crackers, munching solemnly and with
indifference to the stare of the passer-by surveying them through the
brazen plate-glass window.
And then came the War. The war that spelled death and destruction to
millions. The war that brought a fortune to Jo Hertz, and transformed
him, over night, from a baggy-kneed old bachelor, whose business was a
failure, to a prosperous manufacturer whose only trouble was the
shortage in hides for the making of his product--leather! The armies of
Europe called for it. Harnesses! More harnesses! Straps! Millions of
straps. More! More!
The musty old harness business over on Lake Street was magically changed
from a dust-covered, dead-alive concern to an orderly hive that hummed
and glittered with success. Orders poured in. Jo Hertz had inside
information on the War. He knew about troops and horses. He talked
with French and English and Italian buyers--noblemen, many of
them--commissioned by their countries to get American-made supplies. And
now, when he said to Ben or George, "Take f'rinstance your raw hides and
leathers," they listened with respectful attention.
And then began the gay-dog business in the life of Jo Hertz. He
developed into a Loop-hound, ever keen on the scent of fresh pleasure.
That side of Jo Hertz which had been repressed and crushed and ignored
began to bloom, unhealthily. At first he spent money on his rather
contemptuous nieces. He sent them gorgeous fans, and watch bracelets,
and velvet bags. He took two expensive rooms at a downtown hotel, and
there was something more tear-compelling than grotesque about the way
he gloated over the luxury of a separate ice-water tap in the bathroom.
He explained it.
"Just turn it on. Ice-water! Any hour of the day or night."
He bought a car. Naturally. A glittering affair; in colour a bright
blue, with pale blue leather straps and a great deal of gold fittings,
and wire wheels. Eva said it was the kind of thing a soubrette would
use, rather than an elderly business man. You saw him driving about in
it, red-faced and rather awkward at the wheel. You saw him, too, in
the Pompeian room at the Congress Hotel of a Saturday afternoon when
doubtful and roving-eyed matrons in kolinsky capes are wont to
congregate to sip pale amber drinks. Actors grew to recognise the
semi-bald head and the shining, round, good-natured face looming out at
them from the dim well of the parquet, and sometimes, in a musical show,
they directed a quip at him, and he liked it. He could pick out the
critics as they came down the aisle, and even had a nodding acquaintance
with two of them.
"Kelly, of the _Herald_," he would say carelessly. "Bean, of the _Trib_.
They're all afraid of him."
So he frolicked, ponderously. In New York he might have been called a
Man About Town.
And he was lonesome. He was very lonesome. So he searched about in his
mind and brought from the dim past the memory of the luxuriously
furnished establishment of which he used to dream in the evenings when
he dozed over his paper in the old house on Calumet. So he rented an
apartment, many-roomed and expensive, with a man-servant in charge, and
furnished it in styles and periods ranging through all the Louises. The
living room was mostly rose colour. It was like an unhealthy and bloated
boudoir. And yet there was nothing sybaritic or uncleanly in the sight
of this paunchy, middle-aged man sinking into the rosy-cushioned luxury
of his ridiculous home. It was a frank and naive indulgence of
long-starved senses, and there was in it a great resemblance to the
rolling eyed ecstasy of a schoolboy smacking his lips over an all-day
The War went on, and on, and on. And the money continued to roll in--a
flood of it. Then, one afternoon, Eva, in town on shopping bent, entered
a small, exclusive, and expensive shop on Michigan Avenue. Exclusive,
that is, in price. Eva's weakness, you may remember, was hats. She was
seeking a hat now. She described what she sought with a languid
conciseness, and stood looking about her after the saleswoman had
vanished in quest of it. The room was becomingly rose-illumined and
somewhat dim, so that some minutes had passed before she realised that a
man seated on a raspberry brocade settee not five feet away--a man with
a walking stick, and yellow gloves, and tan spats, and a check suit--was
her brother Jo. From him Eva's wild-eyed glance leaped to the woman who
was trying on hats before one of the many long mirrors. She was seated,
and a saleswoman was exclaiming discreetly at her elbow.
Eva turned sharply and encountered her own saleswoman returning,
hat-laden. "Not to-day," she gasped. "I'm feeling ill. Suddenly." And
almost ran from the room.
