Friday, October 12, 2007



MARCH, 1912
"And so," the story writers used to say, "they lived happily
ever after."
Um-m-m--maybe. After the glamour had worn off, and the glass
slippers were worn out, did the Prince never find Cinderella's
manner redolent of the kitchen hearth; and was it never necessary
that he remind her to be more careful of her finger-nails and
grammar? After Puss in Boots had won wealth and a wife for his
young master did not that gentleman often fume with chagrin because
the neighbors, perhaps, refused to call on the lady of the former
poor miller's son?
It is a great risk to take with one's book-children. These
stories make no such promises. They stop just short of the phrase
of the old story writers, and end truthfully, thus: And so they
E. F.
Any one who has ever written for the magazines (nobody could
devise a more sweeping opening; it includes the iceman who does a
humorous article on the subject of his troubles, and the neglected
wife next door, who journalizes) knows that a story the scene of
which is not New York is merely junk. Take Fifth Avenue as a
framework, pad it out to five thousand words, and there you have
the ideal short story.
Consequently I feel a certain timidity in confessing that I do
not know Fifth Avenue from Hester Street when I see it, because
I've never seen it. It has been said that from the latter to the
former is a ten-year journey, from which I have gathered that they
lie some miles apart. As for Forty-second Street, of which musical
comedians carol, I know not if it be a fashionable shopping
thoroughfare or a factory district.
A confession of this kind is not only good for the soul, but
for the editor. It saves him the trouble of turning to page two.
This is a story of Chicago, which is a first cousin of New
York, although the two are not on chummy terms. It is a story of
that part of Chicago which lies east of Dearborn Avenue and south
of Division Street, and which may be called the Nottingham curtain
In the Nottingham curtain district every front parlor window
is embellished with a "Rooms With or Without Board" sign. The
curtains themselves have mellowed from their original
department-store-basement-white to a rich, deep tone of Chicago
smoke, which has the notorious London variety beaten by several
shades. Block after block the two-story-and-basement houses
stretch, all grimy and gritty and looking sadly down upon the five
square feet of mangy grass forming the pitiful front yard of each.
Now and then the monotonous line of front stoops is broken by an
outjutting basement delicatessen shop. But not often. The
Nottingham curtain district does not run heavily to delicacies. It
is stronger on creamed cabbage and bread pudding.
Up in the third floor back at Mis' Buck's (elegant rooms $2.50
and up a week. Gents preferred) Gertie was brushing her hair for
the night. One hundred strokes with a bristle brush. Anyone who
reads the beauty column in the newspapers knows that. There was
something heroic in the sight of Gertie brushing her hair one
hundred strokes before going to bed at night. Only a woman could
understand her doing it.
Gertie clerked downtown on State Street, in a gents' glove
department. A gents' glove department requires careful dressing on
the part of its clerks, and the manager, in selecting them, is
particular about choosing "lookers," with especial attention to
figure, hair, and finger nails. Gertie was a looker. Providence
had taken care of that. But you cannot leave your hair and finger
nails to Providence. They demand coaxing with a bristle brush and
an orangewood stick.
Now clerking, as Gertie would tell you, is fierce on the feet.
And when your feet are tired you are tired all over. Gertie's feet
were tired every night. About eight-thirty she longed to peel off
her clothes, drop them in a heap on the floor, and tumble,
unbrushed, unwashed, unmanicured, into bed. She never did it.
Things had been particularly trying to-night. After washing
out three handkerchiefs and pasting them with practised hand over
the mirror, Gertie had taken off her shoes and discovered a hole
the size of a silver quarter in the heel of her left stocking.
Gertie had a country-bred horror of holey stockings. She darned
the hole, yawning, her aching feet pressed against the smooth, cool
leg of the iron bed. That done, she had had the colossal courage
to wash her face, slap cold cream on it, and push back the cuticle
around her nails.
Seated huddled on the side of her thin little iron bed, Gertie
was brushing her hair bravely, counting the strokes somewhere in
her sub-conscious mind and thinking busily all the while of
something else. Her brush rose, fell, swept downward, rose, fell,
"Ninety-six, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety -- Oh, darn
it! What's the use!" cried Gertie, and hurled the brush across the
room with a crack.
She sat looking after it with wide, staring eyes until the
brush blurred in with the faded red roses on the carpet. When she
found it doing that she got up, wadded her hair viciously into a
hard bun in the back instead of braiding it carefully as usual,
crossed the room (it wasn't much of a trip), picked up the brush,
and stood looking down at it, her under lip caught between her
teeth. That is the humiliating part of losing your temper and
throwing things. You have to come down to picking them up, anyway.
Her lip still held prisoner, Gertie tossed the brush on the
bureau, fastened her nightgown at the throat with a safety pin,
turned out the gas and crawled into bed.
Perhaps the hard bun at the back of her head kept her awake.
She lay there with her eyes wide open and sleepless, staring into
the darkness.
At midnight the Kid Next Door came in whistling, like one
unused to boarding-house rules. Gertie liked him for that. At the
head of the stairs he stopped whistling and came softly into his
own third floor back just next to Gertie's. Gertie liked him for
that, too.
The two rooms had been one in the fashionable days of the
Nottingham curtain district, long before the advent of Mis' Buck.
That thrifty lady, on coming into possession, had caused a flimsy
partition to be run up, slicing the room in twain and doubling its
Lying there Gertie could hear the Kid Next Door moving about
getting ready for bed and humming "Every Little Movement Has a
Meaning of Its Own" very lightly, under his breath. He polished
his shoes briskly, and Gertie smiled there in the darkness of her
own room in sympathy. Poor kid, he had his beauty struggles, too.
Gertie had never seen the Kid Next Door, although he had come
four months ago. But she knew he wasn't a grouch, because he
alternately whistled and sang off-key tenor while dressing in the
morning. She had also discovered that his bed must run along the
same wall against which her bed was pushed. Gertie told herself
that there was something almost immodest about being able to hear
him breathing as he slept. He had tumbled into bed with a little
grunt of weariness.
Gertie lay there another hour, staring into the darkness.
Then she began to cry softly, lying on her face with her head
between her arms. The cold cream and the salt tears mingled and
formed a slippery paste. Gertie wept on because she couldn't help
it. The longer she wept the more difficult her sobs became, until
finally they bordered on the hysterical. They filled her lungs
until they ached and reached her throat with a force that jerked
her head back.
"Rap-rap-rap!" sounded sharply from the head of her bed.
Gertie stopped sobbing, and her heart stopped ,beating. She
lay tense and still, listening. Everyone knows that spooks rap
three times at the head of one's bed. It's a regular high-sign
with them.
Gertie's skin became goose-flesh, and coldwater effects chased
up and down her spine.
"What's your trouble in there?" demanded an unspooky voice so
near that Gertie jumped. "Sick?"
It was the Kid Next Door.
"N-no, I'm not sick," faltered Gertie, her mouth close to the
wall. Just then a belated sob that had stopped halfway when the
raps began hustled on to join its sisters. It took Gertie by
surprise, and brought prompt response from the other side of the
"I'll bet I scared you green. I didn't mean to, but, on the
square, if you're feeling sick, a little nip of brandy will set you
up. Excuse my mentioning it, girlie, but I'd do the same for my
sister. I hate like sin to hear a woman suffer like that, and,
anyway, I don't know whether you're fourteen or forty, so
it's perfectly respectable. I'll get the bottle and leave it
outside your door."
"No you don't!" answered Gertie in a hollow voice, praying
meanwhile that the woman in the room below might be sleeping. "I'm
not sick, honestly I'm not. I'm just as much obliged, and I'm dead
sorry I woke you up with my blubbering. I started out with the
soft pedal on, but things got away from me. Can you hear me?"
"Like a phonograph. Sure you couldn't use a sip of brandy
where it'd do the most good?"
"Well, then, cut out the weeps and get your beauty sleep, kid.
He ain't worth sobbing over, anyway, believe me."
"He!" snorted Gertie indignantly. "You're cold. There never
was anything in peg-tops that could make me carry on like the
heroine of the Elsie series."
"Lost your job?"
"No such luck."
"Well, then, what in Sam Hill could make a woman----"
"Lonesome!" snapped Gertie. "And the floorwalker got fresh
to-day. And I found two gray hairs to-night. And I'd give my next
week's pay envelope to hear the double click that our front gate
gives back home."
"Back home!" echoed the Kid Next Door in a dangerously loud
voice. "Say, I want to talk to you. If you'll promise you won't
get sore and think I'm fresh, I'll ask you a favor. Slip on a
kimono and we'll sneak down to the front stoop and talk it over.
I'm as wide awake as a chorus girl and twice as hungry. I've got
two apples and a box of crackers. Are you on?"
Gertie snickered. "It isn't done in our best sets, but I'm
on. I've got a can of sardines and an orange. I'll be ready in
six minutes."
She was, too. She wiped off the cold cream and salt tears
with a dry towel, did her hair in a schoolgirl braid and tied it
with a big bow, and dressed herself in a black skirt and a baby
blue dressing sacque. The Kid Next Door was waiting outside in the
hall. His gray sweater covered a multitude of sartorial
deficiencies. Gertie stared at him, and he stared at Gertie in the
sickly blue light of the boarding-house hall, and it took her
one-half of one second to discover that she liked his mouth, and
his eyes, and the way his hair was mussed.
"Why, you're only a kid!" whispered the Kid Next Door, in
Gertie smothered a laugh. "You're not the first man that's
been deceived by a pig-tail braid and a baby blue waist. I could
locate those two gray hairs for you with my eyes shut and my feet
in a sack. Come on, boy. These Robert W. Chambers situations make
me nervous."
Many earnest young writers with a flow of adjectives and a
passion for detail have attempted to describe the quiet of a great
city at night, when a few million people within it are sleeping, or
ought to be. They work in the clang of a distant owl car, and the
roar of an occasional "L" train, and the hollow echo of the
footsteps of the late passer-by. They go elaborately into
description, and are strong on the brooding hush, but the thing has
never been done satisfactorily.
Gertie, sitting on the front stoop at two in the morning, with
her orange in one hand and the sardine can in the other, put it
this way:
"If I was to hear a cricket chirp now, I'd screech. This
isn't really quiet. It's like waiting for a cannon cracker to go
off just before the fuse is burned down. The bang isn't there yet,
but you hear it a hundred times in your mind before it happens."
"My name's Augustus G. Eddy," announced the Kid Next Door,
solemnly. "Back home they always called me Gus. You peel that
orange while I unroll the top of this sardine can. I'm guilty of
having interrupted you in the middle of what the girls call a good
cry, and I know you'll have to get it out of your system some way.
Take a bite of apple and then wade right in and tell me what you're
doing in this burg if you don't like it."
"This thing ought to have slow music," began Gertie. "It's
pathetic. I came to Chicago from Beloit, Wisconsin, because I
thought that little town was a lonesome hole for a vivacious
creature like me. Lonesome! Listen while I laugh a low mirthless
laugh. I didn't know anything about the three-ply,
double-barreled, extra heavy brand of lonesomeness that a big town
like this can deal out. Talk about your desert wastes! They're
sociable and snug compared to this. I know three-fourths of the
people in Beloit, Wisconsin, by their first names. I've lived here
six months and I'm not on informal terms with anybody except Teddy,
the landlady's dog, and he's a trained rat-and-book-agent terrier,
and not inclined to overfriendliness. When I clerked at the
Enterprise Store in Beloit the women used to come in and ask for
something we didn't carry just for an excuse to copy the way the
lace yoke effects were planned in my shirtwaists. You ought to see
the way those same shirtwaist stack up here. Why, boy, the
lingerie waists that the other girls in my department wear make my
best hand-tucked effort look like a simple English country blouse.
They're so dripping with Irish crochet and real Val and Cluny
insertions that it's a wonder the girls don't get stoop-shouldered
carrying 'em around."
"Hold on a minute," commanded Gus. "This thing is uncanny.
Our cases dovetail like the deductions in a detective story. Kneel
here at my feet, little daughter, and I'll tell you the story of my
sad young life. I'm no child of the city streets, either. Say, I
came to this town because I thought there was a bigger field for me
in Gents' Furnishings. Joke, what?"
But Gertie didn't smile. She gazed up at Gus, and Gus gazed
down at her, and his fingers fiddled absently with the big bow at
the end of her braid.
"And isn't there?" asked Gertie, sympathetically.
"Girlie, I haven't saved twelve dollars since I came. I'm no
tightwad, and I don't believe in packing everything away into a
white marble mausoleum, but still a gink kind of whispers to
himself that some day he'll be furnishing up a kitchen pantry of
his own."
"Oh!" said Gertie.
"And let me mention in passing," continued Gus, winding the
ribbon bow around his finger, "that in the last hour or so that
whisper has been swelling to a shout."
"Oh!" said Gertie again.
"You said it. But I couldn't buy a secondhand gas stove with
what I've saved in the last half-year here. Back home they used to
think I was a regular little village John Drew, I was so dressy.
But here I look like a yokel on circus day compared to the other
fellows in the store. All they need is a field glass strung over
their shoulder to make them look like a clothing ad in the back of
a popular magazine. Say, girlie, you've got the prettiest hair
I've seen since I blew in here. Look at that braid! Thick as a
rope! That's no relation to the piles of jute that the Flossies
here stack on their heads. And shines! Like satin."
"It ought to," said Gertrude, wearily. "I brush it a hundred
strokes every night. Sometimes I'm so beat that I fall asleep with
my brush in the air. The manager won't stand for any romping curls
or hooks-and-eyes that don't connect. It keeps me so busy being
beautiful, and what the society writers call `well groomed,' that
I don't have time to sew the buttons on my underclothes."
"But don't you get some amusement in the evening?" marveled
Gus. "What was the matter with you and the other girls in the
store? Can't you hit it off?"
"Me? No. I guess I was too woodsy for them. I went out with
them a couple of times. I guess they're nice girls all right; but
they've got what you call a broader way of looking at things than
I have. Living in a little town all your life makes you narrow.
These girls!--Well, maybe I'll get educated up to their plane some
day, but----"
"No, you don't!" hissed Gus. "Not if I can help it."
"But you can't," replied Gertie, sweetly. "My, ain't this a
grand night! Evenings like this I used to love to putter around
the yard after supper, sprinkling the grass and weeding the
radishes. I'm the greatest kid to fool around with a hose. And
flowers! Say, they just grow for me. You ought to have seen my
pansies and nasturtiums last summer."
The fingers of the Kid Next Door wandered until they found
Gertie's. They clasped them.
"This thing just points one way, little one. It's just as
plain as a path leading up to a cozy little three-room flat up
here on the North Side somewhere. See it? With me and you
married, and playing at housekeeping in a parlor and bedroom and
kitchen? And both of us going down town to work in the morning
just the same as we do now. Only not the same, either."
"Wake up, little boy," said Gertie, prying her fingers away
from those other detaining ones. "I'd fit into a three-room flat
like a whale in a kitchen sink. I'm going back to Beloit,
Wisconsin. I've learned my lesson all right. There's a fellow
there waiting for me. I used to think he was too slow. But say,
he's got the nicest little painting and paper-hanging business you
ever saw, and making money. He's secretary of the K. P.'s back
home. They give some swell little dances during the winter,
especially for the married members. In five years we'll own our
home, with a vegetable garden in the back. I'm a little frog, and
it's me for the puddle."
Gus stood up slowly. Gertie felt a little pang of compunction
when she saw what a boy he was.
"I don't know when I've enjoyed a talk like this. I've heard
about these dawn teas, but I never thought I'd go to one," she
"Good-night, girlie," interrupted Gus, abruptly. "It's the
dreamless couch for mine. We've got a big sale on in tan and black
seconds to-morrow."
There are two ways of doing battle against Disgrace. You may live
it down; or you may run away from it and hide. The first method is
heart-breaking, but sure. The second cannot be relied upon because
of the uncomfortable way Disgrace has of turning up at your heels
just when you think you have eluded her in the last town but one.
Ted Terrill did not choose the first method. He had it thrust
upon him. After Ted had served his term he came back home to visit
his mother's grave, intending to take the next train out. He wore
none of the prison pallor that you read about in books, because he
had been shortstop on the penitentiary all-star baseball team, and
famed for the dexterity with which he could grab up red-hot
grounders. The storied lock step and the clipped hair effect also
were missing. The superintendent of Ted's prison had been one of
the reform kind.
You never would have picked Ted for a criminal. He had none
of those interesting phrenological bumps and depressions that
usually are shown to such frank advantage in the Bertillon
photographs. Ted had been assistant cashier in the Citizens'
National Bank. In a mad moment he had attempted a little
sleight-of-hand act in which certain Citizens' National funds were
to be transformed into certain glittering shares and back again so
quickly that the examiners couldn't follow it with their eyes. But
Ted was unaccustomed to these now-you-see-it-and-now-you-don't
feats and his hand slipped. The trick dropped to the floor with an
awful clatter.
Ted had been a lovable young kid, six feet high, and blonde,
with a great reputation as a dresser. He had the first yellow
plush hat in our town. It sat on his golden head like a halo. The
women all liked Ted. Mrs. Dankworth, the dashing widow (why will
widows persist in being dashing?), said that he was the only man in
our town who knew how to wear a dress suit. The men were forever
slapping him on the back and asking him to have a little something.
Ted's good looks and his clever tongue and a certain charming Irish
way he had with him caused him to be taken up by the smart set.
Now, if you've never lived in a small town you will be much amused
at the idea of its boasting a smart set. Which proves your
ignorance. The small town smart set is deadly serious about its
smartness. It likes to take six-hour runs down to the city to fit
a pair of shoes and hear Caruso. Its clothes are as well made, and
its scandals as crisp, and its pace as hasty, and its golf club as
dull as the clothes, and scandals, and pace, and golf club of its
city cousins.
The hasty pace killed Ted. He tried to keep step in a set of
young folks whose fathers had made our town. And all the time his
pocketbook was yelling, "Whoa!" The young people ran largely to
scarlet-upholstered touring cars, and country-club doings, and
house parties, as small town younger generations are apt to. When
Ted went to high school half the boys in his little clique spent
their after-school hours dashing up and down Main street in their
big, glittering cars, sitting slumped down on the middle of their
spines in front of the steering wheel, their sleeves rolled up,
their hair combed a militant pompadour. One or the other of them
always took Ted along. It is fearfully easy to develop a taste for
that kind of thing. As he grew older, the taste took root and
became a habit.
Ted came out after serving his term, still handsome, spite of
all that story-writers may have taught to the contrary. But we'll
make this concession to the old tradition. There was a difference.
His radiant blondeur was dimmed in some intangible, elusive way.
Birdie Callahan, who had worked in Ted's mother's kitchen for
years, and who had gone back to her old job at the Haley House
after her mistress's death, put it sadly, thus:
"He was always th' han'some divil. I used to look forward to
ironin' day just for the pleasure of pressin' his fancy shirts for
him. I'm that partial to them swell blondes. But I dinnaw, he's
changed. Doin' time has taken the edge off his hair an'
complexion. Not changed his color, do yuh mind, but dulled it,
like a gold ring, or the like, that has tarnished."
Ted was seated in the smoker, with a chip on his shoulder, and
a sick horror of encountering some one he knew in his heart, when
Jo Haley, of the Haley House, got on at Westport, homeward bound.
Jo Haley is the most eligible bachelor in our town, and the
slipperiest. He has made the Haley House a gem, so that traveling
men will cut half a dozen towns to Sunday there. If he should say
"Jump through this!" to any girl in our town she'd jump.
Jo Haley strolled leisurely up the car aisle toward Ted. Ted
saw him coming and sat very still, waiting.
"Hello, Ted! How's Ted?" said Jo Haley, casually. And
dropped into the adjoining seat without any more fuss.
Ted wet his lips slightly and tried to say something. He had
been a breezy talker. But the words would not come. Jo Haley made
no effort to cover the situation with a rush of conversation. He
did not seem to realize that there was any situation to cover. He
champed the end of his cigar and handed one to Ted.
"Well, you've taken your lickin', kid. What you going to do
The rawness of it made Ted wince. "Oh, I don't know," he
stammered. "I've a job half promised in Chicago."
"What doing?"
Ted laughed a short and ugly laugh. "Driving a brewery auto
Jo Haley tossed his cigar dexterously to the opposite corner
of his mouth and squinted thoughtfully along its bulging sides.
"Remember that Wenzel girl that's kept books for me for the
last six years? She's leaving in a couple of months to marry a New
York guy that travels for ladies' cloaks and suits. After she goes
it's nix with the lady bookkeepers for me. Not that Minnie isn't
a good, straight girl, and honest, but no girl can keep books with
one eye on a column of figures and the other on a traveling man in
a brown suit and a red necktie, unless she's cross-eyed, and you
bet Minnie ain't. The job's yours if you want it. Eighty a month
to start on, and board."
"I--can't, Jo. Thanks just the same. I'm going to try to
begin all over again, somewhere else, where nobody knows me."
"Oh yes," said Jo. "I knew a fellow that did that. After he
came out he grew a beard, and wore eyeglasses, and changed his
name. Had a quick, crisp way of talkin', and he cultivated a drawl
and went west and started in business. Real estate, I think.
Anyway, the second month he was there in walks a fool he used to
know and bellows: `Why if it ain't Bill! Hello, Bill! I thought
you was doing time yet.' That was enough. Ted, you can black your
face, and dye your hair, and squint, and some fine day, sooner or
later, somebody'll come along and blab the whole thing. And say,
the older it gets the worse it sounds, when it does come out.
Stick around here where you grew up, Ted."
Ted clasped and unclasped his hands uncomfortably. "I can't
figure out why you should care how I finish."
"No reason," answered Jo. "Not a darned one. I wasn't ever
in love with your ma, like the guy on the stage; and I never owed
your pa a cent. So it ain't a guilty conscience. I guess it's
just pure cussedness, and a hankerin' for a new investment. I'm
curious to know how'll you turn out. You've got the makin's of
what the newspapers call a Leading Citizen, even if you did fall
down once. If I'd ever had time to get married, which I never will
have, a first-class hotel bein' more worry and expense than a
Pittsburg steel magnate's whole harem, I'd have wanted somebody to
do the same for my kid. That sounds slushy, but it's straight."
"I don't seem to know how to thank you," began Ted, a little
husky as to voice.
"Call around to-morrow morning," interrupted Jo Haley.,
briskly, "and Minnie Wenzel will show you the ropes. You and her
can work together for a couple of months. After then she's leaving
to make her underwear, and that. I should think she'd have a bale
of it by this time. Been embroidering them shimmy things and lunch
cloths back of the desk when she thought I wasn't lookin' for the
last six months."
Ted came down next morning at 8 A.M. with his nerve between
his teeth and the chip still balanced lightly on his shoulder.
Five minutes later Minnie Wenzel knocked it off. When Jo Haley
introduced the two jocularly, knowing that they had originally met
in the First Reader room, Miss Wenzel acknowledged the introduction
icily by lifting her left eyebrow slightly and drawing down the
corners of her mouth. Her air of hauteur was a triumph,
considering that she was handicapped by black sateen
I wonder how one could best describe Miss Wenzel? There is
one of her in every small town. Let me think (business of hand on
brow). Well, she always paid eight dollars for her corsets when
most girls in a similar position got theirs for fifty-nine cents in
the basement. Nature had been kind to her. The hair that had been
a muddy brown in Minnie's schoolgirl days it had touched with a
magic red-gold wand. Birdie Callahan always said that Minnie was
working only to wear out her old clothes.
After the introduction Miss Wenzel followed Jo Haley into the
lobby. She took no pains to lower her voice.
"Well I must say, Mr. Haley, you've got a fine nerve! If my
gentleman friend was to hear of my working with an ex-con I
wouldn't be surprised if he'd break off the engagement. I should
think you'd have some respect for the feelings of a lady with a
name to keep up, and engaged to a swell fellow like Mr. Schwartz."
"Say, listen, m' girl," replied Jo Haley. "The law don't
cover all the tricks. But if stuffing an order was a criminal
offense I'll bet your swell traveling man would be doing a life
Ted worked that day with his teeth set so that his jaws ached
next morning. Minnie Wenzel spoke to him only when necessary and
then in terms of dollars and cents. When dinner time came she
divested herself of the black sateen sleevelets, wriggled from the
shoulders down a la Patricia O'Brien, produced a chamois skin, and
disappeared in the direction of the washroom. Ted waited until the
dining-room was almost deserted. Then he went in to dinner alone.
Some one in white wearing an absurd little pocket handkerchief of
an apron led him to a seat in a far corner of the big room. Ted
did not lift his eyes higher than the snowy square of the apron.
The Apron drew out a chair, shoved it under Ted's knees in the way
Aprons have, and thrust a printed menu at him.
"Roast beef, medium," said Ted, without looking up.
"Bless your heart, yuh ain't changed a bit. I remember how
yuh used to jaw when it was too well done," said the Apron, fondly.
Ted's head came up with a jerk.
"So yuh will cut yer old friends, is it?" grinned Birdie
Callahan. "If this wasn't a public dining-room maybe yuh'd shake
hands with a poor but proud workin' girrul. Yer as good lookin' a
divil as ever, Mister Ted."
Ted's hand shot out and grasped hers. "Birdie! I could weep
on your apron! I never was so glad to see any one in my life.
Just to look at you makes me homesick. What in Sam Hill are you
doing here?"
"Waitin'. After yer ma died, seemed like I didn't care t'
work fer no other privit fam'ly, so I came back here on my old job.
I'll bet I'm the homeliest head waitress in captivity."
Ted's nervous fingers were pleating the tablecloth. His voice
sank to a whisper. "Birdie, tell me the God's truth. Did those
three years cause her death?"
"Niver!" lied Birdie. "I was with her to the end. It started
with a cold on th' chest. Have some French fried with yer beef,
Mr. Teddy. They're illigent to-day."
Birdie glided off to the kitchen. Authors are fond of the
word "glide." But you can take it literally this time. Birdie had
a face that looked like a huge mistake, but she walked like a
panther, and they're said to be the last cry as gliders. She
walked with her chin up and her hips firm. That comes from
juggling trays. You have to walk like that to keep your nose out
of the soup. After a while the walk becomes a habit. Any seasoned
dining-room girl could give lessons in walking to the Delsarte
teacher of an Eastern finishing school.
From the day that Birdie Callahan served Ted with the roast
beef medium and the elegant French fried, she appointed herself
monitor over his food and clothes and morals. I wish I could find
words to describe his bitter loneliness. He did not seek
companionship. The men, although not directly avoiding him, seemed
somehow to have pressing business whenever they happened in his
vicinity. The women ignored him. Mrs. Dankworth, still dashing
and still widowed, passed Ted one day and looked fixedly at a point
one inch above his head. In a town like ours the Haley House is
like a big, hospitable clubhouse. The men drop in there the first
thing in the morning, and the last thing at night, to hear the
gossip and buy a cigar and jolly the girl at the cigar counter.
Ted spoke to them when they spoke to him. He began to develop a
certain grim line about the mouth. Jo Haley watched him from afar,
and the longer he watched the kinder and more speculative grew the
look in his eyes. And slowly and surely there grew in the hearts
of our townspeople a certain new respect and admiration for this
boy who was fighting his fight.
