O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1921
Part 5 out of 8
skipping over to the trapeze, seized the two iron rings that hung from
ropes. Lifting her own weight by the strength in her slender wrists,
she flung her legs upward and hooked her knees into the rings. Then
hanging head downward she swung back and forth; flung herself upright
again, sat and swung; climbed to the topmost bar of the trapeze and
hung down again. Her partner ran on and repeated her monkeylike
manoeuvres. Then Florette held his hands while he swung upside down,
he held Florette while she swung upside down. They turned head over
heels, over and over each other, up and down, catching and slipping,
and adjusting their balance, in time to gay tunes.
Sometimes the audience clapped. Sometimes they were too familiar with
their kind of flirtation with death to clap. Then Florette and her
partner would invent something a little more daring. They would learn
to balance themselves on chairs tilted on two legs on the trapeze, or
Florette would hang by only one hand, or she would support her partner
by a strap held in her teeth. Sometimes Florette's risks were great
enough to thrill the audience with the thought of death.
The thought of a slip, broken bones, delighted the safe people in
comfortable chairs. They laughed. Florette laughed, too, for Freddy
was waiting in the wings.
There were mothers in the audience who cooked and mended, swept and
dusted, ran up and down innumerable stairs, washed greasy dishes, wore
ugly house dresses, slaved and scolded and got chapped hands, all for
their children. Florette, always dainty and pretty, had nothing to do
but airily, gracefully swing, and smile. Other mothers spent their
lives for their little boys. Florette only risked hers twice a day.
While the partner played an accordion Florette ran out for her quick
change. Freddy was waiting, with her dress hung over a chair. He flew
to meet her. His eager, nimble fingers unfastened the blue frock. He
slipped the next costume over her head without mussing a single
beloved blonde hair. The second costume was a tight-fitting silver
bodice with a fluff of green skirt underneath. Freddy had it fastened
up in a twinkling. Florette ran out again and pulled herself up into
While Florette went through the second part of her act Freddy folded
up the blue costume and trudged upstairs with it. Florette's dressing
room was usually up four flights. Freddy put the blue dress on a coat
hanger and wrapped a muslin cover about it. Then he trudged down the
four flights again, with the third costume over his arm. It was a
Chinese jacket and a pair of tight, short blue satin trousers, and
Freddy was very proud of this confection. He stood as a screen for
Florette while she put on the trousers, and there are not many little
boys who have a mamma who could look so pretty in them.
Florette skipped out lightly and finished her act by swinging far out
over the audience, back and forth, faster and faster, farther and
farther out, until it seemed as if she were going to fling herself
into the lap of some middle-aged gentleman in the third row. His wife
invariably murmured something about a hussy as Florette's pretty bare
legs flashed overhead. The music played louder, ended with a boom from
the drum. Florette flung herself upright, kissed her hands, the
curtain fell, and the barelegged hussy ran up to the dressing room
where her little son waited.
Freddy had already hung up and shrouded the silver-and-green costume,
and was waiting for the Chinese one. He pounced upon it, muttered
about some wrinkles, put it into place, and went to the dressing table
to hand Florette the cold cream. He found her make-up towel, all caked
with red and blue, which she had flung down on the floor. He patted
her highly glittering hair and adjusted a pin. He marshalled the jars
and little pans and sticks of grease paint on her shelf into an
orderly row and blew off the deep layers of powder she had scattered.
Then he took down her street dress from its hook and slipped it deftly
over her shoulders and had it buttoned up before Florette could yawn.
He handed her her saucy bright hat. He flung himself into his own
"Well, le's go, Florette!" cried Freddy gayly, with dancing eyes. He
had never called her mamma. She was too little and cute.
Then they would go to the hotel, never the best, where they were
stopping. The room with its greenish light, its soiled lace curtains,
the water pitcher always cracked, the bed always lumpy, the sheets
always damp, was home to Freddy. Florette made it warm and cozy even
when there was no heat in the radiator. She had all sorts of clever
home-making tricks. She toasted marshmallows over the gas jet; she
spread a shawl on the trunk; or she surprised Freddy by pinning
pictures out of the funny page on the wall. She could make the nicest
tea on a little alcohol stove she carried in her trunk. There was
always a little feast after the theatre on the table that invariably
wabbled. Freddy would pretend that the foot of the iron bed was a
trapeze. How they laughed. On freezing nights in Maine or Minnesota,
Florette would let Freddy warm his feet against hers, or she would get
up and spread her coat that looked just like fur over the bed.
When they struck a new town at the beginning of each week Freddy and
Florette would go bumming and see all the sights, whether it was
Niagara Falls or just the new Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids. Freddy
would have been sorry for little boys who had to stay in one home all
the time--that is, if he had known anything at all about them. But the
life of the strolling player was all that he had ever known, and he
found it delightful, except for the dreaded intervals of "bookin' the
The dream of every vaudevillian is to be booked for fifty-two unbroken
weeks in the year, but few attain such popularity. Florette's seasons
were sometimes long, sometimes short; but there always came the
tedious worrying intervals when managers and agents must be besought
for work. Perhaps she would find that people were tired of her old
tricks, and she would have to rehearse new ones, or interpolate new
songs and gags. Then the new act would be tried out at some obscure
vaudeville house, and if it didn't go the rehearsals and trampings to
agents must begin all over again. Freddy shared the anxieties and
hardships of these times. But the only hardship he really minded was
the loss of Florette, for of course the pretty Miss Le Fay, who was
only nineteen on the agents' books, could not appear on Broadway with
a great big boy like Freddy.
However, the bad times always ended, and Florette and Freddy would set
out gayly once more for Oshkosh or Atlanta, Dallas or Des Moines.
Meals expanded, Florette bought a rhinestone-covered comb, and the two
adventurers indulged in an orgy of chocolate drops. With the optimism
of the actor, they forgot all about the dismal past weeks, and saw the
new tour as never ending.
Freddy felt himself once more a real and important human being with a
place in the sun, not just a child to be shushed by a dingy landlady
while his mother was out looking for a job. He knew that he was as
necessary a part of Florette's act as her make-up box. He believed
himself to be as necessary a part of her life as the heart in her
breast, for Florette lavished all her beauty, all her sweetness on
him. No Johns for Florette, pretty and blonde though she was. To the
contempt of her contemporaries Florette refused every chance for a
free meal. Freddy was her sweetheart, her man. She had showered so
many pretty love words on him, she had assured him so often that he
was all in the world she wanted, that Freddy was stunned one day to
hear that he was to have a papa.
"I don' wan' one," said Freddy flatly. "I ain't never had one, an' I
ain't got no use for one."
Florette looked cross--an unusual thing.
"Aw, now, Freddy, don't be a grouch," she said.
"I don' wan' one," repeated Freddy.
"You ought to be glad to get a papa!" cried Florette.
"Makes you respectable."
"Who'd believe I was a widow--in this profession?"
Freddy still looked blank.
"Well," said Florette, "you're goin' to get a nice papa, so there
Then the cruel truth dawned on Freddy. It was Florette who wanted a
papa. He had not been enough for her. In some way Florette had found
Tactfully, Freddy dropped the subject of papas, wooed Florette, and
tried to atone for his shortcomings. He redoubled his compliments,
trotted out all the love words he knew, coaxed Florette with
everything she liked best in him. He even offered to have his nails
filed. At night, in bed, he kissed Florette's bare back between the
shoulder blades, and snuggled close to her, hugging her desperately
with his little thin arms.
"Flo," he quavered, "you--you ain't lonesome no more, are you?"
"Me? Lonesome? Whatcher talkin' about, kid?" sleepily murmured
"You ain't never lonesome when you got me around, are you, Flo?"
"Sure I ain't. Go to sleep, honey."
Florette was dozing.
"Oh, Florette! Florette!"
"Florette, if you ain't lonesome----"
"Sh-h-h, now, sh-h-h! Le's go to sleep."
"But, Florette, you don' wan'--you don' wan'--a pop----"
"Sh-h-h! Sh-h-h! I'm so tired, honey."
Florette slept. Freddy lay awake, but he lay still so as not to
disturb her. His arms ached, but he dared not let her go. Finally he
slept, and dreamed of a world in which there was no Florette. He
shuddered and kicked his mother. She gave him a little impatient
shove. He woke. Day was dawning. It was Florette's wedding day. Freddy
did not know it until Florette put on her best coral-velvet hat with
the jet things dangling over her ears.
"You ain' gonna wear that hat," said Freddy severely. "It's rainin'."
"Yeah, I'm gonna wear this hat," said Florette, pulling her blonde
earbobs into greater prominence. "An' you put on your best suit an'
new necktie. We're goin' to a weddin'."
Her tone was gay, arch, her eyes were happy.
"Who--whose?" Freddy faltered.
"Mine!" chirped Florette. "I'm goin' to get you that papa I promised
Freddy turned away.
"Sulkin'!" chided Florette. "Naughty, jealous boy!"
The new papa did not appear so formidable as Freddy had expected. In
fact, he turned out to be only Howard, Florette's acrobatic partner.
Freddy philosophically reflected that if one must have a new papa, far
better so to call Howard, who necessarily encroached on Florette's
time, than a stranger who might take up some of her leisure hours.
