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Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington Scanned by Charles Keller with
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ALICE ADAMS by BOOTH TARKINGTON
The patient, an old-fashioned man, thought the nurse made a
mistake in keeping both of the windows open, and her sprightly
disregard of his protests added something to his hatred of her.
Every evening he told her that anybody with ordinary gumption
ought to realize that night air was bad for the human frame.
"The human frame won't stand everything, Miss Perry," he warned
her, resentfully. "Even a child, if it had just ordinary
gumption, ought to know enough not to let the night air blow on
sick people yes, nor well people, either! 'Keep out of the night
air, no matter how well you feel.' That's what my mother used to
tell me when I was a boy. 'Keep out of the night air, Virgil,'
she'd say. 'Keep out of the night air.'"
"I expect probably her mother told her the same thing," the nurse
"Of course she did. My grandmother----"
"Oh, I guess your GRANDmother thought so, Mr. Adams! That was
when all this flat central country was swampish and hadn't been
drained off yet. I guess the truth must been the swamp
mosquitoes bit people and gave 'em malaria, especially before
they began to put screens in their windows. Well, we got screens
in these windows, and no mosquitoes are goin' to bite us; so just
you be a good boy and rest your mind and go to sleep like you
"Sleep?" he said. "Likely!"
He thought the night air worst of all in April; he hadn't a doubt
it would kill him, he declared. "It's miraculous what the human
frame WILL survive," he admitted on the last evening of that
month. "But you and the doctor ought to both be taught it won't
stand too dang much! You poison a man and poison and poison him
with this April night air----"
"Can't poison you with much more of it," Miss Perry interrupted
him, indulgently. "To-morrow it'll be May night air, and I
expect that'll be a lot better for you, don't you? Now let's
just sober down and be a good boy and get some nice sound sleep."
She gave him his medicine, and, having set the glass upon the
center table, returned to her cot, where, after a still interval,
she snored faintly. Upon this, his expression became that of a
man goaded out of overpowering weariness into irony.
"Sleep? Oh, CERTAINLY, thank you!"
However, he did sleep intermittently, drowsed between times, and
even dreamed; but, forgetting his dreams before he opened his
eyes, and having some part of him all the while aware of his
discomfort, he believed, as usual, that he lay awake the whole
night long. He was conscious of the city as of some single great
creature resting fitfully in the dark outside his windows. It
lay all round about, in the damp cover of its night cloud of
smoke, and tried to keep quiet for a few hours after midnight,
but was too powerful a growing thing ever to lie altogether
still. Even while it strove to sleep it muttered with digestions
of the day before, and these already merged with rumblings of the
morrow. "Owl" cars, bringing in last passengers over distant
trolley-lines, now and then howled on a curve; faraway metallic
stirrings could be heard from factories in the sooty suburbs on
the plain outside the city; east, west, and south, switch-engines
chugged and snorted on sidings; and everywhere in the air there
seemed to be a faint, voluminous hum as of innumerable wires
trembling overhead to vibration of machinery underground.
In his youth Adams might have been less resentful of sounds such
as these when they interfered with his night's sleep: even during
an illness he might have taken some pride in them as proof of his
citizenship in a "live town"; but at fifty-five he merely hated
them because they kept him awake. They "pressed on his nerves,"
as he put it; and so did almost everything else, for that matter.
He heard the milk-wagon drive into the cross-street beneath his
windows and stop at each house. The milkman carried his jars
round to the "back porch," while the horse moved slowly ahead to
the gate of the next customer and waited there. "He's gone into
Pollocks'," Adams thought, following this progress. "I hope
it'll sour on 'em before breakfast. Delivered the Andersons'.
Now he's getting out ours. Listen to the darn brute! What's HE
care who wants to sleep!" His complaint was of the horse, who
casually shifted weight with a clink of steel shoes on the worn
brick pavement of the street, and then heartily shook himself in
his harness, perhaps to dislodge a fly far ahead of its season.
Light had just filmed the windows; and with that the first
sparrow woke, chirped instantly, and roused neighbours in the
trees of the small yard, including a loud-voiced robin.
Vociferations began irregularly, but were soon unanimous.
"Sleep? Dang likely now, ain't it!"
Night sounds were becoming day sounds; the far-away hooting of
freight-engines seemed brisker than an hour ago in the dark. A
cheerful whistler passed the house, even more careless of
sleepers than the milkman's horse had been; then a group of
coloured workmen came by, and although it was impossible to be
sure whether they were homeward bound from night-work or on their
way to day- work, at least it was certain that they were jocose.
Loose, aboriginal laughter preceded them afar, and beat on the
air long after they had gone by.
The sick-room night-light, shielded from his eyes by a newspaper
propped against a water-pitcher, still showed a thin glimmering
that had grown offensive to Adams. In his wandering and
enfeebled thoughts, which were much more often imaginings than
reasonings, the attempt of the night-light to resist the dawn
reminded him of something unpleasant, though he could not
discover just what the unpleasant thing was. Here was a puzzle
that irritated him the more because he could not solve it, yet
always seemed just on the point of a solution. However, he may
have lost nothing cheerful by remaining in the dark upon the
matter; for if he had been a little sharper in this introspection
he might have concluded that the squalor of the night-light, in
its seeming effort to show against the forerunning of the sun
itself, had stimulated some half-buried perception within him to
sketch the painful little synopsis of an autobiography.
In spite of noises without, he drowsed again, not knowing that he
did; and when he opened his eyes the nurse was just rising from
her cot. He took no pleasure in the sight, it may be said. She
exhibited to him a face mismodelled by sleep, and set like a clay
face left on its cheek in a hot and dry studio. She was still
only in part awake, however, and by the time she had extinguished
the night-light and given her patient his tonic, she had
recovered enough plasticity. "Well, isn't that grand! We've had
another good night," she said as she departed to dress in the
"Yes, you had another!" he retorted, though not until after she
had closed the door.
Presently he heard his daughter moving about in her room across
the narrow hall, and so knew that she had risen. He hoped she
would come in to see him soon, for she was the one thing that
didn't press on his nerves, he felt; though the thought of her
hurt him, as, indeed, every thought hurt him. But it was his
wife who came first.
She wore a lank cotton wrapper, and a crescent of gray hair
escaped to one temple from beneath the handkerchief she had worn
upon her head for the night and still retained; but she did
everything possible to make her expression cheering.
"Oh, you're better again! I can see that, as soon as I look at
you," she said. "Miss Perry tells me you've had another splendid
He made a sound of irony, which seemed to dispose unfavourably of
Miss Perry, and then, in order to be more certainly intelligible,
he added, "She slept well, as usual!"
But his wife's smile persisted. "It's a good sign to be cross;
it means you're practically convalescent right now."
"Oh, I am, am I?"
"No doubt in the world!" she exclaimed. "Why, you're practically
a well man, Virgil--all except getting your strength back, of
course, and that isn't going to take long. You'll be right on
your feet in a couple of weeks from now."
"Oh, I will?"
"Of course you will!" She laughed briskly, and, going to the
table in the center of the room, moved his glass of medicine an
inch or two, turned a book over so that it lay upon its other
side, and for a few moments occupied herself with similar
futilities, having taken on the air of a person who makes things
neat, though she produced no such actual effect upon them. "Of
course you will," she repeated, absently. "You'll be as strong
as you ever were; maybe stronger." She paused for a moment, not
looking at him, then added, cheerfully, "So that you can fly
around and find something really good to get into."
Something important between them came near the surface here, for
though she spoke with what seemed but a casual cheerfulness,
there was a little betraying break in her voice, a trembling just
perceptible in the utterance of the final word. And she still
kept up the affectation of being helpfully preoccupied with the
table, and did not look at her husband--perhaps because they had
been married so many years that without looking she knew just
what his expression would be, and preferred to avoid the actual
sight of it as long as possible. Meanwhile, he stared hard at
her, his lips beginning to move with little distortions not
lacking in the pathos of a sick man's agitation.
"So that's it," he said. "That's what you're hinting at."
"'Hinting?'" Mrs. Adams looked surprised and indulgent. "Why,
I'm not doing any hinting, Virgil."
"What did you say about my finding 'something good to get into?'"
he asked, sharply. "Don't you call that hinting?"
Mrs. Adams turned toward him now; she came to the bedside and
would have taken his hand, but he quickly moved it away from her.
"You mustn't let yourself get nervous," she said. "But of course
when you get well there's only one thing to do. You mustn't go
back to that old hole again."
"'Old hole?' That's what you call it, is it?" In spite of his
weakness, anger made his voice strident, and upon this
stimulation she spoke more urgently.
