Gaslight Sonatas
Fannie Hurst

Part 5 out of 5

it will again, after the war. She's got the bank-book, and every week that
I can squeeze out above expenses, she sees the entry for herself. I'll get
her back. There's a way lying around somewhere. God knows why she should
eat out her heart to go back--but she wants it. God, how she wants it!"

"Poor old dame!"

"You boys guy me with my close-fisted buying these last two years. It's up
to me, Milt, to squeeze this old shebang dry. There's not much more than a
living in it at best, and now, with Selene grown up and naturally wanting
to have it like other girls, it ain't always easy to see my way clear. But
I'll do it, if I got to trust the store for a year to a child like Selene.
I'll get her back."

"You can call on me, Mrs. C., to keep my eye on things while you're gone."

"You boys are one crowd of true blues, all right. There ain't a city
salesman comes out here I wouldn't trust to the limit."

"You just try me out."

"Why, just to show you how a woman don't know how many real friends she has
got, why--even Mark Haas, of the Mound City Silk Company, a firm I don't
do a hundred dollars' worth of business with a year, I wish you could have
heard him the other night at the Y.M.H.A., a man you know for yourself just
goes there to be sociable with the trade."

"Fine fellow, Mark Haas!"

"'When the time comes, Mrs. Coblenz,' he says, 'that you want to make that
trip, just you let me know. Before the war there wasn't a year I didn't
cross the water twice, maybe three times, for the firm. I don't know
there's much I can do; it ain't so easy to arrange for Russia, but, just
the same, you let me know when you're ready to make that trip.' Just like
that he said it. That from Mark Haas!"

"And a man like Haas don't talk that way if he don't mean it."

"Mind you, not a hundred dollars a year business with him. I haven't got
the demands for silks."

"That wash silk I'm telling you about, though, Mrs. C., does up like a--"

"There's ma thumping with the poker on the up-stairs floor. When it's
closing-time she begins to get restless. I--I wish Selene would come in.
She went out with Lester Goldmark in his little flivver, and I get nervous
about automobiles."

Mr. Bauer slid an open-face watch from his waistcoat.

"Good Lord! five-forty, and I've just got time to sell the Maplehurst
Emporium a bill of goods!"

"Good-night, Milt; and mind you put up that order of assorted neckwear
yourself. Greens in ready-tieds are good sellers for this time of the year,
and put in some reds and purples for the teamsters."

"No sooner said than done."

"And come out for supper some Sunday night, Milt. It does mama good to have
young people around."

"I'm yours."

"Good-night, Milt."

He reached across the counter, placing his hand over hers.

"Good-night, Mrs. C.," he said, a note lower in his throat; "and remember
that call-on-me stuff wasn't all conversation."

"Good-night, Milt," said Mrs. Coblenz, a coating of husk over her own voice
and sliding her hand out from beneath, to top his. "You--you're all right!"

* * * * *

Up-stairs, in a too tufted and too crowded room directly over the frontal
half of the store, the window overlooking the remote sea of city was
turning taupe, the dusk of early spring, which is faintly tinged with
violet, invading. Beside the stove, a base-burner with faint fire showing
through its mica, the identity of her figure merged with the fat upholstery
of the chair, except where the faint pink through the mica lighted up old
flesh, Mrs. Miriam Horowitz, full of years and senile with them, wove with
grasses, the ecru of her own skin, wreaths that had mounted to a great
stack in a bedroom cupboard.

A clock, with a little wheeze and burring attached to each chime, rang six,
and upon it Mrs. Coblenz, breathing from a climb, opened the door.

"Ma, why didn't you rap for Katie to come up and light the gas? You'll ruin
your eyes, dearie."

She found out a match, immediately lighting two jets of a
center-chandelier, turning them down from singing, drawing the shades of
the two front and the southeast windows, stooping over the upholstered
chair to imprint a light kiss.

"A fine day, mama. There'll be an entry this week. Thirty dollars and
thirteen cents and another call for garden implements. I think I'll lay in
a hardware line after we--we get back. I can use the lower shelf of the
china-table, eh, ma?"

Mrs. Horowitz, whose face, the color of old linen in the yellowing, emerged
rather startling from the still black hair strained back from it, lay back
in her chair, turning her profile against the upholstered back, half a
wreath and a trail of raffia sliding to the floor. Age had sapped from
beneath the skin, so that every curve had collapsed to bagginess, the
cheeks and the underchin sagging with too much skin. Even the hands were
crinkled like too large gloves, a wide, curiously etched marriage band
hanging loosely from the third finger.

Mrs. Goblenz stooped, recovering the wreath.

"Say, mama, this one is a beauty! That's a new weave, ain't it? Here, work
some more, dearie--till Selene comes with your evening papers."

With her profile still to the chair-back, a tear oozed down the corrugated
face of Mrs. Horowitz's cheek. Another.

"Now, mama! Now, mama!"

"I got a heaviness--here--inside. I got a heaviness--"

Mrs. Coblenz slid down to her knees beside the chair.

"Now, mama; shame on my little mama! Is that the way to act when Shila
comes up after a good day? 'Ain't we got just lots to be thankful for--the
business growing and the bank-book growing, and our Selene on top? Shame on

"I got a heaviness--here--inside--here."

Mrs. Coblenz reached up for the old hand, patting it.

"It's nothing, mama--a little nervousness."

"I'm an old woman. I--"

"And just think, Shila's mama, Mark Haas is going to get us letters and
passports and--"

"My son--my boy--his father before him--"

"Mama--mama, please don't let a spell come on! It's all right. Shila's
going to fix it. Any day now, maybe--"

"You'm a good girl. You'm a good girl, Shila." Tears were coursing down to
a mouth that was constantly wry with the taste of them.

"And you're a good mother, mama. Nobody knows better than me how good."

"You'm a good girl, Shila."

