Dawn O'Hara, The Girl Who Laughed
Part 3 out of 5
such a dress--so sly they are, those fastenings."
When all the sly fastenings were secure I stood at
"Nose is shiny," I announced, searching in a drawer
for chamois and powder.
Frau Nirlanger raised an objecting hand. "But Konrad
does not approve of such things. He has said so. He
"You tell your Konrad that a chamois skin isn't half
as objectionable as a shiny one. Come here and let me
dust this over your nose and chin, while I breathe a
prayer of thanks that I have no overzealous husband near
to forbid me the use of a bit of powder. There! If I
sez it mesilf as shouldn't, yez ar-r-re a credit t' me,
"You are satisfied. There is not one small thing
awry? Ach, how we shall laugh at Konrad's face."
"Satisfied! I'd kiss you if I weren't afraid that I
should muss you up. You're not the same woman. You look
like a girl! And so pretty! Now skedaddle into your own
rooms, but don't you dare to sit down for a moment. I'm
going down to get Frau Knapf before your husband
"But is there then time?" inquired Frau Nirlanger.
"He should be here now."
"I'll bring her up in a jiffy, just for one peep.
She won't know you! Her face will be a treat! Don't
touch your hair--it's quite perfect. And f'r Jawn's
sake! Don't twist around to look at yourself in the back
or something will burst, I know it will. I'll be back in
a minute. Now run!"
The slender, graceful figure disappeared with a gay
little laugh, and I flew downstairs for Frau Knapf. She
was discovered with a spoon in one hand and a spluttering
saucepan in the other. I detached her from them, clasped
her big, capable red hands and dragged her up the stairs,
explaining as I went.
"Now don't fuss about that supper! Let 'em wait.
You must see her before Herr Nirlanger comes home. He's
due any minute. She looks like a girl. So young! And
actually pretty! And her figure--divine! Funny what a
difference a decent pair of corsets, and a gown, and some
puffs will make, h'm?"
Frau Knapf was panting as I pulled her after me in
swift eagerness. Between puffs she brought out
exclamations of surprise and unbelief such as:
"Unmoglich! (Puff! Puff!) Aber--wunderbar! (Puff!
We stopped before Frau Nirlanger's door. I struck a
dramatic pose. "Prepare!" I cried grandly, and threw
open the door with a bang.
Crouched against the wall at a far corner of the room
was Frau Nirlanger. Her hands were clasped over her
breast and her eyes were dilated as though she had been
running. In the center of the room stood Konrad
Nirlanger, and on his oogly face was the very oogliest
look that I have ever seen on a man. He glanced at us as
we stood transfixed in the doorway, and laughed a short,
sneering laugh that was like a stinging blow on the
"So!" he said; and I would not have believed that men
really said "So!" in that way outside of a melodrama.
"So! You are in the little surprise, yes? You carry
your meddling outside of your newspaper work, eh? I
leave behind me an old wife in the morning and in the
evening, presto! I find a young bride. Wonderful!--
but wonderful!" He laughed an unmusical and mirthless
"But--don't you like it?" I asked, like a simpleton.
Frau Nirlanger seemed to shrink before our very eyes,
so that the pretty gown hung in limp folds about her.
I stared, fascinated, at Konrad Nirlanger's cruel
face with its little eyes that were too close together
and its chin that curved in below the mouth and out again
"Like it?" sneered Konrad Nirlanger. "For a young
girl, yes. But how useless, this belated trousseau.
What a waste of good money! For see, a young wife I do
not want. Young women one can have in plenty, always.
But I have an old woman married, and for an old woman the
gowns need be few--eh, Frau Orme? And you too, Frau
Frau Knapf, crimson and staring, was dumb. There
came a little shivering moan from the figure crouched in
the corner, and Frau Nirlanger, her face queerly withered
and ashen, crumpled slowly in a little heap on the floor
and buried her shamed head in her arms.
Konrad Nirlanger turned to his wife, the black look
on his face growing blacker.
"Come, get up Anna," he ordered, in German. "These
heroics become not a woman of your years. And too, you
must not ruin the so costly gown that will be returned
Frau Nirlanger's white face was lifted from the
shelter of her arms. The stricken look was still upon
it, but there was no cowering in her attitude now.
Slowly she rose to her feet. I had not realized that she
was so tall.
"The gown does not go back," she said.
"So?" he snarled, with a savage note in his voice.
"Now hear me. There shall be no more buying of gowns and
fripperies. You hear? It is for the wife to come to the
husband for the money; not for her to waste it wantonly
on gowns, like a creature of the streets. You," his
voice was an insult, "you, with your wrinkles and your
faded eyes in a gown of--" he turned inquiringly toward
me--"How does one call it, that color, Frau Orme?"
There came a blur of tears to my eyes. "It is called
ashes of roses," I answered. "Ashes of roses."
Konrad Nirlanger threw back his head and laughed a
laugh as stinging as a whip-lash. "Ashes of roses! So? It
is well named. For my dear wife it is poetically fit, is it
not so? For see, her roses are but withered ashes, eh Anna?"
Deliberately and in silence Anna Nirlanger walked to
the mirror and stood there, gazing at the woman in the
glass. There was something dreadful and portentous about
the calm and studied deliberation with which she
critically viewed that reflection. She lifted her arms
slowly and patted into place the locks that had become
disarranged, turning her head from side to side to study
the effect. Then she took from a drawer the bit of
chamois skin that I had given her, and passed it lightly
over her eyelids and cheeks, humming softly to herself
the while. No music ever sounded so uncanny to my ears.
The woman before the mirror looked at the woman in the
mirror with a long, steady, measuring look. Then, slowly
and deliberately, the long graceful folds of her lovely
gown trailing behind her, she walked over to where her
frowning husband stood. So might a queen have walked,
head held high, gaze steady. She stopped within half a
foot of him, her eyes level with his. For a long
half-minute they stood thus, the faded blue eyes of the
wife gazing into the sullen black eyes of the husband,
and his were the first to drop, for all the noble
blood in Anna Nirlanger's veins, and all her long line of
gently bred ancestors were coming to her aid in dealing
with her middle-class husband.
"You forget," she said, very slowly and distinctly.
"If this were Austria, instead of Amerika, you would not
forget. In Austria people of your class do not speak in
this manner to those of my caste."
"Unsinn!" laughed Konrad Nirlanger. This is
"Yes," said Anna Nirlanger, "this is Amerika. And in
Amerika all things are different. I see now that my
people knew of what they spoke when they called me mad to
think of wedding a clod of the people, such as you."
For a moment I thought that he was going to strike
her. I think he would have, if she had flinched. But
she did not. Her head was held high, and her eyes did
"I married you for love. It is most comical, is it
not? With you I thought I should find peace, and
happiness and a re-birth of the intellect that was being
smothered in the splendor and artificiality and the
restrictions of my life there. Well, I was wrong. But
wrong. Now hear me!" Her voice was
tense with passion. "There will be gowns--as many and as
rich as I choose. You have said many times that the
ladies of Amerika you admire. And see! I shall be also
one of those so-admired ladies. My money shall go for
gowns! For hats! For trifles of lace and velvet and
fur! You shall learn that it is not a peasant woman whom
you have married. This is Amerika, the land of the free,
my husband. And see! Who is more of Amerika than I?
She laughed a high little laugh and came over to me,
taking my hands in her own.
"Dear girl, you must run quickly and dress. For this
evening we go to the theater. Oh, but you must. There
shall be no unpleasantness, that I promise. My husband
accompanies us--with joy. Is it not so, Konrad? With
Wildly I longed to decline, but I dared not. So I
only nodded, for fear of the great lump in my throat, and
taking Frau Knapf's hand I turned and fled with her.
Frau Knapf was muttering:
"Du Hund! Du unverschamter Hund du!" in good
Billingsgate German, and wiping her eyes with her apron.
And I dressed with trembling fingers because I dared not
otherwise face the brave little Austrian, the plucky little
aborigine who, with the donning of the new Amerikanische
gown had acquired some real Amerikanisch nerve.
VON GERHARD SPEAKS
Of Von Gerhard I had not had a glimpse since that evening
of my hysterical outburst. On Christmas day there had
come a box of roses so huge that I could not find vases
enough to hold its contents, although I pressed into
service everything from Mason jars from the kitchen to
hand-painted atrocities from the parlor. After I had
given posies to Frau Nirlanger, and fastened a rose in
Frau Knapf's hard knob of hair, where it bobbed in
ludicrous discomfort, I still had enough to fill the
washbowl. My room looked like a grand opera star's
boudoir when she is expecting the newspaper reporters.
I reveled in the glowing fragrance of the blossoms and
felt very eastern and luxurious and popular. It had been
a busy, happy, work-filled week, in which I had had to
snatch odd moments for the selecting of certain wonderful
toys for the Spalpeens. There had been dolls and
doll-clothes and a marvelous miniature kitchen for the
practical and stolid Sheila, and ingenious bits of
mechanism that did unbelievable things when wound up,
for the clever, imaginative Hans. I was not to have the
joy of seeing their wide-eyed delight, but I knew that
there would follow certain laboriously scrawled letters,
filled with topsy-turvy capitals and crazily leaning words
of thanks to the doting old auntie who had been such good
fun the summer before.
