Every Soul Hath Its Song
Part 2 out of 7
"Hang around then, sweetness."
"Hang around! Gawd, if I hang around you any more than I have been doing
in the last five years, following you from one establishment to the
other, they'll have to kill me to put me out of my misery."
"You're all right, Gert. And when you haven't any of the greenback boys
around to fill in, you can always fall back on me."
"You're a nice old boy, Phonzie, and I like the kink in your hair,
but--but sometimes when I get blue, like to-night, I--I just wish I had
never clapped eyes on you."
"How she hates me."
"I wish to God I did."
"Cut the tragedy, Gert."
"That's the trouble; I been cutting it for the mock comedy all my life."
"You, the highest little flyer in the flock!"
"Yeh, because I've never found anybody who even cares enough about me to
clip my wings." Her laughter was short and with a blunt edge.
"Whew! Such a spill for you, Gert!"
"It's the spring gets on my nerves, I guess. Blow me to a table d'hote
to-night, Phonzie. I got a red-ink thirst on me and I'm as blue as
"Hang around, Gert, and if I'm not on duty I--"
"Honest, you're the greatest kid to squirm when you think a girl is
going to pin you down. You let me get about as serious as a musical
comedy with you and then you put up the barbed wire."
"Yes, I do not!"
"Fine chance I've got of ever pinning you down! You care about as much
for me as--as anybody else does, and that ain't saying much."
"Aw, Gert, you got the dumps--"
"Look at her over there. I can see by her profile she's hanging around
to buy you your dinner to-night. Whatta you bet she springs the
appointment-book yarn on you and you fall for it?"
A laugh flitted beneath Mr. Michelson's blond hedge of mustache. "Can I
help it that I got such hypnotizing, mesmerizing ways?"
She smiled beneath her rouge, and wanly. "No, darling," she said.
Across the room Madam Moores regarded them from beside the pile of
sheeny silks, her fingers plucking nervously at the fabrics.
"Hurry up over there, Phonzie. I told her the black lace was on the
Miss Dobriner daubed at her red lips with a lacy fribble of
handkerchief, her voice sotto behind it.
"Don't let her pin you, Phonzie. Have a heart and take me to supper when
I'm blue as indigo."
He leaned to impale a pin upon his lapel. "She's so white to me, Gert,
how can I squirm if she asks me to go over the appointment-book with her
"Tell her your grandmother's dead."
He leaned for another pin. "Stick around down in Seligman's. If I dust
my hat with my handkerchief when I pass, I'm nailed for the evening. If
I can wriggle I'll blow you to Churchey's for supper."
He retreated behind the mauve-colored swinging-door. The two remaining
sibyls, hatted and coated to crane the neck of the passer-by, hurried
arm-in-arm out into the spring evening. An errand girl, who had dropped
her skirt and put up her hair so that the eye of the law might wink at
her stigma of youth, hung the shimmering gowns away for another day's
display. Gertie Dobriner patted her ringed fingers against her mouth to
press back a yawn and trailed across the room, adjusting her hat before
a full-length mirror. In the light from a single electric bulb her hair
showed three colors--yellow gold, green gold, and, toward the roots, the
dark gold of old bronze.
"You can go now, Gert."
Miss Dobriner adjusted a spray of curls. Through the mirror she could
observe the mauve-colored swinging-door.
"Did--did Du Gass order that fish-tail model, madam?"
Madam Moores dallied with her appointment-book. Through the mirror she
could observe the mauve-colored swinging-door.
"Yes, in green."
"If I had her complexion I'd wear sandpaper to match it."
"We haven't all of us got the looks, Gert, that'll get us four-carat
stones to wear down to a twenty-dollar-a-week job."
Miss Dobriner's hand flew to her throat and the gem that gleamed there.
"I--I guess I can buy a stone on time for myself without--without any
"You can wear the stone, all right, Gert, but you can't get past the
"I--I ain't so stuck on this place, madam, that I got to stand for your
"No, it ain't the _place_ you're stuck on that keeps you here, Gert."
They regarded each other through eyes banked with the red fires of
anger, and beside the full-length mirror Miss Dobriner trembled as she
"You can think what you please, madam. I--I'm hired by Phonzie and I'm
here to wear models and not to steer your thinking."
Madam Moores sat so tense in her chair that her weight did not relax to
it. "You and me can't have no fusses, you know that, don't you? I give
Phonzie the run of my floor, and he's the one has to deal with--with
"You--you started it, madam. I--can get along with anybody. I don't have
to stay in a place where I'm not wanted; it's just because Phonzie--"
"We won't fuss about it, Gertie. I'm the last one to fall out with my
"Did--did Laidlaw order that trotteur model in plaid, Gert?"
"No; she's coming back to-morrow."
"To-day's the day to land an order."
"She says that pongee we made her last spring never fit her slick enough
between the shoulders. I felt like telling her we don't guarantee to fit
"You got to handle Laidlaw right, Gert. There'll be two trousseaux and
a ball in that family before June. The best way to lose a customer like
Laidlaw is to sell her what she ought to wear instead of what she wants
"Handle her right! I wore rubber gloves. Did I quiver an eyelash when
she ordered that pink organdie, and didn't Phonzie nearly double up when
he took down the order? You want to see her measurements. I'll get the
"No, no, Gert; you can go on. I got to stay and go over the appointments
A quick red flowed up and under the rouged surface of Miss Dobriner's
cheeks. "Oh--excuse me!"
"I--All right, I'm going."
She readjusted her hat, a tiny winged chariot of pink straw and designed
after fashion's most epileptic caprice, coaxed her ringed fingers into
a pair of but slightly soiled white gloves, her eyes the while staring
past her slim reflection in the mirror and on to the mauve-colored
"Good night, Gert."
Miss Dobriner bared her teeth to a smile and closed her lips again
before she spoke. "Good night--madam."
Then she went out, clicking the door behind her. Through the
mauve-colored swinging-door and scarcely a clock-tick later entered Mr.
Alphonse Michelson, spick, light-footed, slim.
"Charley's left with the black lace, madam."
It was as if Madam Moores suddenly threw off the husk of the day.
He ran a hand across his silk hair and glanced about. "Everybody gone?"
He reached for his hat and cane and a pair of untried gray gloves atop
them. "I sent the yellow taffeta out on a C.O.D. That gold buckle she
wanted on the shoulder cost her just twenty bucks more."
He fitted on his hat carefully and snapped his gloves across his palm.
"Well, I'm off, madam."
She adjusted her hat in a simulation of indifference. "Like to come up
to the flat for supper and--and go over the books, Phonzie?"
"There's plenty for two and--and we could kind of go over things."
He twirled his cane. "Oh, I--I'm running up there too often, sponging
"Sponging! Like I'd ask you if I didn't want you!"
"I been up there sponging off you three times this week. Anyways, I'm--"
"Don't I always just give you pot luck?"
"Yes, but you'll think afterwhile that I got you mixed up with my
A sensitive seepage of blood rushed over Madam Moores's nervous face,
stinging it. "Of course, if you won't want to come!"
"Don't want to come! A fellow that's never had a snap like your cozy
corner in his life--"
"Of course if--if you got a date with one of--of the models or
"I never said that, did I?"
"Well, get that sponging idea out of your head, Phonzie. There's always
plenty for two in my cupboard. Like I says the other night, what's the
use being able to afford my little flat if I can't get some pleasure out
"It sure looks good to this hall-room Johnnie."
She gathered her gloves and her black silk handbag. "Then come,
Phonzie," she said, "I'm going to take you home." And her throat might
have been lined with fur.
They went out together, locking the doors behind them, and into an
evening as soft as silk and full of stars.
Along the wide up-town street the human tide flowed fast and as if thaw
had set in, releasing it from the bondage of winter. Girls in light
wraps and without hats loitered in the white flare of drugstore lights.
Here and there a brown stoop bloomed with a boarder or two. In front
of Seligman's florist shop, which occupied the ground floor of Madam
Moores's dressmaking establishment, Alphonse Michelson paused for a
moment in the flare of its decorative show-window and flecked at his
hatband with sheer untried handkerchief.
"Come on, Phonzie."
In the up-town Subway, bound for the up-town flat, he leaned to her with
his small blond mustache raised in a smile.
"Where's the book, madam?"
"Forgot it," she replied, without shame.
* * * * *
Out of three hundred and eighty dollars cash, a bit of black and gold
brocade flung adroitly over the imitation hearth, a cot masquerading
under a Mexican afghan of many colors, a canary in a cage, a potted
geranium, a shallow chair with a threadbare head-rest, a lamp, a rug, a
two-burner gas-stove, Madam Moores had evolved Home.
