O Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1919
Part 4 out of 7
fields, the empty, broken towns, the distant, grumbling storm, and the
armed men, hurrying, always hurrying toward the east and north where the
clouds darkened and spread--all this was in the tales that his father's
father had told him of those fifteen mad years when the Yangtze Valley
crouched trembling under the fiery breath of the Dragon's wrath. Here
once more he saw the crumbling towers and walls of Hang Gow in fresh
rain. Here was the ruthless wreck that even nature in her fiercest mood
could never make. Truly the lure of the Dragon's blood in him was
drawing him, magnet-like, to the glory of his ancestors.
The one who had them in charge and spoke their tongue gave them their
tools and bade them dig narrow ditches head deep. From them they ran
tunnels into deep caves hollowed out far under the ground. They burrowed
like moles, cutting galleries here and there, reinforcing them with
timbers, and lining them with a stone which they made out of dust and
water. Many they cut, stretching far back behind the ever present storm
in front of them, while from that storm cloud, in swift and unseen
lightning bolts that roared and burst and destroyed their work often as
fast as it was completed, fell death among them, who were only
labourers, not soldiers, as Kan Wong now knew those Foreign Devils in
the strange and dirty uniforms to be.
As the storm roared on, never ceasing, it stirred the Dragon's blood in
Kan Wong's veins. The pick and shovel irked his hands as he swung them;
his palms began to itch for the weapons that the soldiers bore. Now and
then he came upon a gun where it had dropped from its owner's useless
hands. He studied its mechanism, even asking the Foreign Devil overseer
how it was worked, and, being shown, he remembered and practised its use
whenever opportunity offered. He took to talking with his
fellow-workers, some of whom had themselves fought with the rebels of
New China, who, with just such Foreign Devils' tools, had clipped the
claws of the Manchu Dragon, freeing the Celestial Kingdom forever from
its crooked grip. He took much interest in these war implements. He
became more intimate and friendly with his fellows, feeling them now to
be brothers in a danger that had awakened the soldier soul beneath the
brown of his coolie skin.
Little could he make of all the strife about him. All of which he was
sure was that this was the Dragon's Field, and he, a Son of the Dragon,
had been guided to it to fulfil a destiny his forefathers had begun in
the Yangtze Valley when with the "Hairy Rebels" they had waged such war
as this. The flying death all about him that now and then claimed toll
of one of his own kind was but a part of it; but all the time he grew to
hate his humble work and long for a part, a real part, in the fighting
that raged ahead, where an unseen enemy, of whom he grew to think as his
own, hurled destruction among them. Often he spoke of this to the gang
under him, imbuing them with the spirit of the Dragon's blood that,
eager to fulfil its destiny, once more boiled within him.
Then one day the storm grew more furious. The thunder was a continual
roll, and both from the front and rear flew the whining lightning bolts,
spewing out death and destruction. Many a coolie fell, his dust buried
under the dust of this fierce foreign land, never to be returned and
mixed with that of his own Flowery Kingdom. Now and then came "stink
pots," filling the air with such foul vapours that men coughed out their
lives in the putrid fumes. The breath of the Dragon, fresh from his
awful mouth, was wrapped about them in hot wrath.
Past them the soldiers streamed, foul with fight, their hot guns
spitting viciously back into the rolling, pungent grey fog that followed
them malignantly. Confusion reigned, and in that confusion a perfect
riot of death. On all sides the soldiers fell, blighted by the Dragon's
breath. The coolies crouched in the heaped-up ruins of their newly dug
ditches, knowing not which way to turn, bereft of leadership since the
Foreign Devil who commanded them was gone, buried beneath a pile of
earth where a giant cracker had fallen.
Suddenly Kan Wong noticed that there were no more soldiers save only
those who lay writhing or in still, twisted heaps upon the harrowed
ground. The coolie crowd huddled here alone, clutching their futile
picks and shovels, grovelling in helpless panic. Disaster had overtaken
them. The Dragon was upon them, and they were unprotected. All about
them in scattered heaps lay discarded equipment, guns, even the
sharp-barking death-spitting, tiny instrument that the soldiers handled
so lovingly and so gently when it was not in action. But those who
manned the weapons had passed on, back through the thick curtain of
smoke that hung between them and the comparative safety of the rear.
Kan Wong's eyes were ahead, striving to pierce the pungent veil that hid
the enemy. Suddenly his keen eyes noted them--the strange uniforms and
stranger faces, ducking forward here and there through the hell of their
own making. The blood of the Dragon within him boiled up, now that the
enemy was really near enough to feel the teeth and claws of the Dragon's
whelps. This was the hour for which he had lived. This was the Tai-ping
glory come again for him to share. Reaching down, he picked up the rifle
of a fallen soldier, fondled its mechanism lovingly for a moment, and
then, cuddling it tenderly beneath his chin, his finger bade it spit
death at the misty grey figures crawling through the greyer fog in
When the magazine was exhausted he filled it with fresh clips and turned
with the authority he had always wielded, and a new one that they
instantly recognized, upon his shivering countrymen.
"What are ye?" he yelled with withering scorn. "Sons of pigs who root in
the dung of this Foreign Devil's land, or men of the Dragon's blood? Are
ye the scum of the Yangtze River or honourable descendants of the Hairy
Rebels? Would ye avenge your brothers who have choked to death in the
breath of the stink-pots that have been flung among us? Will ye let
escape this horde of Foreign Devil enemies who have hurled at us giant
crackers that have spit death, now that they are near enough to feel how
the Dragon's blood can strike? Here are the Dragon's claws!" He waved
his bayoneted gun aloft. "Will ye die like men, or like slinking rats
stamped into the earth? All who are not cowards--come!" He waved the way
through the smoke to the grey figures emerging from it.
The Chinaman is no coward when once aroused. Death he faces as he faces
life, stoically, imperturbably. The coolies, reaching for the nearest
weapons, followed the man who showed the Dragon's blood. Many of them
understood the use of arms, having borne them for New China. Death was
upon them, and they went to meet it with death in their hands.
Kan Wong dragged up an uninjured machine gun the crew of which lay about
it. Fitting the bands of cartridges as he had seen the gunners do, he
turned the crank and swung it round on its revolving tripod. Before its
vicious rain he saw the grey figures fall, and a great joy welled up in
his breast. He signalled for other belts and worked the gun faster.
Round him the coolies rallied; others beyond the sound of his voice
joined in from pure instinct. The grey figures wavered, hesitated,
melted back into the smoke, and then strove to work around the fire of
the death-spitting group. But the Dragon's blood was up, the voice of
the Dragon's son cheered and directed the snarling, roused whelps to
whom war was an old, old trade, forgotten, and now remembered in this
strange, wild land. The joy of slaughter came savagely upon them. The
death that they had received they now gave back. In the place the white
men had fled, the yellow men now stood, descendants of the Tai-pings, as
fierce and wild as their once Hairy brothers.
Meanwhile, behind them the retreating line halted, stiffened by hurried
reinforcements. The officers rallied their men, paused and looked back
through the smoke. The line had given way and they must meet the
oncoming wave. Quickly reforming, they picked their ground for a stand
and waited. The moments passed, but no sign of the victors.
"What the hell is up?" snarled one of the reinforcing officers. "I
thought the line had given way."
"It has," replied the panting, battle-torn commander. "My men are all
back here; there's no one in front but the enemy!"
"What's that ahead, then?" The sharp bark of rifles, the _rat-a-tat_ of
machine guns, the boom of bursting grenades, and the yells, groans,
screams and shouts of the hand-to-hand conflict came through the
curtaining smoke in a mad jumble of savage sound.
"Damned if I know! We'd better find out!" They began moving their now
rallied men back into it.
Suddenly they came upon it--a writhing mass of jeans-clad coolies,
wild-eyed, their teeth bared in devilish, savage grins, their hands busy
with the implements of death, standing doggedly at bay before grey waves
that broke upon them as a sullen sea breaks and recedes before a jutting
point of land ...
With the reinforcements the tide turned, ebbing back in a struggling,
writhing fury, and soon the ground was clear again of all save the wreck
that such a wave leaves behind it. Once the line was re-established and
the soldiers holding it steadily, the coolies, once more the wielders of
pick and shovel, returned to the work of trench repairing, leaving the
fighting to those to whom it belonged.
The officers were puzzled. What had started them? What had injected that
mad fighting spirit into their yellow hides? What had caused them to
make that swift, wild, wonderful stand?
"Hey, you, John!" The commanding officer addressed one of them when a
lull came and they were busy again at the tumbled earth. "What you fight
The coolie grinned foolishly.
"Him say fight. Him heap big man, alle same have Dlagon's blood. Him say
fight, we fight, _sabe_?" And he pointed to Kan Wong--Kan Wong, his head
bleeding from a wound, his eyes glowing with a green fury from between
their narrow lids, his long, strong hands, red with blood other than his
own, still clutching his rifle with a grip that had a tenderly savage
joy _in_ it.
The officer approached him.
"Are you the man who rallied the coolies and held the line?" he asked
Kan Wong stiffened with a dignity to which he now felt he had a right.
"Me fight," he said quietly--"me fight, coolie fight, too. Me belong
Dlagon's blood. One time my people fighting men; long time I wait."
"You'll wait no longer," said the officer. He unpinned the cross from
his tunic and fastened it to the torn, bloody blouse of Kan Wong. "Off
to the east are men of your own race, fighting-men from China,
Cochin-China. That is the place for a man of the Dragon's blood--and
that is the tool that belongs in your hand till we're done with this
mess." He pointed to the rifle that Kan Wong still held with a stiff,
loving, lingering grip.
And so, on the other side of the world, the son of the Dragon came to
his own and realized the dreams of a glory he had missed.
By FANNIE HURST
On either side of the Bowery, which cuts through like a drain to catch
its sewage, Every Man's Land, a reeking march of humanity and humidity,
steams with the excrement of seventeen languages, flung in _patois_ from
tenement windows, fire-escapes, curbs, stoops, and cellars whose walls
are terrible and spongy with fungi.