"You just mustn't go back to it, Virgil. It's not fair to any of
us, and you know it isn't."
"Don't tell me what I know, please!"
She clasped her hands, suddenly carrying her urgency to plaintive
entreaty. "Virgil, you WON'T go back to that hole?"
"That's a nice word to use to me!" he said. "Call a man's
business a hole!"
"Virgil, if you don't owe it to me to look for something
different, don't you owe it to your children? Don't tell me you
won't do what we all want you to, and what you know in your heart
you ought to! And if you HAVE got into one of your stubborn fits
and are bound to go back there for no other reason except to have
your own way, don't tell me so, for I can't bear it!"
He looked up at her fiercely. "You've got a fine way to cure a
sick man!" he said; but she had concluded her appeal--for that
time--and instead of making any more words in the matter, let him
see that there were tears in her eyes, shook her head, and left
Alone, he lay breathing rapidly, his emaciated chest proving
itself equal to the demands his emotion put upon it. "Fine!" he
repeated, with husky indignation. "Fine way to cure a sick man!
Fine!" Then, after a silence, he gave forth whispering sounds as
of laughter, his expression the while remaining sore and far from
"And give us our daily bread!" he added, meaning that his wife's
little performance was no novelty.
In fact, the agitation of Mrs. Adams was genuine, but so well
under her control that its traces vanished during the three short
steps she took to cross the narrow hall between her husband's
door and the one opposite. Her expression was matter-of-course,
rather than pathetic, as she entered the pretty room where her
daughter, half dressed, sat before a dressing-table and played
with the reflections of a three-leafed mirror framed in blue
enamel. That is, just before the moment of her mother's
entrance, Alice had been playing with the mirror's
reflections--posturing her arms and her expressions, clasping her
hands behind her neck, and tilting back her head to foreshorten
the face in a tableau conceived to represent sauciness, then one
of smiling weariness, then one of scornful toleration, and all
very piquant; but as the door opened she hurriedly resumed the
practical, and occupied her hands in the arrangement of her
plentiful brownish hair.
They were pretty hands, of a shapeliness delicate and fine. "The
best things she's got!" a cold-blooded girl friend said of them,
and meant to include Alice's mind and character in the implied
list of possessions surpassed by the notable hands. However that
may have been, the rest of her was well enough. She was often
called "a right pretty girl"--temperate praise meaning a girl
rather pretty than otherwise, and this she deserved, to say the
least. Even in repose she deserved it, though repose was
anything but her habit, being seldom seen upon her except at
home. On exhibition she led a life of gestures, the unkind said
to make her lovely hands more memorable; but all of her usually
accompanied the gestures of the hands, the shoulders ever giving
them their impulses first, and even her feet being called upon,
at the same time, for eloquence.
So much liveliness took proper place as only accessory to that of
the face, where her vivacity reached its climax; and it was
unfortunate that an ungifted young man, new in the town, should
have attempted to define the effect upon him of all this
generosity of emphasis. He said that "the way she used her cute
hazel eyes and the wonderful glow of her facial expression gave
her a mighty spiritual quality." His actual rendition of the
word was "spirichul"; but it was not his pronunciation that
embalmed this outburst in the perennial laughter of Alice's girl
friends; they made the misfortune far less his than hers.
Her mother comforted her too heartily, insisting that Alice had
"plenty enough spiritual qualities," certainly more than
possessed by the other girls who flung the phrase at her, wooden
things, jealous of everything they were incapable of themselves;
and then Alice, getting more championship than she sought, grew
uneasy lest Mrs. Adams should repeat such defenses "outside the
family"; and Mrs. Adams ended by weeping because the daughter so
distrusted her intelligence. Alice frequently thought it
necessary to instruct her mother.
Her morning greeting was an instruction to-day; or, rather, it
was an admonition in the style of an entreaty, the more petulant
as Alice thought that Mrs. Adams might have had a glimpse of the
posturings to the mirror. This was a needless worry; the mother
had caught a thousand such glimpses, with Alice unaware, and she
thought nothing of the one just flitted.
"For heaven's sake, mama, come clear inside the room and shut the
door! PLEASE don't leave it open for everybody to look at me!"
"There isn't anybody to see you," Mrs. Adams explained, obeying.
"Miss Perry's gone downstairs, and----"
"Mama, I heard you in papa's room," Alice said, not dropping the
note of complaint. "I could hear both of you, and I don't think
you ought to get poor old papa so upset--not in his present
Mrs. Adams seated herself on the edge of the bed. "He's better
all the time," she said, not disturbed. "He's almost well. The
doctor says so and Miss Perry says so; and if we don't get him
into the right frame of mind now we never will. The first day
he's outdoors he'll go back to that old hole--you'll see! And if
he once does that, he'll settle down there and it'll be too late
and we'll never get him out."
"Well, anyhow, I think you could use a little more tact with
"I do try to," the mother sighed. "It never was much use with
him. I don't think you understand him as well as I do, Alice."
"There's one thing I don't understand about either of you," Alice
returned, crisply. "Before people get married they can do
anything they want to with each other. Why can't they do the
same thing after they're married? When you and papa were young
people and engaged, he'd have done anything you wanted him to.
That must have been because you knew how to manage him then. Why
can't you go at him the same way now?"
Mrs. Adams sighed again, and laughed a little, making no other
response; but Alice persisted. "Well, WHY can't you? Why can't
you ask him to do things the way you used to ask him when you
were just in love with each other? Why don't you anyhow try it,
mama, instead of ding-donging at him?"
"'Ding-donging at him,' Alice?" Mrs. Adams said, with a pathos
somewhat emphasized. "Is that how my trying to do what I can for
you strikes you?"
"Never mind that; it's nothing to hurt your feelings." Alice
disposed of the pathos briskly. "Why don't you answer my
question? What's the matter with using a little more tact on
papa? Why can't you treat him the way you probably did when you
were young people, before you were married? I never have
understood why people can't do that."
"Perhaps you WILL understand some day," her mother said, gently.
"Maybe you will when you've been married twenty-five years."
"You keep evading. Why don't you answer my question right
"There are questions you can't answer to young people, Alice."
"You mean because we're too young to understand the answer? I
don't see that at all. At twenty-two a girl's supposed to have
some intelligence, isn't she? And intelligence is the ability to
understand, isn't it? Why do I have to wait till I've lived with
a man twenty-five years to understand why you can't be tactful
"You may understand some things before that," Mrs. Adams said,
tremulously. "You may understand how you hurt me sometimes.
Youth can't know everything by being intelligent, and by the time
you could understand the answer you're asking for you'd know it,
and wouldn't need to ask. You don't understand your father,
Alice; you don't know what it takes to change him when he's made
up his mind to be stubborn."
Alice rose and began to get herself into a skirt. "Well, I don't
think making scenes ever changes anybody," she grumbled. "I
think a little jolly persuasion goes twice as far, myself."
"'A little jolly persuasion!'" Her mother turned the echo of
this phrase into an ironic lament. "Yes, there was a time when I
thought that, too! It didn't work; that's all."
"Perhaps you left the 'jolly' part of it out, mama."
For the second time that morning--it was now a little after seven
o'clock--tears seemed about to offer their solace to Mrs. Adams.
"I might have expected you to say that, Alice; you never do miss
a chance," she said, gently. "It seems queer you don't some time
miss just ONE chance!"
But Alice, progressing with her toilet, appeared to be little
concerned. "Oh, well, I think there are better ways of managing
a man than just hammering at him."
Mrs. Adams uttered a little cry of pain. "'Hammering,' Alice?"
"If you'd left it entirely to me," her daughter went on, briskly,
"I believe papa'd already be willing to do anything we want him
"That's it; tell me I spoil everything. Well, I won't interfere
from now on, you can be sure of it."
"Please don't talk like that," Alice said, quickly. "I'm old
enough to realize that papa may need pressure of all sorts; I
only think it makes him more obstinate to get him cross. You
probably do understand him better, but that's one thing I've
found out and you haven't. There!" She gave her mother a
friendly tap on the shoulder and went to the door. "I'll hop in
and say hello to him now."
As she went, she continued the fastening of her blouse, and
appeared in her father's room with one hand still thus engaged,
but she patted his forehead with the other.
"Poor old papa-daddy!" she said, gaily. "Every time he's better
somebody talks him into getting so mad he has a relapse. It's a
Her father's eyes, beneath their melancholy brows, looked up at
her wistfully. "I suppose you heard your mother going for me,"
"I heard you going for her, too!" Alice laughed. "What was it
"Oh, the same danged old story!"
"You mean she wants you to try something new when you get well?"
Alice asked, with cheerful innocence. "So we could all have a
lot more money?"