Boarding-house Christmases had become an old story.
I had learned to accept them, even to those obscure and
foreign parts of turkey which are seen only on
boarding-house plates, and which would be recognized
nowhere else as belonging to that stately bird.
Christmas at Knapf's had been a happy surprise; a day
of hearty good cheer and kindness. There had even been
a Christmas tree, hung with stodgy German angels and
Pfeffernuesse and pink-frosted cakes. I found myself the
bewildered recipient of gifts from everyone--from the
Knapfs, and the aborigines and even from one of the
crushed-looking wives. The aborigine whom they called
Fritz had presented me with a huge and imposing
Lebkuchen, reposing in a box with frilled border,
ornamented with quaint little red-and-green German
figures in sugar, and labeled Nurnberg in
stout letters, for it had come all the way from that
kuchen-famous city. The Lebkuchen I placed on my mantel
shelf as befitted so magnificent a work of art. It was
quite too elaborate and imposing to be sent the way of
ordinary food, although it had a certain tantalizingly
spicy scent that tempted one to break off a corner here
On the afternoon of Christmas day I sat down to thank
Dr. von Gerhard for the flowers as prettily as might be.
Also I asked his pardon, a thing not hard to do with the
perfume of his roses filling the room.
"For you," I wrote, "who are so wise in the ways of
those tricky things called nerves, must know that it was
only a mild hysteria that made me say those most
unladylike things. I have written Norah all about it.
She has replied, advising me to stick to the good-fellow
role but not to dress the part. So when next you see me
I shall be a perfectly safe and sane comrade in
petticoats. And I promise you--no more outbursts."
So it happened that on the afternoon of New Year's
day Von Gerhard and I gravely wished one another many
happy and impossible things for the coming year, looking
fairly and squarely into each other's eyes as we did so.
"So," said Von Gerhard, as one who is satisfied. "The
nerfs are steady to-day. What do you say to a brisk walk
along the lake shore to put us in a New Year frame of
mind, and then a supper down-town somewhere, with a toast
to Max and Norah?"
"You've saved my life! Sit down here in the parlor
and gaze at the crepe-paper oranges while I powder my
nose and get into some street clothes. I have such a
story to tell you! It has made me quite contented with
The story was that of the Nirlangers; and as we
struggled against a brisk lake breeze I told it, and
partly because of the breeze, and partly because of the
story, there were tears in my eyes when I had finished.
Von Gerhard stared at me, aghast.
"But you are--crying!" he marveled, watching a tear
slide down my nose.
"I'm not," I retorted. "Anyway I know it. I think
I may blubber if I choose to, mayn't I, as well as other
"Blubber?" repeated Von Gerhard, he of the careful
and cautious English. "But most certainly, if you wish.
I had thought that newspaper women did not indulge in the
luxury of tears."
"They don't--often. Haven't the time. If a woman
reporter were to burst into tears every time
she saw something to weep over she'd be going about with
a red nose and puffy eyelids half the time. Scarcely a
day passes that does not bring her face to face with
human suffering in some form. Not only must she see
these things, but she must write of them so that those
who read can also see them. And just because she does
not wail and tear her hair and faint she popularly is
supposed to be a flinty, cigarette-smoking creature who
rampages up and down the land, seeking whom she may rend
with her pen and gazing, dry-eyed, upon scenes of horrid
"And yet the little domestic tragedy of the
Nirlangers can bring tears to your eyes?"
"Oh, that was quite different. The case of the
Nirlangers had nothing to do with Dawn O'Hara, newspaper
reporter. It was just plain Dawn O'Hara, woman, who
witnessed that little tragedy. Mein Himmel! Are all
German husbands like that?"
"Not all. I have a very good friend named Max--"
"O, Max! Max is an angel husband. Fancy Max and
Norah waxing tragic on the subject of a gown! Now you--"
"I? Come, you are sworn to good-fellowship. As
one comrade to another, tell me, what sort of husband
do you think I should make, eh? The boorish
Nirlanger sort, or the charming Max variety. Come, tell
me--you who always have seemed so--so damnably able to
take care of yourself." His eyes were twinkling in the
maddening way they had.
I looked out across the lake to where a line of
white-caps was piling up formidably only to break in
futile wrath against the solid wall of the shore. And
there came over me an equally futile wrath; that savage,
unreasoning instinct in women which prompts them to hurt
those whom they love.
"Oh, you!" I began, with Von Gerhard's amused eyes
laughing down upon me. "I should say that you would be
more in the Nirlanger style, in your large, immovable,
Germansure way. Not that you would stoop to wrangle
about money or gowns, but that you would control those
things. Your wife will be a placid, blond, rather plump
German Fraulein, of excellent family and no imagination.
Men of your type always select negative wives. Twenty
years ago she would have run to bring you your Zeitung
and your slippers. She would be that kind, if
Zeitung-and-slipper husbands still were in existence.
You will be fond of her, in a patronizing sort of way,
and she will never know the difference between that and
being loved, not having a great deal of imagination, as
I have said before. And you will go on becoming more
and more famous, and she will grow plumper and more
placid, and less and less understanding of what those
komisch medical journals have to say so often about her
husband who is always discovering things. And you will
live happily ever after--"
A hand gripped my shoulder. I looked up, startled,
into two blue eyes blazing down into mine. Von Gerhard's
face was a painful red. I think that the hand on my
shoulder even shook me a little, there on that bleak and
deserted lake drive. I tried to wrench my shoulder free
with a jerk.
"You are hurting me!" I cried.
A quiver of pain passed over the face that I had
thought so calmly unemotional. "You talk of hurts! You,
who set out deliberately and maliciously to make me
suffer! How dare you then talk to me like this! You
stab with a hundred knives--you, who know how I--"
"I'm sorry," I put in, contritely. "Please don't be
so dreadful about it. After all, you asked me, didn't
you? Perhaps I've hurt your vanity. There, I didn't
mean that, either. Oh, dear, let's talk about something
impersonal. We get along wretchedly of late."
The angry red ebbed away from Von Gerhard's face.
The blaze of wrath in his eyes gave way to a deeper,
brighter light that held me fascinated, and there came to
his lips a smile of rare sweetness. The hand that had
grasped my shoulder slipped down, down, until it met my
hand and gripped it.
"Na, 's ist schon recht, Kindchen. Those that we
most care for we would hurt always. When I have told you
of my love for you, although already you know it, then
you will tell me. Hush! Do not deny this thing. There
shall be no more lies between us. There shall be only
the truth, and no more about plump, blonde German wives
who run with Zeitung and slippers. After all, it is no
secret. Three months ago I told Norah. It was not news
to her. But she trusted me."
I felt my face to be as white and as tense as his
"It is better to speak these things. Then there need
be no shifting of the eyes, no evasive words, no tricks,
We had faced about and were retracing our steps, past
the rows of peculiarly home-like houses that line
Milwaukee's magnificent lake shore. Windows were hung
with holiday scarlet and holly, and here and there a
face was visible at a window, looking out at the man
and woman walking swiftly along the wind-swept heights
that rose far above the lake.
A wretched revolt seized me as I gazed at the
substantial comfort of those normal, happy homes.
"Why did you tell me! What good can that do? At
least we were make-believe friends before. Suppose I
were to tell you that I care, then what."
"I do not ask you to tell me," Von Gerhard replied,
"You need not. You know. You knew long, long ago.
You know I love the big quietness of you, and your
sureness, and the German way you have of twisting your
sentences about, and the steady grip of your great firm
hands, and the rareness of your laugh, and the simplicity
of you. Why I love the very cleanliness of your ruddy
skin, and the way your hair grows away from your
forehead, and your walk, and your voice and--Oh, what is
the use of it all?"
"Just this, Dawn. The light of day sweetens all
things. We have dragged this thing out into the
sunlight, where, if it grows, it will grow
sanely and healthily. It was but an ugly, distorted,
unsightly thing, sending out pale unhealthy shoots in the
dark, unwholesome cellars of our inner consciences.
Norah's knowing was the cleanest, sweetest thing about
"How wonderfully you understand her, and how right
you are! Her knowing seems to make it as it should be,
doesn't it? I am braver already, for the knowledge of
it. It shall make no difference between us?"
"There is no difference, Dawn," said he.
"No. It is only in the story-books that they sigh,
and groan and utter silly nonsense. We are not like
that. Perhaps, after a bit, you will meet some one you
care for greatly--not plump, or blond, or German,
perhaps, but still--"
"Doch you are flippant?"
"I must say those things to keep the tears back. You
would not have me wailing here in the street. Tell me
just one thing, and there shall be no more fluttering
breaths and languishing looks. Tell me, when did you
begin to care?"
We had reached Knapfs' door-step. The short winter
day was already drawing to its close. In the half-light
Von Gerhard's eyes glowed luminous.
"Since the day I first met you at Norah's," he said,
I stared at him, aghast, my ever-present sense of
humor struggling to the surface. "Not--not on that day
when you came into the room where I sat in the chair by
the window, with a flowered quilt humped about my
shoulders! And a fever-sore twisting my mouth! And my
complexion the color of cheese, and my hair plastered
back from my forehead, and my eyes like boiled onions!"
