Every Soul Hath Its Song
Part 3 out of 7
the only live Cartoon in captivity."
"Izzy--always Izzy! Believe me, your brother could do better than layin'
in bed at eight o'clock in the morning, to copy after Max Hochenheimer."
"Always running down Izzy! Money ain't everything. I--I like other
things in a man besides money--always money."
"Believe me, he has plenty besides money, has Max Hochenheimer. He
'ain't got no time maybe for silk socks and pressed pants, but for a
fine good man your papa says he 'ain't got no equal. Your brother Izzy,
I tell you, could do well to mock after Max Hochenheimer--a man what
made hisself; a man what built up for hisself in Cincinnati a business
in country sausages that is known all over the world."
"No; he 'ain't got no time for rhymes like that long-haired Sollie
Spitz, that ain't worth his house-room and sits until by the nightshirt
I got to hold papa back from going out and telling him we 'ain't got no
hotel! Max Hochenheimer is a man what's in a legitimate business."
"Please, mamma, keep quiet about him. I don't care if he--"
"I tell you the poultry and the sausage business maybe ain't up to your
fine ideas; but believe me, the poultry business will keep you in shoes
and stockings when in the poetry business you can go barefoot."
"All right, mamma; I won't argue."
"Your papa has had enough business with Max Hochenheimer to know what
kind of a man he is and what kind of a firm. Such a grand man to deal
with, papa says. Plain as a old shoe--just like he was a salesman
instead of the president of his firm. A poor boy he started, and now
such a house they say he built for his mother in Avondale on the hill!
Squashy! I only wish for a month our Izzy had his income."
"I wouldn't marry him if--"
"Don't be so quick with yourself, missy. Just because he comes here on
a day's business and then comes out to supper with papa don't mean so
"Don't it? Well, then, if you know more about what's in this letter than
I do, I've got no more to say."
Mrs. Shongut sat down as though the power to stand had suddenly deserted
her limbs. "What--what do you mean, Renie?"
"I'm not so dumb that I--I don't know what a fellow means by a letter
"Renie!" The lines seemed to fade out of Mrs. Shongut's face, softening
it. "Renie! My little Renie!"
"You don't need to my-little-Renie me, mamma; I--"
"Renie, I can't believe it--that such luck should come to us. A man
like Max Hochenheimer, of Cincinnati, who can give her the greatest
happiness, comes for our little girl--"
"Always like me and papa had to struggle, Renie, in money matters you
won't have to. I tell you, Renie, nothing makes a woman old so soon.
Like a queen you can sit back in your automobile. Always a man what's
good to his mother, like Max Hochenheimer, makes, too, a grand husband.
I want, Renie, to see your Aunt Becky's and your cousins' faces at the
"Mamma, you talk like--Oh, you make me so mad."
"Musical chairs they got in the house, Renie, what, as soon as you sit
on, begin to play. Mrs. Schwartz herself sat on one; and the harder you
sit, she says, the louder it plays. Automobiles; a elevator for his
mother! I--Ach, Renie, I--I feel like all our troubles are over. I--
Ach, Renie, you should know how it feels to be a mother."
Tears rained frankly down Mrs. Shongut's face and she smiled through
their mist, and her outstretched arms would tremble.
"Renie, come to mamma!"
Miss Shongut, quivering, drew herself beyond their reach. "Such talk!
Honest, mamma, you--you make me ashamed, and mad like anything, too. I
wouldn't marry a little old squashy fellow like him if he was worth the
"An old fellow, just because he's got money and--"
"Old! Max Hochenheimer ain't more than in his first thirties, and old
she calls him! When a man makes hisself by hard work he 'ain't got time
to keep young, with silk socks and creased pants, and hair-tonic what
smells up my house a hour after Izzy's been gone. It ain't the color of
a man's vest, Renie--it's the color of his heart, underneath it. When
papa was a young man, do you think, if I had looked at the cigar ashes
on his vest instead of at what was underneath, that I--"
"That talk's no use with me, mamma."
"Renie; you--you wouldn't do it--you wouldn't refuse him?"
Her reply leaped out suddenly, full of fire: "It's not me or my feelings
you care anything about. Every one but me you think about first. What
about me? What about me? I'm the one that's got to do the marrying and
live with him. I'm the one you're trying to sell off like I was cattle.
I'm the one! I'm the one!"
"Yes; sell me off--sell me off--like cattle!"
Tears, blinding, scalding, searing, rushed down her cheeks, and her
smooth bosom, where the wrapper fell away to reveal it, heaved with the
"But you can't sell me--you can't! You can't keep nagging to get me
married off. I can get out, but I won't be married out! If I wasn't
afraid of papa, with his heart, I'd tell him so, too. I'd tell him so
now. I won't be married out--I won't be married out! I won't! I won't!"
Mrs. Shongut clasped her cheeks in the vise of her two hands. "Married
out! She reproaches me yet--a mother that would go through fire for her
"Always you're making me uncomfortable that I'm not married yet--not
papa or Izzy, but you--you! Never does one of the girls get engaged that
you don't look at me like I was wearing the welcome off the door-mat."
"Listen to my own child talk to me! No wonder you cry so hard, Renie
Shongut, to talk to your mother like that--a girl that I've indulged
like you. To sass her mother like that! A man like Max Hochenheimer
comes along, a man where the goodness looks out of his face, a man what
can give her every comfort; and, because he ain't a fine talker like
that long-haired Sollie Spitz, she--"
"You leave him out! Anyways, he's got fine feeling for something
"Is it a crime, Renie, that I should want so much your happiness? Your
papa's getting a old man now, Renie; I won't always be here, neither."
"For the love of Mike, what's the row? Can't a fellow get any beauty
sleep round this here shebang? What are you two cutting up about?"
The portieres parted to reveal Mr. Isadore Shongut, pressed, manicured,
groomed, shaved--something young about him; something conceited; his
magenta bow tied to a nicety, his plushlike hair brushed up and backward
after the manner of fashion's latest caprice, and smoothing a smooth
hand along his smooth jowl.
"Morning, ma. What's the row, Renie? Gee! it's a swell joint round here
for a fellow with nerves! What's the row, kid?"
Mr. Isadore Shongut made a cigarette and puffed it, curled himself in a
deep-seated chair, with his head low and his legs flung high. His sister
lay on the divan, with her tearful profile buried, _basso-rilievo_,
against a green velours cushion, her arms limp and dangling in
"What's the row, Renie?"
"Aw, come out with it--what's the row? What you sitting there for, ma,
like your luck had turned on you?"
"Ask--ask your sister, Izzy; she can tell you."
"N-nothing--only--only--old--old Hochenheimer's coming to--to supper
to-night, Izzy; and--"
"Old Squash! Oh, Whillikens!"
"Take me out, Izzy! Take me out anywhere--to a show or supper, or--or
anywhere; but take me out, Izzy. Take me out before he comes."
"Sure I will! Old Squash! Whillikens!"
* * * * *
At five o'clock Wasserman Avenue emerged in dainty dimity and silk
sewing-bags. Rocking-chairs, tiptilted against veranda railings, were
swung round front-face. Greetings, light as rubber balls, bounded from
porch to porch. Fine needles flashed through dainty fabrics stretched
like drum parchment across embroidery hoops; young children, shrilling
and shouting in the heat of play, darted beneath maternal eyes;
long-legged girls in knee-high skirts strolled up and down the
sidewalks, arms intertwined.
At five-thirty the sun had got so low that it found out Mrs. Schimm in
a shady corner of her porch, dazzled her eyes, and flashed teasingly on
her needle, so that she crammed her dainty fabric in her sewing-bag and
crossed the paved street.
"You don't mind, Mrs. Lissman, if I come over on your porch for a while,
where it's shady?"
"It's a pleasure, Mrs. Schimm. Come right up and have a rocker."
"Just a few minutes I can stay."
"That's a beautiful stitch, Mrs. Schimm. When I finish this centerpiece
I start me a dozen doilies too."
"I can learn it to you in five minutes, Mrs. Lissman. All my Birdie's
trousseau napkins I did with this Battenberg stitch."
"For a poor widow's daughter, Mrs. Lissman, that girl had a trousseau
she don't need to be ashamed of."
"Look, will you? Mrs. Shapiro's coming down her front steps all diked
out in a summer silk. I guess she goes down to have supper with her
husband, since he keeps open evenings."
"I don't want to say nothing; but I don't think it's so nice--do you,
Mrs. Lissman?--the first month what her mourning for her mother is up a
yellow bird of paradise as big as a fan she has to have on her hat."
"Ain't it so!"
"I wish you could see the bird of paradise my Birdie bought when her and
Simon was in Kansas City on their wedding-trip--you can believe me or
not, a yard long! How that man spends money on that girl, Mrs. Lissman!"
"Say, when you got it to spend I always say it's right. He's in a good
business and makes good money."
"You should know how good."
"The rainy days come to them that save up for them, like us
old-fashioned ones, Mrs. Schimm."
"I--Look, will you? Ain't that Izzy Shongut crossing the street? He
comes home from work this early! I tell you, Mrs. Lissman, I don't want
to say nothing; but I hear things ain't so good with the Shonguts."
"Yes; I hear, since the old man bought out that sausage concern, they
got their troubles."