"I was thinking last night, mama, waiting up for Selene--just thinking how
all the good you've done ought to keep your mind off the spells, dearie."

"My son--"

"Why, a woman with as much good to remember as you've got oughtn't to have
time for spells. I got to thinking about Coblenz, mama, how--you never did
want him, and when I--I went and did it, anyway, and made my mistake, you
stood by me to--to the day he died. Never throwing anything up to me! Never
nothing but my good little mother, working her hands to the bone after
he got us out here to help meet the debts he left us. Ain't that a
satisfaction for you to be able to sit and think, mama, how you helped--"

"His feet--blood from my heart in the snow--blood from my heart!"

"The past is gone, darling. What's the use tearing yourself to pieces with
it? Them years in New York when it was a fight even for bread, and them
years here trying to raise Selene and get the business on a footing, you
didn't have time to brood then, mama. That's why, dearie, if only you'll
keep yourself busy with something--the wreaths--the--"

"His feet--blood from my--"

"But I'm going to take you back, mama. To papa's grave. To Aylorff's. But
don't eat your heart out until it comes, darling. I'm going to take you
back, mama, with every wreath in the stack; only, you mustn't eat out your
heart in spells. You mustn't, mama; you mustn't."

Sobs rumbled up through Mrs. Horowitz, which her hand to her mouth tried to

"For his people he died. The papers--I begged he should burn them--he
couldn't--I begged he should keep in his hate--he couldn't--in the square
he talked it--the soldiers--he died for his people--they got him--the
soldiers--his feet in the snow when they took him--the blood in the snow--O
my God!--my--God!"

"Mama darling, please don't go over it all again. What's the use making
yourself sick? Please!"

She was well forward in her chair now, winding her dry hands one over the
other with a small rotary motion.

"I was rocking--Shila-baby in my lap--stirring on the fire black lentils
for my boy--black lentils--he--"


"My boy. Like his father before him. My--"

"Mama, please! Selene is coming any minute now. You know how she hates it.
Don't let yourself think back, mama. A little will-power, the doctor says,
is all you need. Think of to-morrow, mama; maybe, if you want, you can come
down and sit in the store awhile and--"

"I was rocking. O my God! I was rocking, and--"

"Don't get to it--mama, please! Don't rock yourself that way! You'll get
yourself dizzy! Don't, ma; don't!"

"Outside--my boy--the holler--O God! in my ears all my life! My boy--the
papers--the swords--Aylorff--Aylorff--"


"It came through his heart out the back--a blade with two sides--out the
back when I opened the door; the spur in his face when he fell, Shila--the
spur in his face--the beautiful face of my boy--my Aylorff--my husband
before him--that died to make free!" And fell back, bathed in the sweat of
the terrific hiccoughing of sobs.

"Mama, mama! My God! What shall we do? These spells! You'll kill yourself,
darling. I'm going to take you back, dearie--ain't that enough? I promise.
I promise. You mustn't, mama! These spells--they ain't good for a young
girl like Selene to hear. Mama, 'ain't you got your own Shila--your own
Selene? Ain't that something? Ain't it? Ain't it?"

Large drops of sweat had come out and a state of exhaustion that swept
completely over, prostrating the huddled form in the chair.

"Bed--my bed!"

With her arms twined about the immediately supporting form of her daughter,
her entire weight relaxed, and footsteps that dragged without lift, one
after the other, Mrs. Horowitz groped out, one hand feeling in advance,
into the gloom of a room adjoining.

"Rest! O my God! rest!"

"Yes, yes, mama; lean on me."


"Yes, yes, darling."


Her voice had died now to a whimper that lay on the room after she had
passed out of it.

When Selene Coblenz, with a gust that swept the room, sucking the lace
curtains back against the panes, flung open the door upon that chromatic
scene, the two jets of gas were singing softly into its silence, and within
the nickel-trimmed baseburner the pink mica had cooled to gray. Sweeping
open that door, she closed it softly, standing for the moment against it,
her hand crossed in back and on the knob. It was as if--standing there
with her head cocked and beneath a shadowy blue sailor-hat, a smile coming
out--something within her was playing, sweetly insistent to be heard.
Philomela, at the first sound of her nightingale self, must have stood
thus, trembling with melody. Opposite her, above the crowded mantelpiece
and surmounted by a raffia wreath, the enlarged-crayon gaze of her deceased
maternal grandfather, abetted by a horrible device of photography, followed
her, his eyes focusing the entire room at a glance. Impervious to that
scrutiny, Miss Coblenz moved a tiptoe step or two farther into the room,
lifting off her hat, staring and smiling through a three-shelved cabinet
of knickknacks at what she saw far and beyond. Beneath the two jets, high
lights in her hair came out, bronze showing through the brown waves and the
patches of curls brought out over her cheeks.

In her dark-blue dress, with the row of silver buttons down what was hip
before the hipless age, the chest sufficiently concave and the silhouette a
mere stroke of a hard pencil, Miss Selene Coblenz measured up and down
to America's Venus de Milo, whose chief curvature is of the spine.
Slim-etched, and that slimness enhanced by a conscious kind of collapse
beneath the blue-silk girdle that reached up half-way to her throat, hers
were those proportions which strong women, eschewing the sweet-meat, would
earn by the sweat of the Turkish bath.

When Miss Coblenz caught her eye in the square of mirror above the
mantelpiece, her hands flew to her cheeks to feel of their redness. They
were soft cheeks, smooth with the pollen of youth, and hands still casing
them, she moved another step toward the portiered door.


Mrs. Coblenz emerged immediately, finger up for silence, kissing her
daughter on the little spray of cheek-curls.

"'Shh-h-h! Gramaw just had a terrible spell."

She dropped down into the upholstered chair beside the base-burner, the
pink and moisture of exertion out in her face, took to fanning herself with
the end of a face-towel flung across her arm.