That evening she told Stell, relating her news in that telephone
pidgin-English devised by every family of married sisters as protection
against the neighbours and Central. Translated, it ran thus:
"He looked straight at me. My dear, I thought I'd die! But at least he
had sense enough not to speak. She was one of those limp, willowy
creatures with the greediest eyes that she tried to keep softened to a
baby stare, and couldn't, she was so crazy to get her hands on those
hats. I saw it all in one awful minute. You know the way I do. I suppose
some people would call her pretty. I don't. And her colour! Well! And
the most expensive-looking hats. Aigrettes, and paradise, and feathers.
Not one of them under seventy-five. Isn't it disgusting! At his age!
Suppose Ethel had been with me!"
The next time it was Stell who saw them. In a restaurant. She said it
spoiled her evening. And the third time it was Ethel. She was one of the
guests at a theatre party given by Nicky Overton II. You know. The North
Shore Overtons. Lake Forest. They came in late, and occupied the entire
third row at the opening performance of "Believe Me!" And Ethel was
Nicky's partner. She was glowing like a rose. When the lights went up
after the first act Ethel saw that her uncle Jo was seated just ahead of
her with what she afterward described as a blonde. Then her uncle had
turned around, and seeing her, had been surprised into a smile that
spread genially all over his plump and rubicund face. Then he had turned
to face forward again, quickly.
"Who's the old bird?" Nicky had asked. Ethel had pretended not to hear,
so he had asked again.
"My Uncle," Ethel answered, and flushed all over her delicate face, and
down to her throat. Nicky had looked at the blonde, and his eyebrows had
gone up ever so slightly.
It spoiled Ethel's evening. More than that, as she told her mother of it
later, weeping, she declared it had spoiled her life.
Eva talked it over with her husband in that intimate, kimonoed hour that
precedes bedtime. She gesticulated heatedly with her hair brush.
"It's disgusting, that's what it is. Perfectly disgusting. There's no
fool like an old fool. Imagine! A creature like that. At his time of
There exists a strange and loyal kinship among men. "Well, I don't
know," Ben said now, and even grinned a little. "I suppose a boy's got
to sow his wild oats some time."
"Don't be any more vulgar than you can help," Eva retorted. "And I
think you know, as well as I, what it means to have that Overton boy
interested in Ethel."
"If he's interested in her," Ben blundered, "I guess the fact that
Ethel's uncle went to the theatre with some one who wasn't Ethel's aunt
won't cause a shudder to run up and down his frail young frame, will
"All right," Eva had retorted. "If you're not man enough to stop it,
I'll have to, that's all. I'm going up there with Stell this week."
They did not notify Jo of their coming. Eva telephoned his apartment
when she knew he would be out, and asked his man if he expected his
master home to dinner that evening. The man had said yes. Eva arranged
to meet Stell in town. They would drive to Jo's apartment together, and
wait for him there.
When she reached the city Eva found turmoil there. The first of the
American troops to be sent to France were leaving. Michigan Boulevard
was a billowing, surging mass: Flags, pennants, banners crowds. All the
elements that make for demonstration. And over the whole--quiet. No
holiday crowd, this. A solid, determined mass of people waiting patient
hours to see the khaki-clads go by. Three years of indefatigable reading
had brought them to a clear knowledge of what these boys were going to.
"Isn't it dreadful!" Stell gasped.
"Nicky Overton's only nineteen, thank goodness."
Their car was caught in the jam. When they moved at all it was by
inches. When at last they reached Jo's apartment they were flushed,
nervous, apprehensive. But he had not yet come in. So they waited.
No, they were not staying to dinner with their brother, they told the
Jo's home has already been described to you. Stell and Eva, sunk in
rose-coloured cushions, viewed it with disgust, and some mirth. They
rather avoided each other's eyes.
"Carrie ought to be here," Eva said. They both smiled at the thought of
the austere Carrie in the midst of those rosy cushions, and hangings,
and lamps. Stell rose and began to walk about, restlessly. She picked up
a vase and laid it down; straightened a picture. Eva got up, too, and
wandered into the hall. She stood there a moment, listening. Then she
turned and passed into Jo's bedroom. And there you knew Jo for what he
This room was as bare as the other had been ornate. It was Jo, the
clean-minded and simple-hearted, in revolt against the cloying luxury
with which he had surrounded himself. The bedroom, of all rooms in any
house, reflects the personality of its occupant. True, the actual
furniture was panelled, cupid-surmounted, and ridiculous. It had been
the fruit of Jo's first orgy of the senses. But now it stood out in that
stark little room with an air as incongruous and ashamed as that of a
pink tarleton _danseuse_ who finds herself in a monk's cell. None of
those wall-pictures with which bachelor bedrooms are reputed to be
hung. No satin slippers. No scented notes. Two plain-backed military
brushes on the chiffonier (and he so nearly hairless!). A little orderly
stack of books on the table near the bed. Eva fingered their titles and
gave a little gasp. One of them was on gardening.
