One Basket [31 Stories]
Part 3 out of 3
"Good-by! Good-by! Write, now! Be sure! Mebbe you can get
off in a week, for a visit. Good-by! Good----"
They were gone. Their voices came back to the crowd on the depot
platform-- high, clear young voices; almost like the voices of
Well, you wrote letters--fat, bulging letters--and in turn you
received equally plump envelopes with a red emblem in one corner.
You sent boxes of homemade fudge (nut variety) and cookies and
the more durable forms of cake.
Then, unaccountably, Chuck was whisked all the way to California.
He was furious at parting with his mates, and his indignation was
expressed in his letters to Tessie. She sympathized with him in
her replies. She tried to make light of it, but there was a
little clutch of terror in it, too. California! Might as well
send a person to the end of the world while they were about it.
Two months of that. Then, inexplicably again, Chuck's letters
bore the astounding postmark of New York. She thought, in a
panic, that he was Franceward bound, but it turned out not to be
so. Not yet. Chuck's letters were taking on a cosmopolitan
tone. "Well," he wrote, "I guess the little old town is as
dead as ever. It seems funny you being right there all this time
and I've traveled from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Everybody
treats me swell. You ought to seen some of those California
houses. They make Hatton's place look like a dump."
The girls, Cora and Tess and the rest, laughed and joked among
themselves and assured one another, with a toss of the head, that
they could have a good time without the fellas. They didn't need
They gave parties, and they were not a success. There was one of
the type known as a stag. "Some hen party!" they all said.
They danced, and sang "Over There." They had ice cream and
chocolate layer cake and went home in great hilarity, with their
hands on each other's shoulders, still singing.
But the thing was a failure, and they knew it. Next day, at the
lunch hour and in the washroom, there was a little desultory talk
about the stag. But the meat of such an aftergathering is
contained in phrases such as "I says to him"--and "He says to
me." They wasted little conversation on the stag. It was much
more exciting to exhibit letters on blue-lined paper with the red
emblem at the top. Chuck's last letter had contained the news of
Angie Hatton, home from the East, was writing letters, too.
Everyone in Chippewa knew that. She wrote on that new art paper
with the gnawed- looking edges and stiff as a newly laundered
cuff. But the letters which she awaited so eagerly were written
on the same sort of paper as were those Tessie had from
Chuck--blue-lined, cheap in quality. A New York fellow, Chippewa
learned; an aviator. They knew, too, that young Hatton was an
infantry lieutenant somewhere in the East. These letters were
not from him.
Ever since her home-coming, Angie had been sewing at the Red
Cross shop on Grand Avenue. Chippewa boasted two Red Cross
shops. The Grand Avenue shop was the society shop. The East End
crowd sewed there, capped, veiled, aproned--and unapproachable.
Were your fingers ever so deft, your knowledge of seams and
basting mathematical, your skill with that complicated garment
known as a pneumonia jacket uncanny, if you did not belong to the
East End set, you did not sew at the Grand Avenue shop. No
matter how grossly red the blood which the Grand Avenue bandages
and pads were ultimately to stanch, the liquid in the fingers
that rolled and folded them was pure cerulean.
Tessie and her crowd had never thought of giving any such service
to their country. They spoke of the Grand Avenue workers as
"that stinkin' bunch." Yet each one of the girls was capable
of starting a blouse in an emergency on Saturday night and
finishing it in time for a Sunday picnic, buttonholes and all.
Their help might have been invaluable. It never was asked.
Without warning, Chuck came home on three days' furlough. It
meant that he was bound for France right enough this time. But
Tessie didn't care.
"I don't care where you're goin'," she said exultantly, her
eyes lingering on the stocky, straight, powerful figure in its
rather ill-fitting khaki. "You're here now. That's enough.
Ain't you tickled to be home, Chuck? Gee!" `
`I'll say," responded Chuck. But even he seemed to detect some
lack in his tone and words. He elaborated somewhat shamefacedly:
"Sure. It's swell to be home. But I don't know. After you've
traveled around, and come back, things look so kind of little to
you. I don't know--kind of----" He floundered about, at a loss
for expression. Then tried again: "Now, take Hatton's place,
for example. I always used to think it was a regular palace,
but, gosh, you ought to see places where I was asked to in San
Francisco and around there. Why, they was--were--enough to make
the Hatton house look like a shack. Swimmin' pools of white
marble, and acres of yard like a park, and the help always
bringing you something to eat or drink. And the folks
themselves--why, say! Here we are scraping and bowing to Hattons
and that bunch. They're pikers to what some people are that
invited me to their houses in New York and Berkeley, and treated
me and the other guys like kings or something. Take Megan's
store, too"--he was warming to his subject, so that he failed to
notice the darkening of Tessie's face--"it's a joke compared to
New York and San Francisco stores. Reg'lar hick joint."
Tessie stiffened. Her teeth were set, her eyes sparkled. She
tossed her head. "Well, I'm sure, Mr. Mory, it's good enough
for me. Too bad you had to come home at all now you're so
elegant and swell, and everything. You better go call on Angie
Hatton instead of wasting time on me. She'd probably be tickled
to see you."
He stumbled to his feet, then, awkwardly. "Aw, say, Tessie, I
didn't mean--why, say--you don't suppose--why, believe me, I
pretty near busted out cryin' when I saw the Junction eatin'
house when my train came in. And I been thinking of you every
minute. There wasn't a day----"
"Tell that to your swell New York friends. I may be a hick but
I ain't a fool." She was near to tears.
"Why, say, Tess, listen! Listen! If you knew--if you knew--A
guy's got to--he's got no right to----"
And presently Tessie was mollified, but only on the surface. She
smiled and glanced and teased and sparkled. And beneath was
terror. He talked differently. He walked differently. It
wasn't his clothes or the army. It was something else--an ease
of manner, a new leisureliness of glance, an air. Once Tessie
had gone to Milwaukee over Labor Day. It was the extent of her
experience as a traveler. She remembered how superior she had
felt for at least two days after. But Chuck! California! New
York! It wasn't the distance that terrified her. It was his new
knowledge, the broadening of his vision, though she did not know
it and certainly could not have put it into words.
They went walking down by the river to Oneida Springs, and drank
some of the sulphur water that tasted like rotten eggs. Tessie
drank it with little shrieks and shudders and puckered her face
up into an expression indicative of extreme disgust.
"It's good for you," Chuck said, and drank three cups of it,
manfully. "That taste is the mineral qualities the water
contains--sulphur and iron and so forth."
"I don't care," snapped Tessie irritably. "I hate it!" They
had often walked along the river and tasted of the spring water,
but Chuck had never before waxed scientific. They took a boat at
Baumann's boathouse and drifted down the lovely Fox River.
"Want to row?" Chuck asked. "I'll get an extra pair of oars
if you do."
"I don't know how. Besides, it's too much work. I guess I'll
let you do it."
Chuck was fitting his oars in the oarlocks. She stood on the
landing looking down at him. His hat was off. His hair seemed
blonder than ever against the rich tan of his face. His neck
muscles swelled a little as he bent. Tessie felt a great longing
to bury her face in the warm red skin. He straightened with a
sigh and smiled at her. "I'll be ready in a minute." He took
off his coat and turned his khaki shirt in at the throat, so that
you saw the white line of his untanned chest in strange contrast
to his sun- burned throat. A feeling of giddy faintness surged
over Tessie. She stepped blindly into the boat and would have
fallen if Chuck's hard, firm grip had not steadied her. "Whoa,
there! Don't you know how to step into a boat? There. Walk
along the middle."
She sat down and smiled up at him. "I don't know how I come to
do that. I never did before."
Chuck braced his feet, rolled up his sleeves, and took an oar in
each brown hand, bending rhythmically to his task. He looked
about him, then at the girl, and drew a deep breath, feathering
his oars. "I guess I must have dreamed about this more'n a
"Have you, Chuck?"
They drifted on in silence. "Say, Tess, you ought to learn to
row. It's good exercise. Those girls in California and New
York, they play tennis and row and swim as good as the boys.
Honest, some of 'em are wonders!"
Oh, I'm sick of your swell New York friends! Can't you talk
about something else?"
He saw that he had blundered without in the least understanding
how or why. "All right. What'll we talk about?" In itself a
"About--you." Tessie made it a caress.
"Me? Nothin' to tell about me. I just been drillin' and
studyin' and marchin' and readin' some---- Oh, say, what d'you
"They been learnin' us--teachin' us, I mean--French. It's the
darnedest language! Bread is pain. Can you beat that? If you
want to ask for a piece of bread, you say like this: DONNAY MA
UN MORSO DOO PANG. See?"
"My!" breathed Tessie.
And within her something was screaming: Oh, my God! Oh, my God!
He knows French. And those girls that can row and swim and
everything. And me, I don't know anything. Oh, God, what'll I
It was as though she could see him slipping away from her, out of
her grasp, out of her sight. She had no fear of what might come
to him in France. Bullets and bayonets would never hurt Chuck.
He'd make it, just as he always made the 7:50 when it seemed as
if he was going to miss it sure. He'd make it there and back,
all right. But he'd be a different Chuck, while she stayed the
same Tessie. Books, travel, French, girls, swell folks----
And all the while she was smiling and dimpling and trailing her
hand in the water. "Bet you can't guess what I got in that
"Well, of course I've got chocolate cake. I baked it myself
"Yes, you did!" "Why, Chuck Mory, I did so! I guess you
think I can't do anything, the way you talk."
