Part 4 out of 5
that'll dazzle their eyes out; I'm--"
"Charley, Charley, that's not what I want, boy. Now that I've got you,
there ain't a chain of diamonds on earth I'd turn my wrist for."
"Yes, there is, girl; there's a string of pear-shaped ones in--"
"I want you to buck up, honey; that's the finest present you can give me. I
want you to buck up like you didn't have a cent to your name. I want you
to throw up your head the way you do when you mean business, and show that
Charley Cox, without a cent to his name, would be--"
"Would be what, honey?"
"A winner. You got brains, Charley--if only you'd have gone through school
and shown them. If you'd only have taken education, Charley, and not got
fired out of all the academies, my boy would beat 'em all. Lord! boy,
there's not a day passes over my head I don't wish for education. That's
why I'm so crazy my little sister Genevieve should get it. I'd have took to
education like a fish to water if I'd have had the chance, and there you
were, Charley, with every private school in town and passed 'em up."
"I know, girl, just looks like every steer I gave myself was the wrong
steer till it was too late to get in right again. Bad egg, I tell you,
"Too late! Why, Charley--and you not even thirty-one yet? With your brains
and all--too late! You make me laugh. If only you will--why, I'm game to go
out West, Charley, on a ranch, where you can find your feet and learn to
stand on them. You got stuff in you, you have. Jess Turner says you was
always first in school, and when you set your jaw there wasn't nothing you
couldn't get on top of. If you'd have had a mother and--and a father that
wasn't the meanest old man in town, dear, and had known how to raise a
hot-headed boy like you, you'd be famous now instead of notorious--that's
what you'd be."
He patted her yellow hair, tilting her head back against his arm, pinching
her cheeks together and kissing her puckered mouth.
"Dream on, honey. I like you crazy, too."
"But, honey, I--"
"You married this millionaire kid, and, bless your heart, he's going to
make good by showing you the color of his coin!"
She sprang back from the curve of his embrace, unshed tears immediately
"Why, honey--I didn't mean it that way! I didn't mean to hurt your
feelings. What I meant was--'sh-h-h-h, Loo--all I meant was, it's coming to
you. Where'd the fun be if I couldn't make this town point up its ears at
my girl? Nobody knows any better than your hubby what his Loo was cut out
for. She was cut out for queening it, and I'm going to see that she gets
what's her due. Wouldn't be surprised if the papers have us already. Let's
see what we'll give them with their coffee this morning."
He unfolded his fresh sheet, shaking it open with one hand and still
holding her in the cove of his arm.
"Guess we missed the first edition, but they'll get us sure."
She peered at the sheet over his shoulder, her cheek against his and still
sobbing a bit in her throat. The jerking of her breath stopped then; in
fact, it was as if both their breathing had let down with the oneness of a
It was she who moved first, falling back from him, her mouth dropping open
He let the paper fall between his wide-spread knees, the blood flowing down
from his face and seeming to leave him leaner.
"My--poor old man!" he said in a voice that might have been his echo in a
"He--his heart must have give out on him, Charley, while he slept in the
She stretched out her hand timidly to his shoulder.
"Charley--boy--my poor boy!"
He reached up to cover her timid touch, still staring ahead, as if a mental
apathy had clutched him.
"He died like--he--lived. Gad--it's--tough!"
"It--it wasn't your fault, darling. God forgive me for speaking against the
dead, but--everybody knows he was a hard man, Charley--the way he used to
beat you up instead of showing you the right way. Poor old man, I guess he
"My old man--dead!"
She crept closer, encircling his neck, and her wet cheek close to his dry
"He's at peace now, darling--and all your sins are forgiven--like you
His lips were twisting.
"There was no love lost there, girl. God knows there wasn't. There was once
nine months we didn't speak. Never could have been less between a father
and son. You see he--he hated me from the start, because my mother died
hating him--but--_dead_--that's another matter. Ain't it, girl--ain't it?"
She held her cheek to his so that her tears veered out of their course,
zigzagging down to his waistcoat, stroked his hair, placing her rich, moist
lips to his eyelids.
"My darling! My darling boy! My own poor darling!"
Sobs rumbled up through him, the terrific sobs that men weep.
"You--married a rotter, Loo--that couldn't even live decent with his--old
man. He--died like a dog--alone."
"'Sh-h-h, Charley! Just because he's dead don't mean he was any better
while he lived."
"I'll make it up to you, girl, for the rotter I am. I'm a rich man now,
"I'll show you, girl. I can make somebody's life worth living. I'm going to
do something for somebody to prove I'm worth the room I occupy, and that
somebody's going to be you, Loo. I'm going to build you a house that'll go
down in the history of this town. I'm going to wind you around with pearls
to match that skin of yours. I'm going to put the kind of clothes on you
that you read of queens wearing. I've seen enough of the kind of meanness
money can breed. I'm going to make those Romans back there look like
She reached out, placing her hand pat across his mouth, and, in the languid
air of the room, shuddering so that her lips trembled.
"Charley--for God's sake--it--it's a sin to talk that way!"
"O God, I know it, girl! I'm all muddled--muddled."
He let his forehead drop against her arm, and in the long silence that
ensued she sat there, her hand on his hair.
The roar of traffic, seventeen stories below, came up through the open
windows like the sound of high seas, and from where she sat, staring out
between the pink-brocade curtains, it was as if the close July sky dipped
down to meet that sea, and space swam around them.
"O God!" he said, finally. "What does it all mean--this living and dying--"
"Right living, Charley, makes dying take care of itself."
"God! how he must have died, then! Like a dog--alone."
"'Sh-h-h, Charley; don't get to thinking."
Without raising his head, he reached up to stroke her arm.
"Honey, you're shivering."
"Everything's all right, girl. What's the use me trying to sham it's not.
I--I'm bowled over for the minute, that's all. If it had to come, after
all, it--it came right for my girl. With that poor old man out there,
honey, living alone like a dog all these years, it's just like putting him
from one marble mausoleum out there on Kingsmoreland Place into one where
maybe he'll rest easier. He's better off, Loo, and--we--are too. Hand me
the paper, honey; I--want to see--just how my--poor old man--breathed out."
Then Mrs. Cox rose, her face distorted with holding back tears, her small
high heels digging into and breaking the newspaper at his feet.
"Why, girl, what?"
"You don't know it, but my sister, Charley--Ida Bell!"
"Why, Loo, I sent off the message to your mama. They know it by now."
"Why, honey, you're full of nerves! You mustn't go to pieces like this.
Your sister's all right. I sent them a--"
"You--you don't know, Charley. My sister--I swore her an oath on my
mother's prayer-book. I wouldn't tell, but, now that he's dead, that--lets
me out. The will--Charley, he made it yesterday, like he always swore he
would the next time you got your name on the front page."
"Made what, honey? Who?"
"Charley, can't you understand? My sister Ida Bell and Brookes--your
father's lawyer. She's his private stenographer--Brookes's, honey. You know
that. But she told me last night, honey, when I went home. You're cut off,
Charley! Your old man sent for Brookes yesterday at noon. I swear to God,
Charley! My sister Ida Bell she broke her confidence to tell me. He's give
a million alone to the new college hospital. Half a million apiece to
four or five old people's homes. He's give his house to the city with the
art-gallery. He's even looked up relations to give to. He kept his word,
honey, that all those years he kept threatening. He--he kept it the day
before he died. He must have had a hunch--your poor old man. Charley
darling, don't look like that! If your wife ain't the one to break it to
you you're broke, who is? You're not 'Million Dollar Charley' no more,
honey. You're just my own Charley, with his chance come to him--you hear,
_my_ Charley, with the best thing that ever happened to him in his life
happening right now."
He regarded her as if trying to peer through something opaque, his hands
spread rather stupidly on his wide knees.
"Charley, Charley, can't you understand? A dollar, that puts him within the
law, is all he left you."
"He never did. He never did. He wouldn't. He couldn't. He never did. I
saw--his will. I'm the only survivor. I saw his will."
"Charley, I swear to God! I swear as I'm standing here you're cut off.
My sister copied the new will on her typewriter three times and seen the
sealed and stamped one. He kept his word. He wrote it with his faculties
and witnesses. We're broke, Charley--thank God, we're flat broke!"
"He did it? He did it? My old man did it?"
"As sure as I'm standing here, Charley."
He fell to blinking rapidly, his face puckering to comprehend.
"I never thought it could happen. But I--I guess it could happen. I think
you got me doped, honey."
"Charley, Charley!" she cried, falling down on her knees beside him,
holding his face in the tight vise of her hands and reading with such
closeness into his eyes that they seemed to merge into one. "Haven't you
got your Loo? Haven't you got her?"
He sprang up at that, jerking her backward, and all the purple-red gushed
up into his face again.
"Yes, by God, I've got you! I'll break the will. I'll--"
"Charley, no--no! He'd rise out of his grave at you. It's never been known
where a will was broke where they didn't rise out of the grave to haunt."