By that impregnable chemistry of race whereby the red blood of the
Mongolian and the red blood of the Caucasian become as oil and water in
the mingling, Mulberry Street, bounded by sixteen languages, runs its
intact Latin length of push-carts, clothes-lines, naked babies, drying
vermicelli; black-eyed women in rhinestone combs and perennially big
with child; whole families of button-hole makers, who first saw the
blue-and-gold light of Sorrento, bent at home work around a single gas
flare; pomaded barbers of a thousand Neapolitan amours. And then, just
as suddenly, almost without osmosis and by the mere stepping-down from
the curb, Mulberry becomes Mott Street, hung in grill-work balconies,
the mouldy smell of poverty touched up with incense. Orientals, whose
feet shuffle and whose faces are carved out of satinwood. Forbidden
women, their white, drugged faces behind upper windows. Yellow children,
incongruous enough in Western clothing. A drafty areaway with an oblique
of gaslight and a black well of descending staircase. Show-windows of
jade and tea and Chinese porcelains.
More streets emanating out from Mott like a handful of crooked,
rheumatic fingers, then suddenly the Bowery again, cowering beneath
elevated trains, where men, burned down to the butt end of soiled lives,
pass in and out and out and in of the knee-high swinging doors--a
veiny-nosed, acid-eaten race in themselves.
Allen Street, too, still more easterly and half as wide, is straddled
its entire width by the steely, long-legged skeleton of elevated
traffic, so that its third-floor windows no sooner shudder into silence
from the rushing shock of one train than they are shaken into chatter by
the passage of another. Indeed, third-floor dwellers of Allen Street,
reaching out, can almost touch the serrated edges of the elevated
structure, and in summer the smell of its hot rails becomes an actual
taste in the mouth. Passengers, in turn, look in upon this horizontal of
life as they whiz by. Once, in fact, the blurry figure of what might
have been a woman leaned out as she passed to toss into one Abrahm
Kantor's apartment a short-stemmed pink carnation. It hit softly on
little Leon Kantor's crib, brushing him fragrantly across the mouth and
causing him to pucker up.
Beneath, where, even in August noonday, the sun cannot find its way by a
chink, and babies lie stark naked in the cavernous shade, Allen Street
presents a sort of submarine and greenish gloom, as if its humanity were
actually moving through a sea of aqueous shadows, faces rather bleached
and shrunk from sunlessness as water can bleach and shrink. And then,
like a shimmering background of orange-finned and copper-flanked marine
life, the brass shops of Allen Street, whole rows of them, burn
flamelessly and without benefit of fuel.
To enter Abrahm Kantor's--Brasses--was three steps down, so that his
casement show-window, at best filmed over with the constant rain of dust
ground down from the rails above, was obscure enough, but crammed with
the copied loot of khedive and of czar. The seven-branch candlestick so
Biblical and supplicating of arms. An urn, shaped like Rebecca's, of
brass all beaten over with little poks. Things: cups, trays, knockers,
ikons, gargoyles, bowls, and teapots. A symphony of bells in graduated
sizes. Jardinieres with fat sides. A pot-bellied samovar. A swinging
lamp for the dead, star-shaped. Against the door, an octave of tubular
chimes, prisms of voiceless harmony and of heatless light.
Opening this door, they rang gently, like melody heard through water
and behind glass. Another bell rang, too, in tilted singsong from a
pulley operating somewhere in the catacomb rear of this lambent vale of
things and things and things. In turn, this pulley set in toll still
another bell, two flights up in Abrahm Kantor's tenement, which
overlooked the front of whizzing rails and a rear wilderness of
gibbet-looking clothes-lines, dangling perpetual specters of flapping
union suits in a mid-air flaky with soot.
Often at lunch, or even the evening meal, this bell would ring in on
Abrahm Kantor's digestive well-being, and while he hurried down, napkin
often bib-fashion still about his neck, and into the smouldering lanes
of copper, would leave an eloquent void at the head of his
This bell was ringing now, jingling in upon the slumber of a still newer
Kantor, snuggling peacefully enough within the ammoniac depths of a
cradle recently evacuated by Leon, heretofore impinged upon you.
On her knees before an oven that billowed forth hotly into her face,
Mrs. Kantor, fairly fat and not yet forty, and at the immemorial task of
plumbing a delicately swelling layer-cake with broom-straw, raised her
face, reddened and faintly moist.
"Isadore, run down and say your papa is out until six. If it's a
customer, remember the first asking-price is the two middle figures on
the tag, and the last asking-price is the two outside figures. See once,
with your papa out to buy your little brother his birthday present, and
your mother in a cake, if you can't make a sale for first price."
Isadore Kantor, aged eleven and hunched with a younger Kantor over an
oilcloth-covered table, hunched himself still deeper in barter for a
large crystal marble with a candy stripe down its center.
"Izzie, did you hear me?"
"Go down this minute--do you hear? Rudolph, stop always letting your big
brother get the best of you in marbles. Iz-zy!"
"Don't let me have to ask you again, Isadore Kantor!"
"Aw, ma; I got some 'rithmetic to do. Let Esther go."
"Always Esther! Your sister stays right in the front room with her
"Aw, ma; I got spelling, too."
"Every time I ask that boy he should do me one thing, right away he gets
lessons! With me, that lessons-talk don't go no more. Every time you get
put down in school, I'm surprised there's a place left lower where they
can put you. Working-papers for such a boy like you!"
"How I worried myself! Violin lessons yet--thirty cents lesson out of
your papa's pants while he slept! That's how I wanted to have in the
family a profession--maybe a musician on the violin. Lessons for you out
of money I had to lie to your papa about! Honest, when I think of it--my
own husband--it's a wonder I don't potch you just for remembering it.
Rudolph, will you stop licking that cake-pan? It's saved for your little
brother Leon. Ain't you ashamed even on your little brother's birthday
to steal from him?"
"Ma, gimme the spoon?"
"I'll give you the spoon, Isadore Kantor, where you don't want it. If
you don't hurry down the way that bell is ringing, not one bite out of
your little brother's birthday-cake to-night!"
"I'm goin', ain't I?"
"Always on my children's birthdays a meanness sets into this house!
Ru-dolph, will you put down that bowl? Iz-zy--for the last time I ask
you--for the last time--"
Erect now, Mrs. Kantor lifted a portentous hand, letting it hover.
"I'm goin', ma; for golly sakes, I'm goin'!" said her recalcitrant one,
shuffling off toward the staircase, shuffling, shuffling.
Then Mrs. Kantor resumed her plumbing, and through the little apartment,
its middle and only bedroom of three beds and a crib lighted vicariously
by the front room and kitchen, began to wind the warm, the golden-brown
fragrance of cake in the rising.
By six o'clock, the shades were drawn against the dirty dusk of Allen
Street, and the oilcloth-covered table dragged out center and spread by
Esther Kantor, nine in years, in the sturdy little legs bulging over
shoe-tops, in the pink cheeks that sagged slightly of plumpness, and in
the utter roundness of face and gaze, but mysteriously older in the
little-mother lore of crib and knee-dandling ditties and in the ropy
length and thickness of the two brown plaits down her back.
There was an eloquence to that waiting, laid-out table, the print of the
family already gathered about it; the dynastic high chair, throne of
each succeeding Kantor; an armchair drawn up before the paternal
moustache-cup; the ordinary kitchen chair of Mannie Kantor, who spilled
things, an oilcloth sort of bib dangling from its back; the little chair
of Leon Kantor, cushioned in an old family album that raised his chin
above the table. Even in cutlery, the Kantor family was not lacking in
variety. Surrounding a centerpiece of thick Russian lace were Russian
spoons washed in washed-off gilt, forks of one, two, and three tines.
Steel knives with black handles. A hart's-horn carving-knife.
Thick-lipped china in stacks before the armchair. A round
four-pound-loaf of black bread waiting to be torn, and to-night, on the
festive mat of cotton lace, a cake of pinkly gleaming icing, encircled
with five pink little twisted candles.
At slightly after six, Abrahm Kantor returned, leading by a resisting
wrist Leon Kantor, his stemlike little legs, hit midship, as it were, by
not sufficiently cut-down trousers and so narrow and birdlike of face
that his eyes quite obliterated the remaining map of his features, like
those of a still wet nestling. All except his ears. They poised at the
sides of Leon's shaved head of black bristles, as if butterflies had
just lighted there, whispering, with very spread wings, their message,
and presently would fly off again. By some sort of muscular contraction,
he could wiggle these ears at will, and would do so for a penny, a
whistle, and upon one occasion for his brother Rudolph's dead rat, so
devised as to dangle from string and window before the unhappy
passer-by. They were quivering now, these ears, but because the entire
little face was twitching back tears and gulp of sobs.
"Abrahm--Leon--what is it?" Her hands and her forearms instantly out
from the business of kneading something meaty and floury, Mrs. Kantor
rushed forward, her glance quick from one to the other of them. "Abrahm,
"I'll feedle him! I'll feedle him!"
The little pulling wrist still in clutch, Mr. Kantor regarded his wife,
the lower half of his face, well covered with reddish bristles,
undershot, his free hand and even his eyes violently lifted. To those
who see in a man a perpetual kinship to that animal kingdom of which he
is supreme, there was something undeniably anthropoidal about Abrahm
Kantor, a certain simian width between the eyes and long, rather agile
hands with hairy backs.
"Hush it!" cried Mr. Kantor, his free hand raised in threat of descent
and cowering his small son to still more undersized proportions. "Hush
it, or, by golly, I'll--"
"Abrahm--Abrahm--what is it?"
Then Mr. Kantor gave vent in acridity of word and feature.
"_Schlemmil!_" he cried. "_Momser! Ganef! Nebich!_" By which Abrahm
Kantor, in smiting mother tongue, branded his offspring with attributes
of apostate and ne'er-do-well, of idiot and thief.
