Dawn O'Hara, The Girl Who Laughed
Part 1 out of 5
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THE GIRL WHO LAUGHED
by EDNA FERBER
TO MY DEAR MOTHER
WHO FREQUENTLY INTERRUPTS
MY SISTER FANNIE
WHO SAYS "SH-SH-SH!" OUTSIDE MY DOOR
I THE SMASH-UP
II MOSTLY EGGS
III GOOD As NEW
IV DAWN DEVELOPS A HEIMWEH
V THE ABSURD BECOMES SERIOUS
VI STEEPED IN GERMAN
VII BLACKIE'S PHILOSOPHY
VIII KAFFEE AND KAFFEEKUCHEN
IX THE LADY FROM VIENNA
X A TRAGEDY OF GOWNS
XI VON GERHARD SPEAKS
XII BENNIE THE CONSOLER
XIII THE TEST
XIV BENNIE AND THE CHARMING OLD MAID
XV FAREWELL TO KNAPFS'
XVI JUNE MOONLIGHT, AND A NEW BOARDING HOUSE
XVII THE SHADOW OF TERROR
XVIII PETER ORME
XIX A TURN OF THE WHEEL
XX BLACKIE'S VACATION COMES
There are a number of things that are pleasanter than
being sick in a New York boarding-house when one's
nearest dearest is a married sister up in far-away
Some one must have been very kind, for there were
doctors, and a blue-and-white striped nurse, and bottles
and things. There was even a vase of perky carnations--
scarlet ones. I discovered that they had a trick of
nodding their heads, saucily. The discovery did not
appear to surprise me.
"Howdy-do!" said I aloud to the fattest and reddest
carnation that overtopped all the rest. "How in the
world did you get in here?"
The striped nurse (I hadn't noticed her before) rose
from some corner and came swiftly over to my bedside,
taking my wrist between her fingers.
"I'm very well, thank you," she said, smiling, "and
I came in at the door, of course."
"I wasn't talking to you," I snapped, crossly, "I was
speaking to the carnations; particularly to that elderly
one at the top--the fat one who keeps bowing and wagging
his head at me."
"Oh, yes," answered the striped nurse, politely, "of
course. That one is very lively, isn't he? But suppose
we take them out for a little while now."
She picked up the vase and carried it into the
corridor, and the carnations nodded their heads more
vigorously than ever over her shoulder.
I heard her call softly to some one. The some one
answered with a sharp little cry that sounded like,
The next moment my own sister Norah came quietly into
the room, and knelt at the side of my bed and took me in
her arms. It did not seem at all surprising that she
should be there, patting me with reassuring little love
pats, murmuring over me with her lips against my check,
calling me a hundred half-forgotten pet names that I had
not heard for years. But then, nothing seemed to
surprise me that surprising day. Not even the sight of
a great, red-haired, red-faced, scrubbed looking man who
strolled into the room just as Norah was in the midst of
denouncing newspapers in general, and my newspaper in
particular, and calling the city editor a slave-driver and
a beast. The big, red-haired man stood regarding us tolerantly.
"Better, eh?" said he, not as one who asks a
question, but as though in confirmation of a thought.
Then he too took my wrist between his fingers. His touch
was very firm and cool. After that he pulled down my
eyelids and said, "H'm." Then he patted my cheek smartly
once or twice. "You'll do," he pronounced. He picked up
a sheet of paper from the table and looked it over,
keen-eyed. There followed a clinking of bottles and
glasses, a few low-spoken words to the nurse, and then,
as she left the room the big red-haired man seated
himself heavily in the chair near the bedside and rested
his great hands on his fat knees. He stared down at me
in much the same way that a huge mastiff looks at a
terrier. Finally his glance rested on my limp left hand.
For a moment the word would not come. I could hear
Norah catch her breath quickly. Then--"Yes," answered I.
"Husband living?" I could see suspicion dawning in
his cold gray eye.
Again the catch in Norah's throat and a little half
warning, half supplicating gesture. And again, "Yes,"
The dawn of suspicion burst into full glow.
"Where is he?" growled the red-haired doctor. "At a
time like this?"
I shut my eyes for a moment, too sick at heart to
resent his manner. I could feel, more than see, that Sis
was signaling him frantically. I moistened my lips and
answered him, bitterly.
"He is in the Starkweather Hospital for the insane."
When the red-haired man spoke again the growl was
quite gone from his voice.
"And your home is--where?"
"Nowhere," I replied meekly, from my pillow. But at
that Sis put her hand out quickly, as though she had been
struck, and said:
"My home is her home."
"Well then, take her there," he ordered, frowning,
"and keep her there as long as you can. Newspaper
reporting, h'm? In New York? That's a devil of a job
for a woman. And a husband who . . . Well, you'll have
to take a six months' course in loafing, young woman.
And at the end of that time, if you are still determined
to work, can't you pick out something easier--like taking
in scrubbing, for instance?"
I managed a feeble smile, wishing that he would go
away quickly, so that I might sleep. He seemed to divine
my thoughts, for he disappeared into the corridor, taking
Norah with him. Their voices, low-pitched and carefully
guarded, could be heard as they conversed outside my
Norah was telling him the whole miserable business.
I wished, savagely, that she would let me tell it, if it
must be told. How could she paint the fascination of the
man who was my husband? She had never known the charm of
him as I had known it in those few brief months before
our marriage. She had never felt the caress of his
voice, or the magnetism of his strange, smoldering eyes
glowing across the smoke-dimmed city room as I had felt
them fixed on me. No one had ever known what he had
meant to the girl of twenty, with her brain full of
unspoken dreams--dreams which were all to become glorious
realities in that wonder-place, New York.
How he had fired my country-girl imagination! He had
been the most brilliant writer on the big, brilliant
sheet--and the most dissolute. How my heart had pounded
on that first lonely day when this Wonder-Being looked up
from his desk, saw me, and strolled over to where I sat
before my typewriter! He smiled down at me, companionably.
I'm quite sure that my mouth must have been wide open with
surprise. He had been smoking a cigarette an
expensive-looking, gold-tipped one. Now he removed it
from between his lips with that hand that always shook a
little, and dropped it to the floor, crushing it lightly
with the toe of his boot. He threw back his handsome
head and sent out the last mouthful of smoke in a thin,
lazy spiral. I remember thinking what a pity it was that
he should have crushed that costly-looking cigarette,
just for me.
"My name's Orme," he said, gravely. "Peter Orme.
And if yours isn't Shaughnessy or Burke at least, then
I'm no judge of what black hair and gray eyes stand for."
"Then you're not," retorted I, laughing up at him,
"for it happens to be O'Hara--Dawn O'Hara, if ye plaze."
He picked up a trifle that lay on my desk--a pencil,
perhaps, or a bit of paper--and toyed with it, absently,
as though I had not spoken. I thought he had not heard,
and I was conscious of feeling a bit embarrassed, and
very young. Suddenly he raised his smoldering eyes to
mine, and I saw that they had taken on a deeper glow.
His white, even teeth showed in a half smile.
"Dawn O'Hara," said he, slowly, and the name had
never sounded in the least like music before, "Dawn
O'Hara. It sounds like a rose--a pink blush rose that is
deeper pink at its heart, and very sweet."
He picked up the trifle with which he had been toying
and eyed it intently for a moment, as though his whole
mind were absorbed in it. Then he put it down, turned,
and walked slowly away. I sat staring after him like a
little simpleton, puzzled, bewildered, stunned. That had
been the beginning of it all.
He had what we Irish call "a way wid him." I wonder
now why I did not go mad with the joy, and the pain, and
the uncertainty of it all. Never was a girl so dazzled,
so humbled, so worshiped, so neglected, so courted. He
was a creature of a thousand moods to torture one. What
guise would he wear to-day? Would he be gay, or dour, or
sullen, or teasing or passionate, or cold, or tender or
scintillating? I know that my hands were always cold,
and my cheeks were always hot, those days.
He wrote like a modern Demosthenes, with
all political New York to quiver under his philippics.
The managing editor used to send him out on wonderful
assignments, and they used to hold the paper for his
stuff when it was late. Sometimes he would be gone for
days at a time, and when he returned the men would look
at him with a sort of admiring awe. And the city editor
would glance up from beneath his green eye-shade and call
"Say, Orme, for a man who has just wired in about a
million dollars' worth of stuff seems to me you don't
look very crisp and jaunty."
"Haven't slept for a week," Peter Orme would growl,
and then he would brush past the men who were crowded
around him, and turn in my direction. And the old
hot-and-cold, happy, frightened, laughing, sobbing
sensation would have me by the throat again.
Well, we were married. Love cast a glamour over his
very vices. His love of drink? A weakness which I would
transform into strength. His white hot flashes of
uncontrollable temper? Surely they would die down at my
cool, tender touch. His fits of abstraction and
irritability? Mere evidences of the genius within. Oh,
my worshiping soul was always alert with an excuse.