But Freddy received a distinct shock when the new papa joined them
after the evening performance and accompanied them up to their room.
Freddy had always regarded Florette's room as his, too. He felt that
the new papa was an intruder in their home. Alas! It soon became all
too apparent that it was Freddy who was _de trop_, or, as he would
have expressed it, a Mister Buttinski.
They were having a little supper of pickles and cheese and liver
sausage and jam. Florette and the papa drank out of a bottle by turns
and laughed a great deal. Florette seemed to think the papa very
clever and funny. She laughed at everything he said. She looked at him
with shining eyes. She squeezed his hand under the table. Freddy tried
in vain to attract her attention. Finally he gave up and sat staring
at the oblivious couple with a stupid expression.
"That kid's half asleep," said the new papa.
Florette looked at Freddy and was annoyed by his vacant eyes.
"Go to bed right away," she commanded.
Freddy looked at her in amazement.
"Ain't you goin', too, Florette?" he asked.
"No, you go on--go to sleep."
"Git into that nice li'l cot an' go by-by," said the new papa
Freddy had not seen the cot before. It had been moved in during his
absence at the theatre, and stood white, narrow, and lonely, partly
concealed by a screen.
"I--I always slep' with Florette," faltered Freddy.
This seemed to amuse the new papa. But Florette flushed and looked
"Now, Freddy, are you goin' to be a grouch?" she wailed.
Freddy was kissed good-night, and went to sleep in the cot. He found
it cold and unfriendly. But habit, the much maligned, is kind as well
as cruel; if it can accustom us to evil, so can it soften pain. Freddy
was beginning to assume proprietary airs toward the cot, which
appeared in every town, and even to express views as to the relative
values of cots in Springfield, Akron, or Joliet--when one night he
woke to hear Florette sobbing.
Freddy lay awake listening. He had sobbed, too, when he was first
banished to the cot. Was Florette missing him as he had missed her?
Ah, if she at last had seen that papas were not half so nice as
Freddy's, he would not be hard on her. His heart swelled with
forgiveness and love. He stole on tiptoe to Florette's bedside.
"Flo," he whispered.
The sobbing ceased. Florette held her breath and pretended to be
asleep. Freddy wriggled his little thin body under the covers and
threw his arms around Florette. With a gulp, she turned and threw her
arms around him. They clasped each other tight and clung without
speaking. They lay on the edge of the bed, holding their breath in
order not to wake the papa who snored loudly. Freddy's cheeks and hair
were wet, a cold tear trickled down his neck, his body ached from the
hard edge of the bed; but he was happy, as only a child or a lover can
be, and Freddy was both.
In the morning the papa was cross. He did not seem to care for his own
breakfast, but concentrated his attention on Freddy's. Freddy had
always been accustomed to a nice breakfast of tea and toast and jam,
but Howard insisted on ordering oatmeal for him.
"Naw, Freddy can't stand oatmeal," Florette objected.
"It's good for him," said Howard, staring severely at his son across
the white-topped restaurant table.
"I don' see no use forcin' a person to eat what they can't stomach,"
"Yeah, tha's the way you've always spoiled that kid. Look a' them pale
cheeks! Li'l ole pale face!" Howard taunted, stretching a teasing hand
toward Freddy. "Mamma's boy! Reg'lar sissy, he is!"
He gave Freddy a poke in the ribs. Freddy shrank back, made himself as
small as possible in his chair, looked mutely at Florette.
"Aw, cut it out, Howard," she begged. "Quit raggin' the kid, can't
"Mamma's blessed sugar lump!" jeered Howard, with an ugly gleam in his
eye. "Ought to wear a bib with pink ribbons, so he ought. Gimme a
nursin' bottle for the baby, waiter!"
The impertinence of this person amazed Freddy. He could only look at
his tormentor speechlessly. Freddy and Florette had been such great
chums that she had never used the maternal prerogative of rudeness. He
had never had any home life, so he was unaware of the coolness with
which members of a family can insult one another. Howard's tones,
never low, were unusually loud this morning, and people turned around
to laugh at the blushing child. The greasy waiter grinned and set the
oatmeal which Howard had ordered before Freddy.
"Now, then, young man," commanded Howard sternly, "you eat that, and
you eat it quick!"
Freddy obeyed literally, swallowing as fast as he could, with painful
gasps and gulps, fighting to keep the tears back. Florette reached
under the table and silently squeezed his knee. He flashed her a smile
and swallowed a huge slimy mouthful.
"You ain't eatin' nothin' yourse'f, Howard," said Florette acidly.
"W'y don' you have some oatmeal?"
"Tha's right!" shouted Howard. "Side with the kid against me! Tha's
all the thanks I get for tryin' to make a man out o' the li'l sissy.
Oughta known better'n to marry a woman with a spoiled brat."
"Sh-h-h!" whispered Florette. "Don't tell the whole resterunt about
your fam'ly troubles."
"Say," hissed Howard, bending down toward her and thrusting out his
jaw, "lay off o' me, will yer?"
"Lay off yourse'f!" retorted Florette under her breath. "If you wanna
fight le's go back to the hotel where it's private."
"I don' min' tellin' the world I bin stung!" roared Howard.
Florette flushed up to the slightly darker roots of her too-blonde
"You?" she gasped furiously. "After all I've put up with!"
"Say, you ain't got any kick comin'! I treated you white, marryin'
you, an' no questions asked."
"What-ta you mean?" breathed Florette, growing deathly pale.
Freddy, alarmed, half rose from his chair.
"Sit down there you!" roared Howard. "What-ta I mean, Miss Innocence?"
he said, mimicking Florette's tone. "Oh, no, of course you ain't no
idea of what I mean!"
"Come on, Freddy," Florette broke in quickly. "It's a katzenjammer. He
ain't got over last night yet."
She seized Freddy's hand and walked rapidly toward the door. Howard
lurched after her, followed by the interested stares of the
spectators. On the street he caught up with her and the quarrel
The act went badly that afternoon. It must be hard to frolic in midair
with a heavy heart. Under cover of the gay music there were angry
muttered words and reproaches.
"Yoo-hoo! Yoo-hoo!" Florette would trill happily to the audience as
she poised on one toe. "What-ta you tryin' to do--shake me off'n the
bar?" she would mutter under her breath to her partner.
"That's right! Leggo o' me an' lemme bus' my bean, damn you!" snarled
Howard. And to the audience he sang, "Oh, ain't it great to have a
little girlie you can trust for--life!"
They were still muttering angrily as they came off. The handclapping
had been faint.
"Aw, for God's sake, stop your jawin'!" half screamed Florette. "It
ain't no more my fault than it is yours. If they don' like us they
don' like us, tha's all."
She ran up the stairs, sobbing. Howard followed her. They shared a
dressing room now. It was small, and Freddy was in the way, although
he tried to squeeze himself into the corner by the dingy stationary
washstand. Howard shoved Freddy. Florette protested. The quarrelling
broke out afresh. Howard tipped over a bottle of liquid white.
Florette screamed at him, and he raised his fist. Freddy darted out of
"Say, ya big stiff, cut out that rough stuff, see?" cried little
Freddy in the only language of chivalry that he knew.
Howard whirled upon him furiously, calling him a name that Freddy did
not understand, but Florette flung herself between them and caught the
* * * * *
"He certainly looks as if he had fallen asleep," Miss Nellie Blair
repeated. "Better run out and get him, Mary. He might tumble off the
As Mary went out a maid came in.
"A gen'l'mun to see you, Miss Blair," she announced.
"Is it a parent?" asked Miss Nellie.
The maid's eyebrows twitched, and she looked faintly grieved, as all
good servants do when they are forced to consider someone whom they
cannot acknowledge as their superior.
"No, ma'am, he doesn't look like a parent," she complained.
"He really is a very queer-lookin' sort of person, ma'am. I wouldn't
know exactly where to place him. Shall I say you are out, ma'am?"
"Yes," said Miss Eva. "No doubt he wants to sell an encyclopedia."
"No, let him come in," said Miss Nellie. "It might be a reporter about
Madame d'Avala," she added, turning to her sister. "Sometimes they
"If it turns out to be an encyclopedia I shall leave you at once,"
said Miss Eva. "You are so kind-hearted that you will look through
twenty-four volumes, and miss your dinner----"
But the gentleman who came in carried no books, nor did he look like
one who had ever been associated with them. Carefully dressed in the
very worst of taste from his scarfpin to his boots, he had evidently
just been too carefully shaved, for there were scratches on his wide,
ludicrous face, and his smile was as rueful as a clown's.
"The Misses Blair, I presume?" he asked in what was unmistakably his
society manner, and he held out a card.
Miss Eva took it and read aloud, "Mr. Bert Brannigan, Brannigan and
Bowers, Black-Face Comedians."
"Ah?" murmured Miss Nellie, who was always polite even in the most
But Miss Eva could only stare at the rich brown suit, the lavender tie
and matching socks and handkerchief.
"Well?" said Miss Eva.
Mr. Brannigan cleared his throat and looked cautiously about the room.
His heavy, clownlike face was troubled.
"Where's the kid?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.
"What child?" Miss Eva snapped.