"Poor gramaw!" she said. "Poor gramaw!"

Miss Coblenz sat down on the edge of a slim, home-gilded chair, and took to
gathering the blue-silk dress into little plaits at her knee.

"Of course, if you don't want to know where I've been--or anything--"

Mrs. Coblenz jerked herself to the moment.

"Did mama's girl have a good time? Look at your dress, all dusty! You
oughtn't to wear your best in that little flivver."

Suddenly Miss Coblenz raised her glance, her red mouth bunched, her eyes
all iris.

"Of course--if you don't want to know--anything."

At that large, brilliant gaze, Mrs. Coblenz leaned forward, quickened.

"Why, Selene!"

"Well, why--why don't you ask me something?"

"Why, I--I dunno, honey. Did--did you and Lester have a nice ride?"

There hung a slight pause, and then a swift moving and crumpling-up of Miss
Coblenz on the floor beside her mother's knee.

"You know--only, you won't ask."

With her hand light upon her daughter's hair, Mrs. Coblenz leaned forward,
her bosom rising to faster breathing.


"We--we were speeding along, and--all of a sudden, out of a clear sky,
he--he popped. He wants it in June, so we can make it our honeymoon to his
new territory out in Oklahoma. He knew he was going to pop, he said, ever
since that first night he saw me at the Y.M.H.A. He says to his uncle Mark,
the very next day in the store, he says to him, 'Uncle Mark,' he says,
'I've met _the_ little girl.' He says he thinks more of my little finger
than all of his regular crowd of girls in town put together. He wants to
live in one of the built-in-bed flats on Wasserman Avenue, like all the
swell young marrieds. He's making twenty-six hundred now, mama, and if he
makes good in the new Oklahoma territory, his Uncle Mark is--is going to
take care of him better. Ain't it like a dream, mama--your little Selene
all of a sudden in with--the somebodies?"

Immediate tears were already finding staggering procession down Mrs.
Coblenz's face, her hovering arms completely encircling the slight figure
at her feet.

"My little girl! My little Selene! My all!"

"I'll be marrying into one of the best families in town, ma. A girl who
marries a nephew of Mark Haas can hold up her head with the best of them.
There's not a boy in town with a better future than Lester. Like Lester
says, everything his Uncle Mark touches turns to gold, and he's already
touched Lester. One of the best known men on Washington Avenue for his
blood-uncle, and on his poor dead father's side related to the Katz &
Harberger Harbergers. Was I right, mama, when I said if you'd only let me
stop school I'd show you? Was I right, momsie?"

"My baby! It's like I can't realize it. So young!"

"He took the measure of my finger, mama, with a piece of string. A diamond,
he says, not too flashy, but neat."

"We have 'em, and we suffer for 'em, and we lose 'em."

"He's going to trade in the flivver for a chummy roadster, and--"

"Oh, darling, it's like I can't bear it!"

At that Miss Coblenz sat back on her tall wooden heels, mauve spats

"Well, you're a merry little future mother-in-law, momsie!"

"It ain't that, baby. I'm happy that my girl has got herself up in the
world with a fine upright boy like Lester; only--you can't understand,
babe, till you've got something of your own flesh and blood that belongs to
you, that I--I couldn't feel anything except that a piece of my heart was
going if--if it was a king you was marrying."

"Now, momsie, it's not like I was moving a thousand miles away. You can
be glad I don't have to go far, to New York or to Cleveland, like Alma

"I am! I am!"

"Uncle--Uncle Mark, I guess, will furnish us up like he did Leon and
Irma--only, I don't want mahogany; I want Circassian walnut. He gave them
their flat-silver, too, Puritan design, for an engagement present. Think of
it, mama, me having that stuck-up Irma Sinsheimer for a relation! It always
made her sore when I got chums with Amy at school and got my nose in it
with the Acme crowd, and--and she'll change her tune now, I guess, me
marrying her husband's second cousin."

"Didn't Lester want to--to come in for a while, Selene, to--to see--me?"

Sitting there on her heels, Miss Coblenz looked away, answering with her
face in profile.

"Yes; only--I--well, if you want to know it, mama, it's no fun for a girl
to bring a boy like Lester up here in--in this crazy room, all hung up
with gramaw's wreaths and half the time her sitting out there in the dark,
looking in at us through the door and talking to herself."

"Gramaw's an old--"

"Is it any wonder I'm down at Amy's half the time? How do you think a girl
feels to have gramaw keep hanging onto that old black wig of hers and not
letting me take the crayons or wreaths down off the wall? In Lester's crowd
they don't know nothing about revolutionary stuff and persecutions. Amy's
grandmother don't even talk with an accent, and Lester says his grandmother
came from Alsace-Lorraine. That's French. They think only tailors and
old-clothes men and--."


"Well, they do. You--you're all right, mama, as up to date as any of them,
but how do you think a girl feels, with gramaw always harping right in
front of everybody the way granpa was a revolutionist and was hustled off
barefooted to Siberia like a tramp? And the way she was cooking black beans
when my uncle died. Other girls' grandmothers don't tell everything they
know. Alma Yawitz's grandmother wears lorgnettes, and you told me yourself
they came from nearly the same part of the Pale as gramaw. But you don't
hear them remembering it. Alma Yawitz says she's Alsace-Lorraine on both
sides. People don't tell everything they know. Anyway where a girl's got
herself as far as I have!"

Through sobs that rocked her, Mrs. Coblenz looked down upon her daughter.

"Your poor old grandmother don't deserve that from you! In her day she
worked her hands to the bone for you. With the kind of father you had we
might have died in the gutter but for how she helped to keep us out, you
ungrateful girl--your poor old grandmother, that's suffered so terrible!"

"I know it, mama, but so have other people suffered."

"She's old, Selene--old."