And why not? The Petit Trianon was built that a queen might there find
rest from marble halls. The Borghese women in their palaces live behind
drawn shades, but Italian peasants sit in their low doorways and sing as
they rock and suckle.
In Madam Moores's two-flights-up flat the windows were flung open to the
moist air of spring, which flowed in cool as water between crisp muslin
curtains, stirring them. In the sudden flare of electric light the
canary unfolded its head from a sheaf of wing, cheeped, and fell to
picking up seed from the bottom of its cage.
Mr. Alphonse Michelson collapsed into the shallow chair beside the table
and relaxed his head against the threadbare dent in the upholstery.
"Whoops! home never was like this!"
"Is him tired?"
"Now him all comfy and I go fix poor tired bad boy him din-din."
More native than mother-tongue is Mother's tongue. Whom women love
they would first destroy with gibberish. To Mr. Michelson's linguistic
credit, however, he shifted in his chair in unease.
"What did you say?"
"What him want for din-din?"
He slung one slim leg atop the other, slumping deeper to the luxury of
his chair. "Dinner?"
"Say, those were swell chicken livers smothered in onions you served the
other night, madam. Believe me, those were some livers!"
No, reader, Romance is not dead. On the contrary, he has survived the
frock-coat and learned to chew a clove.
A radiance as soft as the glow from a pink-shaded lamp flowed over Madam
"Livers him going to have and biscuits made in my own ittsie bittsie
She divested herself of her wraps, fluffing her mahogany-colored hair
where the hat had restricted it, lighted a tiny stove off in the tiny
kitchenette and enveloped herself in a blue-bib-top apron. Her movements
were short and full of caprice, and when she set the table, brushing his
chair as she passed and repassed, lights came out in her eyes when she
dared raise her lids to show them.
They dined by the concealed fireplace and from off a table that could
fold its legs under like Aladdin's. Fumes of well-made coffee rose as
ingratiating as the perfume of a love story. Mr. Michelson dropped a
lump of butter into the fluffy heart of a biscuit and clapped the halves
"Bad boy, stop jollying."
"Say, if I'd tell you the truth about what I think of these biscuits,
you'd say I was writing a streetcar advertisement for baking-powder.
Say, this is some cup custard!"
"Full to my eyebrows."
"Just a little bittsie?"
He lighted a cigarette and they settled back in after-dinner
completeness, their dessert-plates pushed well toward the center of the
table and their senses quiet. She pleated the edge of her napkin and
watched him blow leisurely spirals of smoke to the ceiling.
"What you thinking about, Phonzie?"
"If I was thinking at all I was just sizing it up as pretty soft for a
fellow like me to get this sort of stand-in with--with my boss. Gawd! me
and Roth used to love each other like snakes."
"I--I ain't your boss, Phonzie. Don't I give you the run of
everything--hiring the models and all?"
"Sure you're my boss, and it's pretty soft for me."
"And I was just thinking, Phonzie, that it's pretty soft for me to have
found a fellow like you to manage things for me."
"Without you, so used to the ways of the Avenue and all that kind of
thing, where would I be now, trying to run in the right kind of bluff
with the trade?"
"That's easy! After all, Fifth Avenue and Third Avenue is pretty much
alike in the end, madam. A spade may be a spade, but if you're a good
salesman, you can put it on black velvet and sell it for a dessert-spoon
any day in the week."
"That's just what I'm saying, Phonzie, about you're knowing how. I
needed just a fellow like you to show me how the swell trade has got
to be blindfolded, and that the difference between a dressmaker and a
modiste is about a hundred and fifty dollars a gown."
"You ought to see the way we handled them when I was on the floor for
Roth. Say, we wouldn't touch a peignoir in that establishment for under
two hundred and fifty, and--we had 'em coming in there like sheep. The
Riverside Drive trade is nothing, madam, compared to what we could do
down there with the Avenue business."
"You sure know how to handle the lorgnette bunch, Phonzie."
"Is it any wonder, being in the business twenty years?"
"Twenty years! Why, Phonzie, you--you don't look much more than twenty
He laughed, shifting one knee to the other. "That's because you can't
see that my eye teeth are gold, madam."
"You're so light on your feet, Phonzie, and slick."
"To look twenty and feel your forty years ain't what it's cracked up to
be. If I had a home of my own, you know what I'd buy first--a pair of
carpet slippers and a patent rocker."
"I bet you mean it, too, Phonzie."
"Sure I mean it! How'd you like to go through life like me, trying to
keep the kink ironed in my hair and out of my back, or lose my job at
the only kind of work I'm good for? It's like having to live with a grin
frozen on your face so you can't close your mouth."
"I--I just can't get over it, Phonzie, you _forty_! You five years older
than me and me afraid--thinking all along it was just the other way."
"I had already shed my milk teeth before you were born, madam."
"Whatta you know about that!"
"Ask Gert. She's been following me around from place to place for years,
sticking to me because I say there ain't a model in the business can
show the clothes like she can."
"Ask her; she's my age and we been on the job together for twenty years.
Long before live models was even known in the business, she and me were
showing goods in the old Cunningham place on Madison Avenue."
"Even--even back there you was dead set on having good figures around
the place, wasn't you, Phonzie?"
"I tell you it's economy in the end, madam, to have figures that can
show off the goods to advantage."
"Oh, I'm not kicking, Phonzie, but I was just saying."
"I have been in the business long enough, madam, to learn that the
greatest way in the world to show gowns is on live stock. A dame will
fall for any sort of a rag stuck on a figure like Gert's, and think the
waist-line and all is thrown in with the dress. You seen for yourself
Van Ness order five gowns right off Gert's back to-day. Would she have
fallen for them if we had shown them in the hand? Not much! She forgot
all about her own thirty-eight waist-line when she ordered that pink
organdie. She was seeing Gert's twenty-two inches."
"But honest, Phonzie, take a girl like Gert, even with her figure,
she--Oh, I don't know, there's something about her!"
"She may rub your fur the wrong way, madam, but under all her flip ways
they don't come no finer than Gert."
"No, it ain't that, only she don't always get across. Take Lipton;
she won't even let her show her a gown; she's always calling for Dodo
instead. Sometimes I think the trade takes exceptions to a girl like
Gert, her all decked out in diamonds that--show how--how fly she must
"Gertie Dobriner's the best in the business, just the same, madam. She
ain't stuck on her way of living no more than I am, but she's a model
and she 'ain't got enough of anything else in her to make the world
treat her any different than a model."
"I'm not saying she ain't a good thirty-six, Phonzie."
"I got to hand it to her, madam, when it comes to a lot of things. She
may be a little skylarker, but take it from me, it ain't from choice,
and when she likes you--God! honest, I think that girl would pawn her
soul for you. When I was down with pneumonia--"
"I ain't saying a thing against her."
"She's no saint, maybe, but then God knows I'm not, either, and what I
don't know about her private life don't bother me."
"Oh, I--I know you like her all right."
"Say, I'll bet you any amount if that girl had memory enough to learn
the words of a song or the steps of a dance, she could have landed a
first-row job in any musical show on Broadway. She could do it now, for
that matter. Gad! did you see her to-day showing off that Queen Louise
cloth-of-gold model? Honest, she took my breath away, and I been on the
floor with her twenty years."
"Keep down your hips and waist-line, Gert, I always say to her, and you
are good in the business for ten years yet."
"She should worry while the crop of four carats is good."
"Yes, but just the same a girl like her don't know when her luck may
turn. A girl can lose her luck sometimes before she loses her figure."
"Any old time she can lose her luck with you."
Madam Moores bent over the pleats in her napkin. Opposite her, his
cigarette held fastidiously aloft, he regarded her through its haze.
"Well, of all things! So that--that's what you think?"
"That she's dead strong for you."
"Sure she is, but what's that got to do with it? That girl's like--well,
she's like a sister or--or a pal to me, but she's got about as much time
for a fellow of my pace, except when she gets blue, as--as the Queen of
"That's what you think, maybe, but everybody else knows she--she's been
after you for years, trying--"
"Aw, cut the comedy, madam. Honest, you make me sore. She's nothing
to me off the floor but a darn good pal. Say, I can treat her to a
sixty-cent table d'hote twice a week; but don't you think in the back
of my head, when it comes to a showdown, that I couldn't even buy silk
shoelaces for a girl of her kind. I ain't her pace and we both know it.