"And such a nice woman! That's what she needs yet on top of his heart
trouble and her girl running round with Sollie Spitz; and, from what
she don't say, I can see that boy causes her enough worry with his wild
ways. That's what that poor woman needs yet!"
"Look at Izzy, Mrs. Lissman. I bet that boy drinks or something. Look at
his face--like a sheet! I tell you that boy ain't walking up this street
straight. Look for yourself, Mrs. Lissman. Ach, his poor mother!" A
current like electricity that sets a wire humming ran in waves along
Mrs. Schimm's voice. "Look!"
"Oh-oh! I say, ain't that a trouble for that poor woman? When you see
other people's trouble your own ain't so bad."
"Ain't that awful? Just look at his face! Ain't that a trouble for you?"
"She herself as much as told me not a thing does her swell brother over
on Kingston do for them. I guess such a job as that boy has got in his
banking-house he could get from a stranger too."
"'Sh-h-h, Mrs. Lissman! Here he comes. Don't let on like we been talking
about him. Speak to him like always."
"Good evening, Izzy."
Isadora Shongut paused in the act of mounting the front steps and turned
a blood-driven face toward his neighbor. His under jaw sagged and
trembled, and his well-knit body seemed to have lost its power to stand
erect, so that his clothes bagged.
"Good evening, Mrs.--Lissman."
"You're home early to-night, Izzy?"
He fitted his key into the front-door lock, but his hand trembled so
that it would not turn; and for a racking moment he stood there vainly
pushing a weak knee against the panel, and his breath came out of his
throat in a wheeze.
The maid-of-all-work, straggly and down at the heels, answered his
fumbling at the lock and opened the door to him.
"You, Mr. Izzy!"
He sprang in like a catamount, clicking the door quick as a flash behind
him. "'Sh-h-h! Where's ma?"
"Your mamma ain't home; she went up to Rindley's. You ain't sick, are
you, Mr. Izzy?"
A spasm of relief flashed over his face, and he snapped his dry fingers
in an agony of nervousness. "Where's Renie? Quick!"
"She's in her room, layin' down. She ain't goin' to be home to the
supper-party to-night, Mr. Izzy; she--What's the matter, Mr. Izzy?"
He was down the hallway in three running bounds and, without the
preliminary of knocking, into his sister's tiny, semi-darkened
bedroom, his breathing suddenly filling it. She sprang from her little
chintz-covered bed, where she had flung herself across its top, her face
and wrapper rumpled with sleep.
"Izzy, what--where--Izzy, what is it?"
"'Sh-h-h, for God's sake! 'Sh-h! Don't let 'em hear, Renie. Don't let
Her swimming senses suddenly seemed to clear. "What's happened, Izzy?
Quick! What's wrong?"
He clicked the key in the lock, and in the agony of the same
dry-fingered nervousness rubbed his hand back and forth across his dry
lips. "Don't let 'em hear--the old man or ma--don't!"
"Quick! What is it, Izzy?" She sat down on the edge of the bed, weak.
"Tell me, Izzy; something terrible is wrong. It--it isn't papa, Izzy?
Tell me it isn't papa. For God's sake, Izzy, he--he ain't--"
"'Sh-h-h! N-no! No, it ain't. It--it ain't pa. It's me, Renie--it's
me!" He crumbled at her feet, his palms plastered over his eyes and his
fingers clutched deep in the high nap of his hair. "It's me! It's me!"
"'Sh-h-h! For God's sake, Renie, you got to stand by me; you got to
stand by me this time if you ever did! Promise me, Renie! It's me,
Renie. I--Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"
She stooped to his side, her voice and hands trembling beyond control.
"Izzy! Izzy, tell me--tell me! What is it?"
"Oh, my God, why didn't I die? Why didn't I die?"
"Izzy, what--what is it? Money? Haven't I always stood by you before?
Won't I now? Tell me, Izzy. Tell me, I say!"
She tugged at his hands, prying them away from his eyes; but the terror
she saw there set her trembling again and thrice she opened her lips
before she found voice.
"Izzy, if you don't tell me, mamma will be back soon, and then pa;
and--you better tell me quick. Your own sister will stand by you. Get
up, dearie." Tears trickled through his fingers and she could see the
curve of his back rise and fall to the retching of suppressed sobs.
"Izzy, you got to tell me quick--do you hear?"
He raised his ravaged face at the sharp-edged incisiveness in her
voice. "I'm in trouble, Renie--such trouble. Oh, my God, such horrible
"Tell me quick--do you hear? Quick, or mamma and papa--"
"Renie--'sh-h-h! They mustn't know--the old man mustn't; she mustn't,
if--if I got to kill myself first. His heart--he--he mustn't, Renie--he
"It's all up, Renie. I've done something--the worst thing I ever done
in my life; but I didn't know while I was doing it, Renie, how--what it
was. I swear I didn't! It was like borrowing, I thought. I was sure
I could pay it back. I thought the system was a great one and--and I
"Izzy--roulette again! You--you been losing at--at roulette again?"
"No, no; but they found out at--at the bank, Renie. I--oh, my God!
Nothing won't save me!"
"The bank, Izzy?"
"They found out, Renie. Yesterday, when the bank was closed, he--Uncle
Isadore--put 'em on the books. Nothing won't save me now, Renie. He
won't; you--you know him--hard as nails! Nothing won't save me. It's
going to be stripes for me, Renie. Ma--the old man--stripes! I--I can't
let 'em do it. I--I'll kill myself first. I can't let 'em--I--can't--I
can't let 'em!"
He burrowed his head in her lap to stifle his voice, which slipped up
and away from his control; and her icy hands and knees could feel his
entire body trembling.
"'Sh-h-h, dearie! Try to tell me slow, dearie, for pa's and ma's sake,
so--so we can fix it up somehow."
"We can't fix it up. The old man 'ain't got the money and--and he can't
"For God's sake, Izzy, tell me or I'll go mad! Slow, dearie, so Renie
can think and listen and help you. She's with you, darling, and nothing
can hurt you. Now begin, Izzy, and go slow. What did you start to tell
me about Uncle Isadore and the books? Slow, darling."
Her voice was smooth and flowing, and the hand that stroked his hair was
slow and soothing; the great stream of his passion abated and he huddled
quietly at her feet.
"Now begin, dearie. Uncle Isadore--what?"
"This morning, when I got down to--to the office, two men had--my
"O God! When I seen 'em, right away my heart just stopped."
'"Sh-h-h! Yes--two men had the books."
"And Uncle Isadore--Uncle Isadore--he was--he--"
"He--he was in the cage, too; and--and you know how he looks when his
eyes get little."
"Yes, yes, Izzy."
"They were--expert accountants with him. All day yesterday, Sunday, they
were on my books; and--and they had me, Renie--they had me like a rat in
"Had you, Izzy?"
He drew himself upward, clutching at her arms; and the sobs began to
tear him afresh. "They had me, Renie."
"Oh, Izzy, why--"
"I could have paid it back. I could have put it back if the old
skinflint hadn't got to sniffing round and sicked 'em on my books. I
could have won it all back in time, Renie. With my own uncle, my own
mother's brother, it--it wasn't like I was stealing it, was it, Renie?
"Oh, my God, Izzy!"
"It wasn't, Renie--my own uncle! I could have won it back if--if--"
"Won back what, Izzy--won back what?"
"I--I started with a hundred, Renie. I had to have it; I had to, I tell
you. You remember that night I--I wanted you to go over and ask Aunt
Beck for it? I had to have it. Pa--. I--I couldn't excite him any more
about it; and--and I had to have it, I tell you, Renie."
"Yes; then what?"
"And I--I borrowed it without asking. I--I fixed it on my books so--so
Uncle Isadore wouldn't--couldn't--. I--I fixed it on my books."
"Oh-oh, Izzy! Oh--oh--oh!"
"I was trying out a system--a new one--and it worked, Renie. I tried it
out on the new wheel down at Sharkey's and the seventeen system worked
like a trick. I won big the first and second nights, Renie--you remember
the night I brought you and ma the bracelets? I paid back the hundred
the first week, Renie; and no one knew--no one knew."
"The next Friday my luck turned on me--I never ought to have played
on Friday--turned like a toad one unlucky Friday night. I got in deep
before I knew it, and deeper and deeper; and then--and then it just
seemed there wasn't no holding me, Renie. I got wild--got wild, I tell
you; and I--I wrote 'em checks I didn't have no right to write. I--I
went crazy, I tell you. Next day--you remember that morning I left the
house so early?--I had to fix it with the books and borrow what--what I
needed before the banks opened. I--I had to make good on them checks,
Renie. I fixed it with the books, and from that time on it worked."
"I kept losing, Renie; but I knew, if my luck just changed from that
unlucky Friday night, I could pay it back like the first time. All I
needed was a little time and a little luck and I could pay it back like
the first hundred; so I kept fixing my books, Renie, and--and borrowing
"O God, Renie! I could have paid it back with time; I--"
"'Sh-h-h! How much, Izzy--how much?"
"Somebody must have snitched on me, how I was losing every night. The
old skinflint, he--Oh, my God! They got me, Renie--they got me; and
it'll kill the old man!"
"How much, Izzy--how much?"
"Oh, my God! I could have paid it back if--if--"
"How much? Tell me, I say!"
"Oh-h-h, Izzy--Izzy--Izzy!" She sprang back from him, blind with
scalding tears. "Izzy! Four thousand! Oh, my God! Four thousand!"