"Oh, don't I! I guess you know what I think."
"Well, it isn't the cake I mean. It's something else."
"Oh, now you've gone and guessed it." She pouted prettily.
"You asked me to, didn't you?"
Then they laughed together, as at something exquisitely witty.
Down the river, drifting, rowing. Tessie pointed to a house half
hidden among the trees on the farther shore: "There's Hatton's
camp. They say they have grand times there with their swell
crowd some Saturdays and Sundays. If I had a house like that,
I'd live in it all the time, not just a couple of days out of the
whole year." She hesitated a moment. "I suppose it looks like
a shanty to you now."
Chuck surveyed it, patronizingly. "No, it's a nice little
They beached their boat, and built a little fire, and had supper
on the riverbank, and Tessie picked out the choice bits for
him--the breast of the chicken, beautifully golden brown; the
ripest tomato; the firmest, juiciest pickle; the corner of the
little cake which would give him a double share of icing.
From Chuck, between mouthfuls: "I guess you don't know how good
this tastes. Camp grub's all right, but after you've had a few
months of it you get so you don't believe there IS such a thing
as real fried chicken and homemade chocolate cake."
"I'm glad you like it, Chuck. Here, take this drumstick. You
ain't eating a thing!" His fourth piece of chicken.
Down the river as far as the danger line just above the dam, with
Tessie pretending fear just for the joy of having Chuck reassure
her. Then back again in the dusk, Chuck bending to the task now
against the current. And so up the hill, homeward bound. They
walked very slowly, Chuck's hand on her arm. They were dumb with
the tragic, eloquent dumbness of their kind. If she could have
spoken the words that were churning in her mind, they would have
been something like this:
"Oh, Chuck, I wish I was married to you. I wouldn't care if
only I had you. I wouldn't mind babies or anything. I'd be
glad. I want our house, with a dining-room set, and a mahogany
bed, and one of those overstuffed sets in the living room, and
all the housework to do. I'm scared. I'm scared I won't get it.
What'll I do if I don't?"
And he, wordlessly: "Will you wait for me, Tessie, and keep on
thinking about me? And will you keep yourself like you are so
that if I come back----"
Aloud, she said: "I guess you'll get stuck on one of those
French girls. I should worry! They say wages at the watch
factory are going to be raised, workers are so scarce. I'll
probably be as rich as Angie Hatton time you get back."
And he, miserably: "Little old Chippewa girls are good enough
for Chuck. I ain't counting on taking up with those Frenchies.
I don't like their jabber, from what I know of it. I saw some
pictures of 'em, last week, a fellow in camp had who'd been over
there. Their hair is all funny, and fixed up with combs and
stuff, and they look real dark like foreigners."
It had been reassuring enough at the time. But that was six
months ago. And now here was the Tessie who sat on the back
porch, evenings, surveying the sunset. A listless,
lackadaisical, brooding Tessie. Little point to going downtown
Saturday nights now. There was no familiar, beloved figure to
follow you swiftly as you turned off Elm Street, homeward bound.
If she went downtown now, she saw only those Saturday-night
family groups which are familiar to every small town. The
husband, very damp as to hair and clean as to shirt, guarding the
gocart outside while the woman accomplished her Saturday-night
trading at Ding's or Halpin's. Sometimes there were as many as
half a dozen gocarts outside Halpin's, each containing a sleeping
burden, relaxed, chubby, fat-cheeked. The waiting men smoked
their pipes and conversed largely. "Hello, Ed. The woman's
inside, buyin' the store out, I guess."
"That so? Mine, to. Well, how's everything?"
Tessie knew that presently the woman would come out, bundle
laden, and that she would stow these lesser bundles in every
corner left available by the more important sleeping bundle--two
yards of oilcloth; a spool of 100, white; a banana for the baby;
a new stewpan at the five-and-ten.
There had been a time when Tessie, if she thought of these women
at all, felt sorry for them--worn, drab, lacking in style and
figure. Now she envied them.
There were weeks upon weeks when no letter came from Chuck. In
his last letter there had been some talk of his being sent to
Russia. Tessie's eyes, large enough now in her thin face,
distended with a great fear. Russia! His letter spoke, too, of
French villages and chateaux. He and a bunch of fellows had been
introduced to a princess or a countess or something--it was all
one to Tessie--and what do you think? She had kissed them all on
both cheeks! Seems that's the way they did in France.
The morning after the receipt of this letter the girls at the
watch factory might have remarked her pallor had they not been so
occupied with a new and more absorbing topic.
"Tess, did you hear about Angie Hatton?"
"What about her?"
"She's going to France. It's in the Milwaukee paper, all about
her being Chippewa's fairest daughter, and a picture of the
house, and her being the belle of the Fox River Valley, and she's
giving up her palatial home and all to go to work in a canteen
for her country and bleeding France."
"Ya-as she is!" sneered Tessie, and a dull red flush, so deep
as to be painful, swept over her face from throat to brow.
"Ya-as she is, the doll-faced simp! Why, say, she never wiped
up a floor in her life, or baked a cake, or stood on them feet of
hers. She couldn't cut up a loaf of bread decent. Bleeding
France! Ha! That's rich, that is." She thrust her chin out
brutally, and her eyes narrowed to slits. "She's going over
there after that fella of hers. She's chasing him. It's now or
never, and she knows it and she's scared, same's the rest of us.
On'y we got to set home and make the best of it. Or take what's
left." She turned her head slowly to where Nap Ballou stood
over a table at the far end of the room. She laughed a grim, un-
lovely little laugh. "I guess when you can't go after what you
want, like Angie, why you gotta take second choice."
All that day, at the bench, she was the reckless, insolent,
audacious Tessie of six months ago. Nap Ballou was always
standing over her, pretending to inspect some bit of work or
other, his shoulder brushing hers. She laughed up at him so that
her face was not more than two inches from his. He flushed, but
she did not. She laughed a reckless little laugh.
"Thanks for helping teach me my trade, Mr. Ballou. 'Course I
only been at it over three years now, so I ain't got the hang of
He straightened up slowly, and as he did so he rested a hand on
her shoulder for a brief moment. She did not shrug it off.
That night, after supper, Tessie put on her hat and strolled down
to Park Avenue. It wasn't for the walk. Tessie had never been
told to exercise systematically for her body's good, or her
mind's. She went in a spirit of unwholesome brooding curiosity
and a bitter resentment. Going to France, was she? Lots of good
she'd do there. Better stay home and--and what? Tessie cast
about in her mind for a fitting job for Angie. Guess she might's
well go, after all. Nobody'd miss her, unless it was her father,
and he didn't see her but about a third of the time. But in
Tessie's heart was a great envy of this girl who could bridge the
hideous waste of ocean that separated her from her man. Bleeding
France. Yeh! Joke!
The Hatton place, built and landscaped twenty years before,
occupied a square block in solitary grandeur, the show place of
Chippewa. In architectural style it was an impartial mixture of
Norman castle, French chateau, and Rhenish schloss, with a dash
of Coney Island about its facade. It represented Old Man
Hatton's realized dream of landed magnificence.
Tessie, walking slowly past it, and peering through the high iron
fence, could not help noting an air of unwonted excitement about
the place, usually so aloof, so coldly serene. Automobiles
standing out in front. People going up and down. They didn't
look very cheerful. Just as if it mattered whether anything
happened to her or not!
Tessie walked around the block and stood a moment, uncertainly.
Then she struck off down Grand Avenue and past Donovan's pool
shack. A little group of after-supper idlers stood outside,
smoking and gossiping, as she knew there would be. As she turned
the corner she saw Nap Ballou among them. She had known that,
too. As she passed she looked straight ahead, without bowing.
But just past the Burke House he caught up with her. No half-shy
"Can I walk home with you?" from Nap Ballou. No. Instead:
"Somebody's looking mighty pretty this evening, all dolled up in
"Think so?" She tried to be pertly indifferent, but it was
good to have someone following, someone walking home with you.
What if he was old enough to be her father, with graying hair?
Lots of the movie heroes had graying hair at the sides.
They walked for an hour. Tessie left him at the corner. She had
once heard her father designate Ballou as "that drunken skunk."
When she entered the sitting room her cheeks held an unwonted
pink. Her eyes were brighter than they had been in months. Her
mother looked up quickly, peering at her over a pair of
steel-rimmed spectacles, very much askew.
"Where you been, Tessie?"
"Why, she was here, callin' for you, not more'n an hour ago."
Tessie, taking off her hat on her way upstairs, met this coolly.
"Yeh, I ran into her comin' back."
Upstairs, lying fully dressed on her hard little bed, she stared
up into the darkness, thinking, her hands limp at her sides. Oh,
well, what's the diff? You had to make the best of it.
Everybody makin' a fuss about the soldiers--feeding 'em, and
asking 'em to their houses, and sending 'em things, and giving
dances and picnics and parties so they wouldn't be lonesome.
Chuck had told her all about it. The other boys told the same.
They could just pick and choose their good times. Tessie's mind
groped about, sensing a certain injustice. How about the girls?
She didn't put it thus squarely. Hers was not a logical mind.