"You've come to see one of our pupils?" Miss Nellie faltered.
"W'y, Miss Le Fay's li'l boy."
"Sure! Does he--he don't--you ain't tole 'im yet, have you?"
"Told him what?"
"My God! don't you know?"
Bert Brannigan stared at the ladies, mopping his brow with the
"Please explain yourself, Mr. Brannigan," said Miss Eva.
"She's dead. I thought you knew."
"Miss Le Fay is dead?" gasped Miss Nellie.
"Why weren't we told?" asked Miss Eva.
"It was in the papers," said Bert. "But they didn't give Florette no
front-page headlines, an' maybe you don't read the theatrical news."
"No," said Miss Eva.
"Well, not bein' in the profession," Mr. Brannigan said as if he were
apologizing for her.
He sat down and continued to mop his brow mechanically. The two
sisters stared in dismay at the clown who had brought bad news.
"W'at I don' know is how to tell the kid," said Bert. "He was nutty
about Florette; didn't give a darn for no one else. I bin on the bill
with them two lots of times, an' I seen how it was. The money ain't
goin' to be no comfort to that kid!"
"Florette's insurance--made out to him. Tha's w'y I come. She wan'ed
him to stay on here, see, till he was all educated. They's enough,
too. She was always insured heavy for the kid. They's some back money
comin' to you, too. She tole me. The reason w'y she didn't sen' it on
was because she was out of luck an' broke, see?"
"But why didn't Miss Le Fay write to us?" asked Miss Nellie. "If she
was in difficulties we----"
"Naw, Florette wasn' that kind; nev' put up any hard-luck story y'
un'erstan'. But she'd bin outa work, sick. An' w'en she come back it
looked like her ac' was a frost. I run up on her in K.C., an'----"
"What is K.C.?"
"Why, Kansas City! We was on the bill there two weeks ago. Me an'
Florette was ole friends, see? No foolishness, if you know what I
mean. I'm a married man myse'f--Bowers there on the card's my
wife--but me an' Florette met about five years ago, an' kep' on
runnin' on to one another on the bill, first one place an' then
another. So she was glad to see me again, an' me her. 'W'y, w'ere's
Freddy?' I says, first thing. An' then I never seen any person's face
look so sad. But she begun tellin' me right off w'at a fine place the
kid was at, an' how the theayter wasn't no place for a chile. An' she
says, 'Bert, I wan' him to stay w'ere he's happy an' safe,' she says.
'Even if I nev' see him again,' she says. Well, it give me the shivers
then. Psychic, I guess."
Bert paused, staring into space.
"And then?" Miss Nellie asked gently.
"Well, like I was tellin' you, Florette had been playin' in hard luck.
Now I don' know whether you ladies know anything about the vodvil
game. Some ac's is booked out through the circuit from N' Yawk; others
is booked up by some li'l fly-by-night agent, gettin' a date here an'
a date there, terrible jumps between stands, see?--and nev' knowin'
one week where you're goin' the nex', or whether at all. Well,
Florette was gettin' her bookin' that way. An' on that you gotta make
good with each house you play, get me? An' somethin' had went wrong
with the ac' since I seen it las'. It useter be A Number I, y'
un'erstan', but looked like Florette had lost int'rust or somethin'.
She didn't put no pep into it, if you know what I mean. An' vodvil's
gotta be all pep. Then, too, her an' that partner of hers jawin' all
the time somethin' fierce. I could hear him raggin' her that af'noon,
an' me standin' in the wings, an' they slipped up on some of their
tricks terrible, an' the audience laughed. But not with 'em, at 'em,
y' un'erstan'! Well, so the ac' was a fros', an' they was cancelled."
"Fired, I guess you'd call it. They was to play again that night an'
then move on, see?"
"An' they didn't have no bookin' ahead. Florette come an' talked to me
again, an' she says again she wanted Freddy to be happy, an' git a
better start'n she'd had an' all. 'An,' Bert,' she says, 'if anything
ev' happens to me, you go an' give 'um the money for Freddy,' she
"Poor thing! Perhaps she had a premonition of her death," murmured
Bert gave her a queer look.
"Yeah--yes, ma'am, p'raps so. I was watchin' her from the wings that
night," he went on. "The ac' was almos' over, an' I couldn't see
nothin' wrong. Howard had run off an' Florette was standin' up on the
trapeze kissin' her ban's like she always done at the finish. But all
of a sudden she sort of trem'led an' turned ha'f way roun' like she
couldn't make up her min' what to do, an' los' her balance, an' caught
holt of a rope--an' let go--an' fell."
Miss Nellie covered her face with her hands. Miss Eva turned away to
"She was dead w'en I got to her," said Bert.
"Be careful!" said Miss Eva sharply. "The child is coming in."
"Freddy wasn't asleep at all," said Mary, opening the door. "He was
just playing a game, but he won't tell me----Oh, I beg your pardon! I
didn't know any one was here."
Freddy had stopped round-eyed, open-mouthed with incredulous delight.
"Bert!" he gasped. "The son of a gun!"
"Freddy!" cried the Misses Blair.
But Bert held out his arms and Freddy ran into them.
"Gee, Bert, I'm glad to see ya!" rejoiced Freddy.
"Me, too, kid, glad to see you! How's the boy, huh? Gettin' educated,
huh? Swell school, ain't it?" babbled Bert, fighting for time.
"Aw, it's all right, I guess," Freddy replied listlessly, glancing at
the Misses Blair. Then turning again with eager interest to Bert, "But
say, Bert, what in the hell a----I mean what-ta you doin' here?"
"Why--ah--ah--jus' stoppin' by to say howdy, see, an'----"
Freddy drew his breath in quickly.
"Say, Bert, you--you ain't seen Florette anywheres?"
"Where is she, Bert?"
There was a deathly hush.
Then Miss Eva motioned to Miss Nellie and said, "If you will excuse
us, Mr. Brannigan, we have some arrangements to make about the concert
to-night. Madame d'Avala is to sing in the school auditorium, a
benefit performance," and she went out, followed by her sister and
"Where's Florette?" Freddy asked again, his voice trembling with
"I--seen her in K.C., sonny."
"How's the ac'?"
"Fine! Fine! Great!"
"Why, what made you think any different?"
"Who hooks her up now, Bert?"
"She hires the dresser at the theatre."
"I could 'a' kep' on doin' it," said Freddy, with a sigh.
"Aw, now, kid, it's better for you here, gettin' educated an' all."
"I don't like it, Bert."
"You don't like it?"
"You don't like it! After all she done!"
"I hate this ole school. I wanna leave. You tell Florette."
"Aw, now, Freddy----"
"I'm lonesome. I don't like nobody here." His voice dropped. "An'--an'
they don't like me."
"Aw, now, Freddy----"
"Maybe Miss Mary does. But Miss Eva don't. Anyway, I ain't no use to
anybody here. What's the sense of stayin' where you ain't no use? An'
they're always callin' me down. I don't do nothin' right. I can't even
talk so's they'll like it. Florette liked the way I talked all right.
An' you get what I mean, don't you, Bert? But they don't know nothin'.
Why, they don't know nothin', Bert! Why, there's one boy ain't ever
been inside a theatre! What-ta you know about that, Bert? Gee, Bert,
I'm awful glad you come! I'd 'a' bust not havin' somebody to talk to."
Bert was silent. He still held Freddy in his arms. His heart reeled at
the thought of what he must tell the child. He cleared his throat,
opened his mouth to speak, but the words would not come.
Freddy chattered on, loosing the flood gates of his accumulated
loneliness. He told how Florette had bidden him "learn to be a li'l
gem'mum," and how he really tried; but how silly were the rules that
governed a gentlemanly existence; how the other li'l gem'mum laughed
at him, and talked of things he had never heard of, and never heard of
the things he talked of, until at last he had ceased trying to be one
"You tell Florette I gotta leave this place," he concluded firmly.
"Bert, now you tell Florette. Will you, Bert? Huh?"
"Freddy--I----Freddy, lissen now. I got somethin' to tell you."
"I--I come on to tell you, Freddy. Tha's why I come out to tell you,
"Well, spit it out," Freddy laughed.
"Whassa matter, Bert? What's eatin' you?"
"I--I----Say, Freddy, lissen--lissen, now, Freddy. I----"
"Florette! She ain't sick? Bert, is Florette sick?"
"No! No, I----"
"You tell me, Bert! If it's bad news about Florette----"
His voice died out. His face grew white. Bert could not meet his eyes.
"No, no, now, Freddy," Bert mumbled, turning away his head. "You got
me all wrong. It--it's good news, sonny."
Like a flash Freddy's face cleared.
"What about, Bert? Good news about what?"
"Why--ah--why, the ac's goin' big, like I tole you. An'--an' say, boy,
out at one place--out at K.C., it--why, it stopped the show!"
"Stopped the show!" breathed Freddy in awe. "Oh, Bert, we never done
"An' so--so she--ah, Florette--y'see, kid, account of the ac' goin' so
big, why, she--has to--go away--for a little while."
"Go away, Bert! Where?"
"To Englund, an'--Australia?"
"Yeah, they booked her up 'count o' the ac' goin' so great."