At this his sorrowful forehead was more sorrowful than ever. The
deep horizontal lines moved upward to a pattern of suffering so
familiar to his daughter that it meant nothing to her; but he
spoke quietly. "Yes; so we wouldn't have any money at all, most
"Oh, no!" she laughed, and, finishing with her blouse, patted his
cheeks with both hands. "Just think how many grand openings
there must be for a man that knows as much as you do! I always
did believe you could get rich if you only cared to, papa."
But upon his forehead the painful pattern still deepened. "Don't
you think we've always had enough, the way things are, Alice?"
"Not the way things ARE!" She patted his cheeks again; laughed
again. "It used to be enough, maybe anyway we did skimp along on
it--but the way things are now I expect mama's really pretty
practical in her ideas, though, I think it's a shame for her to
bother you about it while you're so weak. Don't you worry about
it, though; just think about other things till you get strong."
"You know," he said; "you know it isn't exactly the easiest thing
in the world for a man of my age to find these grand openings you
speak of. And when you've passed half-way from fifty to sixty
you're apt to see some risk in giving up what you know how to do
and trying something new."
"My, what a frown!" she cried, blithely. "Didn't I tell you to
stop thinking about it till you get ALL well?" She bent over him,
giving him a gay little kiss on the bridge of his nose. "There!
I must run to breakfast. Cheer up now! Au 'voir!" And with her
pretty hand she waved further encouragement from the closing door
as she departed.
Lightsomely descending the narrow stairway, she whistled as she
went, her fingers drumming time on the rail; and, still
whistling, she came into the dining-room, where her mother and
her brother were already at the table. The brother, a thin and
sallow boy of twenty, greeted her without much approval as she
took her place.
"Nothing seems to trouble you!" he said.
"No; nothing much," she made airy response. "What's troubling
"Don't let that worry you!" he returned, seeming to consider this
to be repartee of an effective sort; for he furnished a short
laugh to go with it, and turned to his coffee with the manner of
one who has satisfactorily closed an episode.
"Walter always seems to have so many secrets!" Alice said,
studying him shrewdly, but with a friendly enough amusement in
her scrutiny. "Everything he does or says seems to be acted for
the benefit of some mysterious audience inside himself, and he
always gets its applause. Take what he said just now: he seems
to think it means something, but if it does, why, that's just
another secret between him and the secret audience inside of him!
We don't really know anything about Walter at all, do we, mama?"
Walter laughed again, in a manner that sustained her theory well
enough; then after finishing his coffee, he took from his pocket
a flattened packet in glazed blue paper; extracted with stained
fingers a bent and wrinkled little cigarette, lighted it, hitched
up his belted trousers with the air of a person who turns from
trifles to things better worth his attention, and left the room.
Alice laughed as the door closed. "He's ALL secrets," she said.
"Don't you think you really ought to know more about him, mama?"
"I'm sure he's a good boy," Mrs. Adams returned, thoughtfully.
"He's been very brave about not being able to have the advantages
that are enjoyed by the boys he's grown up with. I've never
heard a word of complaint from him."
"About his not being sent to college?" Alice cried. "I should
think you wouldn't! He didn't even have enough ambition to
finish high school!"
Mrs. Adams sighed. "It seemed to me Walter lost his ambition
when nearly all the boys he'd grown up with went to Eastern
schools to prepare for college, and we couldn't afford to send
him. If only your father would have listened----"
Alice interrupted: "What nonsense! Walter hated books and
studying, and athletics, too, for that matter. He doesn't care
for anything nice that I ever heard of. What do you suppose he
does like, mama? He must like something or other somewhere, but
what do you suppose it is? What does he do with his time?"
"Why, the poor boy's at Lamb and Company's all day. He doesn't
get through until five in the afternoon; he doesn't HAVE much
"Well, we never have dinner until about seven, and he's always
late for dinner, and goes out, heaven knows where, right
afterward!" Alice shook her head. "He used to go with our
friends' boys, but I don't think he does now."
"Why, how could he?" Mrs. Adams protested. "That isn't his
fault, poor child! The boys he knew when he was younger are
nearly all away at college."
"Yes, but he doesn't see anything of 'em when they're here at
holiday-time or vacation. None of 'em come to the house any
"I suppose he's made other friends. It's natural for him to want
companions, at his age."
"Yes," Alice said, with disapproving emphasis. "But who are
they? I've got an idea he plays pool at some rough place
"Oh, no; I'm sure he's a steady boy," Mrs. Adams protested, but
her tone was not that of thoroughgoing conviction, and she added,
"Life might be a very different thing for him if only your father
can be brought to see----"
"Never mind, mama! It isn't me that has to be convinced, you
know; and we can do a lot more with papa if we just let him alone
about it for a day or two. Promise me you won't say any more to
him until--well, until he's able to come downstairs to table.
Mrs. Adams bit her lip, which had begun to tremble. "I think
you can trust me to know a FEW things, Alice," she said. "I'm a
little older than you, you know."
"That's a good girl!" Alice jumped up, laughing. "Don't forget
it's the same as a promise, and do just cheer him up a little.
I'll say good-bye to him before I go out."
"Where are you going?"
"Oh, I've got lots to do. I thought I'd run out to Mildred's to
see what she's going to wear to-night, and then I want to go down
and buy a yard of chiffon and some narrow ribbon to make new bows
for my slippers--you'll have to give me some money----"
"If he'll give it to me!" her mother lamented, as they went
toward the front stairs together; but an hour later she came into
Alice's room with a bill in her hand.
"He has some money in his bureau drawer," she said. "He finally
told me where it was."
There were traces of emotion in her voice, and Alice, looking
shrewdly at her, saw moisture in her eyes.
"Mama!" she cried. "You didn't do what you promised me you
wouldn't, did you--NOT before Miss Perry!"
"Miss Perry's getting him some broth," Mrs. Adams returned,
calmly. "Besides, you're mistaken in saying I promised you
anything; I said I thought you could trust me to know what is
"So you did bring it up again!" And Alice swung away from her,
strode to her father's door, flung it open, went to him, and put
a light hand soothingly over his unrelaxed forehead.
"Poor old papa!" she said. "It's a shame how everybody wants to
trouble him. He shan't be bothered any more at all! He doesn't
need to have everybody telling him how to get away from that old
hole he's worked in so long and begin to make us all nice and
rich. HE knows how!"
Thereupon she kissed him a consoling good-bye, and made another
gay departure, the charming hand again fluttering like a white
butterfly in the shadow of the closing door.
Mrs. Adams had remained in Alice's room, but her mood seemed to
have changed, during her daughter's little more than momentary
"What did he SAY?" she asked, quickly, and her tone was hopeful.
"'Say?'" Alice repeated, impatiently. "Why, nothing. I didn't
let him. Really, mama, I think the best thing for you to do
would be to just keep out of his room, because I don't believe
you can go in there and not talk to him about it, and if you do
talk we'll never get him to do the right thing. Never!"
The mother's response was a grieving silence; she turned from her
daughter and walked to the door.
"Now, for goodness' sake!" Alice cried. "Don't go making tragedy
out of my offering you a little practical advice!"
"I'm not," Mrs. Adams gulped, halting. "I'm just--just going to
dust the downstairs, Alice." And with her face still averted,
she went out into the little hallway, closing the door behind
her. A moment later she could be heard descending the stairs,
the sound of her footsteps carrying somehow an effect of
Alice listened, sighed, and, breathing the words, "Oh, murder!"
turned to cheerier matters. She put on a little apple-green
turban with a dim gold band round it, and then, having shrouded
the turban in a white veil, which she kept pushed up above her
forehead, she got herself into a tan coat of soft cloth fashioned
with rakish severity. After that, having studied herself gravely
in a long glass, she took from one of the drawers of her
dressing-table a black leather card-case cornered in silver
filigree, but found it empty.
She opened another drawer wherein were two white pasteboard boxes
of cards, the one set showing simply "Miss Adams," the other
engraved in Gothic characters, "Miss Alys Tuttle Adams." The
latter belonged to Alice's "Alys" period--most girls go through
it; and Alice must have felt that she had graduated, for, after
frowning thoughtfully at the exhibit this morning, she took the
box with its contents, and let the white shower fall from her
fingers into the waste-basket beside her small desk. She
replenished the card-case from the "Miss Adams" box; then, having
found a pair of fresh white gloves, she tucked an ivory-topped
Malacca walking-stick under her arm and set forth.
She went down the stairs, buttoning her gloves and still wearing
the frown with which she had put "Alys" finally out of her life.