"You'd like to be, all right, if--if she didn't have so many rich ones
"Just the same, many's the time she's told me if she could land a
regular fellow and do the regular thing and settle down on seventy-five
a month in a Harlem flat, why she'd drop all this skylarking of hers for
a family of youngsters, so quick it would make your head swim."
"Sure, that's just what I say, she--"
"Many's the time she--she's cried to me--just cried, because the kind of
life she has to live don't lead to anything, and she knows it."
"I ain't blaming you for liking her, Phonzie; a girl with her figure can
make an old dub like me look like--well, I just guess after her I--I
must look like thirty cents to you."
"You! Say, you got more real sense in your little finger than three of
Gert's kind put together."
She colored like a wild rose.
"Sense ain't what counts with the men nowadays; it's looks and--and
speed like Gert's."
"Girls like Gert are all right, I tell you; but say, when it comes to
real brains like yours--nobody home."
"Maybe not, but just the same it's the girls with sense get tired having
the men rave about their smartness and pass on, to go rushing after a
empty head completely smothered under yellow curls. That's how much
_real_ brains counts for with--with you men."
He flung her a gesture, his cigarette trailing a design in smoke.
"Honest, madam, you got me wrong there. A fellow like me 'ain't got the
nerve to--to go after a woman like you. A girl like Dodo or Gert is my
size, but I'd be a swell dub trying to line up alongside of you, now
Tears that were distilled in her heart rose to her eyes, dimming them.
Her hand fluttered in among the plates and cups and saucers toward him.
Her head fell suddenly forward in her arms, pushing the elaborate
coiffure awry, and beneath the blue-checked apron her shoulders heaved.
He rose. "Madam! Why, madam, what--"
"Don't--don't pay any attention to me, Phonzie. I--I just got a silly
fit on me. I'll be all right in a minute."
"Aw, madam, I--I didn't mean to make you sore by anything I said."
"You go now, Phonzie; the whole evening don't need to be spoiled for you
just because I went and got a silly fit of blues on. You--you go get
some live one like Gert and--and take her out skylarking."
"You're sore about Gert, is that it, madam?"
"No, no. Honest, Phonzie."
"Madam, I--I just don't know what's got you. Is it something I said has
hurt your feelings?"
He advanced with an incertitude that muddled his movements, made to
cross to her side where she lay with her arms outstretched in the fuddle
of dishes, made to touch her black silk sleeve where it emerged from the
blue-checked apron, hesitated, sucking his lips in between his teeth,
swung on his heel, then around once more, and placed his hand lightly on
"You--you just go on, Phonzie. I--I guess I'm an old fool, anyways. It's
like trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip for me to try and squeeze
anything but work out of my life. I--I guess I'm just nothing but an old
"But, madam, how can a fellow like me squeeze anything out of life for
you? Look at me! Why, I ain't worth your house room. I'm nothing but
a fellow who draws his salary off a woman, and has all his life. Why,
you--you earn as much in a week as I do in a month."
"What's that got to do with it?"
"Look, you with a home you made for yourself and a business you built up
out of your own brains, and what am I? A hall-room guy that can put a
bluff across with a lot of idiot women. Look at me, forty and doing a
chorus-man's work. You got me wrong, madam. I don't measure nowheres
near up to you. If I did, do you think I wouldn't be settled down long
ago like a regular--Aw, well, what's the use talking." He plucked at his
short mustache, pulling the hairs sharply.
She raised her face and let him gaze at the ravages of her tears.
"Why--why don't you come right out and say it, that I 'ain't got the
looks and--the pep?"
"Madam, can't you see I'm only--"
"You--you can't run yourself down to me. You, and nobody else, has made
the establishment what it is. I never had a head for the _little_ things
that count. That's why I spent my best years down in Twenty-third
Street. What did I know about the _big_ little things!--the
carriage-call stunt and the sachet-bags in the lining and the blue and
gold labels, all _little_ things that get _big_ results. I never had a
head for the things that hold the rich trade, like the walking models,
or the French accent."
"You got the head for the big things, and that's what counts."
"That's why, when you say you can't line up alongside of me, it's no
"I--I mean it."
"Just because I got a head for designing doesn't make me a nine days'
wonder. Why don't you--you come right out and say what you mean,
"Why, I--I don't even know how to talk to a woman like you, madam. La-La
girls have always been my pace."
"I know, Phonzie, and I--I ain't blaming you. A slick-looking fellow
like you can skylark around as he pleases and don't need to have time
for--the overworked, tired-out ones like me."
"Madam, I never dreamed--"
"Dreamed! Phonzie, I--I've got no shame if I tell you, but, God! how
many nights I--I've lain right here on this couch dreaming of--of--"
"Of you and me, Phonzie, hitting it off together."
Her head burrowed deeper in her arms, her voice muffed in their depth.
"How many times I've dreamed, Phonzie. You and me, real partners in the
business and--and in everything. Us in a little home together, one of
the five-room flats down on the next floor, with a life-size kitchen and
a life-size dining-room and--and a life-size--Aw, Phonzie, you--you'll
think I'm crazy."
"Madam, why, madam, I just don't know."
"Them's the dreams a silly old thing like me, that never had nothing
but work and--and nothing else in her life, can lay right here on this
couch, night after night, and--Gawd! I--I bet you think I--I'm just
For answer he leaned over and took her small figure in his arms, wiping
away with his sheer untried handkerchief the tears; but fresh ones
sashayed down her face and flowed over her words.
"Phonzie, tell me, do you--do you--think--"
He held her closer. "Sure, madam, I do."
* * * * *
On the wings of a twelvemonth, spring had come around again and the
taste of summer was like poppy-leaves between the teeth, and the
perennial open shirtwaists and open street-cars bloomed, even as the
distant larkspur in the distant field. At six o'clock with darkness
came a spattering of rain, heavy single drops that fell each with its
splotch, exuding from the asphalt the warming smell of thaw. Then came
wind, right high-tempered, too, slanting the rain and scudding it and
blowing pedestrians' skirts forward and their umbrellas inside outward.
Mr. Alphonse Michelson fitted his hand like a vizor over his eyes and
peered out into the wet dusk. Lights gleamed and were reflected in the
dark pool of rain-swept asphalt. Passers-by hurried for shelter and bent
into the wind.
In Madam Moores's establishment, enlarged during the twelvemonth to
twice its floor space, the business day waned and died; in the workrooms
the whir of machines sank into the quiet maw of darkness; in the
showrooms the shower lights, all but a single cluster, blinked out.
Alphonse Michelson slid into a tan, rain-proof coat, turning up the
collar and buttoning across the flap, then fell to pacing the thick-nap
From a mauve-colored telephone-booth emerged Miss Gertie Dobriner,
flushed from bad service and from bad air.
"Sure I got her. Is it such a stunt to get an address from a customer?"
"I says to her, I says, 'I seen it standing on the sidewalk next to your
French maid and I wanted to buy one like it for my little niece.'"
"Can we get it to-night?"
"Yes, proud papa! But listen; I wrote it down, 'Hinshaw, 2227 Casset
"Yes, two blocks from the Bridge, and for a henpecked husband you got
a large fat job on your hands if you want to make another getaway
to-night. This man Hinshaw shows 'em right in his house."
"Brooklyn, of all places!"
He snapped his fingers in a series of rapid clicks. "Ain't that the
limit? If I'd only mentioned it to you this afternoon earlier, we could
have been over and back by now."
"Wait until Monday then, Phonzie."
"Yes, but you ought to have heard her this morning, Gert; it's not often
she gets her heart so set. To-morrow being Sunday, all of a sudden she
gets a-wishing for one of the glass-top ones like she's seen around in
the parks, to take him out in for the first time."
"Oh, I'm game! I'll go, but can you beat it! A trip to Brooklyn when I
got a friend from Carson City waiting at his hotel to buy out Rector's
for me to-night."
"You go on with him, Gert. What's the use you dragging over there, too,
now that you got the address for me. I would never have mentioned it to
you at all if I'd have known you couldn't just go buy the kind she wants
in any department store. I'll go over there alone, Gert."
"Yes, and get stung on the shape and the hood and all. I bought just an
ordinary one for my little niece once, and you got to get them shallow.
Anyways, I'm going to chip in half on this. I want to get the little
devil something, anyways."
"Aw no, Gert, this is my surprise."
"I guess I can chip in on a present for the kid's month-old birthday."
"Well, then, say I meet you in the Eighty-sixth Street Subway at seven,
so we can catch a Brooklyn express and make it over in thirty minutes."