And so we were married. He had quite tired
of me in less than a year, and the hand that had always
shaken a little shook a great deal now, and the fits of
abstraction and temper could be counted upon to appear
oftener than any other moods. I used to laugh,
sometimes, when I was alone, at the bitter humor of it
all. It was like a Duchess novel come to life.
His work began to show slipshod in spots. They
talked to him about it and he laughed at them. Then, one
day, he left them in the ditch on the big story of the
McManus indictment, and the whole town scooped him, and
the managing editor told him that he must go. His lapses
had become too frequent. They would have to replace him
with a man not so brilliant, perhaps, but more reliable.
I daren't think of his face as it looked when he came
home to the little apartment and told me. The smoldering
eyes were flaming now. His lips were flecked with a sort
of foam. I stared at him in horror. He strode over to
me, clasped his fingers about my throat and shook me as
a dog shakes a mouse.
"Why don't you cry, eh?" he snarled. Why don't you
And then I did cry out at what I saw in his eyes. I
wrenched myself free, fled to my room, and locked the
door and stood against it with my hand pressed over my
heart until I heard the outer door slam and the echo of
his footsteps die away.
Divorce! That was my only salvation. No, that would
be cowardly now. I would wait until he was on his feet
again, and then I would demand my old free life back once
more. This existence that was dragging me into the
gutter--this was not life! Life was a glorious,
beautiful thing, and I would have it yet. I laid my
plans, feverishly, and waited. He did not come back that
night, or the next, or the next, or the next. In
desperation I went to see the men at the office. No,
they had not seen him. Was there anything that they
could do? they asked. I smiled, and thanked them, and
said, oh, Peter was so absent-minded! No doubt he had
misdirected his letters, or something of the sort. And
then I went back to the flat to resume the horrible
One week later he turned up at the old office which
had cast him off. He sat down at his former desk and
began to write, breathlessly, as he used to in the days
when all the big stories fell to him. One of the men
reporters strolled up to him and touched him on the
shoulder, man-fashion. Peter Orme raised his head and
stared at him, and the man sprang back in terror.
The smoldering eyes had burned down to an ash.
Peter Orme was quite bereft of all reason. They took him
away that night, and I kept telling myself that it wasn't
true; that it was all a nasty dream, and I would wake up
pretty soon, and laugh about it, and tell it at the
Well, one does not seek a divorce from a husband who
is insane. The busy men on the great paper were very
kind. They would take me back on the staff. Did I think
that I still could write those amusing little human
interest stories? Funny ones, you know, with a punch in
Oh, plenty of good stories left in me yet, I assured
them. They must remember that I was only twenty-one,
after all, and at twenty-one one does not lose the sense
And so I went back to my old desk, and wrote bright,
chatty letters home to Norah, and ground out very funny
stories with a punch in 'em, that the husband in the
insane asylum might be kept in comforts. With both hands
I hung on like grim death to that saving sense of humor,
resolved to make something of that miserable mess which
was my life--to make something of it yet. And now--
At this point in my musings there was an end
of the low-voiced conversation in the hall. Sis tiptoed
in and looked her disapproval at finding me sleepless.
"Dawn, old girlie, this will never do. Shut your
eyes now, like a good child, and go to sleep. Guess what
that great brute of a doctor said! I may take you home
with me next week! Dawn dear, you will come, won't you?
You must! This is killing you. Don't make me go away
leaving you here. I couldn't stand it."
She leaned over my pillow and closed my eyelids
gently with her sweet, cool fingers. "You are coming
home with me, and you shall sleep and eat, and sleep and
eat, until you are as lively as the Widow Malone, ohone,
and twice as fat. Home, Dawnie dear, where we'll forget
all about New York. Home, with me."
I reached up uncertainly, and brought her hand down
to my lips and a great peace descended upon my sick soul.
"Home--with you," I said, like a child, and fell asleep.
Oh, but it was clean, and sweet, and wonderfully
still, that rose-and-white room at Norah's! No street
cars to tear at one's nerves with grinding brakes and
clanging bells; no tramping of restless feet on the
concrete all through the long, noisy hours; no shrieking
midnight joy-riders; not one of the hundred sounds which
make night hideous in the city. What bliss to lie there,
hour after hour, in a delicious half-waking,
half-sleeping, wholly exquisite stupor, only rousing
myself to swallow egg-nogg No. 426, and then to flop back
again on the big, cool pillow!
New York, with its lights, its clangor, its millions,
was only a far-away, jumbled nightmare. The office, with
its clacking typewriters, its insistent, nerve-racking
telephone bells, its systematic rush, its smoke-dimmed
city room, was but an ugly part of the dream.
Back to that inferno of haste and scramble and
clatter? Never! Never! I resolved, drowsily. And
dropped off to sleep again.
And the sheets. Oh, those sheets of Norah's! Why,
they were white, instead of gray! And they actually
smelled of flowers. For that matter, there were rosebuds
on the silken coverlet. It took me a week to get chummy
with that rosebud-and-down quilt. I had to explain
carefully to Norah that after a half-dozen years of
sleeping under doubtful boarding-house blankets one does
not so soon get rid of a shuddering disgust for coverings
which are haunted by the ghosts of a hundred unknown
sleepers. Those years had taught me to draw up the sheet
with scrupulous care, to turn it down, and smooth it
over, so that no contaminating and woolly blanket should
touch my skin. The habit stuck even after Norah had
tucked me in between her fragrant sheets. Automatically
my hands groped about, arranging the old protecting
"What's the matter, Fuss-fuss?" inquired Norah,
looking on. "That down quilt won't bite you; what an old
maid you are!"
"Don't like blankets next to my face," I elucidated,
sleepily, "never can tell who slept under 'em last--"
You cat!" exclaimed Norah, making a little rush at
me. "If you weren't supposed to be ill I'd
shake you! Comparing my darling rosebud quilt to your
miserable gray blankets! Just for that I'll make you eat
an extra pair of eggs."
There never was a sister like Norah. But then, who
ever heard of a brother-in-law like Max? No woman--not
even a frazzled-out newspaper woman--could receive the
love and care that they gave me, and fail to flourish
under it. They had been Dad and Mother to me since the
day when Norah had tucked me under her arm and carried me
away from New York. Sis was an angel; a comforting,
twentieth-century angel, with white apron strings for
wings, and a tempting tray in her hands in place of the
hymn books and palm leaves that the picture-book angels
carry. She coaxed the inevitable eggs and beef into more
tempting forms than Mrs. Rorer ever guessed at. She
could disguise those two plain, nourishing articles of
diet so effectually that neither hen nor cow would have
suspected either of having once been part of her anatomy.
Once I ate halfway through a melting, fluffy,
peach-bedecked plate of something before I discovered
that it was only another egg in disguise.
"Feel like eating a great big dinner to-day, Kidlet?
"Norah would ask in the morning as she stood at my bedside
(with a glass of egg-something in her hand, of course).
"Eat!"--horror and disgust shuddering through my
voice--"Eat! Ugh! Don't s-s-speak of it to me. And for
pity's sake tell Frieda to shut the kitchen door when you
go down, will you? I can smell something like ugh!--like
pot roast, with gravy!" And I would turn my face to the
Three hours later I would hear Sis coming softly up
the stairs, accompanied by a tinkling of china and glass.
I would face her, all protest.
"Didn't I tell you, Sis, that I couldn't eat a
mouthful? Not a mouthf--um-m-m-m! How perfectly
scrumptious that looks! What's that affair in the
lettuce leaf? Oh, can't I begin on that divine-looking
pinky stuff in the tall glass? H'm? Oh, please!"
"I thought--" Norah would begin; and then she would
"Oh, well, that was hours ago," I would explain,
loftily. "Perhaps I could manage a bite or two now."
Whereupon I would demolish everything except the
china and doilies.
It was at this point on the road to recovery, just
halfway between illness and health, that Norah and Max
brought the great and unsmiling Von Gerhard on the scene.
It appeared that even New York was respectfully aware of
Von Gerhard, the nerve specialist, in spite of the fact
that he lived in Milwaukee. The idea of bringing him up
to look at me occurred to Max quite suddenly. I think it
was on the evening that I burst into tears when Max
entered the room wearing a squeaky shoe. The Weeping
Walrus was a self-contained and tranquil creature
compared to me at that time. The sight of a fly on the
wall was enough to make me burst into a passion of sobs.
"I know the boy to steady those shaky nerves of
yours, Dawn," said Max, after I had made a shamefaced
apology for my hysterical weeping, "I'm going to have Von
Gerhard up here to look at you. He can run up Sunday,
"Who's Von Gerhard?" I inquired, out of the depths of
my ignorance. "Anyway, I won't have him. I'll bet he
wears a Vandyke and spectacles."