"I tell you it's the way you indulge her, mama. I've seen her sitting here
as perk as you please, and the minute you come in the room down goes her
head like--like she was dying."

"It's her mind, Selene--that's going. That's why I feel if I could only get
her back. She ain't old, gramaw ain't. If I could only get her back where
she--could see for herself--the graves--is all she needs. All old people
think of--the grave. It's eating her--eating her mind. Mark Haas is going
to fix it for me after the war--maybe before--if he can. That's the only
way poor gramaw can live--or die--happy, Selene. Now--now that my--my
little girl ain't any longer my responsibility, I--I'm going to take her
back--my little--girl"--her hand reached out, caressing the smooth head,
her face projected forward and the eyes yearning down--"my all."

"It's you will be my responsibility now, ma."

"No! No!"

"The first thing Lester says was a flat on Wasserman and a spare room for
Mother Coblenz when she wants to come down. Wasn't it sweet for him to put
it that way right off, ma? 'Mother Coblenz,' he says."

"He's a good boy, Selene. It'll be a proud day for me and gramaw. Gramaw
mustn't miss none of it. He's a good boy and a fine family."

"That's why, mama, we--got to--to do it up right."

"Lester knows, child, he's not marrying a rich girl."

"A girl don't have to--be rich to get married right."

"You'll have as good as mama can afford to give it to her girl."

"It--it would be different if Lester's uncle and all wasn't in the Acme
Club crowd, and if I hadn't got in with all that bunch. It's the last
expense I'll ever be to you, mama."

"Oh, baby, don't say that!"

"I--me and Lester--Lester and me were talking, mama--when the engagement's
announced next week--a reception--"

"We can clear out this room, move the bed out of gramaw's room into ours,
and serve the ice-cream and cake in--"

"Oh, mama, I don't mean--that!"


"Who ever heard of having a reception _here_! People won't come from town
'way out to this old--cabbage-patch. Even Gertie Wolf, with their big
house on West Pine Boulevard, had her reception at the Walsingham Hotel.
You--We--can't expect Mark Haas and all the relations--the Sinsheimers--
and--all to come out here. I'd rather not have any."

"But, Selene, everybody knows we ain't millionaires, and that you got in
with that crowd through being friends at school with Amy Rosen. All the
city salesmen and the boys on Washington Avenue, even Mark Haas himself,
that time he was in the store with Lester, knows the way we live. You don't
need to be ashamed of your little home, Selene, even if it ain't on West
Pine Boulevard."

"It'll be--your last expense, mama. The Walsingham, that's where the girl
that Lester Goldmark marries is expected to have her reception."

"But, Selene, mama can't afford nothing like that."

Pink swam up into Miss Coblenz's face, and above the sheer-white collar
there was a little beating movement at the throat, as if something were
fluttering within.

"I--I'd just as soon not get married as--as not to have it like other

"But, Selene--"

"If I--can't have a trousseau like other girls and the things that go with
marrying into a--a family like Lester's--I--then--there's no use. I--I
can't! I--wouldn't!"

She was fumbling, now, for a handkerchief, against tears that were

"Why, baby, a girl couldn't have a finer trousseau than the old linens back
yet from Russia that me and gramaw got saved up for our girl--linen that
can't be bought these days. Bed-sheets that gramaw herself carried to the
border, and--"

"Oh, I know! I knew you'd try to dump that stuff on me. That old,
worm-eaten stuff in gramaw's chest."

"It's hand-woven, Selene, with--"

"I wouldn't have that yellow old stuff--that old-fashioned junk--if I
didn't have any trousseau. If I can't afford monogrammed up-to-date linens,
like even Alma Yawitz, and a--a pussy-willow-taffeta reception dress, I
wouldn't have any. I wouldn't." Her voice, crowded with passion and tears,
rose to the crest of a sob. "I--I'd die first!"

"Selene, Selene, mama 'ain't got the money. If she had it, wouldn't she be
willing to take the very last penny to give her girl the kind of a wedding
she wants? A trousseau like Alma's cost a thousand dollars, if it cost a
cent. Her table-napkins alone, they say, cost thirty-six dollars a dozen,
un-monogrammed. A reception at the Walsingham costs two hundred dollars,
if it costs a cent. Selene, mama will make for you every sacrifice she can
afford, but she 'ain't got the money!"

"You--have got the money!"

"So help me God, Selene! You know, with the quarries shut down, what
business has been. You know how--sometimes even to make ends meet it is a
pinch. You're an ungrateful girl, Selene, to ask what I ain't able to do
for you. A child like you, that's been indulged, that I 'ain't even asked
ever in her life to help a day down in the store. If I had the money, God
knows you should be married in real lace, with the finest trousseau a girl
ever had. But I 'ain't got the money--I 'ain't got the money."

"You have got the money! The book in gramaw's drawer is seven hundred and
forty. I guess I ain't blind. I know a thing or two."

"Why, Selene! That's gramaw's--to go back--"

"You mean the bank-book's hers?"

"That's gramaw's, to go back--home on. That's the money for me to take
gramaw and her wreaths back home on."

"There you go--talking luny."


"Well, I'd like to know what else you'd call it, kidding yourself along
like that."


"All right. If you think gramaw, with her life all lived, comes first
before me, with all my life to live--all right!"

"Your poor old--"

"It's always been gramaw first in this house, anyway. I couldn't even have
company since I'm grown up because the way she's always allowed around.
Nobody can say I ain't good to gramaw; Lester says it's beautiful the way I
am with her, remembering always to bring the newspapers and all, but just
the same, I know when right's right and wrong's wrong. If my life ain't
more important than gramaw's, with hers all lived, all right. Go ahead!"

"Selene, Selene, ain't it coming to gramaw, after all her years' hard work
helping us that--she should be entitled to go back with her wreaths for the
graves? Ain't she entitled to die with that off her poor old mind? You bad,
ungrateful girl, you, it's coming to a poor old woman that's suffered as
terrible as gramaw that I should find a way to take her back."