"Yeah. An' lissen. She's booked for fifty-two weeks solid!"
"Fifty-two weeks! Oh, Bert, that ain't never happened to us before!"
"I know. It's--great!"
Bert blew out his breath loudly, mopped his forehead. He could look at
Freddy now, and he saw a face all aglow with love and pride.
"When she comin' to get me, Bert?" the child asked confidently.
Bert could only flounder and look dismayed.
"She ain't goin' off an' leave me!" wailed the child.
"Now, lissen! Say, wait a minute! Lissen!"
"But, Bert! Bert! She--"
"Say, don't you wanna help Florette, now she's got this gran' bookin'
"Sure I do, Bert. I wanna he'p her with her quick changes like I
"You he'p her! Say, how would that look in all them swell places she's
goin' to? W'y, she'll have a maid!"
"Like the headliners, Bert?"
"A coon, Bert?"
"Sure! Like a li'l musical com'dy star."
"But, Bert, w'y can't I go, too?"
"Aw, now, say--w'y--w'y, you're too big!"
"What-ta y' mean, Bert?"
"W'y, kid, you talk's if you never bin in the p'fession. How ole does
Miss Le Fay look? Nineteen, tha's all. But with a great big boy like
you taggin' on--W'y, say, you'd queer her with them English managers
right off. You don' wanna do that now, Freddy?"
"No, but I--"
"I knew you'd take it sensible. You always bin a lot of help to
"Did she tell you, Bert?"
"A' right. I'll stay. When--when's she comin' to tell me goo'-by?"
"Why--why--look-a-here. Brace up, ole man. She had to leave a'ready."
"Say, you don' think bookin' like that can wait, do you? It was take
it or leave it--quick. You didn't wan' her to throw away a chancet
like that, huh, Freddy? Huh?"
Freddy's head sank on his chest. His hands fell limp. "A' right," he
murmured without looking up.
The big man bent over the child clumsily and tried to raise his
"Aw, now, Freddy," he coaxed, "wanna come out with me an'--an' have a
Freddy shook his head.
"Buy ya some candy, too. Choc'late drops! An' how about one o' them
li'l airyplane toys I seen in the window down the street? Huh? Or some
marbles? Huh? Freddy, le's go buy out this here dinky li'l ole town.
What-ta ya say, huh? Le's paint this li'l ole town red! What-ta ya
Freddy managed a feeble smile.
"How come you so flush, Brudder Johnsing?" he asked in what he
considered an imitation of darky talk. "Mus' 'a' bin rollin' dem
"Tha's a boy!" shouted Bert with a great guffaw. "There's a comeback
for you! Game! Tha's what I always liked about you, Freddy. You was
"I wanna be game!" said Freddy, stiffening his lips. "You tell
Florette. You write to her I was game. Will ya, Bert?"
A bell rang.
"Aw, I gotta go dress for supper, Bert. They dress up for supper
"A' right, kid. Then I'll be goin'----"
"Goo'-by, Bert. You tell her, Bert."
"So long, kid."
"Will ya tell her I was game, Bert?"
"Aw, she'll know!"
Madame Margarita d'Avala found herself in a situation all the more
annoying because it was so absurd. She had promised to sing at the
Misses Blair's School for the benefit of a popular charity, and she
had motored out from New York, leaving her maid to do some errands and
to follow by train. But it was eight o'clock and the great Madame
d'Avala found herself alone in the prim guest room of the Misses
Blair's School, with her bag and dressing case, to be sure, but with
no one to help her into the complicated draperies of her gown. There
was no bell. She could not very well run down the corridor, half nude,
shouting for help, especially as she had no idea of where the Misses
Blair kept either themselves or their servants. The Misses Blair had
been so fatiguingly polite on her arrival. Perhaps she had been a
little abrupt in refusing their many offers of service and saying that
she wanted to rest quite alone. Now, of course, they were afraid to
come near her. And, besides, they would think that her maid was with
her by this time. They had given orders to have Madame d'Avala's maid
shown up to her as soon as she arrived, and of course their maid would
be too stupid to know that Madame d'Avala's maid had never come.
Margarita d'Avala bit her lips and paced the floor, looked out of the
window, opened the door, but there was no one in sight. Well, no help
for it. She must try to get into the gown alone. She stepped into it
and became entangled in the lace; stepped out again, shook the dress
angrily and pushed it on over her head, giving a little impatient
scream as she rumpled her hair. Then she reached up and back,
straining her arms to push the top snap of the corsage into place. But
with the quiet glee of inanimate things the snap immediately snapped
out again. Flushing, Madame d'Avala repeated her performance, and the
snap repeated its. Madame d'Avala stamped both feet and gave a little
gasp of rage. She attacked the belt with no better luck. Chiffon and
lace became entangled in hooks, snaps flew out as fast as she could
push them in. Her arms ached, and the dress assumed strange humpy
outlines as she fastened it up all wrong.
She would like to rip the cursed thing from her shoulders and tear it
into a million pieces! She felt hysteria sweeping over her. She knew
that she was going to have one of her famous fits of temper in a
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" Madame d'Avala screamed aloud, stamping her feet up and
down as fast as they could go. "Oh! Oh! Oh! Damn! Damn! Damn!"
She did not swear in Italian, because she was not an Italian except by
profession. Her name had been Maggie Davis, but that was a secret
between herself and her press agent.
"Oh! Damn!" screamed Madame d'Avala again.
"Ain't it hell?" remarked an interested voice, and Madame d'Avala saw
a small pale face staring at her through the door which she had left
"Come in!" she ordered, and a small thin boy entered, quite unabashed,
looking at her with an air of complete understanding.
"Who are you?" asked Madame d'Avala.
"Well, Freddy, run at once and find a maid for me, please. Mine hasn't
come, and I'm frantic, simply frantic. Well, why don't you go?"
"I'll hook you up," said Freddy.
"Sure! I kin do it better'n any maid you'd get in this helluva
"Aw, I heard you sayin' damn! You're in the p'fession,
huh? Me, too."
His face clouded.
"Oh! And now--you have retired?"
"Yeah--learnin' to be a gem'mum. Lemme there," said Freddy, stepping
behind Madame d'Avala. "Say, you've got it all started wrong." He
attacked the stubborn hooks with light, deft fingers.
"Why, you can really do it!" cried Madame d'Avala.
"Sure! This ain't nothin'." Freddy's fingers flew.
"Careful of that drapery. It's tricky."
"Say, drapery's pie to me. I fastened up lots harder dresses than
"Sure! Florette had swell clo'es. This'n's swell, too. My! ain't it
great to see a classy gown again!"
Madame d'Avala laughed and Freddy joined her.
"Say, you seen the teachers at this school?" he asked. "You seen 'em?"
Madame d'Avala nodded.
"Nice ladies," said Freddy in an effort to be fair. "But no class--you
know what I mean. Way they slick their hair back, an' no paint or
powder. Gee, Florette wouldn't wear their clo'es to a dog fight!"
"Nor I," said Madame d'Avala; "I love dogs."
"I tole Miss Eva she ought to put peroxide in the rinsin' water for
her hair like Florette useter, but it made her mad. I b'lieve in a
woman fixin' herself up all she can, don't you?" asked Freddy
"Indeed, I do! But tell me, who is Florette?"
So Freddy told her all about his mother, and about the good fortune
that had come to her.
"Fifty-two weeks solid! Some ac' to get that kinda bookin, huh?" he
"Yes! Oh, yes, indeed!"
"There y'ah now! Look at youse'f! See if it's a'right."
Madame d'Avala turned to the mirror. Her gown fell in serene, lovely
folds. It seemed incredible that it was the little demon of a few
"Perfect! Freddy, you're a wonder. How can I thank you?"
"Tha's a'right. You're welcome."
He was regarding her with worshipful eyes.
"You're awful pretty," he breathed.
"Thank you," said Madame d'Avala. "Are you coming to my concert?"
"No, they put us to bed!" cried Freddy in disgust. "Puttin' me to bed
at 8:30 every night! What-ta y' know about that! Jus' w'en the
orchestra would be tunin' up for the evenin' p'formance."
"What a shame! I'd like to have you see my act."
"I bet it's great. You got the looks, too. Tha's what it takes in this
p'fession. Make a quick change?"
"No, I wear the same dress all through."
"Oh! Well," he sighed deeply--"well, it's been great to see you,
The great lady bent down to him and kissed his forehead.
"Good-bye, Freddy," she said. "You've helped me so much."
Freddy drew in a long breath.
"M-m," he sighed, "you know how I come to peek in your door like
"Because you heard me screaming 'damn'?"
"No, before that. Comin' all the way down the hall I could smell it.
Smelled so nice. Don't none of these ladies use perfume. I jus' knew
somebody I'd like was in here soon's I got that smell."
"Oh, Freddy, I like you, too! But I've got to hurry now. Good-bye. And
thanks so much, dear."
She started out the door.
"Oh, gee! I can't go to bed!" Freddy wailed.
"Come along, then!" cried Madame d'Avala, impetuously seizing his
hand. "I'll make them let you go to the concert. They must!"