"Von Gerhard!" exclaimed Norah, indignantly. "You
ought to be thankful to have him look at you, even if he
wears goggles and a flowing beard. Why, even that
red-haired New York doctor of yours cringed and looked
impressed when I told him that Von Gerhard was
a friend of my husband's, and that they had been comrades
at Heidelberg. I must have mentioned him dozens of times
in my letters."
"Queer," commented Max, "he runs up here every now
and then to spend a quiet Sunday with Norah and me and
the Spalpeens. Says it rests him. The kids swarm all
over him, and tear him limb from limb. It doesn't look
restful, but he says it's great. I think he came here
from Berlin just after you left for New York, Dawn.
Milwaukee fits him as if it had been made for him."
"But you're not going to drag this wonderful being up
here just for me!" I protested, aghast.
Max pointed an accusing finger at me from the
doorway. "Aren't you what the bromides call a bundle of
nerves? And isn't Von Gerhard's specialty untying just
those knots? I'll write to him to-night."
And he did. And Von Gerhard came. The Spalpeens
watched for him, their noses flattened against the
window-pane, for it was raining. As he came up the path
they burst out of the door to meet him. From my bedroom
window I saw him come prancing up the walk like a boy,
with the two children clinging to his coat-tails, all
three quite unmindful of the rain, and yelling like
Ten minutes later he had donned his professional
dignity, entered my room, and beheld me in all my limp
and pea-green beauty. I noted approvingly that he had to
stoop a bit as he entered the low doorway, and that the
Vandyke of my prophecy was missing.
He took my hand in his own steady, reassuring clasp.
Then he began to talk. Half an hour sped away while we
discussed New York--books--music--theatres--everything
and anything but Dawn O'Hara. I learned later that as we
chatted he was getting his story, bit by bit, from every
twitch of the eyelids, from every gesture of the hands
that had grown too thin to wear the hateful ring; from
every motion of the lips; from the color of my nails;
from each convulsive muscle; from every shadow, and
wrinkle and curve and line of my face.
Suddenly he asked: "Are you making the proper effort
to get well? You try to conquer those jumping nerfs,
I glared at him. "Try! I do everything. I'd eat
woolly worms if I thought they might benefit me. If ever
a girl has minded her big sister and her doctor, that
girl is I. I've eaten everything from pate de foie gras
to raw beef, and I've drunk everything from blood to
"Eggs? " queried Von Gerhard, as though making a
"Eggs!" I snorted. "Eggs! Thousands of 'em! Eggs
hard and soft boiled, poached and fried, scrambled and
shirred, eggs in beer and egg-noggs, egg lemonades and
egg orangeades, eggs in wine and eggs in milk, and eggs
au naturel. I've lapped up iron-and-wine, and whole
rivers of milk, and I've devoured rare porterhouse and
roast beef day after day for weeks. So! Eggs!"
"Mein Himmel!" ejaculated he, fervently, "And you
still live!" A suspicion of a smile dawned in his eyes.
I wondered if he ever laughed. I would experiment.
"Don't breathe it to a soul," I whispered,
tragically, "but eggs, and eggs alone, are turning my
love for my sister into bitterest hate. She stalks me
the whole day long, forcing egg mixtures down my
unwilling throat. She bullies me. I daren't put out my
hand suddenly without knocking over liquid refreshment in
some form, but certainly with an egg lurking in its
depths. I am so expert that I can tell an egg orangeade
from an egg lemonade at a distance of twenty yards, with
my left hand tied behind me,and one eye shut, and my feet
in a sack."
"You can laugh, eh? Well, that iss good," commented
the grave and unsmiling one.
"Sure," answered I, made more flippant by his
solemnity. "Surely I can laugh. For what else was my
father Irish? Dad used to say that a sense of humor was
like a shillaly--an iligent thing to have around handy,
especially when the joke's on you."
The ghost of a twinkle appeared again in the corners
of the German blue eyes. Some fiend of rudeness seized
"Laugh!" I commanded.
Dr. Ernst von Gerhard stiffened. "Pardon?" inquired
he, as one who is sure that he has misunderstood.
"Laugh!" I snapped again. "I'll dare you to do it.
I'll double dare you! You dassen't!"
But he did. After a moment's bewildered surprise he
threw back his handsome blond head and gave vent to a
great, deep infectious roar of mirth that brought the
Spalpeens tumbling up the stairs in defiance of their
mother's strict instructions.
After that we got along beautifully. He
turned out to be quite human, beneath the outer crust of
reserve. He continued his examination only after bribing
the Spalpeens shamefully, so that even their rapacious
demands were satisfied, and they trotted off contentedly.
There followed a process which reduced me to a
giggling heap but which Von Gerhard carried out
ceremoniously. It consisted of certain raps at my knees,
and shins, and elbows, and fingers, and certain commands
to--"look at my finger! Look at the wall! Look at my
finger! Look at the wall!"
"So!" said Von Gerhard at last, in a tone of
finality. I sank my battered frame into the nearest
chair. "This--this newspaper work--it must cease." He
dismissed it with a wave of the hand.
"Certainly," I said, with elaborate sarcasm. "How
should you advise me to earn my living in the future?
In the stories they paint dinner cards, don't
they? or bake angel cakes?"
"Are you then never serious?" asked Von Gerhard, in
"Never," said I. "An old, worn-out, worked-out
newspaper reporter, with a husband in the mad-house,
can't afford to be serious for a minute, because if she
were she'd go mad, too, with the hopelessness of it all."
And I buried my face in my hands.
The room was very still for a moment. Then the great
Von Gerhard came over, and took my hands gently from my
face. "I--I do beg your pardon," he said. He looked
strangely boyish and uncomfortable as he said it. "I was
thinking only of your good. We do that, sometimes,
forgetting that circumstances may make our wishes
impossible of execution. So. You will forgive me?"
"Forgive you? Yes,indeed," I assured him. And we shook
hands, gravely. "But that doesn't help matters much,
after all, does it?"
"Yes, it helps. For now we understand one another,
is it not so? You say you can only write for a living.
Then why not write here at home? Surely these years of
newspaper work have given you a great knowledge of human
nature. Then too, there is your gift of humor. Surely
that is a combination which should make your work
acceptable to the magazines. Never in my life have I
seen so many magazines as here in the United States. But
"Me!" I exploded--"A real writer lady! No more
interviews with actresses! No more slushy Sunday
specials! No more teary tales! Oh, my!
When may I begin? To-morrow? You know I brought my
typewriter with me. I've almost forgotten where the
letters are on the keyboard."
"Wait, wait; not so fast! In a month or two,
perhaps. But first must come other things outdoor
things. Also housework."
"Housework!" I echoed, feebly.
"Naturlich. A little dusting, a little scrubbing,
a little sweeping, a little cooking. The finest kind of
indoor exercise. Later you may write a little--but very
little. Run and play out of doors with the children.
When I see you again you will have roses in your cheeks
like the German girls, yes?"
"Yes," I echoed, meekly, "I wonder how Frieda will
like my elephantine efforts at assisting with the
housework. If she gives notice, Norah will be lost to
But Frieda did not give notice. After I had helped
her clean the kitchen and the pantry I noticed an
expression of deepest pity overspreading her lumpy
features. The expression became almost one of agony as
she watched me roll out some noodles for soup, and delve
into the sticky mysteries of a new kind of cake.
Max says that for a poor working girl who
hasn't had time to cultivate the domestic graces, my
cakes are a distinct triumph. Sis sniffs at that, and
mutters something about cups of raisins and nuts and
citron hiding a multitude of batter sins. She never
allows the Spalpeens to eat my cakes, and on my baking
days they are usually sent from the table howling. Norah
declares, severely, that she is going to hide the Green
Cook Book. The Green Cook Book is a German one. Norah
bought it in deference to Max's love of German cookery.
It is called Aunt Julchen's cook book, and the author,
between hints as to flour and butter, gets delightfully
chummy with her pupil. Her cakes are proud, rich cakes.
She orders grandly:
"Now throw in the yolks of twelve eggs; one-fourth of
a pound of almonds; two pounds of raisins; a pound of
citron; a pound of orange-peel."
As if that were not enough, there follow minor
instructions as to trifles like ounces of walnut meats,
pounds of confectioner's sugar, and pints of very rich
cream. When cold, to be frosted with an icing made up of
more eggs, more nuts, more cream, more everything.
The children have appointed themselves official
lickers and scrapers of the spoons and icing pans, also
official guides on their auntie's walks. They regard
their Aunt Dawn as a quite ridiculous but altogether
delightful old thing.
And Norah--bless her! looks up when I come in from a
romp with the Spalpeens and says: "Your cheeks are pink!
Actually! And you're losing a puff there at the back of
your ear, and your hat's on crooked. Oh, you are
beginning to look your old self, Dawn dear!"
At which doubtful compliment I retort, recklessly:
"Pooh! What's a puff more or less, in a worthy cause?