He took her squarely by the shoulders, the tears running in furrows down
"I'll get you out of this, Loo. No girl in God's world will have to find
herself tied up to me without I can show her a million dollars every time
she remembers that she's married to a rotter. I'll get you out of this,
girl, so you won't even show a scratch. I'll--"
"Charley," she said, lifting herself by his coat lapels, and her eyes again
so closely level with his, "you're crazy with the heat--stark, raving
crazy! You got your chance, boy, to show what you're made of--can't you see
that? We're going West, where men get swept out with clean air and clean
living. We'll break ground in this here life for the kind of pay-dirt
that'll make a man of you. You hear? A man of you!"
He lifted her arms, and because they were pressing insistently down,
squirmed out from beneath them.
"You're a good sport, girl; nobody can take that from you. But just the
same, I'm going to let you off without a scratch."
"'Good sport'! I'd like to know, anyways, where I come in with all your
solid-gold talk. Me that's stood behind somebody-or-other's counter ever
since I had my working-papers."
"I'll get you out of--"
"Have I ever lived anywheres except in a dirty little North St. Louis flat
with us three girls in a bed? Haven't I got my name all over town for
speed, just because I've always had to rustle out and try to learn how
to flatten out a dime to the size of a dollar? Where do I come in on the
solid-gold talk, I'd like to know. I'm the penny-splitter of the world, the
girl that made the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store millinery department famous. I
can look tailor-made on a five-dollar bill and a tissue-paper pattern. Why,
honey, with me scheming for you, starting out on your own is going to make
a man of you. You got stuff in you. I knew it, Charley, the first night
you spied me at the Highlands dance. Somewhere out West Charley Cox is now
going to begin to show 'em the stuff in Charley Cox--that's what Charley
Cox & Co. are going to do!"
He shook his head, turning away his eyes to hide their tears.
"You been stung, Loo. Nothing on earth can change that."
She turned his face back to her, smiling through her own tears.
"You're not adding up good this morning, Mr. Cox. When do you think I
called you up last night? When could it have been if not after my sister
broke her confidence to tell me? Why do you think all of a sudden last
night I seen your bluff through about Gerber? It was because I knew I had
you where you needed me, Charley--I never would have dragged you down the
other way in a million years, but when I knew I had you where you needed
me--why, from that minute, honey, you didn't have a chance to dodge me!"
She wound her arms round him, trembling between the suppressed hysteria of
tears and laughter.
"Not a chance, Charley!"
He jerked her so that her face fell back from him, foreshortened.
"Loo--oh, girl! Oh, girl!"
Her throat was tight and would not give her voice for coherence.
"Charley--we--we'll show 'em--you--me!"
Looking out above her head at the vapory sky showing through the parting of
the pink-brocade curtains, rigidity raced over Mr. Cox, stiffening his hold
The lean look had come out in his face; the flanges of his nose quivered;
his head went up.
Over the silent places of the world flies the vulture of madness, pausing
to wheel above isolated farm-houses, where a wife, already dizzy with the
pressure of rarefied silence, looks up, magnetized. Then across the flat
stretches, his shadow under him moving across moor and the sand of desert,
slowing at the perpetually eastern edge of a mirage, brushing his actual
wings against the brick of city walls; the garret of a dreamer, brain-sick
with reality. Flopping, until she comes to gaze, outside the window of one
so alone in a crowd that her four hall-bedroom walls are closing in upon
her. Lowering over a childless house on the edge of a village.
Were times when Mrs. Hanna Burkhardt, who lived on the edge of a village
in one such childless house, could in her fancy hear the flutter of wings,
too. There had once been a visit to a doctor in High Street because of
those head-noises and the sudden terror of not being able to swallow. He
had stethoscoped and prescribed her change of scene. Had followed two weeks
with cousins fifty miles away near Lida, Ohio, and a day's stop-over in
Cincinnati allowed by her railroad ticket. But six months after, in the
circle of glow from a tablelamp that left the corners of the room in a
chiaroscuro kind of gloom, there were again noises of wings rustling and
of water lapping and the old stricture of the throat. Across the table, a
Paisley cover between them, Mr. John Burkhardt, his short spade of beard
already down over his shirt-front, arm hanging lax over his chair-side and
newspaper fallen, sat forward in a hunched attitude of sleep, whistling
noises coming occasionally through his breathing. A china clock, the
centerpiece of the mantel, ticked spang into the silence, enhancing it.
Hands in lap, head back against the mat of her chair, Mrs. Burkhardt looked
straight ahead of her into this silence--at a closed door hung with a
newspaper rack, at a black-walnut horsehair divan, a great sea-shell on
the carpet beside it. A nickelplated warrior gleamed from the top of a
baseburner that showed pink through its mica doors. He stood out against
the chocolate-ocher wallpaper and a framed Declaration of Independence,
hanging left. A coal fell. Mr. Burkhardt sat up, shook himself of sleep.
"Little chilly," he said, and in carpet slippers and unbuttoned waistcoat
moved over to the base-burner, his feet, to avoid sloughing, not leaving
the floor. He was slightly stooped, the sateen back to his waistcoat hiking
to the curve of him. But he swung up the scuttle with a swoop, rattling
coal freely down into the red-jowled orifice.
"Ugh, don't!" she said. "I'm burnin' up."
He jerked back the scuttle, returning to his chair, and, picking up the
fallen newspaper, drew down his spectacles from off his brow and fell
immediately back into close, puckered scrutiny of the printed page.
"What time is it, Burkhardt? That old thing on the mantel's crazy."
He drew out a great silver watch.
"O God!" she said. "I thought it was about ten."
The clock ticked in roundly again except when he rustled his paper in the
turning. The fire was crackling now, too, in sharp explosions. Beyond
the arc of lamp the room was deeper than ever in shadow. Finally John
Burkhardt's head relaxed again to his shirt-front, the paper falling gently
away to the floor. She regarded his lips puffing out as he breathed. Hands
clasped, arms full length on the table, it was as if the flood of words
pressing against the walls of her, to be shrieked rather than spoken, was
flowing over to him. He jerked erect again, regarding her through blinks.
"Must 'a' dozed off," he said, reaching down for his newspaper.
She was winding her fingers now in and out among themselves.
"What--does a person do that's smotherin'?"
"I know. That's what I'm doing. Smotherin'!"
"A touch of the old trouble, Hanna?"
She sat erect, with her rather large white hands at the heavy base to her
long throat. They rose and fell to her breathing. Like Heine, who said so
potently, "I am a tragedy," so she, too, in the sulky light of her eyes
and the pulled lips and the ripple of shivers over her, proclaimed it of
"Seven-forty! God! what'll I do, Burkhardt? What'll I do?"
"Go lay down on the sofa a bit, Hanna. I'll cover you with a plaid. It's
the head-noises again bothering you."
"Seven-forty! What'll I do? Seven-forty and nothing left but bed."
"I must 'a' dozed off, Hanna."
"Yes; you must 'a' dozed off," she laughed, her voice eaten into with the
acid of her own scorn. "Yes; you must 'a' dozed off. The same way as you
dozed off last night and last month and last year and the last eight years.
The best years of my life--that's what you've dozed off, John Burkhardt.
He 'must 'a' dozed off,'" she repeated, her lips quivering and lifting to
reveal the white line of her large teeth. "Yes; I think you must 'a' dozed
He was reading again in stolid profile.
She fell to tapping the broad toe of her shoe, her light, dilated eyes
staring above his head. She was spare, and yet withal a roundness left
to the cheek and forearm. Long-waisted and with a certain swing where it
flowed down into straight hips, there was a bony, Olympian kind of bigness
about her. Beneath the washed-out blue shirtwaist dress her chest was high,
as if vocal. She was not without youth. Her head went up like a stag's to
the passing of a band in the street, or a glance thrown after her, or the
contemplation of her own freshly washed yellow hair in the sunlight. She
wore a seven glove, but her nails had great depth and pinkness, and each a
clear half-moon. They were dug down now into her palms.
"For God's sake, talk! Say something, or I'll go mad!"
He laid his paper across his knee, pushing up his glasses.
"Sing a little something, Hanna. You're right restless this evening."
"'Restless'!" she said, her face wry. "If I got to sit and listen to that
white-faced clock ticking for many more evenings of this winter, you'll
find yourself with a raving maniac on your hands. That's how restless I
am!" He rustled his paper again. "Don't read!" she cried. "Don't you dare
He sat staring ahead, in a heavy kind of silence, breathing outward and
passing his hand across his brow.
Her breathing, too, was distinctly audible.
"Lay down a bit, Hanna. I'll cover you--"
"If they land me in the bug-house, they can write on your tombstone when
you die, 'Hanna Long Burkhardt went stark raving mad crazy with hucking at
home because I let her life get to be a machine from six-o'clock breakfast
to eight-o'clock bed, and she went crazy from it.' If that's any
satisfaction to you, they can write that on your tombstone."
He mopped his brow this time, clearing his throat.
"You knew when we married, Hanna, they called me 'Silent' Burkhardt. I
never was a great one for talking unless there was something I wanted to
"I knew nothin' when I married you. Nothin' except that along a certain
time every girl that can gets married. I knew nothin' except--except--"
"I've never stood in your light, Hanna, of having a good time. Go ahead.