"Well, of all things!" exclaimed Stell. A book on the War, by an
Englishman. A detective story of the lurid type that lulls us to sleep.
His shoes ranged in a careful row in the closet, with a shoe-tree in
every one of them. There was something speaking about them. They looked
so human. Eva shut the door on them, quickly. Some bottles on the
dresser. A jar of pomade. An ointment such as a man uses who is growing
bald and is panic-stricken too late. An insurance calendar on the wall.
Some rhubarb-and-soda mixture on the shelf in the bathroom, and a little
box of pepsin tablets.
"Eats all kinds of things at all hours of the night," Eva said, and
wandered out into the rose-coloured front room again with the air of one
who is chagrined at her failure to find what she has sought. Stell
followed her furtively.
"Where do you suppose he can be?" she demanded. "It's"--she glanced at
her wrist--"why, it's after six!"
And then there was a little click. The two women sat up, tense. The door
opened. Jo came in. He blinked a little. The two women in the rosy room
"Why--Eve! Why, Babe! Well! Why didn't you let me know?"
"We were just about to leave. We thought you weren't coming home."
Joe came in, slowly.
"I was in the jam on Michigan, watching the boys go by." He sat down,
heavily. The light from the window fell on him. And you saw that his
eyes were red.
And you'll have to learn why. He had found himself one of the thousands
in the jam on Michigan Avenue, as he said. He had a place near the curb,
where his big frame shut off the view of the unfortunates behind him. He
waited with the placid interest of one who has subscribed to all the
funds and societies to which a prosperous, middle-aged business man is
called upon to subscribe in war time. Then, just as he was about to
leave, impatient at the delay, the crowd had cried, with a queer
dramatic, exultant note in its voice, "Here they come! Here come the
Just at that moment two little, futile, frenzied fists began to beat a
mad tattoo on Jo Hertz's broad back. Jo tried to turn in the crowd, all
indignant resentment. "Say, looka here!"
The little fists kept up their frantic beating and pushing. And a
voice--a choked, high little voice--cried, "Let me by! I can't see! You
man, you! You big fat man! My boy's going by--to war--and I can't see!
Let me by!"
Jo scrooged around, still keeping his place. He looked down. And
upturned to him in agonised appeal was the face of little Emily. They
stared at each other for what seemed a long, long time. It was really
only the fraction of a second. Then Jo put one great arm firmly around
Emily's waist and swung her around in front of him. His great bulk
protected her. Emily was clinging to his hand. She was breathing
rapidly, as if she had been running. Her eyes were straining up the
"Why, Emily, how in the world!--"
"I ran away. Fred didn't want me to come. He said it would excite me too
"My husband. He made me promise to say good-bye to Jo at home."
"Jo's my boy. And he's going to war. So I ran away. I had to see him. I
had to see him go."
She was dry-eyed. Her gaze was straining up the street.
"Why, sure," said Jo. "Of course you want to see him." And then the
crowd gave a great roar. There came over Jo a feeling of weakness. He
was trembling. The boys went marching by.
"There he is," Emily shrilled, above the din. "There be is! There he is!
There he--" And waved a futile little hand. It wasn't so much a wave as
a clutching. A clutching after something beyond her reach.
"Which one? Which one, Emily?"
"The handsome one. The handsome one. There!" Her voice quavered and
Jo put a steady hand on her shoulder. "Point him out," he commanded.
"Show me." And the next instant. "Never mind. I see him."
Somehow, miraculously, he had picked him from among the hundreds. Had
picked him as surely as his own father might have. It was Emily's boy.
He was marching by, rather stiffly. He was nineteen, and fun-loving, and
he had a girl, and he didn't particularly want to go to France and--to
go to France. But more than he had hated going, he had hated not to go.