And if you think my cheeks are pink now, just wait until
your mighty Von Gerhard comes again. By that time they
shall be so red and bursting that Frieda's, on wash day,
will look anemic by comparison. Say, Norah, how red are
German red cheeks, anyway?"
GOOD AS NEW
So Spring danced away, and Summer sauntered in. My
pillows looked less and less tempting. The wine of the
northern air imparted a cocky assurance. One
blue-and-gold day followed the other, and I spent hours
together out of doors in the sunshine, lying full length
on the warm, sweet ground, to the horror of the entire
neighborhood. To be sure, I was sufficiently discreet to
choose the lawn at the rear of the house. There I drank
in the atmosphere, as per doctor's instructions, while
the genial sun warmed the watery blood in my veins and
burned the skin off the end of my nose.
All my life I had envied the loungers in the parks--
those silent, inert figures that lie under the trees all
the long summer day, their shabby hats over their faces,
their hands clasped above their heads, legs sprawled in
uncouth comfort, while the sun dapples down between the
leaves and, like a good fairy godmother, touches their
frayed and wrinkled garments with flickering
figures of golden splendor, while they sleep. They
always seemed so blissfully care-free and at ease--those
sprawling men figures--and I, to whom such simple joys
were forbidden, being a woman, had envied them.
Now I was reveling in that very joy, stretched prone
upon the ground, blinking sleepily up at the sun and the
cobalt sky, feeling my very hair grow, and health
returning in warm, electric waves. I even dared to cross
one leg over the other and to swing the pendant member
with nonchalant air, first taking a cautious survey of
the neighboring back windows to see if any one peeked.
Doubtless they did, behind those ruffled curtains, but I
grew splendidly indifferent.
Even the crawling things--and there were myriads of
them--added to the enjoyment of my ease. With my ear so
close to the ground the grass seemed fairly to buzz with
them. Everywhere there were crazily busy ants, and I,
patently a sluggard and therefore one of those for whom
the ancient warning was intended, considered them lazily.
How they plunged about, weaving in and out, rushing here
and there, helter-skelter, like bargain-hunting women
darting wildly from counter to counter!
"O, foolish, foolish anties!" I chided them, "stop
wearing yourselves out this way. Don't you know that the
game isn't worth the candle, and that you'll give
yourselves nervous jim-jams and then you'll have to go
home to be patched up? Look at me! I'm a horrible
But they only bustled on, heedless of my advice, and
showed their contempt by crawling over me as I lay there
like a lady Gulliver.
Oh, I played what they call a heavy thinking part.
It was not only the ants that came in for lectures. I
preached sternly to myself.
"Well, Dawn old girl, you've made a beautiful mess of
it. A smashed-up wreck at twenty-eight! And what have
you to show for it? Nothing! You're a useless pulp,
like a lemon that has been squeezed dry. Von Gerhard was
right. There must be no more newspaper work for you, me
girl. Not if you can keep away from the fascination of
it, which I don't think you can."
Then I would fall to thinking of those years of
newspapering--of the thrills of them, and the ills of
them. It had been exhilarating, and educating, but
scarcely remunerative. Mother had never approved. Dad
had chuckled and said that it was a curse descended upon
me from the terrible old Kitty O'Hara, the only old maid
in the history of the O'Haras, and famed in her
day for a caustic tongue and a venomed pen. Dad and
Mother--what a pair of children they had been! The very
dissimilarity of their natures had been a bond between
them. Dad, light-hearted, whimsical, care-free,
improvident; Mother, gravely sweet, anxious-browed,
trying to teach economy to the handsome Irish husband
who, descendant of a long and royal line of spendthrift
ancestors, would have none of it.
It was Dad who had insisted that they name me Dawn.
Dawn O'Hara! His sense of humor must have been sleeping.
"You were such a rosy, pinky, soft baby thing," Mother
had once told me, "that you looked just like the first
flush of light at sunrise. That is why your father
insisted on calling you Dawn."
Poor Dad! How could he know that at twenty-eight I
would be a yellow wreck of a newspaper reporter--with a
wrinkle between my eyes. If he could see me now he would
"Sure, you look like the dawn yet, me girl but a
At that, Mother, if she were here, would pat my check
where the hollow place is, and murmur: "Never mind,
Dawnie dearie, Mother thinks you are beautiful just the
same." Of such blessed stuff are mothers made.
At this stage of the memory game I would bury my face
in the warm grass and thank my God for having taken
Mother before Peter Orme came into my life. And then I
would fall asleep there on the soft, sweet grass, with my
head snuggled in my arms, and the ants wriggling,
unchided, into my ears.
On the last of these sylvan occasions I awoke, not
with a graceful start, like the story-book ladies, but
with a grunt. Sis was digging me in the ribs with her
toe. I looked up to see her standing over me, a foaming
tumbler of something in her hand. I felt that it was
eggy and eyed it disgustedly.
"Get up," said she, "you lazy scribbler, and drink
I sat up, eyeing her severely and picking grass and
ants out of my hair.
"D' you mean to tell me that you woke me out of that
babe-like slumber to make me drink that goo? What is it,
anyway? I'll bet it's another egg-nogg."
"Egg-nogg it is; and swallow it right away, because
there are guests to see you."
I emerged from the first dip into the yellow mixture
and fixed on her as stern and terrible a look at any one
can whose mouth is encircled by a mustache of yellow
"Guests!" I roared, "not for me! Don't you dare to
say that they came to see me!"
"Did too," insists Norah, with firmness, "they came
especially to see you. Asked for you, right from the
I finished the egg-nogg in four gulps, returned the
empty tumbler with an air of decision, and sank upon the
"Tell 'em I rave. Tell 'em that I'm unconscious, and
that for weeks I have recognized no one, not even my dear
sister. Say that in my present nerve-shattered condition
"That wouldn't satisfy them," Norah calmly.
interrupts, "they know you're crazy because they saw you
out here from their second story back windows. That's
why they came. So you may as well get up and face them.
I promised them I'd bring you in. You can't go on
forever refusing to see people, and you know the Whalens
"Whalens!" I gasped. "How many of them? Not--not
the entire fiendish three?"
"All three. I left them champing with impatience."
The Whalens live just around the corner. The Whalens
are omniscient. They have a system of news gathering
which would make the efforts of a New York daily appear
antiquated. They know that Jenny Laffin feeds the family
on soup meat and oat-meal when Mr. Laffin is on the road;
they know that Mrs. Pearson only shakes out her rugs once
in four weeks; they can tell you the number of times a
week that Sam Dempster comes home drunk; they know that
the Merkles never have cream with their coffee because
little Lizzie Merkle goes to the creamery every day with
just one pail and three cents; they gloat over the knowledge
that Professor Grimes, who is a married man, is sweet on
Gertie Ashe, who teaches second reader in his school;
they can tell you where Mrs. Black got her seal coat, and
her husband only earning two thousand a year; they know
who is going to run for mayor, and how long poor Angela
Sims has to live, and what Guy Donnelly said to Min when
he asked her to marry him.
The three Whalens--mother and daughters--hunt in a
group. They send meaning glances to one another across
the room, and at parties they get together and exchange
bulletins in a corner. On passing the Whalen house one
is uncomfortably aware of shadowy forms lurking in the
windows, and of parlor curtains that are agitated for no
Therefore it was with a groan that I rose and
prepared to follow Norah into the house. Something in my
eye caused her to turn at the very door. "Don't you dare!"
she hissed; then, banishing the warning scowl from her face,
and assuming a near-smile, she entered the room and I
followed miserably at her heels.
The Whalens rose and came forward effusively; Mrs.
Whalen, plump, dark, voluble; Sally, lean, swarthy,
vindictive; Flossie, pudgy, powdered, over-dressed. They
eyed me hungrily. I felt that they were searching my
features for signs of incipient insanity.
"Dear, DEAR girl!" bubbled the billowy Flossie,
kissing the end of my nose and fastening her eye on my
ringless left hand.
Sally contented herself with a limp and fishy
handshake. She and I were sworn enemies in our
school-girl days, and a baleful gleam still lurked in
Sally's eye. Mrs. Whalen bestowed on me a motherly hug
that enveloped me in an atmosphere of liquid face-wash,
strong perfumery and fried lard. Mrs. Whalen is a famous
cook. Said she:
"We've been thinking of calling ever since you were
brought home, but dear me! you've been looking so poorly
I just said to the girls, wait till the poor thing feels
more like seeing her old friends. Tell me, how are you
The three sat forward in their chairs in attitudes of
I resolved that if err I must it should be on the
side of safety. I turned to sister Norah.
"How am I feeling anyway, Norah?" I guardedly
Norah's face was a study. "Why Dawn dear," she said,
sugar-sweet, "no doubt you know better than I. But I'm
sure that you are wonderfully improved--almost your old
self, in fact. Don't you think she looks splendid, Mrs.
The three Whalens tore their gaze from my blank
countenance to exchange a series of meaning looks.