I'm always glad when you go up-town with the neighbor women of a Saturday
evening. I'd be glad if you'd have 'em in here now and then for a little
sociability. Have 'em. Play the graphophone for 'em. Sing. You 'ain't done
nothin' with your singin' since you give up choir."
"Neighbor women! Old maids' choir! That's fine excitement for a girl not
"Come; let's go to a moving picture, Hanna. Go wrap yourself up warm."
"Movie! Oh no; no movie for me with you snorin' through the picture till
I'm ashamed for the whole place. If I was the kind of girl had it in me to
run around with other fellows, that's what I'd be drove to do, the deal
you've given me. Movie! That's a fine enjoyment to try to foist off on a
woman to make up for eight years of being so fed up on stillness that she's
"Maybe there's something showin' in the op'ry-house to-night."
"Oh, you got a record to be proud of, John Burkhardt: Not a foot in that
opera-house since we're married. I wouldn't want to have your feelin's!"
His quietude was like a great, impregnable, invisible wall inclosing him.
"I'm not the man can change his ways, Hanna. I married at forty, too late
"I notice you liked my pep, all righty, when I was workin' in the feed-yard
office. I hadn't been in it ten days before you were hangin' on my laughs
from morning till night."
"I do yet, Hanna--only you don't laugh no more. There's nothin' so fine in
a woman as sunshine."
"Provided you don't have to furnish any of it."
"Because a man 'ain't got it in him to be light in his ways don't mean he
don't enjoy it in others. Why, there just ain't nothin' to equal a happy
woman in the house! Them first months, Hanna, showed me what I'd been
missin'. It was just the way I figured it--somebody around like you,
singin' and putterin'. It was that laugh in the office made me bring it
here, where I could have it always by me."
"It's been knocked out of me, every bit of laugh I ever had in me; lemme
tell you that."
"I can remember the first time I ever heard you, Hanna. You was standin"
at the office window lookin' out in the yards at Jerry Sims unloadin' a
shipment of oats; and little Old Cocker was standin' on top of one of the
sacks barkin' his head off. I--"
"Yeh; I met Clara Sims on the street yesterday, back here for a visit, and
she says to me, she says: 'Hanna Burkhardt, you mean to tell me you never
done nothing with your voice! You oughta be ashamed. If I was your husband,
I'd spend my last cent trainin' that contralto of yours. You oughtn't to
let yourself go like this. Women don't do it no more.' That, from the
tackiest girl that ever walked this town. I wished High Street had opened
up and swallowed me."
"Now, Hanna, you mustn't--"
"In all these years never so much as a dance or a car-ride as far as
Middletown. Church! Church! Church! Till I could scream at the sight of
it. Not a year of my married life that 'ain't been a lodestone on my neck!
Eight of' 'em! Eight!"
"I'm not sayin' I'm not to blame, Hanna. A woman like you naturally likes
life. I never wanted to hold you back. If I'm tired nights and dead on my
feet from twelve hours on 'em, I never wanted you to change your ways."
"Yes; with a husband at home in bed, I'd be a fine one chasin' around
this town alone, wouldn't I? That's the thanks a woman gets for bein'
"I always kept hopin', Hanna, I could get you to take more to the home."
"The home--you mean the tomb!"
"Why, with the right attention, we got as fine an old place here as there
is in this part of town, Hanna. If only you felt like giving it a few more
touches that kinda would make a woman-place out of it! It 'ain't changed a
whit from the way me and my old father run it together. A little touch here
and there, Hanna, would help to keep you occupied and happier if--"
"I know. I know what's comin'."
"The pergola I had built. I used to think maybe you'd get to putter out
there in the side-yard with it, trailin' vines; the china-paintin' outfit
I had sent down from Cincinnati when I seen it advertised in the _Up-State
Gazette_; a spaniel or two from Old Cocker's new litter, barkin' around;
all them things, I used to think, would give our little place here a
feelin' that would change both of us for the better. With a more home-like
feelin' things might have been different between us, Hanna."
"Keepin" a menagerie of mangy spaniels ain't my idea of livin'."
"Aw, now, Hanna, what's the use puttin' it that way? Take, for instance,
it's been a plan of mine to paint the house, with the shutters green and a
band of green shingles runnin' up under the eaves. A little encouragement
from you and we could perk the place up right smart. All these years it's
kinda gone down--even more than when I was a bachelor in it. Sunk in,
kinda, like them iron jardinieres I had put in the front yard for you to
keep evergreen in. It's them little things, Hanna. Then that--that old idea
of mine to take a little one from the orphanage--a young 'un around the--"
"I ain't goin' to mention it if it aggravates you, but--but makin' a home
out of this gray old place would help us both, Hanna. There's no denyin'
that. It's what I hoped for when I brought you home a bride here. Just had
it kinda planned. You putterin' around the place in some kind of a pink
apron like you women can rig yourselves up in and--"
"There ain't a girl in Adalia has dropped out of things the way I have, I
had a singin' voice that everybody in this town said--"
"There's the piano, Hanna, bought special for it."
"I got a contralto that--"
"There never was anything give me more pleasure than them first years you
used it. I ain't much to express myself, but it was mighty fine, Hanna, to
"Yes, I know; you snored into my singin' with enjoyment, all right."
"It's the twelve hours on my feet that just seem to make me dead to the
world, come evening."
"A girl that had the whole town wavin' flags at her when she sung 'The Holy
City' at the nineteen hundred street-carnival! Kittie Scogin Bevins, one of
the biggest singers in New York to-day, nothing but my chorus! Where's it
got me these eight years? Nowheres! She had enough sense to cut loose from
Ed Bevins, who was a lodestone, too, and beat it. She's singing now in New
York for forty a week with a voice that wasn't strong enough to be more
than chorus to mine."
"Kittie Scogin, Hanna, is a poor comparison for any woman to make with
"It is, is it? Well, I don't see it thataway. When she stepped off the
train last week, comin' back to visit her old mother, I wished the whole
depot would open up and swallow me--that's what I wished. Me and her that
used to be took for sisters. I'm eight months younger, and I look eight
years older. When she stepped off that train in them white furs and a
purple face-veil, I just wished to God the whole depot would open and
swallow me. That girl had sense. O God! didn't she have sense!"
"They say her sense is what killed Ed Bevins of shame and heartbreak."
"Say, don't tell me! It was town talk the way he made her toady to his
folks, even after he'd been cut off without a cent. Kittie told me herself
the very sight of the old Bevins place over on Orchard Street gives her the
creeps down her back. If not for old lady Scogin, 'way up in the seventies,
she'd never put her foot back in this dump. That girl had sense."
"There's not a time she comes back here it don't have an upsettin'
influence on you, Hanna."
"I know what's upsettin' me, all right. I know!"
He sighed heavily.
"I'm just the way I am, Hanna, and there's no teachin' an old dog new
tricks. It's a fact I ain't much good after eight o'clock evenin's. It's a
They sat then in a further silence that engulfed them like fog. A shift of
wind blew a gust of dry snow against the window-pane with a little sleety
noise. And as another evidence of rising wind, a jerk of it came down the
flue, rattling the fender of a disused grate.
"We'd better keep the water in the kitchen runnin' to-night. The pipes'll
Tick-tock. Tick. Tock. She had not moved, still sitting staring above the
top of his head. He slid out his watch, yawning.
"Well, if you think it's too raw for the movin' pictures, Hanna, I guess
I'll be movin' up to bed. I got to be down to meet a five-o'clock shipment
of fifty bales to-morrow. I'll be movin' along unless there's anything you
"If--if you ain't sleepy awhile yet, Hanna, why not run over to Widow
Dinninger's to pass the time of evenin'? I'll keep the door on the latch."
She sprang up, snatching a heavy black shawl, throwing it over her and
clutching it closed at the throat.
"Where you goin', Hanna?"
"Walkin'," she said, slamming the door after her.
In Adalia, chiefly remarkable for the Indestructo Safe Works and a river
which annually overflows its banks, with casualties, the houses sit well
back from tree-bordered streets, most of them frame, shingle-roofed
veterans that have lived through the cycle-like years of the bearing, the
marrying, the burying of two, even three, generations of the same surname.
A three-year-old, fifteen-mile traction connects the court-house with the
Indestructo Safe Works. High Street, its entire length, is paved. During a
previous mayoralty the town offered to the Lida Tool Works a handsome bonus
to construct branch foundries along its river-banks, and, except for the
annual flood conditions, would have succeeded.
In spring Adalia is like a dear old lady's garden of marigold and
bleeding-heart. Flushes of sweetpeas ripple along its picket fences and
off toward the backyards are long grape-arbors, in autumn their great
fruit-clusters ripening to purple frost. Come winter there is almost an
instant shriveling to naked stalk, and the trellis-work behind vines comes
through. Even the houses seem immediately to darken of last spring's paint,
and, with windows closed, the shades are drawn. Oftener than not Adalia
spends its evening snugly behind these drawn shades in great scoured
kitchens or dining-rooms, the house-fronts dark.