"_Schlemmil!_" repeated Mr. Abrahm, swinging Leon so that he described a
large semi-circle that landed him into the meaty and waiting embrace of
his mother. "Take him! You should be proud of such a little _Momser_ for
a son! Take him--and here you got back his birthday dollar. A feedle!
Honest--when I think on it--a feedle!"
Such a rush of outrage seemed fairly to strangle Mr. Kantor that he
stood, hand still upraised, choking and inarticulate above the now
frankly howling huddle of his son.
"Abrahm you should just once touch this child! How he trembles!
Leon--mamma's baby--what is it--is this how you come back when papa
takes out to buy your birthday present? Ain't you ashamed?"
Mouth distended to a large and blackly hollow O, Leon between terrifying
spells of breath-holding, continued to howl.
"All the way to Naftel's toy store I drag him. A birthday present for a
dollar his mother wants he should have--all right, a birthday present! I
give you my word till I'm ashamed for Naftel, every toy on his shelves
is pulled down. Such a cow--that shakes with his head--"
"No--no--no!" This from young Leon, beating at his mother's skirts.
Again the upraised but never quite descending hand of his father.
"By golly, I'll 'no--no' you!"
"Abrahm--go way! Baby, what did papa do?"
Then Mr. Kantor broke into an actual tarantella of rage, his hands palms
up and dancing.
"'What did papa do?' she asks. She's got easy asking. 'What did papa
do?' The whole shop, I tell you. A sheep with a baa inside when you
squeeze on him--games--a horn so he can holler my head off--such a knife
like Izzy's with a scissors in it! 'Leon,' I said, ashamed for Naftel,
'that's a fine knife like Izzy's so you can cut up with.' 'All right
then'--when I see how he hollers--'such a box full of soldiers to have
war with.' 'Dollar seventy-five,' says Naftel. 'All right then,' I
says--when I seen how he keeps hollering--'give you a dollar fifteen for
'em.' I should make myself small for fifteen cents more. 'Dollar
fifteen,' I says--anything so he should shut up with his hollering for
what he seen in the window."
"He seen something in the window he wanted, Abrahm?"
"Didn't I tell you? A feedle! A four-dollar feedle! A moosiker, so we
should have another feedler in the family for some thirty-cents
"Abrahm--you mean--he--our Leon--wanted a violin?"
"'Wanted,' she says. I could potch him again this minute for how he
wanted it! _Du_--you little bum you--_Chammer_--_Momser_--I'll feedle
Across Mrs. Kantor's face as she knelt there in the shapeless
cotton-stuff uniform of poverty, through the very tenement of her body,
a light had flashed up into her eyes. She drew her son closer, crushing
his puny cheek up against hers, cupping his bristly little head in her
by no means immaculate palms.
"He wanted a violin--it's come, Abrahm! The dream of all my life--it's
come! I knew it must be one of my children if I waited long enough--and
prayed enough. A musician! He wants a violin. He cried for a violin. My
baby! Why, darlink, mamma'll sell her clothes off her back to get you a
violin. He's a musician, Abrahm! I should have known it the way he's
fooling always around the chimes and the bells in the store!"
Then Mrs. Kantor took to rocking his head between her palms.
"_Oi--oi!_ The mother is crazier as her son. A moosican! A _Fresser_ you
mean. Such an eater, it's a wonder he ain't twice too big instead of
twice too little for his age."
"That's a sign, Abrahm; they all eat big. For all we know he's a genius.
I swear to you, Abrahm, all the months before he was born, I prayed for
it. Each one before they came, I prayed it should be the one. I thought
that time the way our Isadore ran after the organ-grinder he would be
the one. How could I know it was the monkey he wanted? When Isadore
wouldn't take it, I prayed my next one and then my next one should have
the talent. I've prayed for it, Abrahm. If he wants a violin, please, he
should have it."
"Not with my money."
"With mine! I've got enough saved, Abrahm. Them three extra dollars
right here inside my own waist, that I saved toward that cape down on
Grand Street. I wouldn't have it now the way they say the wind blows up
"I tell you the woman's crazy!"
"I feel it! I know he's got talent! I know my children so well. A--a
father don't understand. I'm so next to them. It's like I can tell
always everything that will happen to them--it's like a pain--somewheres
here--in back of my heart."
"A pain in the heart she gets!"
"For my own children I'm always a prophet, I tell you. You think I
didn't know that--that terrible night after the pogrom after we got out
of Kief to cross the border! You remember, Abrahm, how I predicted it to
you then--how our Mannie would be born too soon and--and not right from
my suffering? Did it happen on the ship to America just the way I said
it would? Did it happen just exactly how I predicted our Izzy would
break his leg that time playing on the fire-escape? I tell you, Abrahm,
I get a real pain here under my heart that tells me what comes to my
children. Didn't I tell you how Esther would be the first in her
confirmation-class and our baby Boris would be red-headed? At only five
years, our Leon all by himself cries for a fiddle--get it for him,
Abrahm--get it for him!"
"I tell you, Sarah, I got a crazy woman for a wife! It ain't enough we
celebrate eight birthdays a year with one-dollar presents each time and
copper goods every day higher. It ain't enough that right to-morrow I
got a fifty-dollar note over me from Sol Ginsberg--a four-dollar present
she wants for a child that don't even know the name of a feedle!"
"Leon baby, stop hollering--papa will go back and get the fiddle for you
now before supper. See--mamma's got money here in her waist--"
"Papa will go back for the feedle not--three dollars she's saved for
herself he can holler out of her for a feedle!"
"Abrahm, he's screaming so he--he'll have a fit."
"He should have two fits."
"I tell you the way you spoil your children it will some day come back
"It's his birthday night, Abrahm--five years since his little head
first lay on the pillow next to me."
"All right--all right--drive me crazy because he's got a birthday."
"Leon baby--if you don't stop hollering you'll make yourself sick.
Abrahm, I never saw him like this--he's green--"
"I'll green him. Where is that old feedle from Isadora--that
"I never thought of that! You broke it that time you got mad at
Isadore's lessons. I'll run down. Maybe it's with the junk behind the
store. I never thought of that fiddle, Leon darlink--wait--mamma'll run
down and look--wait, Leon, till mamma finds you a fiddle."
The raucous screams stopped then suddenly, and on their very lustiest
crest, leaving an echoing gash across silence. On willing feet of haste,
Mrs. Kantor wound down backward the high, ladderlike staircase that led
to the brass shop.
Meanwhile, to a gnawing consciousness of dinner-hour, had assembled the
house of Kantor. Attuned to the intimate atmosphere of the tenement
which is so constantly rent with cry of child, child-bearing, delirium,
delirium-tremens, Leon Kantor had howled no impression into the motley
din of things. Isadore, already astride his chair, well into
center-table, for first vociferous tear at the four-pound loaf; Esther
Kantor, old at chores, settled an infant into the high chair, careful of
tiny fingers in lowering the wooden bib.
"Papa, Izzy's eating first again."
"Put down that loaf and wait until your mother dishes up or you'll get a
potch you won't soon forget."
"Don't 'say pop' me! I don't want no street-bum freshness from you!"
"I mean, papa, there was an uptown swell in, and she bought one of them
seventy-five-cent candlesticks for the first price,"
"_Schlemmil--Chammer!_" said Mr. Kantor, rinsing his hands at the sink.
"Didn't I always tell you it's the first price times two when you see
up-town business come in? Haven't I learned it to you often enough a
slummer must pay for her nosiness?"
There entered then, on poor shuffling feet, Mannie Kantor so marred in
the mysterious and ceramic process of life that the brain and the soul
had stayed back sooner than inhabit him. Seventeen in years, in the down
upon his face, and in growth unretarded by any great nervosity of
system, his vacuity of face was not that of childhood but rather as if
his light eyes were peering out from some hinterland and wanting so
terribly and so dumbly to communicate what they beheld to brain-cells
closed against himself.
At sight of Mannie, Leon Kantor, the tears still wetly and dirtily down
his cheeks, left off his black, fierce-eyed stare of waiting long enough
to smile, darkly, it is true, but sweetly.
"Giddy-ap!" he cried. "Giddy-ap!"
And then Mannie, true to habit, would scamper and scamper.
Up out of the traplike stair-opening came the head of Mrs. Kantor,
disheveled and a smudge of soot across her face, but beneath her arm,
triumphant, a violin of one string and a broken back.
"See, Leon--what mamma got! A violin! A fiddle! Look--the bow, too, I
found. It ain't much, baby, but it's a fiddle."
"Aw, ma--that's my old violin--gimme--I want it--where'd you find--"
"Hush up, Izzy! This ain't yours no more. See, Leon, what mamma brought
you! A violin!"
"Now, you little _Chammer_, you got a feedle, and if you ever let me
hear you holler again for a feedle, by golly if I don't--"
From his corner, Leon Kantor reached out, taking the instrument and
fitting it beneath his chin, the bow immediately feeling, surely and
lightly for string.
"Look, Abrahm! He knows how to hold it! What did I tell you? A child
that never in his life seen a fiddle, except a beggar's on the street!"
Little Esther suddenly cantered down-floor, clapping her chubby hands.
The baby ceased clattering his spoon against the wooden bib. A silence
seemed to shape itself.
So black and so bristly of head, his little clawlike hands hovering over
the bow, Leon Kantor withdrew a note, strangely round and given up
almost sobbingly from the single string. A note of warm twining quality,
like a baby's finger.
Fumbling for string and for notes the instrument could not yield up to
him, the birdlike mouth began once more to open widely and terribly into
the orificial O.
It was then Abrahm Kantor came down with a large hollow resonance of
palm against the aperture, lifting his small son and depositing him plop
upon the family album.
"Take that! By golly, one more whimper out of you and if I don't make
you black-and-blue, birthday or no birthday! Dish up, Sarah, quick, or
I'll give him something to cry about."
The five pink candles had been lighted, burning pointedly and with
slender little smoke wisps. Regarding them owlishly, the tears dried on
Leon's face, his little tongue licking up at them.