"Take her back. Where--to jail? To prison in Siberia herself--"

"There's a way--"

"You know gramaw's too old to take a trip like that. You know in your own
heart she won't ever see that day. Even before the war, much less now,
there wasn't a chance for her to get passports back there. I don't say it
ain't all right to kid her along, but when it comes to--to keeping me out
of the--the biggest thing that can happen to a girl--when gramaw wouldn't
know the difference if you keep showing her the bank-book--it ain't right.
That's what it ain't. It ain't right!"

In the smallest possible compass, Miss Coblenz crouched now upon the floor,
head down somewhere in her knees, and her curving back racked with rising

"Selene--but some day--"

"Some day nothing! A woman like gramaw can't do much more than go down-town
once a year, and then you talk about taking her to Russia! You can't get in
there, I--tell you--no way you try to fix it after--the way gramaw--had--to
leave. Even before the war Ray Letsky's father couldn't get back on
business. There's nothing for her there, even after she gets there. In
thirty years, do you think you can find those graves? Do you know the size
of Siberia? No! But I got to pay--I got to pay for gramaw's nonsense. But I
won't. I won't go to Lester if I can't go right. I--."

"Baby, don't cry so--for God's sake, don't cry so!"

"I wish I was dead!"

"'Sh-h-h! You'll wake gramaw."

"I do!"

"O God, help me to do the right thing!"

"If gramaw could understand, she'd be the first one to tell you the right
thing. Anybody would."

"No! No! That little bank-book and its entries are her life--her life."

"She don't need to know, mama. I'm not asking that. That's the way they
always do with old people to keep them satisfied. Just humor 'em. Ain't I
the one with life before me--ain't I, mama?"

"O God, show me the way!"

"If there was a chance, you think I'd be spoiling things for gramaw? But
there ain't, mama--not one."

"I keep hoping if not before, then after the war. With the help of Mark

"With the book in her drawer, like always, and the entries changed once in
a while, she'll never know the difference. I swear to God she'll never know
the difference, mama!"

"Poor gramaw!"

"Mama, promise me--your little Selene. Promise me?"

"Selene, Selene, can we keep it from her?"

"I swear we can, mama."

"Poor, poor gramaw!"

"Mama? Mama darling?"

"O God, show me the way!"

"Ain't it me that's got life before me? My whole life?"


"Then, mama, please--you will--you will--darling?"

"Yes, Selene."

In a large, all-frescoed, seventy-five-dollar-an-evening-with-lights and
cloak-room-service ballroom of the Hotel Walsingham, a family hostelry in
that family circle of St. Louis known as its West End, the city holds not
a few of its charity-whists and benefit musicales; on a dais which can be
carried in for the purpose, morning readings of "Little Moments from
Little Plays," and with the introduction of a throne-chair, the monthly
lodge-meetings of the Lady Mahadharatas of America. For weddings and
receptions, a lane of red carpet leads up to the slight dais; and lined
about the brocade and paneled walls, gilt-and-brocade chairs, with the
crest of Walsingham in padded embroidery on the backs. Crystal chandeliers,
icicles of dripping light, glow down upon a scene of parquet floor, draped
velours, and mirrors wreathed in gilt.

At Miss Selene Coblenz's engagement reception, an event properly festooned
with smilax and properly jostled with the elbowing figures of waiters
tilting their plates of dark-meat chicken salad, two olives, and a
finger-roll in among the crowd, a stringed three-piece orchestra, faintly
seen and still more faintly heard, played into the babel.

Light, glitteringly filtered through the glass prisms, flowed down upon the
dais; upon Miss Selene Coblenz, in a taffeta that wrapped her flat waist
and chest like a calyx and suddenly bloomed into the full-inverted petals
of a skirt; upon Mr. Lester Goldmark, his long body barely knitted yet
to man's estate, and his complexion almost clear, standing omnivorous,
omnipotent, omnipresent, his hair so well brushed that it lay like black
japanning, a white carnation at his silk lapel, and his smile slightly
projected by a rush of very white teeth to the very front. Next in line,
Mrs. Coblenz, the red of a fervent moment high in her face, beneath the
maroon-net bodice the swell of her bosom, fast, and her white-gloved hand
constantly at the opening and shutting of a lace-and-spangled fan. Back,
and well out of the picture, a potted hydrangea beside the Louis Quinze
armchair, her hands in silk mitts laid out along the gold-chair sides, her
head quavering in a kind of mild palsy, Mrs. Miriam Horowitz, smiling and
quivering her state of bewilderment.

With an unfailing propensity to lay hold of to whomsoever he spake, Mr.
Lester Goldmark placed his white-gloved hand upon the white-gloved arm of
Mrs. Coblenz.

"Say, Mother Coblenz, ain't it about time this little girl of mine was
resting her pink-satin double A's? She's been on duty up here from four to
seven. No wonder Uncle Mark bucked."

Mrs. Coblenz threw her glance out over the crowded room, surging with a
wave of plumes and clipped heads like a swaying bucket of water which
crowds but does not lap over its sides.

"I guess the crowd is finished coming in by now. You tired, Selene?"

Miss Coblenz turned her glowing glance.

"Tired! This is the swellest engagement-party I ever had."

Mrs. Coblenz shifted her weight from one slipper to the other, her
maroon-net skirts lying in a swirl around them.

"Just look at gramaw, too! She holds up her head with the best of them. I
wouldn't have had her miss this, not for the world."

"Sure one fine old lady! Ought to have seen her shake my hand, Mother
Coblenz. I nearly had to holler, 'Ouch!'"

"Mama, here comes Sara Suss and her mother. Take my arm, Lester honey.
People mama used to know." Miss Coblenz leaned forward beyond the dais with
the frail curve of a reed.