"I could have paid it back, Renie; the system was all right, but--"
"Four thousand! Four thousand!"
"He--he was all for detaining me right away, Renie; sending for pa,
and--and sicking the law right on his--his own sister's son. On my knees
for three hours I had to beg, Renie--on my knees, for ma's sake and your
sake and pa's--just for a little time I begged. A little time was all
I begged. He don't care nothing for blood. I--I had to beg him, Renie,
till--till I fainted."
"What shall we do, Izzy? What shall we do?"
"I squeezed two weeks' time out of him, Renie. Two weeks to pay it back
or he puts the law on me--two weeks; and I got it from him like blood
from a turnip. Oh, my God, Renie, four thousand in two weeks--four
thousand in two weeks!"
He fell in a half-swoon against her skirts. Out of her arms she made a
pillow of mercy and drew his head down to her bosom; and tears, bitter
with salt, mingled with his, and her heart's blood buzzed in her brain.
"Izzy, Izzy! What have you done?"
"I can't pay it back, Renie. Where could I get half that much? I can't
pay back four dollars, much less four thousand. I can't! I can't!"
"We gotta keep it from the old man and ma, Renie. Let 'em kill me if
they want to; but we gotta keep it from him and ma."
"Four thousand! Four thousand!"
In the half-light of the room, with the late sunshine pressing warm
against the drawn green shades, the remote shouts of children coming to
them through the quiet, and the whir of a lawn-mower off somewhere,
they crouched, these two, as though they would shut their ears to the
flapping of vultures' wings.
"They can't do anything to you, Izzy."
"What'll we do, Renie? What'll we do?"
"We got to find a way, Izzy."
"They can't send me up for it, Renie--say they can't!"
"I ain't crooked like that! It was my own uncle. They can't send me up,
Renie. I'll kill myself first! I'll kill myself first!"
"Izzy, ain't you ashamed?" But it was as though the odor of death found
its way to her nostrils, nauseating her. "Let me think. Let me think
just a minute. Let me think." She rammed the ends of her fists tight
against her eyes until Catherine wheels spun and spun against her lids.
"Let me think just a minute."
"There's nobody, Renie--nobody--nobody--no way."
"No-body, I tell you, Renie. But I'll kill myself before I--"
Renie stood up. "Izzy! I will!"
He was whimpering frankly against her skirt. After a while she raised
her face. Jeanne d'Arc might have looked like that when she beheld the
"Squash! It's like he was sent out of heaven!"
"He's coming to-night--to ask me, Izzy. You know what I mean? Don't you
see? Don't you see?"
"Don't you see, Izzy? He's going to ask me, and--and I'm going to do
"Oh, my God! Renie, you can't do that for me if--You can't do that for
"He's got it, Izzy. I can get ten thousand out of him if I got to."
"I--I can rush it through and--do it before two weeks, Izzy; and we got
a way out, Izzy--we got a way. We got a way!"
She threw herself in a passion of hysteria face downward on the bed and
a tornado of weeping swept over her. Rooted, he stood as though face to
face with an immense dawn, but with eyes that dared not see the light.
"Renie, I--can't! I--Renie, I can't let you do that for me if--if--I
can't let you marry him for me if you don't--"
Mrs. Shongut's voice outside the door, querulous: "Renie!"
"Why you got your door locked?"
"Come right away out in the dining-room. If you 'ain't got no more
regards for your parents than not to stay home for supper, anyways you
got to fix for the table the flowers what I brought home from market."
"Yes, mamma." She darted to her feet, drying the tears on her cheeks
with the palm of her hand. "Coming, mamma." And she slipped through the
door of her room, scarcely opening it.
In the dining-room, beside the white-spread table, Mrs. Shongut unwound
a paper toot of pink carnations; but the flavor of her spirit was bitter
and her thin, pressed-looking lips hung at the corners.
"Maybe you can stop pouting long enough to help with things a little,
even if you won't be here. I tell you it's a pleasure when papa comes
home for supper with company, to have children like mine."
"Listen, mamma. I--"
"Sounds like somebody's going out of the house, Renie. Who--"
"No, no. No one has been here, mamma. It's just the breeze."
"I tell you it's a pleasure to have a daughter like mine! What excuses
to make to Max Hochenheimer, a young man what comes all the way from
Cincinnati to see her--"
"Listen, mamma; I--I've only been fooling--honest, I have."
Miss Shongut's face was suddenly buried in the neat lace yoke of her
mother's dimity blouse, and her arms crept up about her neck.
"I've been only fooling about to-night, mamma. Don't you think I know it
is just like he was sent from heaven? I've only been fooling, mamma, so
that--so that you shouldn't know how happy I am."
The soul peeped out suddenly in Mrs. Shongut's face, hallowing it.
"Renie! My little Renie!"
* * * * *
On Wasserman Avenue the hand that rocks the cradle oftener than not
carves the roast. Behind her platter, sovereign of all she surveyed, and
skilfully, so that beneath her steel the red, oozing slices curled and
fell into their pool of gravy, reigned Mrs. Shongut. And her suzerainty
rested on her as lightly as a tiara of seven stars.
"Mr. Hochenheimer, you ain't eating a thing!" Mrs. Shongut craned her
neck round the centerpiece of pink carnations. "Not a thing on your
plate! Renie, pass Mr. Hochenheimer some more salad."
"No, no, Mrs. Shongut; just don't you worry about me."
"I hope you ain't bashful, Mr. Hochenheimer. We feel toward you just
like home folks."
"Indeed, what I don't see I ask for, Mrs. Shongut."
"Renie, pass Mr. Hochenheimer some more of that red cabbage."
"No, no--please, Mrs. Shongut; I got plenty."
"Ach, Mr. Hochenheimer, you eat so little you must be in love."
"Ach, Mr. Hochenheimer knows that I only fool. Renie, pass the
"No, no--please! I--"
"Mamma, don't force. You're not bashful, are you, Mr. Hochenheimer?"
Miss Shongut inclined her head with a saucy, birdlike motion, and showed
him the full gleaming line of her teeth. He took a large mouthful of
ice-water to wash down the red of confusion that suddenly swam high in
his face, tingeing even his ears.
"For more dumplings I ain't bashful, Miss Renie; but there--there's
other things--I am bashful to ask for."
From his place at the far end of the table Mr. Shongut laughed deep, as
though a spiral spring was vibrating in the recesses of his throat.
"Bashful with the girls--eh, Hochenheimer?"
"I ain't much of a lady's man, Shongut."
"Well, I wish you was just so bashful in business--believe me! I wish
"Shongut, I never got the best of you yet in a deal."
"With my girl he's bashful yet, mamma; but down to the last
sausage-casing I have to pay his fancy prices. Nun, look mamma, how red
she gets! What you get so red for, Renie--eh?"
"A little teasing from her old father she can't take. Look at her,
mamma! Look at both of them--red like beets. Neither of them can stand a
little teasing from an old man."
"Adolph, you mustn't! All people don't like it when you make fun. Mr.
Hochenheimer, you must excuse my husband; a great one he is to tease and
make his little fun."
Mr. Shongut's ancient-looking face, covered with a short, grizzled
growth of beard and pale as a prophet's beneath, broke into a smile, and
a minute network of lines sprang out from the corners of his eyes.
"I was bashful in my life once, too--eh, mamma?"
"Please, you must excuse my husband, Mr. Hochenheimer; he likes to have
his little jokes."
Mr. Hochenheimer pushed away his plate in high embarrassment; nor would
his eyes meet Miss Shongut's, except to flash away under cover of
"My husband's a great one to tease, Mr. Hochenheimer. My Izzy too, takes
after him. I'm sorry that boy ain't home, so you could meet him again.
We call him the dude of the family. Renie, pass Mr. Hochenheimer the
A pair of deep-lined brackets sprang out round Mr. Shongut's mouth. "Why
ain't that boy home for supper, where he belongs?"
"Ach, now, Adolph, don't get excited right away. Always, Mr.
Hochenheimer, my husband gets excited over nothing, when he knows how it
hurts his heart. Like that boy ain't old enough to stay out to supper
when he wants, Adolph! 'Sh-h-h!"
Mrs. Shongut smiled to conceal that her heart was faint, and the saga of
a mother might have been written round that smile.
"Now, now, Adolph, don't you begin to worry."
"I tell you, Shongut, it's a mistake to worry. I save all my excitement
for the good things in life."
"See, Adolph; from a young man like Mr. Hochenheimer you can get
"I tell you, Shongut, over such a nice little home and such a nice
little family as you got I might get excited; but over the little things
that don't count for much I 'ain't got time."
Mrs. Shongut waved a deprecatory hand. "It's a nice enough little home
for us, Mr. Hochenheimer, but with a grand house like I hear you built
for your mother up on the stylish hilltop in Cincinnati, I guess to you
it seems right plain."
"That's where you're wrong, Mrs. Shongut. Like I says to Shongut coming
out on the street-car with him to-night, if it hadn't been that I
thought maybe my mother would like a little fanciness after a hard life
like hers, for my own part a little house and a big garden is all I ask
"Ach, Mr. Hochenheimer, with such a grand house like that is--sunk-in
baths Mrs. Schwartz says you got! To see a house like that, I tell you
it must be a treat."