Ted got into the habit of taking his meals late, so that
Birdie Callahan could take the time to talk to him.
"Birdie," he said one day, when she brought his soup, "do you
know that you're the only decent woman who'll talk to me? Do you
know what I mean when I say that I'd give the rest of my life if I
could just put my head in my mother's lap and have her muss up my
hair and call me foolish names?"
Birdie Callahan cleared her throat and said abruptly: "I was
noticin' yesterday your gray pants needs pressin' bad. Bring 'em
down tomorrow mornin' and I'll give 'em th' elegant crease in the
So the first weeks went by, and the two months of Miss
Wenzel's stay came to an end. Ted thanked his God and tried hard
not to wish that she was a man so that he could punch her head.
The day before the time appointed for her departure she was
closeted with Jo Haley for a long, long time. When finally she
emerged a bellboy lounged up to Ted with a message.
"Wenzel says th' Old Man wants t' see you. 'S in his office.
Say, Mr. Terrill, do yuh think they can play to-day? It's pretty
Jo Haley was sunk in the depths of his big leather chair. He
did not look up as Ted entered. "Sit down," he said. Ted sat down
and waited, puzzled.
"As a wizard at figures," mused Jo Haley at last, softly as
though to himself, "I'm a frost. A column of figures on paper
makes my head swim. But I can carry a whole regiment of 'em in my
head. I know every time the barkeeper draws one in the dark. I've
been watchin' this thing for the last two weeks hopin' you'd quit
and come and tell me." He turned suddenly and faced Ted. "Ted,
old kid," he said sadly, "what'n'ell made you do it again?"
"What's the joke?" asked Ted.
"Now, Ted," remonstrated Jo Haley, "that way of talkin' won't
help matters none. As I said, I'm rotten at figures. But you're
the first investment that ever turned out bad, and let me tell you
I've handled some mighty bad smelling ones. Why, kid, if you had
just come to me on the quiet and asked for the loan of a hundred or
so why----"
"What's the joke, Jo?" said Ted again, slowly.
"This ain't my notion of a joke," came the terse answer.
"We're three hundred short."
The last vestige of Ted Terrill's old-time radiance seemed to
flicker and die, leaving him ashen and old.
"Short?" he repeated. Then, "My God!" in a strangely
colorless voice--"My God!" He looked down at his fingers
impersonally, as though they belonged to some one else. Then his
hand clutched Jo Haley's arm with the grip of fear. "Jo! Jo!
That's the thing that has haunted me day and night, till my nerves
are raw. The fear of doing it again. Don't laugh at me, will you?
I used to lie awake nights going over that cursed business of the
bank--over and over--till the cold sweat would break out all over
me. I used to figure it all out again, step by step, until--Jo,
could a man steal and not know it? Could thinking of a thing like
that drive a man crazy? Because if it could--if it
"I don't know," said Jo Haley, "but it sounds darned fishy."
He had a hand on Ted's shaking shoulder, and was looking into the
white, drawn face. "I had great plans for you, Ted. But Minnie
Wenzel's got it all down on slips of paper. I might as well call
her, in again, and we'll have the whole blamed thing out."
Minnie Wenzel came. In her hand were slips of paper, and
books with figures in them, and Ted looked and saw things written
in his own hand that should not have been there. And he covered
his shamed face with his two hands and gave thanks that his mother
was dead.
There came three sharp raps at the office door. The tense
figures within jumped nervously.
"Keep out!" called Jo Haley, "whoever you are." Whereupon the
door opened and Birdie Callahan breezed in.
"Get out, Birdie Callahan," roared Jo. "You're in the wrong
Birdie closed the door behind her composedly and came farther
into the room. "Pete th' pasthry cook just tells me that Minnie
Wenzel told th' day clerk, who told the barkeep, who told th'
janitor, who told th' chef, who told Pete, that Minnie had caught
Ted stealin' some three hundred dollars."
Ted took a quick step forward. "Birdie, for Heaven's sake
keep out of this. You can't make things any better. You may
believe in me, but----"
"Where's the money?" asked Birdie.
Ted stared at her a moment, his mouth open ludicrously.
"Why--I--don't--know," he articulated, painfully. "I never
thought of that."
Birdie snorted defiantly. "I thought so. D'ye know,"
sociably, "I was visitin' with my aunt Mis' Mulcahy last evenin'."
There was a quick rustle of silks from Minnie Wenzel's
"Say, look here----" began Jo Haley, impatiently.
"Shut up, Jo Haley!" snapped Birdie. "As I was sayin', I was
visitin' with my aunt Mis' Mulcahy. She does fancy washin' an'
ironin' for the swells. An' Minnie Wenzel, there bein' none
sweller, hires her to do up her weddin' linens. Such smears av
hand embridery an' Irish crochet she never see th' likes, Mis'
Mulcahy says, and she's seen a lot. And as a special treat to the
poor owld soul, why Minnie Wenzel lets her see some av her weddin'
clo'es. There never yet was a woman who cud resist showin' her
weddin' things to every other woman she cud lay hands on. Well,
Mis' Mulcahy, she see that grand trewsow and she said she never saw
th' beat. Dresses! Well, her going away suit alone comes to
eighty dollars, for it's bein' made by Molkowsky, the little Polish
tailor. An' her weddin' dress is satin, do yuh mind! Oh, it was
a real treat for my aunt Mis' Mulcahy."
Birdie walked over to where Minnie Wenzel sat, very white and
still, and pointed a stubby red finger in her face. "'Tis the
grand manager ye are, Miss Wenzel, gettin' satins an' tailor-mades
on yer salary. It takes a woman, Minnie Wenzel, to see through a
woman's thricks."
"Well I'll be dinged!" exploded Jo Haley.
"Yuh'd better be!" retorted Birdie Callahan.
Minnie Wenzel stood up, her lip caught between her teeth.
"Am I to understand, Jo Haley, that you dare to accuse me of
taking your filthy money, instead of that miserable ex-con there
who has done time?"
"That'll do, Minnie," said Jo Haley, gently. "That's
"Prove it," went on Minnie, and then looked as though she
wished she hadn't.
"A business college edjication is a grand foine thing,"
observed Birdie. "Miss Wenzel is a graduate av wan. They teach
you everything from drawin' birds with tail feathers to plain and
fancy penmanship. In fact, they teach everything in the writin'
line except forgery, an' I ain't so sure they haven't got a coorse
in that."
"I don't care," whimpered Minnie Wenzel suddenly, sinking in
a limp heap on the floor. "I had to do it. I'm marrying a swell
fellow and a girl's got to have some clothes that don't look like
a Bird Center dressmaker's work. He's got three sisters. I saw
their pictures and they're coming to the wedding. They're the kind
that wear low-necked dresses in the evening, and have their hair
and nails done downtown. I haven't got a thing but my looks.
Could I go to New York dressed like a rube? On the square, Jo, I
worked here six years and never took a sou. But things got away
from me. The tailor wouldn't finish my suit unless I paid him fifty
dollars down. I only took fifty at first, intending to pay it
back. Honest to goodness, Jo, I did."
"Cut it out," said Jo Haley, "and get up. I was going to give
you a check for your wedding, though I hadn't counted on no three
hundred. We'll call it square. And I hope you'll be happy, but I
don't gamble on it. You'll be goin' through your man's pants
pockets before you're married a year. You can take your hat and
fade. I'd like to know how I'm ever going to square this thing
with Ted and Birdie."
"An' me standin' here gassin' while them fool girls in the
dinin'-room can't set a table decent, and dinner in less than ten
minutes," cried Birdie, rushing off. Ted mumbled something
unintelligible and was after her.
"Birdie! I want to talk to you."
"Say it quick then," said Birdie, over her shoulder. "The
doors open in three minnits."
"I can't tell you how grateful I am. This is no place to talk
to you. Will you let me walk home with you to-night after your
work's done?"
"Will I?" said Birdie, turning to face him. "I will not. Th'
swell mob has shook you, an' a good thing it is. You was travelin'
with a bunch of racers, when you was only built for medium speed.
Now you're got your chance to a fresh start and don't you ever
think I'm going to be the one to let you spoil it by beginnin' to
walk out with a dinin'-room Lizzie like me."
"Don't say that, Birdie," Ted put in.
"It's the truth," affirmed Birdie. "Not that I ain't a
perfec'ly respectable girrul, and ye know it. I'm a good slob, but
folks would be tickled for the chance to say that you had nobody to
go with but the likes av me. If I was to let you walk home with me
to-night, yuh might be askin' to call next week. Inside half a
year, if yuh was lonesome enough, yuh'd ask me to marry yuh. And
b'gorra," she said softly, looking down at her unlovely red hands,
"I'm dead scared I'd do it. Get back to work, Ted Terrill, and
hold yer head up high, and when yuh say your prayers to-night,
thank your lucky stars I ain't a hussy."
Somewhere in your story you must pause to describe your heroine's
costume. It is a ticklish task. The average reader likes his
heroine well dressed. He is not satisfied with knowing that she
looked like a tall, fair lily. He wants to be told that her gown
was of green crepe, with lace ruffles that swirled at her feet.
Writers used to go so far as to name the dressmaker; and it was a
poor kind of a heroine who didn't wear a red velvet by Worth. But
that has been largely abandoned in these days of commissions.
Still, when the heroine goes out on the terrace to spoon after
dinner (a quaint old English custom for the origin of which see any
novel by the "Duchess," page 179) the average reader wants to know
what sort of a filmy wrap she snatches up on the way out. He
demands a description, with as many illustrations as the publisher
will stand for, of what she wore from the bedroom to the street,
with full stops for the ribbons on her robe de nuit, and the
buckles on her ballroom slippers. Half the poor creatures one sees
flattening their noses against the shop windows are authors getting
a line on the advance fashions. Suppose a careless writer were to
dress his heroine in a full-plaited skirt only to find, when his
story is published four months later, that full-plaited skirts have
been relegated to the dim past!
I started to read a story once. It was a good one. There was
in it not a single allusion to brandy-and-soda, or divorce, or the
stock market. The dialogue crackled. The hero talked like a live
man. It was a shipboard story, and the heroine was charming so
long as she wore her heavy ulster. But along toward evening she
blossomed forth in a yellow gown, with a scarlet poinsettia at her
throat. I quit her cold. Nobody ever wore a scarlet poinsettia;
or if they did, they couldn't wear it on a yellow gown. Or if they
did wear it with a yellow gown, they didn't wear it at the throat.
Scarlet poinsettias aren't worn, anyhow. To this day I don't know
whether the heroine married the hero or jumped overboard.
You see, one can't be too careful about clothing one's
I hesitate to describe Sophy Epstein's dress. You won't like
it. In the first place, it was cut too low, front and back, for a
shoe clerk in a downtown loft. It was a black dress, near-princess
in style, very tight as to fit, very short as to skirt, very sleazy
as to material. It showed all the delicate curves of Sophy's
under-fed, girlish body, and Sophy didn't care a bit. Its most
objectionable feature was at the throat. Collarless gowns were in
vogue. Sophy's daring shears had gone a snip or two farther. They
had cut a startlingly generous V. To say that the dress was
elbow-sleeved is superfluous. I have said that Sophy clerked in a
downtown loft.
Sophy sold "sample" shoes at two-fifty a pair, and from where
you were standing you thought they looked just like the shoes that
were sold in the regular shops for six. When Sophy sat on one of
the low benches at the feet of some customer, tugging away at a
refractory shoe for a would-be small foot, her shameless little
gown exposed more than it should have. But few of Sophy's
customers were shocked. They were mainly chorus girls and ladies
of doubtful complexion in search of cheap and ultra footgear,
and--to use a health term--hardened by exposure.
Have I told you how pretty she was? She was so pretty that
you immediately forgave her the indecency of her pitiful little
gown. She was pretty in a daringly demure fashion, like a wicked
little Puritan, or a poverty-stricken Cleo de Merode, with her
smooth brown hair parted in the middle, drawn severely down over
her ears, framing the lovely oval of her face and ending in a
simple coil at the neck. Some serpent's wisdom had told Sophy to
eschew puffs. But I think her prettiness could have triumphed even
over those.
If Sophy's boss had been any other sort of man he would have
informed Sophy, sternly, that black princess effects, cut low, were
not au fait in the shoe-clerk world. But Sophy's boss had a
rhombic nose, and no instep, and the tail of his name had been
amputated. He didn't care how Sophy wore her dresses so long as
she sold shoes.
Once the boss had kissed Sophy--not on the mouth, but just
where her shabby gown formed its charming but immodest V. Sophy
had slapped him, of course. But the slap had not set the thing
right in her mind. She could not forget it. It had made her
uncomfortable in much the same way as we are wildly ill at ease
when we dream of walking naked in a crowded street. At odd moments
during the day Sophy had found herself rubbing the spot furiously
with her unlovely handkerchief, and shivering a little. She had
never told the other girls about that kiss.
So--there you have Sophy and her costume. You may take her or
leave her. I purposely placed these defects in costuming right at
the beginning of the story, so that there should be no false
pretenses. One more detail. About Sophy's throat was a slender,
near-gold chain from which was suspended a cheap and glittering La
Valliere. Sophy had not intended it as a sop to the conventions.
It was an offering on the shrine of Fashion, and represented many
lunchless days.
At eleven o'clock one August morning, Louie came to Chicago
from Oskaloosa, Iowa. There was no hay in his hair. The comic
papers have long insisted that the country boy, on his first visit
to the city, is known by his greased boots and his high-water
pants. Don't you believe them. The small-town boy is as
fastidious about the height of his heels and the stripe of his
shift and the roll of his hat-brim as are his city brothers. He
peruses the slangily worded ads of the "classy clothes" tailors,
and when scarlet cravats are worn the small-town boy is not more
than two weeks late in acquiring one that glows like a headlight.
Louie found a rooming-house, shoved his suitcase under the
bed, changed his collar, washed his hands in the gritty water of
the wash bowl, and started out to look for a job.
Louie was twenty-one. For the last four years he had been
employed in the best shoe store at home, and he knew shoe leather
from the factory to the ash barrel. It was almost a religion with
Curiosity, which plays leads in so many life dramas, led Louie
to the rotunda of the tallest building. It was built on the hollow
center plan, with a sheer drop from the twenty-somethingth to the
main floor. Louie stationed himself in the center of the mosaic
floor, took off his hat, bent backward almost double and gazed, his
mouth wide open. When he brought his muscles slowly back into
normal position he tried hard not to look impressed. He glanced
about, sheepishly, to see if any one was laughing at him, and his
eye encountered the electric-lighted glass display case of the shoe
company upstairs. The case was filled with pink satin slippers and
cunning velvet boots, and the newest thing in bronze street shoes.
Louie took the next elevator up. The shoe display had made him
feel as though some one from home had slapped him on the back.
The God of the Jobless was with him. The boss had fired two
boys the day before.
"Oskaloosa!" grinned the boss, derisively. "Do they wear
shoes there? What do you know about shoes, huh boy?"
Louie told him. The boss shuffled the papers on his desk, and
chewed his cigar, and tried not to show his surprise. Louie, quite
innocently, was teaching the boss things about the shoe business.
When Louie had finished--"Well, I try you, anyhow," the boss
grunted, grudgingly. "I give you so-and-so much." He named a wage
that would have been ridiculous if it had not been so pathetic.
"All right, sir," answered Louie, promptly, like the boys in
the Alger series. The cost of living problem had never bothered
Louie in Oskaloosa.
The boss hid a pleased smile.
"Miss Epstein!" he bellowed, "step this way! Miss Epstein,
kindly show this here young man so he gets a line on the stock. He
is from Oskaloosa, Ioway. Look out she don't sell you a gold
brick, Louie."
But Louie was not listening. He was gazing at the V in Sophy
Epstein's dress with all his scandalized Oskaloosa, Iowa, eyes.
Louie was no mollycoddle. But he had been in great demand as
usher at the Young Men's Sunday Evening Club service at the
Congregational church, and in his town there had been no Sophy
Epsteins in too-tight princess dresses, cut into a careless V. But
Sophy was a city product--I was about to say pure and simple, but
I will not--wise, bold, young, old, underfed, overworked, and
triumphantly pretty.
"How-do!" cooed Sophy in her best baby tones. Louie's
disapproving eyes jumped from the objectionable V in Sophy's dress
to the lure of Sophy's face, and their expression underwent a
lightning change. There was no disapproving Sophy's face, no
matter how long one had dwelt in Oskaloosa.
"I won't bite you," said Sophy. "I'm never vicious on
Tuesdays. We'll start here with the misses' an' children's, and
work over to the other side."
Whereupon Louie was introduced into the intricacies of the
sample shoe business. He kept his eyes resolutely away from the V,
and learned many things. He learned how shoes that look like six
dollar values may be sold for two-fifty. He looked on in wide-eyed
horror while Sophy fitted a No. 5 C shoe on a 6 B foot and assured
the wearer that it looked like a made-to-order boot. He picked up
a pair of dull kid shoes and looked at them. His leather-wise eyes
saw much, and I think he would have taken his hat off the hook, and
his offended business principles out of the shop forever if Sophy
had not completed her purchase and strolled over to him at the
psychological moment.
She smiled up at him, impudently. "Well, Pink Cheeks," she
said, "how do you like our little settlement by the lake, huh?"
"These shoes aren't worth two-fifty," said Louie, indignation
in his voice.
"Well, sure," replied Sophy. "I know it. What do you think
this is? A charity bazaar?"
"But back home----" began Louie, hotly.
"Ferget it, kid," said Sophy. "This is a big town, but it
ain't got no room for back-homers. Don't sour on one job till
you've got another nailed. You'll find yourself cuddling down on
a park bench if you do. Say, are you honestly from Oskaloosa?"
"I certainly am," answered Louie, with pride.
"My goodness!" ejaculated Sophy. "I never believed there was
no such place. Don't brag about it to the other fellows."
"What time do you go out for lunch?" asked Louie.
"What's it to you?" with the accent on the "to."
"When I want to know a thing, I generally ask," explained
Louie, gently.
Sophy looked at him--a long, keen, knowing look. "You'll
learn," she observed, thoughtfully.
Louie did learn. He learned so much in that first week that
when Sunday came it seemed as though aeons had passed over his
head. He learned that the crime of murder was as nothing compared
to the crime of allowing a customer to depart shoeless; he learned
that the lunch hour was invented for the purpose of making dates;
that no one had ever heard of Oskaloosa, Iowa; that seven dollars
a week does not leave much margin for laundry and general recklessness;
that a madonna face above a V-cut gown is apt to distract
one's attention from shoes; that a hundred-dollar nest egg is as
effective in Chicago as a pine stick would be in propping up a
stone wall; and that all the other men clerks called Sophy
Some of his newly acquired knowledge brought pain, as
knowledge is apt to do.
He saw that State Street was crowded with Sophys during the
noon hour; girls with lovely faces under pitifully absurd hats.
Girls who aped the fashions of the dazzling creatures they saw
stepping from limousines. Girls who starved body and soul in order
to possess a set of false curls, or a pair of black satin shoes
with mother-o'-pearl buttons. Girls whose minds were bounded on
the north by the nickel theatres; on the east by "I sez to him"; on
the south by the gorgeous shop windows; and on the west by "He sez
t' me."
Oh, I can't tell you how much Louie learned in that first week
while his eyes were getting accustomed to the shifting, jostling,
pushing, giggling, walking, talking throng. The city is justly
famed as a hot house of forced knowledge.
One thing Louie could not learn. He could not bring himself
to accept the V in Sophy's dress. Louie's mother had been one of
the old-fashioned kind who wore a blue-and-white checked gingham
apron from 6 A.M. to 2 P.M., when she took it off to go downtown
and help the ladies of the church at the cake sale in the empty
window of the gas company's office, only to don it again when she
fried the potatoes for supper. Among other things she had taught
Louie to wipe his feet before coming in, to respect and help women,
and to change his socks often.
After a month of Chicago Louie forgot the first lesson; had
more difficulty than I can tell you in reverencing a woman who only
said, "Aw, don't get fresh now!" when the other men put their arms
about her; and adhered to the third only after a struggle, in which
he had to do a small private washing in his own wash-bowl in the
Sophy called him a stiff. His gravely courteous treatment of
her made her vaguely uncomfortable. She was past mistress in the
art of parrying insults and banter, but she had no reply ready for
Louie's boyish air of deference. It angered her for some
unreasonable woman-reason.
There came a day when the V-cut dress brought them to open
battle. I think Sophy had appeared that morning minus the chain
and La Valliere. Frail and cheap as it was, it had been the only
barrier that separated Sophy from frank shamelessness. Louie's
outraged sense of propriety asserted itself.
"Sophy," he stammered, during a quiet half-hour, "I'll call
for you and take you to the nickel show to-night if you'll promise
not to wear that dress. What makes you wear that kind of a get-up,
"Dress?" queried Sophy, looking down at the shiny front
breadth of her frock. "Why? Don't you like it?"
"Like it! No!" blurted Louie.
"Don't yuh, rully! Deah me! Deah me! If I'd only knew that
this morning. As a gen'ral thing I wear white duck complete down
t' work, but I'm savin' my last two clean suits f'r gawlf."
Louie ran an uncomfortable finger around the edge of his
collar, but he stood his ground. "It--it--shows your--neck so," he
objected, miserably.
Sophy opened her great eyes wide. "Well, supposin' it does?"
she inquired, coolly. "It's a perfectly good neck, ain't it?"
Louie, his face very red, took the plunge. "I don't know. I
guess so. But, Sophy, it--looks so--so--you know what I mean. I
hate to see the way the fellows rubber at you. Why don't you wear
those plain shirtwaist things, with high collars, like my mother
wears back home?"
Sophy's teeth came together with a click. She laughed a short
cruel little laugh. "Say, Pink Cheeks, did yuh ever do a washin'
from seven to twelve, after you got home from work in the evenin'?
It's great! 'Specially when you're living in a six-by-ten room
with all the modern inconveniences, includin' no water except on
the third floor down. Simple! Say, a child could work it. All
you got to do, when you get home so tired your back teeth ache, is
to haul your water, an' soak your clothes, an' then rub 'em till
your hands peel, and rinse 'em, an' boil 'em, and blue 'em, an'
starch 'em. See? Just like that. Nothin' to it, kid. Nothin' to
Louie had been twisting his fingers nervously. Now his hands
shut themselves into fists. He looked straight into Sophy's angry
"I do know what it is," he said, quite simply. "There's been
a lot written and said about women's struggle with clothes. I
wonder why they've never said anything about the way a man has to
fight to keep up the thing they call appearances. God knows it's
pathetic enough to think of a girl like you bending over a tubful
of clothes. But when a man has to do it, it's a tragedy."
"That's so," agreed Sophy. "When a girl gets shabby, and her
clothes begin t' look tacky she can take a gore or so out of her
skirt where it's the most wore, and catch it in at the bottom, and
call it a hobble. An' when her waist gets too soiled she can cover
up the front of it with a jabot, an' if her face is pretty enough
she can carry it off that way. But when a man is seedy, he's
seedy. He can't sew no ruffles on his pants."
"I ran short last week, continued Louie. "That is, shorter
than usual. I hadn't the fifty cents to give to the woman. You
ought to see her! A little, gray-faced thing, with wisps of hair,
and no chest to speak of, and one of those mashed-looking black
hats. Nobody could have the nerve to ask her to wait for her
money. So I did my own washing. I haven't learned to wear soiled
clothes yet. I laughed fit to bust while I was doing it.
But--I'll bet my mother dreamed of me that night. The way they do,
you know, when something's gone wrong."
Sophy, perched on the third rung of the sliding ladder, was
gazing at him. Her lips were parted slightly, and her cheeks were
very pink. On her face was a new, strange look, as of something
half forgotten. It was as though the spirit of
Sophy-as-she-might-have-been were inhabiting her soul for a brief
moment. At Louie's next words the look was gone.
"Can't you sew something--a lace yoke--or whatever you call
'em--in that dress?" he persisted.
"Aw, fade!" jeered Sophy. "When a girl's only got one dress
it's got to have some tong to it. Maybe this gown would cause a
wave of indignation in Oskaloosa, Iowa, but it don't even make a
ripple on State Street. It takes more than an aggravated Dutch
neck to make a fellow look at a girl these days. In a town like
this a girl's got to make a showin' some way. I'm my own stage
manager. They look at my dress first, an' grin. See? An' then
they look at my face. I'm like the girl in the story. Muh face is
muh fortune. It's earned me many a square meal; an' lemme tell
you, Pink Cheeks, eatin' square meals is one of my favorite pastimes."
"Say looka here!" bellowed the boss, wrathfully. "Just cut
out this here Romeo and Juliet act, will you! That there ladder
ain't for no balcony scene, understand. Here you, Louie, you
shinny up there and get down a pair of them brown satin pumps,
small size."
Sophy continued to wear the black dress. The V-cut neck
seemed more flaunting than ever.
It was two weeks later that Louie came in from lunch, his face
radiant. He was fifteen minutes late, but he listened to the
boss's ravings with a smile.
"You grin like somebody handed you a ten-case note," commented
Sophy, with a woman's curiosity. "I guess you must of met some
rube from home when you was out t' lunch."
"Better than that! Who do you think I bumped right into in
the elevator going down?"
"Well, Brothah Bones," mimicked Sophy, who did you meet in the
elevator going down?"
"I met a man named Ames. He used to travel for a big Boston
shoe house, and he made our town every few months. We got to be
good friends. I took him home for Sunday dinner once, and he said
it was the best dinner he'd had in months. You know how tired
those traveling men get of hotel grub."
"Cut out the description and get down to action," snapped
"Well, he knew me right away. And he made me go out to lunch
with him. A real lunch, starting with soup. Gee! It went big.
He asked me what I was doing. I told him I was working here, and
he opened his eyes, and then he laughed and said: `How did you get
into that joint?' Then he took me down to a swell little shoe shop
on State Street, and it turned out that he owns it. He introduced
me all around, and I'm going there to work next week. And wages!
Why say, it's almost a salary. A fellow can hold his head up in a
place like that."
"When you leavin'?" asked Sophy, slowly.
"Monday. Gee! it seems a year away."
Sophy was late Saturday morning. When she came in, hurriedly,
her cheeks were scarlet and her eyes glowed. She took off her hat
and coat and fell to straightening boxes and putting out stock
without looking up. She took no part in the talk and jest that was
going on among the other clerks. One of the men, in search of the
missing mate to the shoe in his hand, came over to her, greeting
her carelessly. Then he stared.
"Well, what do you know about this!" he called out to the
others, and laughed coarsely, "Look, stop, listen! Little Sophy
Bright Eyes here has pulled down the shades."
Louie turned quickly. The immodest V of Sophy's gown was
filled with a black lace yoke that came up to the very lobes of her
little pink ears. She had got some scraps of lace from--Where do
they get those bits of rusty black? From some basement bargain
counter, perhaps, raked over during the lunch hour. There were
nine pieces in the front, and seven in the back. She had sat up
half the night putting them together so that when completed they
looked like one, if you didn't come too close. There is a certain
strain of Indian patience and ingenuity in women that no man has
ever been able to understand.