"Look how solemn he is, like he was thinking of something a million
miles away except how lucky he is he should have a pink birthday-cake!
Uh--uh--uh! Don't you begin to holler again--Here, I'm putting the
feedle next to you--uh--uh--uh!"
To a meal plentifully ladled out directly from stove to table, the
Kantor family drew up, dipping first into the rich black soup of the
occasion. All except Mrs. Kantor.
"Esther, you dish up; I'm going somewhere. I'll be back in a minute."
"Where you going, Sarah? Won't it keep until--"
But even in the face of query, Sarah Kantor was two flights down and
well through the lambent aisles of the copper shop. Outside, she broke
into a run, through two blocks of the indescribable bazaar atmosphere of
Grand Street, then one block to the right.
Before Naftel's show-window, a jet of bright gas burned into a
jibberwock land of toys. There was that in Sarah Kantor's face that was
actually lyrical, as, fumbling at the bosom of her dress, she entered.
To Leon Kantor, by who knows what symphonic scheme of things, life was a
chromatic scale, yielding up to him through throbbing, living nerves of
sheep-gut, the sheerest semitones of man's emotions.
When he tucked his Stradivarius beneath his chin, the Book of Life
seemed suddenly translated to him in melody. Even Sarah Kantor, who
still brewed for him, on a small portable stove carried from city to
city and surreptitiously unpacked in hotel suites, the blackest of
soups, and, despite his protestation, would incase his ears of nights in
an old home-made device against their flightiness, would often times
bleed inwardly at this sense of his isolation.
There was a realm into which he went alone, leaving her as detached as
the merest ticket purchaser at the box-office.
At seventeen, Leon Kantor had played before the crowned heads of Europe,
the aching heads of American capital, and even the shaved head of a
South Sea prince. There was a layout of anecdotal gifts, from the molar
tooth of the South Sea prince set in a South Sea pearl to a
blue-enamelled snuff-box encrusted with the rearing-lion coat of arms of
a very royal house.
At eighteen, came the purchase of a king's Stradivarius for a king's
ransom, and acclaimed by Sunday supplements to repose of nights in an
At nineteen, under careful auspices of press-agent, the ten singing
digits of the son of Abrahm Kantor were insured at ten thousand dollars
At twenty, he had emerged surely and safely from the perilous quicksands
which have sucked down whole Lilliputian worlds of infant prodigies.
At twenty-one, when Leon Kantor played a Sunday-night concert, there was
a human queue curling entirely around the square block of the
opera-house, waiting its one, two, even three and four hours for the
privilege of standing-room only.
Usually these were Leon Kantor's own people pouring up from the lowly
lands of the East Side to the white lands of Broadway, parched for
music, these burning brethren of his--old men in that line, frequently
carrying their own little folding camp-chairs, not against weariness of
the spirit but of the flesh; youth with Slavic eyes and cheek-bones.
These were the six-deep human phalanx which would presently slant down
at him from tiers of steepest balconies and stand frankly emotional and
jammed in the unreserved space behind the railing which shut them off
from the three-dollar seats of the reserved.
At a very special one of these concerts, dedicated to the meager purses
of just these, and held in New York's super-opera-house, the
Amphitheater, a great bowl of humanity, the metaphor made perfect by
tiers of seats placed upon the stage, rose from orchestra to dome. A
gigantic Colosseum of a cup, lined in stacks and stacks of faces. From
the door of his dressing-room, leaning out, Leon Kantor could see a
great segment of it, buzzing down into adjustment, orchestra twitting
and tuning into it.
In a bare little room, illuminated by a sheaf of roses just arrived,
Mrs. Kantor drew him back by the elbow.
"Leon, you're in a draft."
The amazing years had dealt kindly with Mrs. Kantor. Stouter, softer,
apparently even taller, she was full of small new authorities that could
shut out cranks, newspaper reporters, and autograph fiends. A
fitted-over-corsets black taffeta and a high comb in the greying hair
had done their best with her. Pride, too, had left its flush upon her
cheeks, like two round spots of fever.
"Leon, it's thirty minutes till your first number. Close that door. Do
you want to let your papa and his excitement in on you?"
The son of Sarah Kantor obeyed, leaning on his short, rather narrow form
in silhouette against the closed door. In spite of slimly dark evening
clothes worked out by an astute manager to the last detail in boyish
effects, there was that about him which defied long-haired precedent.
Slimly and straightly he had shot up into an unmannered, a short, even
a bristly-haired young manhood, disqualifying by a close shave for the
older school of hirsute virtuosity.
But his nerves did not spare him. On concert nights they seemed to
emerge almost to the surface of him and shriek their exposure.
"Just feel my hands, ma. Like ice."
She dived down into her large silk what-not of a reticule.
"I've got your fleece-lined gloves here, son."
"No--no. For God's--sake--not those things! No!"
He was back at the door again, opening it to a slit, peering through.
"They're bringing more seats on the stage. If they crowd me in I won't
go on. I can't play if I hear them breathe. Hi--out there--no more
"Leon, Leon, ain't you ashamed to get so worked up? Close that door.
Have you got a manager who is paid just to see to your comfort? When
papa comes, I'll have him go out and tell Hancock you don't want chairs
so close to you. Leon, will you mind mamma and sit down?"
"It's a bigger house than the royal concert in Madrid, ma. Why, I never
saw anything like it! It's a stampede. God, this is real--this is what
gets me, playing for my own! I should have given a concert like this
three years ago. I'll do it every year now. I'd rather play before them
than all the crowned heads on earth. It's the biggest night of my
life--they're rioting out there, ma--rioting to get in."
"Leon, Leon, won't you sit down if mamma begs you to?"
He sat then, strumming with all ten fingers upon his knees.
"Try to get quiet, son. Count--like you always do. One--two--three--"
"Please ma--for God's sake--please--please!"
"Look--such beautiful roses! From Sol Ginsberg, an old friend of papa's
he used to buy brasses from eighteen years ago. Six years he's been
away with his daughter in Munich. Such a beautiful mezzo, they say,
engaged already for Metropolitan next season."
"I hate it, ma, if they breathe on my neck."
"Leon darlink, did mamma promise to fix it? Have I ever let you plan a
concert where you wouldn't be comfortable?"
His long, slim hands suddenly prehensile and cutting a long, upward
gesture, Leon Kantor rose to his feet, face whitening.
"Do it now! Now, I tell you! I won't have them breathe on me. Do you
hear me? Now! Now! Now!"
Risen also, her face soft and tremulous for him, Mrs. Kantor put out a
gentle, a sedative hand upon his sleeve.
"Son," she said, with an edge of authority even behind her smile, "don't
holler at me."
He grasped her hand with his two, and, immediately quiet, placed a close
string of kisses along it.
"Mamma," he said, kissing them again and again into the palm,
"I know, son; it's nerves."
"They eat me, ma. Feel--I'm like ice. I didn't mean it; you know I
didn't mean it."
"My baby," she said, "my wonderful boy, it's like I can never get used
to the wonder of having you! The greatest one of them all should be
mine--a plain woman's like mine!"
He teased her, eager to conciliate and ride down his own state of
"Now, ma--now--now--don't forget Rimsky!"
"'Rimsky!' A man three times your age who was playing concerts before
you was born! Is that a comparison? From your clippings-books I can show
Rimsky who the world considers the greatest violinist. Rimsky he rubs
"All right then, the press-clippings, but did Elsass, the greatest
manager of them all, bring me a contract for thirty concerts at two
thousand a concert? Now I've got you! Now!"
She would not meet his laughter.
"'Elsass!' Believe me, he'll come to you yet. My boy should worry if he
makes fifty thousand a year more or less. Rimsky should have that
honour--for so long as he can hold it. But he won't hold it long.
Believe me, I don't rest easy in my bed till Elsass comes after you. Not
for so big a contract like Rimsky's, but bigger--not for thirty concerts
but for fifty!"
"_Brava! Brava!_ There's a woman for you. More money than she knows what
to do with, and then not satisfied!"
She was still too tremulous for banter.
"'Not satisfied?' Why, Leon, I never stop praying my thanks for you!"
"All right then," he cried, laying his icy fingers on her cheek;
"to-morrow we'll call a _Mignon_--a regular old-fashioned Allen Street
"Leon, you mustn't make fun."
"Make fun of the sweetest girl in this room?"
"'Girl!' Ah, if I could only hold you by me this way, Leon! Always a
boy--with me--your poor old mother--your only girl. That's a fear I
suffer with, Leon--to lose you to a--girl! That's how selfish the mother
of such a wonder-child like mine can get to be."
"All right. Trying to get me married off again. Nice! Fine!"
"Is it any wonder I suffer, son? Twenty-one years to have kept you by me
a child. A boy that's never in his life was out after midnight except to
catch trains. A boy that never has so much as looked at a girl and could
have looked at princesses. To have kept you all these years--mine--is it
any wonder, son, I never stop praying my thanks for you? You don't
believe Hancock, son, the way he keeps teasing you always you should
have a--what he calls--affair--a love-affair? Such talk is not nice,
"Love-affair poppycock!" said Leon Kantor, lifting his mothers face and
kissing her on eyes about ready to tear. "Why, I've got something, ma,
right here in my heart for you that--"
"Leon, be careful your shirt-front!"
"That's so--so what you call 'tender,' for my best sweetheart that
I--oh, love affair--poppycock!"
She would not let her tears come. "My boy--my wonder-boy!"
"There goes the overture, ma."
"Here, darlink--your glass of water."
"I can't stand it in here; I'm suffocating!"
"Got your mute in your pocket, son?"
"Yes, ma; for God's sake, yes! Yes! Don't keep asking things."
"Ain't you ashamed, Leon, to be in such an excitement? For every concert
you get worse."
"The chairs--they'll breathe on my neck."
"Leon, did mamma promise you those chairs would be moved?"