They ran down the hall together hand in hand, Freddy directing the way
to the Misses Blair's study. Miss Eva and Miss Nellie and Mary were
there, and they looked at Freddy compassionately. And though Miss Eva
said it was most unusual, Miss Nellie agreed to Madame d'Avala's
"For," said gentle Miss Nellie, drawing Madame d'Avala aside and
lowering her voice--"for we are very sorry for Freddy now. His
"Oh, yes, she has gone to England."
"Why, no! She--is dead!"
"Oh, _mio povero bambino_! And how he adores her!"
"And what will he do then?"
"He can stay on here. But I am afraid he doesn't like us," Miss Nellie
"Has he no one else?"
"No--that is, a stepfather. But his mother put him here to save him
from the stepfather's abuse, and--and all the coarsening influences of
stage life, if you understand."
"Ah, yes, I understand," said Madame d'Avala. "And yet I think I
understand the little one, too. He and I--we have the same nature. We
cannot breathe in the too-high altitudes. For us there must be dancing
in the valley, laughter and roses, perfume and sunshine--always
"Oh--er--yes," replied Miss Nellie, taken aback by this effusiveness,
which she could only explain as being foreign.
"It's 8:30," said Miss Eva, looking at her watch.
"Ah, then I must fly," cried Madame d'Avala.
"Goo'-bye!" said Freddy wistfully.
"_Au revoir_," said Madame d'Avala, and electrified the Misses Blair
by adding, "See you after the show, kid."
"I am very lonely, too," said Margarita d'Avala after the
concert--"lonely and sad."
"You are?" Freddy cried in amazement. Then, practically, "What about?"
"It's about a man," confessed the lady.
"Aw, g'wan!" exclaimed Freddy incredulously. "Say," lowering his voice
confidentially, "lemme tell you something! They ain't a man on earth
worth crying for."
"How did you know?" asked Margarita.
"Flo--Florette used to say so." Then a cloud passed over his face.
"She used to say so," he added.
There was a moment's silence, while the lady watched him. Then
Freddy's mobile face cleared, his eyes shone with their old gay
"Say, I'm telln' you!" said Freddy, spreading his feet apart,
thrusting his hands in his pockets. "I ain't got no use for men
a-tall! An' you take my advice--don't bother over 'em!"
Margarita laughed. She laughed so hard that Freddy had joined her, and
without knowing how, he was by her side, holding on to her hand while
they both rocked with merriment. When they could laugh no more he
snuggled up to the shoulder that smelled so nice. His face became
babyish and wistful. He stroked the satin of the lovely gown with one
timid finger, while his blue eyes implored hers.
"Ladies an' children is nicest, ain't they?" he appealed.
Suddenly the great Margarita d'Avala caught him in her arms and drew
him to that warm, beautiful breast where no child's head had ever
"Oh, Freddy, Freddy!" she cried. "You are right, and I must have you!"
"You kin, s' long's Florette's away," said Freddy.
By SOPHIE KERR
From _Saturday Evening Post_
The big department store so terrified Wesley Dean that he got no
farther than five steps beyond the entrance. Crowds of well-dressed
ladies milling round like cattle, the noise of many feminine voices,
the excessive warmth and the heady odour of powder and perfume--the
toilet goods were grouped very near the door--all combined to bewilder
and frighten him. He got out before the floorwalker of the centre
aisle could so much as ask him what he wanted.
Once outside he stood in the spring wind and meditated. There must be
other stores in Baltimore, little ones, where a man could buy things
in quiet and decency. Until the four-o'clock motor stage started for
Frederick he had nothing to do.
He stuck his hands in his pockets and started down the crowded
crookedness of Lexington Street. He reached the market and strolled
through it leisurely, feeling very much at home with the meats and
vegetables and the good country look of many of the stall keepers. Its
size amazed him; but then he'd always heard that Baltimore was a big
city, and so many people must take a lot to eat. He went on, all the
way through, and after a little hesitation struck down a quiet street
to the right. But he saw no shops of the sort he was looking for, and
he had thoughts of going back and braving the big store again. He
turned again and again, pleased by the orderly rows of
red-brick-with-white-trim houses, homey-looking places in spite of
their smallness and close setting. At last, right in the middle of a
row of these, he saw a large window set in place of the two usual
smaller ones, a window filled with unmistakable feminine stuff, and
the sign, small, neatly gilt lettered: Miss Tolman's Ladies' Shop.
There wasn't a soul going in or out, so he braved it, and was happier
still when he found himself the sole customer. The opening of the door
made a bell tinkle in a back room.
A girl came through parted green wool curtains, a girl so
flaxen-haired, with such blue eyes--like a friendly kitten--that
Wesley Dean almost forgot the errand that had brought him so far.
As for the girl, she was surprised to see a man, and particularly a
young country man, among the gloves and stockings, cheap pink
underthings, and embroideries of Miss Tolman's shop.
"You got any--any aprons?" he stammered.
"White aprons or gingham?" The girl's smile helped Wesley a great
deal. A very nice girl, he decided; but she made him feel queer,
"I'm not sure, ma'am. When I come away from home this morning I asked
Aunt Dolcey did she need anything, and she said 'yes, a couple of
aprons,' but she didn't say what kind."
The girl thought it over. "I reckon maybe if she's your auntie she'd
want white aprons."
Her mistake gave him a chance for the conversation which he felt a
most surprising wish to make.
"No'm, she's not my auntie. She's the old coloured woman keeps house
Oh, she was a very nice girl; something about the way she held her
head made Wesley think of his spunky little riding mare, Teeny.
"H'm. Then I think you'd be safe to get a gingham; anyway, a gingham
apron comes in handy to anybody working round a kitchen. We got some
nice big ones."
"Aunt Dolcey's not so awful big; not any bigger'n you, but heavier
There is a distinct advance in friendly intimacy when one has one's
size considered in relation to a customer's needs, particularly when
the consideration shows how little a man knows about women's garments.
The girl reached beneath the counter and brought up an armful of
blue-and-white-checked aprons. She unfolded them deftly, and Wesley
saw that she had small strong hands and round wrists.
"These got bibs and nice long strings, cover you all up while you're
cooking. They're a dollar."
His gaze, intent on her rather than the aprons, brought her eyes to
"Good-looking, but country," was her swift appraisal, adding to it,
"And what a funny mark he's got on his forehead."
It was true. His young hawklike face, tanned brown by sun and wind,
was made strangely grim by a dark vein on his brow, which lent a
frowning shadow to his whole visage. Yet the eyes she had looked into
were shy and gentle and reassuringly full of open admiration.
"If you think she'll like 'em I'll take two," he said after an
"I'm sure she'll like 'em. They're good gingham and real well made. We
don't keep shoddy stuff. You could go into one of the big stores and
get aprons for fifty, sixty cents, but they wouldn't be good value."
The soft cadence of her voice gave Wesley a strange and stifled
feeling around the heart. He must--he must stay and talk to her.
Hardly knowing what he said, he burst into loquacity.
"I did go into one of the big stores, and it sort of scared
me--everything so stuffy and heaped up, and such a lot of people. I
don't get down to Baltimore very often, you see. I do most of my
buying right in Frederick, but I'd broke my disker, and if you send,
it's maybe weeks before the implement house will 'tend to you. So I
just come down and got the piece, so there won't be but one day lost."
The girl looked up at him again, and he could feel his heart pound
against his ribs. This time she was a little wistful.
"They say it's real pretty country out round Frederick. I've never
been out of Baltimore, 'cept to go down the bay on
excursions--Betterton and Love Point, and places like that. It makes a
grand sail in hot weather."
She handed him the package and picked up the two bills he had laid
down on the counter. There was plainly no reason for his further
lingering. But he had an artful idea.
"Look here--maybe I ought to get Aunt Dolcey a white apron, too. Maybe
she won't want the gingham ones at all."
The girl looked surprised at such extravagance.
"But if she doesn't you can bring 'em back when you come to Baltimore
again, and we'd exchange 'em," she argued mildly.
"No, I better get a white one now. She puts on a white apron
evenings," he added craftily.
A box of white aprons was lifted from the shelf and a choice made, but
even that transaction could not last forever, as Wesley Dean was
"Look here, are you Miss Tolman?" he burst out. "I saw the name
outside on the window."
"Mercy, no! Miss Tolman's a kind of cousin of mine. She's fifty-two,
and she can't hardly get through that door there."
He disregarded the description, for the second bundle was being tied
up fast. He had never seen any one tie so fast, he thought.
"My name's Wesley Dean, and I got a farm in the mountains back of
Frederick. Say--I don't want you to think I'm fresh, but--but--say,
would you go to the movies with me to-night?"
It had come to him in a flash that he could disregard the seat in the
four-o'clock bus and go back to-morrow morning. Sweat stood out on his
forehead and on his curving, clean-shaven upper lip. His boy's eyes
hung on hers, pleading. All the happiness of his life, he felt, waited
for this girl's answer, this little yellow-haired girl whom he had
never seen until a quarter of an hour before.
"We-ell," she hesitated, "I--I don't like to have you think I'd pick
up like this with any fellow that come along----"
"I don't think so!" he broke in fiercely. "If I thought so I'd
never've asked you."