Louie looked up and saw. His eyes met Sophy's. In his there
crept a certain exultant gleam, as of one who had fought for
something great and won. Sophy saw the look. The shy questioning
in her eyes was replaced by a spark of defiance. She tossed her
head, and turned to the man who had called attention to her
"Who's loony now?" she jeered. "I always put in a yoke when
it gets along toward fall. My lungs is delicate. And anyway, I
see by the papers yesterday that collarless gowns is slightly
passay f'r winter."
This is not a baseball story. The grandstand does not rise as one
man and shout itself hoarse with joy. There isn't a three-bagger
in the entire three thousand words, and nobody is carried home on
the shoulders of the crowd. For that sort of thing you need not
squander fifteen cents on your favorite magazine. The modest sum
of one cent will make you the possessor of a Pink 'Un. There you
will find the season's games handled in masterly fashion by a
six-best-seller artist, an expert mathematician, and an
original-slang humorist. No mere short story dub may hope to
compete with these.
In the old days, before the gentry of the ring had learned the
wisdom of investing their winnings in solids instead of liquids,
this used to be a favorite conundrum: When is a prize-fighter not
a prize-fighter?
Chorus: When he is tending bar.
I rise to ask you Brothah Fan, when is a ball player not a
ball player? Above the storm of facetious replies I shout the
When he's a shoe clerk.
Any man who can look handsome in a dirty baseball suit is an
Adonis. There is something about the baggy pants, and the
Micawber-shaped collar, and the skull-fitting cap, and the foot or
so of tan, or blue, or pink undershirt sleeve sticking out at the
arms, that just naturally kills a man's best points. Then too, a
baseball suit requires so much in the matter of leg. Therefore,
when I say that Rudie Schlachweiler was a dream even in his
baseball uniform, with a dirty brown streak right up the side of
his pants where he had slid for base, you may know that the girls
camped on the grounds during the season.
During the summer months our ball park is to us what the Grand
Prix is to Paris, or Ascot is to London. What care we that Evers
gets seven thousand a year (or is it a month?); or that Chicago's
new South-side ball park seats thirty-five thousand (or is it
million?). Of what interest are such meager items compared with
the knowledge that "Pug" Coulan, who plays short, goes with Undine
Meyers, the girl up there in the eighth row, with the pink dress
and the red roses on her hat? When "Pug" snatches a high one out
of the firmament we yell with delight, and even as we yell we turn
sideways to look up and see how Undine is taking it. Undine's
shining eyes are fixed on "Pug," and he knows it, stoops to brush
the dust off his dirt-begrimed baseball pants, takes an attitude of
careless grace and misses the next play.
Our grand-stand seats almost two thousand, counting the boxes.
But only the snobs, and the girls with new hats, sit in the boxes.
Box seats are comfortable, it is true, and they cost only an
additional ten cents, but we have come to consider them
undemocratic, and unworthy of true fans. Mrs. Freddy Van Dyne, who
spends her winters in Egypt and her summers at the ball park, comes
out to the game every afternoon in her automobile, but she never
occupies a box seat; so why should we? She perches up in the
grand-stand with the rest of the enthusiasts, and when Kelly puts
one over she stands up and clinches her fists, and waves her arms
and shouts with the best of 'em. She has even been known to cry,
"Good eye! Good eye!" when things were at fever heat. The only
really blase individual in the ball park is Willie Grimes, who
peddles ice-cream cones. For that matter, I once saw Willie turn
a languid head to pipe, in his thin voice, "Give 'em a dark one,
Dutch! Give 'em a dark one!"
Well, that will do for the firsh dash of local color. Now for
the story.
Ivy Keller came home June nineteenth from Miss Shont's select
school for young ladies. By June twenty-first she was bored limp.
You could hardly see the plaits of her white tailored shirtwaist
for fraternity pins and secret society emblems, and her bedroom was
ablaze with college banners and pennants to such an extent that the
maid gave notice every Thursday--which was upstairs cleaning day.
For two weeks after her return Ivy spent most of her time
writing letters and waiting for them, and reading the classics on
the front porch, dressed in a middy blouse and a blue skirt, with
her hair done in a curly Greek effect like the girls on the covers
of the Ladies' Magazine. She posed against the canvas bosom of the
porch chair with one foot under her, the other swinging free,
showing a tempting thing in beaded slipper, silk stocking, and what
the story writers call "slim ankle."
On the second Saturday after her return her father came home
for dinner at noon, found her deep in Volume Two of "Les
"Whew! This is a scorcher!" he exclaimed, and dropped down on
a wicker chair next to Ivy. Ivy looked at her father with languid
interest, and smiled a daughterly smile. Ivy's father was an
insurance man, alderman of his ward, president of the Civic
Improvement club, member of five lodges, and an habitual delegate.
It generally was he who introduced distinguished guests who spoke
at the opera house on Decoration Day. He called Mrs. Keller
"Mother," and he wasn't above noticing the fit of a gown on a
pretty feminine figure. He thought Ivy was an expurgated edition
of Lillian Russell, Madame De Stael, and Mrs. Pankburst.
"Aren't you feeling well, Ivy?" he asked. "Looking a little
pale. It's the heat, I suppose. Gosh! Something smells good.
Run in and tell Mother I'm here."
Ivy kept one slender finger between the leaves of her book.
"I'm perfectly well," she replied. "That must be beefsteak and
onions. Ugh!" And she shuddered, and went indoors.
Dad Keller looked after her thoughtfully. Then he went in,
washed his hands, and sat down at table with Ivy and her mother.
"Just a sliver for me," said Ivy, "and no onions."
Her father put down his knife and fork, cleared his throat,
and spake, thus:
"You get on your hat and meet me at the 2:45 inter-urban.
You're going to the ball game with me."
"Ball game!" repeated Ivy. "I? But I'd----"
"Yes, you do," interrupted her father. "You've been moping
around here looking a cross between Saint Cecilia and Little Eva
long enough. I don't care if you don't know a spitball from a
fadeaway when you see it. You'll be out in the air all afternoon,
and there'll be some excitement. All the girls go. You'll like
it. They're playing Marshalltown."
Ivy went, looking the sacrificial lamb. Five minutes after
the game was called she pointed one tapering white finger in the
direction of the pitcher's mound.
"Who's that?" she asked.
"Pitcher," explained Papa Keller, laconically. Then,
patiently: "He throws the ball."
"Oh," said Ivy. "What did you say his name was?"
"I didn't say. But it's Rudie Schlachweiler. The boys call
him Dutch. Kind of a pet, Dutch is."
"Rudie Schlachweiler!" murmured Ivy, dreamily. "What a strong
"Want some peanuts?" inquired her father.
"Does one eat peanuts at a ball game?"
"It ain't hardly legal if you don't," Pa Keller assured her.
"Two sacks," said Ivy. "Papa, why do they call it a diamond,
and what are those brown bags at the corners, and what does it
count if you hit the ball, and why do they rub their hands in the
dust and then--er--spit on them, and what salary does a pitcher
get, and why does the red-haired man on the other side dance around
like that between the second and third brown bag, and doesn't a
pitcher do anything but pitch, and wh----?"
"You're on," said papa.
After that Ivy didn't miss a game during all the time that the
team played in the home town. She went without a new hat, and
didn't care whether Jean Valjean got away with the goods or not,
and forgot whether you played third hand high or low in bridge.
She even became chummy with Undine Meyers, who wasn't her kind of
a girl at all. Undine was thin in a voluptuous kind of way, if
such a paradox can be, and she had red lips, and a roving eye, and
she ran around downtown without a hat more than was strictly
necessary. But Undine and Ivy had two subjects in common. They
were baseball and love. It is queer how the limelight will make
heroes of us all.
Now "Pug" Coulan, who was red-haired, and had shoulders like
an ox, and arms that hung down to his knees, like those of an
orang-outang, slaughtered beeves at the Chicago stockyards in
winter. In the summer he slaughtered hearts. He wore mustard
colored shirts that matched his hair, and his baseball stockings
generally had a rip in them somewhere, but when he was on the
diamond we were almost ashamed to look at Undine, so wholly did her
heart shine in her eyes.
Now, we'll have just another dash or two of local color. In
a small town the chances for hero worship are few. If it weren't
for the traveling men our girls wouldn't know whether stripes or
checks were the thing in gents' suitings. When the baseball season
opened the girls swarmed on it. Those that didn't understand
baseball pretended they did. When the team was out of town our
form of greeting was changed from, "Good-morning!" or "Howdy-do!"
to "What's the score?" Every night the results of the games
throughout the league were posted up on the blackboard in front of
Schlager's hardware store, and to see the way in which the crowd
stood around it, and streamed across the street toward it, you'd
have thought they were giving away gas stoves and hammock couches.
Going home in the street car after the game the girls used to
gaze adoringly at the dirty faces of their sweat-begrimed heroes,
and then they'd rush home, have supper, change their dresses, do
their hair, and rush downtown past the Parker Hotel to mail their
letters. The baseball boys boarded over at the Griggs House, which
is third-class, but they used their tooth-picks, and held the
postmortem of the day's game out in front of the Parker Hotel,
which is our leading hostelry. The postoffice receipts record for
our town was broken during the months of June, July, and August.
Mrs. Freddy Van Dyne started the trouble by having the team
over to dinner, "Pug" Coulan and all. After all, why not? No
foreign and impecunious princes penetrate as far inland as our
town. They get only as far as New York, or Newport, where they are
gobbled up by many-moneyed matrons. If Mrs. Freddy Van Dyne found
the supply of available lions limited, why should she not try to
content herself with a jackal or so?
Ivy was asked. Until then she had contented herself with
gazing at her hero. She had become such a hardened baseball fan
that she followed the game with a score card, accurately jotting
down every play, and keeping her watch open on her knee.
She sat next to Rudie at dinner. Before she had nibbled her
second salted almond, Ivy Keller and Rudie Schlachweiler understood
each other. Rudie illustrated certain plays by drawing lines on
the table-cloth with his knife and Ivy gazed, wide-eyed, and
allowed her soup to grow cold.
The first night that Rudie called, Pa Keller thought it a
great joke. He sat out on the porch with Rudie and Ivy and talked
baseball, and got up to show Rudie how he could have got the goat
of that Keokuk catcher if only he had tried one of his famous
open-faced throws. Rudie looked politely interested, and laughed
in all the right places. But Ivy didn't need to pretend. Rudie
Schlachweiler spelled baseball to her. She did not think of her
caller as a good-looking young man in a blue serge suit and a white
shirtwaist. Even as he sat there she saw him as a blonde god
standing on the pitcher's mound, with the scars of battle on his
baseball pants, his left foot placed in front of him at right
angles with his right foot, his gaze fixed on first base in a
cunning effort to deceive the man at bat, in that favorite attitude
of pitchers just before they get ready to swing their left leg and
h'ist one over.
The second time that Rudie called, Ma Keller said:
"Ivy, I don't like that ball player coming here to see you.
The neighbors'll talk."
The third time Rudie called, Pa Keller said: "What's that guy
doing here again?"
The fourth time Rudie called, Pa Keller and Ma Keller said, in
unison: "This thing has got to stop."
But it didn't. It had had too good a start. For the rest of
the season Ivy met her knight of the sphere around the corner.
Theirs was a walking courtship. They used to roam up as far as the
State road, and down as far as the river, and Rudie would fain have
talked of love, but Ivy talked of baseball.
"Darling," Rudie would murmur, pressing Ivy's arm closer,
"when did you first begin to care?"
"Why I liked the very first game I saw when Dad----"
"I mean, when did you first begin to care for me?"
"Oh! When you put three men out in that game with
Marshalltown when the teams were tied in the eighth inning.
Remember? Say, Rudie dear, what was the matter with your arm
to-day? You let three men walk, and Albia's weakest hitter got a
home run out of you."
"Oh, forget baseball for a minute, Ivy! Let's talk about
something else. Let's talk about--us."
"Us? Well, you're baseball, aren't you?" retorted Ivy. "And
if you are, I am. Did you notice the way that Ottumwa man pitched
yesterday? He didn't do any acting for the grandstand. He didn't
reach up above his head, and wrap his right shoulder with his left
toe, and swing his arm three times and then throw seven inches
outside the plate. He just took the ball in his hand, looked at it
curiously for a moment, and fired it--zing!--like that, over the
plate. I'd get that ball if I were you."
"Isn't this a grand night?" murmured Rudie.
"But they didn't have a hitter in the bunch," went on Ivy.
"And not a man in the team could run. That's why they're
tail-enders. Just the same, that man on the mound was a wizard,
and if he had one decent player to give him some support----"
Well, the thing came to a climax. One evening, two weeks
before the close of the season, Ivy put on her hat and announced
that she was going downtown to mail her letters.
"Mail your letters in the daytime," growled Papa Keller.
"I didn't have time to-day," answered Ivy. "It was a thirteen
inning game, and it lasted until six o'clock."
It was then that Papa Keller banged the heavy fist of decision
down on the library table.
"This thing's got to stop!" he thundered. "I won't have any
girl of mine running the streets with a ball player, understand?
Now you quit seeing this seventy-five-dollars-a-month bush leaguer
or leave this house. I mean it."
"All right," said Ivy, with a white-hot calm. "I'll leave.
I can make the grandest kind of angel-food with marshmallow icing,
and you know yourself my fudges can't be equaled. He'll be playing
in the major leagues in three years. Why just yesterday there was
a strange man at the game--a city man, you could tell by his
hat-band, and the way his clothes were cut. He stayed through the
whole game, and never took his eyes off Rudie. I just know he was
a scout for the Cubs."
"Probably a hardware drummer, or a fellow that Schlachweiler
owes money to."
Ivy began to pin on her hat. A scared look leaped into Papa
Keller's eyes. He looked a little old, too, and drawn, at that
minute. He stretched forth a rather tremulous hand.
"Ivy-girl," he said.
"What?" snapped Ivy.
"Your old father's just talking for your own good. You're
breaking your ma's heart. You and me have been good pals, haven't
"Yes," said Ivy, grudgingly, and without looking up.
"Well now, look here. I've got a proposition to make to you.
The season's over in two more weeks. The last week they play out
of town. Then the boys'll come back for a week or so, just to hang
around town and try to get used to the idea of leaving us. Then
they'll scatter to take up their winter jobs-cutting ice, most of
'em," he added, grimly.
"Mr. Schlachweiler is employed in a large establishment in
Slatersville, Ohio," said Ivy, with dignity. "He regards baseball
as his profession, and he cannot do anything that would affect his
pitching arm."
Pa Keller put on the tremolo stop and brought a misty look
into his eyes.
"Ivy, you'll do one last thing for your old father, won't
"Maybe," answered Ivy, coolly.
"Don't make that fellow any promises. Now wait a minute! Let
me get through. I won't put any crimp in your plans. I won't
speak to Schlachweiler. Promise you won't do anything rash until
the ball season's over. Then we'll wait just one month, see? Till
along about November. Then if you feel like you want to see
"But how----"
"Hold on. You mustn't write to him, or see him, or let him
write to you during that time, see? Then, if you feel the way you
do now, I'll take you to Slatersville to see him. Now that's fair,
ain't it? Only don't let him know you're coming."
" M-m-m-yes," said Ivy.
"Shake hands on it." She did. Then she left the room with a
rush, headed in the direction of her own bedroom. Pa Keller
treated himself to a prodigious wink and went out to the vegetable
garden in search of Mother.
The team went out on the road, lost five games, won two, and
came home in fourth place. For a week they lounged around the
Parker Hotel and held up the street corners downtown, took many
farewell drinks, then, slowly, by ones and twos, they left for the
packing houses, freight depots, and gents' furnishing stores from
whence they came.
October came in with a blaze of sumac and oak leaves. Ivy
stayed home and learned to make veal loaf and apple pies. The
worry lines around Pa Keller's face began to deepen. Ivy said that
she didn't believe that she cared to go back to Miss Shont's select
school for young ladies.
October thirty-first came.
"We'll take the eight-fifteen to-morrow," said her father to
"All right," said Ivy.
"Do you know where he works?" asked he.
"No," answered Ivy.
"That'll be all right. I took the trouble to look him up last
The short November afternoon was drawing to its close (as our
best talent would put it) when Ivy and her father walked along the
streets of Slatersville. (I can't tell you what streets, because
I don't know.) Pa Keller brought up before a narrow little shoe
"Here we are," he said, and ushered Ivy in. A short, stout,
proprietary figure approached them smiling a mercantile smile.
"What can I do for you?" he inquired.
Ivy's eyes searched the shop for a tall, golden-haired form in
a soiled baseball suit.
"We'd like to see a gentleman named Schlachweiler--Rudolph
Schlachweiler," said Pa Keller.
"Anything very special?" inquired the proprietor.
"He's--rather busy just now. Wouldn't anybody else do? Of course,
"No," growled Keller.
The boss turned. "Hi! Schlachweiler!" he bawled toward the
rear of the dim little shop.
"Yessir," answered a muffled voice.
"Front!" yelled the boss, and withdrew to a safe listening
A vaguely troubled look lurked in the depths of Ivy's eyes.
From behind the partition of the rear of the shop emerged a tall
figure. It was none other than our hero. He was in his shirtsleeves,
and he struggled into his coat as he came forward, wiping
his mouth with the back of his hand, hurriedly, and swallowing.
I have said that the shop was dim. Ivy and her father stood
at one side, their backs to the light. Rudie came forward, rubbing
his hands together in the manner of clerks.
"Something in shoes?" he politely inquired. Then he saw.
"Ivy!--ah--Miss Keller!" he exclaimed. Then, awkwardly:
"Well, how-do, Mr. Keller. I certainly am glad to see you both.
How's the old town? What are you doing in Slatersville?"
"Why--Ivy----" began Pa Keller, blunderingly.
But Ivy clutched his arm with a warning hand. The vaguely
troubled look in her eyes had become wildly so.
"Schlachweiler!" shouted the voice of the boss. "Customers!"
and he waved a hand in the direction of the fitting benches.
"All right, sir," answered Rudie. "Just a minute."
"Dad had to come on business," said Ivy, hurriedly. "And he
brought me with him. I'm--I'm on my way to school in Cleveland,
you know. Awfully glad to have seen you again. We must go. That
lady wants her shoes, I'm sure, and your employer is glaring at us.
Come, dad."
At the door she turned just in time to see Rudie removing the
shoe from the pudgy foot of the fat lady customer.
We'll take a jump of six months. That brings us into the lap
of April.
Pa Keller looked up from his evening paper. Ivy, home for the
Easter vacation, was at the piano. Ma Keller was sewing.
Pa Keller cleared his throat. "I see by the paper," he
announced, "that Schlachweiler's been sold to Des Moines. Too bad
we lost him. He was a great little pitcher, but he played in bad
luck. Whenever he was on the slab the boys seemed to give him poor
"Fudge!" exclaimed Ivy, continuing to play, but turning a
spirited face toward her father. "What piffle! Whenever a player
pitches rotten ball you'll always hear him howling about the
support he didn't get. Schlachweiler was a bum pitcher. Anybody
could hit him with a willow wand, on a windy day, with the sun in
his eyes."
The City was celebrating New Year's Eve.
Spelled thus, with a capital C, know it can mean but New York.
In the Pink Fountain room of the Newest Hotel all those grand old
forms and customs handed down to us for the occasion were being
rigidly observed in all their original quaintness. The Van Dyked
man who looked like a Russian Grand Duke (he really was a
chiropodist) had drunk champagne out of the pink satin slipper of
the lady who behaved like an actress (she was forelady at Schmaus'
Wholesale Millinery, eighth floor). The two respectable married
ladies there in the corner had been kissed by each other's
husbands. The slim, Puritan-faced woman in white, with her black
hair so demurely parted and coiled in a sleek knot, had risen
suddenly from her place and walked indolently to the edge of the
plashing pink fountain in the center of the room, had stood
contemplating its shallows with a dreamy half-smile on her lips,
and then had lifted her slim legs slowly and gracefully over its
fern-fringed basin and had waded into its chilling midst, trailing
her exquisite white satin and chiffon draperies after her, and
scaring the goldfish into fits. The loudest scream of approbation
had come from the yellow-haired, loose-lipped youth who had made
the wager, and lost it. The heavy blonde in the inevitable violet
draperies showed signs of wanting to dance on the table. Her
companion--a structure made up of layer upon layer, and fold upon
fold of flabby tissue--knew all the waiters by their right names,
and insisted on singing with the orchestra and beating time with a
rye roll. The clatter of dishes was giving way to the clink of
In the big, bright kitchen back, of the Pink Fountain room
Miss Gussie Fink sat at her desk, calm, watchful, insolent-eyed, a
goddess sitting in judgment. On the pay roll of the Newest Hotel
Miss Gussie Fink's name appeared as kitchen checker, but her
regular job was goddessing. Her altar was a high desk in a corner
of the busy kitchen, and it was an altar of incense, of
burnt-offerings, and of showbread. Inexorable as a goddess of the
ancients was Miss Fink, and ten times as difficult to appease. For
this is the rule of the Newest Hotel, that no waiter may carry his
laden tray restaurantward until its contents have been viewed and
duly checked by the eye and hand of Miss Gussie Fink, or her
assistants. Flat upon the table must go every tray, off must go
each silver dish-cover, lifted must be each napkin to disclose its
treasure of steaming corn or hot rolls. Clouds of incense rose
before Miss Gussie Fink and she sniffed it unmoved, her eyes,
beneath level brows, regarding savory broiler or cunning ice with
equal indifference, appraising alike lobster cocktail or onion
soup, traveling from blue points to brie. Things a la and things
glace were all one to her. Gazing at food was Miss Gussie Fink's
occupation, and just to see the way she regarded a boneless squab
made you certain that she never ate.
In spite of the I-don't-know-how-many (see ads) New Year's Eve
diners for whom food was provided that night, the big, busy kitchen
was the most orderly, shining, spotless place imaginable. But Miss
Gussie Fink was the neatest, most immaculate object in all that
great, clean room. There was that about her which suggested
daisies in a field, if you know what I mean. This may have been
due to the fact that her eyes were brown while her hair was gold,
or it may have been something about the way her collars fitted
high, and tight, and smooth, or the way her close white sleeves
came down to meet her pretty hands, or the way her shining hair
sprang from her forehead. Also the smooth creaminess of her clear
skin may have had something to do with it. But privately, I think
it was due to the way she wore her shirtwaists. Miss Gussie Fink
could wear a starched white shirtwaist under a close-fitting winter
coat, remove the coat, run her right forefinger along her collar's
edge and her left thumb along the back of her belt and disclose to
the admiring world a blouse as unwrinkled and unsullied as though
it had just come from her own skilful hands at the ironing board.
Miss Gussie Fink was so innately, flagrantly, beautifully
clean-looking that--well, there must be a stop to this description.
She was the kind of girl you'd like to see behind the counter of
your favorite delicatessen, knowing that you need not shudder as
her fingers touch your Sunday night supper slices of tongue, and
Swiss cheese, and ham. No girl had ever dreamed of refusing to
allow Gussie to borrow her chamois for a second.
To-night Miss Fink had come on at 10 P.M., which was just two
hours later than usual. She knew that she was to work until 6
A.M., which may have accounted for the fact that she displayed very
little of what the fans call ginger as she removed her hat and coat
and hung them on the hook behind the desk. The prospect of that
all-night, eight-hour stretch may have accounted for it, I say.
But privately, and entre nous, it didn't. For here you must know
of Heiny. Heiny, alas! now Henri.
Until two weeks ago Henri had been Heiny and Miss Fink had
been Kid. When Henri had been Heiny he had worked in the kitchen
at many things, but always with a loving eye on Miss Gussie Fink.
Then one wild night there had been a waiters' strike--wages or
hours or tips or all three. In the confusion that followed Heiny
had been pressed into service and a chopped coat. He had fitted
into both with unbelievable nicety, proving that waiters are born,
not made. Those little tricks and foibles that are characteristic
of the genus waiter seemed to envelop him as though a fairy garment
had fallen upon his shoulders. The folded napkin under his left
arm seemed to have been placed there by nature, so perfectly did it
fit into place. The ghostly tread, the little whisking skip, the
half-simper, the deferential bend that had in it at the same time
something of insolence, all were there; the very "Yes, miss," and
"Very good, sir," rose automatically and correctly to his untrained
lips. Cinderella rising resplendent from her ash-strewn hearth was
not more completely transformed than Heiny in his role of Henri.
And with the transformation Miss Gussie Fink had been left behind
her desk disconsolate.
Kitchens are as quick to seize upon these things and gossip
about them as drawing rooms are. And because Miss Gussie Fink had
always worn a little air of aloofness to all except Heiny, the
kitchen was the more eager to make the most of its morsel. Each
turned it over under his tongue--Tony, the Crook, whom Miss Fink
had scorned; Francois, the entree cook, who often forgot he was
married; Miss Sweeney, the bar-checker, who was jealous of Miss
Fink's complexion. Miss Fink heard, and said nothing. She only
knew that there would be no dear figure waiting for her when the
night's work was done. For two weeks now she had put on her hat
and coat and gone her way at one o'clock alone. She discovered
that to be taken home night after night under Heiny's tender escort
had taught her a ridiculous terror of the streets at night now that
she was without protection. Always the short walk from the car to
the flat where Miss Fink lived with her mother had been a glorious,
star-lit, all too brief moment. Now it was an endless and
terrifying trial, a thing of shivers and dread, fraught with horror
of passing the alley just back of Cassidey's buffet. There had
even been certain little half-serious, half-jesting talks about the
future into which there had entered the subject of a little
delicatessen and restaurant in a desirable neighborhood, with Heiny
in the kitchen, and a certain blonde, neat, white-shirtwaisted
person in charge of the desk and front shop.
She and her mother had always gone through a little formula
upon Miss Fink's return from work. They never used it now.
Gussie's mother was a real mother--the kind that wakes up when you
come home.
"That you, Gussie?" Ma Fink would call from the bedroom, at
the sound of the key in the lock.
"It's me, ma."
"Heiny bring you home?"
"Sure," happily.
"There's a bit of sausage left, and some pie if----"
"Oh, I ain't hungry. We stopped at Joey's downtown and had a
cup of coffee and a ham on rye. Did you remember to put out the
milk bottle?"
For two weeks there had been none of that. Gussie had learned
to creep silently into bed, and her mother, being a mother, feigned
To-night at her desk Miss Gussie Fink seemed a shade cooler,
more self-contained, and daisylike than ever. From somewhere at
the back of her head she could see that Heiny was avoiding her desk
and was using the services of the checker at the other end of the
room. And even as the poison of this was eating into her heart she
was tapping her forefinger imperatively on the desk before her and
saying to Tony, the Crook:
"Down on the table with that tray, Tony--flat. This may be a
busy little New Year's Eve, but you can't come any of your
sleight-of-hand stuff on me." For Tony had a little trick of
concealing a dollar-and-a-quarter sirloin by the simple method of
slapping the platter close to the underside of his tray and holding
it there with long, lean fingers outspread, the entire bit of
knavery being concealed in the folds of a flowing white napkin in
the hand that balanced the tray. Into Tony's eyes there came a
baleful gleam. His lean jaw jutted out threateningly.