"Say--I'm grateful if he stays out. It took me enough work to get this
room cleared. You know your papa he likes to drag in the whole world to
show you off--always just before you play. The minute he walks in the
room, right away he gets everybody to trembling just from his own
excitements. I dare him this time he should bring people--no dignity has
that man got, the way he brings everyone."
Even upon her words came a rattling of door, of door-knob and a voice
through the clamour.
A stiffening raced over Mrs. Kantor, so that she sat rigid on her
chair-edge, lips compressed, eye darkly upon the shivering door.
With a narrowing glance, Mrs. Kantor laid to her lips a forefinger of
"Sarah, it's me! Quick, I say!"
Then Leon Kantor sprang up, the old prehensile gesture of curving
fingers shooting up.
"For God's sake, ma, let him in! I can't stand that infernal battering."
"Abrahm, go away! Leon's got to have quiet before his concert."
"Just a minute, Sarah. Open quick!"
With a spring, his son was at the door, unlocking and flinging it back.
"Come in, pa."
The years had weighed heavily upon Abrahm Kantor in avoirdupois only. He
was himself plus eighteen years, fifty pounds, and a new sleek pomposity
that was absolutely oleaginous. It shone roundly in his face, doubling
of chin, in the bulge of waistcoat, heavily gold-chained, and in eyes
that behind the gold-rimmed glasses gave sparklingly forth his estate of
"Abrahm, didn't I tell you not to dare to--"
On excited balls of feet that fairly bounced him, Abrahm Kantor burst
"Leon--mamma--I got out here an old friend--Sol Ginsberg--you remember,
mamma, from brasses--"
"Go way with your 'not now!' I want Leon should meet him. Sol, this is
him--a little grown-up from such a _Nebich_ like you remember him--_nu_?
Sarah, you remember Sol Ginsberg? Say--I should ask you if you remember
your right hand? Ginsberg & Esel, the firm. This is his girl, a five
years' contract signed yesterday--five hundred dollars an opera for a
beginner--six roles--not bad--_nu_?"
"Abrahm, you must ask Mr. Ginsberg please to excuse Leon until after his
"Shake hands with him, Ginsberg. He's had his hand shook enough in his
life, and by kings, too--shake it once more with an old bouncer like
Mr. Ginsberg, not unlike his colleague in rotundities, held out a short,
a dimpled hand.
"It's a proud day," he said, "for me to shake the hands from mine old
friend's son and the finest violinist living to-day. My little
"Yes, yes, Gina. Here shake hands with him. Leon, they say a voice like
a fountain. Gina Berg--eh, Ginsberg--is how you stage-named her? You
hear, mamma, how fancy--Gina Berg? We go hear her, eh?"
There was about Miss Gina Berg, whose voice could soar to the
tirra-lirra of a lark and then deepen to mezzo, something of the actual
slimness of the poor, maligned Elsa so long buried beneath the buxomness
of divas. She was like a little flower that in its crannied nook keeps
"How do you do, Leon Kantor?"
There was a whir through her English of three acquired languages.
"How do _you_ do?"
"We--father and I--travelled once all the way from Brussels to Dresden
to hear you play. It was worth it. I shall never forget how you played
the 'Humoresque.' It made me laugh and cry."
"You like Brussels?"
She laid her little hand to her heart, half closing her eyes.
"I will never be so happy again as with the sweet little people of
"I, too, love Brussels. I studied there four years with Ahrenfest."
"I know you did. My teacher, Lyndahl, in Berlin, was his
"You have studied with Lyndahl?"
"He is my master."
"I--will I sometime hear you sing?"
"I am not yet great. When I am foremost like you, yes."
"Gina--Gina Berg, that is a beautiful name to make famous."
"You see how it is done? Gins--Berg. Gina Berg.
They stood then smiling across a chasm of the diffidence of youth, she
fumbling at the great fur pelt out of which her face flowered so dewily.
"I--well--we--we are in the fourth box--I guess we had better be
going--fourth box left." He wanted to find words, but for consciousness
of self could not "It's a wonderful house out there waiting for you,
Leon Kantor, and you--you're wonderful, too!"
"My father, he sent them. Come, father--quick!"
Suddenly there was a tight tensity that seemed to crowd up the little
"Abrahm--quick--get Hancock--that first rows of chairs has got to be
moved--there he is, in the wings--see the piano ain't dragged down too
far! Leon, got your mute on your pocket? Please Mr. Ginsberg--you must
excuse--Here, Leon, is your glass of water. Drink it, I say. Shut that
door out there, boy, so there ain't a draft in the wings. Here, Leon,
your violin. Got neckerchief? Listen how they're shouting--it's for
In the center of that vast human bowl which had finally shouted itself
out, slim, boylike, and in his supreme isolation, Leon Kantor drew bow
and a first thin, pellucid, and perfect note into a silence breathless
to receive it.
Throughout the arduous flexuosities of the Mendelssohn E-minor concerto,
singing, winding from tonal to tonal climax, and out of the slow
movement, which is like a tourniquet twisting the heart into the
spirited _allegro molto vivace_, it was as if beneath Leon Kantor's
fingers the strings were living vein-cords, youth, vitality, and the
very foam of exuberance racing through them.
That was the power of him--the Vichy and the sparkle of youth, so that,
playing, the melody poured round him like wine and went down seething
and singing into the hearts of his hearers.
Later, and because these were his people and because they were dark and
Slavic with his Slavic darkness, he played, as if his very blood were
weeping, the "Kol Nidre," which is the prayer of his race for atonement.
And then the super-amphitheater, filled with those whose emotions lie
next to the surface and whose pores have not been closed over with a
water-tight veneer, burst into its cheers and its tears.
There were fifteen recalls from the wings, Abrahm Kantor standing
counting them off on his fingers, and trembling to receive the
Stradivarius. Then, finally, and against the frantic negative pantomime
of his manager, a scherzo, played so lacily that it swept the house in
When Leon Kantor finally completed his program, they were loath to let
him go, crowding down the aisles upon him, applauding up, down, round
him, until the great disheveled house was like the roaring of a sea,
and he would laugh and throw out his arm in wide-spread helplessness,
and always his manager in the background, gesticulating against too much
of his precious product for the money, ushers already slamming up
chairs, his father's arms out for the Stradivarius, and, deepest in the
gloom of the wings, Sarah Kantor, in a rocker especially dragged out for
her, and from the depths of the black-silk reticule, darning his socks.
"_Bravo_--_bravo_! Give us the 'Humoresque'--Chopin
And even as they stood, hatted and coated, importuning and pressing in
upon him, and with a wisp of a smile to the fourth left box, Leon Kantor
played them the "Humoresque" of Dvorak, skedaddling, plucking,
quirking--that laugh on life with a tear behind it. Then suddenly,
because he could escape no other way, rushed straight back for his
dressing-room, bursting in upon a flood of family already there before
him. Isadora Kantor, blue-shaven, aquiline, and already greying at the
temples; his five-year-old son, Leon; a soft little pouter-pigeon of a
wife, too, enormous of bust, in glittering ear-drops and a wrist-watch
of diamonds half buried in chubby wrist; Miss Esther Kantor, pink and
pretty; Rudolph; Boris, not yet done with growing-pains.
At the door, Miss Kantor met her brother, her eyes as sweetly moist as
"Leon, darling, you surpassed even yourself!"
"Quit crowding, children! Let him sit down. Here, Leon, let mamma give
you a fresh collar. Look how the child's perspired! Pull down that
window, Boris. Rudolph, don't let no one in. I give you my word if
to-night wasn't as near as I ever came to seeing a house go crazy. Not
even that time in Milan, darlink--when they broke down the doors, was it
"Ought to seen, ma, the row of police outside--"
"Hush up, Roody! Don't you see your brother is trying to get his
From Mrs. Isadore Kantor: "You ought to seen the balconies, mother.
Isadore and I went up just to see the jam."
"Six thousand dollars in the house to-night if there was a cent," said
"Hand me my violin please, Esther. I must have scratched it, the way
"No, son; you didn't. I've already rubbed it up. Sit quiet, darlink!"
He was limply white, as if the vitality had flowed out of him.
"God! Wasn't it--tremendous?"
"Six thousand if there was a cent," repeated Isadore Kantor; "more than
Rimsky ever played to in his life!"
"Oh, Izzy, you make me sick, always counting--counting."
"Your sister's right, Isadore. You got nothing to complain of if there
was only six hundred in the house. A boy whose fiddle has made already
enough to set you up in such a fine business, his brother Boris in such
a fine college, automobiles--style--and now because Vladimir Rimsky,
three times his age, gets signed up with Elsass for a few thousand more
a year, right away the family gets a long face--"
"Ma, please; Isadore didn't mean it that way!"
"Pa's knocking, ma; shall I let him in?"
"Let him in, Roody. I'd like to know what good it will do to try to keep
In an actual rain of perspiration, his tie slid well under one ear,
Abrahm Kantor burst in, mouthing the words before his acute state of
strangulation would let them out.
"Elsass--it's Elsass outside--he--wants--to sign--Leon--fifty
concerts--coast to coast--two thousand--next season--he's got the
papers--already drawn up--the pen outside waiting--"
In the silence that followed, Isadore Kantor, a poppiness of stare and a
violent redness set in, suddenly turned to his five-year-old son, sticky
with lollypop, and came down soundly and with smack against the
infantile, the slightly outstanding, and unsuspecting ear.
"_Momser!_" he cried. "_Chammer! Lump! Ganef!_ You hear that? Two
thousand! Two thousand! Didn't I tell you--didn't I tell you to
Even as Leon Kantor put pen to this princely document, Francis Ferdinand
of Austria, the assassin's bullet true, lay dead in state, and let slip
were the dogs of war.