"But it's raining, Gert. Look out. Honest, I don't like to ask you to
break your date to hike over there in the rain with me."
"Raining! Aw, then let's cut it, Phonzie. I got a new marcel and a
cold on my chest that weighs a ton. She can't roll it on a wet Sunday,
"Paper says clear and warm to-morrow, Gert; but, honest, you don't need
"You're a nice boy, Phonzie, and a proud father, but you can't spend my
money for me. What you bet I get ten per cent. off for cash? Subway at
seven. I'll be there."
"I may be a bit late, Gert. She ain't so strong yet, and after last
night I don't want to get her nervous."
"I told you she'd be sore at me for taking you to the Ritz ball
last night, and God knows it wasn't no pleasure in my life to go
model-hunting with you, when I might have been joy-riding with my friend
from Carson City."
"It's just because she ain't herself yet. I'm off, Gert. Till seven in
"Yes, till seven!"
* * * * *
When Mr. Alphonse Michelson unlocked the door of his second-floor
five-room apartment, a lamp softly burning through a yellow silk
lamp-shade met him with the soft radiance of home. Beside the door he
divested himself of his rain-spotted mackintosh, inserted his dripping
umbrella in a tall china stand, shook a little rivulet from his hat and
hung it on a pair of wall antlers.
"That you, Phonzie?"
"Yes, hon, it's me."
He tiptoed down the aisle of hallway and into the soft-lighted front
room. From a mound of pillows and sleepy from their luxury Millie Moores
rose to his approach, her forefinger placed across her lips and a pale
mist of chiffon falling backward from her arms.
What a masseuse is Love! The lines had faded from Millie's face and in
their place the grace of tenderness and a roundness where the chin had
softened. Years had folded back like petals, revealing the heart and the
unwithered bosom of her.
He kissed her, pressing the finger of warning closer against her lips,
and she patted a place for him on the Mexican afghan beside her.
"How you feelin', hon?"
"Strong! If it ain't raining to-morrow, I'm going to take him out if
I have to carry him in my arms. Say, wouldn't I like to feel myself
rolling him in one of them white-enamel, glass-top things like Van Ness
has for her last one. Ida May tried three places to get one for us."
"They're made special."
"All my life I've wanted to feel myself wheeling him, Phonzie. I used to
dream myself doing it in the old place down on Twenty-third Street,
when I used to sit at the sewing-table from eight until eight. Gee!
I--honest, I just can't wait to see if the sun is shining to-morrow."
He kissed her again on the back of each finger, and she let her hand,
pale and rather inert, rest on his hair.
"Is my boy hungry for his din-din?"
"Gee! yes! The noon appointments came so thick I had to send Eddie out
to bring me a bite."
"What kind of a day?"
"Everything smooth but the designing-room. Gert done her best, but they
don't take hold without you, hon. They can't even get in their heads
that gold charmeuse idea Gert and I swiped at the Ritz last night."
"Did you tell them I'll be back on the job next week, Phonzie?"
"Nothing doing. You're going to stay right here, snug in your rug,
another two weeks."
"Rave on, hon, but I got the nurse engaged for Monday. How's the Van
Norder wedding-dress coming?"
"Great! That box train you drew up will float down the aisle after her
like a white cobweb. It's a knock-out."
"Say, won't I be glad to get back in harness!"
"You got to take it slow, Mil."
"And ain't you glad it's all over, Phonzie?"
"Four weeks old to-morrow, and Ida May was over to-day and says she
never seen a kid so big for his age."
"He takes after my grandfather--he was six feet two without shoes."
"You ought to seen him to-day laying next to me, Phonzie. He looked up
and squinted, dear, for all the world like you."
A bell tinkled. In the frame of a double doorway a seventeen-year-old
maid drew back the portieres on brass rings that grated. In the room
adjoining and beneath a lighted dome of colored glass a table lay
spread, uncovered dishes exuding fragrant spirals of steam.
"Supper! Say, ain't it great to have you back at the table again, Mil?"
"Oh, I don't know, the way--the way you went hiking off last night
to--to a ball."
"Aw, now, hon, 'ain't you got that out of your system yet? For a girlie
with all your good sense, if you ain't the greatest little one to get a
silly gix and work it to death."
"I just made a civil remark."
"What was the use wasting that ten-dollar pair of tickets the guy from
Carson City gave her, when we could use them and get some tips on some
of the imports the women wore?"
"I never said to waste them."
"You know it don't hurt to get around and see what's being worn, hon.
That's our business."
Tears of weakness welled to her eyes and she stooped over her plate to
"I'm not saying anything, am I? Only--only it's right lucky she can fill
my place so--so well while I--I got to be away awhile."
Her barbed comment only pricked him to happy thought. He made a quick
foray into his side pocket. "I brought up one of these pink velvet roses
for you to look at, Mil. It's Gert's idea to festoon these underneath
the net tunic on McGrath's blue taffeta. See, like that. It's a neat
little idea, hon, and Gert had these roses made up in shaded effects
like this one. How you like it?"
The tiny bud lay on the table between them, nor did she take it up.
He leaned to pat her cheek. "These are swell potatoes, hon."
Her lips warmed and opened. "I--I told her how to make 'em."
"Give me some more."
She in turn leaned to press his hand. "Such a hungry boy."
"Can I take a peek at the kid before--"
"Aw, Phonzie, and wake him up like you did last night. He'll sleep
straight through now till half past twelve; that's why I didn't even
tiptoe back in the bedroom myself. The doctor says the first half of the
night is his best sleep; let him sleep till half past twelve, dear."
"Aw, just one peek before I go."
"Before you what?"
"I got to go out for a little while to-night, hon. On business."
"Slews. I got to meet him in the Subway at seven and go to Brooklyn
shops with him to look over those ventilators I'm having put in the
She laid down her fork. "I thought you said he was in St. Louis?"
"He got back."
"You lay down in the front room and read till I get back, hon, and
maybe--maybe I'll bring you a surprise."
The meal continued in silence, but after a few seconds her throat seemed
to close and she discarded the pretense of eating.
"Now don't you get sore, Mil; you never used to be like this. It's just
because you're not right strong yet."
"I ain't--ain't sore."
"You are. You got a foolish idea in your head, Mil."
"Why should I have an idea? I guess I'm getting all that's coming to me
for--for forcing things."
"Now, Mil, I bet anything you're still feeling sore about last night.
"Sore? It ain't my business, Phonzie, if you can stay out till one
o'clock one night and the next want to begin the same thing over again."
"We had to stick around last night, Mil. Gert was drawing off the models
under her handkerchief and on the dance program. That's how we got the
yellow charmeuse, just by keeping after it and drawing it line for
"I know, I know."
"Then give me a kiss and when I come back maybe--maybe I'll bring you a
surprise up my sleeve, hon."
She sat beside her cold meal, tears scratching her eyes like blown grit.
"It's like I told you this morning, Phonzie; when you get tired, all
you got to do is remember I got the new trunk standing right behind the
cretonne curtains, and I can pack my duds any day in the week and find a
welcome over at--at Ida May's."
"Mil, ain't you ashamed!"
"Why, I could pack up and--and find a welcome there right to-night, if
the kid wasn't too little for the night air."
"Mil, honest, I--I just don't know what to make of you. I--I've just
lost my nerve about going now."
"I'm not going to be the one to say stay."
With his coat unhooked from the antlers and flung across his arm, he
stood contemplating, a furrow of perplexity between his eyes.
"If I--I hadn't promised--"
"You go. I guess it won't be the last evening I spend alone."
"Yes it will, hon."
"I know, I know."
He buttoned his coat and stooped over her, the smell of damp exuding
from his clothes.
"Just you lay down in the front room till I get back, Mil. Here, look at
some of these new fashion books I brought home. I'll be back early, hon,
and maybe wake you and the kid up with--with a surprise."
"Just a French kiss, hon."
She raised a cold face. He tilted her head backward and pressed his lips
to hers, then went out, closing the door lightly behind him.
For a breathing space she remained where he had left her, with her lips
held in between her teeth and the sobbing breath fluttering in her
throat. The pink rose lay on the table, its beautiful silk-velvet leaves
concealing its cotton heart. She regarded it through a hot blur of tears
that stung her eyeballs. Her throat grew tighter. Suddenly she sprang to
her feet and to the hallway. A full-length coat hung from the antlers
and a filmy scarf, carelessly flung. She slid into the coat, cramming
the sleeves of her negligee in at the shoulders, wrapping the scarf
about her head and knotting it at the throat in a hysteria of sudden
decision. Then down the flight of stairs, her knees trembling as she
ran. When she reached the bubbly sidewalk, cool rain slanted in her
face. She gathered her strength and plunged against it.