"You're the real Weissenheimer kid, ain't you?" he sneered.
"Never mind. I'll get you at recess."
"Some day," drawled Miss Fink, checking the steak, "the
house'll get wise to your stuff and then you'll have to go back to
the coal wagon. I know so much about you it's beginning to make me
uncomfortable. I hate to carry around a burden of crime."
"You're a sorehead because Heiny turned you down and now----"
"Move on there!" snapped Miss Fink, "or I'll call the steward
to settle you. Maybe he'd be interested to know that you've been
counting in the date and your waiter's number, and adding 'em in at
the bottom of your check."
Tony, the Crook, turned and skimmed away toward the
dining-room, but the taste of victory was bitter in Miss Fink's
Midnight struck. There came from the direction of the Pink
Fountain Room a clamor and din which penetrated the thickness of
the padded doors that separated the dining-room from the kitchen
beyond. The sound rose and swelled above the blare of the
orchestra. Chairs scraped on the marble floor as hundreds rose to
their feet. The sound of clinking glasses became as the jangling
of a hundred bells. There came the sharp spat of hand-clapping,
then cheers, yells, huzzas. Through the swinging doors at the end
of the long passageway Miss Fink could catch glimpses of dazzling
color, of shimmering gowns, of bare arms uplifted, of flowers, and
plumes, and jewels, with the rosy light of the famed pink fountain
casting a gracious glow over all. Once she saw a tall young fellow
throw his arm about the shoulder of a glorious creature at the next
table, and though the door swung shut before she could see it, Miss
Fink knew that he had kissed her.
There were no New Year's greetings in the kitchen back of the
Pink Fountain Room. It was the busiest moment in all that busy
night. The heat of the ovens was so intense that it could be felt
as far as Miss Fink's remote corner. The swinging doors between
dining-room and kitchen were never still. A steady stream of
waiters made for the steam tables before which the white-clad chefs
stood ladling, carving, basting, serving, gave their orders,
received them, stopped at the checking-desk, and sped
dining-roomward again. Tony, the Crook, was cursing at one of the
little Polish vegetable girls who had not been quick enough about
the garnishing of a salad, and she was saying, over and over again,
in her thick tongue:
"Aw, shod op yur mout'!"
The thud-thud of Miss Fink's checking-stamp kept time to
flying footsteps, but even as her practised eye swept over the tray
before her she saw the steward direct Henri toward her desk, just
as he was about to head in the direction of the minor
checking-desk. Beneath downcast lids she saw him coming. There
was about Henri to-night a certain radiance, a sort of electrical
elasticity, so nimble, so tireless, so exuberant was he. In the
eyes of Miss Gussie Fink he looked heartbreakingly handsome in his
waiter's uniform--handsome, distinguished, remote, and infinitely
desirable. And just behind him, revenge in his eye, came Tony.
The flat surface of the desk received Henri's tray. Miss Fink
regarded it with a cold and business-like stare. Henri whipped his
napkin from under his left arm and began to remove covers,
dexterously. Off came the first silver, dome-shaped top.
"Guinea hen," said Henri.
"I seen her lookin' at you when you served the little necks,"
came from Tony, as though continuing a conversation begun in some
past moment of pause, "and she's some lovely doll, believe me."
Miss Fink scanned the guinea hen thoroughly, but with a
detached air, and selected the proper stamp from the box at her
elbow. Thump! On the broad pasteboard sheet before her appeared
the figures $1.75 after Henri's number.
"Think so?" grinned Henri, and removed another cover. "One
candied sweets."
"I bet some day we'll see you in the Sunday papers, Heiny,"
went on Tony, "with a piece about handsome waiter runnin' away with
beautiful s'ciety girl. Say; you're too perfect even for a
Thump! Thirty cents.
"Quit your kiddin'," said the flattered Henri. "One endive,
French dressing."
Thump!" Next!" said Miss Fink, dispassionately, yawned, and
smiled fleetingly at the entree cook who wasn't looking her way.
Then, as Tony slid his tray toward her: "How's business, Tony?
H'm? How many two-bit cigar bands have you slipped onto your own
private collection of nickel straights and made a twenty-cent
But there was a mist in the bright brown eyes as Tony the
Crook turned away with his tray. In spite of the satisfaction of
having had the last word, Miss Fink knew in her heart that Tony had
"got her at recess," as he had said he would.
Things were slowing up for Miss Fink. The stream of hurrying
waiters was turned in the direction of the kitchen bar now. From
now on the eating would be light, and the drinking heavy. Miss
Fink, with time hanging heavy, found herself blinking down at the
figures stamped on the pasteboard sheet before her, and in spite of
the blinking, two marks that never were intended for a checker's
report splashed down just over the $1.75 after Henri's number. A
lovely doll! And she had gazed at Heiny. Well, that was to be
expected. No woman could gaze unmoved upon Heiny. "A lovely
"Hi, Miss Fink!" it was the steward's voice. "We need you
over in the bar to help Miss Sweeney check the drinks. They're
coming too swift for her. The eating will be light from now on;
just a little something salty now and then."
So Miss Fink dabbed covertly at her eyes and betook herself
out of the atmosphere of roasting, and broiling, and frying, and
stewing; away from the sight of great copper kettles, and glowing
coals and hissing pans, into a little world fragrant with mint,
breathing of orange and lemon peel, perfumed with pineapple,
redolent of cinnamon and clove, reeking with things spirituous.
Here the splutter of the broiler was replaced by the hiss of the
siphon, and the pop-pop of corks, and the tinkle and clink of ice
against glass.
"Hello, dearie!" cooed Miss Sweeney, in greeting, staring hard
at the suspicious redness around Miss Fink's eyelids. "Ain't you
sweet to come over here in the headache department and help me out!
Here's the wine list. You'll prob'ly need it. Say, who do you
suppose invented New Year's Eve? They must of had a imagination
like a Greek 'bus boy. I'm limp as a rag now, and it's only
two-thirty. I've got a regular cramp in my wrist from checkin'
quarts. Say, did you hear about Heiny's crowd?"
"No," said Miss Fink, evenly, and began to study the first
page of the wine list under the heading "Champagnes of Noted
"Well," went on Miss Sweeney's little thin, malicious voice,
"he's fell in soft. There's a table of three, and they're drinkin'
1874 Imperial Crown at twelve dollars per, like it was Waukesha
ale. And every time they finish a bottle one of the guys pays for
it with a brand new ten and a brand new five and tells Heiny to
keep the change. Can you beat it?"
"I hope," said Miss Fink, pleasantly, "that the supply of 1874
will hold out till morning. I'd hate to see them have to come down
to ten dollar wine. Here you, Tony! Come back here! I may be a
new hand in this department but I'm not so green that you can put
a gold label over on me as a yellow label. Notice that I'm
checking you another fifty cents."
"Ain't he the grafter!" laughed Miss Sweeney. She leaned
toward Miss Fink and lowered her voice discreetly. "Though I'll
say this for'm. If you let him get away with it now an' then,
he'll split even with you. H'm? O, well, now, don't get so high
and mighty. The management expects it in this department. That's
why they pay starvation wages."
An unusual note of color crept into Miss Gussie Fink's smooth
cheek. It deepened and glowed as Heiny darted around the corner
and up to the bar. There was about him an air of suppressed
excitement -- suppressed, because Heiny was too perfect a waiter to
display emotion.
"Not another!" chanted the bartenders, in chorus.
"Yes," answered Henri, solemnly, and waited while the wine
cellar was made to relinquish another rare jewel.
"O, you Heiny!" called Miss Sweeney, "tell us what she looks
like. If I had time I'd take a peek myself. From what Tony says
she must look something like Maxine Elliot, only brighter."
Henri turned. He saw Miss Fink. A curious little expression
came into his eyes--a Heiny look, it might have been called, as he
regarded his erstwhile sweetheart's unruffled attire, and clear
skin, and steady eye and glossy hair. She was looking past him in
that baffling, maddening way that angry women have. Some of
Henri's poise seemed to desert him in that moment. He appeared a
shade less debonair as he received the precious bottle from the
wine man's hands. He made for Miss Fink's desk and stood watching
her while she checked his order. At the door he turned and looked
over his shoulder at Miss Sweeney.
"Some time," he said, deliberately, "when there's no ladies
around, I'll tell you what I think she looks like."
And the little glow of color in Miss Gussic Fink's smooth
cheek became a crimson flood that swept from brow to throat.
"Oh, well," snickered Miss Sweeney, to hide her own
discomfiture, "this is little Heiny's first New Year's Eve in the
dining-room. Honest, I b'lieve he's shocked. He don't realize
that celebratin' New Year's Eve is like eatin' oranges. You got to
let go your dignity t' really enjoy 'em."
Three times more did Henri enter and demand a bottle of the
famous vintage, and each time he seemed a shade less buoyant. His
elation diminished as his tips grew greater until, as he drew up at
the bar at six o'clock, he seemed wrapped in impenetrable gloom.
"Them hawgs sousin' yet?" shrilled Miss Sweeney. She and Miss
Fink had climbed down from their high stools, and were preparing to
leave. Henri nodded, drearily, and disappeared in the direction of
the Pink Fountain Room.
Miss Fink walked back to her own desk in the corner near the
dining-room door. She took her hat off the hook, and stood
regarding it, thoughtfully. Then, with a little air of decision,
she turned and walked swiftly down the passageway that separated
dining-room from kitchen. Tillie, the scrub-woman, was down on her
hands and knees in one corner of the passage. She was one of a
small army of cleaners that had begun the work of clearing away the
debris of the long night's revel. Miss Fink lifted her neat skirts
high as she tip-toed through the little soapy pool that followed in
the wake of Tillie, the scrub-woman. She opened the swinging doors
a cautious little crack and peered in. What she saw was not
pretty. If the words sordid and bacchanalian had been part of Miss
Fink's vocabulary they would have risen to her lips then. The
crowd had gone. The great room contained not more than half a
dozen people. Confetti littered the floor. Here and there a
napkin, crushed and bedraggled into an unrecognizable ball, lay
under a table. From an overturned bottle the dregs were dripping
drearily. The air was stale, stifling, poisonous.
At a little table in the center of the room Henri's three were
still drinking. They were doing it in a dreadful and businesslike
way. There were two men and one woman. The faces of all three
were mahogany colored and expressionless. There was about them an
awful sort of stillness. Something in the sight seemed to sicken
Gussie Fink. It came to her that the wintry air outdoors must be
gloriously sweet, and cool, and clean in contrast to this. She was
about to turn away, with a last look at Heiny yawning behind his
hand, when suddenly the woman rose unsteadily to her feet,
balancing herself with her finger tips on the table. She raised
her head and stared across the room with dull, unseeing eyes, and
licked her lips with her tongue. Then she turned and walked half
a dozen paces, screamed once with horrible shrillness, and crashed
to the floor. She lay there in a still, crumpled heap, the folds
of her exquisite gown rippling to meet a little stale pool of wine
that had splashed from some broken glass. Then this happened.
Three people ran toward the woman on the floor, and two people ran
past her and out of the room. The two who ran away were the men
with whom she had been drinking, and they were not seen again. The
three who ran toward her were Henri, the waiter, Miss Gussie Fink,
checker, and Tillie, the scrub-woman. Henri and Miss Fink reached
her first. Tillie, the scrub-woman, was a close third. Miss
Gussie Fink made as though to slip her arm under the poor bruised
head, but Henri caught her wrist fiercely (for a waiter) and pulled
her to her feet almost roughly.
"You leave her alone, Kid," he commanded.
Miss Gussie Fink stared, indignation choking her utterance.
And as she stared the fierce light in Henri's eyes was replaced by
the light of tenderness.
"We'll tend to her," said Henri; "she ain't fit for you to
touch. I wouldn't let you soil your hands on such truck." And
while Gussie still stared he grasped the unconscious woman by the
shoulders, while another waiter grasped her ankles, with Tillie,
the scrub-woman, arranging her draperies pityingly around her, and
together they carried her out of the dining-room to a room beyond.
Back in the kitchen Miss Gussie Fink was preparing to don her
hat, but she was experiencing some difficulty because of the way in
which her fingers persisted in trembling. Her face was turned
away from the swinging doors, but she knew when Henri came in. He
stood just behind her, in silence. When she turned to face him she
found Henri looking at her, and as he looked all the Heiny in him
came to the surface and shone in his eyes. He looked long and
silently at Miss Gussie Fink--at the sane, simple, wholesomeness of
her, at her clear brown eyes, at her white forehead from which the
shining hair sprang away in such a delicate line, at her
immaculately white shirtwaist, and her smooth, snug-fitting collar
that came up to the lobes of her little pink ears, at her creamy
skin, at her trim belt. He looked as one who would rest his
eyes--eyes weary of gazing upon satins, and jewels, and rouge, and
carmine, and white arms, and bosoms.
"Gee, Kid! You look good to me," he said.
"Do I--Heiny?" whispered Miss Fink.
"Believe me!" replied Heiny, fervently. "It was just a case
of swelled head. Forget it, will you? Say, that gang in there
to-night--why, say, that gang----"
"I know," interrupted Miss Fink.
"Going home?" asked Heiny.
"Suppose we have a bite of something to eat first," suggested
Miss Fink glanced round the great, deserted kitchen. As she
gazed a little expression of disgust wrinkled her pretty nose--the
nose that perforce had sniffed the scent of so many rare and
exquisite dishes.
"Sure," she assented, joyously, "but not here. Let's go
around the corner to Joey's. I could get real chummy with a cup of
good hot coffee and a ham on rye."
He helped her on with her coat, and if his hands rested a
moment on her shoulders who was there to see it? A few sleepy,
wan-eyed waiters and Tillie, the scrub-woman. Together they
started toward the door. Tillie, the scrubwoman, had worked her
wet way out of the passage and into the kitchen proper. She and
her pail blocked their way. She was sopping up a soapy pool with
an all-encompassing gray scrub-rag. Heiny and Gussie stopped a
moment perforce to watch her. It was rather fascinating to see how
that artful scrub-rag craftily closed in upon the soapy pool until
it engulfed it. Tillie sat back on her knees to wring out the
water-soaked rag. There was something pleasing in the sight.
Tillie's blue calico was faded white in patches and at the knees it
was dark with soapy water. Her shoes were turned up ludicrously at
the toes, as scrub-women's shoes always are. Tillie's thin hair
was wadded back into a moist knob at the back and skewered with a
gray-black hairpin. From her parboiled, shriveled fingers to her
ruddy, perspiring face there was nothing of grace or beauty about
Tillie. And yet Heiny found something pleasing there. He could
not have told you why, so how can I, unless to say that it was,
perhaps, for much the same reason that we rejoice in the wholesome,
safe, reassuring feel of the gray woolen blanket on our bed when we
wake from a horrid dream.
"A Happy New Year to you," said Heiny gravely, and took his
hand out of his pocket.
Tillie's moist right hand closed over something. She smiled
so that one saw all her broken black teeth.
"The same t' you," said Tillie. "The same t' you."
All of those ladies who end their conversation with you by wearily
suggesting that you go down to the basement to find what you seek,
do not receive a meager seven dollars a week as a reward for their
efforts. Neither are they all obliged to climb five weary flights
of stairs to reach the dismal little court room which is their
home, and there are several who need not walk thirty-three blocks
to save carfare, only to spend wretched evenings washing out
handkerchiefs and stockings in the cracked little washbowl, while
one ear is cocked for the stealthy tread of the Lady Who Objects.
The earnest compiler of working girls' budgets would pass
Effie Bauer hurriedly by. Effie's budget bulged here and there
with such pathetic items as hand-embroidered blouses, thick club
steaks, and parquet tickets for Maude Adams. That you may
visualize her at once I may say that Effie looked twenty-four--from
the rear (all women do in these days of girlish simplicity in hats
and tailor-mades); her skirts never sagged, her shirtwaists were
marvels of plainness and fit, and her switch had cost her sixteen
dollars, wholesale (a lady friend in the business). Oh, there was
nothing tragic about Effie. She had a plump, assured style, a keen
blue eye, a gift of repartee, and a way of doing her hair so that
the gray at the sides scarcely showed at all. Also a knowledge of
corsets that had placed her at the buying end of that important
department at Spiegel's. Effie knew to the minute when coral beads
went out and pearl beads came in, and just by looking at her
blouses you could tell when Cluny died and Irish was born. Meeting
Effie on the street, you would have put her down as one of the many
well-dressed, prosperous-looking women shoppers--if you hadn't
looked at her feet. Veteran clerks and policemen cannot disguise
their feet.
Effie Bauer's reason for not marrying when a girl was the same
as that of most of the capable, wise-eyed, good-looking women one
finds at the head of departments. She had not had a chance. If
Effie had been as attractive at twenty as she was at--there, we
won't betray confidences. Still, it is certain that if Effie had
been as attractive when a young girl as she was when an old girl,
she never would have been an old girl and head of Spiegel's corset
department at a salary of something very comfortably over one
hundred and twenty-five a month (and commissions). Effie had
improved with the years, and ripened with experience. She knew her
value. At twenty she had been pale, anaemic and bony, with a
startled-faun manner and bad teeth. Years of saleswomanship had
broadened her, mentally and physically, until she possessed a wide
and varied knowledge of that great and diversified subject known as
human nature. She knew human nature all the way from the fiftynine-
cent girdles to the twenty-five-dollar made-to-orders. And if
the years had brought, among other things, a certain hardness about
the jaw and a line or two at the corners of the eyes, it was not
surprising. You can't rub up against the sharp edges of this world
and expect to come out without a scratch or so.
So much for Effie. Enter the hero. Webster defines a hero in
romance as the person who has the principal share in the
transactions related. He says nothing which would debar a
gentleman just because he may be a trifle bald and in the habit of
combing his hair over the thin spot, and he raises no objections to
a matter of thickness and color in the region of the back of the
neck. Therefore Gabe I. Marks qualifies. Gabe was the gentleman
about whom Effie permitted herself to be guyed. He came to Chicago
on business four times a year, and he always took Effie to the
theater, and to supper afterward. On those occasions, Effie's
gown, wrap and hat were as correct in texture, lines, and paradise
aigrettes as those of any of her non-working sisters about her. On
the morning following these excursions into Lobsterdom, Effie would
confide to her friend, Miss Weinstein, of the lingeries and
"l was out with my friend, Mr. Marks, last evening. We went
to Rector's after the show. Oh, well, it takes a New Yorker to
know how. Honestly, I feel like a queen when I go out with him.
H'm? Oh, nothing like that, girlie. I never could see that
marriage thing. Just good friends."
Gabe had been coming to Chicago four times a year for six
years. Six times four are twenty-four. And one is twenty-five.
Gabe's last visit made the twenty-fifth.
"Well, Effie," Gabe said when the evening's entertainment had
reached the restaurant stage, "this is our twenty-fifth
anniversary. It's our silver wedding, without the silver and the
wedding. We'll have a bottle of champagne. That makes it almost
legal. And then suppose we finish up by having the wedding. The
silver can be omitted."
Effie had been humming with the orchestra, holding a lobster
claw in one hand and wielding the little two-pronged fork with the
other. She dropped claw, fork, and popular air to stare
open-mouthed at Gabe. Then a slow, uncertain smile crept about her
lips, although her eyes were still unsmiling.
"Stop your joking, Gabie," she said. "Some day you'll say
those things to the wrong lady, and then you'll have a
breach-of-promise suit on your hands."
"This ain't no joke, Effie," Gabe had replied. "Not with me it
ain't. As long as my mother selig lived I wouldn't ever marry a
Goy. It would have broken her heart. I was a good son to her, and
good sons make good husbands, they say. Well, Effie, you want to
try it out?"
There was something almost solemn in Effie's tone and
expression. "Gabie," she said slowly, "you're the first man that's
ever asked me to marry him."
"That goes double," answered Gabe.
"Thanks," said Effie. "That makes it all the nicer."
"Then---- Gabe's face was radiant. But Effie shook her head
"You're just twenty years late," she said.
"Late!" expostulated Gabe. "I ain't no dead one yet."
Effie pushed her plate away with a little air of decision,
folded her plump arms on the table, and, leaning forward, looked
Gabe I. Marks squarely in the eyes.
"Gabie," she said gently, "I'll bet you haven't got a hundred
dollars in the bank----"
"But----" interrupted Gabe.
"Wait a minute. I know you boys on the road. Besides your
diamond scarf pin and your ring and watch, have you got a cent over
your salary? Nix. You carry just about enough insurance to bury
you, don't you? You're fifty years old if you're a minute, Gabie,
and if I ain't mistaken you'd have a pretty hard time of it getting
ten thousand dollars' insurance after the doctors got through with
you. Twenty-five years of pinochle and poker and the fat of the
land haven't added up any bumps in the old stocking under the
"Say, looka here," objected Gabe, more red-faced than usual,
"I didn't know was proposing to no Senatorial investigating
committee. Say, you talk about them foreign noblemen being
mercenary! Why, they ain't in it with you girls to-day. A feller
is got to propose to you with his bank book in one hand and a bunch
of life-insurance policies in the other. You're right; I ain't
saved much. But Ma selig always had everything she wanted. Say,
when a man marries it's different. He begins to save."
"There!" said Effie quickly. "That's just it. Twenty years
ago I'd have been glad and willing to start like that, saving and
scrimping and loving a man, and looking forward to the time when
four figures showed up in the bank account where but three bloomed
before. I've got what they call the home instinct. Give me a yard
or so of cretonne, and a photo of my married sister down in Iowa,
and I can make even a boarding-house inside bedroom look like a
place where a human being could live. If I had been as wise at
twenty as I am now, Gabie, I could have married any man I pleased.
But I was what they call capable. And men aren't marrying capable
girls. They pick little yellow-headed, blue-eyed idiots that don't
know a lamb stew from a soup bone when they see it. Well, Mr. Man
didn't show up, and I started in to clerk at six per. I'm earning
as much as you are now. More. Now, don't misunderstand me, Gabe.
I'm not throwing bouquets at myself. I'm not that kind of a girl.
But I could sell a style 743 Slimshape to the Venus de Milo
herself. The Lord knows she needed one, with those hips of hers.
I worked my way up, alone. I'm used to it. I like the excitement
down at the store. I'm used to luxuries. I guess if I was a man
I'd be the kind thy call a good provider--the kind that opens wine
every time there's half an excuse for it, and when he dies his
widow has to take in boarders. And, Gabe, after you've worn tailored
suits every year for a dozen years, you can't go back to
twenty-five-dollar ready-mades and be happy."
"You could if you loved a man," said Gabe stubbornly.
The hard lines around the jaw and the experienced lines about
the eyes seemed suddenly to stand out on Effie's face.
"Love's young dream is all right. But you've reached the age
when you let your cigar ash dribble down onto your vest. Now me,
I've got a kimono nature but a straight-front job, and it's kept me
young. Young! I've got to be. That's my stock in trade. You
see, Gabie, we're just twenty years late, both of us. They're not
going to boost your salary. These days they're looking for kids on
the road--live wires, with a lot of nerve and a quick come-back.
They don't want old-timers. Why, say, Gabie, if I was to tell you
what I spend in face powder and toilette water and hairpins alone,
you'd think I'd made a mistake and given you the butcher bill
instead. And I'm no professional beauty, either. Only it takes
money to look cleaned and pressed in this town."
In the seclusion of the cafe corner, Gabe laid one plump,
highly manicured hand on Effie's smooth arm. "You wouldn't need to
stay young for me, Effie. I like you just as you are, with
out the powder, or the toilette water, or the hair-pins."
His red, good-natured face had an expression upon it that was
touchingly near patient resignation as he looked up into Effie's
sparkling countenance. "You never looked so good to me as you do
this minute, old girl. And if the day comes when you get
lonesome--or change your mind--or----"
Effie shook her head, and started to draw on her long white
gloves. "I guess I haven't refused you the way the dames in the
novels do it. Maybe it's because I've had so little practice. But
I want to say this, Gabe. Thank God I don't have to die knowing
that no man ever wanted me to be his wife. Honestly, I'm that
grateful that I'd marry you in a minute if I didn't like you so
"I'll be back in three months, like always," was all that Gabe
said. "I ain't going to write. When I get here we'll just take in
a show, and the younger you look the better I'll like it."
But on the occasion of Gabe's spring trip he encountered a
statuesque blonde person where Effie had been wont to reign.
"Miss--er Bauer out of town?"
The statue melted a trifle in the sunshine of Gabe's
ingratiating smile.
"Miss Bauer's ill," the statue informed him, using a heavy
Eastern accent. "Anything I can do for you? I'm taking her
"Why--ah--not exactly; no," said Gabe. "Just a temporary
indisposition, I suppose?"
"Well, you wouldn't hardly call it that, seeing that she's
been sick with typhoid for seven weeks."
"Typhoid!" shouted Gabe.
"While I'm not in the habit of asking gentlemen their names,
I'd like to inquire if yours happens to be Marks--Gabe I. Marks?"
"Sure," said Gabe. "That's me."
"Miss Bauer's nurse telephones down last week that if a
gentleman named Marks--Gabe I. Marks--drops in and inquires for
Miss Bauer, I'm to tell him that she's changed her mind."
On the way from Spiegel's corset department to the car, Gabe
stopped only for a bunch of violets. Effie's apartment house
reached, he sent up his card, the violets, and a message that the
gentleman was waiting. There came back a reply that sent Gabie up
before the violets were relieved of their first layer of tissue
Effie was sitting in a deep chair by the window, a flowered
quilt bunched about her shoulders, her feet in gray knitted bedroom
slippers. She looked every minute of her age, and she knew it, and
didn't care. The hand that she held out to Gabe was a limp, white,
fleshless thing that seemed to bear no relation to the plump, firm
member that Gabe had pressed on so many previous occasions.
Gabe stared at this pale wraith in a moment of alarm and
dismay. Then:
"You're looking--great!" he stammered. "Great! Nobody'd
believe you'd been sick a minute. Guess you've just been stalling
for a beauty rest, what?"
Effie smiled a tired little smile, and shook her head slowly.
"You're a good kid, Gabie, to lie like that just to make me
feel good. But my nurse left yesterday and I had my first real
squint at myself in the mirror. She wouldn't let me look while she
was here. After what I saw staring back at me from that glass a
whole ballroom full of French courtiers whispering sweet nothings
in my ear couldn't make me believe that I look like anything but a
hunk of Roquefort, green spots included. When I think of how my
clothes won't fit it makes me shiver."
"Oh, you'll soon be back at the store as good as new. They
fatten up something wonderful after typhoid. Why, I had a
"Did you get my message?" interrupted Effie.
"I was only talking to hide my nervousness," said Gabe, and
started forward. But Effie waved him away.
"Sit down," she said. "I've got something to say." She
looked thoughtfully down at one shining finger nail. Her lower lip
was caught between her teeth. When she looked up again her eyes
were swimming in tears. Gabe started forward again. Again Effie
waved him away.
