Part 3 out of 6
out of it.
Terry stared down at this congealing remnant. Then she laughed, a hard,
high little laugh, pushed a plate away contemptuously with her hand, and
walked into the sitting room. On the piano was the piece of music
(Bennie Gottschalk's great song hit, "Hicky Bloo") which she had been
playing the night before. She picked it up, tore it straight across,
once, placed the pieces back to back and tore it across again. Then she
dropped the pieces to the floor.
"You bet I'm going," she said, as though concluding a train of thought.
"You just bet I'm going. Right now!"
And Terry went. She went for much the same reason as that given by the
ladye of high degree in the old English song--she who had left her lord
and bed and board to go with the raggle-taggle gipsies-O! The thing that
was sending Terry Platt away was much more than a conjugal quarrel
precipitated by a soft-boiled egg and a flap of the arm. It went so much
deeper that if psychology had not become a cant word we might drag it
into the explanation. It went so deep that it's necessary to delve back
to the days when Theresa Platt was Terry Sheehan to get the real
significance of it, and of the things she did after she went.
When Mrs. Orville Platt had been Terry Sheehan she had played the piano,
afternoons and evenings, in the orchestra of the Bijou theatre, on Cass
street, Wetona, Wisconsin. Any one with a name like Terry Sheehan would,
perforce, do well anything she might set out to do. There was nothing of
genius in Terry, but there was something of fire, and much that was
Irish. The combination makes for what is known as imagination in
playing. Which meant that the Watson Team, Eccentric Song and Dance
Artists, never needed a rehearsal when they played the Bijou. Ruby
Watson used merely to approach Terry before the Monday performance,
sheet-music in hand, and say, "Listen, dearie. We've got some new
business I want to wise you to. Right here it goes '_Tum_ dee-dee _dum_
dee-dee _tum dum dum_. See? Like that. And then Jim vamps. Get me?"
Terry, at the piano, would pucker her pretty brow a moment. Then, "Like
this, you mean?"
"That's it! You've got it."
"All right. I'll tell the drum."
She could play any tune by ear, once heard. She got the spirit of a
thing, and transmitted it. When Terry played a march number you tapped
the floor with your foot, and unconsciously straightened your shoulders.
When she played a home-and-mother song that was heavy on the minor wail
you hoped that the man next to you didn't know you were crying (which he
probably didn't, because he was weeping, too).
At that time motion pictures had not attained their present virulence.
Vaudeville, polite or otherwise, had not yet been crowded out by the
ubiquitous film. The Bijou offered entertainment of the cigar-box tramp
variety, interspersed with trick bicyclists, soubrettes in slightly
soiled pink, trained seals, and Family Fours with lumpy legs who tossed
each other about and struck Goldbergian attitudes.
Contact with these gave Terry Sheehan a semi-professional tone. The more
conservative of her townspeople looked at her askance. There never had
been an evil thing about Terry, but Wetona considered her rather fly.
Terry's hair was very black, and she had a fondness for those little,
close-fitting scarlet velvet turbans. A scarlet velvet turban would have
made Martha Washington look fly. Terry's mother had died when the girl
was eight, and Terry's father had been what is known as easy-going. A
good-natured, lovable, shiftless chap in the contracting business. He
drove around Wetona in a sagging, one-seated cart and never made any
money because he did honest work and charged as little for it as men who
did not. His mortar stuck, and his bricks did not crumble, and his
lumber did not crack. Riches are not acquired in the contracting
business in that way. Ed Sheehan and his daughter were great friends.
When he died (she was nineteen) they say she screamed once, like a
banshee, and dropped to the floor.
After they had straightened out the muddle of books in Ed Sheehan's
gritty, dusty little office Terry turned her piano-playing talent to
practical account. At twenty-one she was still playing at the Bijou, and
into her face was creeping the first hint of that look of sophistication
which comes from daily contact with the artificial world of the
footlights. It is the look of those who must make believe as a business,
and are a-weary. You see it developed into its highest degree in the
face of a veteran comedian. It is the thing that gives the look of utter
pathos and tragedy to the relaxed expression of a circus clown.
There are, in a small, Mid-West town like Wetona, just two kinds of
girls. Those who go down town Saturday nights, and those who don't.
Terry, if she had not been busy with her job at the Bijou, would have
come in the first group. She craved excitement. There was little chance
to satisfy such craving in Wetona, but she managed to find certain
means. The travelling men from the Burke House just across the street
used to drop in at the Bijou for an evening's entertainment. They
usually sat well toward the front, and Terry's expert playing, and the
gloss of her black hair, and her piquant profile as she sometimes looked
up toward the stage for a signal from one of the performers, caught
their fancy, and held it.
Terry did not accept their attentions promiscuously. She was too decent
a girl for that. But she found herself, at the end of a year or two,
with a rather large acquaintance among these peripatetic gentlemen. You
occasionally saw one of them strolling home with her. Sometimes she went
driving with one of them of a Sunday afternoon. And she rather enjoyed
taking Sunday dinner at the Burke Hotel with a favoured friend. She
thought those small-town hotel Sunday dinners the last word in elegance.
The roast course was always accompanied by an aqueous, semi-frozen
concoction which the bill of fare revealed as Roman punch. It added a
royal touch to the repast, even when served with roast pork. I don't say
that any of these Lotharios snatched a kiss during a Sunday afternoon
drive. Or that Terry slapped him promptly. But either seems extremely
Terry was twenty-two when Orville Platt, making his initial Wisconsin
trip for the wholesale grocery house he represented, first beheld
Terry's piquant Irish profile, and heard her deft manipulation of the
keys. Orville had the fat man's sense of rhythm and love of music. He
had a buttery tenor voice, too, of which he was rather proud.
He spent three days in Wetona that first trip, and every evening saw him
at the Bijou, first row, centre. He stayed through two shows each time,
and before he had been there fifteen minutes Terry was conscious of him
through the back of her head. In fact I think that, in all innocence,
she rather played up to him. Orville Platt paid no more heed to the
stage, and what was occurring thereon, than if it had not been. He sat
looking at Terry, and waggling his head in time to the music. Not that
Terry was a beauty. But she was one of those immaculately clean types.
That look of fragrant cleanliness was her chief charm. Her clear, smooth
skin contributed to it, and the natural pencilling of her eyebrows. But
the thing that accented it, and gave it a last touch, was the way in
which her black hair came down in a little point just in the centre of
her forehead, where hair meets brow. It grew to form what is known as a
cow-lick. (A prettier name for it is widow's peak.) Your eye lighted on
it, pleased, and from it travelled its gratified way down her white
temples, past her little ears, to the smooth black coil at the nape of
her neck. It was a trip that rested you.
At the end of the last performance on the second night of his visit to
the Bijou, Orville waited until the audience had begun to file out. Then
he leaned forward over the rail that separated orchestra from audience.
"Could you," he said, his tones dulcet, "could you oblige me with the
name of that last piece you played?"
Terry was stacking her music. "George!" she called, to the drum.
"Gentleman wants to know the name of that last piece." And prepared to
"'My Georgia Crackerjack'," said the laconic drum.
Orville Platt took a hasty side-step in the direction of the door toward
which Terry was headed. "It's a pretty thing," he said, fervently. "An
awful pretty thing. Thanks. It's beautiful."
Terry flung a last insult at him over her shoulder: "Don't thank _me_
for it. I didn't write it."
Orville Platt did not go across the street to the hotel. He wandered up
Cass street, and into the ten-o'clock quiet of Main street, and down as
far as the park and back. "Pretty as a pink! And play!... And good, too.
A fat man in love.
At the end of six months they were married. Terry was surprised into it.
Not that she was not fond of him. She was; and grateful to him, as well.
For, pretty as she was, no man had ever before asked Terry to be his
wife. They had made love to her. They had paid court to her. They had
sent her large boxes of stale drug-store chocolates, and called her
endearing names as they made cautious declaration such as:
"I've known a lot of girls, but you've got something different. I don't
know. You've got so much sense. A fellow can chum around with you.
Orville's headquarters were Wetona. They rented a comfortable,
seven-room house in a comfortable, middle-class neighbourhood, and Terry
dropped the red velvet turbans and went in for picture hats and paradise
aigrettes. Orville bought her a piano whose tone was so good that to her
ear, accustomed to the metallic discords of the Bijou instrument, it
sounded out of tune. She played a great deal at first, but unconsciously
she missed the sharp spat of applause that used to follow her public
performance. She would play a piece, brilliantly, and then her hands
would drop to her lap. And the silence of her own sitting room would
fall flat on her ears. It was better on the evenings when Orville was
home. He sang, in his throaty, fat man's tenor, to Terry's expert
"This is better than playing for those bum actors, isn't it, hon?" And
he would pinch her ear.
But after the first year she became accustomed to what she termed
private life. She joined an afternoon sewing club, and was active in the
ladies' branch of the U.C.T. She developed a knack at cooking, too, and
Orville, after a week or ten days of hotel fare in small Wisconsin
towns, would come home to sea-foam biscuits, and real soup, and honest
pies and cake. Sometimes, in the midst of an appetising meal he would
lay down his knife and fork and lean back in his chair, and regard the
cool and unruffled Terry with a sort of reverence in his eyes. Then he
would get up, and come around to the other side of the table, and tip
her pretty face up to his.
"I'll bet I'll wake up, some day, and find out it's all a dream. You
know this kind of thing doesn't really happen--not to a dub like me."
One year; two; three; four. Routine. A little boredom. Some impatience.
She began to find fault with the very things she had liked in him: his
super-neatness; his fondness for dashing suit patterns; his throaty
tenor; his worship of her. And the flap. Oh, above all, that flap! That
little, innocent, meaningless mannerism that made her tremble with
nervousness. She hated it so that she could not trust herself to speak
of it to him. That was the trouble. Had she spoken of it, laughingly or
in earnest, before it became an obsession with her, that hideous
breakfast quarrel, with its taunts, and revilings, and open hate, might
never have come to pass. For that matter, any one of those foreign
fellows with the guttural names and the psychoanalytical minds could
have located her trouble in one _seance_.
Terry Platt herself didn't know what was the matter with her. She would
have denied that anything was wrong. She didn't even throw her hands
above her head and shriek: "I want to live! I want to live! I want to
live!" like a lady in a play. She only knew she was sick of sewing at
the Wetona West-End Red Cross shop; sick of marketing, of home comforts,
of Orville, of the flap.
Orville, you may remember, left at 8.19. The 11.23 bore Terry
Chicagoward. She had left the house as it was--beds unmade, rooms
unswept, breakfast table uncleared. She intended never to come back.
Now and then a picture of the chaos she had left behind would flash
across her order-loving mind. The spoon on the table-cloth. Orville's
pajamas dangling over the bathroom chair. The coffee-pot on the gas
"Pooh! What do I care?"
In her pocketbook she had a tidy sum saved out of the housekeeping
money. She was naturally thrifty, and Orville had never been niggardly.