When Mrs. Burkhardt stepped out into an evening left thus to its stilly
depth, shades drawn against it, a light dust of snow, just fallen, was
scurrying up-street before the wind, like something phantom with its skirts
blowing forward. Little drifts of it, dry as powder, had blown up against
the porch. She sidestepped them, hurrying down a wind-swept brick walk and
out a picket gate that did not swing entirely after. Behind her, the house
with its wimple of shingle roof and unlighted front windows seemed to
recede somewhere darkly. She stood an undecided moment, her face into the
wind. Half down the block an arc-light swayed and gave out a moving circle
of light. Finally she turned her back and went off down a side-street, past
a lighted corner grocer, crossed a street to avoid the black mouth of an
alley, then off at another right angle. The houses here were smaller,
shoulder to shoulder and directly on the sidewalk.
Before one of these, for no particular reason distinguishable from the
others, Mrs. Burkhardt stepped up two shallow steps and turned a key in
the center of the door, which set up a buzz on its reverse side. Her hand,
where it clutched the shawl at her throat, was reddening and roughening,
the knuckles pushing up high and white. Waiting, she turned her back to the
wind, her body hunched up against it.
There was a moving about within, the scrape of a match, and finally the
door opening slightly, a figure peering out.
"It's me, Mrs. Scogin--Hanna Burkhardt!"
The door swung back then, revealing a just-lighted parlor, opening, without
introduction of hall, from the sidewalk.
"Well, if it ain't Hanna Burkhardt! What you doin' out this kind of a
night? Come in. Kittie's dryin' her hair in the kitchen. Used to be she
could sit on it, and it's ruint from the scorchin' curlin'-iron. I'll call
her. Sit down, Hanna. How's Burkhardt? I'll call her. Oh, Kittie! Kit-tie,
Hanna Burkhardt's here to see you."
In the wide flare of the swinging lamp, revealing Mrs. Scogin's parlor
of chromo, china plaque, and crayon enlargement, sofa, whatnot, and wax
bouquet embalmed under glass, Mrs. Burkhardt stood for a moment, blowing
into her cupped hands, unwinding herself of shawl, something Niobian in her
"Yoo-hoo--it's only me, Kit! Shall I come out?"
"Naw--just a minute; I'll be in."
Mrs. Scogin seated herself on the edge of the sofa, well forward, after the
manner of those who relax but ill to the give of upholstery. She was like a
study of what might have been the grandmother of one of Rembrandt's studies
of a grandmother. There were lines crawling over her face too manifold for
even the etcher's stroke, and over her little shriveling hands that were
too bird-like for warmth. There is actually something avian comes with the
years. In the frontal bone pushing itself forward, the cheeks receding, and
the eyes still bright. There was yet that trenchant quality in Mrs. Scogin,
in the voice and gaze of her.
"Sit down, Hanna."
"Don't care if I do."
"You can lean back against that chair-bow."
"Hate to muss it."
"He's been made deacon--not?"
"If mine had lived, he'd the makin' of a pillar. Once label a man with hard
drinkin', and it's hard to get justice for him. There never was a man had
more the makin' of a pillar than mine, dead now these sixteen years and
molderin' in his grave for justice."
"Yes, Mrs. Scogin."
"You can lean back against that bow."
"So Burkhardt's been made deacon."
"Three years already--you was at the church."
"A deacon. Mine went to his grave too soon."
"They said down at market to-day, Mrs. Scogin, that Addie Fitton knocked
herself against the woodbin and has water on the knee."
"Let the town once label a man with drinkin', and it's hard to get justice
"It took Martha and Eda and Gessler's hired girl to hold her in bed with
"Yes, yes," said Mrs. Scogin, sucking in her words and her eyes seeming to
strain through the present; "once label a man with drinkin'."
Kittie Scogin Bevins entered then through a rain of bead portieres.
Insistently blond, her loosed-out hair newly dry and flowing down over a
very spotted and very baby-blue kimono, there was something soft-fleshed
about her, a not unappealing saddle of freckles across her nose, the eyes
too light but set in with a certain feline arch to them.
"Been washing my hair to show it a good time. One month in this dump and
they'd have to hire a hearse to roll me back to Forty-second Street in."
"This ain't nothing. Wait till we begin to get snowed in!"
"I know. Say, you c'n tell me nothing about this tank I dunno already. I
was buried twenty-two years in it. Move over, ma."
She fitted herself into the lower curl of the couch, crossing her hands at
the back of her head, drawing up her feet so that, for lack of space, her
knees rose to a hump.
"What's new in Deadtown, Han?"
"'New'! This dump don't know we got a new war. They think it's the old
Civil one left over."
"Burkhardt's been made a deacon, Kittie."
"O Lord! ma, forget it!" Mrs. Scogin Bevins threw out her hands to Mrs.
Burkhardt in a wide gesture, indicating her mother with a forefinger, then
with it tapping her own brow. "Crazy as a loon! Bats!"
"If your father had--"
"Ma, for Gossakes--"
"You talk to Kittie, Hanna. My girls won't none of 'em listen to me no
more. I tell 'em they're fightin' over my body before it's dead for this
house and the one on Ludlow Street. It's precious little for 'em to be
fightin' for before I'm dead, but if not for it, I'd never be gettin' these
visits from a one of 'em."
"I keep tellin' her, Kittie, to stay home. New York ain't no place for a
divorced woman to set herself right with the Lord."
"Ma, if you don't quit raving and clear on up to bed, I'll pack myself out
to-night yet, and then you'll have a few things to set right with the Lord.
Go on up, now."
"Go on--you hear?"
Mrs. Scogin went then, tiredly and quite bent forward, toward a flight of
stairs that rose directly from the parlor, opened a door leading up into
them, the frozen breath of unheated regions coming down.
"Quick--close that door, ma!"
"Come to see a body, Hanna, when she ain't here. She won't stay at home,
like a God-fearin' woman ought to."
"Light the gas-heater up there, if you expect me to come to bed. I'm used
to steam-heated flats, not barns."
"She's a sassy girl, Hanna. Your John a deacon and hers lies molderin' in
his grave, a sui--"
Mrs. Scogin Bevins flung herself up, then, a wave of red riding up her
"If you don't go up--if you--don't! Go--now! Honest, you're gettin' so luny
you need a keeper. Go--you hear?"
The door shut slowly, inclosing the old figure. She relaxed to the couch,
trying to laugh.
"Luny!" she said. "Bats! Nobody home!"
"I like your hair like that, Kittie. It looks swell."
"It's easy. I'll fix it for you some time. It's the vampire swirl. All the
girls are wearing it."
"Remember the night, Kit, we was singin' duets for the Second Street
Presbyterian out at Grody's Grove and we got to hair-pullin' over whose
curls was the longest?"
"Yeh. I had on a blue dress with white polka-dots."
"That was fifteen years ago. Remember Joe Claiborne promised us a real
stage-job, and we opened a lemonade-stand on our front gate to pay his
commission in advance?"
They laughed back into the years.
"O Lord! them was days! Seems to me like fifty years ago."
"Not to me, Kittie. You've done things with your life since then. I
"You know what I've always told you about yourself, Hanna. If ever there
was a fool girl, that was Hanna Long. Lord! if I'm where I am on my voice,
where would you be?"
"I was a fool."
"I could have told you that the night you came running over to tell me."
"There was no future in this town for me, Kit. Stenoggin' around from one
office to another. He was the only real provider ever came my way."
"I always say if John Burkhardt had shown you the color of real money! But
what's a man to-day on just a fair living? Not worth burying yourself in
a dump like this for. No, sirree. When I married Ed, anyways I thought I
smelled big money. I couldn't see ahead that his father'd carry out his
bluff and cut him off. But what did you have to smell--a feed-yard in a
hole of a town! What's the difference whether you live in ten rooms like
yours or in four like this as long as you're buried alive? A girl can
always do that well for herself after she's took big chances. You could be
Lord knows where now if you'd 'a' took my advice four years ago and lit out
when I did."
"I know it, Kit. God knows I've eat out my heart with knowin' it!
Only--only it was so hard--a man givin' me no more grounds than he does.
What court would listen to his stillness for grounds? I 'ain't got
"Say, you could 'a' left that to me. My little lawyer's got a factory where
he manufactures them. He could 'a' found a case of incompatibility between
the original turtle-doves."
"God! His stillness, Kittie--like--"
"John Burkhardt would give me the razzle-dazzle jimjams overnight, he
would. That face reminds me of my favorite funeral."
"I told him to-night, Kittie, he's killin' me with his deadness. I ran out
of the house from it. It's killin' me."
"Why, you poor simp, standing for it!"
"That's what I come over for, Kit. I can't stand no more. If I don't talk
to some one, I'll bust. There's no one in this town I can open up to. Him
so sober--and deacon. They don't know what it is to sit night after night
dyin' from his stillness. Whole meals, Kit, when he don't open his mouth
except, 'Hand me this; hand me that'--and his beard movin' up and down so
when he chews. Because a man don't hit you and gives you spending-money
enough for the little things don't mean he can't abuse you with--with just
gettin' on your nerves so terrible. I'm feelin' myself slip--crazy--ever
since I got back from Cincinnati and seen what's goin' on in the big towns
and me buried here; I been feelin' myself slip--slip, Kittie."