"It's all right, Gabie. I don't blubber as a rule. This
fever leaves you as weak as a rag, and ready to cry if any one says
`Boo!' I've been doing some high-pressure thinking since nursie
left. Had plenty of time to do it in, sitting here by this window
all day. My land! I never knew there was so much time. There's
been days when I haven't talked to a soul, except the nurse and the
chambermaid. Lonesome! Say, the amount of petting I could stand
would surprise you. Of course, my nurse was a perfectly good
nurse--at twenty-five per. But I was just a case to her. You
can't expect a nurse to ooze sympathy over an old maid with the
fever. I tell you I was dying to have some one say `Sh-sh-sh!'
when there was a noise, just to show they were interested.
Whenever I'd moan the nurse would come over and stick a thermometer
in my mouth and write something down on a chart. The boys and
girls at the store sent flowers. They'd have done the same if I'd
died. When the fever broke I just used to lie there and dream, not
feeling anything in particular, and not caring much whether it was
day or night. Know what I mean?"
Gabie shook a sympathetic head.
There was a little silence. Then Effie went on. "I used to
think I was pretty smart, earning my own good living, dressing as
well as the next one, and able to spend my vacation in Atlantic
City if I wanted to. I didn't know I was missing anything. But
while I was sick I got to wishing that there was somebody that
belonged to me. Somebody to worry about me, and to sit up
nights--somebody that just naturally felt they had to come
tiptoeing into my room every three or four minutes to see if I was
sleeping, or had enough covers on, or wanted a drink, or something.
I got to thinking what it would have been like if I had a husband
and a--home. You'll think I'm daffy, maybe."
Gabie took Effie's limp white hand in his, and stroked it
gently. Effie's face was turned away from him, toward the noisy
"I used to imagine how he'd come home at six, stamping his
feet, maybe, and making a lot of noise the way men do. And then
he'd remember, and come creaking up the steps, and he'd stick his
head in at the door in the funny, awkward, pathetic way men have in
a sick room. And he'd say, `How's the old girl to-night? I'd
better not come near you now, puss, because I'll bring the cold
with me. Been lonesome for your old man?'
"And I'd say, `Oh, I don't care how cold you are, dear. The
nurse is downstairs, getting my supper ready.'
"And then he'd come tiptoeing over to my bed, and stoop down,
and kiss me, and his face would be all cold, and rough, and his
mustache would be wet, and he'd smell out-doorsy and smoky, the way
husbands do when they come in. And I'd reach up and pat his cheek
and say, `You need a shave, old man.'
"`I know it,' he'd say, rubbing his cheek up against mine.
"`Hurry up and wash, now. Supper'll be ready.'
"`Where are the kids?' he'd ask. `The house is as quiet as
the grave. Hurry up and get well, kid. It's darn lonesome without
you at the table, and the children's manners are getting something
awful, and I never can find my shirts. Lordy, I guess we won't
celebrate when you get up! Can't you eat a little something
nourishing for supper--beefsteak, or a good plate of soup, or
"Men are like that, you know. So I'd say then: `Run along,
you old goose! You'll be suggesting sauerkraut and wieners next.
Don't you let Millie have any marmalade to-night. She's got a
spoiled stomach.'
"And then he'd pound off down the hall to wash up, and I'd
shut my eyes, and smile to myself, and everything would be all
right, because he was home."
There was a long silence. Effie's eyes were closed. But two
great tears stole out from beneath each lid and coursed their slow
way down her thin cheeks. She did not raise her hand to wipe them
Gabie's other hand reached over and met the one that already
clasped Effie's.
"Effie," he said, in a voice that was as hoarse as it was
"H'm?" said Effie.
"Will you marry me?"
"I shouldn't wonder," replied Effie, opening her eyes. "No,
don't kiss me. You might catch something. But say, reach up and
smooth my hair away from my forehead, will you, and call me a
couple of fool names. I don't care how clumsy you are about it.
I could stand an awful fuss being made over me, without being
spoiled any."
Three weeks later Effie was back at the store. Her skirt
didn't fit in the back, and the little hollow places in her cheeks
did not take the customary dash of rouge as well as when they had
been plumper. She held a little impromptu reception that extended
down as far as the lingeries and up as far as the rugs. The old
sparkle came back to Effie's eye. The old assurance and vigor
seemed to return. By the time that Miss Weinstein, of the French
lingeries, arrived, breathless, to greet her Effie was herself
"Well, if you're not a sight for sore eyes, dearie," exclaimed
Miss Weinstein. "My goodness, how grand and thin you are! I'd be
willing to take a course in typhoid myself, if I thought I could
lose twenty-five pounds."
"I haven't a rag that fits me," Effie announced proudly.
Miss Weinstein lowered her voice discreetly. "Dearie, can you
come down to my department for a minute? We're going to have a
sale on imported lawnjerie blouses, slightly soiled, from nine to
eleven to-morrow. There's one you positively must see.
Hand-embroidered, Irish motifs, and eyeleted from soup to nuts, and
only eight-fifty."
"I've got a fine chance of buying hand-made waists, no matter
how slightly soiled," Effie made answer, "with a doctor and nurse's
bill as long as your arm."
"Oh, run along!" scoffed Miss Weinstein. "A person would
think you had a husband to get a grouch every time you get reckless
to the extent of a new waist. You're your own boss. And you know
your credit's good. Honestly, it would be a shame to let this
chance slip. You're not getting tight in your old age, are you?"
"N-no," faltered Effie, "but----"
"Then come on," urged Miss Weinstein energetically. "And be
thankful you haven't got a man to raise the dickens when the bill
comes in."
"Do you mean that?" asked Effie slowly, fixing Miss Weinstein
with a thoughtful eye.
"Surest thing you know. Say, girlie, let's go over to Klein's
for lunch this noon. They have pot roast with potato pfannkuchen
on Tuesdays, and we can split an order between us."
"Hold that waist till to-morrow, will you?" said Effie. "I've
made an arrangement with a--friend that might make new clothes
impossible just now. But I'm going to wire my party that the
arrangement is all off. I've changed my mind. I ought to get an
answer to-morrow. Did you say it was a thirty-six?"
There is nothing new in this. It has all been done before. But
tell me, what is new? Does the aspiring and perspiring summer
vaudeville artist flatter himself that his stuff is going big?
Then does the stout man with the oyster-colored eyelids in the
first row, left, turn his bullet head on his fat-creased neck to
remark huskily to his companion:
"The hook for him. R-r-r-rotten! That last one was an old
Weber'n Fields' gag. They discarded it back in '91. Say, the good
ones is all dead, anyhow. Take old Salvini, now, and Dan Rice.
Them was actors. Come on out and have something."
Does the short-story writer felicitate himself upon having
discovered a rare species in humanity's garden? The Blase Reader
flips the pages between his fingers, yawns, stretches, and remarks
to his wife:
"That's a clean lift from Kipling--or is it Conan Doyle?
Anyway, I've read something just like it before. Say, kid, guess
what these magazine guys get for a full page ad.? Nix. That's just
like a woman. Three thousand straight. Fact."
To anticipate the delver into the past it may be stated that
the plot of this one originally appeared in the Eternal Best
Seller, under the heading, "He Asked You For Bread, and Ye Gave Him
a Stone." There may be those who could not have traced my
plagiarism to its source.
Although the Book has had an unprecedentedly long run it is
said to be less widely read than of yore.
Even with this preparation I hesitate to confess that this is
the story of a hungry girl in a big city. Well, now, wait a
minute. Conceding that it has been done by every scribbler from
tyro to best seller expert, you will acknowledge that there is the
possibility of a fresh viewpoint--twist--what is it the sporting
editors call it? Oh, yes--slant. There is the possibility of
getting a new slant on an old idea. That may serve to deflect the
line of the deadly parallel.
Just off State Street there is a fruiterer and importer who
ought to be arrested for cruelty. His window is the most
fascinating and the most heartless in Chicago. A line of
open-mouthed, wide-eyed gazers is always to be found before it.
Despair, wonder, envy, and rebellion smolder in the eyes of those
gazers. No shop window show should be so diabolically set forth as
to arouse such sensations in the breast of the beholder. It is a
work of art, that window; a breeder of anarchism, a destroyer of
contentment, a second feast of Tantalus. It boasts peaches, dewy
and golden, when peaches have no right to be; plethoric, purple
bunches of English hothouse grapes are there to taunt the
ten-dollar-a-week clerk whose sick wife should be in the hospital;
strawberries glow therein when shortcake is a last summer's memory,
and forced cucumbers remind us that we are taking ours in the form
of dill pickles. There is, perhaps, a choice head of cauliflower,
so exquisite in its ivory and green perfection as to be fit for a
bride's bouquet; there are apples so flawless that if the garden of
Eden grew any as perfect it is small wonder that Eve fell for them.
There are fresh mushrooms, and jumbo cocoanuts, and green almonds;
costly things in beds of cotton nestle next to strange and
marvelous things in tissue, wrappings. Oh, that window is no place
for the hungry, the dissatisfied, or the man out of a job. When
the air is filled with snow there is that in the sight of
muskmelons which incites crime.
Queerly enough, the gazers before that window foot up the
same, year in, and year out, something after this fashion:
Item: One anemic little milliner's apprentice in coat and
shoes that even her hat can't redeem.
Item: One sandy-haired, gritty-complexioned man, with a
drooping ragged mustache, a tin dinner bucket, and lime on his
Item: One thin mail carrier with an empty mail sack, gaunt
cheeks, and an habitual droop to his left shoulder.
Item: One errand boy troubled with a chronic sniffle, a
shrill and piping whistle, and a great deal of shuffling foot-work.
Item: One negro wearing a spotted tan topcoat, frayed
trousers and no collar. His eyes seem all whites as he gazes.
Enough of the window. But bear it in mind while we turn to
Jennie. Jennie's real name was Janet, and she was Scotch. Canny?
Not necessarily, or why should she have been hungry and out of a
job in January?
Jennie stood in the row before the window, and stared. The
longer she stared the sharper grew the lines that fright and
under-feeding had chiseled about her nose, and mouth, and eyes.
When your last meal is an eighteen-hour-old memory, and when that
memory has only near-coffee and a roll to dwell on, there is
something in the sight of January peaches and great strawberries
carelessly spilling out of a tipped box, just like they do in the
fruit picture on the dining-room wall, that is apt to carve sharp
lines in the corners of the face.
The tragic line dwindled, going about its business. The man
with the dinner pail and the lime on his boots spat, drew the back
of his hand across his mouth, and turned away with an ugly look.
(Pork was up to $14.25, dressed.)
The errand boy's blithe whistle died down to a mournful dirge.
He was window-wishing. His choice wavered between the juicy pears,
and the foreign-looking red things that looked like oranges, and
weren't. One hand went into his coat pocket, extracting an apple
that was to have formed the piece de resistance of his noonday
lunch. Now he regarded it with a sort of pitying disgust, and bit
into it with the middle-of-the-morning contempt that it deserved.
The mail carrier pushed back his cap and reflectively
scratched his head. How much over his month's wage would that
green basket piled high with exotic fruit come to?
Jennie stood and stared after they had left, and another line
had formed. If you could have followed her gaze with dotted lines,
as they do in the cartoons, you would have seen that it was not the
peaches, or the prickly pears, or the strawberries, or the
muskmelon or even the grapes, that held her eye. In the center of
that wonderful window was an oddly woven basket. In the basket
were brown things that looked like sweet potatoes. One knew that
they were not. A sign over the basket informed the puzzled gazer
that these were maymeys from Cuba.
Maymeys from Cuba. The humor of it might have struck Jennie
if she had not been so Scotch, and so hungry. As it was, a slow,
sullen, heavy Scotch wrath rose in her breast. Maymeys from Cuba.
The wantonness of it! Peaches? Yes. Grapes, even, and pears
and cherries in snow time. But maymeys from Cuba--why, one did not
even know if they were to be eaten with butter, or with vinegar, or
in the hand, like an apple. Who wanted maymeys from Cuba? They
had gone all those hundreds of miles to get a fruit or vegetable
thing--a thing so luxurious, so out of all reason that one did not
know whether it was to be baked, or eaten raw. There they lay, in
their foreign-looking basket, taunting Jennie who needed a quarter.
Have I told you how Jennie happened to be hungry and jobless?
Well, then I sha'n't. It doesn't really matter, anyway. The fact
is enough. If you really demand to know you might inquire of Mr.
Felix Klein. You will find him in a mahogany office on the sixth
floor. The door is marked manager. It was his idea to import
Scotch lassies from Dunfermline for his Scotch linen department.
The idea was more fetching than feasible.
There are people who will tell you that no girl possessing a
grain of common sense and a little nerve need go hungry, no matter
how great the city. Don't you believe them. The city has heard
the cry of wolf so often that it refuses to listen when he is
snarling at the door, particularly when the door is next door.
Where did we leave Jennie? Still standing on the sidewalk
before the fruit and fancy goods shop, gazing at the maymeys from
Cuba. Finally her Scotch bump of curiosity could stand it no
longer. She dug her elbow into the arm of the person standing next
in line.
"What are those?" she asked.
The next in line happened to be a man. He was a man without
an overcoat, and with his chin sunk deep into his collar, and his
hands thrust deep into his pockets. It looked as though he were
trying to crawl inside himself for warmth.
"Those? That sign says they're maymeys from Cuba."
"I know," persisted Jennie, "but what are they?"
"Search me. Say, I ain't bothering about maymeys from Cuba.
A couple of hot murphies from Ireland, served with a lump of
butter, would look good enough to me."
"Do you suppose any one buys them?" marveled Jennie.
"Surest thing you know. Some rich dame coming by here,
wondering what she can have for dinner to tempt the jaded palates
of her dear ones, see? She sees them Cuban maymeys. `The very
thing!' she says. `I'll have 'em served just before the salad.'
And she sails in and buys a pound or two. I wonder, now, do you
eat 'em with a fruit knife, or with a spoon?"
Jennie took one last look at the woven basket with its foreign
contents. Then she moved on, slowly. She had been moving on for
Most people have acquired the habit of eating three meals a
day. In a city of some few millions the habit has made necessary
the establishing of many thousands of eating places. Jennie would
have told you that there were billions of these. To her the world
seemed composed of one huge, glittering restaurant, with myriads of
windows through which one caught maddening glimpses of ketchup
bottles, and nickel coffee heaters, and piles of doughnuts, and
scurrying waiters in white, and people critically studying menu
cards. She walked in a maze of restaurants, cafes, eating-houses.
Tables and diners loomed up at every turn, on every street, from
Michigan Avenue's rose-shaded Louis the Somethingth palaces, where
every waiter owns his man, to the white tile mausoleums where every
man is his own waiter. Everywhere there were windows full of lemon
cream pies, and pans of baked apples swimming in lakes of golden
syrup, and pots of baked beans with the pink and crispy slices of
pork just breaking through the crust. Every dairy lunch mocked one
with the sign of "wheat cakes with maple syrup and country sausage,
20 cents."
There are those who will say that for cases like Jennie's
there are soup kitchens, Y. W. C. A.'s, relief associations,
policemen, and things like that. And so there are. Unfortunately,
the people who need them aren't up on them. Try it. Plant
yourself, penniless, in the middle of State Street on a busy day,
dive into the howling, scrambling, pushing maelstrom that hurls
itself against the mountainous and impregnable form of the crossing
policeman, and see what you'll get out of it, provided you have the
Desperation gave Jennie a false courage. On the strength of
it she made two false starts. The third time she reached the arm
of the crossing policeman, and clutched it. That imposing giant
removed the whistle from his mouth, and majestically inclined his
head without turning his gaze upon Jennie, one eye being fixed on
a red automobile that was showing signs of sulking at its enforced
pause, the other being busy with a cursing drayman who was having
an argument with his off horse.
Jennie mumbled her question.
Said the crossing policeman:
"Getcher car on Wabash, ride to 'umpty-second, transfer, get
off at Blank Street, and walk three blocks south."
Then he put the whistle back in his mouth, blew two shrill
blasts, and the horde of men, women, motors, drays, trucks, cars,
and horses swept over him, through him, past him, leaving him
miraculously untouched.
Jennie landed on the opposite curbing, breathing hard. What
was that street? Umpty-what? Well, it didn't matter, anyway. She
hadn't the nickel for car fare.
What did you do next? You begged from people on the street.
Jennie selected a middle-aged, prosperous, motherly looking woman.
She framed her plea with stiff lips. Before she had finished her
sentence she found herself addressing empty air. The middle-aged,
prosperous, motherly looking woman had hurried on.
Well, then you tried a man. You had to be careful there. He
mustn't be the wrong kind. There were so many wrong kinds. Just
an ordinary looking family man would be best. Ordinary looking
family men are strangely in the minority. There are so many more
bull-necked, tan-shoed ones. Finally Jennie's eye, grown sharp
with want, saw one. Not too well dressed, kind-faced, middle-aged.
She fell into step beside him.
"Please, can you help me out with a shilling?"
Jennie's nose was red, and her eyes watery. Said the
middle-aged family man with the kindly face:
"Beat it. You've had about enough I guess."
Jennie walked into a department store, picked out the oldest
and most stationary looking floorwalker, and put it to him. The
floorwalker bent his head, caught the word "food," swung about, and
pointed over Jennie's head.
"Grocery department on the seventh floor. Take one of those
elevators up."
Any one but a floorwalker could have seen the misery in
Jennie's face. But to floorwalkers all women's faces are horrible.
Jennie turned and walked blindly toward the elevators. There
was no fight left in her. If the floorwalker had said, "Silk
negligees on the fourth floor. Take one of those elevators up,"
Jennie would have ridden up to the fourth floor, and stupidly gazed
at pink silk and val lace negligees in glass cases.
Tell me, have you ever visited the grocery department of a
great store on the wrong side of State Street? It's a
mouth-watering experience. A department store grocery is a
glorified mixture of delicatessen shop, meat market, and
vaudeville. Starting with the live lobsters and crabs you work
your hungry way right around past the cheeses, and the sausages,
and the hams, and tongues, and head-cheese, past the blonde person
in white who makes marvelous and uneatable things out of gelatine,
through a thousand smells and scents--smells of things smoked, and
pickled, and spiced, and baked and preserved, and roasted.
Jennie stepped out of the elevator, licking her lips. She
sniffed the air, eagerly, as a hound sniffs the scent. She shut
her eyes when she passed the sugar-cured hams. A woman was buying
a slice from one, and the butcher was extolling its merits. Jennie
caught the words "juicy" and "corn-fed."
That particular store prides itself on its cheese department.
It boasts that there one can get anything in cheese from the simple
cottage variety to imposing mottled Stilton. There are cheeses
from France, cheeses from Switzerland, cheeses from Holland. Brick
and parmesan, Edam and limburger perfumed the atmosphere.
Behind the counters were big, full-fed men in white aprons,
and coats. They flourished keen bright knives. As Jennie gazed,
one of them, in a moment of idleness, cut a tiny wedge from a rich
yellow Swiss cheese and stood nibbling it absently, his eyes
wandering toward the blonde gelatine demonstrator. Jennie swayed,
and caught the counter. She felt horribly faint and queer. She
shut her eyes for a moment. When she opened them a woman--a fat,
housewifely, comfortable looking woman--was standing before the
cheese counter. She spoke to the cheese man. Once more his sharp
knife descended and he was offering the possible customer a sample.
She picked it off the knife's sharp tip, nibbled thoughtfully,
shook her head, and passed on. A great, glorious world of hope
opened out before Jennie.
Her cheeks grew hot, and her eyes felt dry and bright as she
approached the cheese counter.
"A bit of that," she said, pointing. "It doesn't look just as
I like it."
"Very fine, madam," the man assured her, and turned the knife
point toward her, with the infinitesimal wedge of cheese reposing
on its blade. Jennie tried to keep her hand steady as she
delicately picked it off, nibbled as she had seen that other woman
do it, her head on one side, before it shook a slow negative. The
effort necessary to keep from cramming the entire piece into her
mouth at once left her weak and trembling. She passed on as the
other woman had done, around the corner, and into a world of
sausages. Great rosy mounds of them filled counters and cases.
Sausage! Sneer, you pate de foies grasers! But may you know the
day when hunger will have you. And on that day may you run into
linked temptation in the form of Braunschweiger Metwurst. May you
know the longing that causes the eyes to glaze at the sight of
Thuringer sausage, and the mouth to water at the scent of Cervelat
wurst, and the fingers to tremble at the nearness of smoked liver.
Jennie stumbled on, through the smells and the sights. That
nibble of cheese had been like a drop of human blood to a
man-eating tiger. It made her bold, cunning, even while it
maddened. She stopped at this counter and demanded a slice of
summer sausage. It was paper-thin, but delicious beyond belief.
At the next counter there was corned beef, streaked fat and lean.
Jennie longed to bury her teeth in the succulent meat and get one
great, soul-satisfying mouthful. She had to be content with her
judicious nibbling. To pass the golden-brown, breaded pig's feet
was torture. To look at the codfish balls was agony. And so
Jennie went on, sampling, tasting, the scraps of food acting only
as an aggravation. Up one aisle, and down the next she went. And
then, just around the corner, she brought up before the grocery
department's pride and boast, the Scotch bakery. It is the store's
star vaudeville feature. All day long the gaping crowd stands
before it, watching David the Scone Man, as with sleeves rolled
high above his big arms, he kneads, and slaps, and molds, and
thumps and shapes the dough into toothsome Scotch confections.
There was a crowd around the white counters now, and the flat
baking surface of the gas stove was just hot enough, and David the
Scone Man (he called them Scuns) was whipping about here and there,
turning the baking oat cakes, filling the shelf above the stove
when they were done to a turn, rolling out fresh ones, waiting on
customers. His nut-cracker face almost allowed itself a pleased
expression--but not quite. David, the Scone Man, was Scotch (I was
going to add, d'ye ken, but I will not).
Jennie wondered if she really saw those things. Mutton pies!
Scones! Scotch short bread! Oat cakes! She edged closer,
wriggling her way through the little crowd until she stood at the
counter's edge. David, the Scone Man, his back to the crowd, was
turning the last batch of oat cakes. Jennie felt strangely
light-headed, and unsteady, and airy. She stared straight ahead,
a half-smile on her lips, while a hand that she knew was her own,
and that yet seemed no part of her, stole out, very, very slowly,
and cunningly, and extracted a hot scone from the pile that lay in
the tray on the counter. That hand began to steal back, more
quickly now. But not quickly enough. Another hand grasped her
wrist. A woman's high, shrill voice (why will women do these
things to each other?) said, excitedly:
"Say, Scone Man! Scone Man! This girl is stealing
A buzz of exclamations from the crowd--a closing in upon
her--a whirl of faces, and counter, and trays, and gas stove.
Jennie dropped with a crash, the warm scone still grasped in her
Just before the ambulance came it was the blonde lady of the
impossible gelatines who caught the murmur that came from Jennie's
white lips. The blonde lady bent her head closer. Closer still.
When she raised her face to those other faces crowded near, her
eyes were round with surprise.
"'S far's I can make out, she says her name's Mamie, and she's
from Cuba. Well, wouldn't that eat you! I always thought they was
dark complected."
The leading lady lay on her bed and wept.
Not as you have seen leading ladies weep, becomingly, with
eyebrows pathetically V-shaped, mouth quivering, sequined bosom
heaving. The leading lady lay on her bed in a red-and-blue-striped
kimono and wept as a woman weeps, her head burrowing into the
depths of the lumpy hotel pillow, her teeth biting the pillow-case
to choke back the sounds so that the grouch in the next room might
not hear.
Presently the leading lady's right hand began to grope about
on the bedspread for her handkerchief. Failing to find it, she sat
up wearily, raising herself on one elbow and pushing her hair back
from her forehead--not as you have seen a leading lady pass a lily
hand across her alabaster brow, but as a heart-sick woman does it.
Her tears and sniffles had formed a little oasis of moisture on the
pillow's white bosom so that the ugly stripe of the ticking showed
through. She gazed down at the damp circle with smarting, swollen
eyes, and another lump came up into her throat.
Then she sat up resolutely, and looked about her. The leading
lady had a large and saving sense of humor. But there is nothing
that blunts the sense of humor more quickly than a few months of
one-night stands. Even O. Henry could have seen nothing funny
about that room.
The bed was of green enamel, with fly-specked gold trimmings.
It looked like a huge frog. The wall-paper was a crime. It
represented an army of tan mustard plasters climbing up a
chocolate-fudge wall. The leading lady was conscious of a feeling
of nausea as she gazed at it. So she got up and walked to the
window. The room faced west, and the hot afternoon sun smote full
on her poor swollen eyes. Across the street the red brick walls of
the engine-house caught the glare and sent it back. The firemen,
in their blue shirt-sleeves, were seated in the shade before the
door, their chairs tipped at an angle of sixty. The leading lady
stared down into the sun-baked street, turned abruptly and made as
though to fall upon the bed again, with a view to forming another
little damp oasis on the pillow. But when she reached the center
of the stifling little bedroom her eye chanced on the electric
call-button near the door. Above the electric bell was tacked a
printed placard giving information on the subjects of laundry,
ice-water, bell-boys and dining-room hours.
The leading lady stood staring at it a moment thoughtfully.
Then with a sudden swift movement she applied her forefinger to the
button and held it there for a long half-minute. Then she sat down
on the edge of the bed, her kimono folded about her, and waited.
She waited until a lank bell-boy, in a brown uniform that was
some sizes too small for him, had ceased to take any interest in
the game of chess which Bauer and Merkle, the champion firemen
chess-players, were contesting on the walk before the open doorway
of the engine-house. The proprietor of the Burke House had
originally intended that the brown uniform be worn by a diminutive
bell-boy, such as one sees in musical comedies. But the available
supply of stage size bell-boys in our town is somewhat limited and
was soon exhausted. There followed a succession of lank bell-boys,
with arms and legs sticking ungracefully out of sleeves and
"Come!" called the leading lady quickly, in answer to the lank
youth's footsteps, and before he had had time to knock.
"Ring?" asked the boy, stepping into the torrid little room.
The leading lady did not reply immediately. She swallowed
something in her throat and pushed back the hair from her moist
forehead again. The brown uniform repeated his question, a trifle
irritably. Whereupon the leading lady spoke, desperately:
"Is there a woman around this place? I don't mean dining-room
girls, or the person behind the cigar-counter."
Since falling heir to the brown uniform the lank youth had
heard some strange requests. He had been interviewed by various
ladies in varicolored kimonos relative to liquid refreshment,
laundry and the cost of hiring a horse and rig for a couple of
hours. One had even summoned him to ask if there was a Bible in
the house. But this latest question was a new one. He stared,
leaning against the door and thrusting one hand into the depths of
his very tight breeches pocket.
"Why, there's Pearlie Schultz," he said at last, with a grin.
"Who's she?" The leading lady sat up expectantly.
The expectant figure drooped. "Blonde? And Irish crochet
collar with a black velvet bow on her chest?"
"Who? Pearlie? Naw. You mustn't get Pearlie mixed with the
common or garden variety of stenos. Pearlie is fat, and she wears
specs and she's got a double chin. Her hair is skimpy and she
don't wear no rat. W'y no traveling man has ever tried to flirt
with Pearlie yet. Pearlie's what you'd call a woman, all right.