Easy enough to paw over the men- folks and get silly over brass
buttons and a uniform. She put it that way. She thought of the
refrain of a popular song: "What Are You Going to Do to Help
the Boys?" Tessie, smiling a crooked little smile up there in
the darkness, parodied the words deftly: "What're you going to
do to help the girls?" she demanded. "What're you going to
do----" She rolled over on one side and buried her head in her
There was news again next morning at the watch factory. Tessie
of the old days had never needed to depend on the other girls for
the latest bit of gossip. Her alert eye and quick ear had always
caught it first. But of late she had led a cloistered existence,
indifferent to the world about her. The Chippewa Courier went
into the newpaper pile behind the kitchen door without a glance
from Tessie's incurious eye.
She was late this morning. As she sat down at the bench and
fitted her glass in her eye, the chatter of the others, pitched
in the high key of unusual excitement, penetrated even her
"And they say she never screeched or fainted or anything. She
stood there, kind of quiet, looking straight ahead, and then all
of a sudden she ran to her pa----"
"I feel sorry for her. She never did anything to me. She----"
Tessie spoke, her voice penetrating the staccato fragments all
about her and gathering them into a whole. "Say, who's the
heroine of this picture? I come in in the middle of the film, I
They turned on her with the unlovely eagerness of those who have
ugly news to tell. They all spoke at once, in short sentences,
their voices high with the note of hysteria.
"Angie Hatton's beau was killed----"
"They say his airyoplane fell ten thousand feet----"
"The news come only last evening about eight----"
"She won't see nobody but her pa----"
Eight! At eight Tessie had been standing outside Hatton's house,
envying Angie and hating her. So that explained the people, and
the automobiles, and the excitement. Tessie was not receiving
the news with the dramatic reaction which its purveyors felt it
deserved. Tessie, turning from one to the other quietly, had
said nothing. She was pitying Angie. Oh, the luxury of it! Nap
Ballou, coming in swiftly to still the unwonted commotion in work
hours, found Tessie the only one quietly occupied in that
chatter-filled room. She was smiling as she worked. Nap Ballou,
bending over her on some pretense that deceived no one, spoke
low-voiced in her ear. But she veiled her eyes insolently and
did not glance up. She hummed contentedly all the morning at her
She had promised Nap Ballou to go picknicking with him Sunday.
Down the river, boating, with supper on shore. The small, still
voice within her had said, "Don't go! Don't go!" But the
harsh, high-pitched, reckless overtone said, "Go on! Have a
good time. Take all you can get."
She would have to lie at home and she did it. Some fabrication
about the girls at the watchworks did the trick. Fried chicken,
chocolate cake. She packed them deftly and daintily.
High-heeled shoes, flimsy blouse, rustling skirt. Nap Ballou was
waiting for her over in the city park. She saw him before he
espied her. He was leaning against a tree, idly, staring
straight ahead with queer, lackluster eyes. Silhouetted there
against the tender green of the pretty square, he looked very
old, somehow, and different-- much older than he looked in his
shop clothes, issuing orders. Tessie noticed that he sagged
where he should have stuck out, and protruded where he should
have been flat. There flashed across her mind a vividly clear
picture of Chuck as she had last seen him--brown, fit, high of
chest, flat of stomach, slim of flank.
Ballou saw her. He straightened and came toward her swiftly.
"Somebody looks mighty sweet this afternoon."
Tessie plumped the heavy lunch box into his arms. "When you get
a line you like you stick to it, don't you?"
Down at the boathouse even Tessie, who had confessed ignorance of
boats and oars, knew that Ballou was fumbling clumsily. He
stooped to adjust the oars to the oarlocks. His hat was off.
His hair looked very gray in the cruel spring sunshine. He
straightened and smiled up at her.
"Ready in a minute, sweetheart," he said. He took off his
collar and turned in the neckband of his shirt. His skin was
very white. Tessie felt a little shudder of disgust sweep over
her, so that she stumbled a little as she stepped into the boat.
The river was very lovely. Tessie trailed her fingers in the
water and told herself that she was having a grand time. She
told Nap the same when he asked her.
"Having a good time, little beauty?" he said. He was puffing a
little with the unwonted exercise.
Tessie tried some of her old-time pertness of speech. "Oh, good
enough, considering the company."
He laughed admiringly at that and said she was a sketch.
When the early evening came on they made a clumsy landing and had
supper. This time Nap fed her the tidbits, though she protested.
"White meat for you," he said, "with your skin like milk."
"You must of read that in a book," scoffed Tessie. She glanced
around her at the deepening shadows. "We haven't got much time.
It gets dark so early."
"No hurry," Nap assured her. He went on eating in a leisurely,
finicking sort of way, though he consumed very little food,
"You're not eating much," Tessie said once, halfheartedly. She
decided that she wasn't having such a very grand time, after all,
and that she hated his teeth, which were very bad. Now, Chuck's
strong, white, double row----
"Well," she said, "let's be going."
"No hurry," again.
Tessie looked up at that with the instinctive fear of her kind.
"What d'you mean, no hurry! 'Spect to stay here till dark?"
She laughed at her own joke.
She got up then, the blood in her face. "Well, _I_ don't."
He rose, too. "Why not?"
"Because I don't, that's why." She stooped and began picking
up the remnants of the lunch, placing spoons and glass bottles
swiftly and thriftily into the lunch box. Nap stepped around
"Let me help," he said. And then his arm was about her and his
face was close to hers, and Tessie did not like it. He kissed
her after a little wordless struggle. And then she knew. She
had been kissed before. But not like this. Not like this! She
struck at him furiously. Across her mind flashed the memory of a
girl who had worked in the finishing room. A nice girl, too.
But that hadn't helped her. Nap Ballou was laughing a little as
he clasped her.
At that she heard herself saying: "I'll get Chuck Mory after
you--you drunken bum, you! He'll lick you black and blue.
The face, with the ugly, broken brown teeth, was coming close
again. With all the young strength that was in her she freed one
hand and clawed at that face from eyes to chin. A howl of pain
rewarded her. His hold loosened. Like a flash she was off. She
ran. It seemed to her that her feet did not touch the earth.
Over brush, through bushes, crashing against trees, on and on.
She heard him following her, but the broken-down engine that was
his heart refused to do the work. She ran on, though her fear
was as great as before. Fear of what might have happened--to
her, Tessie Golden, that nobody could even talk fresh to. She
gave a sob of fury and fatigue. She was stumbling now. It was
growing dark. She ran on again, in fear of the overtaking
darkness. It was easier now. Not so many trees and bushes. She
came to a fence, climbed over it, lurched as she landed, leaned
against it weakly for support, one hand on her aching heart.
Before her was the Hatton summer cottage, dimly outlined in the
twilight among the trees.
A warm, flickering light danced in the window. Tessie stood a
moment, breathing painfully, sobbingly. Then, with an
instinctive gesture, she patted her hair, tidied her blouse, and
walked uncertainly toward the house, up the steps to the door.
She stood there a moment, swaying slightly. Somebody'd be there.
The light. The woman who cooked for them or the man who took
care of the place. Somebody'd----
She knocked at the door feebly. She'd tell 'em she had lost her
way and got scared when it began to get dark. She knocked again,
louder now. Footsteps. She braced herself and even arranged a
crooked smile. The door opened wide. Old Man Hatton!
She looked up at him, terror and relief in her face. He peered
over his glasses at her. "Who is it?" Tessie had not known,
somehow, that his face was so kindly.
Tessie's carefully planned story crumbled into nothingness.
"It's me!" she whimpered. "It's me!"
He reached out and put a hand on her arm and drew her inside.
"Angie! Angie! Here's a poor little kid----"
Tessie clutched frantically at the last crumbs of her pride. She
tried to straighten, to smile with her old bravado. What was
that story she had planned to tell?
"Who is it, Dad? Who----?" Angie Hatton came into the
hallway. She stared at Tessie. Then: "Why, my dear!" she
said. "My dear! Come in here."
Angie Hatton! Tessie began to cry weakly, her face buried in
Angie Hatton's expensive shoulder. Tessie remembered later that
she had felt no surprise at the act.
"There, there!" Angie Hatton was saying. "Just poke up the
fire, Dad. And get something from the dining room. Oh, I don't
know. To drink, you know. Something----"
Then Old Man Hatton stood over her, holding a small glass to her
lips. Tessie drank it obediently, made a wry little face,
coughed, wiped her eyes, and sat up. She looked from one to the
other, like a trapped little animal. She put a hand to her
"That's all right," Angie Hatton assured her. "You can fix it
after a while."
There they were, the three of them: Old Man Hatton with his back
to the fire, looking benignly down upon her; Angie seated, with
some knitting in her hands, as if entertaining bedraggled,
tear-stained young ladies at dusk were an everyday occurrence;
Tessie, twisting her handkerchief in a torment of embarrassment.
But they asked no questions, these two. They evinced no
curiosity about this disheveled creature who had flung herself in
upon their decent solitude.
Tessie stared at the fire. She looked up at Old Man Hatton's
face and opened her lips. She looked down and shut them again.
Then she flashed a quick look at Angie, to see if she could
detect there some suspicion, some disdain. None. Angie Hatton
looked--well, Tessie put it to herself, thus: "She looks like
she'd cried till she couldn't cry no more--only inside."