She descended slowly, and paused on the lowest step, looking
about her with an expression that needed but a slight deepening
to betoken bitterness. Its connection with her dropping "Alys"
forever was slight, however.
The small frame house, about fifteen years old, was already
inclining to become a new Colonial relic. The Adamses had built
it, moving into it from the "Queen Anne" house they had rented
until they took this step in fashion. But fifteen years is a
long time to stand still in the midland country, even for a
house, and this one was lightly made, though the Adamses had not
realized how flimsily until they had lived in it for some time.
"Solid, compact, and convenient" were the instructions to the
architect, and he had made it compact successfully. Alice,
pausing at the foot of the stairway, was at the same time fairly
in the "living-room," for the only separation between the "living
room" and the hall was a demarcation suggested to willing
imaginations by a pair of wooden columns painted white. These
columns, pine under the paint, were bruised and chipped at the
base; one of them showed a crack that threatened to become a
split; the "hard-wood" floor had become uneven; and in a corner
the walls apparently failed of solidity, where the wall-paper had
declined to accompany some staggerings of the plaster beneath it.
The furniture was in great part an accumulation begun with the
wedding gifts; though some of it was older, two large patent
rocking-chairs and a footstool having belonged to Mrs. Adams's
mother in the days of hard brown plush and veneer. For
decoration there were pictures and vases. Mrs. Adams had always
been fond of vases, she said, and every year her husband's
Christmas present to her was a vase of one sort or
another--whatever the clerk showed him, marked at about twelve or
fourteen dollars. The pictures were some of them etchings framed
in gilt: Rheims, Canterbury, schooners grouped against a wharf;
and Alice could remember how, in her childhood, her father
sometimes pointed out the watery reflections in this last as very
fine. But it was a long time since he had shown interest in such
things--"or in anything much," as she thought.
Other pictures were two water-colours in baroque frames; one
being the Amalfi monk on a pergola wall, while the second was a
yard-wide display of iris blossoms, painted by Alice herself at
fourteen, as a birthday gift to her mother. Alice's glance
paused upon it now with no great pride, but showed more approval
of an enormous photograph of the Colosseum. This she thought of
as "the only good thing in the room"; it possessed and bestowed
distinction, she felt; and she did not regret having won her
struggle to get it hung in its conspicuous place of honour over
the mantelpiece. Formerly that place had been held for years by
a steel-engraving, an accurate representation of the Suspension
Bridge at Niagara Falls. It was almost as large as its
successor, the "Colosseum," and it had been presented to Mr.
Adams by colleagues in his department at Lamb and Company's.
Adams had shown some feeling when Alice began to urge its removal
to obscurity in the "upstairs hall"; he even resisted for several
days after she had the "Colosseum" charged to him, framed in oak,
and sent to the house. She cheered him up, of course, when he
gave way; and her heart never misgave her that there might be a
doubt which of the two pictures was the more dismaying.
Over the pictures, the vases, the old brown plush rocking-chairs
and the stool, over the three gilt chairs, over the new
chintz-covered easy chair and the gray velure sofa--over
everything everywhere, was the familiar coating of smoke grime.
It had worked into every fibre of the lace curtains, dingying
them to an unpleasant gray; it lay on the window-sills and it
dimmed the glass panes; it covered the walls, covered the
ceiling, and was smeared darker and thicker in all corners. Yet
here was no fault of housewifery; the curse could not be lifted,
as the ingrained smudges permanent on the once white woodwork
proved. The grime was perpetually renewed; scrubbing only ground
This particular ugliness was small part of Alice's discontent,
for though the coating grew a little deeper each year she was
used to it. Moreover, she knew that she was not likely to find
anything better in a thousand miles, so long as she kept to
cities, and that none of her friends, however opulent, had any
advantage of her here. Indeed, throughout all the great
soft-coal country, people who consider themselves comparatively
poor may find this consolation: cleanliness has been added to the
virtues and beatitudes that money can not buy.
Alice brightened a little as she went forward to the front door,
and she brightened more when the spring breeze met her there.
Then all depression left her as she walked down the short brick
path to the sidewalk, looked up and down the street, and saw how
bravely the maple shade-trees, in spite of the black powder they
breathed, were flinging out their thousands of young green
She turned north, treading the new little shadows on the pavement
briskly, and, having finished buttoning her gloves, swung down
her Malacca stick from under her arm to let it tap a more
leisurely accompaniment to her quick, short step. She had to
step quickly if she was to get anywhere; for the closeness of her
skirt, in spite of its little length, permitted no natural
stride; but she was pleased to be impeded, these brevities
forming part of her show of fashion.
Other pedestrians found them not without charm, though approval
may have been lacking here and there, and at the first crossing
Alice suffered what she might have accounted an actual injury,
had she allowed herself to be so sensitive. An elderly woman in
fussy black silk stood there, waiting for a streetcar; she was
all of a globular modelling, with a face patterned like a
frost-bitten peach; and that the approaching gracefulness was
uncongenial she naively made too evident. Her round, wan eyes
seemed roused to bitter life as they rose from the curved high
heels of the buckled slippers to the tight little skirt, and
thence with startled ferocity to the Malacca cane, which plainly
appeared to her as a decoration not more astounding than it was
Perceiving that the girl was bowing to her, the globular lady
hurriedly made shift to alter her injurious expression. "Good
morning, Mrs. Dowling," Alice said, gravely. Mrs. Dowling
returned the salutation with a smile as convincingly benevolent
as the ghastly smile upon a Santa Claus face; and then, while
Alice passed on, exploded toward her a single compacted breath
through tightened lips.
The sound was eloquently audible, though Mrs. Dowling remained
unaware that in this or any manner whatever she had shed a light
upon her thoughts; for it was her lifelong innocent conviction
that other people saw her only as she wished to be seen, and
heard from her only what she intended to be heard. At home it
was always her husband who pulled down the shades of their
Alice looked serious for a few moments after the little
encounter, then found some consolation in the behaviour of a
gentleman of forty or so who was coming toward her. Like Mrs.
Dowling, he had begun to show consciousness of Alice's approach
while she was yet afar off; but his tokens were of a kind
pleasanter to her. He was like Mrs. Dowling again, however, in
his conception that Alice would not realize the significance of
what he did. He passed his hand over his neck-scarf to see that
it lay neatly to his collar, smoothed a lapel of his coat, and
adjusted his hat, seeming to be preoccupied the while with
problems that kept his eyes to the pavement; then, as he came
within a few feet of her, he looked up, as in a surprised
recognition almost dramatic, smiled winningly, lifted his hat
decisively, and carried it to the full arm's length.
Alice's response was all he could have asked. The cane in her
right hand stopped short in its swing, while her left hand moved
in a pretty gesture as if an impulse carried it toward the heart;
and she smiled, with her under lip caught suddenly between her
teeth. Months ago she had seen an actress use this smile in a
play, and it came perfectly to Alice now, without conscious
direction, it had been so well acquired; but the pretty hand's
little impulse toward the heart was an original bit all her own,
on the spur of the moment.
The gentleman went on, passing from her forward vision as he
replaced his hat. Of himself he was nothing to Alice, except for
the gracious circumstance that he had shown strong consciousness
of a pretty girl. He was middle-aged, substantial, a family man,
securely married; and Alice had with him one of those long
acquaintances that never become emphasized by so much as five
minutes of talk; yet for this inconsequent meeting she had
enacted a little part like a fragment in a pantomime of Spanish
It was not for him--not even to impress him, except as a
messenger. Alice was herself almost unaware of her thought,
which was one of the running thousands of her thoughts that took
no deliberate form in words. Nevertheless, she had it, and it
was the impulse of all her pretty bits of pantomime when she met
other acquaintances who made their appreciation visible, as this
substantial gentleman did. In Alice's unworded thought, he was
to be thus encouraged as in some measure a champion to speak well
of her to the world; but more than this: he was to tell some
magnificent unknown bachelor how wonderful, how mysterious, she
She hastened on gravely, a little stirred reciprocally with the
supposed stirrings in the breast of that shadowy ducal mate, who
must be somewhere "waiting," or perhaps already seeking her; for
she more often thought of herself as "waiting" while he sought
her; and sometimes this view of things became so definite that it
shaped into a murmur on her lips. "Waiting. Just waiting." And
she might add, "For him!" Then, being twenty-two, she was apt to
conclude the mystic interview by laughing at herself, though not
without a continued wistfulness.
She came to a group of small coloured children playing waywardly
in a puddle at the mouth of a muddy alley; and at sight of her
they gave over their pastime in order to stare. She smiled
brilliantly upon them, but they were too struck with wonder to
comprehend that the manifestation was friendly; and as Alice
picked her way in a little detour to keep from the mud, she heard
one of them say, "Lady got cane! Jeez'!"