"It's a fine place, Mrs. Shongut, but too big for me and my mother. When
I got into the hands of architects, let me tell you, I feel I was lucky
to get off with only twenty-five rooms. Right now, Mrs. Shongut, we got
rooms we don't know how to pronounce."
"Twenty-five rooms! Did you hear that, Adolph? Twenty-five rooms! I bet,
Mr. Hochenheimer, your mother is proud of such a son as can give her
"We don't say much about it to each other, my mother and me; but--you
can believe me or not--in our big, stylish house up there on the hill,
with her servants to take away from her all the pleasure of work and her
market and old friends down on Richmond Street yet, and nothing but
gold furniture round her, she gets lonesome enough. If it wasn't for my
garden and the beautiful scenery from my terraces, I would wish myself
back in our little down-town house more than once, too. I tell you, Mrs.
Shongut, fineness ain't everything."
"You should bring your mother some time to Mound City with you when you
come over on business, Mr. Hochenheimer. We would do our best to make it
pleasant for her."
"She's an old woman, Mrs. Shongut, and in a train or an automobile I
can't get her. I guess it would be better, Mrs. Shongut, if I carry off
some of your family with me to Cincinnati."
And, to belie that his words had any glittering import, he lay back in
his chair in a state of silent laughter, which set his soft-fleshed
cheeks aquiver; and his blue eyes, so ready yet so reluctant,
disappeared behind a tight squint.
"Adolph, I guess Mr. Hochenheimer will excuse us--eh? Renie, you can
entertain Mr. Hochenheimer while me and papa go and spend the evening
over at Aunt Meena's. Mr. Shongut's sister, Mr. Hochenheimer, 'ain't
been so well. Anyways, I always say young folks 'ain't got no time for
"You go right ahead along, Mrs. Shongut. Don't treat me like company. I
hope Miss Renie don't mind if I spend the evening?"
"I should say not."
"Hochenheimer, a cigar?"
"Thanks; I don't smoke."
"My husband, with his heart trouble, shouldn't smoke, neither, Mr.
Hochenheimer; it worries me enough. What me and the doctors tell him
goes in one ear and out of the other."
"See, Hochenheimer, when you get a wife how henpecked you get!"
"A henpeck never drew much blood, Shongut."
"Come, Adolph; it is a long car-ride to Meena's."
They pushed back from the table, the four of them, smiling-lipped. With
his short-fingered, hairy-backed hands Mr. Hochenheimer dusted at his
coat lapels, then shook his bulging trousers knees into place.
The lamp of inner sanctity burns in strange temples. A carpenter in
haircloth shirt first turned men's hearts outward. Who can know, who
does not first cross the plain of the guide with gold, that behind the
moldy panels at Ara Coeli reigns the jeweled bambino, robed in the
glittering gems of sacrifice?
Who could know, as Mr. Hochenheimer stood there in the curtailed dignity
of his five feet five, that behind his speckled and slightly rotund
waistcoat a choir sang of love, and that the white flame of his spirit
"I tell you, Mrs. Shongut, it is a pleasure to be invited out to your
house. You should know how this old bachelor hates hotels."
"And you should know how welcome you always are, Mr. Hochenheimer.
To-morrow night you take supper with us too. We don't take 'no'--eh,
"I appreciate that, Mrs. Shongut; but I--I don't know yet--if--if I stay
Mr. Shongut batted a playful hand and shuffled toward the door. "You
stay, Hochenheimer! I bet you a good cigar you stay. Ain't I right,
Renie, that he stays? Ain't I right?"
Against the sideboard, fingering her white dress, Miss Shongut regarded
her parents, and her smile was as wan as moonlight.
"Ain't I right, Renie?"
* * * * *
On the bit of porch, the hall light carefully lowered and cushions from
within spread at their feet, the dreamy quiet of evening and air as
soft as milk flowed round and closed in about Miss Shongut and Mr.
They drew their rocking-chairs arm to arm, so that, behind a bit of
climbing moonflower vine, they were as snug as in a bower. Stars shone
over the roofs of the houses opposite; the shouts of children had died
down; crickets whirred.
"Is the light from that street lamp in your eyes, Renie?"
The wooden floor reverberated as they rocked. A little thrill of breeze
fluttered her filmy shoulder scarf against his hand. To his fermenting
fancy it was as though her spirit had flitted out of the flesh.
"Ah, Miss Renie, I--I--"
"What, Mr. Hochenheimer?"
"Nothing. Your--your little shawl, it tickled my hand so."
She leaned her elbow on the arm of her chair and cupped her chin in her
palm. Her eyes had a peculiar value--like a mill-pond, when the wheel is
still, reflects the stars in calm and unchurned quiet.
"You look just like a little princess to-night, Miss Renie--that pretty
shawl and your eyes so bright."
"Yes; if I had a tin suit and a sword to match I'd ride up on a horse
and carry you off to my castle in Cincinnati."
"Say, wouldn't it be a treat for Wasserman Avenue to see me go loping
off like that!"
"This is the first little visit we've ever had together all by
ourselves, ain't it, Miss Renie? Seems like, to a bashful fellow like
me, you was always slipping away from me."
"The flowers and the candies you kept sending me were grand, Mr.
Hochenheimer--and the letter--to-day."
"You read the letter, Miss Renie?"
"Yes, I--I--You shouldn't keep spoiling me with such grand flowers and
candy, Mr. Hochenheimer."
"If tell you that never in my life I sent flowers or candy, or wrote a
letter like I wrote you yesterday, to another young lady, I guess you
laugh at me--not, Miss Renie?"
"You shouldn't begin, Mr. Hochenheimer, by spoiling me."
"Ah, Miss Renie, if you knew how I like to spoil you, if you would let
me--Ach, what's the use? I--I can't say it like I want." She could hear
him breathing. "It--it's a grand night, Miss Renie."
"And look over those roofs! It seems like there's a million stars
shining, don't it?"
"You're like me, Miss Renie; so many times I've noticed it. Nothing is
so grand to me as nature, neither."
"Up at Green Springs, in the Ozarks, where we went for ten days last
summer, honest, Mr. Hochenheimer, I used to lie looking out the window
all night. The stars up there shone so close it seemed like you could
nearly touch them."
"Ain't that wonderful, Miss Renie, you should be just like me again!"
She smiled in the dark. "When I was a boy always next to the attic
window I liked to sleep. When I built my house, Miss Renie, the
first thing after I designed my rose-garden I drew up for myself a
sleeping-garden on my roof. The architects fussed enough about spoiling
the roof-line, but that's one of the things I wanted which I stood pat
for and got--my sleeping-garden."
"Miss Renie, I just wish you could see it--all laid out in roses in
summer, and a screened-in pergola, where I sleep, right underneath the
stars and roses. I sleep so close to heaven I always say I can smell
She turned her little face, white as a spray of jasmine against a dark
background of night, toward him. "Underneath a pergola of roses! I guess
it's the roses you must smell. How grand!"
"Sometimes when--if you come to Cincinnati I want to show you my place,
Miss Renie. If I say so myself, I got a wonderful garden; flowers I can
show you grown from clippings from every part of the world. If I do say
so, for a sausage-maker who never went to school two years in his life
it ain't so bad. I got a lily-pond, Miss Renie, they come from all over
to see. By myself I designed it."
"It must be grand, Mr. Hochenheimer."
"On Sunday, Miss Renie, I like for my boys and girls from the factory to
come up to my place and make themselves at home. You should see my old
mother how she fixes for them! I wish you could see them boys and girls,
and old men and women. In a sausage-factory they don't get much time to
listen to birds and water when it falls into a fountain. I wish, Miss
Renie, you could see them with the flowers. I--well, I don't know how to
say it; but I wish you could see them for yourself."
"They like it?"
"Like it! I tell you it's the greatest pleasure I get out of my place. I
wish, instead of my fine house, the city would let me build my factory
for them right in the garden."
"On such a stylish street they wouldn't ever let you, Mr. Hochenheimer."
"Me and my mother ain't much for style, Miss Renie. Honest, you'd be
surprised, but with my fine house I don't even keep an automobile. My
mother, she's old, Miss Renie, and won't go in one. Alone it ain't no
pleasure; and when I don't walk down to my factory the street-cars is
"You should take it easier, Mr. Hochenheimer."
"All our lives, Miss Renie, we've been so busy, my mother and me, I tell
her we got to be learnt--like children got to be learnt to walk--how to
enjoy ourselves. We--we need somebody young--somebody like you in the
house, Miss Renie--young and so pretty, and full of life, and--and so
She gave a gauzy laugh. "Honest, it must seem like a dream to have a
rose-garden right on the place you live."
"I wish you could see, Miss Renie, a new Killarney my gardener showed me
in the hothouse yesterday before I left--white-and-pink blend; he got
the clipping from Jamaica. It's a pale pink in the heart like the first
minute when the sun rises; and then it gets pinker and pinker toward
the outside petals, till it just bursts out as red as the sun when it's
ready to set."
"And those beautiful little tan roses you sent me, Mr. Hochenheimer;
"Ah, Miss Renie, the clipping from those sunset roses comes from Italy;
but now I call them Renie Roses, if--if you'll excuse me. I tell you,
Miss Renie, you look just enough like 'em to be related. Little satiny
gold-looking roses, with a pink blush on the inside of the petals and
a--a few little soft thorns on the stem."
"Aw, Mr. Hochenheimer, I ain't got thorns."