"I suppose," purred Mrs. Whalen, " that your awful
trouble was the real cause of your--a-a-a-sickness,
worrying about it and grieving as you must have."
She pronounces it with a capital T, and I know she
means Peter. I hate her for it.
"Trouble!" I chirped. "Trouble never troubles me.
I just worked too hard, that's all, and acquired an awful
`tired.' All work and no play makes Jill a nervous
wreck, you know."
At that the elephantine Flossie wagged a playful
finger at me. "Oh, now, you can't make us believe that,
just because we're from the country! We know all about
you gay New Yorkers, with your Bohemian ways and your
midnight studio suppers, and your cigarettes, and
cocktails and high jinks!"
Memory painted a swift mental picture of Dawn O'Hara
as she used to tumble into bed after a whirlwind day at
the office, too dog-tired to give her hair even one half
of the prescribed one hundred strokes of the brush. But
in turn I shook a reproving forefinger at Flossie.
"You've been reading some naughty society novel! One
of those millionaire-divorce-actress-automobile novels.
Dear, dear! Shall I, ever forget the first New York
actress I ever met; or what she said!"
I felt, more than saw, a warning movement from Sis.
But the three Whalens had hitched forward in their
"What did she say?" gurgled Flossie. "Was it
something real reezk?"
"Well, it was at a late supper--a studio supper given
in her honor," I confessed.
"Yes-s-s-s " hissed the Whalens.
"And this actress--she was one of those musical
comedy actresses, you know; I remember her part called
for a good deal of kicking about in a short Dutch
costume--came in rather late, after the performance. She
was wearing a regal-looking fur-edged evening wrap, and
she still wore all her make-up"--out of the corner of my
eye I saw Sis sink back with an air of resignation--"and
she threw open the door and said--
"Yes-s-s-s! " hissed the Whalens again, wetting their
"--said: `Folks, I just had a wire from mother, up
in Maine. The boy has the croup. I'm scared green. I
hate to spoil the party, but don't ask me to stay. I
want to go home to the flat and blubber. I didn't even
stop to take my make-up off. My God! If anything should
happen to the boy!--Well, have a good time without me.
Jim's waiting outside.'" A silence.
Then--"Who was Jim?" asked Flossie, hopefully.
"Jim was her husband, of course. He was in the same
"Is that all?" demanded Sally from the corner in
which she had been glowering.
"All! You unnatural girl! Isn't one husband
Mrs. Whalen smiled an uncertain, wavering smile.
There passed among the three a series of cabalistic
signs. They rose simultaneously.
"How quaint you are!" exclaimed Mrs. Whalen, "and so
amusing! Come girls, we mustn't tire Miss--ah--Mrs.--
er--"with another meaning look at my bare left hand.
"My husband's name is still Orme," I prompted, quite,
"Oh, certainly. I'm so forgetful. And one reads
such queer things in the newspapers nowa-days. Divorces,
and separations, and soul-mates and things." There was
a note of gentle insinuation in her voice.
Norah stepped firmly into the fray. "Yes, doesn't
one? What a comfort it must be to you to know that your
dear girls are safe at home with you, and no doubt will
be secure, for years to come, from the buffeting winds of
There was a tinge of purple in Mrs. Whalen's face as
she moved toward the door, gathering her brood about her.
"Now that dear Dawn is almost normal again I shall send
my little girlies over real often. She must find it very
dull here after her--ah--life in New York."
"Not at all," I said, hurriedly, "not at all. You
see I'm--I'm writing a book. My entire day is occupied."
"A book!" screeched the three. "How interesting! What
is it? When will it be published?"
I avoided Norah's baleful eye as I answered their
questions and performed the final adieux.
As the door closed, Norah and I faced each other,
"Hussies!" hissed Norah. Whereupon it struck us
funny and we fell, a shrieking heap, into the nearest
chair. Finally Sis dabbed at her eyes with her
handkerchief, drew a long breath, and asked, with
elaborate sarcasm, why I hadn't made it a play instead of
a book, while I was about it.
"But I mean it," I declared. "I've had enough of
loafing. Max must unpack my typewriter to-night. I'm
homesick for a look at the keys. And to-morrow I'm to be
installed in the cubbyhole off the dining-room and I defy
any one to enter it on peril of their lives. If you
value the lives of your offspring, warn them away from
that door. Von Gerhard said that there was writing in my
system, and by the Great Horn Spoon and the Beard of the
Prophet, I'll have it out! Besides, I need the money.
Norah dear, how does one set about writing a book? It
seems like such a large order."
DAWN DEVELOPS A HEIMWEH
It's hard trying to develop into a real Writer Lady in
the bosom of one's family, especially when the family
refuses to take one seriously. Seven years of newspaper
grind have taught me the fallacy of trying to write by
the inspiration method. But there is such a thing as a
train of thought, and mine is constantly being derailed,
and wrecked and pitched about.
Scarcely am I settled in my cubby-hole, typewriter
before me, the working plan of a story buzzing about in
my brain, when I hear my name called in muffled tones, as
though the speaker were laboring with a mouthful of
hairpins. I pay no attention. I have just given my
heroine a pair of calm gray eyes, shaded with black
lashes and hair to match. A voice floats down from the
"Dawn! Oh, Dawn! Just run and rescue the cucumbers
out of the top of the ice-box, will you? The iceman's
coming, and he'll squash 'em."
A parting jab at my heroine's hair and eyes, and I'm
off to save the cucumbers.
Back at my typewriter once more. Shall I make my
heroine petite or grande? I decide that stateliness
and Gibsonesque height should accompany the calm gray
eyes. I rattle away happily, the plot unfolding itself
in some mysterious way. Sis opens the door a little and
peers in. She is dressed for the street.
"Dawn dear, I'm going to the dressmaker's. Frieda's
upstairs cleaning the bathroom, so take a little squint
at the roast now and then, will you? See that it doesn't
burn, and that there's plenty of gravy. Oh, and Dawn--
tell the milkman we want an extra half-pint of cream
to-day. The tickets are on the kitchen shelf, back of
the clock. I'll be back in an hour."
"Mhmph," I reply.
Sis shuts the door, but opens it again almost
"Don't let the Infants bother you. But if Frieda's
upstairs and they come to you for something to eat, don't
let them have any cookies before dinner. If they're
really hungry they'll eat bread and butter."
I promise, dreamily, my last typewritten sentence
still running through my head. The gravy seems to have
got into the heroine's calm gray eyes. What heroine
could remain calm-eyed when her creator's mind is filled
with roast beef? A half-hour elapses before I get back
on the track. Then appears the hero--a tall blond youth,
fair to behold. I make him two yards high, and endow him
with a pair of clothing-advertisement shoulders.
There assails my nostrils a fearful smell of
scorching. The roast! A wild rush into the kitchen. I
fling open the oven door. The roast is mahogany-colored,
and gravyless. It takes fifteen minutes of the most
desperate first-aid-to-the-injured measures before the
roast is revived.
Back to the writing. It has lost its charm. The
gray-eyed heroine is a stick; she moves like an Indian
lady outside a cigar shop. The hero is a milk-and-water
sissy, without a vital spark in him. What's the use of
trying to write, anyway? Nobody wants my stuff. Good
for nothing except dubbing on a newspaper!
Rap! Rap! Rappity-rap-rap! Bing! Milk!
I dash into the kitchen. No milk! No milkman! I
fly to the door. He is disappearing around the corner of
"Hi! Mr. Milkman! Say, Mr. Milkman!" with frantic
He turns. He lifts up his voice. "The screen door
was locked so I left youse yer milk on top of
the ice-box on the back porch. Thought like the hired
girl was upstairs an' I could git the tickets to-morra."
I explain about the cream, adding that it is wanted
for short-cake. The explanation does not seem to cheer
him. He appears to be a very gloomy and reserved
milkman. I fancy that he is in the habit of indulging in
a little airy persiflage with Frieda o' mornings, and he
finds me a poor substitute for her red-cheeked
The milk safely stowed away in the ice-box, I have
another look at the roast. I am dipping up spoonfuls of
brown gravy and pouring them over the surface of the
roast in approved basting style, when there is a rush, a
scramble, and two hard bodies precipitate themselves upon
my legs so suddenly that for a moment my head pitches
forward into the oven. I withdraw my head from the oven,
hastily. The basting spoon is immersed in the bottom of
the pan. I turn, indignant. The Spalpeens look up at me
with innocent eyes.
"You little divils, what do you mean by shoving your
old aunt into the oven! It's cannibals you are!"
The idea pleases them. They release my legs
and execute a savage war dance around me. The Spalpeens
are firm in the belief that I was brought to their home
for their sole amusement, and they refuse to take me
seriously. The Spalpeens themselves are two of the
finest examples of real humor that ever were perpetrated
upon parents. Sheila is the first-born. Norah decided
that she should be an Irish beauty, and bestowed upon her
a name that reeks of the bogs. Whereupon Sheila, at the
age of six, is as flaxen-haired and blue-eyed and stolid
a little German madchen as ever fooled her parents, and
she is a feminine reproduction of her German Dad. Two
years later came a sturdy boy, and they named him Hans,
in a flaunt of defiance. Hans is black-haired, gray-eyed
and Irish as Killarny.