Her meals when Orville was on the road, had been those sketchy,
haphazard affairs with which women content themselves when their
household is manless. At noon she went into the dining car and ordered a
flaunting little repast of chicken salad and asparagus, and Neapolitan
ice cream. The men in the dining car eyed her speculatively and with
appreciation. Then their glance dropped to the third finger of her left
hand, and wandered away. She had meant to remove it. In fact, she had
taken it off and dropped it into her bag. But her hand felt so queer, so
unaccustomed, so naked, that she had found herself slipping the narrow
band on again, and her thumb groped for it, gratefully.
It was almost five o'clock when she reached Chicago. She felt no
uncertainty or bewilderment. She had been in Chicago three or four times
since her marriage. She went to a down town hotel. It was too late, she
told herself, to look for a more inexpensive room that night. When she
had tidied herself she went out. The things she did were the childish,
aimless things that one does who finds herself in possession of sudden
liberty. She walked up State Street, and stared in the windows; came
back, turned into Madison, passed a bright little shop in the window of
which taffy--white and gold--was being wound endlessly and fascinatingly
about a double-jointed machine. She went in and bought a sackful, and
wandered on down the street, munching.
She had supper at one of those white-tiled sarcophagi that emblazon
Chicago's down town side streets. It had been her original intention to
dine in state in the rose-and-gold dining room of her hotel. She had
even thought daringly of lobster. But at the last moment she recoiled
from the idea of dining alone in that wilderness of tables so obviously
meant for two.
After her supper she went to a picture show. She was amazed to find
there, instead of the accustomed orchestra, a pipe-organ that panted and
throbbed and rumbled over lugubrious classics. The picture was about a
faithless wife. Terry left in the middle of it.
She awoke next morning at seven, as usual, started up wildly, looked
around, and dropped back. Nothing to get up for. The knowledge did not
fill her with a rush of relief. She would have her breakfast in bed! She
telephoned for it, languidly. But when it came she got up and ate it
from the table, after all. Terry was the kind of woman to whom a pink
gingham all-over apron, and a pink dust-cap are ravishingly becoming at
seven o'clock in the morning. That sort of woman congenitally cannot
enjoy her breakfast in bed.
That morning she found a fairly comfortable room, more within her means,
on the north side in the boarding house district. She unpacked and hung
up her clothes and drifted down town again, idly. It was noon when she
came to the corner of State and Madison streets. It was a maelstrom that
caught her up, and buffeted her about, and tossed her helplessly this
way and that. The corner of Broadway and Forty-second streets has been
exploited in song and story as the world's most hazardous human
whirlpool. I've negotiated that corner. I've braved the square in front
of the American Express Company's office in Paris, June, before the War.
I've crossed the Strand at 11 p.m. when the theatre crowds are just out.
And to my mind the corner of State and Madison streets between twelve
and one, mid-day, makes any one of these dizzy spots look bosky, sylvan,
The thousands jostled Terry, and knocked her hat awry, and dug her with
unheeding elbows, and stepped on her feet.
"Say, look here!" she said, once futilely. They did not stop to listen.
State and Madison has no time for Terrys from Wetona. It goes its way,
pellmell. If it saw Terry at all it saw her only as a prettyish person,
in the wrong kind of suit and hat, with a bewildered, resentful look on
Terry drifted on down the west side of State Street, with the hurrying
crowd. State and Monroe. A sound came to Terry's ears. A sound familiar,
beloved. To her ear, harassed with the roar and crash, with the shrill
scream of the crossing policemen's whistle, with the hiss of feet
shuffling on cement, it was a celestial strain. She looked up, toward
the sound. A great second-story window opened wide to the street. In it
a girl at a piano, and a man, red-faced, singing through a megaphone.
And on a flaring red and green sign:
BERNIE GOTTSCHALK'S MUSIC HOUSE!
COME IN! HEAR BERNIE GOTTSCHALK'S LATEST
HIT! THE HEART-THROB SONG THAT HAS GOT 'EM ALL!
THE SONG THAT MADE THE KAISER CRAWL!
"_I COME FROM PARIS, ILLINOIS, BUT OH!
YOU PARIS, FRANCE!
I USED TO WEAR BLUE OVERALLS BUT
NOW ITS KHAKI PANTS_."
COME IN! COME IN!
She followed the sound of the music. Around the corner. Up a little
flight of stairs. She entered the realm of Euterpe; Euterpe with her
back hair frizzed; Euterpe with her flowing white robe replaced by
soiled white boots that failed to touch the hem of an empire-waisted
blue serge; Euterpe abandoning her lyre for jazz. She sat at the piano,
a red-haired young lady whose familiarity with the piano had bred
contempt. Nothing else could have accounted for her treatment of it. Her
fingers, tipped with sharp-pointed grey and glistening nails, clawed the
keys with a dreadful mechanical motion. There were stacks of
music-sheets on counters, and shelves, and dangling from overhead wires.
The girl at the piano never ceased playing. She played mostly by
request. A prospective purchaser would mumble something in the ear of
one of the clerks. The fat man with the megaphone would bawl out,
"'Hicky Bloo!' Miss Ryan." And Miss Ryan would oblige. She made a
hideous rattle and crash and clatter of sound compared to which an
Indian tom-tom would have seemed as dulcet as the strumming of a lute in
a lady's boudoir.
Terry joined the crowds about the counter. The girl at the piano was not
looking at the keys. Her head was screwed around over her left shoulder
and as she played she was holding forth animatedly to a girl friend who
had evidently dropped in from some store or office during the lunch
hour. Now and again the fat man paused in his vocal efforts to
reprimand her for her slackness. She paid no heed. There was something
gruesome, uncanny, about the way her fingers went their own way over the
defenceless keys. Her conversation with the frowzy little girl went on.
"Wha'd he say?" (Over her shoulder).
"Oh, he laffed."
"Well, didja go?"
"Me! Well, whutya think I yam, anyway?"
"I woulda took a chanst."
The fat man rebelled.
"Look here! Get busy! What are you paid for? Talkin' or playin'? Huh?"
The person at the piano, openly reproved thus before her friend, lifted
her uninspired hands from the keys and spake. When she had finished she
"But you can't leave now," the megaphone man argued. "Right in the rush
"I'm gone," said the girl. The fat man looked about, helplessly. He
gazed at the abandoned piano, as though it must go on of its own accord.
Then at the crowd. "Where's Miss Schwimmer?" he demanded of a clerk.
"Out to lunch."
Terry pushed her way to the edge of the counter and leaned over. "I can
play for you," she said.
The man looked at her. "Sight?"
Terry went around to the other side of the counter, took off her hat
and coat, rubbed her hands together briskly, sat down and began to play.
The crowd edged closer.
It is a curious study, this noonday crowd that gathers to sate its
music-hunger on the scraps vouchsafed it by Bernie Gottschalk's Music
House. Loose-lipped, slope-shouldered young men with bad complexions and
slender hands. Girls whose clothes are an unconscious satire on
present-day fashions. On their faces, as they listen to the music, is a
look of peace and dreaming. They stand about, smiling a wistful half
smile. It is much the same expression that steals over the face of a
smoker who has lighted his after-dinner cigar, or of a drug victim who
is being lulled by his opiate. The music seems to satisfy a something
within them. Faces dull, eyes lustreless, they listen in a sort of
Terry played on. She played as Terry Sheehan used to play. She played as
no music hack at Bernie Gottschalk's had ever played before. The crowd
swayed a little to the sound of it. Some kept time with little jerks of
the shoulder--the little hitching movement of the rag-time dancer whose
blood is filled with the fever of syncopation. Even the crowd flowing
down State Street must have caught the rhythm of it, for the room soon
At two o'clock the crowd began to thin. Business would be slack, now,
until five, when it would again pick up until closing time at six.
The fat vocalist put down his megaphone, wiped his forehead, and
regarded Terry with a warm blue eye. He had just finished singing "I've
Wandered Far from Dear Old Mother's Knee." (Bernie Gottschalk Inc.
Chicago. New York. You can't get bit with a Gottschalk hit. 15 cents
"Girlie," he said, emphatically, "You sure--can--play!" He came over to
her at the piano and put a stubby hand on her shoulder. "Yessir! Those
Terry just turned her head to look down her nose at the moist hand
resting on her shoulder. "Those little fingers are going to meet your
face--suddenly--if you don't move on."
"Who gave you your job?" demanded the fat man.
"Nobody. I picked it myself. You can have it if you want it."
"Can't you take a joke?"
As the crowd dwindled she played less feverishly, but there was nothing
slipshod about her performance. The chubby songster found time to
proffer brief explanations in asides. "They want the patriotic stuff. It
used to be all that Hawaiian dope, and Wild Irish Rose junk, and songs
about wanting to go back to every place from Dixie to Duluth. But now
seems it's all these here flag raisers. Honestly, I'm so sick of 'em I
got a notion to enlist to get away from it."
Terry eyed him with, withering briefness. "A little training wouldn't
ruin your figure."
She had never objected to Orville's _embonpoint_. But then, Orville was
a different sort of fat man; pink-cheeked, springy, immaculate.
At four o'clock, as she was in the chorus of "Isn't There Another Joan
of Arc?" a melting masculine voice from the other side of the counter
said, "Pardon me. What's that you're playing?"
Terry told him. She did not look up.
"I wouldn't have known it. Played like that--a second Marseillaise. If
the words--what are the words? Let me see a--"
"Show the gentleman a 'Joan'," Terry commanded briefly, over her
shoulder. The fat man laughed a wheezy laugh. Terry glanced around,
still playing, and encountered the gaze of two melting masculine eyes
that matched the melting masculine voice. The songster waved a hand
uniting Terry and the eyes in informal introduction.
"Mr. Leon Sammett, the gentleman who sings the Gottschalk songs wherever
songs are heard. And Mrs.--that is--and Mrs. Sammett--"
Terry turned. A sleek, swarthy world-old young man with the fashionable
concave torso, and alarmingly convex bone-rimmed glasses. Through them
his darkly luminous gaze glowed upon Terry. To escape their warmth she
sent her own gaze past him to encounter the arctic stare of the large
blonde person who had been included so lamely in the introduction. And
at that the frigidity of that stare softened, melted, dissolved.
"Why Terry Sheehan! What in the world!"
Terry's eyes bored beneath the layers of flabby fat. "It's--why, it's
Ruby Watson, isn't it? Eccentric Song and Dance--"
She glanced at the concave young man and faltered. He was not Jim, of
the Bijou days. From him her eyes leaped back to the fur-bedecked
splendour of the woman. The plump face went so painfully red that the
makeup stood out on it, a distinct layer, like thin ice covering flowing
water. As she surveyed that bulk Terry realised that while Ruby might
still claim eccentricity, her song and dance days were over. "That's
ancient history, m'dear. I haven't been working for three years. What're
you doing in this joint? I'd heard you'd done well for yourself. That
you were married."