There was a strange breathless moment in the tiny cluttered shop, a
moment such as some men and women are lucky enough to feel once in a
lifetime. It is the moment when the heart's wireless sends its clear
message, "This is my woman" and "This is my man." The flaxen-haired
girl and the dark boy were caught in the golden magic of it and, half
scared, half ecstatic, were thrown into confusion.
"I'll go," she whispered breathlessly. "There's a little park a block
down the street. I'll be there at seven o'clock, by the statue."
"I'll be there, waiting for you," he replied, and because he could not
bear the strange sweet pain that filled him he plunged out of the
shop, jerking the door so that the little bell squealed with surprise.
He had forgotten his packages.
Also, as he remembered presently, he did not know her name.
He was at the feet of the statue in the park by half-past six, and
spent a restless half hour there in the cool spring twilight. Perhaps
she would not come! Perhaps he had frightened her, even as he had
frightened himself, by this inexplicable boldness. Other girls passed
by, and some of them glanced with a coquettish challenge at the
handsome tall youth with his frowning brow. But he did not see them.
Presently--and it was just on the stroke of seven--he saw her coming,
hesitantly, and with an air of complete and proper primness. She had
on a plain little shabby suit and hat, but round her throat was a
string of beads of a blue to match her eyes, an enticing, naive
She carried the forgotten aprons, and handed them to him gravely.
"You left these," she said; and then, to regularize the situation, "My
name's Anita Smithers. I ought've told you this afternoon, but--I
guess I was kind of forgetful, too."
That made them both smile, and the smile left them less shy. He
stuffed the forgotten aprons into his overcoat pocket.
"I was so afraid you wouldn't come. Where can we go? I don't know
anything much about the city. I'd like to take you to a nice picture
show, the best there is."
She flushed with the glory of it.
"There's a real nice picture house only a little ways from here. They
got a Pauline Frederick film on. I'm just crazy about Pauline
By this time they were walking sedately out of the park, not daring to
look at each other. She watched him while he bought the tickets and
then a box of caramels from the candy stand inside.
"He knows what to do," she thought proudly. "He's not a bit of a
"D'you go to the pictures a lot?" he asked when they were seated.
"'Most every night. I'm just crazy about 'em."
"I expect you've got steady company, then?" The question fairly jerked
out of him.
She shook her head. "No, I almost always go by myself. My girl friend,
she goes with me sometimes."
He sighed with relief. "They got good picture shows in Frederick. I go
'most every Saturday night."
"But you don't live right in Frederick, you said."
He seized the chance to tell her about himself.
"Oh, my, no. I live back in the mountains. Say, I just wish you could
see my place. It's up high, and you can look out, ever so
far--everything kind of drops away below, and you can see the river
and the woods, and it takes different colours, 'cording to the season
and the weather. Some days when I'm ploughing or disking and I get up
on the ridge, it's so high up and far away seems like I'm on top the
whole world. It's lonesome--it's off the pike, you see--but I like it.
Here in the city everything crowds on you so close."
She had listened with the keenest interest.
"That's so. It must be grand to get off by yourself and have plenty
room. I get so tired of that squinched-in, narrow, stuffy shop; and
the place where I board is worse. I don't make enough to have a room
by myself. There's two other girls in with me, and seems like we're
always under-foot to each other. And there isn't any parlour, and we
got only one bureau for the three of us, and you can guess what a mess
that is. And the closet's about as big as a pocket handkerchief."
"Ain't you got any folks?"
The blue eyes held a sudden mist.
"Nobody but Miss Tolman, and she's only a distant cousin. Ma died two
years ago. She used to sew, but she wasn't strong, and we never could
"My folks are all gone, too."
How little and alone she was, but how much nearer to him her aloneness
brought her. He wanted to put his hand over hers and tell her that he
would take care of her, that she need never be alone again. But the
beginning of the film choked back the words. He poked the box of
caramels at her, and she took it, opened it with a murmured "Oh, my,
thank you!" Presently they both had sweetly bulging cheeks. Where
their elbows touched on the narrow chair arm made tingling thrills run
all over him. Once she gave him an unconscious nudge of excitement.
Out of the corner of his eye he studied her delicate side face as she
sat, with her lips parted, intent on the film.
"She's pretty--and she's good," thought Wesley Dean. "I expect she's
too good for me."
But that unwontedly humble thought did not alter it a hair's breadth
that she must be his. The Deans had their way always. The veins in his
wrists and the vein in his forehead beat with his hot purpose. He
shifted so that his arm did not touch hers, for he found the nearness
of her disturbing; he could not plan or think clearly while she was so
close. And he must think clearly.
When the last flicker of the feature was over and the comic and the
news had wrung their last laugh and gasp of interest from the crowd,
they joined the slow exit of the audience in silence. On the sidewalk,
however, she found her voice.
"It was an awful nice picture," she said softly. "'Most the nicest I
"Look here, let's go somewhere and have a hot choc'late, or some soda,
or ice cream," he broke in hurriedly. He could not let her go with so
much yet unsaid. "Or would you like an oyster stew in a reg'lar
restaurant? Yes, that'd be better. Come on; it isn't late."
"Well, after all those caramels, I shouldn't think an oyster stew----"
"You can have something else, then." The main thing was to get her at
a table opposite him, where they wouldn't have to hurry away. "Let's
go in there."
He pointed toward a small restaurant across the street where red
candlelights glimmered warmly through panelled lace.
"But that looks like such a stylish place," she protested, even as she
let him guide her toward it.
But it was not so stylish when they got inside, and the appearance of
the stout woman, evidently both proprietor and cashier, who presided
over the scene at a table on a low platform near the door reassured
them both. And the red candleshades were only crinkled paper; the lace
curtains showed many careful darns. A rebellious boy of fourteen, in a
white jacket and apron, evidently the proprietor's son, came to take
their order. After a good bit of urging Anita said that she would take
a ham sandwich and a cup of coffee.
Wesley ordered an oyster stew for himself, and coffee, and then
grandly added that they would both have vanilla and chocolate ice
"He looks as if he just hated being a waiter," said Anita, indicating
the departing boy servitor.
"Sh'd think he would," said Wesley. He put his arms on the table and
leaned toward her. "I was going home this afternoon till I saw you. I
stayed over just to see you again. I've got to go back in the morning,
for I've not got my spring work done; but--you're going with me."
The vein on his forehead heightened his look of desperate
determination. He was not so much a suitor as a commander.
"You haven't got any folks and neither have I, so that makes it easy.
I'll come for you in the morning, about eight o'clock, and we'll go
get a license and get married, and then we can get the ten-o'clock bus
out to Frederick. Oh, girl, I never saw any one like you! I--I'll be
good to you--I'll take care of you. It don't matter if I didn't ever
see you till this afternoon, I'd never find anybody else that I want
so much in a hundred thousand years. I've not got a lot of money, but
the farm's mine, all free and clear, and if my wheat turns out all
right I'll have a thousand dollars' cash outright come the end of the
year, even after the taxes are paid and everything. Won't you look at
me, Anita--won't you tell me something? Don't you like me?"
The girl had listened with her eyes cast down, her hands nervously
picking at the edge of the tablecloth. But he was not mistaken in her.
She had wherewith to meet him, and her gaze was honest, without
coquetry or evasion.
"Oh, I do like you!" she cried with quick colour. "I do! I do! I
always thought somebody like you'd come along some day, just like
this, and then--it just seemed foolish to expect it. But look here. I
told you a story, right off. My name's not Anita--it's Annie. I took
to pretending it's Anita because--it does seem sort of silly, but I
got to tell you--because I saw it in the movies, and it seemed sort of
cute and different, and Annie's such a plain, common name. But I
couldn't let you go on talking like that and calling me by it, now
The mutinous young waiter brought their food and thumped it
truculently down before them.
"Look out!" said Dean with sudden violent harshness, the vein in his
forehead darkening ominously. "What do you think you're doing, feeding
The boy drew back in confusion, and Annie exclaimed: "Oh, he didn't
mean it anything against us--he's just mad because he has to be a
"Well, he'd better be careful; kids can be too smart Aleck."
The little gust had deflected them away from their own affairs. But
Annie brought them back. She leaned toward him.
"You make me kind of afraid of you. If you ever spoke to me like that
it'd just about kill me."
He was contrite. "Why, I couldn't ever speak to you like that, honey;
it just made me mad the way he banged things down in front of you. I
don't want people to treat you like that."
"And you look so fierce, too--scowling so all the time."
He put up a brown finger and touched his savage vein.
"Now, now--you mustn't mind my look. All the Dean men are marked like
that; it's in the blood. It don't mean a thing." He smiled winningly.
"I reckon if you're beginning to scold me you're going to marry me,
Something very sweet and womanly leaped in Annie's blue eyes.
"I--I reckon I am," she said, and then confessed herself a brave
adventurer and philosopher in one. "Yes, I'd be a fool to sit round
and make excuses and pretend it wouldn't do to be so out of the
ordinary when here you are and here I am, and it means--our whole
lives. I don't care, either, if I didn't ever set eyes on you till
to-day--I know you're all right and that what you say's true. And I
feel as if I'd known you for years and years."
"That's the way I felt about you the minute I looked at you. Oh"--he
gave a vast and shaking sigh--"I can't hardly believe my luck. Eat up
your supper and let's get out of here. Maybe there's some stores open
yet and I could buy you a ring."