"Cincinnati! Good Lord! if you call that life! Any Monday morning on
Forty-second Street makes Cincinnati look like New-Year's Eve. If you call
"He's small, Kittie. He's a small potato of a man in his way of livin'. He
can live and die without doin' anything except the same things over and
over again, year out and year in."
"I know. I know. Ed was off the same pattern. It's the Adalia brand. Lord!
Hanna Long, if you could see some of the fellows I got this minute paying
attentions to me in New York, you'd lose your mind. Spenders! Them New
York guys make big and spend big, and they're willing to part with the
spondoolaks. That's the life!"
"I--You look it, Kit. I never seen a girl get back her looks and keep 'em
like you. I says to him to-night, I says, 'When I look at myself in the
glass, I wanna die.'"
"You're all there yet, Hanna. Your voice over here the other night was
something immense. Big enough to cut into any restaurant crowd, and that's
what counts in cabaret. I don't tell anybody how to run his life, but if
I had your looks and your contralto, I'd turn 'em into money, I would.
There's forty dollars a week in you this minute."
Mrs. Burkhardt's head went up. Her mouth had fallen open, her eyes
brightening as they widened.
"Kit--when you goin' back?"
"To-morrow a week, honey--if I live through it."
"Could--you help me--your little lawyer--your--"
"Remember, I ain't advising--"
"Could you, Kit, and to--to get a start?"
"They say it of me there ain't a string in the Bijou Cafe that I can't pull
"Could you, Kit? Would you?"
"I don't tell nobody how to run his life, Hanna. It's mighty hard to advise
the other fellow about his own business. I don't want it said in this town,
that's down on me, anyways, that Kit Scogin put ideas in Hanna Long's
"You didn't, Kit. They been there. Once I answered an ad. to join a county
fair. I even sent money to a vaudeville agent in Cincinnati. I--"
"Nothing doing in vaudeville for our kind of talent. It's cabaret where the
money and easy hours is these days. Just a plain little solo act--contralto
is what you can put over. A couple of 'Where Is My Wandering Boy To-night'
sob-solos is all you need. I'll let you meet Billy Howe of the Bijou.
Billy's a great one for running in a chaser act or two."
"I--How much would it cost, Kittie, to--to--"
"Hundred and fifty done it for me, wardrobe and all."
"Kittie, I--Would you--"
"Sure I would! Only, remember, I ain't responsible. I don't tell anybody
how to run his life. That's something everybody's got to decide for
At something after that stilly one-o'clock hour when all the sleeping
noises of lath and wainscoting creak out, John Burkhardt lifted his head to
the moving light of a lamp held like a torch over him, even the ridge
of his body completely submerged beneath the great feather billow of an
oceanic walnut bedstead.
"I been awake--"
She set the lamp down on the brown-marble top of a wash-stand, pushed back
her hair with both hands, and sat down on the bed-edge, heavily breathing
from a run through deserted night's streets.
"I gotta talk to you, Burkhardt--now--to-night."
"Now's no time, Hanna. Come to bed."
"Things can't go on like this, John."
He lay back slowly.
"Maybe you're right, Hanna. I been layin' up here and thinkin' the same
myself. What's to be done?"
"I've got to the end of my rope."
"With so much that God has given us, Hanna--health and prosperity--it's a
sin before Him that unhappiness should take root in this home."
"If you're smart, you won't try to feed me up on gospel to-night!"
"I'm willin' to meet you, Hanna, on any proposition you say. How'd it be
to move down to Schaefer's boardin'-house for the winter, where it'll be
a little recreation for you evenings, or say we take a trip down to
Cincinnati for a week. I--"
"Oh no," she said, looking away from him and her throat throbbing. "Oh no,
you don't! Them things might have meant something to me once, but you've
come too late with 'em. For eight years I been eatin' out my heart with
'em. Now you couldn't pay me to live at Schaefer's. I had to beg too long
for it. Cincinnati! Why, its New-Year's Eve is about as lively as a real
town's Monday morning. Oh no, you don't! Oh no!"
"Come on to bed, Hanna. You'll catch cold. Your breath's freezin'."
"I'm goin'--away, for good--that's where--I'm goin'!"
Her words threatened to come out on a sob, but she stayed it, the back of
her hand to her mouth.
Her gaze was riveted, and would not move, from a little curtain above the
wash-stand, a guard against splashing crudely embroidered in a little
hand-in-hand boy and girl.
"You--you're sayin' a good many hasty things to-night, Hanna."
He plucked at a gray-wool knot in the coverlet.
"Mighty hasty things."
She turned, then, plunging her hands into the great suds of feather bed,
the whole thrust of her body toward him.
"'Hasty'! Is eight years hasty? Is eight years of buried-alive hasty? I'm
goin', John Burkhardt; this time I'm goin' sure--sure as my name is Hanna
"Goin' where, Hanna?"
"Goin' where each day ain't like a clod of mud on my coffin. Goin' where
there's a chance for a woman like me to get a look-in on life before she's
as skinny a hex at twenty-seven as old lady Scog--as--like this town's full
of. I'm goin' to make my own livin' in my own way, and I'd like to see
anybody try to stop me."
"I ain't tryin', Hanna."
She drew back in a flash of something like surprise.
"You're willin', then?"
"No, Hanna, not willin'."
"You can't keep me from it. Incompatibility is grounds!"
The fires of her rebellion, doused for the moment, broke out again, flaming
in her cheeks.
He raised himself to his elbow, regarding her there in her flush, the
white line of her throat whiter because of it. She was strangely, not
"Why, Hanna, what you been doin' to yourself?"
Her hand flew to a new and elaborately piled coiffure, a half-fringe of
curling-iron, little fluffed out tendrils escaping down her neck.
"In--incompatibility is grounds."
"It's mighty becomin', Hanna. Mighty becomin'."
"It's grounds, all right!"
"'Grounds'? Grounds for what, Hanna?"
She looked away, her throat distending as she swallowed.
There was a pause, then so long that she had a sense of falling through its
"Look at me, Hanna!"
She swung her gaze reluctantly to his. He was sitting erect now, a kind of
pallor setting in behind the black beard.
"Leggo!" she said, loosening his tightening hand from her wrists. "Leggo;
"I--take it when a woman uses that word in her own home, she means it."
"This one does."
"You're a deacon's wife. Things--like this are--are pretty serious with
people in our walk of life. We--'ain't learned in our communities yet not
to take the marriage law as of God's own makin'. I'm a respected citizen
"So was Ed Bevins. It never hurt his hide."
"But it left her with a black name in the town."
"Who cares? She don't."
"It's no good to oppose a woman, Hanna, when she's made up her mind; but
I'm willin' to meet you half-way on this thing. Suppose we try it again.
I got some plans for perkin' things up a bit between us. Say we join the
Buckeye Bowling Club, and--"
"No! No! No! That gang of church-pillars! I can't stand it, I tell you; you
mustn't try to keep me! You mustn't! I'm a rat in a trap here. Gimme a few
dollars. Hundred and fifty is all I ask. Not even alimony. Lemme apply.
Gimme grounds. It's done every day. Lemme go. What's done can't be undone.
I'm not blamin' you. You're what you are and I'm what I am. I'm not blamin'
anybody. You're what you are, and God Almighty can't change you. Lemme go,
John; for God's sake, lemme go!"
"Yes," he said, finally, not taking his eyes from her and the chin
hardening so that it shot out and up. "Yes, Hanna; you're right. You got to
* * * * *
The skeleton of the Elevated Railway structure straddling almost its entire
length, Sixth Avenue, sullen as a clayey stream, flows in gloom and crash.
Here, in this underworld created by man's superstructure, Mrs. Einstein,
Slightly Used Gowns, nudges Mike's Eating-Place from the left, and on the
right Stover's Vaudeville Agency for Lilliputians divides office-space
and rent with the Vibro Health Belt Company. It is a kind of murky drain,
which, flowing between, catches the refuse from Fifth Avenue and the
leavings from Broadway. To Sixth Avenue drift men who, for the first time
in a Miss-spending life, are feeling the prick of a fraying collar. Even
Fifth Avenue is constantly feeding it. A _couturier's_ model gone hippy; a
specialty-shop gone bankrupt; a cashier's books gone over. Its shops are
second-hand, and not a few of its denizens are down on police records as
sleight-of-hand. At night women too weary to be furtive turn in at its
family entrances. It is the cauldron of the city's eye of newt, toe of
frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog. It is the home of the most daring
all-night eating-places, the smallest store, the largest store, the
greatest revolving stage, the dreariest night court, and the drabest night
birds in the world.