"Thank God for your gift of laughter," Von Gerhard
said, and took my hand in his for one brief moment before
he turned and walked away.
Quite prosaically I opened the big front door at
Knapfs' to find Herr Knapf standing in the hallway with
"Nabben', Frau Orme."
And there was the sane and soothing scent of
Wienerschnitzel and spluttering things in the air. And
I ran upstairs to my room and turned on all the lights
and looked at the starry-eyed creature in the mirror.
Then I took the biggest, newest photograph of Norah from
the mantel and looked at her for a long, long minute,
while she looked back at me in her brave true way.
"Thank you, dear," I said to her. "Thank you. Would
you think me stagey and silly if I were to kiss you, just
once, on your beautiful trusting eyes?"
A telephone bell tinkled downstairs and Herr Knapf
stationed himself at the foot of the stairs and roared my
When I had picked up the receiver: "This is Ernst,"
said the voice at the other end of the wire. "I have
just remembered that I had asked you down-town for
"I would rather thank God fasting," I replied, very
softly, and hung the receiver on its hook.
BENNIE THE CONSOLER
In a corner of Frau Nirlanger's bedroom, sheltered from
draughts and glaring light, is a little wooden bed,
painted blue and ornamented with stout red roses that are
faded by time and much abuse. Every evening at eight
o'clock three anxious-browed women hold low-spoken
conclave about the quaint old bed, while its occupant
sleeps and smiles as he sleeps, and clasps to his breast
a chewed-looking woolly dog. For a new joy has come to
the sad little Frau Nirlanger, and I, quite by accident,
was the cause of bringing it to her. The queer little
blue bed, with its faded roses, was brought down from the
attic by Frau Knapf, for she is one of the three foster
mothers of the small occupant of the bed. The occupant
of the bed is named Bennie, and a corporation formed for
the purpose of bringing him up in the way he should go is
composed of: Dawn O'Hara Orme, President and Distracted
Guardian; Mrs. Konrad Nirlanger, Cuddler-in-chief and
Authority on the Subject of Bennie's Bed-time; Mr. Blackie
Griffith, Good Angel, General Cut-up and Monitor off'n
Bennie's Neckties and Toys; Dr. Ernst von Gerhard, Chief
Medical Adviser, and Sweller of the Exchequer, with the
Privilege of Selecting All Candies. Members of the
corporation meet with great frequency evenings and Sundays,
much to the detriment of a certain Book-in-the-making with
which Dawn O'Hara Orme was wont to struggle o' evenings.
Bennie had been one of those little tragedies that
find their way into juvenile court. Bennie's story was
common enough, but Bennie himself had been different.
Ten minutes after his first appearance in the court room
everyone, from the big, bald judge to the newest
probation officer, had fallen in love with him. Somehow,
you wanted to smooth the hair from his forehead, tip his
pale little face upward, and very gently kiss his smooth,
white brow. Which alone was enough to distinguish
Bennie, for Juvenile court children, as a rule, are
distinctly not kissable.
Bennie's mother was accused of being unfit to care
for her boy, and Bennie was temporarily installed in the
Detention Home. There the superintendent and his plump
and kindly wife had fallen head over heels in love with
him, and had dressed him in a smart little Norfolk
suit and a frivolous plaid silk tie. There were
delays in the case, and postponement after postponement,
so that Bennie appeared in the court room every Tuesday
for four weeks. The reporters, and the probation
officers and policemen became very chummy with Bennie,
and showered him with bright new pennies and certain
wonderful candies. Superintendent Arnett of the
Detention Home was as proud of the boy as though he were
his own. And when Bennie would look shyly and
questioningly into his face for permission to accept the
proffered offerings, the big superintendent would chuckle
delightedly. Bennie had a strangely mobile face for such
a baby, and the whitest, smoothest brow I have ever seen.
The comedy and tears and misery and laughter of the
big, white-walled court room were too much for Bennie.
He would gaze about with puzzled blue eyes; then, giving
up the situation as something too vast for his
comprehension, he would fall to drawing curly-cues on a
bit of paper with a great yellow pencil presented him by
one of the newspaper men.
Every Tuesday the rows of benches were packed with a
motley crowd of Poles, Russians, Slavs, Italians, Greeks,
Lithuanians--a crowd made up of fathers, mothers,
sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, neighbors, friends, and
enemies of the boys and girls whose fate was in the hands
of the big man seated in the revolving chair up in front.
But Bennie's mother was not of this crowd; this pitiful,
ludicrous crowd filling the great room with the stifling,
rancid odor of the poor. Nor was Bennie. He sat, clear-eyed
and unsmiling, in the depths of a great chair on the
court side of the railing and gravely received the
attentions of the lawyers, and reporters and court room
attaches who had grown fond of the grave little figure.
Then, on the fifth Tuesday, Bennie's mother appeared.
How she had come to be that child's mother God only
knows--or perhaps He had had nothing to do with it. She
was terribly sober and frightened. Her face was swollen
and bruised, and beneath one eye there was a puffy
green-and-blue swelling. Her sordid story was common
enough as the probation officer told it. The woman had
been living in one wretched room with the boy. Her
husband had deserted her. There was no food, and little
furniture. The queer feature of it, said the probation
officer, was that the woman managed to keep the boy
fairly neat and clean, regardless of her own condition,
and he generally had food of some sort, although the
mother sometimes went without food for days. Through the
squalor and misery and degradation of her own life Bennie
had somehow been kept unsullied, a thing apart.
"H'm! " said judge Wheeling, and looked at Bennie.
Bennie was standing beside his mother. He was very
quiet, and his eyes were smiling up into those of the
battered creature who was fighting for him. "I guess
we'll have to take you out of this," the judge decided,
abruptly. "That boy is too good to go to waste."
The sodden, dazed woman before him did not
immediately get the full meaning of his words. She still
stood there, swaying a bit, and staring unintelligently
at the judge. Then, quite suddenly, she realized it.
She took a quick step forward. Her hand went up to her
breast, to her throat, to her lips, with an odd, stifled
"You ain't going to take him away! From me! No, you
wouldn't do that, would you? Not for--not for always!
You wouldn't do that--you wouldn't--"
Judge Wheeling waved her away. But the woman dropped
to her knees.
"Judge, give me a chance! I'll stop drinking. Only
don't take him away from me! Don't, judge, don't! He's all
I've got in the world. Give me a chance. Three months!
Six months! A year!"
"Get up!" ordered judge Wheeling, gruffly, "and stop
that! It won't do you a bit of good."
And then a wonderful thing happened. The woman rose
to her feet. A new and strange dignity had come into her
battered face. The lines of suffering and vice were
erased as by magic, and she seemed to grow taller,
younger, almost beautiful. When she spoke again it was
slowly and distinctly, her words quite free from the blur
of the barroom and street vernacular.
"I tell you you must give me a chance. You cannot
take a child from a mother in this way. I tell you, if
you will only help me I can crawl back up the road that
I've traveled. I was not always like this. There was
another life, before--before--Oh, since then there have
been years of blackness, and hunger, and cold and--worse!
But I never dragged the boy into it. Look at him!"
Our eyes traveled from the woman's transfigured face
to that of the boy. We could trace a wonderful likeness
where before we had seen none. But the woman went on in
her steady, even tone.
"I can't talk as I should, because my brain isn't
clear. It's the drink. When you drink, you forget. But
you must help me. I can't do it alone. I can remember
how to live straight, just as I can remember how to talk
straight. Let me show you that I'm not all bad. Give me
a chance. Take the boy and then give him back to me when
you are satisfied. I'll try--God only knows how I'll
try. Only don't take him away forever, Judge! Don't do
Judge Wheeling ran an uncomfortable finger around his
"Any friends living here?"
"Sure about that?"
"Now see here; I'm going to give you your chance. I
shall take this boy away from you for a year. In that
time you will stop drinking and become a decent,
self-supporting woman. You will be given in charge of
one of these probation officers. She will find work for
you, and a good home, and she'll stand by you, and you
must report to her. If she is satisfied with you at the
end of the year, the boy goes back to you."
"She will be satisfied," the woman said, simply. She
stooped and taking Bennie's face between her
hands kissed him once. Then she stepped aside and stood
quite still, looking after the little figure that passed
out of the court room with his hand in that of a big,
kindly police officer. She looked until the big door had
opened and closed upon them.
Then--well, it was just another newspaper story. It
made a good one. That evening I told Frau Nirlanger
about it, and she wept, softly, and murmured: "Ach, das
arme baby! Like my little Oscar he is, without a
mother." I told Ernst about him too, and Blackie,
because I could not get his grave little face out of my
mind. I wondered if those who had charge of him now
would take the time to bathe the little body, and brush
the soft hair until it shone, and tie the gay plaid silk
tie as lovingly as "Daddy" Arnett of the Detention Home
Then it was that I, quite unwittingly, stepped into
There was an anniversary, or a change in the board of
directors, or a new coat of paint or something of the
kind in one of the orphan homes, and the story fell to
me. I found the orphan home to be typical of its kind--a
big, dreary, prison-like structure. The woman at
the door did not in the least care to let me in. She was
a fish-mouthed woman with a hard eye, and as I told my
errand her mouth grew fishier and the eye harder.