Out from the velvet shadows his face came closer. "It's thorns to me,
Miss Renie, because you're so pretty and sweet, and--and seem so far
away from a--plain fellow like me."
"I'm a plain man, Miss Renie, and I don't know how to talk much about
the things I feel inside of me; but--but I _feel_, all-righty."
"Looks ain't everything."
"I tell you, Miss Renie, now since I can afford it, I just don't seem to
know how to do the things I got the feeling inside of me for. Even in my
grand house sometimes I feel like it--it's too late for me to live like
"Nothing's ever too late, Mr. Hochenheimer."
"Just since I met you I can feel that way, Miss Renie, if you'll excuse
me for saying it--just since I met you."
"For the first time in my life, Miss Renie, I got the feeling from a
girl that, for me, life--maybe my life--is just beginning. Like a vine,
Miss Renie, you got yourself tangled round my feelings."
"Oh, Mr. Hochenheimer!"
"Like I told your papa to-night on the car, I 'ain't got much to offer a
beautiful young girl like you; money, I can see, don't count for so much
with a fine girl like you, and I--I don't need to be told that my face
and my ways ain't my fortune."
"It's the heart that counts, Mr. Hochenheimer."
"If--if you mean that, Miss Renie--if love, just love, can bring
happiness, I can make for you a life as beautiful as my rose-garden. For
the first time in my life, Miss Renie, I got the feeling I can do that
for a woman--and that woman is you. I--Will you--will you be my wife,
Miss Renie?" She could feel his breath now, scorching her cheek. "Will
you, Miss Renie?"
And even as she leaned over to open her lips a figure, swift as a Greek,
dashed to the veranda--up the steps three at a bound.
"Izzy!" She rose, pushing back her chair, and her hand flew to her
"Just a minute. Inside I gotta see you quick, Renie. Howdy,
Hochenheimer? You excuse her a minute. I got to see her."
His voice was like wine that sings in the pouring.
"Yes, yes, Izzy; I'm coming." Hers was trembling and pizzicato. "Excuse
me a minute, Mr. Hochenheimer--a minute."
Mr. Hochenheimer rose, mopping his brow. "It's all right, Miss Renie. I
wait out here on the porch till it pleases you."
In her tiny bedroom, with the light turned up, she faced her brother;
and he grasped her shoulders so that, through the sheer texture of her
dress, his hands left red prints on the flesh.
"Renie, you 'ain't done it, have you?"
"No, no, Izzy; I've done nothing. Where you been?"
He gave a great laugh and sank into a chair, limp. "You don't have to,
Renie. It's all right! I've fixed it. Everything is all right!"
"What do you mean?"
Then, as though the current of his returning vigor could know no bounds,
he scooped her in a one-armed embrace that fairly raised her from the
"All of a sudden, when you went out, Renie, I remembered Aunt Becky. You
remember she was the one who made Uncle Isadore fork over to papa that
time about the mortgage?"
"All of a sudden it came over me that she was the only one who could do
anything with him. I ran over to the house--all the way I ran, Renie.
She was up in her room, and--and it's all right, Renie. I told her, and
she's fixed it--fixed it!"
"She's fixed it. When he came home to supper we got him right away up
in her room before he had his hat off. Like a mother she begged for me,
Renie--like a mother. God! I--I tell you I couldn't go through it again;
but she got him, Renie--she got him!"
"Go on, Izzy--go on!"
"She told him I wouldn't face the shame; she told him I--I'd kill my own
father, and that the blood would be on his hands; she told him if he'd
let me go to the devil without another chance--me that had been named
after him--that a curse would roost on his chest. He didn't want to give
in to her--he didn't want to; but she scared him, and she's a woman and
she knew how to get inside of him--she knew how. They're going to send
me out to his mines, where I can start over, Renie. Out West, where
it'll make a new man of me; where I can begin over--start right, Renie.
"Oh, Izzy darling!"
"I can pay up when I earn the money like a man, Renie. It would have
killed me if you had sold yourself to him for me. I'd have gone to the
stripes first. But I got a man's chance now, Renie, and I don't have to
do that rotten thing to you and Squash. A man's chance, Renie, and--and
I'm going to take it."
She sat down on the bed suddenly, as though the blood had flowed out of
her heart, weakening her.
"A sister like you that would have stuck; and--and I'm going to make
good to a sister like you, Renie. I am, this time. Please believe me,
Renie. I am! I am!"
Her hand lay pressed to his cheek and she could feel the warm course of
his tears. "Izzy, I knew you wasn't yellow; I--I knew you wasn't."
Sobs shook him suddenly and he buried his face in the pillow beside her.
"Why, Izzy! Why, Izzy darling, what--what is it, Izzy darling?"
"It's nothing. You--you get out, Renie. I'm all right; only--only
it's--it's--Now that it's all over, I--I--Just let me alone a minute,
She closed the door behind her and fumbled through the gloom of the
hallway, her hand faltering as she groped ahead.
From the recesses of the moonflower vine Mr. Hochenheimer rose to meet
her; and, because her limbs would tremble, she slid quickly into her
"You--you must excuse me, Mr. Hochenheimer."
"It's all right, Miss Renie. I take up where we left off. It ain't so
easy, Miss Renie, to begin all over again to say it, but--but will you
be my--will you be my--"
She was suddenly in his arms, burrowing against the speckled waistcoat a
little resting-place for her head.
Toward the city Mother Earth turns a plate-glass eye and an asphalt
bosom. The rhythm of her heart-beats does not penetrate through paved
streets. That cadence is for those few of her billion children who have
stayed by to sleep with an ear to the mossy floor of her woodlands. The
prodigals, the future Tammany leaders, merchant princes, cotton kings,
and society queens march on, each to an urban destiny.
Nor is the return of the prodigal to Mother Earth along a piked highway.
The road back to Nature is full of her own secrets, and few who have
trod the streets of the city remember the brambled return, or care.
Men who know to the centime each fluctuation of the wheat-market have
no eye for the tawny beauty of a whole field of the precious product
fluctuating to a breeze. Women stayed by steel and convention into the
mold of form love the soft faces of flowers looking up at them from
expensive corsages, but care not for their nativity. Greeks, first of
men, perched their gods up on Olympus and wandered down to build cities.
Because the city is as insidious as the sleeping-draught of an Indian
soothsayer, under its spell men go mad for gain and forget that to stand
on the brow of a mountain at night, arms outstretched in kinship to Vega
and Capella, is a golden moment of purer alloy than certified bonds.
What magnate remembers where the best tackle squirms, or the taste of
grass sucked in from the tender end of the blade? All progress is like
that. How immediately are the yesterdays metamorphosed into memories;
and memories, even the stanchest of them, mold and disintegrate.
There were times when Mrs. Simon Meyerburg, who was threescore and ten
years removed from the days when her bare feet had run fleet across a
plushy meadow, would pause, hand on brow, when a memory, perhaps moving
as it crumpled, would pass before her in faded daguerreotype. A gallery
of events--so many pictures faded from her mental walls that the gaps
seemed, as it were, to separate her from herself, making of her and
that swift-footed girl back there vague strangers. And yet the vivid
canvases! A peasant child at a churn, switching her black braids this
way and that when they dangled too far over her shoulders; a linnet dead
in its cage outside a thatched doorway, and the taste of her first heart
tears; a hand-made crib in a dark corner and hardly ever empty of a
Then gaps, except here and there a faded bit. Then again large memories
close and full of color: Simon Meyerburg, with the years folded back
and youth on him, wooing her beside a stile that led off a South German
country road, his peasant cap fallen back off his strong black curls,
and even then a seer's light in his strong black eyes. Her own black
eyes more diffident now and the black braids looped up and bound in
a tight coronet round her head. The voice of the mother calling her
homeward through cupped hands and in the Low Dutch of the Lowlands. A
moonrise and the sweet, vivid smell of evening, and once more the youth
Simon Meyerburg wooing her there beside the roadside stile.
The crowded steerage of a wooden ship, her first son suckling at her
breast. At the prow Simon Meyerburg again, his peasant cap pushed
backward and his black eyes, with the seer's light in them, gleaming
ahead for the first glimpse of the land of fulfilment. An unbelievable
city sucking them immediately into its slums. Filth. A quick descent
into squalor. A second son. A third. A fourth. A fifth. A girl child.
Mouths too eager for black bread. Always the struggle and the sour smell
of slums. Finally light. White light. The seer sees!
Then, ever green in her mind, a sun-mottled kitchen with a black iron
range, and along the walls festoons of looped-up green peppers. White
bread now in abundance for small mouths not so hungry. At evening, Simon
Meyerburg, with rims of dirt under his nails, entering that kitchen
door, the girl child turning from her breast to leap forward....
Sometimes in her stately halls, caught, as it were, in passing from room
to room, Mrs. Simon Meyerburg would pause, assaulted by these memories
of days so remote that her mind could not always run back to meet them.
Then again the glittering present studded with the jewels of fulfilment
lay on her brow like the thin line of a headache, pressing out the past.