War has laid its talons and scratched slightly beneath the surface of Sixth
Avenue. Hufnagel's Delicatessen, the briny hoar of twenty years upon it,
went suddenly into decline and the hands of a receiver. Recruiting
stations have flung out imperious banners. Keeley's Chop-House--Open
All Night--reluctantly swings its too hospitable doors to the
To the New-Yorker whose nights must be filled with music, preferably jazz,
to pass Keeley's and find it dark is much as if Bacchus, emulating the
newest historical rogue, had donned cassock and hood. Even that half of
the evening east of the cork-popping land of the midnight son has waned at
Keeley's. No longer a road-house on the incandescent road to dawn, there is
something hangdog about its very waiters, moving through the easy maze of
half-filled tables; an orchestra, sheepish of its accomplishment, can lift
even a muted melody above the light babel of light diners. There is a
cabaret, too, bravely bidding for the something that is gone.
At twelve o'clock, five of near-Broadway's best breed, in woolly anklets
and wristlets and a great shaking of curls, execute the poodle-prance to
half the encores of other days. May Deland, whose ripple of hip and droop
of eyelid are too subtle for censorship, walks through her hula-hula dance,
much of her abandon abandoned. A pair of _apaches_ whirl for one hundred
and twenty consecutive seconds to a great bang of cymbals and seventy-five
dollars a week. At shortly before one Miss Hanna de Long, who renders
ballads at one-hour intervals, rose from her table and companion in
the obscure rear of the room, to finish the evening and her cycle with
"Darling, Keep the Grate-Fire Burning," sung in a contralto calculated to
file into no matter what din of midnight dining.
In something pink, silk, and conservatively V, she was a careful
management's last bland ingredient to an evening that might leave too
Cayenne a sting to the tongue.
At still something before one she had finished, and, without encore,
returned to her table.
"Gawd!" she said, and leaned her head on her hand. "I better get me a job
hollerin' down a well!"
Her companion drained his stemless glass with a sharp jerking back of the
head. His was the short, stocky kind of assurance which seemed to say,
"Greater securities hath no man than mine, which are gilt-edged."
Obviously, Mr. Lew Kaminer clipped his coupons.
"Not so bad," he said. "The song ain't dead; the crowd is."
"Say, they can't hurt my feelin's. I been a chaser-act ever since I hit the
"Well, if I can sit and listen to a song in long skirts twelve runnin'
weeks, three or four nights every one of 'em, take it from me, there's a
whistle in it somewhere."
"Just the same," she said, pushing away her glass, "my future in this
business is behind me."
He regarded her, slumped slightly in his chair, celluloid toothpick
dangling. There was something square about his face, abetted by a
parted-in-the-middle toupee of great craftsmanship, which revealed itself
only in the jointure over the ears of its slightly lighter hair with the
brown of his own. There was a monogram of silk on his shirt-sleeve, of gold
on his bill-folder, and of diamonds on the black band across the slight
rotundity of his waistcoat.
"Never you mind, I'm for you, girl," he said.
There was an undeniable taking-off of years in Miss de Long. Even the very
texture of her seemed younger and the skin massaged to a new creaminess,
the high coiffure blonder, the eyes quicker to dart.
"Lay off, candy kid," she said. "You're going to sugar."
"Have another fizz," he said, clicking his fingers for a waiter.
"Anything to please the bold, bad man," she said.
"You're a great un," he said. "Fellow never knows how to take you from one
minute to the next."
"You mean a girl never knows how to take you."
"Say," he said, "any time anybody puts anything over on you!"
"There you are!" he cried, eying her fizz. "Drink it down; it's good for
what ails you."
"Gawd!" she said. "I wish I knew what it was is ailin' me!"
"Drink 'er down!"
"You think because you had me goin' on these things last night that
to-night little sister ain't goin' to watch her step. Well, watch her watch
her step," Nevertheless, she drank rather thirstily half the contents of
the glass. "I knew what I was doin' every minute of the time last night,
all righty. I was just showin' us a good time."
"It's all right for us girls to take what we want, but the management don't
want nothing rough around--not in war-time."
"There's nothing rough about me, Lew. None of you fellows can't say that
about me. I believe in a girl havin' a good time, but I believe in her
always keepin' her self-respect. I always say it never hurt no girl to keep
"When a girl friend of mine loses that, I'm done with her. That don't get a
girl nowheres. That's why I keep to myself as much as I can and don't mix
in with the girls on the bill with me, if--"
"What's become of the big blond-looker used to run around with you when you
was over at the Bijou?"
"Me and Kit ain't friends no more."
"She was some looker."
"The minute I find out a girl ain't what a self-respectin' girl ought to be
then that lets me out. There's nothin' would keep me friends with her. If
ever I was surprised in a human, Lew, it was in Kittie Scogin. She got me
my first job here in New York. I give her credit for it, but she done it
because she didn't have the right kind of a pull with Billy Howe. She done
a lot of favors for me in her way, but the minute I find out a girl ain't
self-respectin' I'm done with that girl every time."
"That baby had some pair of shoulders!"
"I ain't the girl to run a friend down, anyway, when she comes from my home
town; but I could tell tales--Gawd! I could tell tales!" There was new
loquacity and a flush to Miss de Long. She sipped again, this time almost
to the depth of the glass. "The way to find out about a person, Lew, is to
room with 'em in the same boardin'-house. Beware of the baby stare is all I
can tell you. Beware of that."
"That's what _you_ got," he said, leaning across to top her hand with his,
"two big baby stares."
"Well, Lew Kaminer," she said, "you'd kid your own shadow. Callin' me a
baby-stare. Of all things! Lew Kaminer!" She looked away to smile.
"Drink it all down, baby-stare," he said, lifting the glass to her lips.
They were well concealed and back away from the thinning patter of the
crowd, so that, as he neared her, he let his face almost graze--indeed
She made a great pretense of choking.
"Drink it down-like a major."
She bubbled into the glass, her eyes laughing at him above its rim.
He clicked again with his fingers.
"Once more, Charlie!" he said, shoving their pair of glasses to the
"You ain't the only money-bag around the place!" she cried, flopping down
on the table-cloth a bulky wad tied in one corner of her handkerchief.
"Well, whatta you know about that? Pay-day?"
"Yeh-while it lasts. I hear there ain't goin' to be no more cabarets or
Camembert cheese till after the war."
"What you going to do with it--buy us a round of fizz?"
She bit open the knot, a folded bill dropping to the table, uncurling.
"Lord!" she said, contemplating and flipping it with her finger-tip. "Where
I come from that twenty-dollar bill every week would keep me like a queen.
Here it ain't even chicken feed."
"You know where there's more chicken feed waitin' when you get hard up,
sister. You're slower to gobble than most. You know what I told you last
night, kiddo--you need lessons."
"What makes me sore, Lew, is there ain't an act on this bill shows under
seventy-five. It goes to show the higher skirts the higher the salary in
"You oughta be singin' in grand op'ra."
"Yeh--sure! The diamond horseshoe is waitin' for the chance to land me one
swift kick. It only took me twelve weeks and one meal a day to land this
after Kittie seen to it that they let me out over at the Bijou. Say, I know
where I get off in this town, Lew. If there's one thing I know, it's where
I get off. I ain't a squab with a pair of high-priced ankles. I'm down on
the agencies' books as a chaser-act, and I'm down with myself for that. If
there's one thing I ain't got left, it's illusions. Get me? Illusions."
She hitched sidewise in her chair, dipped her forefinger into her fresh
glass, snapped it at him so that he blinked under the tiny spray.
"That for you!" she said, giggling. She was now repeatedly catching herself
up from a too constant impulse to repeat that giggle.
"You little devil!" he said, reaching back for his handkerchief.
She dipped again, this time deeper, and aimed straighter.
"Quit!" he said, catching her wrist and bending over it. "Quit it, or I'll
Her mouth still resolute not to loosen, she jerked back from him. There
was only the high flush which she could not control, and the gaze, heavy
lidded, was not so sure as it might have been. She was quietly, rather
"I wish--" she said. "I--wi-ish--"
"What do you wi-ish?"
"Oh, I--I dunno what I wish!"
"If you ain't a card!"
He had lighted a cigar, and, leaning toward her, blew out a fragrant puff
"M-m-m!" she said; "it's a Cleopatra."
"A El Dorado."
"A what, then?"
"It's a Habana Queen. Habana because it reminds me of Hanna."
At this crowning puerility Mr. Kaminer paused suddenly, as if he had
detected in his laughter a bray.
"Is Habana in the war, Lew?"
"Darned if I know exactly."
"Ain't this war just terrible, Lew?"
"Don't let it worry you, girl. If it puts you out of business, remember,
it's boosted my stocks fifty per cent. You know what I told you about
She buried her nose in her handkerchief, turning her head. Her eyes had
begun to crinkle.
"It--it's just awful! All them sweet boys!"
"Now, cryin' ain't goin' to help. You 'ain't got no one marchin' off."
"That's just it. I 'ain't got no one. Everything is something awful, ain't
it?" Her sympathies and her risibilities would bubble to the surface to
confuse her. "Awful!"
He scraped one forefinger against the other.
"Cry-baby! Cry-baby, stick your little finger in your little eye!"
She regarded him wryly, her eyes crinkled now quite to slits.
"You can laugh!"