She knew that many coloured children use impieties familiarly,
and she was not startled. She was disturbed, however, by an
unfavourable hint in the speaker's tone. He was six, probably,
but the sting of a criticism is not necessarily allayed by
knowledge of its ignoble source, and Alice had already begun to
feel a slight uneasiness about her cane. Mrs. Dowling's stare
had been strikingly projected at it; other women more than merely
glanced, their brows and lips contracting impulsively; and Alice
was aware that one or two of them frankly halted as soon as she
She had seen in several magazines pictures of ladies with canes,
and on that account she had bought this one, never questioning
that fashion is recognized, even in the provinces, as soon as
beheld. On the contrary, these staring women obviously failed to
realize that what they were being shown was not an eccentric
outburst, but the bright harbinger of an illustrious mode. Alice
had applied a bit of artificial pigment to her lips and cheeks
before she set forth this morning; she did not need it, having a
ready colour of her own, which now mounted high with annoyance.
Then a splendidly shining closed black automobile, with windows
of polished glass, came silently down the street toward her.
Within it, as in a luxurious little apartment, three comely
ladies in mourning sat and gossiped; but when they saw Alice they
clutched one another. They instantly recovered, bowing to her
solemnly as they were borne by, yet were not gone from her sight
so swiftly but the edge of her side glance caught a flash of
teeth in mouths suddenly opened, and the dark glisten of black
gloves again clutching to share mirth.
The colour that outdid the rouge on Alice's cheek extended its
area and grew warmer as she realized how all too cordial had been
her nod and smile to these humorous ladies. But in their
identity lay a significance causing her a sharper smart, for they
were of the family of that Lamb, chief of Lamb and Company, who
had employed her father since before she was born.
"And know his salary! They'd be SURE to find out about that!"
was her thought, coupled with another bitter one to the effect
that they had probably made instantaneous financial estimates of
what she wore though certainly her walking-stick had most fed
She tucked it under her arm, not swinging it again; and her
breath became quick and irregular as emotion beset her. She had
been enjoying her walk, but within the space of the few blocks
she had gone since she met the substantial gentleman, she found
that more than the walk was spoiled: suddenly her life seemed to
be spoiled, too; though she did not view the ruin with
complaisance. These Lamb women thought her and her cane
ridiculous, did they? she said to herself. That was their
parvenu blood: to think because a girl's father worked for their
grandfather she had no right to be rather striking in style,
especially when the striking WAS her style. Probably all the
other girls and women would agree with them and would laugh at
her when they got together, and, what might be fatal, would try
to make all the men think her a silly pretender. Men were just
like sheep, and nothing was easier than for women to set up as
shepherds and pen them in a fold. "To keep out outsiders," Alice
thought. "And make 'em believe I AM an outsider. What's the use
All seemed lost when a trim young man appeared, striding out of a
cross-street not far before her, and, turning at the corner, came
toward her. Visibly, he slackened his gait to lengthen the time
of his approach, and, as he was a stranger to her, no motive
could be ascribed to him other than a wish to have a longer time
to look at her.
She lifted a pretty hand to a pin at her throat, bit her lip--not
with the smile, but mysteriously--and at the last instant before
her shadow touched the stranger, let her eyes gravely meet his.
A moment later, having arrived before the house which was her
destination, she halted at the entrance to a driveway leading
through fine lawns to the intentionally important mansion. It
was a pleasant and impressive place to be seen entering, but
Alice did not enter at once. She paused, examining a tiny bit of
mortar which the masons had forgotten to scrape from a brick in
one of the massive gate-posts. She frowned at this tiny
defacement, and with an air of annoyance scraped it away, using
the ferrule of her cane an act of fastidious proprietorship. If
any one had looked back over his shoulder he would not have
doubted that she lived there.
Alice did not turn to see whether anything of the sort happened
or not, but she may have surmised that it did. At all events, it
was with an invigorated step that she left the gateway behind her
and went cheerfully up the drive to the house of her friend
Adams had a restless morning, and toward noon he asked Miss Perry
to call his daughter; he wished to say something to her.
"I thought I heard her leaving the house a couple of hours
ago--maybe longer," the nurse told him. "I'll go see." And she
returned from the brief errand, her impression confirmed by
information from Mrs. Adams. "Yes. She went up to Miss Mildred
Palmer's to see what she's going to wear to-night."
Adams looked at Miss Perry wearily, but remained passive, making
no inquiries; for he was long accustomed to what seemed to him a
kind of jargon among ladies, which became the more
incomprehensible when they tried to explain it. A man's best
course, he had found, was just to let it go as so much sound.
His sorrowful eyes followed the nurse as she went back to her
rocking-chair by the window, and her placidity showed him that
there was no mystery for her in the fact that Alice walked two
miles to ask so simple a question when there was a telephone in
the house. Obviously Miss Perry also comprehended why Alice
thought it important to know what Mildred meant to wear. Adams
understood why Alice should be concerned with what she herself
wore "to look neat and tidy and at her best, why, of course she'd
want to," he thought--but he realized that it was forever beyond
him to understand why the clothing of other people had long since
become an absorbing part of her life.
Her excursion this morning was no novelty; she was continually
going to see what Mildred meant to wear, or what some other girl
meant to wear; and when Alice came home from wherever other girls
or women had been gathered, she always hurried to her mother with
earnest descriptions of the clothing she had seen. At such
times, if Adams was present, he might recognize "organdie," or
"taffeta," or "chiffon," as words defining certain textiles, but
the rest was too technical for him, and he was like a dismal boy
at a sermon, just waiting for it to get itself finished. Not the
least of the mystery was his wife's interest: she was almost
indifferent about her own clothes, and when she consulted Alice
about them spoke hurriedly and with an air of apology; but when
Alice described other people's clothes, Mrs. Adams listened as
eagerly as the daughter talked.
"There they go!" he muttered to-day, a moment after he heard the
front door closing, a sound recognizable throughout most of the
thinly built house. Alice had just returned, and Mrs. Adams
called to her from the upper hallway, not far from Adams's door.
"What did she SAY?"
"She was sort of snippy about it," Alice returned, ascending the
stairs. "She gets that way sometimes, and pretended she hadn't
made up her mind, but I'm pretty sure it'll be the maize
Georgette with Malines flounces."
"Didn't you say she wore that at the Pattersons'?" Mrs. Adams
inquired, as Alice arrived at the top of the stairs. "And didn't
you tell me she wore it again at the----"
"Certainly not," Alice interrupted, rather petulantly. "She's
never worn it but once, and of course she wouldn't want to wear
anything to-night that people have seen her in a lot."
Miss Perry opened the door of Adams's room and stepped out.
"Your father wants to know if you'll come and see him a minute,
"Poor old thing! Of course!" Alice exclaimed, and went quickly
into the room, Miss Perry remaining outside. "What's the matter,
papa? Getting awful sick of lying on his tired old back, I
"I've had kind of a poor morning," Adams said, as she patted his
hand comfortingly. "I been thinking----"
"Didn't I tell you not to?" she cried, gaily. "Of course you'll
have poor times when you go and do just exactly what I say you
mustn't. You stop thinking this very minute!"
He smiled ruefully, closing his eyes; was silent for a moment,
then asked her to sit beside the bed. "I been thinking of
something I wanted to say," he added.
"What like, papa?"
"Well, it's nothing--much," he said, with something deprecatory
in his tone, as if he felt vague impulses toward both humour and
apology. "I just thought maybe I ought to've said more to you
some time or other about--well, about the way things ARE, down at
Lamb and Company's, for instance."
"Now, papa!" She leaned forward in the chair she had taken, and
pretended to slap his hand crossly. "Isn't that exactly what I
said you couldn't think one single think about till you get ALL
"Well----" he said, and went on slowly, not looking at her, but
at the ceiling. "I just thought maybe it wouldn't been any harm
if some time or other I told you something about the way they
sort of depend on me down there."
"Why don't they show it, then?" she asked, quickly. "That's just
what mama and I have been feeling so much; they don't appreciate
"Why, yes, they do," he said. "Yes, they do. They began
h'isting my salary the second year I went in there, and they've
h'isted it a little every two years all the time I've worked for
'em. I've been head of the sundries department for seven years
now, and I could hardly have more authority in that department
unless I was a member of the firm itself."
"Well, why don't they make you a member of the firm? That's what
they ought to've done! Yes, and long ago!"