At the corner, in the white flare of an arc-light, chin sunk on his
chest against the onslaught of rain, and head leading, Alphonse
Michelson stepped across the shining sea of asphalt. She broke into
a run, the uneven careen of the weak, keeping to the shadow of the
buildings; doubling her pace.
When he reached the hooded descent to the Subway, she was almost in his
shadow; then cautiously after him down the iron stairs, and when he
paused to buy his ticket, he might have touched her as she held herself
taut against the wall and out of his vision. A passer-by glanced back at
her twice. From the last landing of the stairway and leaning across the
balustrade, she could follow him now with her eyes, through the iron
gateway and on to the station platform.
From behind a pillar, a hen pheasant's tail in her hat raising her above
the crowd, her shoulders rain-spotted and a dripping umbrella held well
away from her, emerged Gertie Dobriner, a reproach in her expression,
but meeting him with a pantomime of laughs and sallies. A tangle of
passengers closed them in. A train wild with speed tore into the
station, grinding to a stop on shrieking wheels. A second later it tore
out again, leaving the platform empty.
Then Madam Moores turned her face to the rainswept street and retraced
her steps, except that a vertigo fuddled her progress and twice she
swayed. When she climbed the staircase to her apartment she was obliged
to rest midway, sitting huddled against the banister, her soaked scarf
fallen backward across her shoulders. She unlatched her door carefully,
to save the squeak and to avoid the small maid who sang over and above
the clatter of her dishes. The yellow lamp diffused its quiet light the
length of the hallway, and she tottered down and into the bedroom at the
A night lamp burned beside a basinette that might have been lined with
the breast feathers of a dove, so downy was it. An imitation-ivory clock
ticked among a litter of imitation-ivory dresser fittings. On the edge
of the bed, and with no thought for its lacy coverlet, she sat down
heavily, her wet coat dragging it awry. An hour ticked past. The maid
completed her tasks, announced her departure, and tiptoed out to meet an
appointment with a gas-fitter's assistant in the lower rear hall.
After a while Madam Moores fell to crying, but in long wheezes that came
from her throat dry. The child in the crib uncurled a small, pink fist
and opened his eyes, but with the gloss of sleep still across them and
not forfeiting his dream. Still another hour and she rose, groping
her way behind a chintz curtain at the far end of the room; fell to
scattering and reassembling the contents of a trunk, stacking together
her own garments and the tiny garments of a tiny white layette.
Toward midnight she fell to crying again beside the crib, and in audible
jerks and moans that racked her. The child stirred. Cramming her
handkerchief against her lips, she faltered down the hallway. In the
front room and on the pillowed couch she collapsed weakly, eyes closed
and her grief-crumpled face turned toward the door.
On the ground floor of a dim house in a dim street, which by the
contrivance of its occupants had been converted from its original
role of dark and sinister dining-room to wareroom for a dozen or more
perambulators on high, rubber-tired wheels, Alphonse Michelson and
Gertie Dobriner stood in conference with a dark-wrappered figure, her
blue-checked apron wound muff fashion about her hands.
Miss Dobriner tapped a finger against her too red lips. "Seventy dollars
net for a baby-carriage!"
"Yes'm, and a bargain at that. If he was home he'd show you the books
hisself and the prices we get."
"Seventy dollars for a baby-carriage! For that, Phonzie, you can buy the
kid a taxi."
In a sotto voice and with a flow of red suffusing his face, Alphonse
Michelson turned to Gertie Dobriner, his hand curved blinker fashion to
inclose his words.
"For Gawd's sake, cut the haggling, Gert. If this here white enamel is
the carriage we want, let's take it and hike. I got to get home."
Miss Dobriner drew up her back to a feline arch. "The gentleman says
we'll take it for sixty-five, spot cash."
"My husband's great for one price, madam. We don't cater to none but
private trade and--"
"Sure you don't. If we could have got one of these glass-top carriages
in a department store, we wouldn't be swimming over here to Brooklyn
just to try out our stroke."
"Mrs. Nan Ness, who sent you here, knows the kind of goods we turn out.
She says she's going to give us an order for a twin buggy yet, some
of these days. If the Four Hundred believed in babies like the Four
Million, we'd have a plant all over Brooklyn. Only my husband won't
Mr. Michelson waved aside the impending recitation with a sweep of his
hand. "Is this the one you like, Gert?"
"Yes, with the folding top. Say, don't I want to see madam's face when
she sees it. And say, won't the kid be a scream, Phonzie, all nestled up
in there like a honey bunch?"
He slid his hand into his pocket, withdrawing a leather folder. "Here,
we'll take this one with the folding top, but get us a fresh one out of
"We'll make you this carriage up, sir, just as you see it now."
"Make it up! We've got to have it now. To-night!"
"But, sir, we only got these samples made up to show."
"Then we got to buy the sample."
"No, no. My husband ain't home and I--I can't sell the sample. We--"
"But I tell you we got to have it to-night. To-morrow's Sunday and the
"No, no. With my husband not here, I can't let go no sample. As a
special favor, sir, we'll make you one up in a week."
Miss Dobriner stooped forward, her eyes narrow as slits. "Seventy-five,
Indecision vanished as rags before Abracadabra.
"We make it a rule not to sell our samples, but--"
"That carriage has got to be delivered at my house to-night before ten."
"Sir, that can't go out to-night. It's got to be packed special and sent
over on a flat-top dray. These carriages got to be packed like they was
"Can you beat that for luck?" He inserted two fingers in his tall collar
as if it choked him. "Can you beat that?"
"The first thing Monday morning, sir, as a special favor, but that
carriage can't go out to-night. We got one man does nothing but pack
them for delivery."
He plunged his hands into his pockets and paced the narrow aisle down
the center of the room. "We got to get that carriage over there to-night
if--if we have to wheel it over!"
Miss Dobriner clapped her hands in an ecstasy of inspiration. "Good!
We'll wheel it home. We can make it by midnight. What you bet?"
He turned upon her, but with a ray in his eyes. "Say, Gert, that ain't
such a worse idea, but--"
"No buts. The night is young, and I know a fellow used to walk from the
Bronx to Brooklyn with his girl every Sunday."
"Sure! What's an eight-mile walk on a spring night like this? It's all
cleared up and stopped raining. Only, gee! I--I hate to be getting home
all hours again."
She flipped him a gesture. "Say, it's not my surprise party you're
"It's not that, Gert, only I don't want to keep her waiting until she
gets sore enough to have the edge taken off the surprise when it does
"Say, suit yourself. It's not my kid I'm going to wheel out to-morrow. I
"I'll do it."
"You're not doing me a favor. With my cold and my marcel, a three-hour
walk ain't the one thing in life I'm craving."
"I'll roll it over the bridge and be home by twelve, easy. You take the
Subway, Gert; it's too big a trot for you."
"Nix! I don't start anything I can't finish."
She cocked her hat to a forward angle, so that the hen pheasant's tail
swung rakishly over her face, took an Hellenic stride through the aisle
of perambulators, flung her arms across her bosom in an attitude of
extravaganza, then tossed off a military salute.
"You're a peach, Gert."
"I've tried pretty near everything in my life. Why not wheel another
fellow's baby-carriage for another fellow's wife's baby across Brooklyn
Bridge at midnight? Whoops! why not!"
"We're off, then, Gert."
"Keep your eye on the steering-wheel, Phonzie, and remember, ten miles
is speed limit on the Bridge. One, two, three! Gawd! if my friend from
Carson City could only see me now!"
Out on the drying sidewalk they leaned to each other, and the duet of
their merriment ran ahead of them down the meager street and found out
its dark corners.
"Honest, Phonzie, won't the girls just bust when they hear this!"
"And Mil, poor old girl, she's right weak and full of nerves now, but
she'll laugh loudest of all when she knows why I went with Slews."
"Come on, or we won't get home until morning."
And on the crest of her insouciance she thrust out her arm, giving the
shining white perambulator a running push from the rear, so that it went
rolling lightly from her and with a perfect gear action down the slight
incline of sidewalk. They were after it at a bound, light-heeled and
full of laughter.
"Whoops, my dear!"
* * * * *
At a turn in the dark street the lights of the Bridge flashed suddenly
upon them, swung in high festoons across an infinitude of night. Above,
a few majestic stars, new coined, gleamed in a clear sky.
"What do you bet that with me at the wheel we can clear the Bridge in
thirty minutes, Phonzie?"