"Look at the cry-baby!"
"I get so darn blue."
"Honest to Gawd, Lew, I get so darn blue I could die."
"You're a nice girl, and I'd like to see anybody try to get fresh with
"Do you--honest, Lew--like me?"
"There's something about you, girl, gets me every time. Cat-eyes!
"Sometimes I get so blue--get to thinkin' of home and the way it all
happened. You know the way a person will. Home and the--divorce and the
way it all happened with--him--and how I come here and--where it's got me,
and--and I just say to myself, 'What's the use?' You know, Lew, the way a
person will. Back there, anyways, I had a home. There's something in just
havin' a home, lemme tell you. Bein' a somebody in your own home."
"You're a somebody any place they put you."
"You never seen the like the way it all happened, Lew. So quick! The day I
took the train was like I was walkin' for good out of a dream. Not so much
as a post-card from there since--"
"I--ain't exactly sorry, Lew; only God knows, more'n once in those twelve
weeks out of work I was for goin' back and patchin' it up with him. I ain't
exactly sorry, Lew, but--but there's only one thing on God's earth that
keeps me from being sorry."
He flecked his cigar, hitching his arm up along the chair-back, laughed,
"That's the way to talk! These last two nights you been lightin' up with a
man so he can get within ten feet of you. Now you're shoutin'!"
She drained her glass, blew her nose, and wiped her eyes.
She was sitting loosely forward now, her hand out on his.
"You're the only thing on God's earth that's kept me from--sneakin" back
there--honest. Lew, I'd have gone back long ago and eat dirt to make it
up with him--if not for you. I--ain't built like Kittie Scogin and those
girls. I got to be self-respectin' with the fellows or nothing. They think
more of you in the end--that's my theory."
"A girl's fly or--she just naturally ain't that way. That's where all my
misunderstanding began with Kittie--when she wanted me to move over in them
rooms on Forty-ninth Street with her--a girl's that way or she just ain't
"Lew--will you--are you--you ain't kiddin' me all these weeks? Taxicabbin'
me all night in the Park and--drinkin' around this way all the time
together. You 'ain't been kiddin' me, Lew?"
He shot up his cigar to an oblique.
"Now you're shoutin'!" he repeated. "It took three months to get you down
off your high horse, but now we're talkin' the same language."
"It ain't every girl I take up with; just let that sink in. I like 'em
frisky, but I like 'em cautious. That's where you made a hit with me.
Little of both. Them that nibble too easy ain't worth the catch."
She reached out the other hand, covering his with her both.
"You're--talkin' weddin'-bells, Lew?"
He regarded her, the ash of his cigar falling and scattering down his
"Weddin', Lew." Her voice was as thin as a reed.
"O Lord!" he said, pushing back slightly from the table. "Have another
fizz, girl, and by that time we'll be ready for a trip in my underground
She drew down his arm, quickly restraining it. She was not so sure now of
controlling the muscles of her mouth.
"Please, Lew! It's what kept me alive. Thinkin' you meant that. Please,
Lew! You ain't goin' to turn out like all the rest in this town? You--the
first fellow I ever went as far as--last night with. I'll stand by you,
Lew, through thick and thin. You stand by me. You make it right with me,
He cast a quick glance about, grasped at the sides of the table, and leaned
toward her, _sotto_.
"For God's sake, hush! Are you crazy?"
"No," she said, letting the tears roll down over the too frank gyrations of
her face--"no, I ain't crazy. I only want you to do the right thing by me,
Lew. I'm--blue. I'm crazy afraid of the bigness of this town. There ain't a
week I don't expect my notice here. It's got me. If you been stringin' me
along like the rest of 'em, and I can't see nothing ahead of me but the
struggle for a new job--and the tryin' to buck up against what a decent
girl has got to--"
"Why, you're crazy with the heat, girl! I thought you and me was talking
the same language. I want to do the right thing by you. Sure I do! Anything
in reason is yours for the askin'. That's what I been comin' to."
"Then, Lew, I want you to do by me like you'd want your sister done by."
"I tell you you're crazy. You been hitting up too many fizzes lately."
"You ain't fool enough to think I'm what you'd call a free man? I don't
bring my family matters down here to air 'em over with you girls. You're
darn lucky that I like you well enough to--well, that I like you as much as
I do. Come, now; tell you what I'm goin' to do for you: You name your idea
of what you want in the way of--"
"O God! Why don't I die? I ain't fit for nothing else!"
He cast a glance around their deserted edge of the room. A waiter,
painstakingly oblivious, stood two tables back.
"Wouldn't I be better off out of it? Why don't I die?"
He was trembling down with a suppression of rage and concern for the rising
gale in her voice.
"You can't make a scene in public with me and get away with it. If that's
your game, it won't land you anywhere. Stop it! Stop it now and talk sense,
or I'll get up. By God! if you get noisy, I'll get up and leave you here
with the whole place givin' you the laugh. You can't throw a scare in me."
But Miss de Long's voice and tears had burst the dam of control. There was
an outburst that rose and broke on a wave of hysteria.
"Lemme die--that's all I ask! What's there in it for me? What has there
ever been? Don't do it, Lew! Don't--don't!"
It was then Mr. Kaminer pushed back his chair, flopped down his napkin, and
rose, breathing heavily enough, but his face set in an exaggerated kind of
quietude as he moved through the maze of tables, exchanged a check for his
hat, and walked out.
For a stunned five minutes her tears, as it were, seared, she sat after
The waiter had withdrawn to the extreme left of the deserted edge of the
room, talking behind his hand to two colleagues in servility, their faces
listening and breaking into smiles.
Finally Miss de Long rose, moving through the zigzag paths of empty tables
toward a deserted dressing-room. In there she slid into black-velvet
slippers and a dark-blue walking-skirt, pulled on over the pink silk,
tucking it up around the waist so that it did not sag from beneath the hem,
squirmed into a black-velvet jacket with a false dicky made to emulate
a blouse-front, and a blue-velvet hat hung with a curtain-like purple
As she went out the side, Keeley's was closing its front doors.
Outside, not even to be gainsaid by Sixth Avenue, the night was like a
moist flower held to the face. A spring shower, hardly fallen, was already
drying on the sidewalks, and from the patch of Bryant Park across the maze
of car-tracks there stole the immemorial scent of rain-water and black
earth, a just-set-out crescent of hyacinths giving off their light steam of
fragrance. How insidious is an old scent! It can creep into the heart like
an ache. Who has not loved beside thyme or at the sweetness of dusk? Dear,
silenced laughs can come back on a whiff from a florist's shop. Oh, there
is a nostalgia lurks in old scents!
Even to Hanna de Long, hurrying eastward on Forty-second Street, huggingly
against the shadow of darkened shop-windows, there was a new sting of tears
at the smell of earth, daring, in the lull of a city night, to steal out.
There are always these dark figures that scuttle thus through the first
hours of the morning.
Twice remarks were flung after her from passing figures in
slouch-hats--furtive remarks through closed lips.
At five minutes past one she was at the ticket-office grating of a
train-terminal that was more ornate than a rajah's dream.
"Adalia--please. Huh? Ohio. Next train."
"Seven-seven. Track nine. Round trip?"
She again bit open the corner knot of her handkerchief.
* * * * *
When Hanna de Long, freshly train-washed of train dust, walked down Third
Street away from the station, old man Rentzenauer, for forty-odd springs
coaxing over the same garden, was spraying a hose over a side-yard of
petunias, shirt-sleeved, his waistcoat hanging open, and in the purpling
light his old head merging back against a story-and-a-half house the color
of gray weather and half a century of service.
At sight of him who had shambled so taken-for-granted through all of her
girlhood, such a trembling seized hold of Hanna de Long that she turned
off down Amboy Street, making another wide detour to avoid a group on the
Koerner porch, finally approaching Second Street from the somewhat straggly
end of it farthest from the station.
She was trembling so that occasionally she stopped against a vertigo that
went with it, wiped up under the curtain of purple veil at the beads of
perspiration which would spring out along her upper lip. She was quite
washed of rouge, except just a swift finger-stroke of it over the
She had taken out the dicky, too, and for some reason filled in there with
a flounce of pink net ripped off from the little ruffles that had flowed
out from her sleeves. She was without baggage.
At Ludlow Street she could suddenly see the house, the trees meeting before
it in a lace of green, the two iron jardinieres empty. They had been
painted, and were drying now of a clay-brown coat.
When she finally went up the brick walk, she thought once that she could
not reach the bell with the strength left to pull it. She did, though,
pressing with her two hands to her left side as she waited. The house was
in the process of painting, too, still wet under a first wash of gray. The
The door swung back, and then a figure emerged full from a background of
familiarly dim hallway and curve of banister. She was stout enough to be
panting slightly, and above the pink-and-white-checked apron her face was
ruddy, forty, and ever so inclined to smile.
Out from the hallway shot a cocker spaniel, loose-eared, yapping.
"Queenie, Queenie--come back. She won't bite--Queenie--bad girl!--come back
from that nasturtium-bed--bad girl!--all washed and combed so pretty for a
romp with her favver when him come home so tired. Queenie!"