Finally she led me down a long, dark, airless stretch of
corridor and departed in search of the matron, leaving me
seated in the unfriendly reception room, with its
straight-backed chairs placed stonily against the walls,
beneath rows of red and blue and yellow religious
Just as I was wondering why it seemed impossible to
be holy and cheerful at the same time, there came a
pad-padding down the corridor. The next moment the
matron stood in the doorway. She was a mountainous,
red-faced woman, with warts on her nose.
"Good-afternoon," I said, sweetly. ("Ugh! What a
brute!") I thought. Then I began to explain my errand
once more. Criticism of the Home? No indeed, I assured
her. At last, convinced of my disinterestedness she
reluctantly guided me about the big, gloomy building.
There were endless flights of shiny stairs, and endless
stuffy, airless rooms, until we came to a door which she
flung open, disclosing the nursery. It seemed to me that
there were a hundred babies--babies at every stage of
development, of all sizes, and ages and types. They glanced
up at the opening of the door, and then a dreadful thing
Every child that was able to walk or creep scuttled
into the farthest corners and remained quite, quite still
with a wide-eyed expression of fear and apprehension on
For a moment my heart stood still. I turned to look
at the woman by my side. Her thin lips were compressed
into a straight, hard line. She said a word to a nurse
standing near, and began to walk about, eying the
children sharply. She put out a hand to pat the head of
one red-haired mite in a soiled pinafore; but before her
hand could descend I saw the child dodge and the tiny
hand flew up to the head, as though in defense.
"They are afraid of her!" my sick heart told me.
"Those babies are afraid of her! What does she do to
them? I can't stand this. I'm going."
I mumbled a hurried "Thank you," to the fat matron as
I turned to leave the big, bare room. At the head of the
stairs there was a great, black door. I stopped before
it--God knows why!--and pointed toward it.
"What is in that room?" I asked. Since then I have
wondered many times at the unseen power that prompted me
to put the question.
The stout matron bustled on, rattling her keys as she
"That--oh, that's where we keep the incorrigibles."
"May I see them?" I asked, again prompted by that
"There is only one." She grudgingly unlocked the
door, using one of the great keys that swung from her
waist. The heavy, black door swung open. I stepped into
the bare room, lighted dimly by one small window. In the
farthest corner crouched something that stirred and
glanced up at our entrance. It peered at us with an ugly
look of terror and defiance, and I stared back at it, in
the dim light. During one dreadful, breathless second I
remained staring, while my heart stood still. Then--
"Bennie!" I cried. And stumbled toward him. "Bennie--
The little unkempt figure, in its soiled
knickerbocker suit, the sunny hair all uncared for, the
gay plaid tie draggled and limp, rushed into my arms with
a crazy, inarticulate cry.
Down on my knees on the bare floor I held him close--
close! and his arms were about my neck as though they
never should unclasp.
"Take me away! Take me away!" His wet cheek was
pressed against my own streaming one. "I want my mother!
I want Daddy Arnett! Take me away!"
I wiped his cheeks with my notebook or something,
picked him up in my arms, and started for the door. I
had quite forgotten the fat matron.
"What are you doing?" she asked, blocking the doorway
with her huge bulk.
"I'm going to take him back with me. Please let me!
I'll take care of him until the year is up. He shan't
bother you any more."
"That is impossible," she said, coldly. "He has been
sent here by the court, for a year, and he must stay
here. Besides, he is a stubborn, uncontrollable child."
"Uncontrollable! He's nothing of the kind! Why
don't you treat him as a child should be treated, instead
of like a little animal? You don't know him! Why, he's
the most lovable--I And he's only a baby! Can't you
see that? A baby!"
She only stared her dislike, her little pig eyes
grown smaller and more glittering.
"You great--big--thing! " I shrieked at her, like an
infuriated child. With the tears streaming down my
cheeks I unclasped Bennie's cold hands from about my
neck. He clung to me, frantically, until I had to push
him away and run.
The woman swung the door shut, and locked it. But
for all its thickness I could hear Bennie's helpless
fists pounding on its panels as I stumbled down the
stairs, and Bennie's voice came faintly to my ears,
muffled by the heavy door, as he shrieked to me to take
him away to his mother, and to Daddy Arnett.
I blubbered all the way back in the car, until
everyone stared, but I didn't care. When I reached the
office I made straight for Blackie's smoke-filled
sanctum. When my tale was ended he let me cry all over
his desk, with my head buried in a heap of galley-proofs
and my tears watering his paste-pot. He sat calmly by,
smoking. Finally he began gently to philosophize. "Now
girl, he's prob'ly better off there than he ever was at
home with his mother soused all the time. Maybe he give
that warty matron friend of yours all kinds of trouble,
yellin' for his ma."
I raised my head from the desk. "Oh, you can talk!
You didn't see him. What do you care! But if you could
have seen him, crouched there--alone--like a little
animal! He was so sweet--and lovable--and--and--he
hadn't been decently washed for weeks--and his arms clung
to me--I can feel his hands about my neck!--"
I buried my head in the papers again. Blackie went
on smoking. There was no sound in the little room except
the purr-purring of Blackie's pipe. Then:
"I done a favor for Wheeling once," mused he.
I glanced up, quickly. "Oh, Blackie, do you think--"
"No, I don't. But then again, you can't never tell.
That was four or five years ago, and the mem'ry of past
favors grows dim fast. Still, if you're through waterin'
the top of my desk, why I'd like t' set down and do a
little real brisk talkin' over the phone. You're
Quite humbly I crept away, with hope in my heart.
To this day I do not know what secret string the
resourceful Blackie pulled. But the next afternoon I
found a hastily scrawled note tucked into the roll of my
typewriter. It sent me scuttling across the hall to the
sporting editor's smoke-filled room. And there on a
chair beside the desk, surrounded by scrap-books, lead
pencils, paste-pot and odds and ends of newspaper office
paraphernalia, sat Bennie. His hair
was parted very smoothly on one side, and under his
dimpled chin bristled a very new and extremely lively
green-and-red plaid silk tie.
The next instant I had swept aside papers, brushes,
pencils, books, and Bennie was gathered close in my arms.
Blackie, with a strange glow in his deep-set black eyes
regarded us with an assumed disgust.
"Wimmin is all alike. Ain't it th' truth? I used t'
think you was different. But shucks! It ain't so. Got
t' turn on the weeps the minute you're tickled or mad.
Why say, I ain't goin' t' have you comin' in here an'
dampenin' up the whole place every little while! It's
unhealthy for me, sittin' here in the wet."
"Oh, shut up, Blackie," I said, happily. "How in the
world did you do it?"
"Never you mind. The question is, what you goin' t'
do with him, now you've got him? Goin' t' have a French
bunny for him, or fetch him up by hand? Wheeling
appointed a probation skirt to look after the crowd of
us, and we got t' toe the mark."
"Glory be!" I ejaculated. "I don't know what I shall
do with him. I shall have to bring him down with me
every morning, and perhaps you can make a sporting editor
out of him."
"Nix. Not with that forehead. He's a high-brow.
We'll make him dramatic critic. In the meantime, I'll be
little fairy godmother, an' if you'll get on your bonnet
I'll stake you and the young 'un to strawberry shortcake
an' chocolate ice cream."
So it happened that a wondering Frau Knapf and a
sympathetic Frau Nirlanger were called in for
consultation an hour later. Bennie was ensconced in my
room, very wide-eyed and wondering, but quite content.
With the entrance of Frau Nirlanger the consultation was
somewhat disturbed. She made a quick rush at him and
gathered him in her hungry arms.
"Du baby du!" she cried. "Du Kleiner! And she was
down on her knees, and somehow her figure had melted into
delicious mother-curves, with Bennie's head just fitting
into that most gracious one between her shoulder and
breast. She cooed to him in a babble of French and
German and English, calling him her lee-tel Oscar.
Bennie seemed miraculously to understand. Perhaps he was
becoming accustomed to having strange ladies snatch him
to their breasts.
"So," said Frau Nirlanger, looking up at us. "Is he
not sweet? He shall be my lee-tel boy, nicht? For one
small year he shall be my own boy. Ach, I am but lonely
all the long day here in this strange land. You will let
me care for him, nicht? And Konrad, he will be very angry,
but that shall make no bit of difference. Eh, Oscar?"
And so the thing was settled, and an hour later three
anxious-browed women were debating the weighty question
of eggs or bread-and-milk for Bennie's supper. Frau
Nirlanger was for soft-boiled eggs as being none too
heavy after orphan asylum fare; I was for bread-and-milk,
that being the prescribed supper dish for all the orphans
and waifs that I had ever read about, from "The Wide,
Wide World" to "Helen's Babies," and back again. Frau
Knapf was for both eggs and bread-and-milk with a dash of
meat and potatoes thrown in for good measure, and a slice
or so of Kuchen on the side. We compromised on one egg,
one glass of milk, and a slice of lavishly buttered
bread, and jelly. It was a clean, sweet, sleepy-eyed
Bennie that we tucked between the sheets. We three women
stood looking down at him as he lay there in the quaint
old blue-painted bed that had once held the plump little
"You think anyway he had enough supper? mused the
anxious-browed Frau Knapf.