In the next years, men, forty deep, were to die in piles; hayricks of
fields to become human hayricks of battlefields; Belgium disembowelled,
her very entrails dragging to find all the civilized world her champion,
and between the poppies of Flanders, crosses, thousands upon thousands
of them, to mark the places where the youth of her allies fell, avenging
outrage. Seas, even when calmest, were to become terrible, and men's
heart-beats, a bit sluggish with the fatty degeneration of a sluggard
peace, to quicken and then to throb with the rat-a-tat-tat, the
rat-a-tat-tat of the most peremptory, the most reverberating call to
arms in the history of the world.
In June, 1917, Leon Kantor, answering that rat-a-tat-tat, enlisted.
In November, honed by the interim of training to even a new leanness,
and sailing orders heavy and light in his heart, Lieutenant Kantor, on
two day's home-leave, took leave of his home, which can be cruelest when
it is tenderest.
Standing there in the expensive, the formal, the enormous French parlour
of his up-town apartment de luxe, from not one of whose chairs would his
mother's feet touch floor, a wall of living flesh, mortared in blood,
was throbbing and hedging him in.
He would pace up and down the long room, heavy with the faces of those
who mourn, with a laugh too ready, too facetious in his fear for them.
"Well, well, what is this, anyway, a wake? Where's the coffin? Who's
His sister-in-law shot out her plump, watch-incrusted wrist.
"Don't, Leon" she cried. "Such talk is a sin! It might come true."
"Rosie-Posy-butter-ball," he said pausing beside her chair to pinch her
deeply soft cheek. "Cry-baby-roly-poly, you can't shove me off in a
wooden kimono that way."
From his place before the white-and-gold mantel, staring steadfastly at
the floor-tiling, Isadore Kantor turned suddenly, a bit whiter and older
at the temples.
"Don't get your comedy, Leon.
"That's the way the fellows at camp joke about coffins, ma. I didn't
mean anything but fun. Great Scott--can't anyone take a joke?"
"O God! O God!" His mother fell to swaying, softly hugging herself
"Did you sign over power of attorney to pa, Leon?"
"All fixed, Izzy."
"I'm so afraid, son, you don't take with you enough money in your
pockets. You know how you lose it. If only you would let mamma sew that
little bag inside your uniform with a little place for bills and a
little place for the asfitidy!"
"Now, please, ma--please! If I needed more, wouldn't I take it? Wouldn't
I be a pretty joke among the fellows, tied up in that smelling stuff?
Orders are orders, ma; I know what to take and what not to take."
"Please, Leon, don't get mad at me, but if you will let me put in your
suitcase just one little box of that salve for your finger tips, so they
Pausing as he paced to lay cheek to her hair, he patted her.
"Three boxes if you want. Now, how's that?"
"And you won't take it out so soon as my back is turned?"
"Cross my heart."
His touch seemed to set her trembling again, all her illy concealed
emotions rushing up.
"I can't stand it! Can't! Can't! Take my life--take my blood, but don't
take my boy--don't take my boy--"
"Mamma, mamma, is that the way you're going to begin all over again
after your promise?"
She clung to him, heaving against the rising storm of sobs.
"I can't help it--can't--cut out my heart from me, but let me keep my
"Oughtn't she be ashamed of herself? Just listen to her, Esther! What
will we do with her? Talks like she had a guarantee I wasn't coming
back. Why I wouldn't be surprised if by spring I wasn't tuning up again
for a coast-to-coast tour--"
"'Spring'--that talk don't fool me--without my boy, the springs in my
life are over--"
"Why, ma, you talk like every soldier who goes to war was killed.
There's only the smallest percentage of them die in battle--"
"'Spring,' he says; 'spring!' Crossing the seas from me! To live through
months with that sea between us--my boy maybe shot--my--"
"I can't help it, Leon; I'm not one of those fine mothers that can be so
brave. Cut out my heart, but leave my boy--my wonder-boy--my child I
"There's other mothers, ma, with sons."
"Yes, but not wonder-sons! A genius like you could so easy get excused,
Leon. Give it up. Genius it should be the last to be sent to--the
slaughter-pen. Leon darlink--don't go!"
"Ma, ma--you don't mean what you're saying. You wouldn't want me to
reason that way. You wouldn't want me to hide behind my--violin."
"I would! Would! You should wait for the draft. With my Roody and even
my baby Boris enlisted, ain't it enough for one mother? Since they got
to be in camp, all right I say, let them be there, if my heart breaks
for it, but not my wonder-child! You get the exemption, Leon, right away
for the asking. Stay with me Leon! Don't go away! The people at home got
to be kept happy with music. That's being a soldier, too, playing their
troubles away. Stay with me, Leon! Don't go leave me--don't--don't--"
He suffered her to lie, tear-drenched, back into his arms, holding her
close in his compassion for her, his own face twisting.
"God, ma, his--is awful! Please--you make us ashamed--all of us! I
don't know what to say. Esther, come quiet her--for God's sake quiet
From her place in the sobbing circle, Esther Kantor crossed to kneel
beside her mother.
"Mamma, darling, you're killing yourself! What if every family went on
this way? You want papa to come in and find us all crying? Is this the
way you want Leon to spend his last hour with us--"
"I mean his last hour until he comes back, darling. Didn't you just hear
him say, darling, it may be by spring?"
"'Spring'--'spring'--never no more springs for me--"
"Just think, darling, how proud we should be. Our Leon, who could so
easily have been excused, not even to wait for the draft."
"It's not too late yet--please, Leon--"
"Our Roody and Boris both in camp, too, training to serve their country.
Why, mamma, we ought to be crying for happiness! As Leon says, surely
the Kantor family who fled out of Russia to escape massacre should know
how terrible slavery can be. That's why we must help our boys, mamma, in
their fight to make the world free. Right, Leon?"--trying to smile with
her red-rimmed eyes.
"We've got no fight with no one! Not a child of mine was ever raised to
so much as lift a finger against no one. We've got no fight with no
"We have got a fight with some one. With autocracy! Only, this time it
happens to be Hunnish autocracy. You should know it, mamma; oh, you
should know it deeper down in you than any of us, the fight our family
right here has got with autocracy!"
"Leon's right, mamma darling, the way you and papa were beaten out of
"There's not a day in your life you don't curse it without knowing it!
Every time we three boys look at your son and our brother Mannie, born
an--an imbecile--because of autocracy, we know what we're fighting for.
We know. You know, too. Look at him over there, even before he was
born, ruined by autocracy! Know what I'm fighting for? Why, this whole
family knows! What's music, what's art, what's life itself in a world
without freedom? Every time, ma, you get to thinking we've got a fight
with no one, all you have to do is look at our poor Mannie. He's the
answer! He's the answer!"
In a foaming sort of silence, Mannie Kantor smiled softly from his chair
beneath the pink-and-gold shade of the piano-lamp. The heterogeneous
sounds of women weeping had ceased. Straight in her chair, her great
shelf of bust heaving, sat Rosa Kantor, suddenly dry of eye; Isadore
Kantor head up. Erect now, and out from the embrace of her daughter,
Sarah looked up at her son.
"What time do you leave, Leon?" she asked, actually firm of lip.
"Any minute, ma. Getting late."
This time she pulled her lips to a smile, waggling her forefinger.
"Don't let them little devils of French girls fall in love with my dude
in his uniform."
Her pretense at pleasantry was almost more than he could bear.
"Hear! Hear! Our mother thinks I'm a regular lady-killer! Hear that,
Esther?"--pinching her cheek.
"You are, Leon--only--only, you don't know it."
"Don't you bring down too many beaus while I'm gone, either, Miss
_Sotto voce_ to her: "Remember, Esther, while I'm gone, the royalties
from the Discaphone records are yours. I want you to have them for
pin-money and--maybe a dowry?"
She turned from him.
"I like him! Nice fellow, but too slow! Why, if I were in his shoes, I'd
have popped long ago."
She smiled with her lashes dewy.
There entered then, in a violet-scented little whirl, Miss Gina Berg,
rosy with the sting of a winter's night, and, as usual, swathed in the
She was for greeting everyone, a wafted kiss to Mrs. Kantor, and then
arms wide, a great bunch of violets in one outstretched hand, her glance
straight sure and sparkling for Leon Kantor.
"Why, Gina--we read--we thought you were singing in Philadelphia
"So did I, Esther darling, until a little bird whispered to me that
Lieutenant Kantor was home on farewell leave."
He advanced to her down the great length of room, lowering his head over
her hand, his puttee-clad legs clicked together.
"You mean, Miss Gina--Gina--you didn't sing?"
"Of course I didn't! Hasn't every prima donna a larynx to hid behind?"
She lifted off her fur cap, spilling curls.
"Well, I--I'll be hanged!" said Lieutenant Kantor, his eyes lakes of her
She let her hand linger in his.
"How wonderful--your coming!"
"I--you think it was not nice of me--to come?"
"I think it was the nicest thing that ever happened in the world."
"All the way here in the train, I kept saying--crazy--crazy--running to
tell Leon--Lieutenant--Kantor good-bye--when you haven't even seen him
three times in three years--"
"But each--each of those three times we--we've remembered, Gina."
"But that's how I feel toward all the boys, Leon--our fighting
boys--just like flying to them to kiss them each one good-bye."
"Come over, Gina. You'll be a treat to our mother. I--well, I'm
hanged--all the way from Philadelphia!"
There was even a sparkle to talk then, and a let-up of pressure. After
a while, Sarah Kantor looked up at her son, tremulous but smiling.
"Well, son, you going to play--for your old mother before--you go? It'll
be many a month--spring--maybe longer before I hear my boy again except
on the discaphone."
He shot a quick glance to his sister.
"Why, I--I don't know. I--I'd love it, ma if--if you think, Esther, I'd
"You don't need to be afraid of me, darlink. There's nothing can give me
strength to bear--what's before me like--like my boy's music. That's my
life, his music."
"Why, yes; if mamma is sure she feels that way, play for us, Leon."
He was already at the instrument, where it lay swathed, atop the grand
"What'll it be, folks?"
"Something to make ma laugh, Leon--something light, something funny."
"'Humoresque'?" he said, with a quick glance for Miss Berg.