"Howdado, Mrs. Suss.... Thank you. Thanks. Howdado, Sara? Meet my _fiance_,
Lester Haas Goldmark; Mrs. Suss and Sara Suss, my _fiance_.... That's
right, better late than never. There's plenty left.... We think he is, Mrs.
Suss. Aw, Lester honey, quit! Mama, here's Mrs. Suss and Sadie."

"Mrs. Suss! Say--if you hadn't come, I was going to lay it up against you.
If my new ones can come on a day like this, it's a pity my old friends
can't come, too. Well, Sadie, it's your turn next, eh?... I know better
than that. With them pink cheeks and black eyes, I wish I had a dime
for every chance." (_Sotto_.) "Do you like it, Mrs. Suss? Pussy-willow
taffeta.... Say, it ought to be. An estimate dress from Madame
Murphy--sixty-five with findings. I'm so mad, Sara, you and your mama
couldn't come to the house that night to see her things. If I say so
myself, Mrs. Suss, everybody who seen it says Jacob Sinsheimer's daughter
herself didn't have a finer. Maybe not so much, but every stitch, Mrs.
Suss, made by the same sisters in the same convent that made hers....
Towels! I tell her it's a shame to expose them to the light, much less wipe
on them. Ain't it?... The goodness looks out from his face. And such a
love-pair! Lunatics, I call them. He can't keep his hands off. It ain't
nice, I tell him.... Me? Come close. I dyed the net myself. Ten cents'
worth of maroon color. Don't it warm your heart, Mrs. Suss? This morning,
after we got her in Lester's Uncle Mark's big automobile, I says to her, I
says, 'Mama, you sure it ain't too much?' Like her old self for a minute,
Mrs. Suss, she hit me on the arm. 'Go 'way,' she said; 'on my grandchild's
engagement day anything should be too much?' Here, waiter, get these two
ladies some salad. Good measure, too. Over there by the window, Mrs. Suss.
Help yourselves."

"Mama, 'sh-h-h! the waiters know what to do."

Mrs. Coblenz turned back, the flush warm to her face.

"Say, for an old friend I can be my own self."

"Can we break the receiving-line now, Lester honey, and go down with
everybody? The Sinsheimers and their crowd over there by themselves, we
ought to show we appreciate their coming."

Mr. Goldmark twisted high in his collar, cupping her small bare elbow in
his hand.

"That's what I say, lovey; let's break. Come, Mother Coblenz, let's step
down on high society's corns."


"You and Selene go down with the crowd, Lester. I want to take gramaw to
rest for a while before we go home. The manager says we can have room
fifty-six by the elevator for her to rest in."

"Get her some newspapers, ma, and I brought her a wreath down to keep her
quiet. It's wrapped in her shawl."

Her skirts delicately lifted, Miss Coblenz stepped down off the dais. With
her cloud of gauze-scarf enveloping her, she was like a tulle-clouded
"Springtime," done in the key of Botticelli.

"Oop-si-lah, lovey-dovey!" said Mr. Goldmark, tilting her elbow for the
downward step.

"Oop-si-lay, dovey-lovey!" said Miss Coblenz, relaxing to the support.

Gathering up her plentiful skirts, Mrs. Coblenz stepped off, too, but back
toward the secluded chair beside the potted hydrangea. A fine line of pain,
like a cord tightening, was binding her head, and she put up two fingers to
each temple, pressing down the throb.

"Mrs. Coblenz, see what I got for you!" She turned, smiling. "You don't
look like you need salad and green ice-cream. You look like you needed what
I wanted--a cup of coffee."

"Aw, Mr. Haas--now where in the world--Aw, Mr. Haas!"

With a steaming cup outheld and carefully out of collision with the crowd,
Mr. Haas unflapped a napkin with his free hand, inserting his foot in the
rung of a chair and dragging it toward her.

"Now," he cried, "sit and watch me take care of you!"

There comes a tide in the affairs of men when the years lap softly, leaving
no particular inundations on the celebrated sands of time. Between forty
and fifty, that span of years which begin the first slight gradations from
the apex of life, the gray hair, upstanding like a thick-bristled brush off
Mr. Haas's brow, had not so much as whitened, or the slight paunchiness
enhanced even the moving-over of a button. When Mr. Haas smiled, his
mustache, which ended in a slight but not waxed flourish, lifted to reveal
a white-and-gold smile of the artistry of careful dentistry, and when, upon
occasion, he threw back his head to laugh, the roof of his mouth was his

He smiled now, peering through gold-rimmed spectacles attached by a chain
to a wire-encircled left ear.

"Sit," he cried, "and let me serve you!"

Standing there with a diffidence which she could not crowd down, Mrs.
Coblenz smiled through closed lips that would pull at the corners.

"The idea, Mr. Haas--going to all that trouble!"

"'Trouble'! she says. After two hours' handshaking in a swallow-tail, a man
knows what real trouble is!"

She stirred around and around the cup, supping up spoonfuls gratefully.

"I'm sure much obliged. It touches the right spot."

He pressed her down to the chair, seating himself on the low edge of the

"Now you sit right there and rest your bones."

"But my mother, Mr. Haas. Before it's time for the ride home she must rest
in a quiet place."

"My car'll be here and waiting five minutes after I telephone."

"You--sure have been grand, Mr. Haas!"

"I shouldn't be grand yet to my--Let's see--what relation is it I am to

"Honest, you're a case, Mr. Haas--always making fun!"

"My poor dead sister's son marries your daughter. That makes you

"Honest, Mr. Haas, if I was around you, I'd get fat laughing."

"I wish you was."

"Selene would have fits. 'Never get fat, mama,' she says, 'if you don't

"I don't mean that."


"I mean I wish you was around me."