"I am. That is I--well, I am. I--"
At that the dark young man leaned over and patted Terry's hand that lay
on the counter. He smiled. His own hand was incredibly slender, long,
"That's all right," he assured her, and smiled. "You two girls can have
a reunion later. What I want to know is can you play by ear?"
He leaned far over the counter. "I knew it the minute I heard you play.
You've got the touch. Now listen. See if you can get this, and fake the
He fixed his sombre and hypnotic eyes on Terry. His mouth screwed up
into a whistle. The tune--a tawdry but haunting little melody--came
through his lips. And Terry's quick ear sensed that every note was flat.
She turned back to the piano. "Of course you know you flatted every
note," she said.
This time it was the blonde woman who laughed, and the man who flushed.
Terry cocked her head just a little to one side, like a knowing bird,
looked up into space beyond the piano top, and played the lilting little
melody with charm and fidelity. The dark young man followed her with a
wagging of the head and little jerks of both outspread hands. His
expression was beatific, enraptured. He hummed a little under his breath
and any one who was music wise would have known that he was just a
half-beat behind her all the way.
When she had finished he sighed deeply, ecstatically. He bent his lean
frame over the counter and, despite his swart colouring, seemed to
glitter upon her--his eyes, his teeth, his very finger-nails.
"Something led me here. I never come up on Tuesdays. But something--"
"You was going to complain," put in his lady, heavily, "about that Teddy
Sykes at the Palace Gardens singing the same songs this week that you
been boosting at the Inn."
He put up a vibrant, peremptory hand. "Bah! What does that matter now!
What does anything matter now! Listen Miss--ah--Miss?--"
"Pl--Sheehan. Terry Sheehan."
He gazed off a moment into space. "H'm. 'Leon Sammett in Songs. Miss
Terry Sheehan at the Piano.' That doesn't sound bad. Now listen, Miss
Sheehan. I'm singing down at the University Inn. The Gottschalk song
hits. I guess you know my work. But I want to talk to you, private. It's
something to your interest. I go on down at the Inn at six. Will you
come and have a little something with Ruby and me? Now?"
"Now?" faltered Terry, somewhat helplessly. Things seemed to be moving
rather swiftly for her, accustomed as she was to the peaceful routine of
the past four years.
"Get your hat. It's your life chance. Wait till you see your name in
two-foot electrics over the front of every big-time house in the
country. You've got music in you. Tie to me and you're made." He turned
to the woman beside him. "Isn't that so, Rube?"
"Sure. Look at _me_!" One would not have thought there could be so much
subtle vindictiveness in a fat blonde.
Sammett whipped out a watch. "Just three-quarters of an hour. Come on,
His conversation had been conducted in an urgent undertone, with side
glances at the fat man with the megaphone. Terry approached him now.
"I'm leaving now," she said.
"Oh, no you're not. Six o'clock is your quitting time."
In which he touched the Irish in Terry. "Any time I quit is my quitting
time." She went in quest of hat and coat much as the girl had done whose
place she had taken early in the day. The fat man followed her,
protesting. Terry, pinning on her hat tried to ignore him. But he laid
one plump hand on her arm and kept it there, though she tried to shake
"Now, listen to me. That boy wouldn't mind putting his heel on your face
if he thought it would bring him up a step. I know'm. Y'see that walking
stick he's carrying? Well, compared to the yellow stripe that's in him,
that cane is a lead pencil. He's a song tout, that's all he is." Then,
more feverishly, as Terry tried to pull away: "Wait a minute. You're a
decent girl. I want to--Why, he can't even sing a note without you give
it to him first. He can put a song over, yes. But how? By flashin' that
toothy grin, of his and talkin' every word of it. Don't you--"
But Terry freed herself with a final jerk and whipped around the
counter. The two, who had been talking together in an undertone, turned
to welcome her. "We've got a half hour. Come on. It's just over to Clark
and up a block or so."
If you know Chicago at all, you know the University Inn, that gloriously
intercollegiate institution which welcomes any graduate of any school
of experience, and guarantees a post-graduate course in less time than
any similar haven of knowledge. Down a flight of stairs and into the
unwonted quiet that reigns during the hour of low potentiality, between
five and six, the three went, and seated themselves at a table in an
obscure corner. A waiter brought them things in little glasses, though
no order had been given. The woman who had been Ruby Watson was so
silent as to be almost wordless. But the man talked rapidly. He talked
well, too. The same quality that enabled him, voiceless though he was,
to boost a song to success, was making his plea sound plausible in
Terry's ears now.
"I've got to go and make up in a few minutes. So get this. I'm not going
to stick down in this basement eating house forever. I've got too much
talent. If I only had a voice--I mean a singing voice. But I haven't.
But then, neither has Georgie Cohan, and I can't see that it's wrecked
his life any. Look at Elsie Janis! But she sings. And they like it! Now
listen. I've got a song. It's my own. That bit you played for me up at
Gottschalk's is part of the chorus. But it's the words that'll go big.
They're great. It's an aviation song, see? Airship stuff. They're
yelling that it's the airyoplanes that're going to win this war. Well,
I'll help 'em. This song is going to put the aviator where he belongs.
It's going to be the big song of the war. It's going to make 'Tipperary'
sound like a Moody and Sankey hymn. It's the--"
Ruby lifted her heavy-lidded eyes and sent him a meaning look. "Get
down to business, Leon. I'll tell her how good you are while you're
He shot her a malignant glance, but took her advice. "Now what I've been
looking for for years is somebody who has got the music knack to give me
the accompaniment just a quarter of a jump ahead of my voice, see? I can
follow like a lamb, but I've got to have that feeler first. It's more
than a knack. It's a gift. And you've got it. I know it when I see it. I
want to get away from this cabaret thing. There's nothing in it for a
man of my talent. I'm gunning for vaudeville. But they won't book me
without a tryout. And when they hear my voice they--Well, if me and you
work together we can fool 'em. The song's great. And my makeup's one of
these av-iation costumes to go with the song, see? Pants tight in the
knee and baggy on the hips. And a coat with one of those full skirt
"Peplums," put in Ruby, placidly.
"Sure. And the girls'll be wild about it. And the words!" he began to
sing, gratingly off-key:
"Put on your sky clothes,
Put on your fly clothes
And take a trip with me.
We'll sail so high
Up in the sky
We'll drop a bomb from Mercury."
"Why, that's awfully cute!" exclaimed Terry. Until now her opinion of
Mr. Sammett's talents had not been on a level with his.
"Yeh, but wait till you hear the second verse. That's only part of the
chorus. You see, he's supposed to be talking to a French girl. He says:
I'll parlez-vous in Francais plain,
You'll answer, '_Cher Americain_,
We'll both. . . . . . . . . . ."
The six o'clock lights blazed up, suddenly. A sad-looking group of men
trailed in and made for a corner where certain bulky, shapeless bundles
were soon revealed as those glittering and tortuous instruments which go
to make a jazz band.
"You better go, Lee. The crowd comes in awful early now, with all those
buyers in town."
Both hands on the table he half rose, reluctantly, still talking. "I've
got three other songs. They make Gottschalk's stuff look sick. All I
want's a chance. What I want you to do is accompaniment. On the stage,
see? Grand piano. And a swell set. I haven't quite made up my mind to
it. But a kind of an army camp room, see? And maybe you dressed as
Liberty. Anyway, it'll be new, and a knock-out. If only we can get away
with the voice thing. Say, if Eddie Foy, all those years never had a--"
The band opened with a terrifying clash of cymbal, and thump of drum.
"Back at the end of my first turn," he said as he fled. Terry followed
his lithe, electric figure. She turned to meet the heavy-lidded gaze of
the woman seated opposite. She relaxed, then, and sat back with a little
sigh. "Well! If he talks that way to the managers I don't see--"
Ruby laughed a mirthless little laugh. "Talk doesn't get it over with
the managers, honey. You've got to deliver."
"Well, but he's--that song _is_ a good one. I don't say it's as good as
he thinks it is, but it's good."
"Yes," admitted the woman, grudgingly, "it's good."
The woman beckoned a waiter; he nodded and vanished, and reappeared with
a glass that was twin to the one she had just emptied. "Does he look
like he knew French? Or could make a rhyme?"
"But didn't he? Doesn't he?"
"The words were written by a little French girl who used to skate down
here last winter, when the craze was on. She was stuck on a Chicago kid
who went over to fly for the French."
"But the music?"
"There was a Russian girl who used to dance in the cabaret and she--"
Terry's head came up with a characteristic little jerk. "I don't believe
"Better." She gazed at Terry with the drowsy look that was so different
from the quick, clear glance of the Ruby Watson who used to dance so
nimbly in the Old Bijou days. "What'd you and your husband quarrel
Terry was furious to feel herself flushing. "Oh, nothing. He
just--I--it was--Say, how did you know we'd quarrelled?"
And suddenly all the fat woman's apathy dropped from her like a garment
and some of the old sparkle and animation illumined her heavy face. She
pushed her glass aside and leaned forward on her folded arms, so that
her face was close to Terry's.
"Terry Sheehan, I know you've quarrelled, and I know just what it was
about. Oh, I don't mean the very thing it was about; but the kind of
thing. I'm going to do something for you, Terry, that I wouldn't take
the trouble to do for most women. But I guess I ain't had all the
softness knocked out of me yet, though it's a wonder. And I guess I
remember too plain the decent kid you was in the old days. What was the
name of that little small-time house me and Jim used to play? Bijou,
that's it; Bijou."
The band struck up a new tune. Leon Sammett--slim, sleek, lithe in his
evening clothes--appeared with a little fair girl in pink chiffon. The
woman reached across the table and put one pudgy, jewelled hand on
Terry's arm. "He'll be through in ten minutes. Now listen to me. I left
Jim four years ago, and there hasn't been a minute since then, day or
night, when I wouldn't have crawled back to him on my hands and knees if
I could. But I couldn't. He wouldn't have me now. How could he? How do I
know you've quarrelled? I can see it in your eyes. They look just the
way mine have felt for four years, that's how. I met up with this boy,
and there wasn't anybody to do the turn for me that I'm trying to do for
you. Now get this. I left Jim because when he ate corn on the cob he
always closed his eyes and it drove me wild. Don't laugh."
"I'm not laughing," said Terry.
"Women are like that. One night--we was playing Fond du Lac; I remember
just as plain--we was eating supper and Jim reached for one of those big
yellow ears, and buttered and salted it, and me kind of hanging on to
the edge of the table with my nails. Seemed to me if he shut his eyes
when he put his teeth into that ear of corn I'd scream. And he did. And
I screamed. And that's all."
Terry sat staring at her with a wide-eyed stare, like a sleep walker.