You wouldn't never make a mistake and think she'd escaped from the
first row in the chorus."
The leading lady rose from the bed, reached out for her
pocket-book, extracted a dime, and held it out to the bell-boy.
"Here. Will you ask her to come up here to me? Tell her I
said please."
After he had gone she seated herself on the edge of the bed
again, with a look in her eyes like that which you have seen in the
eyes of a dog that is waiting for a door to be opened.
Fifteen minutes passed. The look in the eyes of the leading
lady began to fade. Then a footstep sounded down the hall. The
leading lady cocked her head to catch it, and smiled blissfully.
It was a heavy, comfortable footstep, under which a board or two
creaked. There came a big, sensible thump-thump-thump at the door,
with stout knuckles. The leading lady flew to answer it. She
flung the door wide and stood there, clutching her kimono at the
throat and looking up into a red, good-natured face.
Pearlie Schultz looked down at the leading lady kindly and
benignantly, as a mastiff might look at a terrier.
"Lonesome for a bosom to cry on?" asked she, and stepped into
the room, walked to the west windows, and jerked down the shades
with a zip-zip, shutting off the yellow glare. She came back to
where the leading lady was standing and patted her on the cheek,
"You tell me all about it," said she, smiling.
The leading lady opened her lips, gulped, tried again, gulped
again--Pearlie Schultz shook a sympathetic head.
"Ain't had a decent, close-to-nature powwow with a woman for
weeks and weeks, have you?"
"How did you know?" cried the leading lady.
"You've got that hungry look. There was a lady drummer here
last winter, and she had the same expression. She was so dead sick
of eating her supper and then going up to her ugly room and reading
and sewing all evening that it was a wonder she'd stayed good. She
said it was easy enough for the men. They could smoke, and play
pool, and go to a show, and talk to any one that looked good to
'em. But if she tried to amuse herself everybody'd say she was
tough. She cottoned to me like a burr to a wool skirt. She
traveled for a perfumery house, and she said she hadn't talked to
a woman, except the dry-goods clerks who were nice to her trying to
work her for her perfume samples, for weeks an' weeks. Why, that
woman made crochet by the bolt, and mended her clothes evenings
whether they needed it or not, and read till her eyes come near
going back on her."
The leading lady seized Pearlie's hand and squeezed it.
"That's it! Why, I haven't talked--really talked--to a real
woman since the company went out on the road. I'm leading lady of
the `Second Wife' company, you know. It's one of those small cast
plays, with only five people in it. I play the wife, and I'm the
only woman in the cast. It's terrible. I ought to be thankful to
get the part these days. And I was, too. But I didn't know it
would be like this. I'm going crazy. The men in the company are
good kids, but I can't go trailing around after them all day.
Besides, it wouldn't be right. They're all married, except Billy,
who plays the kid, and he's busy writing a vawdeville skit that he
thinks the New York managers are going to fight for when he gets
back home. We were to play Athens, Wisconsin, to-night, but the
house burned down night before last, and that left us with an open
date. When I heard the news you'd have thought I had lost my
mother. It's bad enough having a whole day to kill but when I
think of to-night," the leading lady's voice took on a note of
hysteria, "it seems as though I'd----"
"Say," Pearlie interrupted, abruptly, "you ain't got a real
good corset-cover pattern, have you? One that fits smooth over the
bust and don't slip off the shoulders? I don't seem able to get my
hands on the kind I want."
"Have I!" yelled the leading lady. And made a flying leap
from the bed to the floor.
She flapped back the cover of a big suit-case and began
burrowing into its depths, strewing the floor with lingerie,
newspaper clippings, blouses, photographs and Dutch collars.
Pearlie came over and sat down on the floor in the midst of the
litter. The leading lady dived once more, fished about in the
bottom of the suit-case and brought a crumpled piece of paper
triumphantly to the surface.
"This is it. It only takes a yard and five-eighths. And
fits! Like Anna Held's skirts. Comes down in a V front and
back--like this. See? And no fulness. Wait a minute. I'll show
you my princess slip. I made it all by hand, too. I'll bet you
couldn't buy it under fifteen dollars, and it cost me four dollars
and eighty cents, with the lace and all."
Before an hour had passed, the leading lady had displayed all
her treasures, from the photograph of her baby that died to her new
Blanche Ring curl cluster, and was calling Pearlie by her first
name. When a bell somewhere boomed six o'clock Pearlie was being
instructed in a new exercise calculated to reduce the hips an inch
a month.
"My land!" cried Pearlie, aghast, and scrambled to her feet as
nimbly as any woman can who weighs two hundred pounds.
"Supper-time, and I've got a bunch of letters an inch thick to get
out! I'd better reduce that some before I begin on my hips. But
say, I've had a lovely time."
The leading lady clung to her. "You've saved my life. Why,
I forgot all about being hot and lonely and a couple of thousand
miles from New York. Must you go?"
"Got to. But if you'll promise you won't laugh, I'll make a
date for this evening that'll give you a new sensation anyway.
There's going to be a strawberry social on the lawn of the
parsonage of our church. I've got a booth. You shed that kimono,
and put on a thin dress and those curls and some powder, and I'll
introduce you as my friend, Miss Evans. You don't look Evans, but
this is a Methodist church strawberry festival, and if I was to
tell them that you are leading lady of the `Second Wife' company
they'd excommunicate my booth."
"A strawberry social!" gasped the leading lady. "Do they
still have them?" She did not laugh. "Why, I used to go to
strawberry festivals when I was a little girl in----"
"Careful! You'll be giving away your age, and, anyway, you
don't look it. Fashions in strawberry socials ain't changed much.
Better bathe your eyes in eau de cologne or whatever it is they're
always dabbing on 'em in books. See you at eight."
At eight o'clock Pearlie's thump-thump sounded again, and the
leading lady sprang to the door as before. Pearlie stared. This
was no tear-stained, heat-bedraggled creature in an unbecoming
red-striped kimono. It was a remarkably pretty woman in a white
lingerie gown over a pink slip. The leading lady knew a thing or
two about the gentle art of making-up!
"That just goes to show," remarked Pearlie, "that you must
never judge a woman in a kimono or a bathing suit. You look
nineteen. Say, I forgot something down-stairs. Just get your
handkerchief and chamois together and meet in my cubbyhole next to
the lobby, will you? I'll be ready for you."
Down-stairs she summoned the lank bell-boy. "You go outside
and tell Sid Strang I want to see him, will you? He's on the bench
with the baseball bunch."
Pearlie had not seen Sid Strang outside. She did not need to.
She knew he was there. In our town all the young men dress up in
their pale gray suits and lavender-striped shirts after supper on
summer evenings. Then they stroll down to the Burke House, buy a
cigar and sit down on the benches in front of the hotel to talk
baseball and watch the girls go by. It is astonishing to note the
number of our girls who have letters to mail after supper. One
would think that they must drive their pens fiercely all the
afternoon in order to get out such a mass of correspondence.
The obedient Sid reached the door of Pearlie's little office
just off the lobby as the leading lady came down the stairs with a
spangled scarf trailing over her arm. It was an effective
"Why, hello!" said Pearlie, looking up from her typewriter as
though Sid Strang were the last person in the world she expected to
see. "What do you want here? Ethel, this is my friend, Mr. Sid
Strang, one of our rising young lawyers. His neckties always match
his socks. Sid, this is my friend, Miss Ethel Evans, of New York.
We're going over to the strawberry social at the M. E. parsonage.
I don't suppose you'd care about going?"
Mr. Sid Strang gazed at the leading lady in the white lingerie
dress with the pink slip, and the V-shaped neck, and the spangled
scarf, and turned to Pearlie.
"Why, Pearlie Schultz!" he said reproachfully. "How can you
ask? You know what a strawberry social means to me! I haven't
missed one in years!"
"I know it," replied Pearlie, with a grin. "You feel the same
way about Thursday evening prayer-meeting too, don't you? You can
walk over with us if you want to. We're going now. Miss Evans and
I have got a booth."
Sid walked. Pearlie led them determinedly past the rows of
gray suits and lavender and pink shirts on the benches in front of
the hotel. And as the leading lady came into view the gray suits
stopped talking baseball and sat up and took notice. Pearlie had
known all those young men inside of the swagger suits in the days
when their summer costume consisted of a pair of dad's pants cut
down to a doubtful fit, and a nondescript shirt damp from the
swimming-hole. So she called out, cheerily:
"We're going over to the strawberry festival. I expect to see
all you boys there to contribute your mite to the church carpet."
The leading lady turned to look at them, and smiled. They
were such a dapper, pink-cheeked, clean-looking lot of boys, she
thought. At that the benches rose to a man and announced that they
might as well stroll over right now. Whenever a new girl comes to
visit in our town our boys make a concerted rush at her, and
develop a "case" immediately, and the girl goes home when her visit
is over with her head swimming, and forever after bores the girls
of her home town with tales of her conquests.
The ladies of the First M. E. Church still talk of the money
they garnered at the strawberry festival. Pearlie's out-of-town
friend was garnerer-in-chief. You take a cross-eyed, pock-marked
girl and put her in a white dress, with a pink slip, on a green
lawn under a string of rose-colored Japanese lanterns, and she'll
develop an almost Oriental beauty. It is an ideal setting. The
leading lady was not cross-eyed or pock-marked. She stood at the
lantern-illumined booth, with Pearlie in the background, and dispensed
an unbelievable amount of strawberries. Sid Strang and the
hotel bench brigade assisted. They made engagements to take
Pearlie and her friend down river next day, and to the ball game,
and planned innumerable picnics, gazing meanwhile into the leading
lady's eyes. There grew in the cheeks of the leading lady a flush
that was not brought about by the pink slip, or the Japanese
lanterns, or the skillful application of rouge.
By nine o'clock the strawberry supply was exhausted, and the
president of the Foreign Missionary Society was sending wildly
down-town for more ice-cream.
"I call it an outrage," puffed Pearlie happily, ladling
ice-cream like mad. "Making a poor working girl like me slave all
evening! How many was that last order? Four? My land! that's the
third dish of ice-cream Ed White's had! You'll have something to
tell the villagers about when you get back to New York."
The leading lady turned a flushed face toward Pearlie. "This
is more fun than the Actors' Fair. I had the photograph booth last
year, and I took in nearly as much as Lil Russell; and goodness
knows, all she needs to do at a fair is to wear her
diamond-and-pearl stomacher and her set-piece smile, and the men
just swarm around her like the pictures of a crowd in a McCutcheon
When the last Japanese lantern had guttered out, Pearlie
Schultz and the leading lady prepared to go home. Before they
left, the M. E. ladies came over to Pearlie's booth and personally
congratulated the leading lady, and thanked her for the interest
she had taken in the cause, and the secretary of the Epworth League
asked her to come to the tea that was to be held at her home the
following Tuesday. The leading lady thanked her and said she'd
come if she could.
Escorted by a bodyguard of gray suits and lavender-striped
shirts Pearlie and her friend, Miss Evans, walked toward the hotel.
The attentive bodyguard confessed itself puzzled.
"Aren't you staying at Pearlie's house?" asked Sid tenderly,
when they reached the Burke House. The leading lady glanced up at
the windows of the stifling little room that faced west.
"No," answered she, and paused at the foot of the steps to the
ladies' entrance. The light from the electric globe over the
doorway shone on her hair and sparkled in the folds of her spangled
"I'm not staying at Pearlie's because my name isn't Ethel
Evans. It's Aimee Fox, with a little French accent mark over the
double E. I'm leading lady of the `Second Wife' company and old
enough to be--well, your aunty, anyway. We go out at one-thirty
to-morrow morning."
We all have our ambitions. Mine is to sit in a rocking-chair on
the sidewalk at the corner of Clark and Randolph Streets, and watch
the crowds go by. South Clark Street is one of the most
interesting and cosmopolitan thoroughfares in the world (New
Yorkers please sniff). If you are from Paris, France, or Paris,
Illinois, and should chance to be in that neighborhood, you will
stop at Tony's news stand to buy your home-town paper. Don't
mistake the nature of this story. There is nothing of the
shivering-newsboy-waif about Tony. He has the voice of a fog-horn,
the purple-striped shirt of a sport, the diamond scarf-pin of a
racetrack tout, and the savoir faire of the gutter-bred. You'd
never pick him for a newsboy if it weren't for his chapped hands
and the eternal cold-sore on the upper left corner of his mouth.
It is a fascinating thing, Tony's stand. A high wooden
structure rising tier on tier, containing papers from every corner
of the world. I'll defy you to name a paper that Tony doesn't
handle, from Timbuctoo to Tarrytown, from South Bend to South
Africa. A paper marked Christiania, Norway, nestles next to a
sheet from Kalamazoo, Michigan. You can get the War Cry, or Le
Figaro. With one hand, Tony will give you the Berlin Tageblatt,
and with the other the Times from Neenah, Wisconsin. Take your
choice between the Bulletin from Sydney, Australia, or the Bee from
But perhaps you know South Clark Street. It is honeycombed
with good copy--man-size stuff. South Clark Street reminds one of
a slatternly woman, brave in silks and velvets on the surface, but
ragged, and rumpled and none too clean as to nether garments. It
begins with a tenement so vile, so filthy, so repulsive, that the
municipal authorities deny its very existence. It ends with a
brand-new hotel, all red brick, and white tiling, and Louise Quinze
furniture, and sour-cream colored marble lobby, and oriental rugs
lavishly scattered under the feet of the unappreciative guest from
Kansas City. It is a street of signs, is South Clark. They vary
all the way from "Banca Italiana" done in fat, fly-specked letters
of gold, to "Sang Yuen" scrawled in Chinese red and black.
Spaghetti and chop suey and dairy lunches nestle side by side.
Here an electric sign blazons forth the tempting announcement of
lunch. Just across the way, delicately suggesting a means of
availing one's self of the invitation, is another which announces
"Loans." South Clark Street can transform a winter overcoat into
hamburger and onions so quickly that the eye can't follow the hand.
Do you gather from this that you are being taken slumming?
Not at all. For the passer-by on Clark Street varies as to color,
nationality, raiment, finger-nails, and hair-cut according to the
locality in which you find him.
At the tenement end the feminine passer-by is apt to be
shawled, swarthy, down-at-the-heel, and dragging a dark-eyed,
fretting baby in her wake. At the hotel end you will find her
blonde of hair, velvet of boot, plumed of head-gear, and prone to
have at her heels a white, woolly, pink-eyed dog.
The masculine Clark Streeter? I throw up my hands. Pray
remember that South Clark Street embraces the dime lodging house,
pawnshop, hotel, theater, chop-suey and railway office district,
all within a few blocks. From the sidewalk in front of his
groggery, "Bath House John" can see the City Hall. The trim,
khaki-garbed enlistment officer rubs elbows with the lodging house
bum. The masculine Clark Streeter may be of the kind that begs a
dime for a bed, or he may loll in manicured luxury at the
marble-lined hotel. South Clark Street is so splendidly
Copy-hunting, I approached Tony with hope in my heart, a smile
on my lips, and a nickel in my hand.
"Philadelphia--er--Inquirer?" I asked, those being the city
and paper which fire my imagination least.
Tony whipped it out, dexterously.
I looked at his keen blue eye, his lean brown face, and his
punishing jaw, and I knew that no airy persiflage would deceive
him. Boldly I waded in.
"I write for the magazines," said I.
"Do they know it?" grinned Tony.
"Just beginning to be faintly aware. Your stand looks like a
story to me. Tell me, does one ever come your way? For instance,
don't they come here asking for their home-town paper--sobs in
their voice--grasp the sheet with trembling hands--type swims in a
misty haze before their eyes--turn aside to brush away a tear--all
that kind of stuff, you know?"
Tony's grin threatened his cold-sore. You can't stand on the
corner of Clark and Randolph all those years without getting wise
to everything there is.
"I'm on," said he, "but I'm afraid I can't accommodate,
girlie. I guess my ear ain't attuned to that sob stuff. What's
that? Yessir. Nossir, fifteen cents. Well, I can't help that;
fifteen's the reg'lar price of foreign papers. Thanks. There, did
you see that? I bet that gink give up fifteen of his last two bits
to get that paper. O, well, sometimes they look happy, and then
again sometimes they--Yes'm. Mississippi? Five cents. Los Vegas
Optic right here. Heh there! You're forgettin' your change!--an'
then again sometimes they look all to the doleful. Say, stick
around. Maybe somebody'll start something. You can't never tell."
And then this happened.
A man approached Tony's news stand from the north, and a woman
approached Tony's news stand from the south. They brought my story
with them.
The woman reeked of the city. I hope you know what I mean.
She bore the stamp, and seal, and imprint of it. It had ground its
heel down on her face. At the front of her coat she wore a huge
bunch of violets, with a fleshly tuberose rising from its center.
Her furs were voluminous. Her hat was hidden beneath the cascades
of a green willow plume. A green willow plume would make Edna May
look sophisticated. She walked with that humping hip movement
which city women acquire. She carried a jangling handful of
useless gold trinkets. Her heels were too high, and her hair too
yellow, and her lips too red, and her nose too white, and her
cheeks too pink. Everything about her was "too," from the black
stitching on her white gloves to the buckle of brilliants in her
hat. The city had her, body and soul, and had fashioned her in its
metallic cast. You would have sworn that she had never seen
flowers growing in a field.
Said she to Tony:
"Got a Kewaskum Courier?"
As she said it the man stopped at the stand and put his
question. To present this thing properly I ought to be able to
describe them both at the same time, like a juggler keeping two
balls in the air at once. Kindly carry the lady in your mind's
eye. The man was tall and rawboned, with very white teeth, very
blue eyes and an open-faced collar that allowed full play to an
objectionably apparent Adam's apple. His hair and mustache were
sandy, his gait loping. His manner, clothes, and complexion
breathed of Waco, Texas (or is it Arizona?)
Said he to Tony:
"Let me have the London Times."
Well, there you are. I turned an accusing eye on Tony.
"And you said no stories came your way," I murmured,
"Help yourself," said Tony.
The blonde lady grasped the Kewaskum Courier. Her green plume
appeared to be unduly agitated as she searched its columns. The
sheet rattled. There was no breeze. The hands in the too-black
stitched gloves were trembling.
I turned from her to the man just in time to see the Adam's
apple leaping about unpleasantly and convulsively. Whereupon I
jumped to two conclusions.
Conclusion one: Any woman whose hands can tremble over the
Kewaskum Courier is homesick.
Conclusion two: Any man, any part of whose anatomy can become
convulsed over the London Times is homesick.
She looked up from her Courier. He glanced away from his
Times. As the novelists have it, their eyes met. And there, in
each pair of eyes there swam that misty haze about which I had so
earnestly consulted Tony. The Green Plume took an involuntary step
forward. The Adam's Apple did the same. They spoke
"They're going to pave Main Street," said the Green Plume,
"and Mrs. Wilcox, that was Jeri Meyers, has got another baby girl,
and the ladies of the First M. E. made seven dollars and sixty-nine
cents on their needle-work bazaar and missionary tea. I ain't been
home in eleven years."
"Hallem is trying for Parliament in Westchester and the King
is back at Windsor. My mother wears a lace cap down to breakfast,
and the place is famous for its tapestries and yew trees and family
ghost. I haven't been home in twelve years."
The great, soft light of fellow feeling and sympathy glowed in
the eyes of each. The Green Plume took still another step forward
and laid her hand on his arm (as is the way of Green Plumes the
world over).
"Why don't you go, kid?" she inquired, softly.
Adam's Apple gnawed at his mustache end. "I'm the black
sheep. Why don't you?"
The blonde lady looked down at her glove tips. Her lower lip
was caught between her teeth.
"What's the feminine for black sheep? I'm that. Anyway, I'd
be afraid to go home for fear it would be too much of a shock for
them when they saw my hair. They wasn't in on the intermediate
stages when it was chestnut, auburn, Titian, gold, and orange
colored. I want to spare their feelings. The last time they saw
me it was just plain brown. Where I come from a woman who dyes her
hair when it is beginning to turn gray is considered as good as
lost. Funny, ain't it? And yet I remember the minister's wife
used to wear false teeth--the kind that clicks. But hair is
"Dear lady," said the blue-eyed man, "it would make no
difference to your own people. I know they would be happy to see
you, hair and all. One's own people----"
"My folks? That's just it. If the Prodigal Son had been a
daughter they'd probably have handed her one of her sister's mother
hubbards, and put her to work washing dishes in the kitchen. You
see, after Ma died my brother married, and I went to live with him
and Lil. I was an ugly little mug, and it looked all to the
Cinderella for me, with the coach, and four, and prince left out.
Lil was the village beauty when my brother married her, and she
kind of got into the habit of leaving the heavy role to me, and
confining herself to thinking parts. One day I took twenty dollars
and came to the city. Oh, I paid it back long ago, but I've never
been home since. But say, do you know every time I get near a news
stand like this I grab the home-town paper. I'll bet I've kept
track every time my sister-in-law's sewing circle has met for the
last ten years, and the spring the paper said they built a new
porch I was just dying to write and ask'em what they did with the
Virginia creeper that used to cover the whole front and sides of
the old porch."
"Look here," said the man, very abruptly, "if it's money you
need, why----"
"Me! Do I look like a touch? Now you----"
"Finest stock farm and ranch in seven counties. I come to
Chicago once a year to sell. I've got just thirteen thousand
nestling next to my left floating rib this minute."
The eyes of the woman with the green plume narrowed down to
two glittering slits. A new look came into her face--a look that
matched her hat, and heels and gloves and complexion and hair.
"Thirteen thousand! Thirteen thous---- Say, isn't it chilly
on this corner, h'm? I know a kind of a restaurant just around the
corner where----"
"It's no use," said the sandy-haired man, gently. "And I
wouldn't have said that, if I were you. I was going back to-day
on the 5:25, but I'm sick of it all. So are you, or you wouldn't
have said what you just said. Listen. Let's go back home, you and
I. The sight of a Navajo blanket nauseates me. The thought of
those prairies makes my eyes ache. I know that if I have to eat
one more meal cooked by that Chink of mine I'll hang him by his own
pigtail. Those rangy western ponies aren't horseflesh, fit for a
man to ride. Why, back home our stables were-- Look here. I want
to see a silver tea-service, with a coat-of-arms on it. I want to
dress for dinner, and take in a girl with a white gown and smooth
white shoulders. My sister clips roses in the morning, before
breakfast, in a pink ruffled dress and garden gloves. Would you
believe that, here, on Clark Street, with a whiskey sign overhead,
and the stock-yard smells undernose? O, hell! I'm going home."
"Home?" repeated the blonde lady. "Home?" The sagging lines
about her flaccid chin took on a new look of firmness and resolve.
The light of determination glowed in her eyes.
"I'll beat you to it," she said. "I'm going home, too. I'll
be there to-morrow. I'm dead sick of this. Who cares whether I
live or die? It's just one darned round of grease paint, and sky
blue tights, and new boarding houses and humping over to the
theater every night, going on, and humping back to the room again.
I want to wash up some supper dishes with egg on 'em, and set some
yeast for bread, and pop a dishpan full of corn, and put a shawl
over my head and run over to Millie Krause's to get her kimono
sleeve pattern. I'm sour on this dirt and noise. I want to spend
the rest of my life in a place so that when I die they'll put a
column in the paper, with a verse at the top, and all the
neighbors'll come in and help bake up. Here--why, here I'd just be
two lines on the want ad page, with fifty cents extra for `Kewaskum
paper please copy.'"
The man held out his hand. "Good-bye," he said, "and please
excuse me if I say God bless you. I've never really wanted to say
it before, so it's quite extraordinary. My name's Guy Peel."
The white glove, with its too-conspicuous black stitching,
disappeared within his palm.
"Mine's Mercedes Meron, late of the Morning Glory Burlesquers,
but from now on Sadie Hayes, of Kewaskum, Wisconsin. Good-bye
and--well--God bless you, too. Say, I hope you don't think I'm in
the habit of talking to strange gents like this."
"I am quite sure you are not," said Guy Peel, very gravely,
and bowed slightly before he went south on Clark Street, and she
went north.
Dear Reader, will you take my hand while I assist you to make
a one year's leap. Whoop-la! There you are.
A man and a woman approached Tony's news stand. You are quite
right. But her willow plume was purple this time. A purple willow
plume would make Mario Doro look sophisticated. The man was
sandy-haired, raw-boned, with a loping gait, very blue eyes, very
white teeth, and an objectionably apparent Adam's apple. He came
from the north, and she from the south.
In story books, and on the stage, when two people meet
unexpectedly after a long separation they always stop short, bring
one hand up to their breast, and say: "You!" Sometimes,
especially in the case where the heroine chances on the villain,
they say, simultaneously: "You! Here!" I have seen people
reunited under surprising circumstances, but they never said,
"You!" They said something quite unmelodramatic, and commonplace,
such as: "Well, look who's here!" or, "My land! If it ain't Ed!
How's Ed?"
So it was that the Purple Willow Plume and the Adam's Apple
stopped, shook hands, and viewed one another while the Plume said,
"I kind of thought I'd bump into you. Felt it in my bones." And
the Adam's Apple said:
"Then you're not living in Kewaskum--er--Wisconsin?"
"Not any," responded she, briskly. "How do you happen to be
straying away from the tapestries, and the yew trees and the ghost,
and the pink roses, and the garden gloves, and the silver
tea-service with the coat-of-arms on it?"
A slow, grim smile overspread the features of the man. "You
tell yours first," he said.
"Well," began she, "in the first place, my name's Mercedes
Meron, of the Morning Glory Burlesquers, formerly Sadie Hayes of
Kewaskum, Wisconsin. I went home next day, like I said I would.
Say, Mr. Peel (you said Peel, didn't you? Guy Peel. Nice, neat
name), to this day, when I eat lobster late at night, and have
dreams, it's always about that visit home."
"How long did you stay?"
"I'm coming to that. Or maybe you can figure it out yourself
when I tell you I've been back eleven months. I wired the folks I
was coming, and then I came before they had a chance to answer.
When the train reached Kewaskum I stepped off into the arms of a
dowd in a home-made-made-over-year-before-last suit, and a hat that
would have been funny if it hadn't been so pathetic. I grabbed her
by the shoulders, and I held her off, and looked--looked at the
wrinkles, and the sallow complexion, and the coat with the sleeves
in wrong, and the mashed hat (I told you Lil used to be the village
peach, didn't I?) and I says:
"`For Gawd's sakes, Lil, does your husband beat you?'
"`Steve!' she shrieks, `beat me! You must be crazy!'
"`Well, if he don't, he ought to. Those clothes are grounds
for divorce,' I says.
"Mr. Guy Peel, it took me just four weeks to get wise to the
fact that the way to cure homesickness is to go home. I spent
those four weeks trying to revolutionize my sister-in-law's house,
dress, kids, husband, wall paper and parlor carpet. I took all the
doilies from under the ornaments and spoke my mind on the subject
of the hand-painted lamp, and Lil hates me for it yet, and will to
her dying day. I fitted three dresses for her, and made her get
some corsets that she'll never wear. They have roast pork for
dinner on Sundays, and they never go to the theater, and they like
bread pudding, and they're happy. I wasn't. They treated me fine,
and it was home, all right, but not my home. It was the same, but
I was different. Eleven years away from anything makes it shrink,
if you know what I mean. I guess maybe you do. I remember that I
used to think that the Grand View Hotel was a regular little
oriental palace that was almost too luxurious to be respectable,
and that the traveling men who stopped there were gods, and just to
prance past the hotel after supper had the Atlantic City board walk
looking like a back alley on a rainy night. Well, everything had
sort of shriveled up just like that. The popcorn gave me
indigestion, and I burned the skin off my nose popping it.