Adams laughed, but sighed with more heartiness than he had
laughed. "They call me their 'oldest stand-by' down there." He
laughed again, apologetically, as if to excuse himself for taking
a little pride in this title. "Yes, sir; they say I'm their
'oldest stand-by'; and I guess they know they can count on my
department's turning in as good a report as they look for, at the
end of every month; but they don't have to take a man into the
firm to get him to do my work, dearie."
"But you said they depended on you, papa."
"So they do; but of course not so's they couldn't get along
without me." He paused, reflecting. "I don't just seem to know
how to put it--I mean how to put what I started out to say. I
kind of wanted to tell you--well, it seems funny to me, these
last few years, the way your mother's taken to feeling about it.
I'd like to see a better established wholesale drug business than
Lamb and Company this side the Alleghanies--I don't say bigger, I
say better established--and it's kind of funny for a man that's
been with a business like that as long as I have to hear it
called a 'hole.' It's kind of funny when you think, yourself,
you've done pretty fairly well in a business like that, and the
men at the head of it seem to think so, too, and put your salary
just about as high as anybody could consider customary--well,
what I mean, Alice, it's kind of funny to have your mother think
it's mostly just--mostly just a failure, so to speak."
His voice had become tremulous in spite of him; and this sign of
weakness and emotion had sufficient effect upon Alice. She bent
over him suddenly, with her arm about him and her cheek against
his. "Poor papa!" she murmured. "Poor papa!"
"No, no," he said. "I didn't mean anything to trouble you. I
just thought----" He hesitated. "I just wondered--I thought
maybe it wouldn't be any harm if I said something about how
things ARE down there. I got to thinking maybe you didn't
understand it's a pretty good place. They're fine people to work
for; and they've always seemed to think something of me;--the way
they took Walter on, for instance, soon as I asked 'em, last
year. Don't you think that looked a good deal as if they thought
something of me, Alice?"
"Yes, papa," she said, not moving.
"And the work's right pleasant," he went on. "Mighty nice boys
in our department, Alice. Well, they are in all the departments,
for that matter. We have a good deal of fun down there some
She lifted her head. "More than you do at home 'some days,' I
expect, papa!" she said.
He protested feebly. "Now, I didn't mean that--I didn't want to
She looked at him through winking eyelashes. "I'm sorry I called
it a 'hole,' papa."
"No, no," he protested, gently. "It was your mother said that."
"No. I did, too."
"Well, if you did, it was only because you'd heard her."
She shook her head, then kissed him. "I'm going to talk to her,"
she said, and rose decisively.
But at this, her father's troubled voice became quickly louder:
"You better let her alone. I just wanted to have a little talk
with you. I didn't mean to start any--your mother won't----"
"Now, papa!" Alice spoke cheerfully again, and smiled upon him.
"I want you to quit worrying! Everything's going to be all right
and nobody's going to bother you any more about anything. You'll
She carried her smile out into the hall, but after she had closed
the door her face was all pity; and her mother, waiting for her
in the opposite room, spoke sympathetically.
"What's the matter, Alice? What did he say that's upset you?"
"Wait a minute, mama." Alice found a handkerchief, used it for
eyes and suffused nose, gulped, then suddenly and desolately sat
upon the bed. "Poor, poor, POOR papa!" she whispered.
"Why?" Mrs. Adams inquired, mildly. "What's the matter with
him? Sometimes you act as if he weren't getting well. What's he
been talking about?"
"Mama--well, I think I'm pretty selfish. Oh, I do!"
"Did he say you were?"
"Papa? No, indeed! What I mean is, maybe we're both a little
selfish to try to make him go out and hunt around for something
Mrs. Adams looked thoughtful. "Oh, that's what he was up to!"
"Mama, I think we ought to give it up. I didn't dream it had
really hurt him."
"Well, doesn't he hurt us?"
"Never that I know of, mama."
"I don't mean by SAYING things," Mrs. Adams explained,
impatiently. "There are more ways than that of hurting people.
When a man sticks to a salary that doesn't provide for his
family, isn't that hurting them?"
"Oh, it 'provides' for us well enough, mama. We have what we
need--if I weren't so extravagant. Oh, _I_ know I am!"
But at this admission her mother cried out sharply.
"'Extravagant!' You haven't one tenth of what the other girls you
go with have. And you CAN'T have what you ought to as long as he
doesn't get out of that horrible place. It provides bare food
and shelter for us, but what's that?"
"I don't think we ought to try any more to change him."
"You don't?" Mrs. Adams came and stood before her. "Listen,
Alice: your father's asleep; that's his trouble, and he's got to
be waked up. He doesn't know that things have changed. When you
and Walter were little children we did have enough--at least it
seemed to be about as much as most of the people we knew. But
the town isn't what it was in those days, and times aren't what
they were then, and these fearful PRICES aren't the old prices.
Everything else but your father has changed, and all the time
he's stood still. He doesn't know it; he thinks because they've
given him a hundred dollars more every two years he's quite a
prosperous man! And he thinks that because his children cost him
more than he and I cost our parents he gives them--enough!"
"But Walter----" Alice faltered. "Walter doesn't cost him
anything at all any more." And she concluded, in a stricken
voice, "It's all--me!"
"Why shouldn't it be?" her mother cried. "You're young--you're
just at the time when your life should be fullest of good things
and happiness. Yet what do you get?"
Alice's lip quivered; she was not unsusceptible to such an
appeal, but she contrived the semblance of a protest. "I don't
have such a bad time not a good DEAL of the time, anyhow. I've
got a good MANY of the things other girls have----"
"You have?" Mrs. Adams was piteously satirical. "I suppose
you've got a limousine to go to that dance to-night? I suppose
you've only got to call a florist and tell him to send you some
orchids? I suppose you've----"
But Alice interrupted this list. Apparently in a single instant
all emotion left her, and she became businesslike, as one in the
midst of trifles reminded of really serious matters. She got up
from the bed and went to the door of the closet where she kept
her dresses. "Oh, see here," she said, briskly. "I've decided
to wear my white organdie if you could put in a new lining for
me. I'm afraid it'll take you nearly all afternoon."
She brought forth the dress, displayed it upon the bed, and Mrs.
Adams examined it attentively.
"Do you think you could get it done, mama?"
"I don't see why not," Mrs. Adams answered, passing a thoughtful
hand over the fabric. "It oughtn't to take more than four or
"It's a shame to have you sit at the machine that long," Alice
said, absently, adding, "And I'm sure we ought to let papa alone.
Let's just give it up, mama."
Mrs. Adams continued her thoughtful examination of the dress.
"Did you buy the chiffon and ribbon, Alice?"
"Yes. I'm sure we oughtn't to talk to him about it any more,
"Well, we'll see."
"Let's both agree that we'll NEVER say another single word to him
about it," said Alice. "It'll be a great deal better if we just
let him make up his mind for himself."
With this, having more immediately practical questions before
them, they dropped the subject, to bend their entire attention
upon the dress; and when the lunch-gong sounded downstairs Alice
was still sketching repairs and alterations. She continued to
sketch them, not heeding the summons.
"I suppose we'd better go down to lunch," Mrs. Adams said,
absently. "She's at the gong again." "In a minute, mama. Now
about the sleeves----" And she went on with her planning.
Unfortunately the gong was inexpressive of the mood of the person
who beat upon it. It consisted of three little metal bowls upon
a string; they were unequal in size, and, upon being tapped with
a padded stick, gave forth vibrations almost musically pleasant.
It was Alice who had substituted this contrivance for the brass
"dinner-bell" in use throughout her childhood; and neither she
nor the others of her family realized that the substitution of
sweeter sounds had made the life of that household more
difficult. In spite of dismaying increases in wages, the Adamses
still strove to keep a cook; and, as they were unable to pay the
higher rates demanded by a good one, what they usually had was a
whimsical coloured woman of nomadic impulses. In the hands of
such a person the old-fashioned "dinner-bell" was satisfying;
life could instantly be made intolerable for any one dawdling on
his way to a meal; the bell was capable of every desirable
profanity and left nothing bottled up in the breast of the
ringer. But the chamois-covered stick might whack upon Alice's
little Chinese bowls for a considerable length of time and
produce no great effect of urgency upon a hearer, nor any other
effect, except fury in the cook. The ironical impossibility of
expressing indignation otherwise than by sounds of gentle harmony
proved exasperating; the cook was apt to become surcharged, so
that explosive resignations, never rare, were somewhat more
frequent after the introduction of the gong.