So he marched by, looking straight ahead, his jaw set so that his chin
stuck out just a little. Emily's boy.
Jo looked at him, and his face flushed purple. His eyes, the hard-boiled
eyes of a Loop-hound, took on the look of a sad old man. And suddenly he
was no longer Jo, the sport; old J. Hertz, the gay dog. He was Jo Hertz,
thirty, in love with life, in love with Emily, and with the stinging
blood of young manhood coursing through his veins.
Another minute and the boy had passed on up the broad street--the fine,
flag-bedecked street--just one of a hundred service-hats bobbing in
rhythmic motion like sandy waves lapping a shore and flowing on.
Then he disappeared altogether.
Emily was clinging to Jo. She was mumbling something, over and over. "I
can't. I can't. Don't ask me to. I can't let him go. Like that. I
Jo said a queer thing.
"Why, Emily! We wouldn't have him stay home, would we? We wouldn't want
him to do anything different, would we? Not our boy. I'm glad he
enlisted. I'm proud of him. So are you glad."
Little by little he quieted her. He took her to the car that was
waiting, a worried chauffeur in charge. They said good-bye, awkwardly.
Emily's face was a red, swollen mass.
So it was that when Jo entered his own hallway half an hour later he
blinked, dazedly, and when the light from the window fell on him you saw
that his eyes were red.
Eva was not one to beat about the bush. She sat forward in her chair,
clutching her bag rather nervously.
"Now, look here, Jo. Stell and I are here for a reason. We're here to
tell you that this thing's got to stop."
"You know very well what I mean. You saw me at the milliner's that day.
And night before last, Ethel. We're all disgusted. If you must go about
with people like that, please have some sense of decency."
Something gathering in Jo's face should have warned her. But he was
slumped down in his chair in such a huddle, and he looked so old and fat
that she did not heed it. She went on. "You've got us to consider. Your
sisters. And your nieces. Not to speak of your own--"
But he got to his feet then, shaking, and at what she saw in his face
even Eva faltered and stopped. It wasn't at all the face of a fat,
middle-aged sport. It was a face Jovian, terrible.
"You!" he began, low-voiced, ominous. "You!" He raised a great fist
high. "You two murderers! You didn't consider me, twenty years ago. You
come to me with talk like that. Where's my boy! You killed him, you two,
twenty years ago. And now he belongs to somebody else. Where's my son
that should have gone marching by to-day?" He flung his arms out in a
great gesture of longing. The red veins stood out on his forehead.
"Where's my son! Answer me that, you two selfish, miserable women.
Where's my son!" Then, as they huddled together, frightened, wild-eyed.
"Out of my house! Out of my house! Before I hurt you!"
They fled, terrified. The door banged behind them.
Jo stood, shaking, in the centre of the room. Then he reached for a
chair, gropingly, and sat down. He passed one moist, flabby hand over
his forehead and it came away wet. The telephone rang. He sat still. It
sounded far away and unimportant, like something forgotten. I think he
did not even hear it with his conscious ear. But it rang and rang
insistently. Jo liked to answer his telephone, when at home.
"Hello!" He knew instantly the voice at the other end.
"That you, Jo?" it said.
"How's my boy?"
"Listen, Jo. The crowd's coming over to-night. I've fixed up a little
poker game for you. Just eight of us."
"I can't come to-night, Gert."
"Can't! Why not?"
"I'm not feeling so good."
"You just said you were all right."
"I _am_ all right. Just kind of tired."
The voice took on a cooing note. "Is my Joey tired? Then he shall be all
comfy on the sofa, and he doesn't need to play if he don't want to. No,
Jo stood staring at the black mouth-piece of the telephone. He was
seeing a procession go marching by. Boys, hundreds of boys, in khaki.
"Hello! Hello!" the voice took on an anxious note. "Are you there?"
"Jo, there's something the matter. You're sick. I'm coming right over."
"Why not? You sound as if you'd been sleeping. Look here--"
"Leave me alone!" cried Jo, suddenly, and the receiver clacked onto the
hook. "Leave me alone. Leave me alone." Long after the connection had
He stood staring at the instrument with unseeing eyes. Then he turned
and walked into the front room. All the light had gone out of it. Dusk
had come on. All the light had gone out of everything. The zest had gone
out of life. The game was over--the game he had been playing against
loneliness and disappointment. And he was just a tired old man. A
lonely, tired old man in a ridiculous, rose-coloured room that had
grown, all of a sudden, drab.