Kneading bread gave me the backache, and the blamed stuff wouldn't
raise right. I got so I was crazy to hear the roar of an L train,
and the sound of a crossing policeman's whistle. I got to thinking
how Michigan Avenue looks, downtown, with the lights shining down
on the asphalt, and all those people eating in the swell hotels,
and the autos, and the theater crowds and the windows, and--well,
I'm back. Glad I went? You said it. Because it made me so darned
glad to get back. I've found out one thing, and it's a great
little lesson when you get it learned. Most of us are where we are
because we belong there, and if we didn't, we wouldn't be. Say,
that does sound mixed, don't it? But it's straight. Now you tell
"I think you've said it all," began Guy Peel. "It's queer,
isn't it, how twelve years of America will spoil one for afternoon
tea, and yew trees, and tapestries, and lace caps, and roses. The
mater was glad to see me, but she said I smelled woolly. They
think a Navajo blanket is a thing the Indians wear on the war path,
and they don't know whether Texas is a state, or a mineral water.
It was slow--slow. About the time they were taking afternoon tea,
I'd be reckoning how the boys would be rounding up the cattle for
the night, and about the time we'd sit down to dinner something
seemed to whisk the dinner table, and the flowers, and the men and
women in evening clothes right out of sight, like magic, and I
could see the boys stretched out in front of the bunk house after
their supper of bacon, and beans, and biscuit, and coffee. They'd
be smoking their pipes that smelled to Heaven, and further, and
Wing would be squealing one of his creepy old Chink songs out in
the kitchen, and the sky would be--say, Miss Meron, did you ever
see the night sky, out West? Purple, you know, and soft as soapsuds,
and so near that you want to reach up and touch it with your
hand. Toward the end my mother used to take me off in a corner and
tell me that I hadn't spoken a word to the little girl that I had
taken in to dinner, and that if I couldn't forget my uncouth
western ways for an hour or two, at least, perhaps I'd better not
try to mingle with civilized people. I discovered that home isn't
always the place where you were born and bred. Home is the place
where your everyday clothes are, and where somebody, or something
needs you. They didn't need me over there in England. Lord no!
I was sick for the sight of a Navajo blanket. My shack's glowing
with them. And my books needed me, and the boys, and the critters,
and Kate."
"Kate?" repeated Miss Meron, quickly.
"Kate's my horse. I'm going back on the 5:25 to-night. This
is my regular trip, you know. I came around here to buy a paper,
because it has become a habit. And then, too, I sort of
felt--well, something told me that you----"
"You're a nice boy," said Miss Meron. "By the way, did I tell
you that I married the manager of the show the week after I got
back? We go to Bloomington to-night, and then we jump to St. Paul.
I came around here just as usual, because--well--because----"
Tony's gift for remembering faces and facts amounts to genius.
With two deft movements he whisked two papers from among the many
in the rack, and held them out.
"Kewaskum Courier?" he suggested.
"Nix," said Mercedes Meron, "I'll take a Chicago Scream."
"London Times?" said Tony.
"No," replied Guy Peel. "Give me the San Antonio Express."
Millie Whitcomb, of the fancy goods and notions, beckoned me with
her finger. I had been standing at Kate O'Malley's counter,
pretending to admire her new basket-weave suitings, but in reality
reveling in her droll account of how, in the train coming up from
Chicago, Mrs. Judge Porterfield had worn the negro porter's coat
over her chilly shoulders in mistake for her husband's. Kate
O'Malley can tell a funny story in a way to make the after-dinner
pleasantries of a Washington diplomat sound like the clumsy jests
told around the village grocery stove.
"I wanted to tell you that I read that last story of yours,"
said Millie, sociably, when I had strolled over to her counter,
"and I liked it, all but the heroine. She had an `adorable throat'
and hair that `waved away from her white brow,' and eyes that `now
were blue and now gray.' Say, why don't you write a story about an
ugly girl?"
"My land!" protested I. "It's bad enough trying to make them
accept my stories as it is. That last heroine was a raving beauty,
but she came back eleven times before the editor of Blakely's
succumbed to her charms."
Millie's fingers were busy straightening the contents of a
tray of combs and imitation jet barrettes. Millie's fingers were
not intended for that task. They are slender, tapering fingers,
pink-tipped and sensitive.
"I should think," mused she, rubbing a cloudy piece of jet
with a bit of soft cloth, "that they'd welcome a homely one with
relief. These goddesses are so cloying."
Millie Whitcomb's black hair is touched with soft mists of
gray, and she wears lavender shirtwaists and white stocks edged
with lavender. There is a Colonial air about her that has nothing
to do with celluloid combs and imitation jet barrettes. It
breathes of dim old rooms, rich with the tones of mahogany and old
brass, and Millie in the midst of it, gray-gowned, a soft white
fichu crossed upon her breast.
In our town the clerks are not the pert and gum-chewing young
persons that story-writers are wont to describe. The girls at
Bascom's are institutions. They know us all by our first names,
and our lives are as an open book to them. Kate O'Malley, who has
been at Bascom's for so many years that she is rumored to have
stock in the company, may be said to govern the fashions of our
town. She is wont to say, when we express a fancy for gray as the
color of our new spring suit:
"Oh, now, Nellie, don't get gray again. You had it year
before last, and don't you think it was just the least leetle bit
trying? Let me show you that green that came in yesterday. I said
the minute I clapped my eyes on it that it was just the color for
you, with your brown hair and all."
And we end by deciding on the green.
The girls at Bascom's are not gossips--they are too busy for
that--but they may be said to be delightfully well informed. How
could they be otherwise when we go to Bascom's for our wedding
dresses and party favors and baby flannels? There is news at
Bascom's that our daily paper never hears of, and wouldn't dare
print if it did.
So when Millie Whitcomb, of the fancy goods and notions,
expressed her hunger for a homely heroine, I did not resent the
suggestion. On the contrary, it sent me home in thoughtful mood,
for Millie Whitcomb has acquired a knowledge of human nature in the
dispensing of her fancy goods and notions. It set me casting about
for a really homely heroine.
There never has been a really ugly heroine in fiction.
Authors have started bravely out to write of an unlovely woman, but
they never have had the courage to allow her to remain plain. On
Page 237 she puts on a black lace dress and red roses, and the
combination brings out unexpected tawny lights in her hair, and
olive tints in her cheeks, and there she is, the same old beautiful
heroine. Even in the "Duchess" books one finds the simple Irish
girl, on donning a green corduroy gown cut square at the neck,
transformed into a wild-rose beauty, at sight of whom a ball-room
is hushed into admiring awe. There's the case of jane Eyre, too.
She is constantly described as plain and mouse-like, but there are
covert hints as to her gray eyes and slender figure and clear skin,
and we have a sneaking notion that she wasn't such a fright after
Therefore, when I tell you that I am choosing Pearlie Schultz
as my leading lady you are to understand that she is ugly, not only
when the story opens, but to the bitter end. In the first place,
Pearlie is fat. Not, plump, or rounded, or dimpled, or deliciously
curved, but FAT. She bulges in all the wrong places, including her
chin. (Sister, who has a way of snooping over my desk in my
absence, says that I may as well drop this now, because nobody
would ever read it, anyway, least of all any sane editor. I
protest when I discover that Sis has been over my papers. It
bothers me. But she says you have to do these things when you have
a genius in the house, and cites the case of Kipling's
"Recessional," which was rescued from the depths of his wastebasket
by his wife.)
Pearlie Schultz used to sit on the front porch summer evenings
and watch the couples stroll by, and weep in her heart. A fat girl
with a fat girl's soul is a comedy. But a fat girl with a thin
girl's soul is a tragedy. Pearlie, in spite of her two hundred
pounds, had the soul of a willow wand.
The walk in front of Pearlie's house was guarded by a row of
big trees that cast kindly shadows. The strolling couples used to
step gratefully into the embrace of these shadows, and from them
into other embraces. Pearlie, sitting on the porch, could see them
dimly, although they could not see her. She could not help
remarking that these strolling couples were strangely lacking in
sprightly conversation. Their remarks were but fragmentary,
disjointed affairs, spoken in low tones with a queer, tremulous
note in them. When they reached the deepest, blackest, kindliest
shadow, which fell just before the end of the row of trees, the
strolling couples almost always stopped, and then there came a
quick movement, and a little smothered cry from the girl, and then
a sound, and then a silence. Pearlie, sitting alone on the porch
in the dark, listened to these things and blushed furiously.
Pearlie had never strolled into the kindly shadows with a little
beating of the heart, and she had never been surprised with a quick
arm about her and eager lips pressed warmly against her own.
In the daytime Pearlie worked as public stenographer at the
Burke Hotel. She rose at seven in the morning, and rolled for
fifteen minutes, and lay on her back and elevated her heels in the
air, and stood stiff-kneed while she touched the floor with her
finger tips one hundred times, and went without her breakfast. At
the end of each month she usually found that she weighed three
pounds more than she had the month before.
The folks at home never joked with Pearlie about her weight.
Even one's family has some respect for a life sorrow. Whenever
Pearlie asked that inevitable question of the fat woman: "Am I as
fat as she is?" her mother always answered: "You! Well, I should
hope not! You're looking real peaked lately, Pearlie. And your
blue skirt just ripples in the back, it's getting so big for you."
Of such blessed stuff are mothers made.
But if the gods had denied Pearlie all charms of face or form,
they had been decent enough to bestow on her one gift. Pearlie
could cook like an angel; no, better than an angel, for no angel
could be a really clever cook and wear those flowing kimono-like
sleeves. They'd get into the soup. Pearlie could take a piece of
rump and some suet and an onion and a cup or so of water, and
evolve a pot roast that you could cut with a fork. She could turn
out a surprisingly good cake with surprisingly few eggs, all
covered with white icing, and bearing cunning little jelly figures
on its snowy bosom. She could beat up biscuits that fell apart at
the lightest pressure, revealing little pools of golden butter
within. Oh, Pearlie could cook!
On week days Pearlie rattled the typewriter keys, but on
Sundays she shooed her mother out of the kitchen. Her mother went,
protesting faintly:
"Now, Pearlie, don't fuss so for dinner. You ought to get
your rest on Sunday instead of stewing over a hot stove all
"Hot fiddlesticks, ma," Pearlie would say, cheerily. "It
ain't hot, because it's a gas stove. And I'll only get fat if I
sit around. You put on your black-and-white and go to church.
Call me when you've got as far as your corsets, and I'll puff your
hair for you in the back."
In her capacity of public stenographer at the Burke Hotel, it
was Pearlie's duty to take letters dictated by traveling men and
beginning: "Yours of the 10th at hand. In reply would say. . . ."
or: "Enclosed please find, etc." As clinching proof of her
plainness it may be stated that none of the traveling men, not even
Max Baum, who was so fresh that the girl at the cigar counter
actually had to squelch him, ever called Pearlie "baby doll," or
tried to make a date with her. Not that Pearlie would ever have
allowed them to. But she never had had to reprove them. During
pauses in dictation she had a way of peering near-sightedly, over
her glasses at the dapper, well-dressed traveling salesman who was
rolling off the items on his sale bill. That is a trick which
would make the prettiest kind of a girl look owlish.
On the night that Sam Miller strolled up to talk to her,
Pearlie was working late. She had promised to get out a long and
intricate bill for Max Baum, who travels for Kuhn and Klingman, so
that he might take the nine o'clock evening train. The
irrepressible Max had departed with much eclat and clatter, and
Pearlie was preparing to go home when Sam approached her.
Sam had just come in from the Gayety Theater across the
street, whither he had gone in a vain search for amusement after
supper. He had come away in disgust. A soiled soubrette with
orange-colored hair and baby socks had swept her practiced eye over
the audience, and, attracted by Sam's good-looking blond head in
the second row, had selected him as the target of her song. She
had run up to the extreme edge of the footlights at the risk of
teetering over, and had informed Sam through the medium of song--to
the huge delight of the audience, and to Sam's red-faced
discomfiture--that she liked his smile, and he was just her style,
and just as cute as he could be, and just the boy for her. On
reaching the chorus she had whipped out a small, round mirror and,
assisted by the calcium-light man in the rear, had thrown a
wretched little spotlight on Sam's head.
Ordinarily, Sam would not have minded it. But that evening,
in the vest pocket just over the place where he supposed his heart
to be reposed his girl's daily letter. They were to be married on
Sam's return to New York from his first long trip. In the letter
near his heart she had written prettily and seriously about
traveling men, and traveling men's wives, and her little code for
both. The fragrant, girlish, grave little letter had caused Sam to
sour on the efforts of the soiled soubrette.
As soon as possible he had fled up the aisle and across the
street to the hotel writing-room. There he had spied Pearlie's
good-humored, homely face, and its contrast with the silly, red
and-white countenance of the unlaundered soubrette had attracted
his homesick heart.
Pearlie had taken some letters from him earlier in the day.
Now, in his hunger for companionship, he, strolled up to her desk,
just as she was putting her typewriter to bed.
"Gee I This is a lonesome town!" said Sam, smiling down at
Pearlie glanced up at him, over her glasses. "I guess you
must be from New York," she said. "I've heard a real New Yorker
can get bored in Paris. In New York the sky is bluer, and the
grass is greener, and the girls are prettier, and the steaks are
thicker, and the buildings are higher, and the streets are wider,
and the air is finer, than the sky, or the grass, or the girls, or
the steaks, or the air of any place else in the world. Ain't
"Oh, now," protested Sam, "quit kiddin' me! You'd be lonesome
for the little old town, too, if you'd been born and dragged up in
it, and hadn't seen it for four months."
"New to the road, aren't you?" asked Pearlie.
Sam blushed a little. "How did you know?"
"Well, you generally can tell. They don't know what to do
with themselves evenings, and they look rebellious when they go
into the dining-room. The old-timers just look resigned."
"You've picked up a thing or two around here, haven't you? I
wonder if the time will ever come when I'll look resigned to a
hotel dinner, after four months of 'em. Why, girl, I've got so I
just eat the things that are covered up--like baked potatoes in the
shell, and soft boiled eggs, and baked apples, and oranges that I
can peel, and nuts."
"Why, you poor kid," breathed Pearlie, her pale eyes fixed on
him in motherly pity. "You oughtn't to do that. You'll get so
thin your girl won't know you."
Sam looked up quickly. "How in thunderation did you
Pearlie was pinning on her hat, and she spoke succinctly, her
hatpins between her teeth: "You've been here two days now, and I
notice you dictate all your letters except the longest one, and you
write that one off in a corner of the writing-room all by yourself,
with your cigar just glowing like a live coal, and you squint up
through the smoke, and grin to yourself."
"Say, would you mind if I walked home with you?" asked Sam.
If Pearlie was surprised, she was woman enough not to show
it. She picked up her gloves and hand bag, locked her drawer with
a click, and smiled her acquiescence. And when Pearlie smiled she
was awful.
It was a glorious evening in the early summer, moonless,
velvety, and warm. As they strolled homeward, Sam told her all
about the Girl, as is the way of traveling men the world over. He
told her about the tiny apartment they had taken, and how he would
be on the road only a couple of years more, as this was just a
try-out that the firm always insisted on. And they stopped under
an arc light while Sam showed her the picture in his watch, as is
also the way of traveling men since time immemorial.
Pearlie made an excellent listener. He was so boyish, and so
much in love, and so pathetically eager to make good with the firm,
and so happy to have some one in whom to confide.
"But it's a dog's life, after all," reflected Sam, again after
the fashion of all traveling men. "Any fellow on the road earns
his salary these days, you bet. I used to think it was all getting
up when you felt like it, and sitting in the big front window of
the hotel, smoking a cigar and watching the pretty girls go by. I
wasn't wise to the packing, and the unpacking, and the rotten train
service, and the grouchy customers, and the canceled bills, and the
Pearlie nodded understandingly. "A man told me once that
twice a week regularly he dreamed of the way his wife cooked
"My folks are German," explained Sam. "And my mother--can she
cook! Well, I just don't seem able to get her potato pancakes out
of my mind. And her roast beef tasted and looked like roast beef,
and not like a wet red flannel rag."
At this moment Pearlie was seized with a brilliant idea.
"To-morrow's Sunday. You're going to Sunday here, aren't you?
Come over and eat your dinner with us. If you have forgotten the
taste of real food, I can give you a dinner that'll jog your
"Oh, really," protested Sam. "You're awfully good, but I
couldn't think of it. I----"
"You needn't be afraid. I'm not letting you in for anything.
I may be homelier than an English suffragette, and I know my lines
are all bumps, but there's one thing you can't take away from me,
and that's my cooking hand. I can cook, boy, in a way to make your
mother's Sunday dinner, with company expected, look like Mrs.
Newlywed's first attempt at `riz' biscuits. And I don't mean any
disrespect to your mother when I say it. I'm going to have
noodle-soup, and fried chicken, and hot biscuits, and creamed beans
from our own garden, and strawberry shortcake with real----"
"Hush!" shouted Sam. "If I ain't there, you'll know that I
passed away during the night, and you can telephone the clerk to
break in my door."
The Grim Reaper spared him, and Sam came, and was introduced
to the family, and ate. He put himself in a class with Dr.
Johnson, and Ben Brust, and Gargantua, only that his table manners
were better. He almost forgot to talk during the soup, and he came
back three times for chicken, and by the time the strawberry
shortcake was half consumed he was looking at Pearlie with a sort
of awe in his eyes.
That night he came over to say good-bye before taking his
train out for Ishpeming. He and Pearlie strolled down as far as
the park and back again.
"I didn't eat any supper," said Sam. "It would have been
sacrilege, after that dinner of yours. Honestly, I don't know how
to thank you, being so good to a stranger like me. When I come
back next trip, I expect to have the Kid with me, and I want her to
meet you, by George! She's a winner and a pippin, but she wouldn't
know whether a porterhouse was stewed or frapped. I'll tell her
about you, you bet. In the meantime, if there's anything I can do
for you, I'm yours to command."
Pearlie turned to him suddenly. "You see that clump of thick
shadows ahead of us, where those big trees stand in front of our
"Sure," replied Sam.
"Well, when we step into that deepest, blackest shadow, right
in front of our porch, I want you to reach up, and put your arm
around me and kiss me on the mouth, just once. And when you get
back to New York you can tell your girl I asked you to."
There broke from him a little involuntary exclamation. It
might have been of pity, and it might have been of surprise. It
had in it something of both, but nothing of mirth. And as they
stepped into the depths of the soft black shadows he took off his
smart straw sailor, which was so different from the sailors that
the boys in our town wear. And there was in the gesture something
of reverence.
Millie Whitcomb didn't like the story of the homely heroine,
after all. She says that a steady diet of such literary fare would
give her blue indigestion. Also she objects on the ground that no
one got married--that is, the heroine didn't. And she says that a
heroine who does not get married isn't a heroine at all. She
thinks she prefers the pink-cheeked, goddess kind, in the end.
There come those times in the life of every woman when she feels
that she must wash her hair at once. And then she does it. The
feeling may come upon her suddenly, without warning, at any hour of
the day or night; or its approach may be slow and insidious, so
that the victim does not at first realize what it is that fills her
with that sensation of unrest. But once in the clutches of the
idea she knows no happiness, no peace, until she has donned a
kimono, gathered up two bath towels, a spray, and the green soap,
and she breathes again only when, head dripping, she makes for the
back yard, the sitting-room radiator, or the side porch (depending
on her place of residence, and the time of year).
Mary Louise was seized with the feeling at ten o'clock on a
joyous June morning. She tried to fight it off because she had got
to that stage in the construction of her story where her hero was
beginning to talk and act a little more like a real live man, and
a little less like a clothing store dummy. (By the way, they don't
seem to be using those pink-and-white, black-mustachioed figures
any more. Another good simile gone.)
Mary Louise had been battling with that hero for a week. He
wouldn't make love to the heroine. In vain had Mary Louise striven
to instill red blood into his watery veins. He and the beauteous
heroine were as far apart as they had been on Page One of the
typewritten manuscript. Mary Louise was developing nerves over
him. She had bitten her finger nails, and twisted her hair into
corkscrews over him. She had risen every morning at the chaste
hour of seven, breakfasted hurriedly, tidied the tiny two-room
apartment, and sat down in the unromantic morning light to wrestle
with her stick of a hero. She had made her heroine a creature of
grace, wit, and loveliness, but thus far the hero had not once
clasped her to him fiercely, or pressed his lips to her hair, her
eyes, her cheeks. Nay (as the story-writers would put it), he
hadn't even devoured her with his gaze.
This morning, however, he had begun to show some signs of
life. He was developing possibilities. Whereupon, at this
critical stage in the story-writing game, the hair-washing mania
seized Mary Louise. She tried to dismiss the idea. She pushed it
out of her mind, and slammed the door. It only popped in again.
Her fingers wandered to her hair. Her eyes wandered to the June
sunshine outside. The hero was left poised, arms outstretched, and
unquenchable love-light burning in his eyes, while Mary Louise
mused, thus:
"It certainly feels sticky. It's been six weeks, at least.
And I could sit here-by the window--in the sun--and dry it----"
With a jerk she brought her straying fingers away from her
hair, and her wandering eyes away from the sunshine, and her
runaway thoughts back to the typewritten page. For three minutes
the snap of the little disks crackled through the stillness of the
tiny apartment. Then, suddenly, as though succumbing to an
irresistible force, Mary Louise rose, walked across the room (a
matter of six steps), removing hairpins as she went, and shoved
aside the screen which hid the stationary wash-bowl by day.
Mary Louise turned on a faucet and held her finger under it,
while an agonized expression of doubt and suspense overspread her
features. Slowly the look of suspense gave way to a smile of
beatific content. A sigh--deep, soul-filling, satisfied--welled up
from Mary Louise's breast. The water was hot.
Half an hour later, head swathed turban fashion in a towel,
Mary Louise strolled over to the window. Then she stopped, aghast.
In that half hour the sun had slipped just around the corner, and
was now beating brightly and uselessly against the brick wall a few
inches away. Slowly Mary Louise unwound the towel, bent double in
the contortionistic attitude that women assume on such occasions,
and watched with melancholy eyes while the drops trickled down to
the ends of her hair, and fell, unsunned, to the floor.
"If only," thought Mary Louise, bitterly, "there was such a
thing as a back yard in this city--a back yard where I could squat
on the grass, in the sunshine and the breeze-- Maybe there is.
I'll ask the janitor."
She bound her hair in the turban again, and opened the door.
At the far end of the long, dim hallway Charlie, the janitor, was
doing something to the floor with a mop and a great deal of sloppy
water, whistling the while with a shrill abandon that had announced
his presence to Mary Louise.
"Oh, Charlie!" called Mary Louise. "Charlee! Can you come
here just a minute?"
"You bet!" answered Charlie, with the accent on the you; and
"Charlie, is there a back yard, or something, where the sun
is, you know--some nice, grassy place where I can sit, and dry my
hair, and let the breezes blow it?"
"Back yard!" grinned Charlie. "I guess you're new to N' York,
all right, with ground costin' a million or so a foot. Not much
they ain't no back yard, unless you'd give that name to an
ash-barrel, and a dump heap or so, and a crop of tin cans. I
wouldn't invite a goat to set in it."
Disappointment curved Mary Louise's mouth. It was a lovely
enough mouth at any time, but when it curved in
disappointment--ell, janitors are but human, after all.
"Tell you what, though," said Charlie. "I'll let you up on
the roof. It ain't long on grassy spots up there, but say, breeze!
Like a summer resort. On a clear day you can see way over 's far
's Eight' Avenoo. Only for the love of Mike don't blab it to the
other women folks in the buildin', or I'll have the whole works of
'em usin' the roof for a general sun, massage, an' beauty parlor.
Come on."
"I'll never breathe it to a soul," promised Mary Louise,
solemnly. "Oh, wait a minute."
She turned back into her room, appearing again in a moment
with something green in her hand.
"What's that?" asked Charlie, suspiciously.
Mary Louise, speeding down the narrow hallway after Charlie,
blushed a little. "It--it's parsley," she faltered.
"Parsley!" exploded Charlie. "Well, what the----"
"Well, you see. I'm from the country," explained Mary Louise,
"and in the country, at this time of year, when you dry your hair
in the back yard, you get the most wonderful scent of green and
growing things--not only of flowers, you know, but of the new
things just coming up in the vegetable garden, and--and--well, this
parsley happens to be the only really gardeny thing I have, so I
thought I'd bring it along and sniff it once in a while, and make
believe it's the country, up there on the roof."
Half-way up the perilous little flight of stairs that led to
the roof, Charlie, the janitor, turned to gaze down at Mary Louise,
who was just behind, and keeping fearfully out of the way of
Charlie's heels.
"Wimmin," observed Charlie, the janitor, "is nothin' but
little girls in long skirts, and their hair done up."
"I know it," giggled Mary Louise, and sprang up on the roof,
looking, with her towel-swathed head, like a lady Aladdin leaping
from her underground grotto.
The two stood there a moment, looking up at the blue sky, and
all about at the June sunshine.
"If you go up high enough," observed Mary Louise, "the
sunshine is almost the same as it is in the country, isn't it?"
"I shouldn't wonder," said Charlie, "though Calvary cemetery
is about as near's I'll ever get to the country. Say, you can set
here on this soap box and let your feet hang down. The last
janitor's wife used to hang her washin' up here, I guess. I'll
leave this door open, see?"
"You're so kind," smiled Mary Louise.
"Kin you blame me?" retorted the gallant Charles. And vanished.
Mary Louise, perched on the soap box, unwound her turban,
draped the damp towel over her shoulders, and shook out the wet
masses of her hair. Now the average girl shaking out the wet
masses of her hair looks like a drowned rat. But Nature had been
kind to Mary Louise. She had given her hair that curled in little
ringlets when wet, and that waved in all the right places when dry.
Just now it hung in damp, shining strands on either side of her
face, so that she looked most remarkably like one of those
oval-faced, great-eyed, red-lipped women that the old Italian
artists were so fond of painting.
Below her, blazing in the sun, lay the great stone and iron
city. Mary Louise shook out her hair idly, with one hand, sniffed
her parsley, shut her eyes, threw back her head, and began to sing,
beating time with her heel against the soap box, and forgetting all
about the letter that had come that morning, stating that it was
not from any lack of merit, etc. She sang, and sniffed her
parsley, and waggled her hair in the breeze, and beat time, idly,
with the heel of her little boot, when----
"Holy Cats!" exclaimed a man's voice. "What is this, anyway?
A Coney Island concession gone wrong?"
Mary Louise's eyes unclosed in a flash, and Mary Louise gazed
upon an irate-looking, youngish man, who wore shabby slippers, and
no collar with a full dress air.