"We're awful hungry," announces Sheila.
"Can't you wait until dinner time? Such a grand
Sheila and Hans roll their eyes to convey to me that,
were they to wait until dinner for sustenance we should
find but their lifeless forms.
"Well then, Auntie will get a nice piece of bread and
butter for each of you."
"Don't want bread an' butty!" shrieks Hans. "Want
"Cooky!" echoes Sheila, pounding on the kitchen table
with the rescued basting spoon.
"You can't have cookies before dinner. They're bad
for your insides."
"Can too," disputes Hans. "Fwieda dives us tookies.
Want tooky!" wailingly.
"Please, ple-e-e-ease, Auntie Dawnie dearie,"
wheedles Sheila, wriggling her soft little fingers in my
"But Mother never lets you have cookies before
dinner," I retort severely. "She knows they are bad for
"Pooh, she does too! She always says, `No, not a
cooky!' And then we beg and screech, and then she says,
`Oh, for pity's sake, Frieda, give 'em a cooky and send
'em out. One cooky can't kill 'em.'" Sheila's imitation
Hans catches the word screech and takes it as his
cue. He begins a series of ear-piercing wails. Sheila
surveys him with pride and then takes the wail up in a
minor key. Their teamwork is marvelous. I fly to the
cooky jar and extract two round and sugary confections.
I thrust them into the pink, eager palms. The wails
cease. Solemnly they place one cooky atop the other,
measuring the circlets with grave eyes.
"Mine's a weeny bit bigger'n yours this time,"
decides Sheila, and holds her cooky heroically while Hans
takes a just and lawful bite out of his sister's larger
"The blessed little angels! " I say to myself,
melting. "The dear, unselfish little sweeties!" and give
each of them another cooky.
Back to my typewriter. But the words flatly refuse
to come now. I make six false starts, bite all my best
finger-nails, screw my hair into a wilderness of
cork-screws and give it up. No doubt a real Lady Writer
could write on, unruffled and unhearing, while the iceman
squashed the cucumbers, and the roast burned to a
frazzle, and the Spalpeens perished of hunger. Possessed
of the real spark of genius, trivialities like milkmen
and cucumbers could not dim its glow. Perhaps all
successful Lady Writers with real live sparks have cooks
and scullery maids, and need not worry about basting, and
gravy, and milkmen.
This book writing is all very well for those who have
a large faith in the future and an equally large bank
account. But my future will have to be hand-carved, and
my bank account has always been an all too small pay
envelope at the end of each week. It will be months
before the book is shaped and finished. And my
pocketbook is empty. Last week Max sent money for the
care of Peter. He and Norah think that I do not know.
Von Gerhard was here in August. I told him
that all my firm resolutions to forsake newspaperdom
forever were slipping away, one by one.
"I have heard of the fascination of the newspaper
office," he said, in his understanding way. "I believe
you have a heimweh for it, not?"
"Heimweh! That's the word," I had agreed. "After
you have been a newspaper writer for seven years--and
loved it--you will be a newspaper writer, at heart and by
instinct at least, until you die. There's no getting
away from it. It's in the blood. Newspaper men have
been known to inherit fortunes, to enter politics, to
write books and become famous, to degenerate into press
agents and become infamous, to blossom into personages,
to sink into nonentities, but their news-nose remained a
part of them, and the inky, smoky, stuffy smell of a
newspaper office was ever sweet in their nostrils."
But, "Not yet," Von Gerhard had said, "It unless you
want to have again this miserable business of the sick
nerfs. Wait yet a few months."
And so I have waited, saying nothing to Norah and
Max. But I want to be in the midst of things. I miss
the sensation of having my fingers at the pulse of the
big old world. I'm lonely for the noise and the rush and
the hard work; for a glimpse of the busy local room just
before press time, when the lights are swimming in a smoky
haze, and the big presses downstairs are thundering their
warning to hurry, and the men are breezing in from their
runs with the grist of news that will be ground finer and
finer as it passes through the mill of copy-readers' and
editors' hands. I want to be there in the thick of the
confusion that is, after all, so orderly. I want to be
there when the telephone bells are zinging, and the
typewriters are snapping, and the messenger boys are
shuffling in and out, and the office kids are scuffling
in a corner, and the big city editor, collar off, sleeves
rolled up from his great arms, hair bristling wildly
above his green eye-shade, is swearing gently and smoking
cigarette after cigarette, lighting each fresh one at the
dying glow of the last. I would give a year of my life
to hear him say:
"I don't mind tellin' you, Beatrice Fairfax, that
that was a darn good story you got on the Millhaupt
divorce. The other fellows haven't a word that isn't
All of which is most unwomanly; for is not marriage
woman's highest aim, and home her true sphere? Haven't
I tried both? I ought to know. I merely have been
miscast in this life's drama. My part should have been
that of one who makes her way alone. Peter, with his thin,
cruel lips, and his shaking hands, and his haggard face
and his smoldering eyes, is a shadow forever blotting out
the sunny places in my path. I was meant to be an old
maid, like the terrible old Kitty O'Hara. Not one of the
tatting-and-tea kind, but an impressive, bustling old
girl, with a double chin. The sharp-tongued Kitty O'Hara
used to say that being an old maid was a great deal like
death by drowning--a really delightful sensation when you
Norah has pleaded with me to be more like other women
of my age, and for her sake I've tried. She has led me
about to bridge parties and tea fights, and I have tried
to act as though I were enjoying it all, but I knew that
I wasn't getting on a bit. I have come to the conclusion
that one year of newspapering counts for two years of
ordinary, existence, and that while I'm twenty-eight in
the family Bible I'm fully forty inside. When one day
may bring under one's pen a priest, a pauper, a
prostitute, a philanthropist, each with a story to tell,
and each requiring to be bullied, or cajoled, or bribed,
or threatened, or tricked into telling it; then the end
of that day's work finds one looking out at the world
with eyes that are very tired and as old as the world
I'm spoiled for sewing bees and church sociables and
afternoon bridges. A hunger for the city is upon me.
The long, lazy summer days have slipped by. There is an
autumn tang in the air. The breeze has a touch that is
Winter in a little northern town! I should go mad.
But winter in the city! The streets at dusk on a frosty
evening; the shop windows arranged by artist hands for
the beauty-loving eyes of women; the rows of lights like
jewels strung on an invisible chain; the glitter of brass
and enamel as the endless procession of motors flashes
past; the smartly-gowned women; the keen-eyed, nervous
men; the shrill note of the crossing policeman's whistle;
every smoke-grimed wall and pillar taking on a mysterious
shadowy beauty in the purple dusk, every unsightly blot
obscured by the kindly night. But best of all, the
fascination of the People I'd Like to Know. They pop up
now and then in the shifting crowds, and are gone the
next moment, leaving behind them a vague regret.
Sometimes I call them the People I'd Like to Know and
sometimes I call them the People I Know I'd Like, but it
means much the same. Their faces flash by in the crowd,
and are gone, but I recognize them instantly as belonging
to my beloved circle of unknown friends.
Once it was a girl opposite me in a car--a girl with
a wide, humorous mouth, and tragic eyes, and a hole in
her shoe. Once it was a big, homely, red-headed giant of
a man with an engineering magazine sticking out of his
coat pocket. He was standing at a book counter reading
Dickens like a schoolboy and laughing in all the right
places, I know, because I peaked over his shoulder to
see. Another time it was a sprightly little, grizzled
old woman, staring into a dazzling shop window in which
was displayed a wonderful collection of fashionably
impossible hats and gowns. She was dressed all in rusty
black, was the little old lady, and she had a quaint cast
in her left eye that gave her the oddest, most sporting
look. The cast was working overtime as she gazed at the
gowns, and the ridiculous old sprigs on her rusty black
bonnet trembled with her silent mirth. She looked like
one of those clever, epigrammatic, dowdy old duchesses
that one reads about in English novels. I'm sure she had
cardamon seeds in her shabby bag, and a carriage with a
crest on it waiting for her just around the corner. I
ached to slip my hand through her arm and ask her what
she thought of it all. I know that her reply would have
been exquisitely witty and audacious, and I did so long
to hear her say it.
No doubt some good angel tugs at my common sense,
restraining me from doing these things that I am tempted
to do. Of course it would be madness for a woman to
address unknown red-headed men with the look of an
engineer about them and a book of Dickens in their hands;
or perky old women with nutcracker faces; or girls with
wide humorous mouths. Oh, it couldn't be done, I
suppose. They would clap me in a padded cell in no time
if I were to say:
"Mister Red-headed Man, I'm so glad your heart is
young enough for Dickens. I love him too--enough to read
him standing at a book counter in a busy shop. And do
you know, I like the squareness of your jaw, and the way
your eyes crinkle up when you laugh; and as for your
being an engineer--why one of the very first men I ever
loved was the engineer in `Soldiers of Fortune.'"