In Mrs. Meyerburg's bedroom a great arched ceiling, after the narrative
manner of Paolo Veronese, lent such vastness to the apartment that
moving across it, or sitting in her great overstuffed armchair beside a
window, she hardly struck a note. Great wealth lay in canopied silence
over that room. A rug out of Persia, so large that countless extra years
and countless pairs of tired eyes and tired fingers had gone to make
it, let noises sink noiseless into its nap. Brocade and tufting ate up
sound. At every window more brocade shut out the incessant song of the
In the overstuffed chair beside one of these windows sat Mrs. Meyerburg
with her hands idle and laid out along the chair sides. They were
ringless hands and full of years, with a great network of veins across
their backs and the aging fingers large at the knuckles. But where
the hands betrayed the eyes belied. Deep in Mrs. Meyerburg's soft and
scarcely flabby face her gaze was straight and very black.
An hour by an inlaid ormolu clock she sat there, her feet in soft,
elastic-sided shoes, just lifted from the floor. Incongruous enough, on
a plain deal table beside her, a sheaf of blue-prints lay unrolled. She
fingered them occasionally and with a tenderness, as if they might
be sensitive to touch; even smiled and held the sheets one by one up
against the shrouded window so that the light pressing through them
might emphasize the labyrinth of lines. Dozed, with a smile printed on
her lips, and awoke when her head lopped too heavily sidewise.
After an interval she slid out of her chair and crossed to the door;
even in action her broad, squat figure infinitesimal to the room's
proportions. When she opened the door the dignity of great halls lay in
waiting. She crossed the wide vista to a closed door, a replica of her
own, and knocked, waited, turned the crystal knob, knocked, waited.
Rapped again, this time in three staccatos. Silence. Then softly and
with her cheek laid against the imperturbable panel of the closed door:
"Becky! Becky! Open! Open!"
A muffled sound from within as if a sob had been let slip.
Then again, rattling the knob this time: "Becky, it's mamma. Becky, you
should get up now; it's time for our drive. Let me in, Becky. Open!"
shaking the handle.
When the door opened finally, Mrs. Meyerburg stepped quickly through the
slit, as if to ward off its too heavy closing. A French maid, in the
immemorial paraphernalia of French maids, stood by like a slim sentinel
on stilts, her tall, small heels clicked together. Perfume lay on the
artificial dusk of that room.
"Therese, you can go down awhile. When Miss Becky wants she can ring."
"I wish, Therese, when you go down you would tell Anna I don't want she
should put the real lace table-cloth from Miss Becky's party last night
in the linen-room. Twice I've told her after its use she should always
bring it right back to me."
"Oui, madame." And Therese flashed out on the slim heels.
In the crowded apartment, furnished after the most exuberant of the
various exuberant French periods, Miss Rebecca Meyerburg lay on a Louis
Seize bed, certified to have been lifted, down to the casters, from the
Grand Trianon of Marie Antoinette. In a great confusion of laces and
linens, disarrayed as if tossed by a fever patient, she lay there, her
round young arm flung up over her head and her face turned downward to
the curve of one elbow.
"Ach, now, Becky, ain't it a shame you should take on so? Ain't it a
shame before the servants? Come, baby, in a half-hour it's time for our
drive. Come, baby!"
Beneath the fine linen Miss Meyerburg dug with her toes into the
mattress, her head burrowing deeper and the black mane of her hair
rippling backward in maenadic waves. "If you don't let me alone, ma, if
you don't just let me lay here in peace, I'll scream. I'll faint. Faint,
I tell you," and smothered her words in the curve of her elbow.
Mrs. Meyerburg breathed outward in a sigh and sat down hesitant on the
bed edge, her hand reaching out to the bare white shoulder and smoothing
its high luster.
"Come, Becky, and get up like a good girl. Don't you want, baby, to come
over by mamma's room and see the plans for the Memorial?"
"No! No! No!"
"They got to be sent back to-day, Becky, before Goldfinger leaves for
Boston with them. I got to get right away busy if I want the boys should
have their surprise this time next year. To no one but my baby girl have
I said yet one word. Don't you want, Becky, to see them before they go
down by Goldfinger's office, so he can right away go ahead?"
"Becky, ain't you ashamed, your own papa's Memorial?"
"Please, mamma, please. If you only won't Becky me."
"If you only will go and--and leave me alone."
"I ask you, Betty, should a girl what's got everything that should make
her happy just like an angel, a girl what has got for herself heaven on
earth, make herself right away sick the first time what things don't go
smooth with her?"
"If I could only die! If I could die! Why don't I die to-day?"
The throb of a sob lay on her voice, and she sat up suddenly, pushing
backward with both hands the thick rush of hair to her face. Grief had
blotched her cheeks, but she was as warm and as curving as Flora. It was
as if her deep-white flesh was deep-white plush and would sink to the
touch. The line and the sheen of her radiated through her fine garment.
"Why don't I die?" repeating her vain question, and her eyes, darker
because she was so white, looking out and past her parent and streaming
their bitter tears.
"You'm a bad girl, Becky, and it's a sin you should talk so. _Gott sei
dank_ your poor papa ain't alive to hear such bad words from his own
"If pa was living things would be different--let me tell you that."
In a flare of immediate anger Mrs. Meyerburg's head shot forward. "Du--"
she cried; "du--you--you bad girl--du--"
"If he had lived they would!"
Suddenly Mrs. Meyerburg's face, with the lines in it held tight, relaxed
to tears and she fell to rocking herself softly to and fro, her stiff
silk shushing as she swayed.
"Ach, that I should live to hear from my own child that I 'ain't done by
her like her father would want that I should do. Every hour since I been
left alone, to do by my six children like he would want has been always
my only thought, and now--"
"I mean it! I mean it! If he had lived he would have settled it on me
easy enough when he saw what I was doing for the family. Two million
if need be! He was the one in this family that made it big, because he
wasn't afraid of big things."
Further rage trembled along Mrs. Meyerburg's voice, and the fingers she
waggled trembled, too, of that same wrath. "You'm a bad girl, Becky!
You'm a bad girl with thought only for yourself. Always your papa said
by each child we should do the same. Five hundred thousand dollars to
each son when he marries a fine, good girl. More as one night I can
tell you I laid awake when Felix picked out for himself Trixie, just
wondering what papa would want I should do it or not."
"Can't you keep from picking on that girl, mamma? It's through her, if
you want to know it, that I first got in with--with the marquis and that
"Always by each child we should do the same, he said. Five hundred
thousand dollars to our girl when she marries a fine, good man. Even
back in days when he had not a cent to leave after him, always he said
alike you should all be treated. Always, you hear? Always."
Fire had dried the tears in Mrs. Meyerburg's eyes and her face had
resumed its fixity of lines. Only her finger continued to tremble and
two near-the-surface nerves in her left temple.
"But, mamma, you know yourself he never dreamt we could climb up to
this. That for a miserable five hundred thousand more we--"
"A miserable five hundred thousand she calls it like it was five hundred
"That for a miserable five hundred thousand dollars we could raise our
family up to the nobility. The Marquis Rosencrantz, ma, who--"
"Becky, it ain't that I got a word to say against this young man
"Marquis Rosencrantz, mamma."
"All right then, Marquis Rosencrantz; but it's like your brother Ben
says--a marquis in a country where there ain't no more any of them made
could just as well be called a mister. Not a word I got to say against
this young Rosencrantz, but--"
"Marquis, ma, please remember! M-a-r-q-u-i-s. Whether there are any more
of them or not in France, he still goes by the title over here, and
that's what he is, ma. Please remember!"
"Marquis Rosencrantz. But when a young man, Becky, don't talk my own
language, it ain't so easy for me to know if I like him--"
"Like him. Huh!" Sitting there upright in bed, her large, white arms
wrapped about her knees, Miss Meyerburg regarded her mother with dry
eyes, but through a blur of scorn. "She don't know if she likes him! Let
me tell you, ma, we can worry if he likes us, not if we like him."
"I always say, Becky, about these fine people what you meet traveling in
Europe with your brother Felix and his wife with her gay ways, you--"
"A marquis comes her way and she don't know whether she likes him or
not. That's rich!"
"For the price what you say he hinted to you last night he's got to have
before he can get married, I guess _oser_ I can say if I like him or
"I should think, ma, if you had any pride for the family after the way
we've been spit on by a certain bunch in this town, you'd be glad to
grab a marquis to wave in their stuck-up faces."
"For such things what make in life men like wild beasts fighting each
other I got no time. I ain't all for style. All what I want is to see my
little girl married to a fine, good--"
"Yes, yes, ma. I know all that fine, good man stuff."
"Ja, I say it again. To a fine, good man just like nearly all your
brothers married fine, good women."
"The marquis, just let me tell you, ma, is a man of force--he is. Maybe
those foreigners don't always show up, but I've seen him on his own
ground. I've seen him in Paris and Monte Carlo and I--"
"I 'ain't got a word to say against this young man what followed you all
the way home from Paris. What I don't know I can't talk about. Only I
ask you, Becky, ain't it always in the papers how from Europe they run
here thick after the girls what have got money?"
"What are you always running down Europe for, ma? Where did you come
from, yourself, I'd like to know!"
"I don't run it down, baby. I don't. You know how your papa loved the
old country and sent always money back home. But he always said, baby,
it's in America we had all our good luck and to America what gave us so
much we should give back too. Just because your brother Felix and his
wife what was on the stage like such doings over there is no reason--"
"It's just those notions of yours, ma, that are keeping this family
down, let me tell you that--you and Ben and Roody and Izzy and all the
rest of them with their old-fogyness."
"Your brothers, let me tell you, you bad girl, you, are as fine, steady
men as your papa before them."