Then she wet her lips, slowly. "But that's almost the very--"
"Kid, go on back home. I don't know whether it's too late or not, but go
anyway. If you've lost him I suppose it ain't any more than you deserve,
but I hope to God you don't get your desserts this time. He's almost
through. If he sees you going he can't quit in the middle of his song to
stop you. He'll know I put you wise, and he'll prob'ly half kill me for
it. But it's worth it. You get."
And Terry--dazed, shaking, but grateful--fled. Down the noisy aisle, up
the stairs, to the street. Back to her rooming house. Out again, with
her suitcase, and into the right railroad station somehow, at last. Not
another Wetona train until midnight. She shrank into a remote corner of
the waiting room and there she huddled until midnight watching the
entrances like a child who is fearful of ghosts in the night.
The hands of the station clock seemed fixed and immovable. The hour
between eleven and twelve was endless. She was on the train. It was
almost morning. It was morning. Dawn was breaking. She was home! She had
the house key clutched tightly in her hand long before she turned
Schroeder's corner. Suppose he had come home! Suppose he had jumped a
town and come home ahead of his schedule. They had quarrelled once
before, and he had done that.
Up the front steps. Into the house. Not a sound. She stood there a
moment in the early morning half-light. She peered into the dining room.
The table, with its breakfast debris, was as she had left it. In the
kitchen the coffee pot stood on the gas stove. She was home. She was
safe. She ran up the stairs, got out of her clothes and into crisp
gingham morning things. She flung open windows everywhere. Down-stairs
once more she plunged into an orgy of cleaning. Dishes, table, stove,
floor, rugs. She washed, scoured, flapped, swabbed, polished. By eight
o'clock she had done the work that would ordinarily have taken until
noon. The house was shining, orderly, and redolent of soapsuds.
During all this time she had been listening, listening, with her
sub-conscious ear. Listening for something she had refused to name
definitely in her mind, but listening, just the same; waiting.
And then, at eight o'clock, it came. The rattle of a key in the lock.
The boom of the front door. Firm footsteps.
He did not go to meet her, and she did not go to meet him. They came
together and were in each other's arms. She was weeping.
"Now, now, old girl. What's there to cry about? Don't, honey; don't.
It's all right."
She raised her head then, to look at him. How fresh, and rosy, and big
he seemed, after that little sallow, yellow restaurant rat.
"How did you get here? How did you happen--?"
"Jumped all the way from Ashland. Couldn't get a sleeper, so I sat up
all night. I had to come back and square things with you, Terry. My mind
just wasn't on my work. I kept thinking how I'd talked--how I'd
"Oh, Orville, don't! I can't bear--Have you had your breakfast?"
"Why, no. The train was an hour late. You know that Ashland train."
But she was out of his arms and making for the kitchen. "You go and
clean up. I'll have hot biscuits and everything in fifteen minutes. You
poor boy. No breakfast!"
She made good her promise. It could not have been more than twenty
minutes later when he was buttering his third feathery, golden brown
biscuit. But she had eaten nothing. She watched him, and listened, and
again her eyes were sombre, but for a different reason. He broke open
his egg. His elbow came up just a fraction of an inch. Then he
remembered, and flushed like a schoolboy, and brought it down again,
carefully. And at that she gave a little tremulous cry, and rushed
around the table to him.
"Oh, Orville!" She took the offending elbow in her two arms, and bent
and kissed the rough coat sleeve.
"Why, Terry! Don't, honey. Don't!"
"Oh, Orville, listen--"
"I'm listening, Terry."
"I've got something to tell you. There's something you've got to know."
"Yes, I know it, Terry. I knew you'd out with it, pretty soon, if I just
She lifted an amazed face from his shoulder then, and stared at him.
"But how could you know? You couldn't! How could you?"
He patted her shoulder then, gently. "I can always tell. When you have
something on your mind you always take up a spoon of coffee, and look at
it, and kind of joggle it back and forth in the spoon, and then dribble
it back into the cup again, without once tasting it. It used to get me
nervous when we were first married watching you. But now I know it just
means you're worried about something, and I wait, and pretty soon--"
"Oh, Orville!" she cried, then. "Oh, Orville!"
"Now, Terry. Just spill it, hon. Just spill it to daddy. And you'll feel
THE WOMAN WHO TRIED TO BE GOOD
Before she tried to be a good woman she had been a very bad woman--so
bad that she could trail her wonderful apparel up and down Main Street,
from the Elm Tree Bakery to the railroad tracks, without once having a
man doff his hat to her or a woman bow. You passed her on the street
with a surreptitious glance, though she was well worth looking at--in
her furs and laces and plumes. She had the only full-length sealskin
coat in our town, and Ganz' shoe store sent to Chicago for her shoes.
Hers were the miraculously small feet you frequently see in stout women.
Usually she walked alone; but on rare occasions, especially round
Christmas time, she might have been seen accompanied by some silent,
dull-eyed, stupid-looking girl, who would follow her dumbly in and out
of stores, stopping now and then to admire a cheap comb or a chain set
with flashy imitation stones--or, queerly enough, a doll with yellow
hair and blue eyes and very pink cheeks. But, alone or in company, her
appearance in the stores of our town was the signal for a sudden jump in
the cost of living. The storekeepers mulcted her; and she knew it and
paid in silence, for she was of the class that has no redress. She
owned the House With the Closed Shutters, near the freight depot--did
Blanche Devine. And beneath her silks and laces and furs there was a
scarlet letter on her breast.
In a larger town than ours she would have passed unnoticed. She did not
look like a bad woman. Of course she used too much perfumed white
powder, and as she passed you caught the oversweet breath of a certain
heavy scent. Then, too, her diamond eardrops would have made any woman's
features look hard; but her plump face, in spite of its heaviness, wore
an expression of good-humoured intelligence, and her eyeglasses gave
her somehow a look of respectability. We do not associate vice with
eyeglasses. So in a large city she would have passed for a well-dressed
prosperous, comfortable wife and mother, who was in danger of losing her
figure from an overabundance of good living; but with us she was a town
character, like Old Man Givins, the drunkard, or the weak-minded Binns
girl. When she passed the drug-store corner there would be a sniggering
among the vacant-eyed loafers idling there, and they would leer at each
other and jest in undertones.
So, knowing Blanche Devine as we did, there was something resembling a
riot in one of our most respectable neighbourhoods when it was learned
that she had given up her interest in the house near the freight depot
and was going to settle down in the white cottage on the corner and be
good. All the husbands in the block, urged on by righteously indignant
wives, dropped in on Alderman Mooney after supper to see if the thing
could not be stopped. The fourth of the protesting husbands to arrive
was the Very Young Husband, who lived next door to the corner cottage
that Blanche Devine had bought. The Very Young Husband had a Very Young
Wife, and they were the joint owners of Snooky. Snooky was
three-going-on-four, and looked something like an angel--only healthier
and with grimier hands. The whole neighbourhood borrowed her and tried
to spoil her; but Snooky would not spoil.
Alderman Mooney was down in the cellar fooling with the furnace. He was
in his furnace overalls--a short black pipe in his mouth. Three
protesting husbands had just left. As the Very Young Husband, following
Mrs. Mooney's directions, cautiously descended the cellar stairs,
Alderman Mooney looked up from his tinkering. He peered through a haze
"Hello!" he called, and waved the haze away with his open palm. "Come on
down! Been tinkering with this blamed furnace since supper. She don't
draw like she ought. 'Long toward spring a furnace always gets balky.
How many tons you used this winter?"
"Oh--ten," said the Very Young Husband shortly. Alderman Mooney
considered it thoughtfully. The Young Husband leaned up against the side
of the cistern, his hands in his pockets. "Say, Mooney, is that right
about Blanche Devine's having bought the house on the corner?"
"You're the fourth man that's been in to ask me that this evening. I'm
expecting the rest of the block before bedtime. She's bought it all
The Young Husband flushed and kicked at a piece of coal with the toe of
"Well, it's a darned shame!" he began hotly. "Jen was ready to cry at
supper. This'll be a fine neighbourhood for Snooky to grow up in! What's
a woman like that want to come into a respectable street for anyway? I
own my home and pay my taxes--"
Alderman Mooney looked up.
"So does she," he interrupted. "She's going to improve the place--paint
it, and put in a cellar and a furnace, and build a porch, and lay a
cement walk all round."
The Young Husband took his hands out of his pockets in order to
emphasize his remarks with gestures.
"What's that got to do with it? I don't care if she puts in diamonds for
windows and sets out Italian gardens and a terrace with peacocks on it.
You're the alderman of this ward, aren't you? Well, it was up to you to
keep her out of this block! You could have fixed it with an injunction
or something. I'm going to get up a petition--that's what I'm going--"
Alderman Mooney closed the furnace door with a bang that drowned the
rest of the threat. He turned the draft in a pipe overhead and brushed
his sooty palms briskly together like one who would put an end to a
"She's bought the house," he said mildly, "and paid for it. And it's
hers. She's got a right to live in this neighbourhood as long as she
The Very Young Husband laughed.
"She won't last! They never do."
Alderman Mooney had taken his pipe out of his mouth and was rubbing his
thumb over the smooth bowl, looking down at it with unseeing eyes. On
his face was a queer look--the look of one who is embarrassed because he
is about to say something honest.
"Look here! I want to tell you something: I happened to be up in the
mayor's office the day Blanche signed for the place. She had to go
through a lot of red tape before she got it--had quite a time of it, she
did! And say, kid, that woman ain't so--bad."
The Very Young Husband exclaimed impatiently:
"Oh, don't give me any of that, Mooney! Blanche Devine's a town
character. Even the kids know what she is. If she's got religion or
something, and wants to quit and be decent, why doesn't she go to
another town--Chicago or some place--where nobody knows her?"
That motion of Alderman Mooney's thumb against the smooth pipebowl
stopped. He looked up slowly.
"That's what I said--the mayor too. But Blanche Devine said she wanted
to try it here. She said this was home to her. Funny--ain't it? Said
she wouldn't be fooling anybody here. They know her. And if she moved
away, she said, it'd leak out some way sooner or later. It does, she
said. Always! Seems she wants to live like--well, like other women. She
put it like this: She says she hasn't got religion, or any of that. She
says she's no different than she was when she was twenty. She says that
for the last ten years the ambition of her life has been to be able to
go into a grocery store and ask the price of, say, celery; and, if the
clerk charged her ten when it ought to be seven, to be able to sass
him with a regular piece of her mind--and then sail out and trade
somewhere else until he saw that she didn't have to stand anything from
storekeepers, any more than any other woman that did her own marketing.
She's a smart woman, Blanche is! She's saved her money. God knows I
ain't taking her part--exactly; but she talked a little, and the mayor
and me got a little of her history."
A sneer appeared on the face of the Very Young Husband. He had been
known before he met Jen as a rather industrious sower of that seed known
as wild oats. He knew a thing or two, did the Very Young Husband, in
spite of his youth! He always fussed when Jen wore even a V-necked
summer gown on the street.