And then, surprisingly, Tessie began to talk. "I wouldn't never
have gone with this fella, only Chuck, he was gone. All the
boys're gone. It's fierce. You get scared, sitting home,
waiting, and they're in France and everywhere, learning French
and everything, and meeting grand people and having a fuss made
over 'em. So I got mad and said I didn't care, I wasn't going to
squat home all my life, waiting----"
Angie Hatton had stopped knitting now. Old Man Hatton was
looking down at her very kindly. And so Tessie went on. The
pent-up emotions and thoughts of these past months were finding
an outlet at last. These things which she had never been able to
discuss with her mother she now was laying bare to Angie Hatton
and Old Man Hatton! They asked no questions. They seemed to
understand. Once Old Man Hatton interrupted with: "So that's
the kind of fellow they've got as escapement-room foreman, eh?"
Tessie, whose mind was working very clearly now, put out a quick
hand. "Say, it wasn't his fault. He's a bum, all right, but I
knew it, didn't I? It was me. I didn't care. Seemed to me it
didn't make no difference who I went with, but it does." She
looked down at her hands clasped so tightly in her lap.
"Yes, it makes a whole lot of difference," Angie agreed, and
looked up at her father.
At that Tessie blurted her last desperate problem: "He's
learning all kind of new things. Me, I ain't learning anything.
When Chuck comes home he'll just think I'm dumb, that's all.
"What kind of thing would you like to learn, Tessie, so that
when Chuck comes home----"
Tessie looked up then, her wide mouth quivering with eagerness.
"I'd like to learn to swim--and row a boat--and play
tennis--like the rich girls-- like the girls that's making such a
fuss over the soldiers."
Angie Hatton was not laughing. So, after a moment's hesitation,
Tessie brought out the worst of it. "And French. I'd like to
learn to talk French."
Old Man Hatton had been surveying his shoes, his mouth grim. He
looked at Angie now and smiled a little. "Well, Angie, it looks
as if you'd found your job right here at home, doesn't it? This
young lady's just one of hundreds, I suppose. Thousands. You
can have the whole house for them, if you want it, Angie, and the
grounds, and all the money you need. I guess we've kind of
overlooked the girls. Hm, Angie? What d'you say?"
But Tessie was not listening. She had scarcely heard. Her face
was white with earnestness.
"Can you speak French?"
"Yes," Angie answered.
"Well," said Tessie, and gulped once, "well, how do you say in
French: `Give me a piece of bread'? That's what I want to learn
Angie Hatton said it correctly.
"That's it! Wait a minute! Say it again, will you?"
Angie said it again, Tessie wet her lips. Her cheeks were
smeared with tears and dirt. Her hair was wild and her blouse
awry. "DONNAY-MA-UN-MORSO-DOO-PANG," she articulated
painfully. And in that moment, as she put her hand in that of
Chuck Mory, across the ocean, her face was very beautiful with
Chet Ball was painting a wooden chicken yellow. The wooden
chicken was mounted on a six-by-twelve board. The board was
mounted on four tiny wheels. The whole would eventually be
pulled on a string guided by the plump, moist hand of some
You got the incongruity of it the instant your eye fell upon Chet
Ball. Chet's shoulders alone would have loomed large in contrast
with any wooden toy ever devised, including the Trojan horse.
Everything about him, from the big, blunt-fingered hands that
held the ridiculous chick to the great muscular pillar of his
neck, was in direct opposition to his task, his surroundings, and
Chet's proper milieu was Chicago, Illinois (the West Side); his
job that of lineman for the Gas, Light & Power Company; his
normal working position astride the top of a telegraph pole,
supported in his perilous perch by a lineman's leather belt and
the kindly fates, both of which are likely to trick you in an
Yet now he lolled back among his pillows, dabbing complacently at
the absurd yellow toy. A description of his surroundings would
sound like pages 3 to 17 of a novel by Mrs. Humphry Ward. The
place was all greensward, and terraces, and sundials, and
beeches, and even those rhododendrons without which no English
novel or country estate is complete. The presence of Chet Ball
among his pillows and some hundreds similarly disposed revealed
to you at once the fact that this particular English estate was
now transformed into Reconstruction Hospital No. 9.
The painting of the chicken quite finished (including two beady
black paint eyes), Chet was momentarily at a loss. Miss Kate had
not told him to stop painting when the chicken was completed.
Miss Kate was at the other end of the sunny garden walk, bending
over a wheel chair. So Chet went on painting, placidly. One by
one, with meticulous nicety, he painted all his fingernails a
bright and cheery yellow. Then he did the whole of his left
thumb and was starting on the second joint of the index finger
when Miss Kate came up behind him and took the brush gently from
his strong hands.
"You shouldn't have painted your fingers," she said.
Chet surveyed them with pride. "They look swell."
Miss Kate did not argue the point. She put the freshly painted
wooden chicken on the table to dry in the sun. Her eyes fell
upon a letter bearing an American postmark and addressed to
Sergeant Chester Ball, with a lot of cryptic figures and letters
strung out after it, such as A.E.F. and Co. 11.
"Here's a letter for you!" She infused a lot of Glad into her
voice. But Chet only cast a languid eye upon it and said,
"I'll read it to you, shall I? It's a nice fat one."
Chet sat back, indifferent, negatively acquiescent. And Miss
Kate began to read in her clear young voice, there in the
sunshine and scent of the centuries-old English garden.
It marked an epoch in Chet's life--that letter. It reached out
across the Atlantic Ocean from the Chester Ball of his Chicago
days, before he had even heard of English gardens.
Your true lineman has a daredevil way with the women, as have all
men whose calling is a hazardous one. Chet was a crack workman.
He could shinny up a pole, strap his emergency belt, open his
tool kit, wield his pliers with expert deftness, and climb down
again in record time. It was his pleasure--and seemingly the
pleasure and privilege of all lineman's gangs the world over--to
whistle blithely and to call impudently to any passing petticoat
that caught his fancy.
Perched three feet from the top of the high pole he would cling
protected, seemingly, by some force working in direct defiance of
the law of gravity. And now and then, by way of brightening the
tedium of their job, he and his gang would call to a girl passing
in the street below, "Hoo-hoo! Hello, sweetheart!"
There was nothing vicious in it. Chet would have come to the aid
of beauty in distress as quickly as Don Quixote. Any man with a
blue shirt as clean and a shave as smooth and a haircut as round
as Chet Ball's has no meanness in him. A certain daredeviltry
went hand in hand with his work--a calling in which a careless
load dispatcher, a cut wire, or a faulty strap may mean instant
death. Usually the girls laughed and called back to them or went
on more quickly, the color in their cheeks a little higher.
But not Anastasia Rourke. Early the first morning of a two-week
job on the new plant of the Western Castings Company, Chet Ball,
glancing down from his dizzy perch atop an electric-light pole,
espied Miss Anastasia Rourke going to work. He didn't know her
name or anything about her, except that she was pretty. You
could see that from a distance even more remote than Chet's. But
you couldn't know that Stasia was a lady not to be trifled with.
We know her name was Rourke, but he didn't.
So then: "Hoo-hoo!" he had called. "Hello, sweetheart! Wait
for me and I'll be down."
Stasia Rourke had lifted her face to where he perched so high
above the streets. Her cheeks were five shades pinker than was
their wont, which would make them border on the red.
"You big ape, you!" she called, in her clear, crisp voice.
"If you had your foot on the ground you wouldn't dast call to a
decent girl like that. If you were down here I'd slap the face
of you. You know you're safe up there."
The words were scarcely out of her mouth before Chet Ball's
sturdy legs were twinkling down the pole. His spurred heels dug
into the soft pine of the pole with little ripe, tearing sounds.
He walked up to Stasia and stood squarely in front of her, six
feet of brawn and brazen nerve. One ruddy cheek he presented to
her astonished gaze. "Hello, sweetheart," he said. And
waited. The Rourke girl hesitated just a second. All the Irish
heart in her was melting at the boyish impudence of the man
before her. Then she lifted one hand and slapped his smooth
cheek. It was a ringing slap. You saw the four marks of her
fingers upon his face. Chet straightened, his blue eyes bluer.
Stasia looked up at him, her eyes wide. Then down at her own
hand, as if it belonged to somebody else. Her hand came up to
her own face. She burst into tears, turned, and ran. And as she
ran, and as she wept, she saw that Chet was still standing there,
looking after her.
Next morning, when Stasia Rourke went by to work, Chet Ball was
standing at the foot of the pole, waiting.
They were to have been married that next June. But that next
June Chet Ball, perched perilously on the branch of a tree in a
small woodsy spot somewhere in France, was one reason why the
American artillery in that same woodsy spot was getting such a
deadly range on the enemy. Chet's costume was so devised that
even through field glasses (made in Germany) you couldn't tell
where tree left off and Chet began.
Then, quite suddenly, the Germans got the range. The tree in
which Chet was hidden came down with a crash, and Chet lay there,
more than ever indiscernible among its tender foliage.
Which brings us back to the English garden, the yellow chicken,
Miss Kate, and the letter.
His shattered leg was mended by one of those miracles of modern
war surgery, though he never again would dig his spurred heels
into the pine of a G. L. & P. Company pole. But the other
thing--they put it down under the broad general head of shock.