"We could have one of the biggest names in this town and get in on the
right kind of charities, if you and they didn't--"
"Your papa, Becky, had his own ideas how to do charity and how we should
not give just where our name shows big in the papers. Your brothers are
like him, fine, good men, and that's why I want the Memorial should come
like a surprise, so they can have before them always that their father
was the finest--"
Suddenly Miss Meyerburg flung herself back on her pillows, tears gushing
hot and full of salt. "Oh, what's the use? What's the use? She won't
"Becky, baby, 'ain't you got everything what money can buy? A house on
Fifth Avenue what even the sight-seeing automobile hollers out about.
Automobiles of your own more as you can use. Brothers nearly all with
grand wives and families, and such a beautiful girl like you with a
grand fortune to--"
"Mamma, mamma, can't you understand there's things that money can't
"Ja, I should say so; but them is the things, Becky, that money makes
you forget all about."
"Try to understand, can't you, ma, that the Rosencrantzes are a great
old French family. You know for yourself how few of--of our people
got titles to their names. Jacob Rosencrantz, ma, the marquis's
great-grandfather back in the days when the family had big money, got
his title from the king, ma, for lending money when the--"
"If all of his sons got, like this great-grandson of his asks, one
million dollars with their wives, I should say he could afford to lend
to the king. To two kings!"
"Please, mamma, can't you understand? It don't hurt how things are
now--it's the way they used to be with those kinds of families that
count, ma. I was on their estate in France, ma, with Trixie and Felix.
She used to know him in Paris when she was singing there. You ought to
see, ma, an old, old place that you can ride on for a day and not come
to the end, and the house so moldy and ramshackly that any American girl
would be proud to marry into it. Those are the things, ma, that our
family needs and money can't buy."
"You mean, Becky, that five hundred thousand dollars can't buy it! It
has got to be a million dollars yet! A million dollars my child asks for
just like it was five dollars!"
"I'm not asking that, ma, I'm not. Five hundred thousand of it is mine
by rights. I'm only asking for half a million."
"Gott in Himmel, child, much more as a million dollars I 'ain't got left
altogether. With my five sons married and their shares drawn, I tell
you, Becky, a million dollars to you now would leave me so low that--"
"There you go. That's what you said that time Felix had to have the
hundred thousand in a hurry, but I notice you got it overnight without
even turning a finger. For him you can do, but--"
"For a black sheep I got to--"
"It's not all tease with the boys, let me tell you, ma, when they sing
that song at you about a whole stocking full you've got that none of us
know anything about."
"Ja, you and your brothers can talk, but I know what's what. Don't
think, Becky, your brother Felix and his wife with their Monte Carlo all
the time and a yacht they got to have yet, and their debts, 'ain't eat a
piece out of the fortune your papa built up for you children out of his
"Don't go back to ancient history, ma."
"Those cut-uppings is for billionaires, Becky; not for one old lady as
'ain't got much more as a million left after her six dowries is paid."
"Yes, I wish I had what you've got over and above that."
"That young Rosencrantz is playing you high, Becky, because he sees how
high your brother and his wife can fly. Always when people get big like
us, right away the world takes us for even bigger as we are. He 'ain't
got no right to make such demands. Five hundred thousand dollars is more
as he ever saw in his life. I tell you, Becky, if I could speak to that
young man like you can in his own language, I would tell him what--"
"He don't make demands in so many words, ma. There--there's a way those
things are done without just coming right out. I guess you think, when
Selma Bernheimer married her baron, he came right out in words and said
it had to be two millions. Like fun he did! But just the same, you don't
think she could have said yes to him, when he asked her, unless she knew
that she--she could fork over, do you?"
"I tell you in such marriages the last thing what you hear talked about
is being in love."
"Oh, that had nothing to do with this, ma. The love part is there all
right. You--you don't understand, ma!"
"_Gott sei dank_ that I don't understand such!"
Then Miss Meyerburg leaned forward, her large, white hand on her
parent's knee, her face close and full of fervor. "Ma dear, you got it
in your power sitting there to make me the happiest girl in the world.
I'll do more for the family in this marriage, ma dear, than all five of
the boys put together. I tell you, ma, it's the biggest minute in the
life of this family if you give--if you do this for me, ma. It is,
"Ja, let me just tell you that your brothers and their wives will be the
first to put their foot down on that the youngest should get twice as
much as they."
"What do you care? And, anyways, ma, they don't need to know. What they
don't know don't hurt them. Don't tell them, ma; just don't tell them.
Ain't I the only girl, and the baby too? Haven't I got the chance to,
raise them all up in society? Oh, ma dear, you've got so much! So much
more than you can ever use, and--and you--you're old now, ma, and I--I'm
so young, dear, so young!"
"Ja, like you say, maybe I'm old, but I tell you, Becky, I 'ain't got
the money to throw away like--"
"Let me let the marquis ask me when he comes to-night, ma. He's ready to
pop if--if I just dare to let him, ma."
"_Gott in Himmel_, I tell you how things is done now'days between young
people. I should let him ask her yet, she says, like I had put on his
mouth a muzzle."
"It's no use letting him ask me, ma dear, if I can't come across like I
know the girl he can marry has got to. Let me let him ask me to-night,
ma. And to-morrow at New-Year's dinner with all the family here, we'll
break it to 'em, ma. Mamma dearie! Let me ask the marquis here to
New-Year's dinner to-morrow to meet his new brothers. Ma dearie!"
She was frankly pleading, her eyes twilit, with stars shining through,
her mouth so like red fruit and her beautiful brows raised.
"So help me, Becky, if I give you the million like you ask and with the
Memorial yet to build, I am wiped out, Becky. Wiped out!"
"Wiped out! With five sons with their finger in every good pie in town
and a daughter married into nobility?"
"I 'ain't got one word to say against my children, Becky; luckier I been
as most mothers; but the day what I am dependent on one of them for my
living, that day I want I should be done with living."
"You could live with us, ma dearie. Paris in season and the estate in
winter. You--you could run the big estate for us, ma, order and--"
"You heard what I said, Becky."
"Well, then, ma, why--why don't you get the Memorial out of your head,
dear? Pa built his own Memorial, ma. His memory lasts with everybody,
Aspen trembling laid hold of Mrs. Meyerburg, muddling her words.
"You--ach--from her dead father yet she would take away the marble to
"Ja, the marble to his memory! Bad girl, you! A man what lifted up with
his hands those that came after so that hardly on the ground they got to
put a foot. And now du--du what gives him no thanks! A Memorial to her
papa, a Home for the Old and Poor what he always dreamed of building,
she begrudges, she begrudges!"
"No, no, mamma, you don't understand!"
"A man what loved so the poor while he lived, shouldn't be able to do
for the poor after he is dead too. You go, you bad girl you, to your
grand nobleman what won't take you if you ain't worth every inch your
weight in gold, you--"
"Mamma--mamma, if you don't stop your terrible talk I--I'll faint, I
"You go and your brother Felix and his fine wife with you, for the
things what money can buy. You got such madness for money, sometimes
like wolfs you all feel to me breathing on my back, you go and--"
"I tell you if--if you don't stop that terrible talk I--I'll faint, I
will! Oh, why don't I die--why--why--why?"
"Since the day what he died every hour I've lived for the time when,
with my children provided for, I could spend the rest of my days
building to a man what deserved it such a monument as he should have. A
Home for the Old and Poor with a park all around, where they can sit all
day in the sun. All ready I got the plans in my room to send them down
by Goldfinger this afternoon he should go right ahead and--"
"Mamma, mamma, please listen--"
But the voice of Mrs. Meyerburg rose like a gale and her face was
slashed with tears. "If my last cent it takes and on the streets I go to
beg, up such a Memorial goes. All you children with your feet up on his
shoulders can turn away from his memory now he's gone, but up it goes if
on the day what I die I got to dig dirt with my finger-nails to pay yet
for my coffin."
"Listen, ma; just be calm a minute--just a minute. I don't mean that.
Didn't I just say he was the grandest father in the world and--"
"'Sh-h-h, mamma! Quiet, quiet! There isn't one of the boys wouldn't
agree with me if they knew. We aren't big enough, I tell you, to sink a
million in an out-of-town charity like that. In any charity, for that
matter, no matter how big it shows up. You say yourself a million and a
half will cripple you. Well, your first duty is to us living and not to
him dead--To us living! It means my whole life, my whole life!" And she
beat the pillow with hard fists.
"With that money you can buy my happiness living, and he don't want it
or need it dead."
Within the quick vise of her two hands Mrs. Meyerburg clasped her face,
all quivering and racked with sobs. "I can't hear it. It's like she was
sticking knifes into me."
"The marquis has the kind of blood we need to give this family a boost.
We can be big, ma. Big, I tell you. I can have a crest embroidered in
two colors in my linens. That inside clique that looks down on us now
can do some looking up then. The boys don't need to know about that
million, ma. Just let me have the marquis here to-morrow to meet his new
brothers, ma, like there was nothing unusual. I'll pay it back to you in
a million ways. The Memorial will come in time. Everything will come in
time. Make me the happiest girl in the world, ma. He'll ask me to-night
if I let him. Get the Memorial plans out of your head for a while,
anyway! Just for a while!"