Mrs. Adams took this increased frequency to be only another
manifestation of the inexplicable new difficulties that beset all
housekeeping. You paid a cook double what you had paid one a few
years before; and the cook knew half as much of cookery, and had
no gratitude. The more you gave these people, it seemed, the
worse they behaved--a condition not to be remedied by simply
giving them less, because you couldn't even get the worst unless
you paid her what she demanded. Nevertheless, Mrs. Adams
remained fitfully an optimist in the matter. Brought up by her
mother to speak of a female cook as "the girl," she had been
instructed by Alice to drop that definition in favour of one not
an improvement in accuracy: "the maid." Almost always, during
the first day or so after every cook came, Mrs. Adams would say,
at intervals, with an air of triumph: "I believe--of course it's
a little soon to be sure--but I do really believe this new maid
is the treasure we've been looking for so long!" Much in the same
way that Alice dreamed of a mysterious perfect mate for whom she
"waited," her mother had a fairy theory that hidden somewhere in
the universe there was the treasure, the perfect "maid," who
would come and cook in the Adamses' kitchen, not four days or
four weeks, but forever.
The present incumbent was not she. Alice, profoundly interested
herself, kept her mother likewise so preoccupied with the dress
that they were but vaguely conscious of the gong's soft warnings,
though these were repeated and protracted unusually. Finally the
sound of a hearty voice, independent and enraged, reached the
pair. It came from the hall below.
"I says goo'-BYE!" it called. "Da'ss all!"
Then the front door slammed.
"Why, what----" Mrs. Adams began.
They went down hurriedly to find out. Miss Perry informed them.
"I couldn't make her listen to reason," she said. "She rang the
gong four or five times and got to talking to herself; and then
she went up to her room and packed her bag. I told her she had
no business to go out the front door, anyhow."
Mrs. Adams took the news philosophically. "I thought she had
something like that in her eye when I paid her this morning, and
I'm not surprised. Well, we won't let Mr. Adams know anything's
the matter till I get a new one."
They lunched upon what the late incumbent had left chilling on
the table, and then Mrs. Adams prepared to wash the dishes; she
would "have them done in a jiffy," she said, cheerfully. But it
was Alice who washed the dishes.
"I DON'T like to have you do that, Alice," her mother protested,
following her into the kitchen. "It roughens the hands, and when
a girl has hands like yours----"
"I know, mama." Alice looked troubled, but shook her head. "It
can't be helped this time; you'll need every minute to get that
Mrs. Adams went away lamenting, while Alice, no expert, began to
splash the plates and cups and saucers in the warm water. After
a while, as she worked, her eyes grew dreamy: she was making
little gay-coloured pictures of herself, unfounded prophecies of
how she would look and what would happen to her that evening.
She saw herself, charming and demure, wearing a fluffy
idealization of the dress her mother now determinedly struggled
with upstairs; she saw herself framed in a garlanded archway, the
entrance to a ballroom, and saw the people on the shining floor
turning dramatically to look at her; then from all points a rush
of young men shouting for dances with her; and she constructed a
superb stranger, tall, dark, masterfully smiling, who swung her
out of the clamouring group as the music began. She saw herself
dancing with him, saw the half-troubled smile she would give him;
and she accurately smiled that smile as she rinsed the knives and
These hopeful fragments of drama were not to be realized, she
knew; but she played that they were true, and went on creating
them. In all of them she wore or carried flowers--her mother's
sorrow for her in this detail but made it the more important--
and she saw herself glamorous with orchids; discarded these for
an armful of long-stemmed, heavy roses; tossed them away for a
great bouquet of white camellias; and so wandered down a
lengthening hothouse gallery of floral beauty, all costly and
beyond her reach except in such a wistful day-dream. And upon
her present whole horizon, though she searched it earnestly, she
could discover no figure of a sender of flowers.
Out of her fancies the desire for flowers to wear that night
emerged definitely and became poignant; she began to feel that it
might be particularly important to have them. "This might be the
night!" She was still at the age to dream that the night of any
dance may be the vital point in destiny. No matter how
commonplace or disappointing other dance nights have been this
one may bring the great meeting. The unknown magnifico may be
Alice was almost unaware of her own reveries in which this being
appeared--reveries often so transitory that they developed and
passed in a few seconds. And in some of them the being was not
wholly a stranger; there were moments when he seemed to be
composed of recognizable fragments of young men she knew--a smile
she had liked, from one; the figure of another, the hair of
another--and sometimes she thought he might be concealed, so to
say, within the person of an actual acquaintance, someone she had
never suspected of being the right seeker for her, someone who
had never suspected that it was she who "waited" for him.
Anything might reveal them to each other: a look, a turn of the
head, a singular word--perhaps some flowers upon her breast or in
She wiped the dishes slowly, concluding the operation by dropping
a saucer upon the floor and dreamily sweeping the fragments under
the stove. She sighed and replaced the broom near a window,
letting her glance wander over the small yard outside. The
grass, repulsively besooted to the colour of coal-smoke all
winter, had lately come to life again and now sparkled with
green, in the midst of which a tiny shot of blue suddenly fixed
her absent eyes. They remained upon it for several moments,
becoming less absent.
It was a violet.
Alice ran upstairs, put on her hat, went outdoors and began to
search out the violets. She found twenty-two, a bright
omen--since the number was that of her years--but not enough
violets. There were no more; she had ransacked every foot of the
She looked dubiously at the little bunch in her hand, glanced at
the lawn next door, which offered no favourable prospect; then
went thoughtfully into the house, left her twenty-two violets in
a bowl of water, and came quickly out again, her brow marked with
a frown of decision. She went to a trolley-line and took a car
to the outskirts of the city where a new park had been opened.
Here she resumed her search, but it was not an easily rewarded
one, and for an hour after her arrival she found no violets. She
walked conscientiously over the whole stretch of meadow, her eyes
roving discontentedly; there was never a blue dot in the groomed
expanse; but at last, as she came near the borders of an old
grove of trees, left untouched by the municipal landscapers, the
little flowers appeared, and she began to gather them. She
picked them carefully, loosening the earth round each tiny plant,
so as to bring the roots up with it, that it might live the
longer; and she had brought a napkin, which she drenched at a
hydrant, and kept loosely wrapped about the stems of her
The turf was too damp for her to kneel; she worked patiently,
stooping from the waist; and when she got home in a drizzle of
rain at five o'clock her knees were tremulous with strain, her
back ached, and she was tired all over, but she had three hundred
violets. Her mother moaned when Alice showed them to her,
fragrant in a basin of water.
"Oh, you POOR child! To think of your having to: work so hard to
get things that other girls only need; lift their little fingers
"Never mind," said Alice, huskily. "I've got 'em and I AM going
to have a good time to-night!"
"You've just got to!" Mrs. Adams agreed, intensely sympathetic.
"The Lord knows you deserve to, after picking all these violets,
poor thing, and He wouldn't be mean enough to keep you from it.
I may have to get dinner before I finish the dress, but I can get
it done in a few minutes afterward, and it's going to look right
pretty. Don't you worry about THAT! And with all these lovely
"I wonder----" Alice began, paused, then went on, fragmentarily:
"I suppose--well, I wonder--do you suppose it would have been
better policy to have told Walter before----"
"No," said her mother. "It would only have given him longer to
"But he might----"
"Don't worry," Mrs. Adams reassured her. "He'll be a little
cross, but he won't be stubborn; just let me talk to him and
don't you say anything at all, no matter what HE says."
These references to Walter concerned some necessary manoeuvres
which took place at dinner, and were conducted by the mother,
Alice having accepted her advice to sit in silence. Mrs. Adams
began by laughing cheerfully. "I wonder how much longer it took
me to cook this dinner than it does Walter to eat it?" she said.
"Don't gobble, child! There's no hurry."
In contact with his own family Walter was no squanderer of words.
"Is for me," he said. "Got date."
"I know you have, but there's plenty of time."
He smiled in benevolent pity. "YOU know, do you? If you made
any coffee--don't bother if you didn't. Get some down-town." He
seemed about to rise and depart; whereupon Alice, biting her lip,
sent a panic-stricken glance at her mother.
But Mrs. Adams seemed not at all disturbed; and laughed again.
"Why, what nonsense, Walter! I'll bring your coffee in a few
minutes, but we're going to have dessert first."
"Some lovely peaches."
"Doe' want 'ny canned peaches," said the frank Walter, moving
back his chair. "G'-night."
"Walter! It doesn't begin till about nine o'clock at the
He paused, mystified. "What doesn't?"
"Why, Mildred Palmer's dance, of course."
Walter laughed briefly. "What's that to me?"
"Why, you haven't forgotten it's TO-NIGHT, have you?" Mrs. Adams
cried. "What a boy!"
"I told you a week ago I wasn't going to that ole dance," he
returned, frowning. "You heard me."
"Walter!" she exclaimed. "Of COURSE you're going. I got your
clothes all out this afternoon, and brushed them for you.