"I presume that you are the janitor's beautiful daughter,"
growled the collarless man.
"Well, not precisely," answered Mary Louise, sweetly. "Are
you the scrub-lady's stalwart son?"
"Ha!" exploded the man. "But then, all women look alike with
their hair down. I ask your pardon, though."
"Not at all," replied Mary Louise. "For that matter, all men
look like picked chickens with their collars off."
At that the collarless man, who until now had been standing on
the top step that led up to the roof, came slowly forward, stepped
languidly over a skylight or two, draped his handkerchief over a
convenient chimney and sat down, hugging his long, lean legs to
"Nice up here, isn't it?" he remarked.
"It was," said Mary Louise.
"Ha!" exploded he, again. Then, "Where's your mirror?" he
"Mirror?" echoed Mary Louise.
"Certainly. You have the hair, the comb, the attitude, and
the general Lorelei effect. Also your singing lured me to your
"You didn't look lured," retorted Mary Louise. "You looked
"What's that stuff in your hand?" next demanded he. He really
was a most astonishingly rude young man.
"Parsley!" shouted he, much as Charlie had done. "Well, what
"Back home," elucidated Mary Louise once more, patiently,
"after you've washed your hair you dry it in the back yard, sitting
on the grass, in the sunshine and the breeze. And the garden
smells come to you--the nasturtiums, and the pansies, and the
geraniums, you know, and even that clean grass smell, and the
pungent vegetable odor, and there are ants, and bees, and
"Go on," urged the young man, eagerly.
"And Mrs. Next Door comes out to hang up a few stockings, and
a jabot or so, and a couple of baby dresses that she has just
rubbed through, and she calls out to you:
"`Washed your hair?'
"`Yes,' you say. `It was something awful, and I wanted it
nice for Tuesday night. But I suppose I won't be able to do a
thing with it.'
"And then Mrs. Next Door stands there a minute on the
clothes-reel platform, with the wind whipping her skirts about her,
and the fresh smell of the growing things coming to her. And
suddenly she says: `I guess I'll wash mine too, while the baby's
The collarless young man rose from his chimney, picked up his
handkerchief, and moved to the chimney just next to Mary Louise's
soap box.
"Live here?" he asked, in his impolite way.
"If I did not, do you think that I would choose this as the
one spot in all New York in which to dry my hair?"
"When I said, `Live here,' I didn't mean just that. I meant
who are you, and why are you here, and where do you come from, and
do you sign your real name to your stuff, or use a nom de plume?"
"Why--how did you know?" gasped Mary Louise.
"Give me five minutes more," grinned the keen-eyed young man,
"and I'll tell you what make your typewriter is, and where the last
rejection slip came from."
"Oh!" said Mary Louise again. "Then you are the scrub-lady's
stalwart son, and you've been ransacking my waste-basket."
Quite unheeding, the collarless man went on, "And so you
thought you could write, and you came on to New York (you know one
doesn't just travel to New York, or ride to it, or come to it; one
`comes on' to New York), and now you're not so sure about the
writing, h'm? And back home what did you do?"
"Back home I taught school--and hated it. But I kept on
teaching until I'd saved five hundred dollars. Every other school
ma'am in the world teaches until she has saved five hundred
dollars, and then she packs two suit-cases, and goes to Europe from
June until September. But I saved my five hundred for New York.
I've been here six months now, and the five hundred has shrunk to
almost nothing, and if I don't break into the magazines pretty
"Then," said Mary Louise, with a quaver in her voice, "I'll
have to go back and teach thirty-seven young devils that six times
five is thirty, put down the naught and carry six, and that the
French are a gay people, fond of dancing and light wines. But I'll
scrimp on everything from hairpins to shoes, and back again,
including pretty collars, and gloves, and hats, until I've saved up
another five hundred, and then I'll try it all over again, because
From the depths of one capacious pocket the inquiring man took
a small black pipe, from another a bag of tobacco, from another a
match. The long, deft fingers made a brief task of it.
"I didn't ask you," he said, after the first puff, "because I
could see that you weren't the fool kind that objects." Then, with
amazing suddenness, "Know any of the editors?"
"Know them!" cried Mary Louise. "Know them! If camping on
their doorsteps, and haunting the office buildings, and cajoling,
and fighting with secretaries and office boys, and assistants and
things constitutes knowing them, then we're chums."
"What makes you think you can write?" sneered the thin man.
Mary Louise gathered up her brush, and comb, and towel, and
parsley, and jumped off the soap box. She pointed belligerently at
her tormentor with the hand that held the brush.
"Being the scrub-lady's stalwart son, you wouldn't understand.
But I can write. I sha'n't go under. I'm going to make this town
count me in as the four million and oneth. Sometimes I get so
tired of being nobody at all, with not even enough cleverness in me
to wrest a living from this big city, that I long to stand out at
the edge of the curbing, and take off my hat, and wave it, and
shout, `Say, you four million uncaring people, I'm Mary Louise
Moss, from Escanaba, Michigan, and I like your town, and I want to
stay here. Won't you please pay some slight attention to me. No
one knows I'm here except myself, and the rent collector.'"
"And I," put in the rude young man.
"O, you," sneered Mary Louise, equally rude, "you don't
The collarless young man in the shabby slippers smiled a
curious little twisted smile. "You never can tell," he grinned, "I
might." Then, quite suddenly, he stood up, knocked the ash out of
his pipe, and came over to Mary Louise, who was preparing to
descend the steep little flight of stairs.
"Look here, Mary Louise Moss, from Escanaba, Michigan, you
stop trying to write the slop you're writing now. Stop it. Drop
the love tales that are like the stuff that everybody else writes.
Stop trying to write about New York. You don't know anything about
it. Listen. You get back to work, and write about Mrs. Next Door,
and the hair-washing, and the vegetable garden, and bees, and the
back yard, understand? You write the way you talked to me, and
then you send your stuff in to Cecil Reeves."
"Reeves!" mocked Mary Louise. "Cecil Reeves, of The Earth?
He wouldn't dream of looking at my stuff. And anyway, it really
isn't your affair." And began to descend the stairs.
"Well, you know you brought me up here, kicking with your
heels, and singing at the top of your voice. I couldn't work. So
it's really your fault." Then, just as Mary Louise had almost
disappeared down the stairway he put his last astonishing question.
"How often do you wash your hair?" he demanded.
"Well, back home," confessed Mary Louise, "every six weeks or
so was enough, but----"
"Not here," put in the rude young man, briskly. "Never.
That's all very well for the country, but it won't do in the city.
Once a week, at least, and on the roof. Cleanliness demands it."
"But if I'm going back to the country," replied Mary Louise,
"it won't be necessary."
"But you're not," calmly said the collarless young man, just
as Mary Louise vanished from sight.
Down at the other end of the hallway on Mary Louise's floor
Charlie, the janitor, was doing something to the windows now, with
a rag, and a pail of water.
"Get it dry?" he called out, sociably.
"Yes, thank you," answered Mary Louise, and turned to enter
her own little apartment. Then, hesitatingly, she came back to
Charlie's window.
"There--there was a man up there--a very tall, very thin, very
rude, very--that is, rather nice youngish oldish man, in slippers,
and no collar. I wonder----"
"Oh, him!" snorted Charlie. "He don't show himself onct in a
blue moon. None of the other tenants knows he's up there. Has the
whole top floor to himself, and shuts himself up there for weeks at
a time, writin' books, or some such truck. That guy, he owns the
"Owns the building!" said Mary Louise, faintly. "Why he
looked--he looked----"
"Sure," grinned Charlie. "That's him. Name's Reeves--Cecil
Reeves. Say, ain't that a divil of a name?"
This will be a homing pigeon story. Though I send it ever so
far--though its destination be the office of a home-and-fireside
magazine or one of the kind with a French story in the back, it
will return to me. After each flight its feathers will be a little
more rumpled, its wings more weary, its course more wavering,
until, battered, spent, broken, it will flutter to rest in the
waste basket.
And yet, though its message may never be delivered, it must be
sent, because--well, because----
You know where the car turns at Eighteenth? There you see a
glaringly attractive billboard poster. It depicts groups of
smiling, white-clad men standing on tropical shores, with waving
palms overhead, and a glimpse of blue sea in the distance. The
wording beneath the picture runs something like this:
"Young men wanted. An unusual opportunity for travel,
education, and advancement. Good pay. No expenses."
When the car turns at Eighteenth, and I see that, I remember
Eddie Houghton back home. And when I remember Eddie Houghton I see
The day after Eddie Houghton finished high school he went to
work. In our town we don't take a job. We accept a position. Our
paper had it that "Edwin Houghton had accepted a position as clerk
and assistant chemist at the Kunz drugstore, where he would take up
his new duties Monday."
His new duties seemed, at first, to consist of opening the
store in the morning, sweeping out, and whizzing about town on a
bicycle with an unnecessarily insistent bell, delivering
prescriptions which had been telephoned for. But by the time the
summer had really set in Eddie was installed back of the soda
There never was anything better looking than Eddie Houghton in
his white duck coat. He was one of those misleadingly gold and
pink and white men. I say misleadingly because you usually
associate pink-and-whiteness with such words as sissy and
mollycoddle. Eddie was neither. He had played quarter-back every
year from his freshman year, and he could putt the shot and cut
classes with the best of 'em. But in that white duck coat with the
braiding and frogs he had any musical-comedy, white-flannel tenor
lieutenant whose duty it is to march down to the edge of the
footlights, snatch out his sword, and warble about his country's
flag, looking like a flat-nosed, blue-gummed Igorrote. Kunz's soda
water receipts swelled to double their usual size, and the girls'
complexions were something awful that summer. I've known Nellie
Donovan to take as many as three ice cream sodas and two phosphates
a day when Eddie was mixing. He had a way of throwing in a
good-natured smile, and an easy flow of conversation with every
drink. While indulging in a little airy persiflage the girls had
a great little trick of pursing their mouths into rosebud shapes
over their soda straws, and casting their eyes upward at Eddie.
They all knew the trick, and its value, so that at night Eddie's
dreams were haunted by whole rows of rosily pursed lips, and seas
of upturned, adoring eyes. Of course we all noticed that on those
rare occasions when Josie Morehouse came into Kunz's her glass was
heaped higher with ice cream than that of any of the other girls,
and that Eddie's usually easy flow of talk was interspersed with
certain stammerings and stutterings. But Josie didn't come in
often. She had a lot of dignity for a girl of eighteen. Besides,
she was taking the teachers' examinations that summer, when the
other girls were playing tennis and drinking sodas.
Eddie really hated the soda water end of the business, as
every soda clerk in the world does. But he went about it
good-naturedly. He really wanted to learn the drug business, but
the boss knew he had a drawing card, and insisted that Eddie go
right on concocting faerie queens and strawberry sundaes, and
nectars and Kunz's specials. One Saturday, when he happened to
have on hand an over-supply of bananas that would have spoiled over
Sunday, he invented a mess and called it the Eddie Extra, and the
girls swarmed on it like flies around a honey pot.
That kind of thing would have spoiled most boys. But Eddie
had a sensible mother. On those nights when he used to come home
nauseated with dealing out chop suey sundaes and orangeades, and
saying that there was no future for a fellow in our dead little
hole, his mother would give him something rather special for
supper, and set him hoeing and watering the garden.
So Eddie stuck to his job, and waited, and all the time he was
saying, with a melting look, to the last silly little girl who was
drinking her third soda, "Somebody looks mighty sweet in pink
to-day," or while he was doping to-morrow's ball game with one of
the boys who dropped in for a cigar, he was thinking of bigger
things, and longing for a man-size job.
The man-size job loomed up before Eddie's dazzled eyes when he
least expected it. It was at the close of a particularly hot day
when it seemed to Eddie that every one in town had had everything
from birch beer to peach ice cream. On his way home to supper he
stopped at the postoffice with a handful of letters that old man
Kunz had given him to mail. His mother had told him that they
would have corn out of their own garden for supper that night, and
Eddie was in something of a hurry. He and his mother were great
In one corner of the dim little postoffice lobby a man was
busily tacking up posters. The whitewashed walls bloomed with
them. They were gay, attractive-looking posters, done in red and
blue and green, and after Eddie had dumped his mail into the slot,
and had called out, "Hello, Jake!" to the stamp clerk, whose back
was turned to the window, he strolled idly over to where the man
was putting the finishing touches to his work. The man was dressed
in a sailor suit of blue, with a picturesque silk scarf knotted at
his hairy chest. He went right on tacking posters.
They certainly were attractive pictures. Some showed groups
of stalwart, immaculately clad young gods lolling indolently on
tropical shores, with a splendor of palms overhead, and a sparkling
blue sea in the distance. Others depicted a group of white-clad
men wading knee-deep in the surf as they laughingly landed a cutter
on the sandy beach. There was a particularly fascinating one
showing two barefooted young chaps on a wave-swept raft engaged in
that delightfully perilous task known as signaling. Another showed
the keen-eyed gunners busy about the big guns.
Eddie studied them all.
The man finished his task and looked up, quite casually.
"Hello, kid," he said.
"Hello," answered Eddie. Then--"That's some picture gallery
you're giving us."
The man in the sailor suit fell back a pace or two and
surveyed his work with a critical but satisfied eye.
"Pitchers," he said, "don't do it justice. We've opened a
recruiting office here. Looking for young men with brains, and
muscle, and ambition. It's a great chance. We don't get to these
here little towns much."
He placed a handbill in Eddie's hand. Eddie glanced down at
it sheepishly.
"I've heard," he said, "that it's a hard life."
The man in the sailor suit threw back his head and laughed,
displaying a great deal of hairy throat and chest. "Hard!" he
jeered, and slapped one of the gay-colored posters with the back
of his hand. "You see that! Well, it ain't a bit exaggerated.
Not a bit. I ought to know. It's the only life for a young man,
especially for a guy in a little town. There's no chance here for
a bright young man, and if he goes to the city, what does he get?
The city's jam full of kids that flock there in the spring and
fall, looking for jobs, and thinking the city's sittin' up waitin'
for 'em. And where do they land? In the dime lodging houses,
that's where. In the navy you see the world, and it don't cost you
a cent. A guy is a fool to bury himself alive in a hole like this.
You could be seeing the world, traveling by sea from port to port,
from country to country, from ocean to ocean, amid ever-changing
scenery and climatic conditions, to see and study the habits and
conditions of the strange races----"
It rolled off his tongue with fascinating glibness. Eddie
glanced at the folder in his hand.
"I always did like the water," he said.
"Sure," agreed the hairy man, heartily. "What young feller
don't? I'll tell you what. Come on over to the office with me and
I'll show you some real stuff."
"It's my supper time," hesitated Eddie. "I guess I'd better
"Oh, supper," laughed the man. "You come on and have supper
with me, kid."
Eddie's pink cheeks went three shades pinker. "Gee! That'd
be great. But my mother--that is--she----"
The man in the sailor suit laughed again--a laugh with a sting
in it. "A great big feller like you ain't tied to your ma's apron
strings are you?"
"Not much I'm not!" retorted Eddie. "I'll telephone her when
I get to your hotel, that's what I'll do."
But they were such fascinating things, those new booklets, and
the man had such marvelous tales to tell, that Eddie forgot trifles
like supper and waiting mothers. There were pictures taken on
board ship, showing frolics, and ball games, and minstrel shows and
glee clubs, and the men at mess, and each sailor sleeping snug as
a bug in his hammock. There were other pictures showing foreign
scenes and strange ports. Eddie's tea grew cold, and his apple pie
and cheese lay untasted on his plate.
"Now me," said the recruiting officer, "I'm a married man.
But my wife, she wouldn't have it no other way. No, sir! She'll
be in the navy herself, I'll bet, when women vote. Why, before I
joined the navy I didn't know whether Guam was a vegetable or an
island, and Culebra wasn't in my geography. Now? Why, now I'm as
much at home in Porto Rico as I am in San Francisco. I'm as well
acquainted in Valparaiso as I am in Vermont, and I've run around
Cairo, Egypt, until I know it better than Cairo, Illinois. It's
the only way to see the world. You travel by sea from port to
port, from country to country, from ocean to ocean, amid
ever-changing scenery and climatic conditions, to see and study
And Eddie forgot that it was Wednesday night, which was the
prescription clerk's night off; forgot that the boss was awaiting
his return that he might go home to his own supper; forgot his
mother, and her little treat of green corn out of the garden;
forgot everything in the wonder of this man's tales of people and
scenes such as he never dreamed could exist outside of a Jack
London story. Now and then Eddie interrupted with a, "Yes,
but----" that grew more and more infrequent, until finally they
ceased altogether. Eddie's man-size job had come.
When we heard the news we all dropped in at the drug store to
joke with him about it. We had a good deal to say about rolling
gaits, and bell-shaped trousers, and anchors and sea serpents
tattooed on the arm. One of the boys scored a hit by slapping his
dime down on the soda fountain marble and bellowing for rum and
salt horse. Some one started to tease the little Morehouse girl
about sailors having sweethearts in every port, but when they saw
the look in her eyes they changed their mind, and stopped. It's
funny how a girl of twenty is a woman, when a man of twenty is a
Eddie dished out the last of his chocolate ice cream sodas and
cherry phosphates and root beers, while the girls laughingly begged
him to bring them back kimonos from China, and scarves from the
Orient, and Eddie promised, laughing, too, but with a far-off,
eager look in his eyes.
When the time came for him to go there was quite a little
bodyguard of us ready to escort him down to the depot. We picked
up two or three more outside O'Rourke's pool room, and a couple
more from the benches outside the hotel. Eddie walked ahead with
his mother. I have said that Mrs. Houghton was a sensible woman.
She was never more so than now. Any other mother would have gone
into hysterics and begged the recruiting officer to let her boy
off. But she knew better. Still, I think Eddie felt some
uncomfortable pangs when he looked at her set face. On the way to
the depot we had to pass the Agassiz School, where Josie Morehouse
was substituting second reader for the Wilson girl, who was sick.
She was standing in the window as we passed. Eddie took off his
cap and waved to her, and she returned the wave as well as she
could without having the children see her. That would never have
done, seeing that she was the teacher, and substituting at that.
But when we turned the corner we noticed that she was still
standing at the window and leaning out just a bit, even at the risk
of being indiscreet.
When the 10:15 pulled out Eddie stood on the bottom step, with
his cap off, looking I can't tell you how boyish, and straight, and
clean, and handsome, with his lips parted, and his eyes very
bright. The hairy-chested recruiting officer stood just beside
him, and suffered by contrast. There was a bedlam of good-byes,
and last messages, and good-natured badinage, but Eddie's mother's
eyes never left his face until the train disappeared around the
curve in the track.
Well, they got a new boy at Kunz's--a sandy-haired youth, with
pimples, and no knack at mixing, and we got out of the habit of
dropping in there, although those fall months were unusually warm.
It wasn't long before we began to get postcards--pictures of
the naval training station, and the gymnasium, and of model camps
and of drills, and of Eddie in his uniform. His mother insisted on
calling it his sailor suit, as though he were a little boy. One
day Josie Morehouse came over to Mrs. Houghton's with a group
picture in her hand. She handed it to Eddie's mother without
comment. Mrs. Houghton looked at it eagerly, her eye selecting her
own boy from the group as unerringly as a mother bird finds her
nest in the forest.
"Oh, Eddie's better looking than that!" she cried, with a
tremulous little laugh. "How funny those pants make them look,
don't they? And his mouth isn't that way, at all. Eddie always
had the sweetest mouth, from the time he was a baby. Let's see
some of these other boys. Why--why----"
Then she fell silent, scanning those other faces. Presently
Josie bent over her and looked too, and the brows of both women
knitted in perplexity. They looked for a long, long minute, and
the longer they looked the more noticeable became the cluster of
fine little wrinkles that had begun to form about Mrs. Houghton's
When finally they looked up it was to gaze at one another
"Those other boys," faltered Eddie's mother, "they--they don't
look like Eddie, do they? I mean----"
"No, they don't," agreed Josie. "They look older, and they
have such queer-looking eyes, and jaws, and foreheads. But then,"
she finished, with mock cheerfulness, "you can never tell in those
silly kodak pictures."
Eddie's mother studied the card again, and sighed gently. "I
hope," she said, "that Eddie won't get into bad company."
After that our postal cards ceased. I wish that there was
some way of telling this story so that the end wouldn't come in the
middle. But there is none. In our town we know the news before
the paper comes out, and we only read it to verify what we have
heard. So that long before the paper came out in the middle of the
afternoon we had been horrified by the news of Eddie Houghton's
desertion and suicide. We stopped one another on Main Street to
talk about it, and recall how boyish and handsome he had looked in
his white duck coat, and on that last day just as the 10:I5 pulled
out. "It don't seem hardly possible, does it?" we demanded of each
But when Eddie's mother brought out the letters that had come
after our postal cards had ceased, we understood. And when they
brought him home, and we saw him for the last time, all those of us
who had gone to school with him, and to dances, and sleigh rides,
and hayrack parties, and picnics, and when we saw the look on his
face--the look of one who, walking in a sunny path has stumbled
upon something horrible and unclean--we forgave him his neglect of
us, we forgave him desertion, forgave him the taking of his own
life, forgave him the look that he had brought into his mother's
There had never been anything extraordinary about Eddie
Houghton. He had had his faults and virtues, and good and bad
sides just like other boys of his age. He--oh, I am using too many
words, when one slang phrase will express it. Eddie had been just
a nice young kid. I think the worst thing he had ever said was
"Damn!" perhaps. If he had sworn, it was with clean oaths,
calculated to relieve the mind and feelings.
But the men that he shipped with during that year or more--I
am sure that he had never dreamed that such men were. He had never
stood on the curbing outside a recruiting office on South State
Street, in the old levee district, and watched that tragic panorama
move by--those nightmare faces, drink-marred, vice-scarred, ruined.
I know that he had never seen such faces in all his clean,
hard-working young boy's life, spent in our prosperous little
country town. I am certain that he had never heard such words as
came from the lips of his fellow seamen--great mouth-filling,
soul-searing words--words unclean, nauseating, unspeakable, and yet
I don't say that Eddie Houghton had not taken his drink now
and then. There were certain dark rumors in our town to the effect
that favored ones who dropped into Kunz's more often than seemed
needful were privileged to have a thimbleful of something choice in
the prescription room, back of the partition at the rear of the
drug store. But that was the most devilish thing that Eddie had
ever done.
I don't say that all crews are like that one. Perhaps he was
unfortunate in falling in with that one. But it was an Eastern
trip, and every port was a Port Said. Eddie Houghton's thoughts
were not these men's thoughts; his actions were not their actions,
his practices were not their practices. To Eddie Houghton, a
Chinese woman in a sampan on the water front at Shanghai was
something picturesque; something about which to write home to his
mother and to Josie. To those other men she was possible prey.
Those other men saw that he was different, and they pestered
him. They ill-treated him when they could, and made his life a
hellish thing. Men do those things, and people do not speak of it.
I don't know all the things that he suffered. But in his mind, day
by day, grew the great, overwhelming desire to get away from it
all--from this horrible life that was such a dreadful mistake. I
think that during the long night watches his mind was filled with
thoughts of our decent little town--of his mother's kitchen, with
its Wednesday and Saturday scent of new-made bread--of the shady
front porch, with its purple clematis--of the smooth front yard
which it was his Saturday duty to mow that it might be trim and
sightly for Sunday--of the boys and girls who used to drop in at
the drug store--those clear-eyed, innocently coquettish, giggling,
blushing girls in their middy blouses and white skirts, their
slender arms and throats browned from tennis and boating, their
eyes smiling into his as they sat perched at the fountain after a
hot set of tennis--those slim, clean young boys, sun-browned,
laughing, their talk all of swimming, and boating, and tennis, and
He did not realize that it was desertion--that thought that
grew and grew in his mind. In it there was nothing of
faithlessness to his country. He was only trying to be true to
himself, and to the things that his mother had taught him. He only
knew that he was deadly sick of these sights of disease, and vice.
He only knew that he wanted to get away--back to his own decent
life with the decent people to whom he belonged. And he went. He
went, as a child runs home when it had tripped and fallen in the
mud, not dreaming of wrong-doing or punishment.
The first few hundred miles on the train were a dream. But
finally Eddie found himself talking to a man--a big, lean,
blue-eyed western man, who regarded Eddie with kindly, puzzled
eyes. Eddie found himself telling his story in a disjointed,
breathless sort of way. When he had finished the man uncrossed his
long lean legs, took his pipe out of his mouth, and sat up. There
was something of horror in his eyes as he sat, looking at Eddie.
"Why, kid," he said, at last. "You're deserting! You'll get
the pen, don't you know that, if they catch you? Where you going?"
"Going!" repeated Eddie. "Going! Why, I'm going home, of
"Then I don't see what you're gaining," said the man, "because
they'll sure get you there."
Eddie sat staring at the man for a dreadful minute. In that
minute the last of his glorious youth, and ambition, and zest of
life departed from him.
He got off the train at the next town, and the western man
offered him some money, which Eddie declined with all his old-time
sweetness of manner. It was rather a large town, with a great many
busy people in it. Eddie went to a cheap hotel, and took a room,
and sat on the edge of the thin little bed and stared at the carpet.
It was a dusty red carpet. In front of the bureau many feet
had worn a hole, so that the bare boards showed through, with a
tuft of ragged red fringe edging them. Eddie Houghton sat and
stared at the worn place with a curiously blank look on his face.
He sat and stared and saw many things. He saw his mother, for one
thing, sitting on the porch with a gingham apron over her light
dress, waiting for him to come home to supper; he saw his own
room--a typical boy's room, with camera pictures and blue prints
stuck in the sides of the dresser mirror, and the boxing gloves on
the wall, and his tennis racquet with one string broken (he had
always meant to have that racquet re-strung) and his track shoes,
relics of high school days, flung in one corner, and his
gay-colored school pennants draped to form a fresco, and the cushion
that Josie Morenouse had made for him two years ago, at
Christmas time, and the dainty white bedspread that he, fussed
about because he said it was too sissy for a boy's room--oh, I
can't tell you what he saw as he sat and stared at that worn place
in the carpet. But pretty soon it began to grow dark, and at last
he rose, keeping his fascinated eyes still on the bare spot, walked
to the door, opened it, and backed out queerly, still keeping his
eyes on the spot.
He was back again in fifteen minutes, with a bottle in his
hand. He should have known better than to choose carbolic, being
a druggist, but all men are a little mad at such times. He lay
down at the edge of the thin little bed that was little more than
a pallet, and he turned his face toward the bare spot that could
just be seen in the gathering gloom. And when he raised the bottle
to his lips the old-time sweetness of his smile illumined his face.
Where the car turns at Eighteenth Street there is a big,
glaring billboard poster, showing a group of stalwart young men in
white ducks lolling on shores, of tropical splendor, with palms
waving overhead, and a glimpse of blue sea in the distance. The
wording beneath it runs something like this:
"Young men wanted. An unusual opportunity for travel,
education and advancement. Good pay. No expenses."
When I see that sign I think of Eddie Houghton back home. And
when I think of Eddie Houghton I see red.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?