She struck him then with her fan, but the color rose up into the mound of
her carefully piled hair.

"I always say I can see where Lester gets his comical ways. Like his uncle,
that boy keeps us all laughing."

"Gad! look at her blush! I know women your age would give fifty dollars a
blush to do it that way."

She was looking away again, shoulders heaving to silent laughter, the blush
still stinging.

"It's been so--so long, Mr. Haas, since I had compliments made to me. You
make me feel so--silly."

"I know it, you nice, fine woman, you; and it's a darn shame!"


"I mean it. I hate to see a fine woman not get her dues. Anyways, when
she's the finest woman of them all!"

"I--the woman that lives to see a day like this--her daughter the happiest
girl in the world, with the finest boy in the world--is getting her dues,
all right, Mr. Haas."

"She's a fine girl, but she ain't worth her mother's little finger-nail."


"No, sir-ree!"

"I must be going now, Mr. Haas. My mother--"

"That's right. The minute a man tries to break the ice with this little
lady, it's a freeze-out. Now what did I say so bad? In business, too. Never
seen the like. It's like trying to swat a fly to come down on you at the
right minute. But now, with you for a nothing-in-law, I got rights."

"If--you ain't the limit, Mr. Haas!"

"Don't mind saying it, Mrs. C., and, for a bachelor, they tell me I'm not
the worst judge in the world, but there's not a woman on the floor stacks
up like you do."

"Well--of all things!"

"Mean it."

"My mother, Mr. Haas, she--"

"And if anybody should ask you if I've got you on my mind or not, well,
I've already got the letters out on that little matter of the passports you
spoke to me about. If there's a way to fix that up for you, and leave it to
me to find it, I--"

She sprang now, trembling, to her feet, all the red of the moment receding.

"Mr. Haas, I--I must go now. My--mother--"

He took her arm, winding her in and out among crowded-out chairs behind the

"I wish it to every mother to have a daughter like you, Mrs. C."

"No! No!" she said, stumbling rather wildly through the chairs. "No! No!

He forged ahead, clearing her path of them.

Beside the potted hydrangea, well back and yet within an easy view, Mrs.
Horowitz, her gilt armchair well cushioned for the occasion, and her
black grenadine spread decently about her, looked out upon the scene, her
slightly palsied head well forward.

"Mama, you got enough? You wouldn't have missed it, eh? A crowd of people
we can be proud to entertain. Not? Come; sit quiet in another room for a
while, and then Mr. Haas, with his nice big car, will drive us all home
again. You know Mr. Haas, dearie--Lester's uncle that had us drove so
careful in his fine car. You remember, dearie--Lester's uncle?"

Mrs. Horowitz looked up, her old face crackling to smile.

"My grandchild! My grandchild! She'm a fine one. Not? My grandchild! My

"You--mustn't mind, Mr. Haas. That's--the way she's done since--since
she's--sick. Keeps repeating--"

"My grandchild! From a good mother and a bad father comes a good
grandchild. My grandchild! She'm a good one. My--"

"Mama dearie, Mr. Haas is in a hurry. He's come to help me walk you into a
little room to rest before we go home in Mr. Haas's big, fine auto. Where
you can go and rest, mama, and read the newspapers. Come."

"My back--_ach_--my back!"

"Yes, yes, mama; we'll fix it. Up! So--la!"

They raised her by the crook of each arm, gently.

"So! Please, Mr. Haas, the pillows. Shawl. There!"

Around a rear hallway, they were almost immediately into a blank, staring
hotel bedroom, fresh towels on the furniture-tops only enhancing its

"Here we are. Sit her here, Mr. Haas, in this rocker."

They lowered her, almost inch by inch, sliding down pillows, against the

"Now, Shila's little mama want to sleep?"

"I got--no rest--no rest."

"You're too excited, honey; that's all."

"No rest."

"Here--here's a brand-new hotel Bible on the table, dearie. Shall Shila
read it to you?"


"Now, now, mama. Now, now; you mustn't! Didn't you promise Shila? Look!
See, here's a wreath wrapped in your shawl for Shila's little mama to work
on. Plenty of wreaths for us to take back. Work awhile, dearie, and then
we'll get Selene and Lester, and, after all the nice company goes away,
we'll go home in the auto."

"I begged he should keep in his hate--his feet in the--"

"I know! The papers! That's what little mama wants. Mr. Haas, that's what
she likes better than anything--the evening papers."

"I'll go down and send 'em right up with a boy, and telephone for the car.
The crowd's beginning to pour out now. Just hold your horses there, Mrs.
C., and I'll have those papers up here in a jiffy."

He was already closing the door after him, letting in and shutting out a
flare of music.

"See, mama, nice Mr. Haas is getting us the papers. Nice evening papers for
Shila's mama." She leaned down into the recesses of the black grenadine,
withdrawing from one of the pockets a pair of silver-rimmed spectacles,
adjusting them with some difficulty to the nodding head. "Shila's--little
mama! Shila's mama!"

"Aylorff, the littlest wreath for--Aylorff--_Meine Kraentze_--"

"Yes, yes."

"_Mem Mann. Mein Suehn_."

"'Shh-h-h, dearie!"

"Aylorff--_der klenste Kranz far ihm_!"

"'Shh-h-h, dearie! Talk English, like Selene wants. Wait till we get on the
ship--the beautiful ship to take us back. Mama, see out the window! Look!
That's the beautiful Forest Park, and this is the fine Hotel Walsingham
just across. See out! Selene is going to have a flat on--"

"_Sey hoben gestorben far Freiheit. Sey hoben_--"

"There! That's the papers!"

To a succession of quick knocks, she flew to the door, returning with the
folded evening editions under her arm.