In the lovely English garden they set him to weaving and painting
as a means of soothing the shattered nerves. He had made
everything from pottery jars to bead chains, from baskets to
rugs. Slowly the tortured nerves healed. But the doctors, when
they stopped at Chet's cot or chair, talked always of "the
memory center." Chet seemed satisfied to go on placidly
painting toys or weaving chains with his great, square-tipped
fingers--the fingers that had wielded the pliers so cleverly in
his pole-climbing days.
"It's just something that only luck or an accident can mend,"
said the nerve specialist. "Time may do it--but I doubt it.
Sometimes just a word-- the right word--will set the thing in
motion again. Does he get any letters?"
"His girl writes to him. Fine letters. But she doesn't know
yet about-- about this. I've written his letters for him. She
knows now that his leg is healed and she wonders----"
That had been a month ago. Today Miss Kate slit the envelope
post- marked Chicago. Chet was fingering the yellow wooden
chicken, pride in his eyes. In Miss Kate's eyes there was a
troubled, baffled look as she began to read:
Chet, dear, it's raining in Chicago. And you know when it
rains in Chicago it's wetter, and muddier, and rainier than any
place in the world. Except maybe this Flanders we're reading
so much about. They say for rain and mud that place takes the
I don't know what I'm going on about rain and mud for, Chet
darling, when it's you I'm thinking of. Nothing else and
nobody else. Chet, I got a funny feeling there's something
you're keeping back from me. You're hurt worse than just the
leg. Boy, dear, don't you know it won't make any difference
with me how you look, or feel, or anything? I don't care how
bad you're smashed up. I'd rather have you without any
features at all than any other man with two sets. Whatever's
happened to the outside of you, they can't change your
insides. And you're the same man that called out to me that
day, "Hoo-hoo! Hello, sweetheart!" and when I gave you a
piece of my mind, climbed down off the pole, and put your face
up to be slapped, God bless the boy in you----
A sharp little sound from him. Miss Kate looked up, quickly.
Chet Ball was staring at the beady-eyed yellow chicken in his
"What's this thing?" he demanded in a strange voice.
Miss Kate answered him very quietly, trying to keep her own voice
easy and natural. "That's a toy chicken, cut out of wood."
"What'm I doin' with it?"
"You've just finished painting it."
Chet Ball held it in his great hand and stared at it for a brief
moment, struggling between anger and amusement. And between
anger and amusement he put it down on the table none too gently
and stood up, yawning a little.
"That's a hell of a job for a he-man!" Then in utter
contrition: "Oh, beggin' your pardon! That was fierce! I
But there was nothing shocked about the expression on Miss Kate's
face. She was registering joy--pure joy.
The Maternal Feminine
Called upon to describe Aunt Sophy, you would have to coin a term
or fall back on the dictionary definition of a spinster. "An
unmarried woman," states that worthy work, baldly, "especially
when no longer young." That, to the world, was Sophy Decker.
Unmarried, certainly. And most certainly no longer young. In
figure, she was, at fifty, what is known in the corset ads as a
"stylish stout." Well dressed in dark suits, with broad-toed
health shoes and a small, astute hat. The suit was practical
common sense. The health shoes were comfort. The hat was
strictly business. Sophy Decker made and sold hats, both astute
and ingenuous, to the female population of Chippewa, Wisconsin.
Chippewa's East End set bought the knowing type of hat, and the
mill hands and hired girls bought the naive ones. But whether
lumpy or possessed of that thing known as line, Sophy Decker's
hats were honest hats.
The world is full of Aunt Sophys, unsung. Plump, ruddy, capable
women of middle age. Unwed, and rather looked down upon by a
family of married sisters and tolerant, good-humored
brothers-in-law, and careless nieces and nephews.
"Poor Aunt Soph," with a significant half smile. "She's such
a good old thing. And she's had so little in life, really."
She was, undoubtedly, a good old thing--Aunt Soph. Forever
sending a model hat to this pert little niece in Seattle; or
taking Adele, Sister Flora's daughter, to Chicago or New York as
a treat on one of her buying trips.
Burdening herself, on her business visits to these cities, with a
dozen foolish shopping commissions for the idle womenfolk of her
family. Hearing without partisanship her sisters' complaints
about their husbands, and her sisters' husbands' complaints about
their wives. It was always the same.
"I'm telling you this, Sophy. I wouldn't breathe it to another
living soul. But I honestly think, sometimes, that if it weren't
for the children----"
There is no knowing why they confided these things to Sophy
instead of to each other, these wedded sisters of hers. Perhaps
they held for each other an unuttered distrust or jealousy.
Perhaps, in making a confidante of Sophy, there was something of
the satisfaction that comes of dropping a surreptitious stone
down a deep well and hearing it plunk, safe in the knowledge that
it has struck no one and that it cannot rebound, lying there in
the soft darkness. Sometimes they would end by saying, "But you
don't know what it is, Sophy. You can't. I'm sure I don't know
why I'm telling you all this."
But when Sophy answered, sagely, "I know; I know," they paid
little heed, once having unburdened themselves. The curious part
of it is that she did know. She knew as a woman of fifty must
know who, all her life, has given and given and in return has
received nothing. Sophy Decker had never used the word
inhibition in her life. She may not have known what it meant.
She only knew (without in the least knowing she knew) that in
giving of her goods, of her affections, of her time, of her
energy, she found a certain relief. Her own people would have
been shocked if you had told them that there was about this
old-maid aunt something rather splendidly Rabelaisian. Without
being what is known as a masculine woman, she had, somehow,
acquired the man's viewpoint, his shrewd value sense. She ate a
good deal, and enjoyed her food. She did not care for those
queer little stories that married women sometimes tell, with
narrowed eyes, but she was strangely tolerant of what is known as
sin. So simple and direct she was that you wondered how she
prospered in a line so subtle as the millinery business.
You might have got a fairly true characterization of Sophy Decker
from one of fifty people: from a salesman in a New York or
Chicago wholesale millinery house; from Otis Cowan, cashier of
the First National Bank of Chippewa; from Julia Gold, her head
milliner and trimmer; from almost anyone, in fact, except a
member of her own family. They knew her least of all. Her three
married sisters--Grace in Seattle, Ella in Chicago, and Flora in
Chippewa--regarded her with a rather affectionate disapproval
from the snug safety of their own conjugal inglenooks.
"I don't know. There's something--well--common about Sophy,"
Flora confided to Ella. Flora, on shopping bent, and Sophy,
seeking hats, had made the five-hour run from Chippewa to Chicago
together. "She talks to everybody. You should have heard her
with the porter on our train. Chums! And when the conductor took
our tickets it was a social occasion. You know how packed the
seven-fifty-two is. Every seat in the parlor car taken. And
Sophy asking the colored porter about how his wife was getting
along--she called him William--and if they were going to send her
West, and all about her. I wish she wouldn't."
Aunt Sophy undeniably had a habit of regarding people as human
beings. You found her talking to chambermaids and delivery boys,
and elevator starters, and gas collectors, and hotel clerks--all
that aloof, unapproachable, superior crew. Under her benign
volubility they bloomed and spread and took on color as do those
tight little paper water flowers when you cast them into a bowl.
It wasn't idle curiosity in her. She was interested. You found
yourself confiding to her your innermost longings, your secret
tribulations, under the encouragement of her sympathetic, "You
don't say!" Perhaps it was as well that Sister Flora was in
ignorance of the fact that the millinery salesmen at Danowitz &
Danowitz, Importers, always called Miss Decker Aunt Soph, as,
with one arm flung about her plump shoulder, they revealed to her
the picture of their girl in the back flap of their billfold.
Flora, with a firm grip on Chippewa society, as represented by
the East End set, did not find her position enhanced by a sister
in the millinery business in Elm Street.
"Of course it's wonderful that she's self-supporting and
successful and all," she told her husband. "But it's not so
pleasant for Adele, now that she's growing up, having all the
girls she knows buying their hats of her aunt. Not that I--but
you know how it is."
H. Charnsworth Baldwin said yes, he knew.
When the Decker girls were young, the Deckers had lived in a
sagging old frame house (from which the original paint had long
ago peeled in great scrofulous patches) on an unimportant street
in Chippewa. There was a worm-eaten, russet-apple tree in the
yard, an untidy tangle of wild-cucumber vine over the front
porch, and an uncut brush of sunburned grass and weeds all about.
From May until September you never passed the Decker place
without hearing the plunkety-plink of a mandolin from somewhere
behind the vines, laughter, and the creak-creak of the hard-
worked and protesting hammock hooks.
Flora, Ella, and Grace Decker had had more beaux and fewer
clothes than any other girls in Chippewa. In a town full of
pretty young things, they were, undoubtedly, the prettiest; and
in a family of pretty sisters (Sophy always excepted) Flora was
the acknowledged beauty. She was the kind of girl whose nose
never turns red on a frosty morning. A little, white, exquisite
nose, purest example of the degree of perfection which may be
attained by that vulgarest of features. Under her great gray
eyes were faint violet shadows which gave her a look of almost
poignant wistfulness. Her slow, sweet smile give the beholder an
actual physical pang. Only her family knew she was lazy as a
behemoth, untidy about her person, and as sentimental as a hungry
shark. The strange and cruel part of it was that, in some
grotesque, exaggerated way, as a cartoon may be like a
photograph, Sophy resembled Flora. It was as though nature, in
prankish mood, had given a cabbage the color and texture of a
rose, with none of its fragile reticence and grace.