I wonder what the girl in the car would have said if
I had crossed over to her, and put my hand on her arm and
"Girl with the wide, humorous mouth, and the tragic
eyes, and the hole in your shoe, I think you must be an
awfully good sort. I'll wager you paint, or write, or act,
or do something clever like that for a living. But from
that hole in your shoe which you have inked so carefully,
although it persists in showing white at the seams, I
fancy you are stumbling over a rather stony bit of Life's
road just now. And from the look in your eyes, girl, I'm
afraid the stones have cut and bruised rather cruelly.
But when I look at your smiling, humorous mouth I know
that you are trying to laugh at the hurts. I think that
this morning, when you inked your shoe for the dozenth
time, you hesitated between tears and laughter, and the
laugh won, thank God! Please keep right on laughing, and
don't you dare stop for a minute! Because pretty soon
you'll come to a smooth easy place, and then won't you be
glad that you didn't give up to lie down by the roadside,
weary of your hurts?"
Oh, it would never do. Never. And yet no charm
possessed by the people I know and like can compare with
the fascination of those People I'd Like to Know, and
Know I Would Like.
Here at home with Norah there are no faces in the
crowds. There are no crowds. When you turn the corner
at Main street you are quite sure that you will see the
same people in the same places. You know that Mamie
Hayes will be flapping her duster just outside the door
of the jewelry store where she clerks. She gazes up and
down Main street as she flaps the cloth, her bright eyes
keeping a sharp watch for stray traveling men that may
chance to be passing. You know that there will be the
same lounging group of white-faced, vacant-eyed youths
outside the pool-room. Dr. Briggs's patient runabout
will be standing at his office doorway. Outside his
butcher shop Assemblyman Schenck will be holding forth on
the subject of county politics to a group of red-faced,
badly dressed, prosperous looking farmers and townsmen,
and as he talks the circle of brown tobacco juice which
surrounds the group closes in upon them, nearer and
nearer. And there, in a roomy chair in a corner of the
public library reference room, facing the big front
window, you will see Old Man Randall. His white hair
forms a halo above his pitiful drink-marred face. He was
to have been a great lawyer, was Old Man Randall. But on
the road to fame he met Drink, and she grasped his arm,
and led him down by-ways, and into crooked lanes, and
finally into ditches, and he never arrived at his goal.
There in that library window nook it is cool in summer,
and warm in winter. So he sits and dreams, holding an
open volume, unread, on his knees. Some times he writes,
hunched up in his corner, feverishly scribbling at
ridiculous plays, short stories, and novels
which later he will insist on reading to the tittering
schoolboys and girls who come into the library to do
their courting and reference work. Presently, when it
grows dusk, Old Man Randall will put away his book, throw
his coat over his shoulders, sleeves dangling, flowing
white locks sweeping the frayed velvet collar. He will
march out with his soldierly tread, humming a bit of a
tune, down the street and into Vandermeister's saloon,
where he will beg a drink and a lunch, and some man will
give it to him for the sake of what Old Man Randall might
All these things you know. And knowing them, what is
left for the imagination? How can one dream dreams about
people when one knows how much they pay their hired girl,
and what they have for dinner on Wednesdays?
THE ABSURD BECOMES SERIOUS
I can understand the emotions of a broken-down war horse
that is hitched to a vegetable wagon. I am going to
Milwaukee to work! It is a thing to make the gods hold
their sides and roll down from their mountain peaks with
laughter. After New York--Milwaukee!
Of course Von Gerhard is to blame. But I think even
he sees the humor of it. It happened in this way, on a
day when I was indulging in a particularly
greenery-yallery fit of gloom. Norah rushed into my
room. I think I was mooning over some old papers, or
letters, or ribbons, or some such truck in the charming,
knife-turning way that women have when they are blue.
"Out wid yez!" cried Norah. "On with your hat and
coat! I've just had a wire from Ernst von Gerhard. He's
coming, and you look like an under-done dill pickle. You
aren't half as blooming as when he was here in August,
and this is October. Get out and walk until your cheeks
are so red that Von Gerhard will refuse to believe that
this fiery-faced puffing, bouncing creature is the green
and limp thing that huddled in a chair a few months ago.
Out ye go!"
And out I went. Hatless, I strode countrywards,
leaving paved streets and concrete walks far behind.
There were drifts of fallen leaves all about, and I
scuffled through them drearily, trying to feel gloomy,
and old, and useless, and failing because of the tang in
the air, and the red-and-gold wonder of the frost-kissed
leaves, and the regular pump-pump of good red blood that
was coursing through my body as per Norah's request.
In a field at the edge of the town, just where city
and country begin to have a bowing acquaintance, the
college boys were at football practice. Their scarlet
sweaters made gay patches of color against the dull
gray-brown of the autumn grass.
"Seven-eighteen-two-four!" called a voice. There
followed a scuffle, a creaking of leather on leather, a
thud. I watched them, a bit enviously, walking backwards
until a twist in the road hid them from view. That same
twist transformed my path into a real country road--
a brown, dusty, monotonous Michigan country road that
went severely about its business, never once stopping to
flirt with the blushing autumn woodland at its left, or
to dally with the dimpling ravine at its right.
"Now if that were an English country road," thought
I, "a sociably inclined, happy-go-lucky, out-for-pleasure
English country road, one might expect something of it.
On an English country road this would be the
psychological moment for the appearance of a blond god,
in gray tweed. What a delightful time of it Richard Le
Gallienne's hero had on his quest! He could not stroll
down the most innocent looking lane, he might not loiter
along the most out-of-the-way path, he never ambled over
the barest piece of country road, that he did not come
face to face with some witty and lovely woman creature,
also in search of things unconventional, and able to
quote charming lines from Chaucer to him."
Ah, but that was England, and this is America. I
realize it sadly as I step out of the road to allow a
yellow milk wagon to rattle past. The red letters on the
yellow milk cart inform the reader that it is the
property of August Schimmelpfennig, of Hickory Grove.
The Schimmelpfennig eye may be seen staring down upon me
from the bit of glass in the rear as the cart rattles
ahead, doubtless being suspicious of hatless
young women wandering along country roads at dusk, alone.
There was that in the staring eye to which I took
exception. It wore an expression which made me feel sure
that the mouth below it was all a-grin, if I could but
have seen it. It was bad enough to be stared at by the
fishy Schimmelpfennig eye, but to be grinned at by the
Schimmelpfennig mouth!--I resented it. In order to show
my resentment I turned my back on the Schimmelpfennig
cart and pretended to look up the road which I had just
I pretended to look up the road, and then I did look
in earnest. No wonder the Schimmelpfennig eye and mouth
had worn the leering expression. The blond god in gray
tweed was swinging along toward me! I knew that he was
blond because he wore no hat and the last rays of the
October sun were making a little halo effect about his
head. I knew that his-gray clothes were tweed because
every well regulated hero on a country road wears tweed.
It's almost a religion with them. He was not near enough
to make a glance at his features possible. I turned
around and continued my walk. The yellow cart, with its
impudent Schimmelpfennig leer, was disappearing in a
cloud of dust. Shades of the "Duchess" and Bertha M. Clay!
How does one greet a blond god in gray tweed on a country
road, when one has him!
The blond god solved the problem for me.
"Hi!" he called. I did not turn. There was a
moment's silence. Then there came a shrill, insistent
whistle, of the kind that is made by placing four fingers
between the teeth. It is a favorite with the gallery
gods. I would not have believed that gray tweed gods
stooped to it.
"Hi!" called the voice again, very near now.
"Lieber Gott! Never have I seen so proud a young woman!"
I whirled about to face Von Gerhard; a strangely
boyish and unprofessional looking Von Gerhard.
"Young man," I said severely, "have you been
a-follerin' of me?"
"For miles," groaned he, as we shook hands. You walk
like a grenadier. I am sent by the charming Norah to
tell you that you are to come home to mix the salad
dressing, for there is company for supper. I am the
I was still a bit dazed. "But how did you know which
road to take? And when--"
"Wunderbar, nicht wahr?" laughed Von Gerhard. "But
really quite simple. I come in on an earlier train than
I had expected, chat a moment with sister Norah, inquire
after the health of my patient, and am told that she is
running away from a horde of blue devils!--quote your
charming sister--that have swarmed about her all day. What
direction did her flight take? I ask. Sister Norah shrugs
her shoulders and presumes that it is the road which shows
the reddest and yellowest autumn colors. That road will
be your road. So!"
"Pooh! How simple! That is the second`disappointment
you have given me to-day."
"But how is that possible? The first has not had
time to happen."