"Oh, she wasn't playing for sympathy," west on Alderman Mooney in
answer to the sneer. "She said she'd always paid her way and always
expected to. Seems her husband left her without a cent when she was
eighteen--with a baby. She worked for four dollars a week in a cheap
eating house. The two of 'em couldn't live on that. Then the baby--"
"Good night!" said the Very Young Husband. "I suppose Mrs. Mooney's
going to call?"
"Minnie! It was her scolding all through supper that drove me down to
monkey with the furnace. She's wild--Minnie is." He peeled off his
overalls and hung them on a nail. The Young Husband started to ascend
the cellar stairs. Alderman Mooney laid a detaining finger on his
sleeve. "Don't say anything in front of Minnie! She's boiling! Minnie
and the kids are going to visit her folks out West this summer; so I
wouldn't so much as dare to say 'Good morning!' to the Devine woman.
Anyway a person wouldn't talk to her, I suppose. But I kind of thought
I'd tell you about her."
"Thanks!" said the Very Young Husband dryly.
In the early spring, before Blanche Devine moved in, there came
stonemasons, who began to build something. It was a great stone
fireplace that rose in massive incongruity at the side of the little
white cottage. Blanche Devine was trying to make a home for herself. We
no longer build fireplaces for physical warmth--we build them for the
warmth of the soul; we build them to dream by, to hope by, to home by.
Blanche Devine used to come and watch them now and then as the work
progressed. She had a way of walking round and round the house, looking
up at it pridefully and poking at plaster and paint with her umbrella or
fingertip. One day she brought with her a man with a spade. He spaded up
a neat square of ground at the side of the cottage and a long ridge near
the fence that separated her yard from that of the very young couple
next door. The ridge spelled sweet peas and nasturtiums to our
On the day that Blanche Devine moved in there was wild agitation among
the white-ruffled bedroom curtains of the neighbourhood. Later on
certain odours, as of burning dinners, pervaded the atmosphere. Blanche
Devine, flushed and excited, her hair slightly askew, her diamond
eardrops flashing, directed the moving, wrapped in her great fur
coat; but on the third morning we gasped when she appeared out-of-doors,
carrying a little household ladder, a pail of steaming water and sundry
voluminous white cloths. She reared the little ladder against the side
of the house mounted it cautiously, and began to wash windows: with
housewifely thoroughness. Her stout figure was swathed in a grey sweater
and on her head was a battered felt hat--the sort of window-washing
costume that has been worn by women from time immemorial. We noticed
that she used plenty of hot water and clean rags, and that she rubbed
the glass until it sparkled, leaning perilously sideways on the ladder
to detect elusive streaks. Our keenest housekeeping eye could find no
fault with the way Blanche Devine washed windows.
By May, Blanche Devine had left off her diamond eardrops--perhaps it was
their absence that gave her face a new expression. When she went down
town we noticed that her hats were more like the hats the other women in
our town wore; but she still affected extravagant footgear, as is right
and proper for a stout woman who has cause to be vain of her feet. We
noticed that her trips down town were rare that spring and summer. She
used to come home laden with little bundles; and before supper she would
change her street clothes for a neat, washable housedress, as is our
thrifty custom. Through her bright windows we could see her moving
briskly about from kitchen to sitting room; and from the smells that
floated out from her kitchen door, she seemed to be preparing for her
solitary supper the same homely viands that were frying or stewing or
baking in our kitchens. Sometimes you could detect the delectable scent
of browning hot tea biscuit. It takes a brave, courageous, determined
woman to make tea biscuit for no one but herself.
Blanche Devine joined the church. On the first Sunday morning she came
to the service there was a little flurry among the ushers at the
vestibule door. They seated her well in the rear. The second Sunday
morning a dreadful thing happened. The woman next to whom they seated
her turned, regarded her stonily for a moment, then rose agitatedly and
moved to a pew across the aisle. Blanche Devine's face went a dull red
beneath her white powder. She never came again--though we saw the
minister visit her once or twice. She always accompanied him to the door
pleasantly, holding it well open until he was down the little flight of
steps and on the sidewalk. The minister's wife did not call--but, then,
there are limits to the duties of a minister's wife.
She rose early, like the rest of us; and as summer came on we used to
see her moving about in her little garden patch in the dewy, golden
morning. She wore absurd pale-blue kimonos that made her stout figure
loom immense against the greenery of garden and apple tree. The
neighbourhood women viewed these negligees with Puritan disapproval as
they smoothed down their own prim, starched gingham skirts. They said it
was disgusting--and perhaps it was; but the habit of years is not easily
overcome. Blanche Devine--snipping her sweet peas; peering anxiously at
the Virginia creeper that clung with such fragile fingers to the
trellis; watering the flower baskets that hung from her porch--was
blissfully unconscious of the disapproving eyes. I wish one of us had
just stopped to call good morning to her over the fence, and to say in
our neighbourly, small town way: "My, ain't this a scorcher! So early
too! It'll be fierce by noon!" But we did not.
I think perhaps the evenings must have been the loneliest for her. The
summer evenings in our little town are filled with intimate, human,
neighbourly sounds. After the heat of the day it is infinitely pleasant
to relax in the cool comfort of the front porch, with the life of the
town eddying about us. We sew and read out there until it grows dusk. We
call across-lots to our next-door neighbour. The men water the lawns and
the flower boxes and get together in little quiet groups to discuss the
new street paving. I have even known Mrs. Hines to bring her cherries
out there when she had canning to do, and pit them there on the front
porch partially shielded by her porch vine, but not so effectually that
she was deprived of the sights and sounds about her. The kettle in her
lap and the dishpan full of great ripe cherries on the porch floor by
her chair, she would pit and chat and peer out through the vines, the
red juice staining her plump bare arms.
I have wondered since what Blanche Devine thought of us those lonesome
evenings--those evenings filled with little friendly sights and sounds.
It is lonely, uphill business at best--this being good. It must have
been difficult for her, who had dwelt behind closed shutters so long, to
seat herself on the new front porch for all the world to stare at; but
she did sit there--resolutely--watching us in silence.
She seized hungrily upon the stray crumbs of conversation that fell to
her. The milkman and the iceman and the butcher boy used to hold daily
conversation with her. They--sociable gentlemen--would stand on her
doorstep, one grimy hand resting against the white of her doorpost,
exchanging the time of day with Blanche in the doorway--a tea towel in
one hand, perhaps, and a plate in the other. Her little house was a
miracle of cleanliness. It was no uncommon sight to see her down on her
knees on the kitchen floor, wielding her brush and rag like the rest of
us. In canning and preserving time there floated out from her kitchen
the pungent scent of pickled crab apples; the mouth-watering,
nostril-pricking smell that meant sweet pickles; or the cloying,
tantalising, divinely sticky odour that meant raspberry jam. Snooky,
from her side of the fence, often used to peer through the pickets,
gazing in the direction of the enticing smells next door. Early one
September morning there floated out from Blanche Devine's kitchen that
clean, fragrant, sweet scent of fresh-baked cookies--cookies with butter
in them, and spice, and with nuts on top. Just by the smell of them your
mind's eye pictured them coming from the oven--crisp brown circlets,
crumbly, toothsome, delectable. Snooky, in her scarlet sweater and cap,
sniffed them from afar and straightway deserted her sandpile to take her
stand at the fence. She peered through the restraining bars, standing on
tiptoe. Blanche Devine, glancing up from her board and rolling-pin, saw
the eager golden head. And Snooky, with guile in her heart, raised one
fat, dimpled hand above the fence and waved it friendlily. Blanche
Devine waved back. Thus encouraged, Snooky's two hands wigwagged
frantically above the pickets. Blanche Devine hesitated a moment, her
floury hand on her hip. Then she went to the pantry shelf and took out a
clean white saucer. She selected from the brown jar on the table three
of the brownest, crumbliest, most perfect cookies, with a walnut meat
perched atop of each, placed them temptingly on the saucer and,
descending the steps, came swiftly across the grass to the triumphant
Snooky. Blanche Devine held out the saucer, her lips smiling, her eyes
tender. Snooky reached up with one plump white arm.
"Snooky!" shrilled a high voice. "Snooky!" A voice of horror and of
wrath. "Come here to me this minute! And don't you dare to touch those!"
Snooky hesitated rebelliously, one pink finger in her pouting mouth.
"Snooky! Do you hear me?"
And the Very Young Wife began to descend the steps of her back porch.
Snooky, regretful eyes on the toothsome dainties, turned away aggrieved.
The Very Young Wife, her lips set, her eyes flashing, advanced and
seized the shrieking Snooky by one writhing arm and dragged her away
toward home and safety.
Blanche Devine stood there at the fence, holding the saucer in her hand.
The saucer tipped slowly, and the three cookies slipped off and fell to
the grass. Blanche Devine followed them with her eyes and stood staring
at them a moment. Then she turned quickly, went into the house and shut
It was about this time we noticed that Blanche Devine was away much of
the time. The little white cottage would be empty for a week. We knew
she was out of town because the expressman would come for her trunk. We
used to lift our eyebrows significantly. The newspapers and handbills
would accumulate in a dusty little heap on the porch; but when she
returned there was always a grand cleaning, with the windows open, and
Blanche--her head bound turbanwise in a towel--appearing at a window
every few minutes to shake out a dustcloth. She seemed to put an
enormous amount of energy into those cleanings--as if they were a sort
of safety valve.
As winter came on she used to sit up before her grate fire long, long
after we were asleep in our beds. When she neglected to pull down the
shades we could see the flames of her cosy fire dancing gnomelike on the
There came a night of sleet and snow, and wind and rattling hail--one of
those blustering, wild nights that are followed by morning-paper reports
of trains stalled in drifts, mail delayed, telephone and telegraph wires
down. It must have been midnight or past when there came a hammering at
Blanche Devine's door--a persistent, clamorous rapping. Blanche Devine,
sitting before her dying fire half asleep, started and cringed when she
heard it; then jumped to her feet, her hand at her breast--her eyes
darting this way and that, as though seeking escape.
She had heard a rapping like that before. It had meant bluecoats
swarming up the stairway, and frightened cries and pleadings, and wild
confusion. So she started forward now, quivering. And then she
remembered, being wholly awake now--she remembered, and threw up her
head and smiled a little bitterly and walked toward the door. The
hammering continued, louder than ever. Blanche Devine flicked on the
porch light and opened the door. The half-clad figure of the Very Young
Wife next door staggered into the room. She seized Blanche Devine's arm
with both her frenzied hands and shook her, the wind and snow beating in
upon both of them.
"The baby!" she screamed in a high, hysterical voice. "The baby! The
Blanche Devine shut the door and shook the Young Wife smartly by the
"Stop screaming," she said quietly. "Is she sick?"
The Young Wife told her, her teeth chattering:
"Come quick! She's dying! Will's out of town. I tried to get the doctor.