"Sure we can; but here, let me shove."
She elbowed him aside, the banter gone suddenly from her voice.
"No, let me."
She fell to pushing it silently along. Stars came out in her eyes. He
advanced to her pace, matching his stride to hers, fancies like colored
beads slipping along the slender thread of his thoughts.
"Swell sight, ain't it, Gert, the harbor lights so bright and the sky so
"Seeing so much sky all at once reminds me, Gert. You know about that
midnight--blue satin Hertz had the brass to dump back on us because the
skirt was too tight. Huh?"
Her eyes were far and away.
"Huh, whatta you know about that, Gert?"
Her hands, gripped around the handle-bars, were full of nerves; she
could feel them jumping in her palm.
"What you say, Phonzie?"
"All right, don't answer. Moon all you like, for my part." And he fell
to whistling as he strode beside her, his eyes on the light-spangled
outline of the city.
* * * * *
At twelve o'clock the lights in the lower hall of the up-town
apartment-house had been extinguished. All but one, which burned like
a tired eye beneath the ornate staircase. The misty quiet of midnight,
which is as heavy as a veil, hung in the corridors. Miss Gertie Dobriner
entered first and, holding wide the door between them, Alphonse
Michelson at the front wheels, they tilted the white carriage up the
narrow staircase, their whispers floating through the gloom.
"Easy there, Phonzie!"
"Whew! that was a close shave!"
"Here, let me unlock the door. 'Sh-h-h!"
"Don't go, Gert. Come on in, and after the big show I'll send you home
in a cab."
"Nix! After a three-hour walk, a street-car will look good enough to
"Well, then, come on in, just a minute, Gert. I want you to see the fun.
What you bet she's asleep in the front room, sore as thunder, too? We'll
sneak back and dump the kid in and wheel him in on her."
"Aw no! I--I got to go now, Phonzie."
"Come on, Gert, don't be a quitter. Don't you want to see her face when
she knows that Slews has been all a fluke? Come on, Gert, I'll wake up
the kid if I try to dump him in alone."
"Well, for just a minute. I--I don't want to butt in on your and--and
They entered with the stealthy espionage of thieves, and in the narrow
hallway she waited while he tiptoed to the bedroom and back again, his
lips pursed outward in a "'Sh-h-h."
"She must be in the front room. The kid's in his crib. Come on, Gert.
He was pink-faced and full of caution, raising each foot in exaggerated
stealth. Between them they manoeuvered the carriage down the hallway.
"'Sh-h-h. If she's awake, she can hear every word in the front room."
From her wakeful couch Madam Moores raised herself on her elbow, cupping
her ear in her palm, and straining her glance down the long hallway. The
tears had dried on her cheeks.
"Here, Gert, you dump in these things and let me lift the kid."
"No, no; let me! Go 'way, Phonzie. You'll wake him! I just want her to
be too surprised to open her mouth when she sees him sleeping in it like
She threw back the net drapery and leaned to the heart of the crib, and
the blood ran in a flash across her face.
"Little darling--little Phonzie darling!"
"Don't wake him, Gert."
She was reluctant to withdraw herself. "His little darling fists, so
pink and curled up! Little Phonzie darling!"
He hung over each process, proud and awkward.
"Little darling--little darling--here, Phonzie help."
They transferred the burden, the child not moving on his pillow. In the
shallow heart of the perambulator, the high froth of pillows about him,
he lay like a bud, his soft profile against the lace, and his skin like
the innermost petal of a rose.
"Phonzie, ain't he--ain't he the softest little darling! Gawd! how--how
she'll love to--to be wheeling him!"
His fingers fumbled with excitement and fell to strapping and buckling
with a great show and a great ineffectually.
"Here, help me let down the glass top."
"'Sh-h-h-h! Every word carries in this flat."
"You wheel him down and in on her, Gert."
She stiffened with a new diffidence. "No, no. It's your surprise."
"You done all the work on the job as much as me, and it's half your
present, anyways. You roll him down the hall and stand next to her till
she wakes up. She's a tight little sleeper, but if she don't wake soon
I'll drop a book or something. Go on, Gert, roll it in."
"No, no, Phonzie. You and her have your fun out alone. It's your fun,
anyways, not mine. This piece of rolling-stock will roll herself along
"Anyways, I'm dead. Look what a rag I am! Look at the hem of this skirt!
The next time I do a crazy thing like walk from Brooklyn, I want to be
burned in oil."
"Now, Gert, stick around and I'll send you home in a cab."
But she was out and past him craning her neck backward through the
aperture of the open door. "Go to it, Phonzie! It's your fun, anyways.
Yours and hers. S'long!"
He had already begun his triumphant passage down the hallway, and on her
couch among her pillows Madam Moores closed her eyes in a simulation of
sleep and against the tears that scalded her lids.
In a south-bound car Gertie Dobriner found a seat well toward the front.
Across the aisle a day laborer on a night debauch threw her a watery
stare and a thick-tongued, thick-brogued remark. A char-woman with a
newspaper bundle hugged under one arm dozed in the seat alongside, her
head lolling from shoulder to shoulder. Raindrops had long since dried
on the window-pane. Gertie Dobriner cupped her chin in her palm and
gazed out at the quiet street and the shuttered shops hurtling past.
Twice the conductor touched her shoulder, his hand outstretched for
fare. She sprang about, fumbling in her purse for a coin, but with
difficulty, because through the hot blur of her tears she could only
grope ineffectually. When she finally found a five-cent piece, a tear
had wiggle-waggled down her cheek and fell, splotching the back of her
Across the aisle the day laborer leaned to her batting at the hen
pheasant's tail in her hat, and a cold, alcoholic tear dripping from the
corner of his own eye.
"Cheer up, my gir-rl," he said, through a beard like old moss--"cheer up
and be a spor-r-rt!"
HOCHENHEIMER OF CINCINNATI
When Mound City began to experience the growing-pains of a Million Club,
a Louisiana Exposition, and a block-long Public Library, she spread
Westward Ho!--like a giant stretching and flinging out his great legs.
When rooming-houses and shoe-factories began to shove and push into
richly curtained brown-stone-front Pine Street, reluctant papas, with
urgent wives and still more urgent daughters, sold at a loss and bought
white-stone fronts in restricted West End districts.
Subdivisions sprang up overnight. Two-story, two-doored flat-buildings,
whole ranks and files of them, with square patches of front porch cut in
two by dividing railings, marched westward and skirted the restricted
districts with the formality of an army flanking. Grand Avenue, once the
city's limit, now girded its middle like a loin-cloth. The middle-aged
inhabitant who could remember it when it was a corn-field now
beheld full-blasted breweries, cinematograph theaters, ten-story
office-buildings, old mansions converted into piano-salesrooms and
millinery emporiums, business colleges, and more full-blasted breweries
up and down its length.
At Cook Street, which runs into Grand Avenue like a small tributary, a
pall of smoke descended thick as a veil; and every morning, from off
her second-story window-sills, Mrs. Shongut swept tiny dancing balls
of soot; and one day Miss Rena Shongut's neat rim of tenderly tended
geraniums died of suffocation.
Shortly after, the Adolph Shongut Produce Company signed a heavy note
and bought out the Mound City Fancy Sausage and Poultry Company at a
low figure. The spring following, large "To Let" signs appeared in the
second-story windows of the modest house on Cook Street. And, hard
pressed by the approaching first payment of the note and the great iron
voice of the Middle West Shoe Company, which backed up against the
woodshed; goaded by the no-less-insistent voice of Mrs. Shongut, whose
soot balls increased, and by Rena, who developed large pores; shamed by
the scorn of a son who had the finger-nails and trousers creases of a
bank clerk--Adolph Shongut joined the great pantechnicon procession
Westward Ho! and moved to a flat out on Wasserman Avenue--a
six-room-and-bath, sleeping-porch, hot-and-cold-water,
built-in-plate-rack, steam-heat, hardwood-floor,
decorated-to-suit-tenant flat neatly mounted behind a conservative
incline of a front terrace, with a square patch of rear lawn that backed
imminently into the white-stone garages of Kingston Place.
Friedrichstrasse, Rue de la Paix, Fifth Avenue, Piccadilly, Princess
Street and Via Nazionale are the highways of the world. Trod in
literature, asterisked in guide-books, and pictured on postal cards,
their habits are celebrated. Who does not know that Fifth Avenue is the
most rococo boulevard in the world, and that it drinks its afternoon tea
from etched, thin-stemmed glasses? Who does not know that Rue de la Paix
runs through more novels than any other paved thoroughfare, and that
Piccadilly bobbies have wider chest expansion than the Swiss Guards?