She caught her by a rear leg as she leaped back, wild to rollick, tucking
her under one arm, administering three diminutive punishments on the shaggy
"Aw, now, he ain't! I sent him down by Gredel's nurseries on his way home
to-night, for some tulip-bulbs for my iron jardinieres. He ought to be
back any minute if he 'ain't stopped to brag with old man Gredel that our
arbutus beats his." Then, smiling and rubbing with the back of her free
hand at a flour-streak across her cheek: "If--if it's the lady from the
orphan asylum come to see about the--the little kid we want--is there
anything I can do for you? I'm his wife. Won't you come in?"
"Oh no!" said Miss de Long, now already down two of the steps. "I--I--Oh
no, no!--thank you! Oh no--no!--thank you!"
She walked swiftly, the purple veil blown back and her face seeming to look
out of it whitely, so whitely that she became terrible.
Night was at hand, and Adalia was drawing down its front shades.
GET READY THE WREATHS
Where St. Louis begins to peter out into brick- and limestone-kilns and
great scars of unworked and overworked quarries, the first and more
unpretentious of its suburbs take up--Benson, Maplehurst, and Ridgeway
Heights intervening with one-story brick cottages and two-story
packing-cases--between the smoke of the city and the carefully parked Queen
Anne quietude of Glenwood and Croton Grove.
Over Benson hangs a white haze of limestone, gritty with train and foundry
smoke. At night the lime-kilns, spotted with white deposits, burn redly,
showing through their open doors like great, inflamed diphtheretic throats,
tongues of flame bursting and licking out.
Winchester Road, which runs out from the heart of the city to string these
towns together, is paved with brick, and its traffic, for the most part,
is the great, tin-tired dump-carts of the quarries and steel interurban
electric cars which hum so heavily that even the windows of outlying
For blocks, from Benson to Maplehurst and from Maplehurst to Ridgeway
Heights, Winchester Road repeats itself in terms of the butcher, the
baker, the corner saloon. A feed-store. A monument- and stone-cutter. A
confectioner. A general-merchandise store, with a glass case of men's
collars outside the entrance. The butcher, the baker, the corner saloon.
At Benson, where this highway cuts through, the city, wreathed in smoke,
and a great oceanic stretch of roofs are in easy view, and at closer
range, an outlying section of public asylums for the city's discard of its
debility and its senility.
Jutting a story above the one-storied march of Winchester Road, The
Convenience Merchandise Corner, Benson, overlooks, from the southeast
up-stairs window, a remote view of the City Hospital, the Ferris-wheel of
an amusement park, and on clear days the oceanic waves of roof. Below,
within the store, that view is entirely obliterated by a brace of shelves
built across the corresponding window and brilliantly stacked with ribbons
of a score of colors and as many widths. A considerable flow of daylight
thus diverted, The Convenience Merchandise Corner, even of early afternoon,
fades out into half-discernible corners; a rear-wall display of overalls
and striped denim coats crowded back into indefinitude, the haberdashery
counter, with a giant gilt shirt-stud suspended above, hardly more
Even the notions and dry-goods, flanking the right wall in stacks and
bolts, merge into blur, the outline of a white-sateen and corseted woman's
torso surmounting the topmost of the shelves with bold curvature.
With spring sunshine even hot against the steel rails of Winchester Road,
and awnings drawn against its inroads into the window display, Mrs. Shila
Coblenz, routing gloom, reached up tiptoe across the haberdashery counter
for the suspended chain of a cluster of bulbs, the red of exertion rising
up the taut line of throat and lifted chin.
"A little light on the subject, Milt."
"Let me, Mrs. C."
Facing her from the outer side of the counter, Mr. Milton Bauer stretched
also, his well-pressed, pin-checked coat crawling up.
All things swam out into the glow. The great suspended stud; the background
of shelves and boxes; the scissors-like overalls against the wall; a
clothesline of children's factory-made print frocks; a center-bin of
women's untrimmed hats; a headless dummy beside the door, enveloped in a
long-sleeved gingham apron.
Beneath the dome of the wooden stud, Mrs. Shila Coblenz, of not too fulsome
but the hour-glass proportions of two decades ago, smiled, her black eyes,
ever so quick to dart, receding slightly as the cheeks lifted.
"Two twenty-five, Milt, for those ribbed assorted sizes and reinforced
heels. Leave or take. Bergdorff & Sloan will quote me the whole mill at
With his chest across the counter and legs out violently behind, Mr. Bauer
flung up a glance from his order-pad.
"Have a heart, Mrs. C. I'm getting two-forty for that stocking from every
house in town. The factory can't turn out the orders fast enough at that
price. An up-to-date woman like you mustn't make a noise like before the
"Leave or take."
"You could shave an egg," he said.
"And rush up those printed lawns. There was two in this morning, sniffing
around for spring dimities."
"Any more cotton goods? Next month, this time, you'll be paying an advance
of four cents on percales."
"Can't tempt you with them wash silks, Mrs. C.? Neatest little article on
the market to-day."
"No demand. They finger it up, and then buy the cotton stuffs. Every time I
forget my trade hacks rock instead of clips bonds for its spending-money I
"This here wash silk, Mrs. C., would--"
"Send me up a dress-pattern off this coral-pink sample for Selene."
"This here dark mulberry, Mrs. C., would suit you something immense."
"That'll be about all."
He flopped shut his book, snapping a rubber band about it and inserting it
in an inner coat pocket.
"You ought to stick to them dark, winy shades, Mrs. C. With your coloring
and black hair and eyes, they bring you out like a gipsy. Never seen you
look better than at the Y.M.H.A. entertainment."
Quick color flowed down her open throat and into her shirtwaist. It was as
if the platitude merged with the very corpuscles of a blush that sank down
into thirsty soil.
"You boys," she said, "come out here and throw in a jolly with every bill
of goods. I'll take a good fat discount instead."
"Fact. Never seen you look better. When you got out on the floor in that
stamp-your-foot kind of dance with old man Shulof, your hand on your hip
and your head jerking it up, there wasn't a girl on the floor, your own
daughter included, could touch you, and I'm giving it to you straight."
"That old thing! It's a Russian folk-dance my mother taught me the first
year we were in this country. I was three years old then, and, when she got
just crazy with homesickness, we used to dance it to each other evenings on
the kitchen floor."
"Say, have you heard the news?"
"Hammerstein is bringing over the crowned heads of Europe for vaudeville."
Mrs. Coblenz moved back a step, her mouth falling open.
"Why, Milton Bauer, in the old country a man could be strung up for saying
less than that!"
"That didn't get across. Try another. A Frenchman and his wife were
traveling in Russia, and--"
"If--if you had an old mother like mine up-stairs, Milton, eating out her
heart and her days and her weeks and her months over a husband's grave
somewhere in Siberia and a son's grave somewhere in Kishinef, you wouldn't
see the joke neither."
Mr. Bauer executed a self-administered pat sharply against the back of his
"Keeper," he said, "put me in the brain ward. I--I'm sorry, Mrs. C., so
help me! Didn't mean to. How is your mother, Mrs. C.? Seems to me, at the
dance the other night, Selene said she was fine and dandy."
"Selene ain't the best judge of her poor old grandmother. It's hard for a
young girl to have patience for old age sitting and chewing all day over
the past. It's right pitiful the way her grandmother knows it, too, and
makes herself talk English all the time to please the child and tries to
perk up for her. Selene, thank God, 'ain't suffered, and can't sympathize!"
"What's ailing her, Mrs. C.? I kinda miss seeing the old lady sitting down
here in the store."
"It's the last year or so, Milt. Just like all of a sudden a woman as
active as mama always was, her health and--her mind kind of went off with a
"Doctor says with care she can live for years, but--but it seems terrible
the way her--poor mind keeps skipping back. Past all these thirty years in
America to--even weeks before I was born. The night they--took my father
off to Siberia, with his bare feet in the snow--for distributing papers
they found on him--papers that used the word 'svoboda'--'freedom.' And the
time, ten years later--they shot down my brother right in front of her
for--the same reason. She keeps living it over--living it over till
"Say, ain't that just a shame, though!"
"Living it, and living it, and living it! The night with me, a heavy
three-year-old, in her arms that she got us to the border, dragging a pack
of linens with her! The night my father's feet were bleeding in the snow,
when they took him! How with me a kid in the crib, my--my brother's face
was crushed in--with a heel and a spur. All night, sometimes, she cries in
her sleep--begging to go back to find the graves. All day she sits making
raffia wreaths to take back--making wreaths--making wreaths!"
"Say, ain't that tough!"
"It's a godsend she's got the eyes to do it. It's wonderful the way she
reads--in English, too. There ain't a daily she misses. Without them and
the wreaths--I dunno--I just dunno. Is--is it any wonder, Milt, I--I can't
see the joke?"
"My God, no!"
"I'll get her back, though."
"Why, you--she can't get back there, Mrs. C."
"There's a way. Nobody can tell me there's not. Before the war--before she
got like this, seven hundred dollars would have done it for both of us--and
Back to Full Books