The telephone wouldn't--I saw your light! For God's sake--"
Blanche Devine grasped the Young Wife's arm, opened the door, and
together they sped across the little space that separated the two
houses. Blanche Devine was a big woman, but she took the stairs like a
girl and found the right bedroom by some miraculous woman instinct. A
dreadful choking, rattling sound was coming from Snooky's bed.
"Croup," said Blanche Devine, and began her fight.
It was a good fight. She marshalled her little inadequate forces, made
up of the half-fainting Young Wife and the terrified and awkward hired
"Get the hot water on--lots of it!" Blanche Devine pinned up her
sleeves. "Hot cloths! Tear up a sheet--or anything! Got an oilstove? I
want a teakettle boiling in the room. She's got to have the steam. If
that don't do it we'll raise an umbrella over her and throw a sheet
over, and hold the kettle under till the steam gets to her that way. Got
The Young Wife obeyed orders, whitefaced and shaking. Once Blanche
Devine glanced up at her sharply.
"Don't you dare faint!" she commanded.
And the fight went on. Gradually the breathing that had been so
frightful became softer, easier. Blanche Devine did not relax. It was
not until the little figure breathed gently in sleep that Blanche Devine
sat back satisfied. Then she tucked a cover ever so gently at the side
of the bed, took a last satisfied look at the face on the pillow, and
turned to look at the wan, dishevelled Young Wife.
"She's all right now. We can get the doctor when morning comes--though I
don't know's you'll need him."
The Young Wife came round to Blanche Devine's side of the bed and stood
looking up at her.
"My baby died," said Blanche Devine simply. The Young Wife gave a little
inarticulate cry, put her two hands on Blanche Devine's broad shoulders
and laid her tired head on her breast.
"I guess I'd better be going," said Blanche Devine.
The Young Wife raised her head. Her eyes were round with fright.
"Going! Oh, please stay! I'm so afraid. Suppose she should take sick
again! That awful--awful breathing--"
"I'll stay if you want me to."
"Oh, please! I'll make up your bed and you can rest--"
"I'm not sleepy. I'm not much of a hand to sleep anyway. I'll sit up
here in the hall, where there's a light. You get to bed. I'll watch and
see that everything's all right. Have you got something I can read out
here--something kind of lively--with a love story in it?"
So the night went by. Snooky slept in her little white bed. The Very
Young Wife half dozed in her bed, so near the little one. In the hall,
her stout figure looming grotesque in wall-shadows, sat Blanche Devine
pretending to read. Now and then she rose and tiptoed into the bedroom
with miraculous quiet, and stooped over the little bed and listened and
looked--and tiptoed away again, satisfied.
The Young Husband came home from his business trip next day with tales
of snowdrifts and stalled engines. Blanche Devine breathed a sigh of
relief when she saw him from her kitchen window. She watched the house
now with a sort of proprietary eye. She wondered about Snooky; but she
knew better than to ask. So she waited. The Young Wife next door had
told her husband all about that awful night--had told him with tears and
sobs. The Very Young Husband had been very, very angry with her--angry
and hurt, he said, and astonished! Snooky could not have been so sick!
Look at her now! As well as ever. And to have called such a woman! Well,
really he did not want to be harsh; but she must understand that she
must never speak to the woman again. Never!
So the next day the Very Young Wife happened to go by with the Young
Husband. Blanche Devine spied them from her sitting-room window, and she
made the excuse of looking in her mailbox in order to go to the door.
She stood in the doorway and the Very Young Wife went by on the arm of
her husband. She went by--rather white-faced--without a look or a word
or a sign!
And then this happened! There came into Blanche Devine's face a look
that made slits of her eyes, and drew her mouth down into an ugly,
narrow line, and that made the muscles of her jaw tense and hard. It was
the ugliest look you can imagine. Then she smiled--if having one's lips
curl away from one's teeth can be called smiling.
Two days later there was great news of the white cottage on the corner.
The curtains were down; the furniture was packed; the rugs were rolled.
The wagons came and backed up to the house and took those things that
had made a home for Blanche Devine. And when we heard that she had
bought back her interest in the House With the Closed Shutters, near the
freight depot, we sniffed.
"I knew she wouldn't last!" we said.
"They never do!" said we.
THE GIRL WHO WENT RIGHT
There is a story--Kipling, I think--that tells of a spirited horse
galloping in the dark suddenly drawing up tense, hoofs bunched, slim
flanks quivering, nostrils dilated, ears pricked. Urging being of no
avail the rider dismounts, strikes a match, advances a cautious step or
so, and finds himself at the precipitous brink of a newly formed
So it is with your trained editor. A miraculous sixth sense guides him.
A mysterious something warns him of danger lurking within the seemingly
innocent oblong white envelope. Without slitting the flap, without
pausing to adjust his tortoise-rimmed glasses, without clearing his
throat, without lighting his cigarette--he knows.
The deadly newspaper story he scents in the dark. Cub reporter. Crusty
city editor. Cub fired. Stumbles on to a big story. Staggers into
newspaper office wild-eyed. Last edition. "Hold the presses!" Crusty
C.E. stands over cub's typewriter grabbing story line by line. Even
foreman of pressroom moved to tears by tale. "Boys, this ain't just a
story this kid's writin'. This is history!" Story finished. Cub faints.
C.E. makes him star reporter.
The athletic story: "I could never marry a mollycoddle like you, Harold
Hammond!" Big game of the year. Team crippled. Second half. Halfback
hurt. Harold Hammond, scrub, into the game. Touchdown! Broken leg. Five
to nothing. "Harold, can you ever, ever forgive me?"
The pseudo-psychological story: She had been sitting before the fire for
a long, long time. The flame had flickered and died down to a
smouldering ash. The sound of his departing footsteps echoed and
re-echoed through her brain. But the little room was very, very still.
The shop-girl story: Torn boots and temptation, tears and snears, pathos
and bathos, all the way from Zola to the vice inquiry.
Having thus attempted to hide the deadly commonplaceness of this story
with a thin layer of cynicism, perhaps even the wily editor may be
tricked into taking the leap.
* * * * *
Four weeks before the completion of the new twelve-story addition the
store advertised for two hundred experienced saleswomen. Rachel
Wiletzky, entering the superintendent's office after a wait of three
hours, was Applicant No. 179. The superintendent did not look up as
Rachel came in. He scribbled busily on a pad of paper at his desk, thus
observing rules one and two in the proper conduct of superintendents
when interviewing applicants. Rachel Wiletzky, standing by his desk,
did not cough or wriggle or rustle her skirts or sag on one hip. A sense
of her quiet penetrated the superintendent's subconsciousness. He
glanced up hurriedly over his left shoulder. Then he laid down his
pencil and sat up slowly. His mind was working quickly enough though. In
the twelve seconds that intervened between the laying down of the pencil
and the sitting up in his chair he had hastily readjusted all his
well-founded preconceived ideas on the appearance of shop-girl
Rachel Wiletzky had the colouring and physique of a dairymaid. It was
the sort of colouring that you associate in your mind with lush green
fields, and Jersey cows, and village maids, in Watteau frocks, balancing
brimming pails aloft in the protecting curve of one rounded upraised
arm, with perhaps a Maypole dance or so in the background. Altogether,
had the superintendent been given to figures of speech, he might have
said that Rachel was as much out of place among the preceding one
hundred and seventy-eight bloodless, hollow-chested, stoop-shouldered
applicants as a sunflower would be in a patch of dank white fungi.
He himself was one of those bleached men that you find on the office
floor of department stores. Grey skin, grey eyes, greying hair, careful
grey clothes--seemingly as void of pigment as one of those sunless
things you disclose when you turn over a board that has long lain on the
mouldy floor of a damp cellar. It was only when you looked closely that
you noticed a fleck of golden brown in the cold grey of each eye, and a
streak of warm brown forming an unquenchable forelock that the
conquering grey had not been able to vanquish. It may have been a
something within him corresponding to those outward bits of human
colouring that tempted him to yield to a queer impulse. He whipped from
his breast-pocket the grey-bordered handkerchief, reached up swiftly and
passed one white corner of it down the length of Rachel Wiletzky's
Killarney-rose left cheek. The rude path down which the handkerchief had
travelled deepened to red for a moment before both rose-pink cheeks
bloomed into scarlet. The superintendent gazed rather ruefully from
unblemished handkerchief to cheek and back again.
"Why--it--it's real!" he stammered.
Rachel Wiletzky smiled a good-natured little smile that had in it a dash
"If I was putting it on," she said, "I hope I'd have sense enough to
leave something to the imagination. This colour out of a box would take
a spiderweb veil to tone it down."
Not much more than a score of words. And yet before the half were spoken
you were certain that Rachel Wiletzky's knowledge of lush green fields
and bucolic scenes was that gleaned from the condensed-milk ads that
glare down at one from billboards and street-car chromos. Hers was the
ghetto voice--harsh, metallic, yet fraught with the resonant music of
"H'm--name?" asked the grey superintendent. He knew that vocal quality.
A queer look stole into Rachel Wiletzky's face, a look of cunning and
determination and shrewdness.
"Ray Willets," she replied composedly. "Double l."
"Clerked before, of course. Our advertisement stated--"
"Oh yes," interrupted Ray Willets hastily, eagerly. "I can sell goods.
My customers like me. And I don't get tired. I don't know why, but I
The superintendent glanced up again at the red that glowed higher with
the girl's suppressed excitement. He took a printed slip from the little
pile of paper that lay on his desk.
"Well, anyway, you're the first clerk I ever saw who had so much red
blood that she could afford to use it for decorative purposes. Step into
the next room, answer the questions on this card and turn it in. You'll
Ray Willets took the searching, telltale blank that put its questions so
pertinently. "Where last employed?" it demanded. "Why did you leave? Do
you live at home?"
Ray Willets moved slowly away toward the door opposite. The
superintendent reached forward to press the button that would summon
Applicant No. 180. But before his finger touched it Ray Willets turned
and came back swiftly. She held the card out before his surprised eyes.
"I can't fill this out. If I do I won't get the job. I work over at the
Halsted Street Bazaar. You know--the Cheap Store. I lied and sent word I
was sick so I could come over here this morning. And they dock you for
time off whether you're sick or not."
The superintendent drummed impatiently with his fingers. "I can't listen
to all this. Haven't time. Fill out your blank, and if--"
All that latent dramatic force which is a heritage of her race came to
the girl's aid now.
"The blank! How can I say on a blank that I'm leaving because I want to
be where real people are? What chance has a girl got over there on the
West Side? I'm different. I don't know why, but I am. Look at my face!
Where should I get red cheeks from? From not having enough to eat half
the time and sleeping three in a bed?"