Wasserman Avenue has no such renown; but it has its routine, like the
history-hoary Via Nazionale, which daily closes its souvenir-shops to
seek siesta from two until four, the hours when American tourists are
rattling in sight-seeing automobiles along the Appian Way.
At half past seven, six mornings in the week, a well-breakfasted
procession, morning papers protruding from sack-coat pockets and
toothpicks assiduous, hastens down the well-scrubbed front steps
of Wasserman Avenue and turns its face toward the sun and the
two-blocks-distant street-car. At half past seven, six days in the week,
the wives of Wasserman Avenue hold their wrappers close up about
their throats and poke uncoifed heads out of doors to Godspeed their
Wasserman Avenue flutters farewell handkerchiefs to its husbands until
they turn the corner at Rindley's West End Meat and Vegetable Market.
At eventide Wasserman Avenue greets its husbands with kisses, frankly
delivered on its rows of front porches.
Do not smile. Gautier wrote about the consolation of the arts; but,
after all, he has little enough to say of that cold moment when art
leaves off and heart turns to heart.
Most of Wasserman Avenue had never read much of Gautier, but it knew the
greater truth of the consolation of the hearth. When Mrs. Shongut waved
farewell to her husband that greater truth lay mirrored in her eyes,
which followed him until Rindley's West End Meat and Vegetable Market
shunted him from view.
"Mamma, come in and close the screen door--you look a sight in that
Mrs. Shongut withdrew herself from the aperture and turned to the
sunshine-flooded, mahogany-and-green-velours sitting-room.
"You think that papa seems so well, Renie? At breakfast this morning he
looked so bad underneath his eyes."
Rena yawned in her rocking-chair and rustled the morning paper. The
horrific caprice of her pores had long since succumbed to the West End
balm of Wasserman Avenue. No rajah's seventh daughter of a seventh
daughter had cheeks more delicately golden--that fine tinge which is
like the glory of sunlight.
"Now begin, mamma, to find something to worry about! For two months he
hasn't had a heart spell."
Mrs. Shongut drew a thin-veined hand across her brow. Her narrow
shoulders, which were never held straight, dropped even lower, as though
"He don't say much, but I know he worries enough about that second
payment coming due in July and only a month and a half off. I tell you
I knew what I was talking about when I never wanted him to buy out
the Mound City. I was the one who said we was doing better in little
"Now begin, mamma!"
"I told him he couldn't count on Izzy to stay down in the business with
him. I told him Izzy wouldn't spoil his white hands by helping his papa
"I suppose, mamma, you think Izzy should have stayed down with papa when
he could get that job with Uncle Isadore."
"You know why your Uncle Isadore took Izzy? Because to a strange
bookkeeper he has to pay more. Your Uncle Isadore is my own brother,
Renie, but I tell you he 'ain't never acted like it."
"That's what I say. What have we got rich relatives with a banking-house
for, if Izzy can't start there instead of in papa's little business?"
"Ya, ya! What your Uncle Isadore does for Izzy wait and see. For his own
sister he never done nothing, and for his own sister's son he don't do
nothing, neither. You seen for yourself, if it was not for Aunt Becky
begging him nearly on her knees, how he would have treated us that time
with the mortgage. Better, I say, Izzy should stay with his papa in
business or get out West like he wants, and where he can't keep such
fine white hands to gamble with."
Miss Shongut slanted deeper until her slim body was a direct hypotenuse
to the chair. "Honest, mamma, it's a shame the way you look for trouble,
and the way you and papa pick on that boy."
"Pick! When a boy gambles the roulette and the cards and the horses
"When a boy likes cards and horses and roulette it isn't so nice, I
know, mamma; but it don't need to mean he's a born gambler, does it?
Boys have got to sow their wild oats."
"Ya, ya! Wild oats! A boy that gambles away his last cent when he knows
just the least bit of excitement his father can't stand! Izzy knows how
it goes against his father when he plays. Ya, ya! I don't need to look
for trouble; I got it. Your papa, with his heart trouble, is enough by
"Well, we're all careful, ain't we, mamma? Did I even holler the other
night when I thought I heard a burglar in the dining-room?"
"Ya! How I worry about the things you should know." Mrs. Shongut flung
wide the windows and pinned back the lace curtains, so that the spring
air, cool as water, flowed in.
Her daughter sprang to her feet and drew her filmy wrapper closer about
her. "Mamma, the Solingers don't need to look right in on us from their
"Say, I 'ain't got no time to be stylish for the neighbors. On wash-day
I got my housework to do. Honest, Renie, do you think, instead of laying
round, it would hurt you to go back and make the beds awhile? Do you
think a girl like you ought to got to be told, on wash-day and with
Lizzie in the laundry, to help a little with the housework? Do you
think, Renie, it's nice? I ask you."
"It's early yet, mamma; the housework will keep."
"Early yet, she says! On Monday, with my girl in the laundry and you
with five shirtwaists in the wash, it's early, she says! Your mother
ain't too lazy to start now, lemme tell you. Get them Kingston Place
ideas out of your head, Renie. Remember we don't do nothing but look out
on their fine white garages; remember business ain't so grand with your
"Now begin that, mamma! I know it all by heart."
"I ain't beginning nothing, Renie; but, believe me, it ain't so nice for
a girl to have to be told everything. How that little Jeannie Lissman,
next door, helps her mother already, it's a pleasure to see. I--"
"You've told me about her before, mamma."
Mrs. Shongut flung a sheet across the upright piano.
"Gimme the broom, mamma. I'll sweep."
"Sweep I never said you need to do. It's bad enough I got to spoil my
hands. Go back and wake Izzy up and make the beds."
"Aw, mamma, let him sleep. He don't have to be down until nine."
"Nine o'clock nowadays young men have got to work! Up to five years ago
every morning at dark your papa was down-town to see the poultry come
in, and now at eight o'clock my son can't be woke up to go to work.
Honest, I tell you times is changed!"
"Mamma, the way you pick on that boy!"
Mrs. Shongut folded both hands atop her broom in a solemn and hieratic
gesture; her face was full of lines, as though time had autographed it
many times over in a fine hand.
"Can you blame me? Can you blame me that I worry about that boy, with
his wild ways? That a boy like him should gamble away every cent of
his salary, except when he wins a little and buys us such nonsenses as
bracelets! That a boy who learnt bookkeeping in an expensive business
school, and knows that with his papa business ain't so good, shouldn't
offer to pay out of his salary a little board! I tell you, Renie, as he
goes now, it can't lead to no good; sometimes I would do almost anything
to get him out West. Not a cent does he offer to--"
"He only makes--"
"You know, Renie, how little I want his money; but that he shouldn't
offer to help out at home a little--that every cent on cards and clothes
he should spend! I ask you, is it any reason him and his papa got scenes
together until for the neighbors I'm ashamed, and for papa's heart so
afraid? That a fine boy like our Izzy should run so wild!"
Tears lay close to the surface of her voice, and she created a sudden
flurry of dust, sweeping with short, swift strokes.
"Izzy's not so worse! Give me a boy like Izzy any time, to a
mollycoddle. He's just throwing off steam now."
"Just take up with your wild brother against your old parents! Your
papa's a young man, with no heart trouble and lots of money; he can
afford to have a card-playing son what has to have second breakfast
alone every morning! Just you side with your brother!"
Miss Shongut side-stepped the furniture, which in the panicky confusion
of sweeping was huddled toward the center of the room, and through a
cloud of dust to the door.
"Every time I open my mouth in this family I put my foot in it. I should
worry about what isn't my business!"
"Well, one thing I can say, me and papa never need to reproach ourselves
that we 'ain't done the right thing by our children."
"Clean sheets, mamma?"
"Yes; and don't muss up the linen-shelfs."
Her daughter flitted down a narrow aisle of hallway; from the shoulders
her thin, flowing sleeves floated backward, filmy, white.
Mrs. Shongut flung open the screen door and swept a pile of webby dust
to the porch and then off on the patch of grass.
Thin spring sunshine lay warm along the neat terraces of Wasserman
Avenue. Windows were flung wide to the fresh kiss of spring; pillows,
comforters, and rugs draped across their sills. Across the street a
negro, with an old gunny-sack tied apron-fashion about his loins, turned
a garden hose on a stretch of asphalt and swept away the flood with his
broom. A woman, whose hair caught the sunlight like copper, avoided the
flood and tilted a perambulator on its two rear wheels down the wooden
steps of her veranda.