"To school he will have to go, yes?" murmured Frau
I tucked in the covers at one side of the bed, not
that they needed tucking, but because it was such a
comfortable, satisfying thing to do.
"Just at this minute," I said, as I tucked, "I'd
rather be a newspaper reporter than anything else in the
world. As a profession 'tis so broadenin', an' at the
same time, so chancey."
Some day the marriageable age for women will be
advanced from twenty to thirty, and the old maid line
will be changed from thirty to forty. When that time
comes there will be surprisingly few divorces. The
husband of whom we dream at twenty is not at all the type
of man who attracts us at thirty. The man I married at
twenty was a brilliant, morbid, handsome, abnormal
creature with magnificent eyes and very white teeth and
no particular appetite at mealtime. The man whom I could
care for at thirty would be the normal, safe and
substantial sort who would come in at six o'clock, kiss
me once, sniff the air twice and say: "Mm! What's that
smells so good, old girl? I'm as hungry as a bear. Trot
it out. Where are the kids?"
These are dangerous things to think upon. So
dangerous and disturbing to the peace of mind that I have
decided not to see Ernst von Gerhard for a week or two.
I find that seeing him is apt to make me forget Peter Orme;
to forget that my duty begins with a capital D; to forget
that I am dangerously near the thirty year old mark; to
forget Norah, and Max, and the Spalpeens, and the world,
and everything but the happiness of being near him, watching
his eyes say one thing while his lips say another.
At such times I am apt to work myself up into rather
a savage frame of mind, and to shut myself in my room
evenings, paying no heed to Frau Nirlanger's timid
knocking, or Bennie's good-night message. I uncover my
typewriter and set to work at the thing which may or may
not be a book, and am extremely wretched and gloomy and
pessimistic, after this fashion:
"He probably wouldn't care anything about you if you
were free. It is just a case of the fruit that is out of
reach being the most desirable. Men don't marry frumpy,
snuffy old things of thirty, or thereabouts. Men aren't
marrying now-a-days, anyway. Certainly not for love.
They marry for position, or power, or money, when they do
marry. Think of all the glorious creatures he meets
every day--women whose hair, and finger-nails and teeth
and skin are a religion; women whose clothes are a fine
art; women who are free to care only for themselves;
to rest, to enjoy, to hear delightful music, and
read charming books, and eat delicious food. He doesn't
really care about you, with your rumpled blouses, and
your shabby gloves and shoes, and your somewhat doubtful
linen collars. The last time you saw him you were just
coming home from the office after a dickens of a day, and
there was a smudge on the end of your nose, and he told
you of it, laughing. But you didn't laugh. You rubbed
it off, furiously, and you wanted to cry. Cry! You,
Dawn O'Hara! Begorra! 'Tis losin' your sense av humor
you're after doin'! Get to work."
After which I would fall upon the book in a furious,
futile fashion, writing many incoherent, irrelevant
paragraphs which I knew would be cast aside as worthless
on the sane and reasoning to-morrow.
Oh, it had been easy enough to talk of love in a
lofty, superior impersonal way that New Year's day. Just
the luxury of speaking of it at all, after those weeks of
repression, sufficed. But it is not so easy to be
impersonal and lofty when the touch of a coat sleeve
against your arm sends little prickling, tingling shivers
racing madly through thousands of too taut nerves. It is
not so easy to force the mind and tongue into safe, sane
channels when they are forever threatening to rush together
in an overwhelming torrent that will carry misery and
destruction in its wake. Invariably we talk with feverish
earnestness about the book; about my work at the office;
about Ernst's profession, with its wonderful growth; about
Norah, and Max and the Spalpeens, and the home; about the
latest news; about the weather; about Peter Orme--and then
At our last meeting things took a new and startling
turn. So startling, so full of temptation and
happiness-that-must-not-be, that I resolved to forbid
myself the pain and joy of being, near him until I could
be quite sure that my grip on Dawn O'Hara was firm,
unshakable and lasting.
Von Gerhard sports a motor-car, a rakish little
craft, built long and low, with racing lines, and a green
complexion, and a nose that cuts through the air like the
prow of a swift boat through water. Von Gerhard had
promised me a spin in it on the first mild day. Sunday
turned out to be unexpectedly lamblike, as only a March
day can be, with real sunshine that warmed the end of
one's nose instead of laughing as it tweaked it, as the
lying February sunshine had done.
"But warmly you must dress yourself," Von Gerhard
warned me, "with no gauzy blouses or sleeveless gowns.
The air cuts like a knife, but it feels good against the
face. And a little road-house I know, where one is
served great steaming plates of hot oyster stew. How
will that be for a lark, yes?"
And so I had swathed myself in wrappings until I
could scarcely clamber into the panting little car, and
we had darted off along the smooth lake drives, while the
wind whipped the scarlet into our cheeks, even while it
brought the tears to our eyes. There was no chance for
conversation, even if Von Gerhard had been in talkative
mood, which he was not. He seemed more taciturn than
usual, seated there at the wheel, looking straight ahead
at the ribbon of road, his eyes narrowed down to mere
keen blue slits. I realized, without alarm, that he was
driving furiously and lawlessly, and I did not care. Von
Gerhard was that sort of man. One could sit quite calmly
beside him while he pulled at the reins of a pair of
runaway horses, knowing that he would conquer them in the
Just when my face began to feel as stiff and glazed
as a mummy's, we swung off the roadway and up to the
entrance of the road-house that was to revive us with things
hot and soupy.
"Another minute," I said, through stiff lips, as I
extricated myself from my swathings, "and I should have
been what Mr. Mantalini described as a demnition body.
For pity's sake, tell 'em the soup can't be too hot nor
too steaming for your lady friend. I've had enough fresh
air to last me the remainder of my life. May I timidly
venture to suggest that a cheese sandwich follow the
oyster stew? I am famished, and this place looks as
though it might make a speciality of cheese sandwiches."
"By all means a cheese sandwich. Und was noch? That
fresh air it has given you an appetite, nicht wahr?" But
there was no sign of a smile on his face, nor was the
kindly twinkle of amusement to be seen in his eyes--that
twinkle that I had learned to look for.
"Smile for the lady," I mockingly begged when we had
been served. "You've been owlish all the afternoon.
Here, try a cheese sandwich. Now, why do you suppose
that this mustard tastes so much better than the kind one
gets at home?"
Von Gerhard had been smoking a cigarette, the first
that I had ever seen in his fingers. Now he tossed it
into the fireplace that yawned black and empty at one side
of the room. He swept aside the plates and glasses that
stood before him, leaned his arms on the table and
deliberately stared at me.
"I sail for Europe in June, to be gone a year--
probably more," he said.
"Sail!" I echoed, idiotically; and began blindly to
dab clots of mustard on that ridiculous sandwich.
"I go to study and work with Gluck. It is the
opportunity of a lifetime. Gluck is to the world of
medicine what Edison is to the world of electricity. He
is a wizard, a man inspired. You should see him--a
little, bent, grizzled, shabby old man who looks at you,
and sees you not. It is a wonderful opportunity, a--"
The mustard and the sandwich and the table and Von
Gerhard's face were very indistinct and uncertain to my
eyes, but I managed to say: "So glad--congratulate you--
very happy--no doubt fortunate--"
Two strong hands grasped my wrists. "Drop that absurd
mustard spoon and sandwich. Na, I did not mean to
frighten you, Dawn. How your hands tremble. So, look at
me. You would like Vienna, Kindchen. You would like the
gayety, and the brightness of it, and the music, and the
pretty women, and the incomparable gowns. Your sense of
humor would discern the hollowness beneath all the pomp
and ceremony and rigid lines of caste, and military glory;
and your writer's instinct would revel in the splendor, and
color and romance and intrigue."
I shrugged my shoulders in assumed indifference.
"Can't you convey all this to me without grasping my
wrists like a villain in a melodrama? Besides, it isn't
very generous or thoughtful of you to tell me all this,
knowing that it is not for me. Vienna for you, and
Milwaukee and cheese sandwiches for me. Please pass the
But the hold on my wrists grew firmer. Von Gerhard's
eyes were steady as they gazed into mine. "Dawn, Vienna,
and the whole world is waiting for you, if you will but
take it. Vienna--and happiness--with me--"
I wrenched my wrists free with a dreadful effort and
rose, sick, bewildered, stunned. My world--my refuge of
truth, and honor, and safety and sanity that had lain in
Ernst von Gerhard's great, steady hands, was slipping
away from me. I think the horror that I felt within must
have leaped to my eyes, for in an instant Von Gerhard was
beside me, steadying me with his clear blue eyes. He did
not touch the tips of my fingers as he stood there very
near me. From the look of pain on his face I knew that I
had misunderstood, somehow.
"Kleine, I see that you know me not," he said, in
German, and the saying it was as tender as is a mother
when she reproves a child that she loves. "This fight
against the world, those years of unhappiness and misery,
they have made you suspicious and lacking in trust, is it
not so? You do not yet know the perfect love that casts
out all doubt. Dawn, I ask you in the name of all that
is reasoning, and for the sake of your happiness and
mine, to divorce this man Peter Orme--this man who for
almost ten years has not been your husband--who never can
be your husband. I ask you to do something which will
bring suffering to no one, and which will mean happiness
to many. Let me make you happy--you were born to be
happy--you who can laugh like a girl in spite of your
But I sank into a chair and hid my face in my hands
so that I might be spared the beauty and the tenderness
of his eyes. I tried to think of all the sane and
commonplace things in life. Somewhere in my inner
consciousness a cool little voice was saying, over and
"Now, Dawn, careful! You've come to the crossroads at
last. Right or left? Choose! Now, Dawn, careful!" and
the rest of it all over again.