"The first was yourself," I replied, rudely.
"I had been longing for an adventure. And when I saw
you 'way up the road, such an unusual figure for our
Michigan country roads, I forgot that I was a
disappointed old grass widder with a history, and I grew
young again, and my heart jumped up into my throat, and
I sez to mesilf, sez I: `Enter the hero!' And it was
Von Gerhard stared a moment, a curious look on his
face. Then he laughed one of those rare laughs of his,
and I joined him because I was strangely young, light,
and happy to be alive.
"You walk and enjoy walking, yes?" asked Von Gerhard,
scanning my face. "Your cheeks they are like--well, as
unlike the cheeks of the German girls as Diana's are
unlike a dairy maid's. And the nerfs? They no longer
"Oh, they jump, but not with weariness. They jump to
get into action again. From a life of too much
excitement I have gone to the other extreme. I shall be
dead of ennui in another six months."
"Ennui?" mused he, "and you are--how is it?--
twenty-eight years, yes? H'm!"
There was a world of exasperation in the last
"I am a thousand years old," it made me exclaim, "a
"I will prove to you that you are sixteen," declared
Von Gerhard, calmly.
We had come to a fork in the road. At the right the
narrower road ran between two rows of great maples that
made an arch of golden splendor. The frost had kissed
them into a gorgeous radiance.
"Sunshine Avenue," announced Von Gerhard. "It
beckons us away from home, and supper and salad dressing
and duty, but who knows what we shall find at the end of
"Let's explore," I suggested. "It is splendidly
golden enough to be enchanted."
We entered the yellow canopied pathway.
"Let us pretend this is Germany, yes?" pleaded Von
Gerhard. "This golden pathway will end in a neat little
glass-roofed restaurant, with tables and chairs outside,
and comfortable German papas and mammas and pig-tailed
children sitting at the tables, drinking coffee or beer.
There will be stout waiters, and a red-faced host. And
we will seat ourselves at one of the tables, and I will
wave my hand, and one of the stout waiters will come
flying. `Will you have coffee, _Fraulein_, or beer?' It
sounds prosaic, but it is very, very good, as you will
see. Pathways in Germany always end in coffee and Kuchen
and waiters in white aprons."
But, "Oh, no!" I exclaimed, for his mood was
infectious. "This is France. Please! The golden
pathway will end in a picturesque little French farm,
with a dairy. And in the doorway of the farmhouse there
will be a red-skirted peasant woman, with a white cap!
and a baby on her arm! and sabots! Oh, surely she will
"Most certainly she will wear sabots," Von Gerhard
said, heatedly, "and blue knitted stockings. And the
baby's name is Mimi!
We had taken hands and were skipping down the pathway
now, like two excited children.
"Let's run," I suggested. And run we did, like two
mad creatures, until we rounded a gentle curve and
brought up, panting, within a foot of a decrepit rail
fence. The rail fence enclosed a stubbly, lumpy field.
The field was inhabited by an inquiring cow. Von Gerhard
and I stood quite still, hand in hand, gazing at the cow.
Then we turned slowly and looked at each other.
"This pathway of glorified maples ends in a cow," I
said, solemnly. At which we both shrieked with mirth,
leaning on the decrepit fence and mopping our eyes with
"Did I not say you were sixteen?" taunted Von
Gerhard. We were getting surprisingly well acquainted.
"Such a scolding as we shall get! It will be quite
dark before we are home. Norah will be tearing her
It was a true prophecy. As we stampeded up the steps
the door was flung open, disclosing a tragic figure.
"Such a steak!" wailed Norah, " and it has been done
for hours and hours, and now it looks like a piece of fried
ear. Where have you two driveling idiots been? And
"She means that the ruined steak was further enhanced
by mushrooms," I explained in response to Von Gerhard's
bewildered look. We marched into the house, trying not
to appear like sneak thieves. Max, pipe in mouth,
surveyed us blandly.
"Fine color you've got, Dawn," he remarked.
"There is such a thing as overdoing this health
business," snapped Norah, with a great deal of acidity
for her. "I didn't tell you to make them purple, you
Max turned to Von Gerhard. "Now what does she mean
by that do you suppose, eh Ernst?"
"Softly, brother, softly!" whispered Von Gerhard.
"When women exchange remarks that apparently are simple,
and yet that you, a man, cannot understand, then know
there is a woman's war going on, and step softly, and
hold your peace. Aber ruhig!"
Calm was restored with the appearance of the steak,
which was found to have survived the period of waiting,
and to be incredibly juicy and tender. Presently we
were all settled once more in the great beamed living
room, Sis at the piano, the two men smoking their
after-dinner cigars with that idiotic expression of
contentment which always adorns the masculine face on
I looked at them--at those three who had done so much
for my happiness and well being, and something within me
said: "Now! Speak now!" Norah was playing very softly,
so that the Spalpeens upstairs might not be disturbed.
I took a long breath and made the plunge.
"Norah, if you'll continue the slow music, I'll be
much obliged. `The time has come, the Walrus said, to
talk of many things.'"
"Don't be absurd," said Norah, over her shoulder, and
went on playing.
"I never was more serious in my life, good folkses
all. I've got to be. This butterfly existence has gone
on long enough. Norah, and Max, and Mr. Doctor Man, I am
Norah's hands crashed down on the piano keys with a
jangling discord. She swung about to face me.
"Not New York again, Dawn! Not New York!"
"I am afraid so," I answered.
Max--bless his great, brotherly heart-- rose and came
over to me and put a hand on my shoulder.
"Don't you like it here, girlie? Want to be hauled
home on a shutter again, do you? You know that as long
as we have a home, you have one. We need you here."
But I shook my head. From his chair at the other
side of the room I could feel Von Gerhard's gaze fixed
upon us. He had said nothing.
"Need me! No one needs me. Don't worry; I'm not
going to become maudlin about it. But I don't belong
here, and you know, it. I have my work to do. Norah is
the best sister that a woman ever had. And Max, you're
an angel brother-in-law. But how can I stay on here and
keep my self-respect?" I took Max's big hand in mine and
gathered courage from it.
"But you have been working," wailed Norah, "every
morning. And I thought the book was coming on
beautifully. And I'm sure it will be a wonderful book,
Dawn dear. You are so clever."
"Oh, the book--it is too uncertain. Perhaps it will
go, but perhaps it won't. And then--what? It will be
months before the book is properly polished off. And
then I may peddle it around for more months. No; I can't
afford to trifle with uncertainties. Every newspaper man
or woman writes a book. It's like having the measles.
There is not a newspaper man living who does not believe,
in his heart, that if he could only take a month or two
away from the telegraph desk or the police run, he could
write the book of the year, not to speak of the great
American Play. Why, just look at me! I've only been
writing`seriously for a few weeks, and already the best
magazines in the country are refusing my manuscripts daily."
"Don't joke," said Norah, coming over to me, "I can't
"Why not? Much better than weeping, isn't it? And
anyway, I'm no subject for tears any more. Dr. von
Gerhard will tell you how well and strong I am. Won't
you, Herr Doktor?"
Well," said Von Gerhard, in his careful, deliberate
English, "since you ask me, I should say that you might
last about one year, in New York."
"There! What did I tell you!" cried Norah.
"What utter blither!" I scoffed, turning to glare at
"Gently," warned Max. "Such disrespect to the man
who pulled you back from the edge of the yawning grave
only six months ago!"
"Yawning fiddlesticks!" snapped I, elegantly. "There
was nothing wrong with me except that I wanted to be
fussed over. And I have been. And I've loved it. But
it must stop now." I rose and walked over to the table
and faced Von Gerhard, sitting there in the depths of a
great chair. "You do not seem to realize that I am not
free to come and go, and work and play, and laugh and
live like other women. There is my living to make. And
there is--Peter Orme. Do you think that I could stay on
here like this? Oh, I know that Max is not a poor man.
But he is not a rich man, either. And there are the
children to be educated, and besides, Max married Norah
O'Hara, not the whole O'Hara tribe. I want to go to
work. I am not a free woman, but when I am working, I
forget, and am almost, happy. I tell you I must be well
again! I will be well! I am well!"
At the end of which dramatic period I spoiled the
whole effect by bowing my head on the table and giving
way to a fit of weeping such as I had not had since the
days of my illness.
"Looks like it," said Max, at which I decided to
laugh, and the situation was saved.
It was then that Von Gerhard proposed the thing that
set us staring at him in amused wonder. He came over and
stood looking down at us, his hands outspread upon the
big library table, his body bent forward in an attitude
of eager intentness. I remember thinking what wonderful
hands they were, true indexes of the man's character;
broad, white, surgeonly hands; the fingers almost square
at the tips. They were hands as different from those
slender, nervous, unsteady, womanly hands of Peter Orme
as any hands could be, I thought. They were hands made
for work that called for delicate strength, if such a
paradox could be; hands to cling to; to gain courage
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