Across the dividing rail of the Shonguts' porch a child with a strap of
school-books flung over one shoulder ran down the soft terrace, and a
woman emerged after her to the topmost step of the veranda, holding her
checked apron up about her waist and shielding her eyes with one hand.
"Watch out for the street-car crossing, Jeannie."
"Good morning, Mrs. Shongut."
"Good morning, Mrs. Lissman. Looks like spring!"
"Ain't it so? I say to Mr. Lissman this morning, before he went
down-town, that he should bring home some grass seed to-night."
"Ya, ya! Before you know it now, we got hot summer after such a late
"I say to my Roscoe that after school to-day he should bring up the
rubber-plant out of the cellar."
"That's right; use 'em while they're young, Mrs. Lissman. When they grow
up it's different."
"Mrs. Shongut, you should talk! Only last night I says to my husband, I
says, when I seen Miss Renie pass by, 'Such a pretty girl!' I tell you,
Mrs. Shongut, such a pretty girl and such a fine-looking boy you can be
"Ach, Mrs. Lissman, you think so?"
"There ain't one on the street any prettier than Miss Renie. 'I tell
you, if my Roscoe was ten years older she could have him,' I says to my
Mrs. Shongut leaned forward on her broom-handle. "If I say so myself,
Mrs. Lissman, I got good reasons to have pleasure out of my children.
I guess you heard, Mrs. Lissman, what a grand position my Izzy has got
with his uncle, of the Isadore Flexner Banking-house. Bookkeeping in a
banking-house, Mrs. Lissman, for a boy like Izzy!"
"I tell you, Mrs. Shongut, if you got rich relations it's a help."
"How grand my brother has done for himself, Mrs. Lissman! Such a house
he has built on Kingston Place! Such a home! You can see for yourself,
Mrs. Lissman, how his wife and daughters drive up sometimes in their
"I'm surprised they don't come more often, Mrs. Shongut; your Renie and
them girls, I guess, are grand friends."
"Ya; and to be in that banking-house is a grand start for my boy. I
always say it can lead to almost anything. Only I tell him he shouldn't
let fine company make him wild."
"Ach, boys will be boys, Mrs. Shongut. Even now it ain't so easy for
me to get make my Roscoe to come in off his roller-skates at night. My
Jeannie I can make mind; but I tell her when she is old enough to have
beaus, then our troubles begin with her."
Mrs. Shongut's voice dropped into her throat in the guise of a whisper.
"Some time, Mrs. Lissman, when my Renie ain't home, I want you should
come over and I read you some of the letters that girl gets from young
men. So mad she always gets at me if she knows I talk about them."
"Mrs. Shongut, you'll laugh when I tell you; but already in the school
my Jeannie gets little notes what the little boys write to her. Mad it
makes me like anything; but what can you do when you got a pretty girl?"
"A young man in Peoria, Mrs. Lissman, such beautiful letters he writes
Renie, never in my life did I read. Such language, Mrs. Lissman; just
like out of a song-book! Not a time my Renie goes out that I don't go
right to her desk to read 'em--that's how beautiful he writes. In Green
Springs she met him."
"Ain't it a pleasure, Mrs. Shongut, to have grand letters like that?
Even with my little Jeannie, though it makes me so mad, still I--"
"But do you think my Renie will have any of them? 'Not,' she says, 'if
they was lined in gold.'"
"I guess she got plenty beaus. Say, I ain't so blind that I don't see
Sollie Spitz on your porch every--"
"Sollie Spitz! Ach, Mrs. Lissman, believe me, there's nothing to that!
My Renie since a little child likes reading and writing like he does.
I tell her papa we made a mistake not to keep her in school like she
"She loves learning, that girl. Under her pillow yesterday I found a
book of verses about flowers. Where she gets such a mind, Mrs. Lissman,
I don't know. But Sollie Spitz! Say, we don't want no poets in the
"I should say not! But I guess she gets all the good chances she wants."
"And more. A young man from Cincinnati--if I tell you his name, right
away you know him--twice her papa brought him out to supper after they
had business down-town together--only twice; and now every week he sends
her five pounds--"
"And such roses, Mrs. Lissman! You seen for yourself when I sent you one
the other day. Right in his own hothouse he grows 'em, Mrs. Lissman."
"If I tell you his name, Mrs. Lissman, right away you know his firm. In
Cincinnati they say he's got the finest house up on the hill--musical
chairs, that play when you sit on 'em. Twice every week he sends her--"
"'I tell you,' I says to her papa, 'her cousins over in Kingston Place
got tickets to take the young men to theaters with and automobiles to
ride them round in; but, if I say so myself, not one of them has better
chances than my Renie, right here in our little flat.'"
Mrs. Lissman folded her arms in a shelf across her bosom and leaned her
ample uncorseted figure against the railing. "I give you right, Mrs.
Shongut. Look at Jeannette Bamberger, over on Kingston; every night when
me and Mr. Lissman used to walk past last summer, right on her grand
front porch that girl sat alone, like she was glued."
"Then look at Birdie Schimm, across the street. Her mother a poor widow
who keeps a roomer, and look how her girl did for herself! Down at
Rindley's this morning nothing was fine enough for that Birdie to buy
for her table. I tell you, Mrs. Shongut, money ain't everything in this
"I always tell Renie she can take her place with the best of them."
"An hour already my Lizzie has been down in the laundry."
"Half a day I take Addie to help with the ironing."
"You should watch her, Mrs. Lissman; she steals soap."
"They're all alike."
"Ah, the mailman. Always in my family no one gets letters but my Renie.
Look, Mrs. Lissman! What did I tell you? Another one from Cincinnati.
Renie! Renie!" Mrs. Shongut bustled indoors, leaving her broom indolent
against the porch pillar. "Renie!"
"Letter!" Feet hurrying down the hall. "Letter from Cincinnati, Renie."
"Mamma, do you have to read the postmarks off my letters? I can read my
own mail without any help."
"How she sasses her mother! Say, for my part, I should worry if you
get letters or not. A girl that is afraid to give her mother a little
Mrs. Shongut made a great show of dragging the room's furniture back
into place; unpinning the lace curtains and draping them carefully
in their folds; drawing chairs across the carpet until the casters
squealed; uncovering the piano. At the business of dusting the
mantelpiece she lingered, stealing furtive glances through its mirror.
Miss Shongut ripped open the letter with a hairpin and curled her supple
figure in a roomy curve of the divan. Her hair, unloosened, fell in a
thick, black cascade down her back.
Mrs. Shongut redusted the mantel, raising each piece of bric-a-brac
carefully; ran her cloth across the piano keys, giving out a discord;
straightened the piano cover; repolished the mantelpiece mirror.
Her daughter read, blew the envelope open at its ripped end and inserted
the letter. Her eyes, gray as dawn, met her mother's.
"Well, Renie, is--is he well?"
"You're afraid, I guess, it gives me a little pleasure if I know what he
has to say. A girl gets a letter from a man like Max Hochenheimer, of
Cincinnati, and sits like a funeral!"
Rena unfolded herself from the divan and slid to her feet, slim as a
"I knew it!"
"He left Cincinnati last night and gets here this morning."
"He comes on business, he says. And at five o'clock he stops in at the
store and comes home to supper with papa."
"Supper--and a regular wash-day meal I got! Tongue sweet-sour, and red
cabbage! Renie, get on your things and--"
"Honest, if it wasn't too late I would telegraph him I ain't home."
"Get on your things, Renie, and go right down to Rindley's for a roast.
If you telephone they don't give you weight. This afternoon I go myself
for the vegetables." Excitement purred in Mrs. Shongut's voice. "Hurry,
"I'll get Izzy to take me out to supper and to a show."
"Get on your things, I say, Renie. I'll call Lizzie up-stairs too; we
don't need no wash-day, with company for supper. Honest, excited like a
chicken I get. Hurry, Renie!"
Miss Shongut stood quiescent, however, gazing through the lace curtains
at the sun-lashed terrace, still soft from the ravages of winter and
only faintly green. A flush spread to the tips of her delicate ears.
"Izzy's got to take me out to supper and a show. I won't stay home."
"Renie, you lost your mind? You! A young man like Max Hochenheimer
begins to pay you attentions in earnest--a man that could have any girl
in this town he snaps his finger for--a young man what your stuck-up
cousins over on Kingston would grab at! You--you--Ach, to a man like Max
Hochenheimer, of Cincinnati, she wants to say she ain't home yet!"
"Him! An old fatty like him! Izzy calls him Old Squash! Izzy says he's
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