When I lifted my face from my hands at last it was to
meet the tenderness of Von Gerhard's gaze with scarcely
"You ought to know," I said, very slowly and evenly,
"that a divorce, under these circumstances, is almost
impossible, even if I wished to do what you suggest.
There are certain state laws--"
An exclamation of impatience broke from him. "Laws!
In some states, yes. In others, no. It is a mere
technicality--a trifle! There is about it a bit of that
which you call red tape. It amounts to nothing--to
that!" He snapped his fingers. "A few months' residence
in another state, perhaps. These American laws, they are
made to break."
"Yes; you are quite right," I said, and I knew in my
heart that the cool, insistent little voice within had
not spoken in vain. "But there are other laws--laws of
honor and decency, and right living and conscience--that
cannot be broken with such ease. I cannot marry you. I
have a husband."
"You can call that unfortunate wretch your
husband! He does not know that he has a wife. He will
not know that he has lost a wife. Come, Dawn--small
one--be not so foolish. You do not know how happy I will
make you. You have never seen me except when I was
tortured with doubts and fears. You do not know what our
life will be together. There shall be everything to make
you forget--everything that thought and love and money
can give you. The man there in the barred room--"
At that I took his dear hands in mine and held them
close as I miserably tried to make him hear what that
small, still voice had told me.
"There! That is it! If he were free, if he were
able to stand before men that his actions might be judged
fairly and justly, I should not hesitate for one single,
precious moment. If he could fight for his rights, or
relinquish them, as he saw fit, then this thing would not
be so monstrous. But, Ernst, can't you see? He is
there, alone, in that dreadful place, quite helpless,
quite incapable, quite at our mercy. I should as soon
think of hurting a little child, or snatching the pennies
from a blind man's cup. The thing is inhuman! It is
monstrous! No state laws, no red tape can dissolve such
"You still care for him!"
His face was very white with the pallor of repressed
emotion, and his eyes were like the blue flame that one
sees flashing above a bed of white-hot coals.
"You do care for him still. But yes! You can stand
there, quite cool--but quite--and tell me that you would
not hurt him, not for your happiness, not for mine. But
me you can hurt again and again, without one twinge of
There was silence for a moment in the little bare
dining-room--a miserable silence on my part, a bitter one
for Ernst. Then Von Gerhard seated himself again at the
table opposite and smiled one of the rare smiles that
illumined his face with such sweetness.
"Come, Dawn, almost we are quarreling--we who were to
have been so matter-of-fact and sensible. Let us make an
end of this question. You will think of what I have
said, will you not? Perhaps I was too abrupt, too
brutal. Ach, Dawn, you know not how I--Very well, I will
With both hands I was clinging to my courage and
praying for strength to endure this until I should be
alone in my room again.
"As for that poor creature who is bereft of reason,
he shall lack no care, no attention. The burden you have
borne so long I shall take now upon my shoulders."
He seemed so confident, so sure. I could bear it no
longer. "Ernst, if you have any pity, any love for me,
stop! I tell you I can never do this. Why do you make
it so terribly hard for me! So pitilessly hard! You
always have been so strong, so sure, such a staff of
"I say again, and again, and again, you do not care."
It was then that I took my last vestige of strength
and courage together and going over to him, put my two
hands on his great shoulders, looking up into his drawn
face as I spoke.
"Ernst, look at me! You never can know how much I
care. I care so much that I could not bear to have the
shadow of wrong fall upon our happiness. There can be no
lasting happiness upon a foundation of shameful deceit.
I should hate myself, and you would grow to hate me. It
always is so. Dear one, I care so much that I have the
strength to do as I would do if I had to face my mother,
and Norah tonight. I don't ask you to understand. Men
are not made to understand these things; not
even a man such as you, who are so beautifully
understanding. I only ask that you believe in me--and
think of me sometimes--I shall feel it, and be helped.
Will you take me home now, Dr. von Gerhard?"
The ride home was made in silence. The wind was
colder, sharper. I was chilled, miserable, sick. Von
Gerhard's face was quite expressionless as he guided the
little car over the smooth road. When we had stopped
before my door, still without a word, I thought that he
was going to leave me with that barrier of silence
unbroken. But as I stepped stiffly to the curbing his
hands closed about mine with the old steady grip. I
looked up quickly, to find a smile in the corners of the
"You--you will let me see you--sometimes?"
But wisdom came to my aid. "Not now. It is better
that we go our separate ways for a few weeks, until our
work has served to adjust the balance that has been
disturbed. At the end of that time I shall write you,
and from that time until you sail in June we shall be
just good comrades again. And once in Vienna--who
knows?--you may meet the plump blond Fraulein, of
"And no particular imagination--"
And then we both laughed, a bit hysterically, because
laughter is, after all, akin to tears. And the little
green car shot off with a whir as I turned to enter my
new world of loneliness.
BENNIE AND THE CHARMING OLD MAID
There followed a blessed week of work--a "human warious"
week, with something piquant lurking at every turn. A
week so busy, so kaleidoscopic in its quick succession of
events that my own troubles and grievances were pushed
into a neglected corner of my mind and made to languish
there, unfed by tears or sighs.
News comes in cycles. There are weeks when a city
editor tears his hair in vain as he bellows for a
first-page story. There follow days so bristling with
real, live copy that perfectly good stuff which, in the
ordinary course of events might be used to grace the
front sheet, is sandwiched away between the marine
intelligence and the Elgin butter reports.
Such a week was this. I interviewed everything from
a red-handed murderer to an incubator baby. The town
seemed to be running over with celebrities. Norberg, the
city editor, adores celebrities. He never allows one to
escape uninterviewed. On Friday there fell to my lot a
world-famous prima donna, an infamous prize-fighter, and
a charming old maid. Norberg cared not whether the
celebrity in question was noted for a magnificent high C,
or a left half-scissors hook, so long as the interview
was dished up hot and juicy, with plenty of quotation
marks, a liberal sprinkling of adjectives and adverbs,
and a cut of the victim gracing the top of the column.
It was long past the lunch hour when the prima donna
and the prize-fighter, properly embellished, were snapped
on the copy hook. The prima donna had chattered in
French; the prize-fighter had jabbered in slang; but the
charming old maid, who spoke Milwaukee English, was to
make better copy than a whole chorus of prima donnas, or
a ring full of fighters. Copy! It was such wonderful
stuff that I couldn't use it.
It was with the charming old maid in mind that
Norberg summoned me.
"Another special story for you," he cheerfully
No answering cheer appeared upon my lunchless
features. "A prize-fighter at ten-thirty, and a prima
donna at twelve. What's the next choice morsel? An
aeronaut with another successful airship? or a cash girl
who has inherited a million?"
Norberg's plump cheeks dimpled. "Neither. This time
it is a nice German old maid."
"Eloped with the coachman, no doubt?"
"I said a nice old maid. And she hasn't done
anything yet. You are to find out how she'll feel when
she does it."
"Charmingly lucid," commented I, made savage by the
pangs of hunger.
Norberg proceeded to outline the story with
characteristic vigor, a cigarette waggling from the
corner of his mouth.
"Name and address on this slip. Take a Greenfield
car. Nice old maid has lived in nice old cottage all her
life. Grandfather built it himself about a hundred
years ago. Whole family was born in it, and married in
it, and died in it, see? It's crammed full of
spinning-wheels and mahogany and stuff that'll make your
eyes stick out. See? Well, there's no one left now but
the nice old maid, all alone. She had a sister who ran
away with a scamp some years ago. Nice old maid has
never heard of her since, but she leaves the gate ajar or
the latch-string open, or a lamp in the window, or
something, so that if ever she wanders back to the old
home she'll know she's welcome, see?"
"Sounds like a moving picture play," I remarked.
"Wait a minute. Here's the point. The city wants to
build a branch library or something on her property, and
the nice old party is so pinched for money that she'll
have to take their offer. So the time has come when
she'll have to leave that old cottage, with its romance,
and its memories, and its lamp in the window, and go to
live in a cheap little flat, see? Where the old
four-poster will choke up the bedroom--"
"And the parlor will be done in red and green," I put
in, eagerly, "and where there will be an ingrowing
sideboard in the dining-room that won't fit in with the
quaint old dinner-set at all, and a kitchenette just off
that, in which the great iron pots and kettles that used
to hold the family dinners will be monstrously out of
"You're on," said Norberg.