She snatched off her shabby glove and held one hand out before the man's
"From where do I get such hands? Not from selling hardware over at
Twelfth and Halsted. Look at it! Say, couldn't that hand sell silk and
Some one has said that to make fingers and wrists like those which Ray
Willets held out for inspection it is necessary to have had at least
five generations of ancestors who have sat with their hands folded in
their laps. Slender, tapering, sensitive hands they were, pink-tipped,
temperamental. Wistful hands they were, speaking hands, an inheritance,
perhaps, from some dreamer ancestor within the old-world ghetto, some
long-haired, velvet-eyed student of the Talmud dwelling within the pale
with its squalor and noise, and dreaming of unseen things beyond the
confining gates--things rare and exquisite and fine.
"Ashamed of your folks?" snapped the superintendent.
"N-no--No! But I want to be different. I am different! Give me a chance,
will you? I'm straight. And I'll work. And I can sell goods. Try me."
That all-pervading greyness seemed to have lifted from the man at the
desk. The brown flecks in the eyes seemed to spread and engulf the
surrounding colourlessness. His face, too, took on a glow that seemed to
come from within. It was like the lifting of a thick grey mist on a
foggy morning, so that the sun shines bright and clear for a brief
moment before the damp curtain rolls down again and effaces it.
He leaned forward in his chair, a queer half-smile on his face.
"I'll give you your chance," he said, "for one month. At the end of that
time I'll send for you. I'm not going to watch you. I'm not going to
have you watched. Of course your sale slips will show the office whether
you're selling goods or not. If you're not they'll discharge you. But
that's routine. What do you want to sell?"
"What do I want to--Do you mean--Why, I want to sell the lacy
Ray, very red-cheeked, made the plunge. "The--the lawnjeree, you know.
The things with ribbon and handwork and yards and yards of real lace.
I've seen 'em in the glass case in the French Room. Seventy-nine dollars
marked down from one hundred."
The superintendent scribbled on a card. "Show this Monday morning. Miss
Jevne is the head of your department. You'll spend two hours a day in
the store school of instruction for clerks. Here, you're forgetting your
The grey look had settled down on him again as he reached out to press
the desk button. Ray Willets passed out at the door opposite the one
through which Rachel Wiletzky had entered.
Some one in the department nick-named her Chubbs before she had spent
half a day in the underwear and imported lingerie. At the store school
she listened and learned. She learned how important were things of which
Halsted Street took no cognisance. She learned to make out a sale slip
as complicated as an engineering blueprint. She learned that a clerk
must develop suavity and patience in the same degree as a customer waxes
waspish and insulting, and that the spectrum's colours do not exist in
the costume of the girl-behind-the-counter. For her there are only black
and white. These things she learned and many more, and remembered them,
for behind the rosy cheeks and the terrier-bright eyes burned the
indomitable desire to get on. And the finished embodiment of all of Ray
Willets' desires and ambitions was daily before her eyes in the presence
of Miss Jevne, head of the lingerie and negligees.
Of Miss Jevne it might be said that she was real where Ray was
artificial, and artificial where Ray was real. Everything that Miss
Jevne wore was real. She was as modish as Ray was shabby, as slim as Ray
was stocky, as artificially tinted and tinctured as Ray was naturally
rosy-cheeked and buxom. It takes real money to buy clothes as real as
those worn by Miss Jevne. The soft charmeuse in her graceful gown was
real and miraculously draped. The cobweb-lace collar that so delicately
traced its pattern against the black background of her gown was real. So
was the ripple of lace that cascaded down the front of her blouse. The
straight, correct, hideously modern lines of her figure bespoke a real
eighteen-dollar corset. Realest of all, there reposed on Miss Jevne's
bosom a bar pin of platinum and diamonds--very real diamonds set in a
severely plain but very real bar of precious platinum. So if you except
Miss Jevne's changeless colour, her artificial smile, her glittering
hair and her undulating head-of-the-department walk, you can see that
everything about Miss Jevne was as real as money can make one.
Miss Jevne, when she deigned to notice Ray Willets at all, called her
"girl," thus: "Girl, get down one of those Number Seventeens for
me--with the pink ribbons." Ray did not resent the tone. She thought
about Miss Jevne as she worked. She thought about her at night when she
was washing and ironing her other shirtwaist for next day's wear. In the
Halsted Street Bazaar the girls had been on terms of dreadful intimacy
with those affairs in each other's lives which popularly are supposed to
be private knowledge. They knew the sum which each earned per week; how
much they turned in to help swell the family coffers and how much they
were allowed to keep for their own use. They knew each time a girl spent
a quarter for a cheap sailor collar or a pair of near-silk stockings.
Ray Willets, who wanted passionately to be different, whose hands so
loved the touch of the lacy, silky garments that made up the lingerie
and negligee departments, recognised the perfection of Miss Jevne's
faultless realness--recognised it, appreciated it, envied it. It worried
her too. How did she do it? How did one go about attaining the same
degree of realness?
Meanwhile she worked. She learned quickly. She took care always to be
cheerful, interested, polite. After a short week's handling of lacy
silken garments she ceased to feel a shock when she saw Miss Jevne
displaying a _robe-de-nuit_ made up of white cloud and sea-foam and
languidly assuring the customer that of course it wasn't to be expected
that you could get a fine handmade lace at that price--only
twenty-seven-fifty. Now if she cared to look at something really
fine--made entirely by hand--why--
The end of the first ten days found so much knowledge crammed into Ray
Willets' clever, ambitious little head that the pink of her cheeks had
deepened to carmine, as a child grows flushed and too bright-eyed when
overstimulated and overtired.
Miss Myrtle, the store beauty, strolled up to Ray, who was straightening
a pile of corset covers and _brassieres_. Miss Myrtle was the store's
star cloak-and-suit model. Tall, svelte, graceful, lovely in line and
contour, she was remarkably like one of those exquisite imbeciles that
Rossetti used to love to paint. Hers were the great cowlike eyes, the
wonderful oval face, the marvellous little nose, the perfect lips and
chin. Miss Myrtle could don a forty-dollar gown, parade it before a
possible purchaser, and make it look like an imported model at one
hundred and twenty-five. When Miss Myrtle opened those exquisite lips
and spoke you got a shock that hurt. She laid one cool slim finger on
Ray's ruddy cheek.
"Sure enough!" she drawled nasally. "Whereja get it anyway, kid? You
must of been brought up on peaches 'n' cream and slept in a pink cloud
"Me!" laughed Ray, her deft fingers busy straightening a bow here, a
ruffle of lace there. "Me! The L-train runs so near my bed that if it
was ever to get a notion to take a short cut it would slice off my legs
to the knees."
"Live at home?" Miss Myrtle's grasshopper mind never dwelt long on one
"Well, sure," replied Ray. "Did you think I had a flat up on the Drive?"
"I live at home too," Miss Myrtle announced impressively. She was
leaning indolently against the table. Her eyes followed the deft, quick
movements of Ray's slender, capable hands. Miss Myrtle always leaned
when there was anything to lean on. Involuntarily she fell into melting
poses. One shoulder always drooped slightly, one toe always trailed a
bit like the picture on the cover of the fashion magazines, one hand and
arm always followed the line of her draperies while the other was raised
to hip or breast or head.
Ray's busy hands paused a moment. She looked up at the picturesque
Myrtle. "All the girls do, don't they?"
"Huh?" said Myrtle blankly.
"Live at home, I mean? The application blank says--"
"Say, you've got clever hands, ain't you?" put in Miss Myrtle
irrelevantly. She looked ruefully at her own short, stubby,
unintelligent hands, that so perfectly reflected her character in that
marvellous way hands have. "Mine are stupid-looking. I'll bet you'll get
on." She sagged to the other hip with a weary gracefulness. "I ain't
got no brains," she complained.
"Where do they live then?" persisted Ray.
"Who? Oh, I live at home"--again virtuously--"but I've got some heart if
I am dumb. My folks couldn't get along without what I bring home every
week. A lot of the girls have flats. But that don't last. Now Jevne--"
"Yes?" said Ray eagerly. Her plump face with its intelligent eyes was
Miss Myrtle lowered her voice discreetly. "Her own folks don't know
where she lives. They says she sends 'em money every month, but with the
understanding that they don't try to come to see her. They live way over
on the West Side somewhere. She makes her buying trip to Europe every
year. Speaks French and everything. They say when she started to earn
real money she just cut loose from her folks. They was a drag on her and
she wanted to get to the top."
"Say, that pin's real, ain't it?"
"Real? Well, I should say it is! Catch Jevne wearing anything that's
phony. I saw her at the theatre one night. Dressed! Well, you'd have
thought that birds of paradise were national pests, like English
sparrows. Not that she looked loud. But that quiet, rich elegance, you
know, that just smells of money. Say, but I'll bet she has her lonesome
Ray Willets' eyes darted across the long room and rested upon the
shining black-clad figure of Miss Jevne moving about against the
luxurious ivory-and-rose background of the French Room.
"She--she left her folks, h'm?" she mused aloud.
Miss Myrtle, the brainless, regarded the tips of her shabby boots.
"What did it get her?" she asked as though to herself. "I know what it
does to a girl, seeing and handling stuff that's made for millionaires,
you get a taste for it yourself. Take it from me, it ain't the
six-dollar girl that needs looking after. She's taking her little pay
envelope home to her mother that's a widow and it goes to buy milk for
the kids. Sometimes I think the more you get the more you want.
Somebody ought to turn that vice inquiry on to the tracks of that
thirty-dollar-a-week girl in the Irish crochet waist and the diamond bar
pin. She'd make swell readin'."
There fell a little silence between the two--a silence of which neither
was conscious. Both were thinking, Myrtle disjointedly, purposelessly,
all unconscious that her slow, untrained mind had groped for a great and
vital truth and found it; Ray quickly, eagerly, connectedly, a new and
daring resolve growing with lightning rapidity.
"There's another new baby at our house," she said aloud suddenly. "It
cries all night pretty near."
"Ain't they fierce?" laughed Myrtle. "And yet I dunno--"
She fell silent again. Then with the half-sign with which we waken from
day dreams she moved away in response to the beckoning finger of a
saleswoman in the evening-coat section. Ten minutes later her exquisite
face rose above the soft folds of a black charmeuse coat that rippled
away from her slender, supple body in lines that a sculptor dreams of
and never achieves.
Ray Willets finished straightening her counter. Trade was slow. She
moved idly in the direction of the black-garbed figure that flitted
about in the costly atmosphere of the French section. It must be a very
special customer to claim Miss Jevne's expert services. Ray glanced in
through the half-opened glass and ivory-enamel doors.
"Here, girl," called Miss Jevne. Ray paused and entered. Miss Jevne was
frowning. "Miss Myrtle's busy. Just slip this on. Careful now. Keep your
arms close to your head."
She slipped a marvellously wrought garment over Ray's sleek head. Fluffy
drifts of equally exquisite lingerie lay scattered about on chairs, over
mirrors, across showtables. On one of the fragile little ivory-and-rose
chairs, in the centre of the costly little room, sat a large, blonde,
perfumed woman who clanked and rustled and swished as she moved. Her
eyes were white-lidded and heavy, but strangely bright. One ungloved
hand was very white too, but pudgy and covered so thickly with gems that
your eye could get no clear picture of any single stone or setting.