THE TOUGH GUY
You could not be so very tough in Chippewa, Wisconsin. But Buzz Werner
managed magnificently with the limited means at hand. Before he was
nineteen mothers were warning their sons against him, and brothers their
sisters. Buzz Werner not only was tough--he looked tough. When he
spoke--which was often--his speech slid sinisterly out of the extreme
left corner of his mouth. He had a trick of hitching himself up from the
belt--one palm on the stomach and a sort of heaving jerk from the waist,
as a prize fighter does it--that would have made a Van Bibber look
His name was not really Buzz, but quotes are dispensed with because no
one but his mother remembered what it originally had been. His mother
called him Ernie and she alone, in all Chippewa, Wisconsin, was unaware
that her son was the town tough guy. But even she sometimes mildly
remonstrated with him for being what she called kind of wild. Buzz had
yellow hair with a glint in it, and it curled up into a bang at the
front. No amount of wetting or greasing could subdue that irrepressible
forelock. A boy with hair like that never grows up in his mother's
If Buzz's real name was lost in the dim mists of boyhood, the origin and
fitness of his nickname were apparent after two minutes' conversation
with him. Buzz Werner was called Buzz not only because he talked too
much, but because he was a braggart. His conversation bristled with the
perpendicular pronoun, and his pet phrase was, "I says to him--"
By the time Buzz was fourteen he was stealing brass from the yards of
the big paper mills down in the Flats and selling it to the junk man.
How he escaped the reform school is a mystery. Perhaps it was the blond
forelock. At nineteen he was running with the Kearney girl.
Twenty-five years hence Chippewa will have learned to treat the
Kearney-girl type as a disease, and a public menace. Which she was. The
Kearney girl ran wild in Chippewa, and Chippewa will be paying taxes on
the fruit of her liberty for a hundred years to come. The Kearney girl
was a beautiful idiot, with a lovely oval face, and limpid, rather
wistful blue eyes, and fair, fine hair, and a long slim neck. She looked
very much like those famous wantons of history, from Lucrezia Borgia to
Nell Gwyn, that you see pictured in the galleries of Europe--all very
mild and girlish, with moist red mouths, like a puppy's, so that you
wonder if they have not been basely defamed through all the centuries.
The Kearney girl's father ran a saloon out on Second Avenue, and every
few days the Chippewa paper would come out with a story of a brawl, a
knifing, or a free-for-all fight following a Saturday night in
Kearney's. The Kearney girl herself was forever running up and down
Grand Avenue, which was the main business street. She would trail up and
down from the old Armory to the post-office and back again. When she
turned off into the homeward stretch on Outagamie Street there always
slunk after her some stoop-shouldered, furtive, loping youth. But he
never was seen with her on Grand Avenue. She had often been up before
old Judge Colt for some nasty business or other. At such times the
shabby office of the Justice of the Peace would be full of shawled
mothers and heavy-booted, work-worn fathers, and an aunt or two, and
some cousins, and always a slinking youth fumbling with the hat in his
hands, his glance darting hither and thither, from group to group, but
never resting for a moment within any one else's gaze. Of all these
present, the Kearney girl herself was always the calmest. Old Judge Colt
meted out justice according to his lights. Unfortunately, the wearing of
a yellow badge on the breast was a custom that had gone out some years
This nymph it was who had taken a fancy to Buzz Werner. It looked very
black for his future.
The strange part of it was that the girl possessed little attraction for
Buzz. It was she who made all the advances. Buzz had sprung from very
decent stock, as you shall see. And something about the sultry
unwholesomeness of this girl repelled him, though he was hardly aware
that this was so. Buzz and his gang would meet down town of a Saturday
night, very moist as to hair and clean as to soft shirt. They would
lounge on the corner of Grand and Outagamie, in front of Schroeder's
brightly lighted drug store, watching the girls go by. They were, for
the most part, a pimply-faced lot. They would shuffle their feet in a
slow jig, hands in pockets. When a late comer joined them it was
considered _au fait_ to welcome him by assuming a fistic attitude, after
the style of the pugilists pictured in the barber-shop magazines, and
spar a good-natured and make-believe round with him, with much agile
dancing about in a circle, head held stiffly, body crouching, while
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