"And I have to be in my boarding house by half-past ten," offered
Annie, "or I'll be locked out. What the girls are going to say when I
come in and tell 'em----" She looked at him with intense and piteous
question--the question that every woman at the moment of surrender
asks sometimes with her lips, but always with her heart: "It is going
to be all right, isn't it? And you'll be good to me?"
"So help me God," said young Wesley Dean.
* * * * *
The farm lay high, as Wesley had said. Indeed, all the way from
Baltimore they had seemed to be going into the hills, those placidly
rounding friendly Maryland hills that rise so softly, so gradually
that the traveller is not conscious of ascent. The long straight road
dips across them gallantly, a silver band of travel to tie them to the
city, with little cities or towns pendent from it at wide intervals.
Trees edge it with a fringe of green; poor trees, maimed by the
trimmers' saws and shears into twisted caricatures of what a tree
should be, because the telegraph wires and telephone wires must pass,
and oaks and locusts, pines and maples, must be butchered of their
spreading branches to give them room.
It was along this highway that the motor bus, filled with passengers
and baggage and driven with considerably more haste than discretion,
carried the newly married pair. Annie's eyes grew wide at the wonder
and beauty of it. She was not at all afraid. She snuggled her hand
into Wes's and loved it--and loved him, too, with his look of pride
and joy in her. She was content to be silent and let him talk. Now and
then she looked at the little turquoise ring on her finger above the
shiny new wedding ring, and loved that, too, for he had chosen it at
once from the trayful offered them, blurting out that she must have it
because it matched her eyes.
"All this country out here's rich," he bragged, "but Fred'rick
County's far the richest land of all. Richest in the state. Maybe
richest in the whole United States, I dunno. And all the farms are
big. Great big farms--and great big teams to till 'em. People don't
use mules here s'much as they do over on the Eastern Shore. And
there's not any sand, like there is over there--in spots, that is."
"What's that man doing?" asked Annie alertly.
"Ploughin'. Say, didn't you ever see a man ploughin' before?" "Only in
the movies," said Annie, unabashed. "Do you ever plough?"
He laughed outright.
"Say, you're going to be some little farmer's wife. I can see that.
Yes'm, I plough a little now and then. It's like fancywork--awful
fascinating--and once you get started you don't want to stop till you
get a whole field done."
"Say, Annie, do you know a chicken when you see it walking round? Or a
turkey? Or a guinea keet? We got 'em all. Aunt Dolcey, she takes care
"I'd like to take care of 'em. I'll feed 'em, if she'll show me how."
"Aunt Dolcey'll show you. She'll be tickled to death to have somebody
feed 'em when she's got the mis'ry."
At Frederick they left the big motor bus and got into Wes's own
rackety flivver, the possession of which delighted Annie's heart.
"My land, I never thought I'd get married to a man that owned an
automobile," she confessed with flattering frankness in her voice.
"This ain't an automobile," said Wes. "It's a coffeepot, and an awful
mean one. Sometimes she won't boil, no matter what I do."
The coffeepot on this particular day chose to boil. They rattled
merrily out of Frederick and off into the higher hills beyond. It was
a little after noon when they reached the farm.
They had had to turn off the pike and take a winding wood road, rough
and muddy from the spring rains. All through the budding green of the
trees dogwood had hung out white bridal garlands for them, and there
were violets in all the little mossy hollows. At last they came
through to the clearing, where lay the farm, right on the ridge, its
fields smiling in the sun, a truce of Nature with man's energy and
persistence. Yet not a final truce. For all around, the woods crept up
to the open and thrust in tentative fingers--tiny pine trees, sprouts
and seedlings of hardwood, scraps of underbrush--all trying to gain a
foothold and even when cut and overturned by the sharp plough still
clinging tenaciously to their feeble rooting.
"It looks somehow," said Annie, vaguely understanding this, "as if the
trees and things were just waiting to climb over the walls."
"And that's what they are," said Wesley Dean. "The time I put in
grubbing! Well--let's go in and see Aunt Dolcey."
He had told her, coming out, that he was afraid she would find the
house sort of plain, but just the space of it delighted her. The rooms
were bare and square, whitewashed exquisitely, the furniture dark old
cherry and walnut of a style three generations past.
There were no blinds or curtains, and in the streaming sunlight Annie
could see that everything was clean and polished to the last flicker
of high light. Here and there were bits of colour--crimson and blue in
the rag carpet, golden brass candlesticks on the mantel, a red-beaded
mat on the table under the lamp, the lamp itself clear glass and
filled with red kerosene that happily repeated the tint of the mat. It
all pleased Annie, touching some hitherto untwanged chord of beauty in
her nature. And there was about it the unmistakable atmosphere of
"Old-fashioned but sort of swell, too," she decided. "Looks kind of
like some of the parlours of those old houses on Charles Street that I
used to rubber into in the evenings when the lights were lit and
they'd forgot to put the blinds down."
She liked the impassive almost Egyptian face of Aunt Dolcey, too. The
old coloured woman had received her with a serious regard but
"Mist' Wes, he stahtle me mighty frequen', but he nevah stahtle me
with no marryin' befo'," she said. "Honey, it'll be mighty nice to
have a pret' young gal in de house. I'll serve you de bes' I kin,
faithful an' stiddy, like I always serve him. Ef I'd 'a' known you was
a-comin' I'd sho' had somethin' fo' dinneh to-day besides greens an'
po'k, cracklin' pone an' apple dumplin's. That's nuffin' fo' a weddin'
But when they came to eat it, it was delicious--the greens delicately
seasoned, not greasy, the salt pork home-cured and sweet, the
cracklin' pone crumbling with richness, and the apple dumpling a
delight of spicy flavour.
They sat opposite each other, in as matter-of-fact fashion as if they
had been married for years. They were young and exceedingly hungry,
and hunger destroys self-consciousness.
The china was very old--white plates with a curving pattern of blue
leaves and yellow berries. The knives and forks were polished steel
with horn handles. The spoons were silver; old handmade rat-tail
spoons they were, with the mark of the smith's mallet still upon them
and the initials W.D. cut in uneven letters.
"Those were my great-granddad's," said Wesley. "Same name as mine. He
had 'em made out of silver money by a man down in Frederick. They must
be nearly a hundred years old. My great-granddad, he was the man that
bought this land and began to clear it. He wanted to be away off from
"Why?" asked Annie, interested in the story.
The vein on Wesley's forehead seemed to grow larger and darker as he
"Oh, he got into trouble--knocked a man down, and the fellow struck
his head on a stone and died. It didn't come to trial--it really was
an accident--but it didn't make granddad popular. Not that he cared.
He was a hard-headed, hard-fisted old son of a gun, if there ever was
one, according to the stories they tell about him."
"What were they fighting about?"
"Oh, I dunno--granddad was high-tempered, and this fellow was sort of
smart Aleck; give him some lip about something and dared him to touch
him. And quick's a wink granddad punched him. At least that's the way
I always heard it. Prob'ly they'd both been taking too much hard
cider. Bring me another dumplin', Aunt Dolcey, please."
As the old woman entered, bringing the dumpling, Annie fancied there
were both warning and sympathy in her eyes. Why, she couldn't imagine.
In a moment she forgot it, for Wesley was looking at her hard.
"It's funny," he said, "to think I only saw you yesterday, and that we
got married this morning. Seems as if you'd been here for years and
years. Does it seem awful strange to you, honey?"
"No," said Annie. "No, it doesn't. It is queer, but all the way here,
and when I come into the house, I had a sense of having been here
before sometime; kind of as if it was my home all along and I hadn't
known about it."
"So it was--and if I hadn't ever met you I'd been an old bach all my
"Yes, you would."
"Yes, I wouldn't."
They were both laughing now. He got up and stretched himself.
"Well, Mrs. Dean," he said, "I gotta go out and fix my disker, and you
gotta come along. I don't want to let you out of my sight. You might
fly off somewhere, and I'd never find you again."
"Don't you worry about that. You couldn't lose me if you tried."
They went through the kitchen, and there a tall gaunt old coloured man
rose and bowed respectfully. He and Aunt Dolcey were having their own
dinner at the kitchen table.
"This here's Unc' Zenas," said Wesley. "He's Aunt Dolcey's husband,
and helps me on the place."
And again Annie saw, this time in the old man's eyes, the flicker of
sympathy and apprehension that she had marked in Aunt Dolcey's.
"And right glad to welcome y', Missy," said Unc' Zenas. "We didn'
'spect Marse Wes to bring home a wife whenas he lef', but that ain' no
sign that it ain' a mighty fine thing."
They went out into the mellow spring day. Wesley Dean, now in his blue
overalls and working shirt, became a king in his own domain, a part of
the fair primitiveness about them. It was as if he had sprung from
this dark fertile soil, was made of its elements, at one with it. Here
he belonged, and the very spring of the earth beneath his feet was
repeated in the measured beating of his blood. The land could not warp
or break him, as it does so many, for he belonged to it as essentially
and as completely as it belonged to him. Dimly the little town girl
beside him felt this, and dimly she hoped that she, too, might prove
to be of the same mould.