Ray, clad in the diaphanous folds of the _robe-de-nuit_ that was so
beautifully adorned with delicate embroideries wrought by the patient,
needle-scarred fingers of some silent, white-faced nun in a far-away
convent, paced slowly up and down the short length of the room that the
critical eye of this coarse, unlettered creature might behold the
wonders woven by this weary French nun, and, beholding, approve.
"It ain't bad," spake the blonde woman grudgingly. "How much did you
"Ninety-five," Miss Jevne made answer smoothly. "I selected it myself
when I was in France my last trip. A bargain."
She slid the robe carefully over Ray's head. The frown came once more to
her brow. She bent close to Ray's ear. "Your waist's ripped under the
left arm. Disgraceful!"
The blonde woman moved and jangled a bit in her chair. "Well, I'll take
it," she sighed. "Look at the colour on that girl! And it's real too."
She rose heavily and came over to Ray, reached up and pinched her cheek
appraisingly with perfumed white thumb and forefinger.
"That'll do, girl," said Miss Jevne sweetly. "Take this along and change
these ribbons from blue to pink."
Ray Willets bore the fairy garment away with her. She bore it tenderly,
almost reverently. It was more than a garment. It represented in her
mind a new standard of all that was beautiful and exquisite and
Ten days before the formal opening of the new twelve-story addition
there was issued from the superintendent's office an order that made a
little flurry among the clerks in the sections devoted to women's dress.
The new store when thrown open would mark an epoch in the retail
drygoods business of the city, the order began. Thousands were to be
spent on perishable decorations alone. The highest type of patronage was
to be catered to. Therefore the women in the lingerie, negligee,
millinery, dress, suit and corset sections were requested to wear during
opening week a modest but modish black one-piece gown that would blend
with the air of elegance which those departments were to maintain.
Ray Willets of the lingerie and negligee sections read her order slip
slowly. Then she reread it. Then she did a mental sum in simple
arithmetic. A childish sum it was. And yet before she got her answer the
solving of it had stamped on her face a certain hard, set, resolute
The store management had chosen Wednesday to be the opening day. By
eight-thirty o'clock Wednesday morning the French lingerie, millinery
and dress sections, with their women clerks garbed in modest but modish
black one-piece gowns, looked like a levee at Buckingham when the court
is in mourning. But the ladies-in-waiting, grouped about here and
there, fell back in respectful silence when there paced down the aisle
the queen royal in the person of Miss Jevne. There is a certain sort of
black gown that is more startling and daring than scarlet. Miss Jevne's
was that style. Fast black you might term it. Miss Jevne was aware of
the flurry and flutter that followed her majestic progress down the
aisle to her own section. She knew that each eye was caught in the tip
of the little dog-eared train that slipped and slunk and wriggled along
the ground, thence up to the soft drapery caught so cunningly just below
the knee, up higher to the marvelously simple sash that swayed with each
step, to the soft folds of black against which rested the very real
diamond and platinum bar pin, up to the lace at her throat, and then
stopping, blinking and staring again gazed fixedly at the string of
pearls that lay about her throat, pearls rosily pink, mistily grey. An
aura of self-satisfaction enveloping her, Miss Jevne disappeared behind
the rose-garlanded portals of the new cream-and-mauve French section.
And there the aura vanished, quivering. For standing before one of the
plate-glass cases and patting into place with deft fingers the satin bow
of a hand-wrought chemise was Ray Willets, in her shiny little black
serge skirt and the braver of her two white shirtwaists.
Miss Jevne quickened her pace. Ray turned. Her bright brown eyes grew
brighter at sight of Miss Jevne's wondrous black. Miss Jevne, her train
wound round her feet like an actress' photograph, lifted her eyebrows
to an unbelievable height.
"Explain that costume!" she said.
"Costume?" repeated Ray, fencing.
Miss Jevne's thin lips grew thinner. "You understood that women in this
department were to wear black one-piece gowns this week!"
Ray smiled a little twisted smile. "Yes, I understood."
Ray's little smile grew a trifle more uncertain. "--I had the
money--last week--I was going to--The baby took sick--the heat I guess,
coming so sudden. We had the doctor--and medicine--I--Say, your own
folks come before black one-piece dresses!"
Miss Jevne's cold eyes saw the careful patch under Ray's left arm where
a few days before the torn place had won her a reproof. It was the last
"You can't stay in this department in that rig!"
"Who says so?" snapped Ray with a flash of Halsted Street bravado. "If
my customers want a peek at Paquin I'll send 'em to you."
"I'll show you who says so!" retorted Miss Jevne, quite losing sight of
the queen business. The stately form of the floor manager was visible
among the glass showcases beyond. Miss Jevne sought him agitatedly. All
the little sagging lines about her mouth showed up sharply, defying
years of careful massage.
The floor manager bent his stately head and listened. Then, led by Miss
Jevne, he approached Ray Willets, whose deft fingers, trembling a very
little now, were still pretending to adjust the perfect pink-satin bow.
The manager touched her on the arm not unkindly. "Report for work in the
kitchen utensils, fifth floor," he said. Then at sight of the girl's
face: "We can't have one disobeying orders, you know. The rest of the
clerks would raise a row in no time."
Down in the kitchen utensils and household goods there was no rule
demanding modest but modish one-piece gowns. In the kitchenware one
could don black sateen sleevelets to protect one's clean white waist
without breaking the department's tenets of fashion. You could even pin
a handkerchief across the front of your waist, if your job was that of
dusting the granite ware.
At first Ray's delicate fingers, accustomed to the touch of soft, sheer
white stuff and ribbon and lace and silk, shrank from contact with meat
grinders, and aluminum stewpans, and egg beaters, and waffle irons, and
pie tins. She handled them contemptuously. She sold them listlessly.
After weeks of expatiating to customers on the beauties and excellencies
of gossamer lingerie she found it difficult to work up enthusiasm over
the virtues of dishpans and spice boxes. By noon she was less resentful.
By two o'clock she was saying to a fellow clerk:
"Well, anyway, in this section you don't have to tell a woman how
graceful and charming she's going to look while she's working the
She was a born saleswoman. In spite of herself she became interested
in the buying problems of the practical and plain-visaged housewives
who patronised this section. By three o'clock she was looking
thoughtful--thoughtful and contented.
Then came the summons. The lingerie section was swamped! Report to Miss
Jevne at once! Almost regretfully Ray gave her customer over to an idle
clerk and sought out Miss Jevne. Some of that lady's statuesqueness was
gone. The bar pin on her bosom rose and fell rapidly. She espied Ray and
met her halfway. In her hand she carried a soft black something which
she thrust at Ray.
"Here, put that on in one of the fitting rooms. Be quick about it. It's
your size. The department's swamped. Hurry now!"
Ray took from Miss Jevne the black silk gown, modest but modish. There
was no joy in Ray's face. Ten minutes later she emerged in the limp and
clinging little frock that toned down her colour and made her plumpness
seem but rounded charm.
The big store will talk for many a day of that afternoon and the three
afternoons that followed, until Sunday brought pause to the thousands of
feet beating a ceaseless tattoo up and down the thronged aisles. On the
Monday following thousands swarmed down upon the store again, but not in
such overwhelming numbers. There were breathing spaces. It was during
one of these that Miss Myrtle, the beauty, found time for a brief
moment's chat with Ray Willets.
Ray was straightening her counter again. She had a passion for order.
Myrtle eyed her wearily. Her slender shoulders had carried an endless
number and variety of garments during those four days and her feet had
paced weary miles that those garments might the better be displayed.
"Black's grand on you," observed Myrtle. "Tones you down." She glanced
sharply at the gown. "Looks just like one of our eighteen-dollar models.
"No," said Ray, still straightening petticoats and corset covers. Myrtle
reached out a weary, graceful arm and touched one of the lacy piles
adorned with cunning bows of pink and blue to catch the shopping eye.
"Ain't that sweet!" she exclaimed. "I'm crazy about that shadow lace.
It's swell under voiles. I wonder if I could take one of them home to
Ray glanced up. "Oh, that!" she said contemptuously. "That's just a
cheap skirt. Only twelve-fifty. Machine-made lace. Imitation
She stopped. She stared a moment at Myrtle with the fixed and wide-eyed
gaze of one who does not see.
"What'd I just say to you?"
"Huh?" ejaculated Myrtle, mystified.
"What'd I just say?" repeated Ray.
Myrtle laughed, half understanding. "You said that was a cheap junk
skirt at only twelve-fifty, with machine lace and imitation--"
But Ray Willets did not wait to hear the rest. She was off down the
aisle toward the elevator marked "Employees." The superintendent's
office was on the ninth floor. She stopped there. The grey
superintendent was writing at his desk. He did not look up as Ray
entered, thus observing rules one and two in the proper conduct of
superintendents when interviewing employees. Ray Willets, standing by
his desk, did not cough or wriggle or rustle her skirts or sag on one
hip. A consciousness of her quiet penetrated the superintendent's mind.
He glanced up hurriedly over his left shoulder. Then he laid down his
pencil and sat up slowly.
"Oh, it's you!" he said.
"Yes, it's me," replied Ray Willets simply. "I've been here a month
"Oh, yes." He ran his fingers through his hair so that the brown
forelock stood away from the grey. "You've lost some of your roses," he
said, and tapped his cheek. "What's the trouble?"
"I guess it's the dress," explained Ray, and glanced down at the folds
of her gown. She hesitated a moment awkwardly. "You said you'd send for
me at the end of the month. You didn't."
"That's all right," said the grey superintendent. "I was pretty sure I
hadn't made a mistake. I can gauge applicants pretty fairly. Let's
see--you're in the lingerie, aren't you?"
Then with a rush: "That's what I want to talk to you about. I've changed
my mind. I don't want to stay in the lingeries. I'd like to be
transferred to the kitchen utensils and household goods."
"Transferred! Well, I'll see what I can do. What was the name now? I
A queer look stole into Ray Willets' face, a look of determination and
"Name?" she said. "My name is Rachel Wiletzky."
Miss Sadie Corn was not a charmer, but when you handed your room-key to
her you found yourself stopping to chat a moment. If you were the right
kind you showed her your wife's picture in the front of your watch. If
you were the wrong kind, with your scant hair carefully combed to hide
the bald spot, you showed her the newspaper clipping that you carried in
your vest pocket. Following inspection of the first, Sadie Corn would
say: "Now that's what I call a sweet face! How old is the youngest?"
Upon perusal the second was returned with dignity and: "Is that supposed
to be funny?" In each case Sadie Corn had you placed for life.
She possessed the invaluable gift of the floor clerk, did Sadie
Corn--that of remembering names and faces. Though you had registered at
the Hotel Magnifique but the night before, for the first time, Sadie
Corn would look up at you over her glasses as she laid your key in its
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