It was a manless household. Mrs. Decker, vague, garrulous,
referred to her dead husband, in frequent reminiscence, as poor
Mr. Decker. Mrs. Decker dragged one leg as she
walked--rheumatism, or a spinal affection. Small wonder, then,
that Sophy, the plain, with a gift for hatmaking, a knack at
eggless cake baking, and a genius for turning a sleeve so that
last year's style met this year's without a struggle, contributed
nothing to the sag in the center of the old twine hammock on the
That the three girls should marry well, and Sophy not at all, was
as inevitable as the sequence of the seasons. Ella and Grace did
not manage badly, considering that they had only their girlish
prettiness and the twine hammock to work with. But Flora, with
her beauty, captured H. Charnsworth Baldwin. Chippewa gasped.
H. Charnsworth Baldwin drove a skittish mare to a high-wheeled
yellow runabout; had his clothes made at Proctor Brothers in
Milwaukee; and talked about a game called golf. It was he who
advocated laying out a section of land for what he called links,
and erecting a clubhouse thereon.
"The section of the bluff overlooking the river," he explained,
"is full of natural hazards, besides having a really fine
Chippewa--or that comfortable, middle-class section of it which
got its exercise walking home to dinner from the store at noon,
and cutting the grass evenings after supper--laughed as it read
this interview in the Chippewa Eagle.
"A golf course," they repeated to one another, grinning.
"Conklin's cow pasture, up the river. It's full of
natural--wait a minute--what was?--oh, yeh, here it is--hazards.
Full of natural hazards. Say, couldn't you die!"
For H. Charnsworth Baldwin had been little Henry Baldwin before
he went East to college. Ten years later H. Charnsworth, in
knickerbockers and gay-topped stockings, was winning the cup in
the men's tournament played on the Chippewa golf-club course,
overlooking the river. And his name, in stout gold letters,
blinked at you from the plate-glass windows of the office at the
corner of Elm and Winnebago:
NORTHERN LUMBER AND LAND COMPANY
H. Charnsworth Baldwin, Pres.
Two blocks farther down Elm Street was another sign, not so
glittering, which read:
Miss Sophy Decker
Sophy's hatmaking, in the beginning, had been done at home. She
had always made her sisters' hats, and her own, of course, and an
occasional hat for a girl friend. After her sisters had married,
Sophy found herself in possession of a rather bewildering amount
of spare time. The hat trade grew so that sometimes there were
six rather botchy little bonnets all done up in yellow paper
pyramids with a pin at the top, awaiting their future wearers.
After her mother's death Sophy still stayed on in the old house.
She took a course in millinery in Milwaukee, came home, stuck up
a homemade sign in the parlor window (the untidy cucumber vines
came down), and began her hatmaking in earnest. In five years
she had opened a shop on a side street near Elm, had painted the
old house, installed new plumbing, built a warty stucco porch,
and transformed the weedy, grass-tangled yard into an orderly
stretch of green lawn and bright flower beds. In ten years she
was in Elm Street, and the Chippewa Eagle ran a half column twice
a year describing her spring and fall openings. On these
occasions Aunt Sophy, in black satin and marcel wave and her most
relentless corsets, was, in all the superficial things, not a
pleat or fold or line or wave behind her city colleagues. She
had all the catch phrases:
"This is awfully good this year."
"Here's a sweet thing. A Mornet model."
". . . Well, but, my dear, it's the style--the line--you're
paying for, not the material."
"No, that hat doesn't do a thing for you."
"I've got it. I had you in mind when I bought it. Now don't
say you can't wear henna. Wait till you see it on."
When she stood behind you as you sat, uncrowned and expectant
before the mirror, she would poise the hat four inches above your
head, holding it in the tips of her fingers, a precious, fragile
thing. Your fascinated eyes were held by it, and your breath as
well. Then down it descended, slowly, slowly. A quick pressure.
Her fingers firm against your temples. A little sigh of relieved
"That's wonderful on you! . . . You don't! Oh, my dear! But
that's because you're not used to it. You know how you said, for
years, you had to have a brim, and couldn't possibly wear a
turban, with your nose, until I proved to you that if the head
size was only big . . . Well, perhaps this needs just a lit-tle
lift here. Ju-u-ust a nip. There! That does it."
And that did it. Not that Sophy Decker ever tried to sell you a
hat against your judgment, taste, or will. She was too wise a
psychologist and too shrewd a businesswoman for that. She
preferred that you go out of her shop hatless rather than with an
unbecoming hat. But whether you bought or not you took with you
out of Sophy Decker's shop something more precious than any
hatbox ever contained. Just to hear her admonishing a customer,
her good-natured face all aglow:
"My dear, always put on your hat before you get into your dress.
I do. You can get your arms above your head, and set it right.
I put on my hat and veil as soon's I get my hair combed."
In your mind's eye you saw her, a stout, well-stayed figure in
tight brassiere and scant slip, bare-armed and bare-bosomed, in
smart hat and veil, attired as though for the street from the
neck up and for the bedroom from the shoulders down.
The East End set bought Sophy Decker's hats because they were
modish and expensive hats. But she managed, miraculously, to
gain a large and lucrative following among the paper-mill girls
and factory hands as well. You would have thought that any
attempt to hold both these opposites would cause her to lose one
or the other. Aunt Sophy said, frankly, that of the two, she
would have preferred to lose her smart trade.
"The mill girls come in with their money in their hands, you
might say. They get good wages and they want to spend them. I
wouldn't try to sell them one of those little plain model hats.
They wouldn't understand 'em or like them. And if I told them
the price they'd think I was trying to cheat them. They want a
hat with something good and solid on it. Their fathers wouldn't
prefer caviar to pork roast, would they? It's the same idea."
Her shopwindows reflected her business acumen. One was chastely,
severely elegant, holding a single hat poised on a slender stick.
In the other were a dozen honest arrangements of velvet and satin
At the spring opening she always displayed one of those little
toques completely covered with violets. That violet-covered
toque was a symbol.
"I don't expect 'em to buy it," Sophy Decker explained. "But
everybody feels there should be a hat like that at a spring
opening. It's like a fruit centerpiece at a family dinner.
Nobody ever eats it, but it has to be there."
The two Baldwin children--Adele and Eugene--found Aunt Sophy's
shop a treasure trove. Adele, during her doll days, possessed
such boxes of satin and velvet scraps, and bits of lace and
ribbon and jet as to make her the envy of all her playmates. She
used to crawl about the floor of the shop workroom and under the
table and chairs like a little scavenger.
"What in the world do you do with all that truck, child?" asked
Aunt Sophy. "You must have barrels of it."
Adele stuffed another wisp of tulle into the pocket of her
"I keep it," she said.
When she was ten Adele had said to her mother, "Why do you
always say `Poor Sophy'?"
"Because--Aunt Sophy's had so little in life. She never has
married, and has always worked."
Adele considered that. "If you don't get married do they say
"Then I'll get married," announced Adele. A small, dark, eerie
child, skinny and rather foreign-looking. The boy, Eugene, had
the beauty which should have been the girl's. Very tall, very
blond, with the straight nose and wistful eyes of the Flora of
twenty years ago. "If only Adele could have had his looks,"
his mother used to say. "They're wasted on a man. He doesn't
need them, but a girl does. Adele will have to be well dressed
and interesting. And that's such hard work."
Flora said she worshiped her children. And she actually
sometimes still coquetted heavily with her husband. At twenty
she had been addicted to baby talk when endeavoring to coax
something out of someone. Her admirers had found it
irresistible. At forty it was awful. Her selfishness was
colossal. She affected a semi-invalidism and for fifteen years
had spent one day a week in bed. She took no exercise and a
great deal of soda bicarbonate and tried to fight her fat with
baths. Fifteen or twenty years had worked a startling change in
the two sisters, Flora the beautiful and Sophy the plain. It was
more than a mere physical change. It was a spiritual thing,
though neither knew nor marked it. Each had taken on weight, the
one, solidly, comfortably; the other, flabbily, unhealthily.
With the encroaching fat, Flora's small, delicate features
seemed, somehow, to disappear in her face, so that you saw it as
a large white surface bearing indentations, ridges, and hollows
like one of those enlarged photographs of the moon's surface as
seen through a telescope. A self-centered face, and misleadingly
placid. Aunt Sophy's large, plain features, plumply padded now,
impressed you as indicating strength, courage, and a great human
From her husband and her children, Flora exacted service that
would have chafed a galley slave into rebellion. She loved to
lie in bed, in an orchid bed jacket with ribbons, and be read to
by Adele, or Eugene, or her husband. They all hated it.
"She just wants to be waited on, and petted, and admired,"
Adele had stormed one day, in open rebellion, to her Aunt Sophy.
"She uses it as an excuse for everything and has, ever since
Gene and I were children. She's as strong as an ox." Not a
daughterly speech, but true.
Years before, a generous but misguided woman friend, coming in to
call, had been ushered in to where Mrs. Baldwin lay propped up in
a nest of pillows.
"Well, I don't blame you," the caller had gushed. "If I
looked the way you do in bed I'd stay there forever. Don't tell
me you're sick, with all that lovely color!"