"Not so long as I got in me the strength to send down them plans to
Goldfinger's office this afternoon with my message to go ahead. I don't
invite no marquis here to-morrow for family dinner if I got to get him
here with a million dollars' worth of bait. I--"
"Go and tell him your stingy old mamma would rather build a Home for the
Old and Poor in memory of the grandest man what ever lived than give a
snip like him, what never did a lick of work in his life, a fortune so
he should have with it a good time at Monte Carlo. Just go tell him!
She was trembling now so that she could scarcely withdraw from the
bedside, but her voice had lost none of its gale-like quality.
"Go tell him! Maybe it does him good he should hear." And in spite of
her ague she crossed the vast room, slamming the door so that a great
shudder ran over the room.
On the bed that had been lifted bodily from the Grand Trianon of Marie
Antoinette, its laces upheaved about her like billows in anger, Rebecca
Meyerburg lay with her face to the ceiling, raw sobs distorting it.
Steadying herself without that door, her hand laid between her breasts
and slightly to the left, as if there a sharp pain had cut her, Mrs.
Meyerburg leaned to the wall a moment, and, gaining quick composure,
proceeded steadily enough across the wide aisle of hall, her hand
following a balustrade.
A servant intercepted her half-way. "Madam--"
"Kemp, from here when I look down in the lower hall, all them ferns look
yellow on top. I want you should please cut them!"
"Yes, madam. Mrs. Fischlowitz, madam, has been waiting down in the side
hall for you."
"Mrs. Fischlowitz! For why you keep her waiting in the side hall?"
"Therese said madam was occupied."
"Bring her right up, Kemp, in the elevator. Her foot ain't so good.
Right away, Kemp."
Into Mrs. Meyerburg's room of many periods, its vastness so emphasized
by the ceiling after Paolo Veronese, its fluted yellow-silk bed canopy
reaching up to that ceiling stately and theatric enough to shade
the sleep of a shah, limped Mrs. Fischlowitz timidly and with the
uncertainty with which the callous feet of the unsocialistic poor tread
"How-do, Mrs. Fischlowitz?"
"Mrs. Meyerburg, I didn't want you to be disturbed except I want to
explain to you why I'm late again this month."
"Sit down! I don't want you should even explain, Mrs.
Fischlowitz--that's how little I thought about it."
Mrs. Meyerburg was full of small, pleased ways, drawing off her guest's
decent black cape, pulling at her five-fingered mittens, lifting the
"So! And how's the foot?"
"Not so good and not so bad. And how is the sciatica with you, Mrs.
"Like with you, Mrs. Fischlowitz. It could be better and it could be
worse. Sometimes I got a little touch yet up between my ribs."
"If it ain't one thing, Mrs. Meyerburg, it's another. What you think why
I'm late again with the rent, Mrs. Meyerburg? If last week my Sollie
didn't fall off the delivery-wagon and sprain his back!"
"You don't say so!"
"That same job as you got him two years ago so good he's kept, and now
such a thing has to happen. _Gott sei dank_, he's up and out again, but
I tell you it was a scare!"
"I should say so. And how is Tillie?"
"Mrs. Meyerburg, you should just see for yourself how that girl has got
new color since that certified milk you send her every day. Like a
new girl so pretty all of a sudden she has grown. For to-morrow, Mrs.
Meyerburg, a girl what never before had a beau in her life, if Morris
Rinabauer, the young foreman where she works, 'ain't invited her out for
"You got great times down by Rivington Street this time of year. Not? I
remember how my children used to like it with their horns _oser_ like it
was their own holiday."
"Ja, it's a great _gedinks_ like always. Sometimes I say it gets so
tough down there I hate my Tillie should come home from the factory
after dark, but now with Morris Rinabauer--"
"Mrs. Fischlowitz, I guess you think it's a sin I should say so, but I
tell you, when I think of that dirty little street down there and your
flat what I lived in the seventeen happiest years of my life with my
husband and babies--when I think back on my years in that little flat
I--I can just feel myself tremble like all over. That's how happy we
were down there, Mrs. Fischlowitz."
"I can tell you, Mrs. Meyerburg, when I got a place like this, at
Rivington Street I wouldn't want I should ever have to look again."
"It's a feeling, Mrs. Fischlowitz, what you--you can't understand
until--until you live through so much like me. I--I just want some day
you should let me come down, Mrs. Fischlowitz, and visit by you in the
old place, eh?"
"Ach, Mrs. Meyerburg, I can tell you the day what you visit on me down
there I am a proud woman. How little we got to offer you know, but if I
could fix for you Kaffeeklatsch some day and Kuchen and--"
"In the kitchen you still got the noodle-board yet, Mrs. Fischlowitz,
where you can mix Kuchen too?"
"I should say so. Always on it I mix my doughs."
"He built it in for me himself, Mrs. Fischlowitz. On hinges so when I
was done, up against the wall out of the way I could fold it."
"'Just think,' I say to my children, 'we eat noodles off a board what
Simon Meyerburg built with his own hands.' On the whole East Side it's a
"Sometimes when I come down by your flat, Mrs. Fischlowitz, I show you
how I used to make them for him. Wide ones he liked."
"Ach, Mrs. Meyerburg, like you could put your hands in dough now!"
"'Mamma,' he used to say--standing in the kitchen door when he came home
nights and looking at me maybe rocking Becky there by the stove and
waiting supper for him--'Mamma,' he'd say, clapping his hands at me,
'open your eyes wide so I can see what's in 'em.'"
"That such a big man should play like that!"
"'Come in, darling,' I'd say; 'you can't guess from there what we got.'"
"Just think, like just married you were together."
"'Noodles!' he'd holler, and all the time right in back of me, spread
out on the board, he could see 'em. I can see him yet, Mrs. Fischlowitz,
standing there in the kitchen doorway, under the horseshoe what he found
when we first landed."
"I can tell you, Mrs. Meyerburg, in that flat we 'ain't had nothing but
luck, neither, with you so good to us."
"Ach, now, Mrs. Fischlowitz, for an old friend like you, what I lived
next door to so many years and more as once gave my babies to keep for
me when I must go out awhile, I shouldn't do a little yet."
"'Little,' she calls it. With such low rent you give us I'm ashamed to
bring the money. Five weeks in the country and milk for my Tillie, until
it's back from the grave you snatched her. Even on my back now every
stitch what I got on I got to thank you for. Such comfort I got from
that black cape!"
"I was just thinking, Mrs. Fischlowitz, with your rheumatism and on such
a cold day a cape ain't so good for you, neither. Right up under it the
wind can get."
"Warm like toast it is, Mrs. Meyerburg."
"I got a idea, Mrs. Fischlowitz! In that chest over there by the wall I
got yet a jacket from Rivington Street. Right away it got too tight for
me. Like new it is, with a warm beaver collar. At auction one day he got
it for me. Like a top it will fit you, Mrs. Fischlowitz."
"No, no, please, Mrs. Meyerburg. It just looks like every time what
I come you got to give me something. Ashamed it makes me. Please you
But in the pleasant frenzy of sudden decision Mrs. Meyerburg was on her
knees beside a carved chest, burrowing her arm beneath folded garments,
the high smell of camphor exuding.
"Only yesterday in my hand I had it. There! See! Just your size!" She
held the creased garment out from her by each shoulder, blowing the nap
of the beaver collar.
"Please, no, Mrs. Meyerburg. Such a fine coat maybe you can wear it
yourself. No, I don't mean that, when you got such grander ones; but for
me, Mrs. Meyerburg, it's too fine to take. Please!"
Standing there holding it thrust enthusiastically forward, a glaze
suddenly formed over Mrs. Meyerburg's eyes and she laid her cheek to the
brown fur collar, a tear dropping to it.
"You'm right, Mrs. Fischlowitz, I--I can't give this up. I--he--a coat
he bought once for me at auction when--he _oser_ could afford it. I--you
must excuse me, Mrs. Fischlowitz."
"That's right, Mrs. Meyerburg, for a remembrance you should keep it."
Then brightening: "But I got in the next room, Mrs. Fischlowitz, a coat
better as this for you. Lined all in squirrel-skin they call it. One day
by myself I bought it, and how my Becky laughs and won't even let me
wear it in automobile. I ain't stylish enough, she says."
With an inarticulate medley of sounds Mrs. Fischlowitz held up a hand of
"Na, na, just a minute." And on the very wings of her words Mrs.
Meyerburg was across the room, through the ornate door of an ornate
boudoir, and out presently with the garment flung across her arm. "Na,
here put it on."
"Ach, such a beau-tiful coat!"
"So! Let me help!"
They leaned together, their faces, which the years had passed over
none too lightly, close and eager. Against the beaver collar Mrs.
Fischlowitz's hand lay fluttering.
"Put your hands in the pockets, Mrs. Fischlowitz. Deep, eh?"
"Finer you can believe me as I ever had in my life before. I can tell
you, Mrs. Meyerburg, a woman like you should get first place in heaven
and you should know how many on the East Side there is says the same.
I--I brought you your rent, Mrs. Meyerburg. You must excuse how late,
but my Sollie--"
Eleven! Twelve! Twelve-fifty! Mrs. Fischlowitz counted it out carefully
from a small purse tucked in her palm, snapping it carefully shut over
the remaining coins.
"Thank you, Mrs. Fischlowitz. You should never feel hurried. Mr.
Oppenheimer will mail you a receipt."
Back to Full Books