"Now," she cried, unfolding and inserting the first of them into the
quivering hands--"now, a shawl over my little mama's knees and we're

With a series of rapid movements she flung open one of the black-cashmere
shawls across the bed, folding it back into a triangle. Beside the table,
bare except for the formal, unthumbed Bible, Mrs. Horowitz rattled out a
paper, her near-sighted eyes traveling back and forth across the page.

Music from the ferned-in orchestra came in drifts, faint, not so faint.
From somewhere, then immediately from everywhere--beyond, below, without,
the fast shouts of newsboys mingling.

Suddenly and of her own volition, and with a cry that shot up through the
room, rending it like a gash, Mrs. Horowitz, who moved by inches, sprang to
her supreme height, her arms, the crooks forced out, flung up.

"My darlings--what died--for it! My darlings what died for it! My
darlings--Aylorff, my husband!" There was a wail rose up off her words,
like the smoke of incense curling, circling around her. "My darlings what
died to make free!"

"Mama! Darling! Mama! Mr. Haas! Help! Mama! My God!"

"Aylorff--my husband--I paid with my blood to make free--my blood--. My
son--my--own--" Immovable there, her arms flung up and tears so heavy that
they rolled whole from her face down to the black grenadine, she was as
sonorous as the tragic meter of an Alexandrine line; she was like Ruth,
ancestress of heroes and progenitor of kings.

"My boy--my own! They died for it! _Mein Mann! Mein Suehn_!"

On her knees, frantic to press her down once more into the chair, terrified
at the rigid immobility of the upright figure, Mrs. Coblenz paused then,
too, her clasp falling away, and leaned forward to the open sheet of the
newspaper, its black head-lines facing her:



In her ears a ringing silence, as if a great steel disk had clattered down
into the depths of her consciousness. There on her knees, trembling seized
her, and she hugged herself against it, leaning forward to corroborate her



"Mama! Mama! My God! Mama!"

"Home, Shila; home! My husband who died for it--Aylorff! Home now, quick!
My wreaths! My wreaths!"

"O my God! Mama!"


"Yes, darling--yes--"

"My wreaths!"

"Yes, yes, darling; your wreaths. Let--let me think. Freedom! O my God!
help me to find a way! O my God!"

"My wreaths!"

"Here, darling, here!"

From the floor beside her, the raffia wreath half in the making, Mrs.
Coblenz reached up, pressing it flat to the heaving old bosom.

"There, darling, there!"

"I paid with my blood--"

"Yes, yes, mama; you--paid with your blood. Mama--sit, please. Sit
and--let's try to think. Take it slow, darling; it's like we can't take it
in all at once. I--We--Sit down, darling. You'll make yourself terrible
sick. Sit down, darling; you--you're slipping."

"My wreaths--"

Heavily, the arm at the waist gently sustaining, Mrs. Horowitz sank rather
softly down, her eyelids fluttering for the moment. A smile had come out on
her face, and, as her head sank back against the rest, the eyes resting at
the downward flutter, she gave out a long breath, not taking it in again.

"Mama! You're fainting!" She leaned to her, shaking the relaxed figure by
the elbows, her face almost touching the tallow-like one with the smile
lying so deeply into it. "Mama! My God! darling, wake up! I'll take you
back. I'll find a way to take you. I'm a bad girl, darling, but I'll find a
way to take you. I'll take you if--if I kill for it! I promise before God
I'll take you. To-morrow--now--nobody can keep me from taking you. The
wreaths, mama! Get ready the wreaths! Mama darling, wake up! Get ready the
wreaths! The wreaths!" Shaking at that quiet form, sobs that were full of
voice tearing raw from her throat, she fell to kissing the sunken face,
enclosing it, stroking it, holding her streaming gaze closely and burningly
against the closed lids. "Mama, I swear to God I'll take you! Answer me,
mama! The bank-book--you've got it! Why don't you wake up, mama? Help!"

Upon that scene, the quiet of the room so raucously lacerated, burst Mr.
Haas, too breathless for voice.

"Mr. Haas--my mother! Help--my mother! It's a faint, ain't it? A faint?"

He was beside her at two bounds, feeling of the limp wrists, laying his ear
to the grenadine bosom, lifting the reluctant lids, touching the flesh that
yielded so to touch.

"It's a faint, ain't it, Mr. Haas? Tell her I'll take her back. Wake her
up, Mr. Haas! Tell her I'm a bad girl, but I--I'm going to take her back.
Now! Tell her! Tell her, Mr. Haas, I've got the bank-book. Please! Please!
O my God!"

He turned to her, his face working to keep down compassion.

"We must get a doctor, little lady."

She threw out an arm.

"No! No! I see! My old mother--my old mother--all her life a nobody--She
helped--she gave it to them--my mother--a poor little widow nobody--She
bought with her blood that freedom--she--"

"God! I just heard it down-stairs--it's the tenth wonder of the world. It's
too big to take in. I was afraid--"

"Mama darling, I tell you, wake up! I'm a bad girl, but I'll take you back.
Tell her, Mr. Haas, I'll take her back. Wake up, darling! I swear to God
I'll take you!"

"Mrs. Coblenz, my--poor little lady, your mother don't need you to take
her back. She's gone back where--where she wants to be. Look at her face,
little lady. Can't you see she's gone back?"

"No! No! Let me go. Let me touch her. No! No! Mama darling!"

"Why, there wasn't a way, little lady, you could have fixed it for that
poor--old body. She's beyond any of the poor fixings we could do for her.
You never saw her face like that before. Look!"

"The wreaths--the wreaths!"

He picked up the raffia circle, placing it back again against the quiet

"Poor little lady!" he said. "Shila--that's left for us to do. You and me,
Shila--we'll take the wreaths back for her."

"My darling--my darling mother! I'll take them back for you! I'll take them
back for you!"

"_We'll_ take them back for her--Shila."


"_We'll_ take them back for her--Shila."

"_We'll_ take them back for you, mama. We'll take them back for you,



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