Flora Baldwin had rolled her eyes ceilingward. "Nobody ever
gives me credit for all my suffering and ill-health. And just
because all my blood is in my cheeks."
Flora was ambitious, socially, but too lazy to make the effort
necessary for success in that direction.
"I love my family," she would say. "They fill my life. After
all, that's a profession in itself--being a wife and mother."
She showed her devotion by taking no interest whatever in her
husband's land schemes; by forbidding Eugene to play football at
school for fear he might be injured; by impressing Adele with the
necessity for vivacity and modishness because of what she called
her unfortunate lack of beauty.
"I don't understand it," she used to say in the child's
presence. "Her father's handsome enough, goodness knows; and I
wasn't such a fright when I was a girl. And look at her! Little
dark skinny thing."
The boy, Eugene, grew up a very silent, handsome, shy young
fellow. The girl, dark, voluble, and rather interesting. The
husband, more and more immersed in his business, was absent from
home for long periods irritable after some of these home-comings;
boisterously high-spirited following other trips. Now growling
about household expenses and unpaid bills; now urging the
purchase of some almost prohibitive luxury. Anyone but a
nagging, self-absorbed, and vain woman such as Flora would have
marked these unmistakable signs. But Flora was a taker, not a
giver. She thought herself affectionate because she craved
affection unduly. She thought herself a fond mother because she
insisted on having her children with her, under her thumb,
marking their devotion as a prisoner marks time with his feet,
stupidly, shufflingly, advancing not a step.
Sometimes Sophy, the clear-eyed, seeing this state of affairs,
tried to stop it.
"You expect too much of your husband and children," she said
one day, bluntly, to her sister.
"I!" Flora's dimpled hand had flown to her breast like a
wounded thing. "I! You're crazy! There isn't a more devoted
wife and mother in the world. That's the trouble. I love them
"Well, then," grimly, "stop it for a change. That's half
Eugene's nervousness--your fussing over him. He's eighteen.
Give him a chance. You're weakening him. And stop dinning that
society stuff into Adele's ears. She's got brains, that child.
Why, just yesterday, in the workroom, she got hold of some satin
and a shape and turned out a little turban that Angie
"Do you mean to tell me that Angie Hatton saw my Adele working
in your shop! Now, look here, Sophy. You're earning your
living, and it's to your credit. You're my sister. But I won't
have Adele associated in the minds of my friends with your hat
store, understand? I won't have it. That isn't what I sent her
away to an expensive school for. To have her come back and sit
around a millinery workshop with a lot of little, cheap, shoddy
sewing girls! Now, understand, I won't have it! You don't know
what it is to be a mother. You don't know what it is to have
suffered. If you had brought two children into the world----"
So, then, it had come about during the years between their
childhood and their youth that Aunt Sophy received the burden of
their confidences, their griefs, their perplexities. She seemed,
somehow, to understand in some miraculous way, and to make the
burden a welcome one.
"Well, now, you tell Aunt Sophy all about it. Stop crying,
Della. How can I hear when you're crying! That's my baby. Now,
This when they were children. But with the years the habit clung
and became fixed. There was something about Aunt Sophy's
house--the old frame house with the warty stucco porch. For that
matter, there was something about the very shop downtown, with
its workroom in the rear, that had a cozy, homelike quality never
possessed by the big Baldwin house. H. Charnsworth Baldwin had
built a large brick mansion, in the Tudor style, on a bluff
overlooking the Fox River, in the best residential section of
Chippewa. It was expensively furnished. The hall console alone
was enough to strike a preliminary chill to your heart.
The millinery workroom, winter days, was always bright and warm
and snug. The air was a little close, perhaps, and heavy, but
with a not unpleasant smell of dyes and stuffs and velvet and
glue and steam and flatiron and a certain racy scent that Julia
Gold, the head trimmer, always used. There was a sociable cat,
white with a dark-gray patch on his throat and a swipe of it
across one flank that spoiled him for style and beauty but made
him a comfortable-looking cat to have around. Sometimes, on very
cold days, or in the rush season, the girls would not go home to
dinner, but would bring their lunches and cook coffee over a
little gas heater in the corner. Julia Gold, especially, drank
quantities of coffee. Aunt Sophy had hired her from Chicago.
She had been with her for five years. She said Julia was the
best trimmer she had ever had. Aunt Sophy often took her to New
York or Chicago on her buying trips. Julia had not much genius
for original design, or she never would have been content to be
head milliner in a small-town shop. But she could copy a
fifty-dollar model from memory down to the last detail of crown
and brim. It was a gift that made her invaluable.
The boy, Eugene, used to like to look at Julia Gold. Her hair
was very black and her face was very white, and her eyebrows met
in a thick dark line. Her face as she bent over her work was
sullen and brooding, but when she lifted her head suddenly, in
conversation, you were startled by a vivid flash of teeth and
eyes and smile. Her voice was deep and low. She made you a
little uncomfortable. Her eyes seemed always to be asking
something. Around the worktable, mornings, she used to relate
the dream she had had the night before. In these dreams she was
always being pursued by a lover. "And then I woke up,
screaming." Neither she nor the sewing girls knew what she was
revealing in these confidences of hers. But Aunt Sophy, the
shrewd, somehow sensed it.
"You're alone too much, evenings. That's what comes of living
in a boardinghouse. You come over to me for a week. The change
will do you good, and it'll be nice for me, too, having somebody
to keep me company."
Julia often came for a week or ten days at a time. Julia, about
the house after supper, was given to those vivid splashy
negligees with big flower patterns strewn over them. They made
her hair look blacker and her skin whiter by contrast. Sometimes
Eugene or Adele or both would drop in and the four would play
bridge. Aunt Sophy played a shrewd and canny game, Adele a
rather brilliant one, Julia a wild and disastrous hand, always,
and Eugene so badly that only Julia would take him on as a
partner. Mrs. Baldwin never knew about these evenings.
It was on one of these occasions that Aunt Sophy, coming
unexpectedly into the living room from the kitchen, where she and
Adele were foraging for refreshments after the game, beheld Julia
Gold and Eugene, arms clasped about each other, cheek to cheek.
They started up as she came in and faced her, the woman
defiantly, the boy bravely. Julia Gold was thirty (with
reservations) at that time, and the boy not quite twenty-one.
"How long?" said Aunt Sophy, quietly. She had a mayonnaise
spoon and a leaf of lettuce in her hand then, and still she did
not look comic.
"I'm crazy about her," said Eugene. "We're crazy about each
other. We're going to be married."
Aunt Sophy listened for the reassuring sound of Adele's spoons
and plates in the kitchen. She came forward. "Now,
listen----" she began.
"I love him," said Julia Gold, dramatically. "I love him!"
Except that it was very white and, somehow, old-looking, Aunt
Sophy's face was as benign as always. "Now, look here, Julia,
my girl. That isn't love, and you know it. I'm an old maid, but
I know what love is when I see it. I'm ashamed of you, Julia.
Sensible woman like you, hugging and kissing a boy like that, and
old enough to be his mother."
"Now, look here, Aunt Sophy! If you're going to talk that
way---- Why, she's wonderful. She's taught me what it means to
"Oh, my land!" Aunt Sophy sat down, looking suddenly very ill.
And then, from the kitchen, Adele's clear young voice: "Heh!
What's the idea! I'm not going to do all the work. Where's
Aunt Sophy started up again. She came up to them and put a
hand-- a capable, firm, steadying hand--on the arm of each. The
woman drew back, but the boy did not.
"Will you promise me not to do anything for a week? Just a
week! Will you promise me? Will you?"
"Are you going to tell Father?"
"Not for a week, if you'll promise not to see each other in that
week. No, I don't want to send you away, Julia, I don't want to.
. . . You're not a bad girl. It's just--he's never had--at home
they never gave him a chance. Just a week, Julia. Just a week,
Eugene. We can talk things over then."
Adele's footsteps coming from the kitchen.
"I promise," said Eugene. Julia said nothing.
"Well, really," said Adele, from the doorway, "you're a nervy
lot, sitting around while I slave in the kitchen. Gene, see if
you can open the olives with this fool can opener. I tried."
There is no knowing what she expected to do in that week, Aunt
Sophy; what miracle she meant to perform. She had no plan in her
mind. Just hope. She looked strangely shrunken and old,
suddenly. But when, three days later, the news came that America
was to go into the war she had her answer.
Flora was beside herself. "Eugene won't have to go. He isn't
old enough, thank God! And by the time he is it will be over.
Surely." She was almost hysterical.
Eugene was in the room. Aunt Sophy looked at him and he looked
at Aunt Sophy. In her eyes was a question. In his was the
answer. They said nothing. The next day Eugene enlisted. In
three days he was gone. Flora took to her bed. Next day Adele, a
faint, unwonted color marking her cheeks, walked into her
mother's bedroom and stood at the side of the recumbent figure.
Her father, his hands clasped behind him, was pacing up and down,
now and then kicking a cushion that had fallen to the floor. He
was chewing a dead cigar, one side of his face twisted curiously
over the cylinder in his mouth so that he had a sinister and
"Charnsworth, won't you please stop ramping up and down like
that! My nerves are killing me. I can't help it if the war has
done something or other to your business. I'm sure no wife could
have been more economical than I have. Nothing matters but
Eugene, anyway. How could he do such a thing! I've given my
whole life to my children----"
H. Charnsworth kicked the cushion again so that it struck the
wall at the opposite side of the room. Flora drew her breath in
between her teeth as though a knife had entered her heart.