Half an hour later I stood before the cottage, set
primly in the center of a great lot that extended for
half a square on all sides. A winter-sodden, bare enough
sight it was in the gray of that March day. But it was
not long before Alma Pflugel, standing in the midst of it,
the March winds flapping her neat skirts about her ankles,
filled it with a blaze of color. As she talked, a row of
stately hollyhocks, pink, and scarlet, and saffron,
reared their heads against the cottage sides. The chill
March air became sweet with the scent of heliotrope, and
Sweet William, and pansies, and bridal wreath. The naked
twigs of the rose bushes flowered into wondrous bloom so
that they bent to the ground with their weight of crimson
and yellow glory. The bare brick paths were overrun with
the green of growing things. Gray mounds of dirt grew
vivid with the fire of poppies. Even the rain-soaked
wood of the pea-frames miraculously was hidden in a hedge
of green, over which ran riot the butterfly beauty of the
lavender, and pink, and cerise blossoms. Oh, she did
marvelous things that dull March day, did plain German
Alma Pflugel! And still more marvelous were the things
that were to come.
But of these things we knew nothing as the door was
opened and Alma Pflugel and I gazed curiously at one
another. Surprise was writ large on her honest face as
I disclosed my errand. It was plain that the ways of
newspaper reporters were foreign to the life of this
plain German woman, but she bade me enter with a sweet
graciousness of manner.
Wondering, but silent, she led the way down the dim
narrow hallway to the sitting-room beyond. And there I
saw that Norberg had known whereof he spoke.
A stout, red-faced stove glowed cheerfully in one
corner of the room. Back of the stove a sleepy cat
opened one indolent eye, yawned shamelessly, and rose to
investigate, as is the way of cats. The windows were
aglow with the sturdy potted plants that flower-loving
German women coax into bloom. The low-ceilinged room
twinkled and shone as the polished surfaces of tables and
chairs reflected the rosy glow from the plethoric stove.
I sank into the depths of a huge rocker that must have
been built for Grosspapa Pflugel's generous curves. Alma
Pflugel, in a chair opposite, politely waited for this
new process of interviewing to begin, but relaxed in the
embrace of that great armchair I suddenly realized that
I was very tired and hungry, and talk-weary, and that
here; was a great peace. The prima donna, with her
French, and her paint, and her pearls, and the
prizefighter with his slang, and his cauliflower ear, and
his diamonds, seemed creatures of another planet. My
eyes closed. A delicious sensation of warmth and drowsy
contentment stole over me.
"Do listen to the purring of that cat!" I murmured.
"Oh, newspapers have no place in this. This is peace and
Alma Pflugel leaned forward in her chair. "You--you
"Like it! This is home. I feel as though my mother
were here in this room, seated in one of those deep
chairs, with a bit of sewing in her hand; so near that I
could touch her cheek with my fingers."
Alma Pflugel rose from her chair and came over to
me. She timidly placed her hand on my arm. "Ah, I am so
glad you are like that. You do not laugh at the low
ceilings, and the sunken floors, and the old-fashioned
rooms. You do not raise your eyes in horror and say:
`No conveniences! And why don't you try striped wall
paper? It would make those dreadful ceilings seem
higher.' How nice you are to understand like that!"
My hand crept over to cover her own that lay on my
arm. "Indeed, indeed I do understand," I whispered.
Which, as the veriest cub reporter can testify, is no way
to begin an interview.
A hundred happy memories filled the little
low room as Alma Pflugel showed me her treasures. The
cat purred in great content, and the stove cast a rosy
glow over the scene as the simple woman told the story of
each precious relic, from the battered candle-dipper on
the shelf, to the great mahogany folding table, and
sewing stand, and carved bed. Then there was the old
horn lantern that Jacob Pflugel had used a century
before, and in one corner of the sitting-room stood
Grossmutter Pflugel's spinning-wheel. Behind cupboard
doors were ranged the carefully preserved blue-and-white
china dishes, and on the shelf below stood the clumsy
earthen set that Grosspapa Pflugel himself had modeled
for his young bride in those days of long ago. In the
linen chest there still lay, in neat, fragrant folds,
piles of the linen that had been spun on that
time-yellowed spinning-wheel. And because of the tragedy
in the honest face bent over these dear treasures, and
because she tried so bravely to hide her tears, I knew in
my heart that this could never be a newspaper story.
"So," said Alma Pflugel at last, and rose and walked
slowly to the window and stood looking out at the
wind-swept garden. That window, with its many tiny panes,
once had looked out across a wilderness, with an Indian
camp not far away. Grossmutter Pflugel had sat at that
window many a bitter winter night, with her baby in her
arms, watching and waiting for the young husband who was
urging his ox-team across the ice of Lake Michigan in the
teeth of a raging blizzard.
The little, low-ceilinged room was very still. I
looked at Alma Pflugel standing there at the window in
her neat blue gown, and something about the face and
figure--or was it the pose of the sorrowful head?--seemed
strangely familiar. Somewhere in my mind the resemblance
haunted me. Resemblance to--what? Whom?
"Would you like to see my garden?" asked Alma
Pflugel, turning from the window. For a moment I stared
in wonderment. But the honest, kindly face was
unsmiling. "These things that I have shown you, I can
take with me when I--go. But there," and she pointed
out over the bare, wind-swept lot, "there is something
that I cannot take. My flowers! You see that mound over
there, covered so snug and warm with burlap and sacking?
There my tulips and hyacinths sleep. In a few weeks,
when the covering is whisked off--ah, you shall see!
Then one can be quite sure that the spring is here. Who
can look at a great bed of red and pink and lavender and
yellow tulips and hyacinths, and doubt it? Come."
With a quick gesture she threw a shawl over her head,
and beckoned me. Together we stepped out into the chill
of the raw March afternoon. She stood a moment, silent,
gazing over the sodden earth. Then she flitted swiftly
down the narrow path, and halted before a queer little
structure of brick, covered with the skeleton of a
creeping vine. Stooping, Alma Pflugel pulled open the
rusty iron door and smiled up at me.
"This was my grandmother's oven. All her bread she
baked in this little brick stove. Black bread it was,
with a great thick crust, and a bitter taste. But it was
sweet, too. I have never tasted any so good. I like to
think of Grossmutter, when she was a bride, baking her
first batch of bread in this oven that Grossvater built
for her. And because the old oven was so very difficult
to manage, and because she was such a young thing--only
sixteen!--I like to think that her first loaves were
perhaps not so successful, and that Grosspapa joked about
them, and that the little bride wept, so that the young
husband had to kiss away the tears."
She shut the rusty, sagging door very slowly and
gently. "No doubt the workmen who will come to
prepare the ground for the new library will laugh and
joke among themselves when they see the oven, and they
will kick it with their heels, and wonder what the old
brick mound could have been."
There was a little twisted smile on her face as she
rose--a smile that brought a hot mist of tears to my
eyes. There was tragedy itself in that spare, homely
figure standing there in the garden, the wind twining her
skirts about her.
"You should but see the children peering over the
fence to see my flowers in the summer," she said. The
blue eyes wore a wistful, far-away look. "All the
children know my garden. It blooms from April to
October. There I have my sweet peas; and here my roses--
thousands of them! Some are as red as a drop of blood,
and some as white as a bridal wreath. When they are
blossoming it makes the heart ache, it is so beautiful."
She had quite forgotten me now. For her the garden
was all abloom once more. It was as though the Spirit of
the Flowers had touched the naked twigs with fairy
fingers, waking them into glowing life for her who never
again was to shower her love and care upon them.
"These are my poppies. Did you ever come out in the
morning to find a hundred poppy faces smiling at you, and
swaying and glistening and rippling in the breeze? There
they are, scarlet and pink, side by side as only God can
place them. And near the poppies I planted my pansies,
because each is a lesson to the other. I call my pansies
little children with happy faces. See how this great
purple one winks his yellow eye, and laughs!"
Her gray shawl had slipped back from her face and lay
about her shoulders, and the wind had tossed her hair
into a soft fluff about her head.
"We used to come out here in the early morning, my
little Schwester and I, to see which rose had unfolded
its petals overnight, or whether this great peony that
had held its white head so high only yesterday, was
humbled to the ground in a heap of ragged leaves. Oh, in
the morning she loved it best. And so every summer I
have made the garden bloom again, so that when she comes
back she will see flowers greet her.
"All the way up the path to the door she will walk in
an aisle of fragrance, and when she turns the handle of
the old door she will find it unlocked, summer and winter,
day and night, so that she has only to turn the knob and
She stopped, abruptly. The light died out of her
face. She glanced at me, half defiantly, half timidly,
as one who is not quite sure of what she has said. At
that I went over to her, and took her work-worn hands in
mine, and smiled down into the faded blue eyes grown dim
with tears and watching.
"Perhaps--who knows?--the little sister may come yet.
I feel it. She will walk up the little path, and try the
handle of the door, and it will turn beneath her fingers,
and she will enter."
With my arm about her we walked down the path toward
the old-fashioned arbor, bare now except for the tendrils
that twined about the lattice. The arbor was fitted with
a wooden floor, and there were rustic chairs, and a
table. I could picture the sisters sitting there with
their sewing during the long, peaceful summer afternoons.
Alma Pflugel would be wearing one of her neat gingham
gowns, very starched and stiff, with perhaps a snowy
apron edged with a border of heavy crochet done by the
wrinkled fingers of Grossmutter Pflugel. On the rustic
table there would be a bowl of flowers, and a pot of
delicious Kaffee, and a plate of German Kaffeekuchen,
and through the leafy doorway the scent of the
wonderful garden would come stealing.