"Look at the barn, and the stables, and the corncrib," he was saying.
"See how they're all built? Hand-hewn logs chinked with plaster.
Great-granddad built them all, helped by his two slaves. That's all
the slaves he had, just two and one of 'em was Unc' Zenas's
grandfather. Everything's strong and sound as the day he finished it."
"That one looks newer," said Annie, pointing.
Wesley looked a little shamefaced, as does every typical Anglo-Saxon
discovered in sentiment.
"I built that," he confessed. "It's a chicken house. Somehow I didn't
want to go down to the sawmill and get planks and build with 'em
'mongst all these old log things. So I got the logs out in the woods
and build same as great-granddad. Maybe it was foolish, but I couldn't
"It wasn't foolish; it was nice," she affirmed.
She perched on the tongue of a wagon while he mended the disker,
dividing her attention between him and the live things of the
barnyard. A string of decorative white ducks marched in single file
about the edge of the cow pound. Beyond them a proud red-wattled cock
paraded and purred among his harem of trim hens, now and then
disturbed in his dignity by the darting nervousness of a pair of
malicious guineas, acknowledged brigands of the feathered tribes. Trim
iridescent pigeons toddled about on their coral feet, looking for
leftovers from the chickens' table.
"Say, Wes, I should think you'd have a dog," she said suddenly. "A
nice big dog lazying round here would sort of complete it."
He bent suddenly over his disker and gave the nut he was working on a
mighty twist, but he had tossed aside his hat, and she could see the
sudden jump and darkening of his menacing vein.
"I had a dog," he said in a low voice, "but he died."
A curious restraint fell on them, and for the first time Annie felt
herself an alien, a stranger, far adrift from familiar shores.
She shivered in the light wind.
"You cold? You better go in the house and get something round you,"
Wes said to her.
"I guess I'd better." And she left him hammering.
In the house she found Aunt Dolcey in the big bedroom over the living
room. She had just finished remaking the bed--an old maple
four-poster, the wood a soft and mellowed orange, fine and colourful
against the white quilt, the lace-edged pillow slips.
"I put on clean sheets," said Aunt Dolcey as Annie hesitated on the
threshold. "Yes'm, I put on everything clean, an' the bes'. I know
what's fitten. My chile, dish yer de third bridal bed I made up for
wives of de Dean men."
Something caught in Annie's throat, terrified her. This old black
woman, with her remoteness, her pitying wise eyes, what did she mean?
Annie wanted terribly to ask her. But how begin? How get through this
wall of inscrutability which the black and yellow races have raised
for their protection?
She fluttered nearer to the old woman.
"Look," she began tremulously--"look--it's all right, isn't it, my
marrying him so quick? I haven't got any folks, and--and I suppose I
haven't got much sense; but there was something about him that just
made me trust him and--and want him. But it was all so quick, and--now
I'm here it seems like maybe--there was--something----Oh, you'd tell
me, wouldn't you? It is all right, isn't it?"
The old woman considered. "It's all right ef you're all right," she
pronounced at length.
"But--but what do you mean? And--and look here--Aunt Dolcey--tell
me--what'd he do to that dog he had?"
"What you know 'bout any dog?"
"I don't know--anything; but when I asked him why he didn't have a
dog--he was queer. It scared me."
"Doan be skeered. They ain' nuffin' to be skeered of 'bout Marse Wes.
Eve'ything all right ef you got patience, an' ef you got sense, an' ef
you got haht enough. Sperrit an' sense go far, but the haht gwine
carry you froo. Now I said my say"--her tone mellowed into unctuous
kindness--"what you want, Missy? Som'n Aun' Dolcey c'n fotch you?
Temme what it is, f'r I got to be up an' erbout my wuk. I got er
weddin' cake to mek yit this ebenin'. Yes, ma'am--I gwi' mek you
weddin' cake fill de bigges' pan in de kitchen."
She helped Annie rummage in her trunk and get out the sweater she had
come in for, and it was not until the girl was running back to the
barns that she realized Aunt Dolcey had not answered her question. But
the old woman's words had steadied her, reassured her.
And Wes received her gayly. His repairs were done, his team in
harness, ready to start.
"It's a shame," he said. "We ought to go off down to town and play
round and have a big time, but I'm so behind with my disking, Annie,
honey. You see I had to stay over a day in Baltimore. Fact. Important
business." He winked at her jocosely. "So I've got to work rest of the
day. That's what comes of marrying a farmer. Farm work don't even wait
on a bride, not even the prettiest bride in the world."
He stooped to kiss her, and she held tight to his arm.
"I don't mind. You go on about your business and I'll get all unpacked
and settled. But don't be late to supper--Aunt Dolcey's making us a
She watched him as he drove down the lane and turned into the field
and steadied the first straining rush of his team. Again she felt her
abandonment, her utter forlornity, her distance from everything she
had known and been accustomed to. But once more she proved herself an
adventurer and a philosopher.
Shrugging her shoulders, she turned back to the house.
"It may be a funny way to get married; but everything's all right
until it stops being all right, and--and I like it here."
* * * * *
She had been married a week now, and the week had been the fairest of
fair weather, indoors as well as out. Now she sat at the clumsy old
secretary desk to write a letter to Miss Tolman.
... For all you said, and hought I was crazy, I am just as happy as I
can be. Wes is kind and full of fun, and he works very hard. This farm
is a pretty place, and the house is ten times as big as your shop. I
am learning to cook and churn butter, and Aunt Dolcey, the old
coloured woman, teaches me and doesn't laugh when I am dumb. She says,
and Wes does, too, that I am a born farmer's wife, and I think maybe I
am, for I like it in the country more than I ever thought I'd like any
place, and I don't get a bit lonely. You ought to see our wheat--it's
like green satin, only prettier.
I hope the rheumatism in your hands is better, and that you have got
somebody good in my place. Cousin Lorena, I am a very lucky girl to
fall in love with such a nice man, with a piece of property and a
flivver, even if it is an old one; but better than all that he has is
Wes himself, for you never saw a better, kinder man. He is not rough
and does not chew tobacco as you thought maybe he did, only smokes a
pipe once in a while. I made a sweet-potato custard yesterday, and he
said it was the best he ever tasted. He says I must not do anything
that is too hard for me, but I am going to drop seed corn. We have
been down to town once, and went to the movies and bought some candy,
and he wanted to buy me a new hat, but I wouldn't let him. He is so
* * * * *
She had written in a glow of happiness, trying to tell everything and
finding it hard to get it into words that would allay Cousin Lorena's
forebodings and impress her properly. Annie frowned at the paper. How
inform a bilious, middle-aged prophet of evil that she had not only
wedded prosperity and industry but also a glorious young demigod whose
tenderness and goodness passed belief?
Suddenly she heard a voice, loud, angry, incoherent. She dropped the
pen and ran out to the kitchen door.
Wes stood there, confronting Uncle Zenas--a Wes she had never dreamed
could exist. The vein on his forehead was black and swollen; indeed
his whole face was distorted with rage.
"You damned old liar--don't you tell me again you put that pitchfork
away when I found it myself in the stable behind the mare's stall.
Pretty business if she'd knocked it down and run one of the tines into
"Marse Wes, you haddat pitchfo'k dere yo'se'f dis mawnin'; I ain't
nevah touch dat pitchfo'k." Unc' Zenas's voice was low and even.
Behind Wes's back Aunt Dolcey made signs to her husband for silence.
"I tell you you're a liar, and by rights I ought to cut your lying
tongue out of your head! I haven't even seen that pitchfork for three
days, and when I went to look for it just now I found it in the stable
where you'd had it cleaning out the stalls. Now shut up and get out
about your work! Don't let me hear another word out of you!"
Unc' Zenas turned away and Wes, without a word or look at the two
women, strode after him. Annie, shaken, caught Aunt Dolcey's arm.
"Oh, Aunt Dolcey," she breathed, "what on earth was the matter?"
Aunt Dolcey drew her into the kitchen.
"Nuffin' but Marse Wes flyin' int' one his bad Dean temper fits,
honey," said the old woman "No use to min' him. No use payin' any
'tention. Dat why I waggle my head at Zenas to say nuffin' back. Talk
back to Marse Wes when he's high-flyin' on'y meks things worse."
Annie beheld an abyss yawning beneath her feet.
"Yes, but, Aunt Dolcey--what's the sense in talking that way? It
wasn't anything, just a pitchfork out of place. And he went on so. And
he looked so dreadful."
Aunt Dolcey rattled her pans.
"I been dreadin' dis moment, whenas you firs' see Marse Wes in his
anger. Zenas an' me, we's use to it. Marse Wes dataway; som'n go wrong
he fly off de handle. Zenas ain't mislay no pitchfo'k--I seed Marse
Wes mahse'f wid dat pitchfo'k dis mawnin'. But eve'y once in a while
he git a temper fit an' blow off he mouf like dat. Sometimes he strike
some-buddy--but he doan often strike Zenas. Sometimes he git mad at
oner de hosses an' frail it proper. Dat high temper run in de Dean
fambly, chile. Dey gits mad, an' dey flies off, an' you just got to
"But does he--does he get over it quick?"
The old negress shook her head.
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