Adele still stood at the side of the bed, looking at her mother.
Her hands were clasped behind her, too. In that moment, as she
stood there, she resembled her mother and her father so
startlingly and simultaneously that the two, had they been less
absorbed in their own affairs, must have marked it.
The girl's head came up stiffly. "Listen. I'm going to marry
Daniel Oakley was fifty, and a friend of her father's. For years
he had been coming to the house and for years she had ridiculed
him. She and Eugene had called him Sturdy Oak because he was
always talking about his strength and endurance, his walks, his
rugged health; pounding his chest meanwhile and planting his feet
far apart. He and Baldwin had had business relations as well as
At this announcement Flora screamed and sat up in bed. H.
Charnsworth stopped short in his pacing and regarded his daughter
with a queer look; a concentrated look, as though what she had
said had set in motion a whole mass of mental machinery within
"When did he ask you?"
"He's asked me a dozen times. But it's different now. All the
men will be going to war. There won't be any left. Look at
England and France. I'm not going to be left." She turned
squarely toward her father, her young face set and hard. "You
know what I mean. You know what I mean."
Flora, sitting up in bed, was sobbing. "I think you might have
told your mother, Adele. What are children coming to! You stand
there and say, `I'm going to marry Daniel Oakley.' Oh, I am so
faint . . . all of a sudden . . . Get the spirits of ammonia."
Adele turned and walked out of the room. She was married six
weeks later. They had a regular prewar wedding--veil, flowers,
dinner, and all. Aunt Sophy arranged the folds of her gown and
draped her veil. The girl stood looking at herself in the
mirror, a curious half smile twisting her lips. She seemed
slighter and darker than ever.
"In all this white, and my veil, I look just like a fly in a
quart of milk," she said, with a laugh. Then, suddenly, she
turned to her aunt, who stood behind her, and clung to her,
holding her tight, tight. "I can't!" she gasped. "I can't!
Aunt Sophy held her off and looked at her, her eyes searching the
"What do you mean, Della? Are you just nervous or do you mean
you don't want to marry him? Do you mean that? Then what are
you marrying for? Tell me! Tell your Aunt Sophy."
But Adele was straightening herself and pulling out the crushed
folds of her veil. "To pay the mortgage on the old homestead,
of course. Just like the girl in the play." She laughed a
little. But Aunt Sophy did not.
"Now look here, Della. If you're----"
But there was a knock at the door. Adele caught up her flowers.
"It's all right," she said. Aunt Sophy stood with her back
against the door. "If it's money," she said. "It is! It is,
isn't it! I've got money saved. It was for you children. I've
always been afraid. I knew he was sailing pretty close, with his
speculations and all, since the war. He can have it all. It
isn't too late yet. Adele! Della, my baby."
"Don't, Aunt Sophy. It wouldn't be enough, anyway. Daniel has
been wonderful, really. Dad's been stealing money for years.
Dan's. Don't look like that. I'd have hated being poor, anyway.
Never could have got used to it. It is ridiculous, though, isn't
it? Like something in the movies. I don't mind. I'm lucky,
really, when you come to think of it. A plain little black thing
"But your mother----"
"Mother doesn't know a thing."
Flora wept mistily all through the ceremony, but Adele was
composed enough for two.
When, scarcely a month later, Baldwin came to Sophy Decker, his
face drawn and queer, Sophy knew.
"How much?" she said.
"Thirty thousand will cover it. If you've got more than
"I thought Oakley----Adele said----"
"He did, but he won't any more, and this thing's got to be met.
It's this damned war that's done it. I'd have been all right.
People got scared. They wanted their money. They wanted it in
"Speculating with it, were you?"
"Oh, well, a woman doesn't understand these business deals."
"No, naturally," said Aunt Sophy, "a butterfly like me."
"Sophy, for God's sake don't joke now. I tell you this will
cover it, and everything will be all right. If I had anybody
else to go to for the money I wouldn't ask you. But you'll get
it back. You know that."
Aunt Sophy got up, heavily, and went over to her desk. "It was
for the children, anyway. They won't need it now."
He looked up at that. Something in her voice. "Who won't? Why
"I don't know what made me say that. I had a dream."
"Oh, well, we're all nervous. Flora has dreams every night and
presentiments every fifteen minutes. Now, look here, Sophy.
About this money. You'll never know how grateful I am. Flora
doesn't understand these things, but I can talk to you. It's
"I might as well be honest about it," Sophy interrupted. "I'm
doing it, not for you, but for Flora, and Della--and Eugene.
Flora has lived such a sheltered life. I sometimes wonder if she
ever really knew any of you. Her husband, or her children. I
sometimes have the feeling that Della and Eugene are my
children--were my children."
When he came home that night Baldwin told his wife that old Soph
was getting queer. "She talks about the children being hers,"
"Oh, well, she's awfully fond of them," Flora explained. "And
she's lived her little, narrow life, with nothing to bother her
but her hats and her house. She doesn't know what it means to
suffer as a mother suffers --poor Sophy."
"Um," Baldwin grunted.
When the official notification of Eugene's death came from the
War Department, Aunt Sophy was so calm it might have appeared
that Flora had been right. She took to her bed now in earnest,
did Flora. Sophy neglected everything to give comfort to the
"How can you sit there like that!" Flora would rail. "How
can you sit there like that! Even if you weren't his mother,
surely you must feel something."
"It's the way he died that comforts me," said Aunt Sophy.
"What difference does that make!"
AMERICAN RED CROSS
(Croix Rouge Americaine)
MY DEAR MRS. BALDWIN:
I am sure you must have been officially notified by the U.S.
War Dept. of the death of your son, Lieut. Eugene H. Baldwin.
But I want to write you what I can of his last hours. I was with
him much of that time as his nurse. I'm sure it must mean much
to a mother to hear from a woman who was privileged to be with
her boy at the last.
Your son was brought to our hospital one night badly gassed
from the fighting in the Argonne Forest. Ordinarily we do not
receive gassed patients, as they are sent to a special hospital
near here. But two nights before, the Germans wrecked that
hospital, so many gassed patients have come to us.
Your son was put in the officers' ward, where the doctors who
examined him told me there was absolutely no hope for him, as he
had inhaled so much gas that it was only a matter of a few hours.
I could scarcely believe that a man so big and strong as he was
could not pull through.
The first bad attack he had, losing his breath and nearly
choking, rather frightened him, although the doctor and I were
both with him. He held my hand tightly in his, begging me not to
leave him, and repeating, over and over, that it was good to have
a woman near. He was propped high in bed and put his head on my
shoulder while I fanned him until he breathed more easily. I
stayed with him all that night, though I was not on duty. You
see, his eyes also were badly burned. But before he died he was
able to see very well. I stayed with him every minute of that
night and have never seen a finer character than he showed during
all that fight for life.
He had several bad attacks that night and came through each one
simply because of his great will power and fighting spirit.
After each attack he would grip my hand and say, "Well, we made
it that time, didn't we, nurse?" Toward morning he asked me if
he was going to die. I could not tell him the truth. He needed
all his strength. I told him he had one chance in a thousand.
He seemed to become very strong then, and sitting bolt upright in
bed, he said: "Then I'll fight for it!" We kept him alive for
three days, and actually thought we had won when on the third day
. . .
But even in your sorrow you must be very proud to have been the
mother of such a son. . . .
I am a Wisconsin girl--Madison. When this is over and I come
home, will you let me see you so that I may tell you more than I
can possibly write?
It was in March, six months later, that Marian King came. They
had hoped for it, but never expected it. And she came. Four
people were waiting in the living room of the big Baldwin house
overlooking the river. Flora and her husband, Adele and Aunt
Sophy. They sat, waiting. Now and then Adele would rise,
nervously, and go to the window that faced the street. Flora was
weeping with audible sniffs. Baldwin sat in his chair, frowning
a little, a dead cigar in one corner of his mouth. Only Aunt
Sophy sat quietly, waiting.
There was little conversation. None in the last five minutes.
Flora broke the silence, dabbing at her face with her
handkerchief as she spoke.
"Sophy, how can you sit there like that? Not that I don't envy
you. I do. I remember I used to feel sorry for you. I used to
say `Poor Sophy.' But you unmarried ones are the happiest, after
all. It's the married woman who drinks the cup to the last,
bitter drop. There you sit, Sophy, fifty years old, and life
hasn't even touched you. You don't know how cruel life can be to
Suddenly, "There!" said Adele. The other three in the room
stood up and faced the door. The sound of a motor stopping
outside. Daniel Oakley's hearty voice: "Well, it only took us
five minutes from the station. Pretty good."
Footsteps down the hall. Marian King stood in the doorway. They
faced her, the four--Baldwin and Adele and Flora and Sophy.
Marian King stood a moment, uncertainly, her eyes upon them. She
looked at the two older women with swift, appraising glances.
Then she came into the room, quickly, and put her two hands on
Aunt Soph's shoulders and looked into her eyes straight and sure.
"You must be a very proud woman," she said. "You ought to be
a very proud woman,"
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