I thought of the cheap little flat, with the ugly
sideboard, and the bit of weedy yard in the rear, and the
alley beyond that, and the red and green wall paper in
the parlor. The next moment, to my horror, Alma Pflugel
had dropped to her knees before the table in the damp
little arbor, her face in her hands, her spare shoulders
"Ich kann's nicht thun!" she moaned. "Ich kann
nicht! Ach, kleine Schwester, wo bist du denn! Nachts
und Morgens bete ich, aber doch kommst du nicht."
A great dry sob shook her. Her hand went to her
breast, to her throat, to her lips, with an odd, stifled
"Do that again!" I cried, and shook Alma Pflugel
sharply by the shoulder. "Do that again!"
Her startled blue eyes looked into mine. What do you
mean?" she asked.
"That--that gesture. I've seen it--somewhere--that
trick of pressing the hand to the breast, to the throat,
to the lips--Oh!"
Suddenly I knew. I lifted the drooping head and
rumpled its neat braids, and laughed down into the
"She's here!" I shouted, and started a dance of
triumph on the shaky floor of the old arbor. "I know
her. From the moment I saw you the resemblance haunted
me." And then as Alma Pflugel continued to stare, while
the stunned bewilderment grew in her eyes, "Why, I have
one-fourth interest in your own nephew this very minute.
And his name is Bennie! "
Whereupon Alma Pflugel fainted quietly away in the
chilly little grape arbor, with her head on my shoulder.
I called myself savage names as I chafed her hands
and did all the foolish, futile things that distracted
humans think of at such times, wondering, meanwhile, if
I had been quite mad to discern a resemblance between
this simple, clear-eyed gentle German woman, and the
battered, ragged, swaying figure that had stood at the
Suddenly Alma Pflugel opened her eyes. Recognition
dawned in them slowly. Then, with a jerk, she sat
upright, her trembling hands clinging to me.
"Where is she? Take me to her. Ach, you are sure--
"Lordy, I hope so! Come, you must let me help you
into the house. And where is the nearest telephone?
Never mind; I'll find one."
When I had succeeded in finding the nearest drug
store I spent a wild ten minutes telephoning the
surprised little probation officer, then Frau Nirlanger,
and finally Blackie, for no particular reason. I
shrieked my story over the wire in disconnected,
incoherent sentences. Then I rushed back to the little
cottage where Alma Pflugel and I waited with what
patience we could summon.
Blackie was the first to arrive. He required few
explanations. That is one of the nicest things about
Blackie. He understands by leaps and bounds, while
others crawl to comprehension. But when Frau Nirlanger
came, with Bennie in tow, there were tears, and
exclamations, followed by a little stricken silence on
the part of Frau Nirlanger when she saw Bennie snatched
to the breast of this weeping woman. So it was that in
the midst of the confusion we did not hear the approach
of the probation officer and her charge. They came up
the path to the door, and there the little sister turned
the knob, and it yielded under her fingers, and the old
door swung open; and so she entered the house quite as
Alma Pflugel had planned she should, except that the
roses were not blooming along the edge of the sunken
She entered the room in silence, and no one could
have recognized in this pretty, fragile creature the
pitiful wreck of the juvenile court. And when Alma
Pflugel saw the face of the little sister--the poor,
marred, stricken face--her own face became terrible in
its agony. She put Bennie down very gently, rose, and
took the shaking little figure in her strong arms, and
held it as though never to let it go again. There were
little broken words of love and pity. She called her
"Lammchen" and "little one," and so Frau Nirlanger and
Blackie and I stole away, after a whispered consultation
with the little probation officer.
Blackie had come in his red runabout, and now he
tucked us into it, feigning a deep disgust.
"I'd like to know where I enter into this little
drayma," he growled. "Ain't I got nothin' t' do but run
around town unitin' long lost sisters an' orphans!"
"Now, Blackie, you know you would never have forgiven
me if I had left you out of this. Besides, you must
hustle around and see that they need not move out of that
dear little cottage. Now don't say a word! You'll never
have a greater chance to act the fairy godmother."
Frau Nirlanger's hand sought mine and I squeezed it
in silent sympathy. Poor little Frau Nirlanger, the
happiness of another had brought her only sorrow. And
she had kissed Bennie good-by with the knowledge that the
little blue-painted bed, with its faded red roses, would
again stand empty in the gloom of the Knapf attic.
Norberg glanced up quickly as I entered the city
room. "Get something good on that south side story?" he
"Why, no," I answered. "You were mistaken about
that. The--the nice old maid is not going to move, after
FAREWELL TO KNAPFS
Consternation has corrugated the brows of the aborigines.
Consternation twice confounded had added a wrinkle or two
to my collection. We are homeless. That is, we are
Knapfless--we, to whom the Knapfs spelled home.
Herr Knapf, mustache aquiver, and Frau Knapf, cheek
bones glistening, broke the news to us one evening just
a week after the exciting day which so changed Bennie's
life. "Es thut uns sehr, sehr leid," Herr Knapf had
begun. And before he had finished, protesting German
groans mingled with voluble German explanations. The
aborigines were stricken down. They clapped pudgy fists
to knobby foreheads; they smote their breasts, and made
wild gestures with their arms. If my protests were less
frenzied than theirs, it was only because my knowledge of
German stops at words of six syllables.
Out of the chaos of ejaculations and interrogation
the reason for our expulsion at last was made
clear. The little German hotel had not been
remunerative. Our host and hostess were too hospitable
and too polite to state the true reason for this state of
affairs. Perhaps rents were too high. Perhaps, thought
I, Frau Knapf had been too liberal with the butter in the
stewed chicken. Perhaps there had been too many golden
Pfannkuchen with real eggs and milk stirred into them,
and with toothsome little islands of ruddy currant jelly
on top. Perhaps there had been too much honest,
nourishing food, and not enough boarding-house victuals.
At any rate, the enterprise would have to be abandoned.
It was then that the bare, bright little dining room,
with its queer prints of chin-chucking lieutenants, and
its queerer faces, and its German cookery became very
dear to me. I had grown to like Frau Knapf, of the
shining cheek bones, and Herr Knapf, of the heavy
geniality. A close bond of friendship had sprung up
between Frau Nirlanger and me. I would miss her friendly
visits, and her pretty ways, and her sparkling
conversation. She and I had held many kimonoed pow-wows,
and sometimes--not often--she had given me wonderful
glimpses of that which she had left--of
Vienna, the opera, the court, the life which had been
hers. She talked marvelously well, for she had all the
charm and vivacity of the true Viennese. Even the
aborigines, bristling pompadours, thick spectacles,
terrifying manner, and all, became as dear as old
friends, now that I knew I must lose them.
The great, high-ceilinged room upstairs had taken on
the look of home. The Blue-beard closet no longer
appalled me. The very purpleness of the purple roses in
the rug had grown beautiful in my eyes because they were
part of that little domain which spelled peace and
comfort and kindness. How could I live without the stout
yellow brocade armchair! Its plethoric curves were balm
for my tired bones. Its great lap admitted of sitting
with knees crossed, Turk-fashion. Its cushioned back
stopped just at the point where the head found needed
support. Its pudgy arms offered rest for tired elbows;
its yielding bosom was made for tired backs. Given the
padded comfort of that stout old chair--a friendly,
time-tried book between my fingers--a dish of ruddy
apples twinkling in the fire-light; my mundane soul
snuggled in content. And then, too, the
book-in-the-making had grown in that room. It had
developed from a weak, wobbling uncertainty into a
lusty full-blooded thing that grew and grew
until it promised soon to become mansize.
Now all this was to be changed. And I knew that I
would miss the easy German atmosphere of the place; the
kindness they had shown me; the chattering, admiring
Minna; the taffy-colored dachshund; the aborigines with
their ill-smelling pipes and flappy slippers; the
Wienerschnitzel; the crushed-looking wives and the
masterful German husbands; the very darns in the
table-cloths and the very nicks in the china.
We had a last family gathering in token of our
appreciation of Herr and Frau Knapf. And because I had
not seen him for almost three weeks; and because the time
for his going was drawing so sickeningly near; and
because I was quite sure that I had myself in hand; and
because he knew the Knapfs, and was fond of them; and
because-well, I invited Von Gerhard. He came, and I
found myself dangerously glad to see him, so that I made
my greeting as airy and frivolous as possible. Perhaps
I overdid the airy business, for Von Gerhard looked at me
for a long, silent minute, until the nonsense I had been
chattering died on my lips, and I found myself staring up
at him like a child that is apprehensive of being scolded
for some naughtiness.
"Not so much chatter, small one," he said,
unsmilingly. "This pretense, it is not necessary between
you and me. So. You are ein bischen blasz, nicht? A
little pale? You have not been ill, Dawn?"
"Ill? Never felt more chipper in my life," I made
flippant answer, "and I adore these people who are
forever telling one how unusually thin, or pale, or
scrawny one is looking."
"Na, they are not to be satisfied, these women! If
I were to tell you how lovely you look to me to-night you
would draw yourself up with chill dignity and remind me
that I am not privileged to say these things to you. So
I discreetly mention that you are looking, interestingly
pale, taking care to keep all tenderness out of my tones,
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