"'Humoresque,'" she said, smiling back at him.
He capered through, cutting and playful of bow, the melody of Dvorak's,
which is as ironic as a grinning mask.
Finished, he smiled at his parent, her face still untearful.
"It's like life, son, that piece. Laughing and making fun of--the way
just as we think we got--we ain't got."
"Play that new piece, Leon, the one you set to music. You know. The
words by that young boy in the war who wrote such grand poetry before he
was killed. The one that always makes poor Mannie laugh. Play it for
Her plump little unlined face innocent of fault, Mrs. Isadore Kantor
ventured her request, her smile tired with tears."
"No, no--Rosa--not now--ma wouldn't want that."
"I do, son; I do! Even Mannie should have his share of good-bye."
To Gina Berg: "They want me to play that little setting of mine of
Allan Seeger's poem, 'I have a rendezvous.'"
"It--it's beautiful, Leon! I was to have sung it on my program
to-night--only, I'm afraid you had better not--"
"Please, Leon! Nothing you play can ever make me as sad as it makes me
glad. Mannie should have too his good-bye."
"All right then, ma, if--if you're sure you want it. Will you sing it,
She had risen.
"Why, yes, Leon."
She sang it then, quite purely, her hands clasped simply together and
her glance mistily off, the beautiful, the heroic, the lyrical prophecy
of a soldier-poet and a poet-soldier.
But I've a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
In the silence that followed, a sob burst out stifled from Esther
Kantor, this time her mother holding her in arms that were strong.
"That, Leon, is the most beautiful of all your compositions. What does
it mean, son, that word, 'rondy-voo'?"
"Why, I--I don't exactly know. A rendezvous--it's a sort of meeting, an
engagement, isn't it, Miss Gina? Gina?"
"That's it, Leon--an engagement."
"Have I an engagement with you, Gina?"
"Oh, how--how I hope you have, Leon!"
"In the spring?"
"That's it--in the spring."
Then they smiled, these two, who had never felt more than the merest
butterfly wings of love brushing them, light as lashes. No word between
them, only an unfinished sweetness, waiting to be linked up.
Suddenly there burst in Abrahm Kantor.
"Quick, Leon! I got the car downstairs. Just fifteen minutes to make the
ferry. Quick! The sooner we get him over there the sooner we get him
back! I'm right, mamma? Now--now--no water-works! Get your brother's
suitcase, Isadore. Now--now--no nonsense--quick!"
With a deftly manoeuvred round of good-byes, a grip-laden dash for door,
a throbbing moment of turning back when it seemed as though Sarah
Kantor's arms could not unlock their deadlock of him, Leon Kantor was
out and gone, the group of faces point-etched into the silence behind
him. The poor mute face of Mannie, laughing softly. Rosa Kantor crying
into her hands. Esther, grief-crumpled, but rich in the enormous hope of
youth. The sweet Gina, to whom the waiting months had already begun
Not so, Sarah Kantor. In a bedroom adjoining, its high-ceilinged
vastness as cold as a cathedral to her lowness of stature, sobs dry and
terrible were rumbling up from her, only to dash against lips tightly
On her knees beside a chest of drawers, and unwrapping it from
swaddling-clothes, she withdrew what at best had been a sorry sort of
fiddle. Cracked of back and solitary of string it was as if her
trembling arms, raising it above her head, would make of themselves and
her swaying body the tripod of an altar. The old twisting and prophetic
pain was behind her heart. Like the painted billows of music that the
old Italian masters loved to do, there wound and wreathed about her
clouds of song.
But I've a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
THE LUBBENY KISS
BY LOUISE RICE
From _Ainslee's Magazine_
For many hours the hot July sun had beaten down upon the upland meadows
and the pine woods of the lower New Jersey hills. So, when the dew began
to fall, there arose from them a heady brew, distilled from blossoming
milkweed and fruiting wild raspberry canes and mountain laurel and dried
The Princess Dora Parse took this perfume into her lusty young lungs and
blew it out again in a long sigh, after which she bent her first finger
over her thumb as one must when one returns what all Romanys know to be
"the breath of God." She did this almost unconsciously, for all her
faculties were busied in another matter.
The eyes of a gorgio, weakened by an indoor life, would never have been
able to distinguish the small object for which the princess looked, for
she was perched up on the high seat of the red Romany _wardo_, and she
drove her two strong, shaggy horses with a free and careless hand. But
to Dora Parse the blur of vague shadows gliding by each wheel was not
vague at all. Suddenly she checked her horses and sprang down.
The patteran for which she was looking was laid beneath a clump of the
flowering weed which the Romanys call "stars in the sky." The gorgios
know it as Queen Ann's lace, and the farmers curse it by the name of the
wild carrot. The patteran was like a miniature log cabin without a roof,
and across the top one large stick was laid, pointing upward along the
Two brown and slender fingers on the big braid which dropped over her
shoulder, the princess meditated, a shiver of fear running through her.
What, she asked herself, could this mean? Why, for the first time in
years, were the wagons to go to the farm of Jan Jacobus? Even if it were
only a chance happening, it was a most unfortunate one, for young Jan,
the fair-haired, giant son of old Jacobus, with his light blue eyes and
his drawling, insolent speech, was the last person in the world that she
wanted to see, especially with her man near.
For she had meant no harm. Many and many a time she had smiled into the
eyes of men and felt pride in her power over them. Still--and yet--The
princess scattered the patteran with her foot, for she knew that all the
wagons must be ahead of her, since she had lagged so, and she leaped to
her seat with one easy, lithe swing and drove on up the darkening road.
Jan Jacobus, like several other descendants of the Dutch settlers of New
Jersey, held his upland farm on shares with John Lane's tribe of
gypsies. Jacobuses and Bantas and Koppfs, they made no bones about
having business dealings with the tribe of English Romanys which had
followed a regular route, twice a year, from Maryland to the upper part
of New Jersey, since before the beginning of the Revolutionary days. The
descendants of the English settlers, the Hardys, the Lesters, the
Vincents, and the Farrands, looked with still persisting English reserve
upon the roamers of the woods and would have no traffic with them,
though a good many of their sons and daughters had to know the few
Romany young people who were left, by twos and threes in the towns for
occasional years of schooling.
The tribe, trading in land in the two States which they frequented, and
breeding horses, was very rich, but not very many people knew that.
However, they were conceded to be shrewd bargainers, and when old John
bought Martin Debbins' upland and rocky farm one year, with the money
that he had made by a lucky purchase of a gangling colt whose owner had
failed rightly to appraise its possibilities as a racer, Boonton and
Dover and Morristown laughed.
"_Sal_ away," old John retorted pleasantly to the cashier of the bank in
Boonton, where the tube had deposited its surplus funds for many years,
"but you won't _sal_ so much when you _dik_ what I will make out of
The cashier thereupon looked thoughtful. It might well be that he and
others would not laugh when they saw good fortune which might have been
theirs following this genial old outlaw.
That summer the wagons camped on the Debbins place, and old John stocked
it with a lot of fine hogs, for which the land was especially adapted.
They fattened on the many acres, wooded with wild nut trees, and
Jacobus--as keen a bargainer as any Romany, upon whom John Lane had had
his eye all the time--took the farm on shares, and every year thereafter
the cashier at the bank added a neat little total to the big balance
which the tribe was rolling up.
And every year, as the wagons beat up toward Dover in July, old John
would drive on ahead and spend a night of mingled business and pleasure
with old Jan, reckoning up the profits on the Berkshires for which the
farm was now famous, and putting down big mugs of the "black drink" for
which Aunty Alice Lee, John Lane's ancient cousin, was equally famous.
The amount of this fiery and head-splitting liquor which the two old men
thus got away with was afterward gleefully recounted in the wagons and
fearfully whispered of in the little Dutch church at Horse's Neck which
the Jacobuses had attended for over a hundred years.
But never, as wagon after wagon had gone up the turning that led to the
upward farm, had there been a patteran pointing that way. Always, it had
shown the way onward and downward, to the little hamlet of Rockaway,
where there was an old and friendly camping place, back of the
blacksmith shop beyond the church. Old John never encouraged the wagons
to visit any of the properties held by the tribe.
"Silver blackens the salt of friendship," he would say.
Dora Parse was driving her own _wardo_, a very fine one which had
belonged to her mother. Lester Montague, of Sea Tack, Maryland, who
makes the wagons of Romanys for all the Atlantic coast tribes, like his
father before him, had done an especially good job of it. The princess
had been certified, by the Romany rites, to old John's eldest son,
George, for she had flatly refused to be married according to the gorgio
ways. Not having been married a full year, he was not yet entitled to
carry the heavy, silver-topped stick which is the badge of the married
man, nor could he demand a place in his wife's tent or wagon unless she
expressly invited him. Dora Parse and George Lane were passionately in
love with each other, and their meeting and mating had been the
flowering romance of the tribe, the previous summer.
The princess, being descended from a very old Romany family, as her name
showed, was far higher in rank than any one in the Lane tribe. Her
aristocratic lineage showed in the set of her magnificent head, in the
small, delicate fingers of her hand, and in the fire and richness of her
eyes. Also, her skin was of the colour of old ivory upon which is cast a
distant, faint reflection of the sunset, and her mouth, thinner than
those of most Romanys, was of the colour of a ripe pomegranate.
"A _rauni, a puro rauni_," all the tribes of the eastern coast murmured
respectfully, when Dora Parse's name was mentioned.
She was, indeed, a very great lady, but she was a flirtatious and
headstrong girl. She was one of the few modern gypsies who still hold to
the unadulterated worship of "those." All the members of John Lane's
tribe were Methodists--had been since before they had migrated from
England. In every wagon, save Dora's, a large illustrated Bible lay on a
little table, and those who could, read them aloud to the rest of a
Sunday afternoon. This did not mean, however, that the Romanys had
descended to gorgio ways, or that they had wholly left off their
attentions to "those". They combined the two. Old John was known as a
fervent and eloquent leader in prayer at the Wednesday-night prayer
meetings in the Maryland town where his church membership was held, but
he had not ceased to carry the "box of meanings," as befitted the chief
of the tribe.
This was a very beautifully worked box of pure gold, made by the great
Nikola of Budapest, whose boxes can be found inside the shirt of every
gypsy chief, where they are always carried. In them are some grains of
wheat, garnered by moonlight, a peacock's feather, and a small silver
bell with a coiled snake for a handle. When anything is to be decided, a
few of the grains are taken out and counted. If they are even, the omen
is bad, but if they are odd, all is well. Old John had an elastic and
accommodating mind, like all Romanys, so he never thought it strange
that he should ask the "box of meanings" whether or not it was going to
storm on prayer-meeting nights.
Dora Parse thought of the box now, and wished that she might have the
peacock's feather for a minute, so that her uneasy sense of impending
bad luck would leave her. Then she stopped beside a cross-barred gate
where an old man was evidently waiting for her.
"Lane was gettin' troubled about yuh," he said, as he turned the horses
and peered curiously up at her. He knew who she was, not only because
John Lane had said who it was who was late, but because Dora Parse's
appearance was well known to the whole countryside. She was the only
member of the tribe who kept to the full Romany dress. There were big
gold loops in her small ears, and on her arms, many gold bracelets,
whose lightness testified to their freedom from alloy. Her skirt was of
red, heavily embroidered in blue, and her waist, with short sleeves, was
of sheer white cloth, with an embroidered bolero. Her hair she wore in
the ancient fashion, in two braids on either side of her face. She could
well afford to, the chis muttered among themselves. Any girl with hair
There was a long lane leading to the barns and to the meadow back of
them, and there, said Jan, the tribe was to camp. As the princess drove
along the short distance, she swiftly snatched off her little bolero,
put it on wrong side out, and then snatched it off and righted it. That
much, at least, she could do to avert ill luck. And her heart bounded as
she drove in among the other wagons, for her husband came running to
meet her and held out his arms.
She dropped into them and laid each finger tip, delicately, in
succession, upon his eyes and his ears and his mouth, the seal of a
betrothal and the sign whereby a Romany chal may know that a chi intends
to accept him when he speaks for her before the tribe; a sign that
lovers repeat as a sacred and intimate caress. She leaned, hard, into
his arms, and he held her, pressing the tender, confidential kiss that
is given to children behind her little ear.
Dora Parse suddenly ran both hands through his thick hair and gave it a
little pull. She always did that when her spirits rose. Then she turned
and looked at the scene, and at once she knew that there was to be some
special occasion. Aunty Alice Lee was seated by a cooking fire, on which
stood the enormous iron pot in which the "big meals" were prepared, when
the tribe was to eat together and not in separate groups, as it usually
did. There were some boards laid on wooden horses, and Pyramus Lee,
aunty's grandson, was bringing blocks of wood from the woodshed for
seats. Dora Parse clapped her hands with delight and looked at her man.
"_Tetcho_!" she exclaimed, approvingly, using the word that spells all
degrees of satisfaction. "And what is it for, stickless one? Is it a
talk over silver?"
"Yes, it is some business," George Lane replied, "but first there will
be a _gillie shoon_."
A _gillie shoon_ has its counterpart in the English word "singsong," as
it is beginning to be used now, with this exception: Romanys have few
"fixed" songs. They have strains which are set, which every one knows,
but a _gillie shoon_ means that the performers improvise coninually; and
in this sense it is a mystic ceremony, never held at an appointed time,
except a "time of Mul-cerus," which really means a sort of religious
wave of feeling, which strikes tribe after tribe, usually in the spring.
"Marda has come back," Aunty Lee called out to Dora Parse. No one ever
called her by her full name of Marda Lee, because she was a Lee only by
courtesy, having been adopted from a distant wagon when both her parents
were killed in a thunderstorm. Marda, wearing the trim tailored skirt
and waist that were her usual costume, was putting the big red
tablecloth of the "big meals" on the boards. Dora went quickly toward
the young girl and embraced her.
"How is our little scholar?" she asked affectionately.
"I am very well, Dora Parse, but a little tired," Marda answered.
"And did you receive another paper?"
"Yes. I passed my exams. It will save me half a year in Dover."
"That is good," Dora Parse replied, although she had only the dimmest
idea of what Marda meant. The young girl knew that. She had just come
from taking a special course in Columbia, and she was feeling the breach
between herself and her people to be especially wide. Because of that,
perhaps, she also felt more loving toward all of them than she ever had,
and especially toward Dora about whom she knew something that was most
alarming. Dora Parse noted the pale, grave face of her favourite friend
"Smile, bird of my heart," she entreated, "for we are to have a _gillie
shoon_. Sit near me, that I may follow your heaven voice."
There was no flattery meant. The Romanys call the soprano "the heaven
voice," the tenor "the sky voice," the contralto "the earth voice," and
the basso "the sea voice." Dora had a really wonderful earth voice,
almost as wonderful as Marda's heaven voice, which would have been
remarkable even among opera singers, and the two were known everywhere
for their improvisations. In answer to the remark of the princess, Marda
gave her a strange look and said:
"I shall be near you, Dora Parse. Do not forget."
Her manner was certainly peculiar, the princess thought, as she walked
away. But then one never knew what Marda was thinking about. Her great
education set her apart from others. Any chi who habitually read herself
to sleep over those most _puro libros_, "The Works of William
Shakespeare, in Eight Volumes, Complete, with Glossary and Appendix,"
must not be judged by ordinary standards. The princess knew the full
title of those _puro libros_, having painfully spelled it out, all one
rainy afternoon, in Marda's mother's wagon, with repeated assitance and
explanations from Marda, which had left the princess with a headache.
Now Aunty Lee took off the heavy iron cover of the pot and the odour of
Romany duck stew, than which there is nothing in the world more
appetizing, mingled with the sweet fragrance of the drying hay. Aunty
thrust a fork as long as a poker into the bubbling mass and then gave
the call that brings the tribe in a hurry.
"Empo!" she said in her shrill, cracked voice. "Empo! Empo!"
Laughing, teasing, jostling, talking, they all came, spilling out from
the wagons, running from the barn, sauntering in, the lovers, by twos,
and sat down before the plates heaped high with the duck and the
vegetables with which it was cooked and the big loaves of Italian bread
which the Romanys like and always buy as they pass through towns where
there are Italian bakeries.
But they sat quiet then, and each one looked toward the princess, as
politeness demanded, since she was the highest in rank among them.
She drew a sliver of meat from her plate and tossed it over her
"To the great _re_" she said.
"To the _shule_," each one murmured. Then, having paid their compliments
to the sun and the moon, as all good Romanys must before eating, they
fell to with heartiness.
When they were through, the mothers and the old men cleared away the
tables and put the younger children to bed in the wagons, and the
princess and George Lane and Marda and young Adam Lane, George's
youngest brother, walked up and down, outside the glow from the cooking
fire, taking the deep, full breaths which cleanse the mouth and prepare
the soul for the ecstasy of song.
The men took away the table and the lanterns which had been standing
about, and put out the cooking fire, for the big moon was rolling up
over the treetops, and Romanys sing by her light alone, if they can.
Frogs were calling in the shallow stretches of the Upper Rockaway.
People began to sit down in a big circle.
Then Marda started the _gillie shoon_. At first you could not have been
sure whether the sound was far or near, for she "covered" her tones, in
a way that many a gorgio gives years and much silver to learn. Then the
wonderful tone swelled out, as if an organ stop were being pulled open,
and one by one, the four leaders cast in the dropping notes which
followed and sustained the theme that Marda was weaving:
Old John, who had not appeared before, slid into the circle, holding by
the sleeve a giant of a man who seemed to come half unwillingly. Dora
Parse saw him, and she could not repress the shiver that ran through her
at the sight of young Jan Jacobus, yet she sang on. The deep, majestic
basses throbbed out the foundation of the great fuguelike chorus, and
the sopranos soared and soared until they were singing falsetto,
according to gorgio standards, only it sounded like the sweetly piercing
high notes of violins, and the tenors and contraltos wove a garland of
glancing melody between the two. They were all singing now. Rocking back
and forth a little, swaying gently from side to side, lovers clasped
together, mothers in their young sons' arms, and fathers clasping their
daughters, they sent out to the velvet arch above them the heart cry of
a race, proud and humble, cleanly voluptuous, strong and cruel,
passionate and loving, elemental like the north wind and subtle as the
fragrance of the poppy.
"Ai--lallu! Ai--lala--lala! Ai--lallu!"
Jan Jacobus sat with his big jaw dropping. Stupid boor that he was, he
could not have explained the terrifying effect which this wild music and
those tense, uplifting faces had upon him, but he would have given
anything to be back in his mother's kitchen, with the lamp lit and the
dark, unfamiliar night shut out.
As suddenly as the singing had begun, it stopped. People coughed, moved
a little, whispered to one another. Then George Lane stood upon his
feet, pulling Dora Parse with him.
"You see her?" he asked them all, holding out his wife in his arms.
Dora Parse knew then, for he was beginning the ritual of the man or
woman who accuses a partner, before the tribe, of unfaithfulness. He was
using the most _puro_ Romany _jib_, for only so can the serious affairs
of the tribe tribunal be conducted. Dora Parse struggled in the strong
hands of her man.
"No! No!" she cried. "No--no!"
"You see her?" George Lane repeated to the circle.
"We see her," they answered in a murmur that ran around from end to end.
"She is mine?"
"She is yours."
"What shall be done to her if she has lost the spirit of our love?"
Again Dora Parse furiously struggled, but George Lane held her.
"What shall be done with her? If that is so?"
Aunty Lee, as the oldest woman present, now took up the replies, as was
her right and duty:
"Let her go to that other, if she wishes, and do you close your tent and
your wagon against her."
"And if she does not wish?"
"Then punish her."
"What shall be done to the man?"
"Is he a Romany?"
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