They'll look very nice, and----"
"They won't look nice on ME," he interrupted. "Got date
down-town, I tell you."
"But of course you'll----"
"See here!" Walter said, decisively. "Don't get any wrong ideas
in your head. I'm just as liable to go up to that ole dance at
the Palmers' as I am to eat a couple of barrels of broken glass."
Walter was beginning to be seriously annoyed. "Don't 'Walter'
me! I'm no s'ciety snake. I wouldn't jazz with that Palmer
crowd if they coaxed me with diamonds."
"Didn't I tell you it's no use to 'Walter' me?" he demanded.
"My dear child----"
At this Mrs. Adams abandoned her air of amusement, looked hurt,
and glanced at the demure Miss Perry across the table. "I'm
afraid Miss Perry won't think you have very good manners,
"You're right she won't," he agreed, grimly. "Not if I haf to
hear any more about me goin' to----"
But his mother interrupted him with some asperity: "It seems very
strange that you always object to going anywhere among OUR
"YOUR friends!" he said, and, rising from his chair, gave
utterance to an ironical laugh strictly monosyllabic. "Your
friends!" he repeated, going to the door. "Oh, yes! Certainly!
And looking back over his shoulder to offer a final brief view of
his derisive face, he took himself out of the room.
Alice gasped: "Mama----"
"I'll stop him!" her mother responded, sharply; and hurried after
the truant, catching him at the front door with his hat and
"Told you had a date down-town," he said, gruffly, and would have
opened the door, but she caught his arm and detained him.
"Walter, please come back and finish your dinner. When I take
all the trouble to cook it for you, I think you might at
"Now, now!" he said. "That isn't what you're up to. You don't
want to make me eat; you want to make me listen."
"Well, you MUST listen!" She retained her grasp upon his arm, and
made it tighter. "Walter, please!" she entreated, her voice
becoming tremulous. "PLEASE don't make me so much trouble!"
He drew back from her as far as her hold upon him permitted, and
looked at her sharply. "Look here!" he said. "I get you, all
right! What's the matter of Alice GOIN' to that party by
"She just CAN'T!"
"It makes things too MEAN for her, Walter. All the other girls
have somebody to depend on after they get there."
"Well, why doesn't she have somebody?" he asked, testily.
"Somebody besides ME, I mean! Why hasn't somebody asked her to
go? She ought to be THAT popular, anyhow, I sh'd think--she
"I don't understand how you can be so hard," his mother wailed,
huskily. "You know why they don't run after her the way they do
the other girls she goes with, Walter. It's because we're poor,
and she hasn't got any background.
"'Background?'" Walter repeated. "'Background?' What kind of
talk is that?"
"You WILL go with her to-night, Walter?" his mother pleaded, not
stopping to enlighten him. "You don't understand how hard things
are for her and how brave she is about them, or you COULDN'T be
so selfish! It'd be more than I can bear to see her disappointed
to-night! She went clear out to Belleview Park this afternoon,
Walter, and spent hours and hours picking violets to wear. You
Walter's heart was not iron, and the episode of the violets may
have reached it. "Oh, BLUB!" he said, and flung his soft hat
violently at the wall.
His mother beamed with delight. "THAT'S a good boy, darling!
You'll never be sorry you----"
"Cut it out," he requested. "If I take her, will you pay for a
"Oh, Walter!" And again Mrs. Adams showed distress. "Couldn't
"No, I couldn't; I'm not goin' to throw away my good money like
that, and you can't tell what time o' night it'll be before she's
willin' to come home. What's the matter you payin' for one?"
"I haven't any money."
She shook her head dolefully. "I got some from him this morning,
and I can't bother him for any more; it upsets him. He's ALWAYS
been so terribly close with money----"
"I guess he couldn't help that," Walter observed. "We're liable
to go to the poorhouse the way it is. Well, what's the matter
our walkin' to this rotten party?"
"In the rain, Walter?"
"Well, it's only a drizzle and we can take a streetcar to within
a block of the house."
Again his mother shook her head. "It wouldn't do."
"Well, darn the luck, all right!" he consented, explosively.
"I'll get her something to ride in. It means seventy-five
"Why, Walter!" Mrs. Adams cried, much pleased. "Do you know how
to get a cab for that little? How splendid!"
"Tain't a cab," Walter informed her crossly. "It's a tin Lizzie,
but you don't haf' to tell her what it is till I get her into it,
Mrs. Adams agreed that she didn't.
Alice was busy with herself for two hours after dinner; but a
little before nine o'clock she stood in front of her long mirror,
completed, bright-eyed and solemn. Her hair, exquisitely
arranged, gave all she asked of it; what artificialities in
colour she had used upon her face were only bits of emphasis that
made her prettiness the more distinct; and the dress, not rumpled
by her mother's careful hours of work, was a white cloud of
loveliness. Finally there were two triumphant bouquets of
violets, each with the stems wrapped in tin-foil shrouded by a
bow of purple chiffon; and one bouquet she wore at her waist and
the other she carried in her hand.
Miss Perry, called in by a rapturous mother for the free treat of
a look at this radiance, insisted that Alice was a vision.
"Purely and simply a vision!" she said, meaning that no other
definition whatever would satisfy her. "I never saw anybody look
a vision if she don't look one to-night," the admiring nurse
declared. "Her papa'll think the same I do about it. You see if
he doesn't say she's purely and simply a vision."
Adams did not fulfil the prediction quite literally when Alice
paid a brief visit to his room to "show" him and bid him
good-night; but he chuckled feebly. "Well, well, well!" he said.
"You look mighty fine--MIGHTY fine!" And he waggled a bony finger
at her two bouquets. "Why, Alice, who's your beau?"
"Never you mind!" she laughed, archly brushing his nose with the
violets in her hand. "He treats me pretty well, doesn't he?"
"Must like to throw his money around! These violets smell mighty
sweet, and they ought to, if they're going to a party with YOU.
Have a good time, dearie."
"I mean to!" she cried; and she repeated this gaily, but with an
emphasis expressing sharp determination as she left him. "I MEAN
"What was he talking about?" her mother inquired, smoothing the
rather worn and old evening wrap she had placed on Alice's bed.
"What were you telling him you 'mean to?'"
Alice went back to her triple mirror for the last time, then
stood before the long one. "That I mean to have a good time
to-night," she said; and as she turned from her reflection to the
wrap Mrs. Adams held up for her, "It looks as though I COULD,
don't you think so?"
"You'll just be a queen to-night," her mother whispered in fond
emotion. "You mustn't doubt yourself."
"Well, there's one thing," said Alice. "I think I do look nice
enough to get along without having to dance with that Frank
Dowling! All I ask is for it to happen just once; and if he
comes near me to-night I'm going to treat him the way the other
girls do. Do you suppose Walter's got the taxi out in front?"
"He--he's waiting down in the hall," Mrs. Adams answered,
nervously; and she held up another garment to go over the wrap.
Alice frowned at it. "What's that, mama?"
"It's--it's your father's raincoat. I thought you'd put it on
"But I won't need it in a taxicab."
"You will to get in and out, and you needn't take it into the
Palmers'. You can leave it in the--in the-- It's drizzling,
and you'll need it."
"Oh, well," Alice consented; and a few minutes later, as with
Walter's assistance she climbed into the vehicle he had provided,
she better understood her mother's solicitude.
"What on earth IS this, Walter?" she asked.
"Never mind; it'll keep you dry enough with the top up," he
returned, taking his seat beside her. Then for a time, as they
went rather jerkily up the street, she was silent; but finally
she repeated her question: "What IS it, Walter?"
"It's a ottomobile."
"I mean--what kind is it?"
"Haven't you got eyes?"
"It's too dark."
"It's a second-hand tin Lizzie," said Walter. "D'you know what
that means? It means a flivver."
"Got 'ny 'bjections?"
"Why, no, dear," she said, placatively. "Is it yours, Walter?
Have you bought it?"
"Me?" he laughed. "_I_ couldn't buy a used wheelbarrow. I rent
this sometimes when I'm goin' out among 'em. Costs me
seventy-five cents and the price o' the gas."
"That seems very moderate."
"I guess it is! The feller owes me some money, and this is the
only way I'd ever get it off him."
"Is he a garage-keeper?"
"Not exactly!" Walter uttered husky sounds of amusement. "You'll
be just as happy, I guess, if you don't know who he is," he said.
His tone misgave her; and she said truthfully that she was
content not to know who owned the car. "I joke sometimes about
how you keep things to yourself," she added, "but I really never
do pry in your affairs, Walter."
"Oh, no, you don't!"
"Indeed, I don't."
"Yes, you're mighty nice and cooing when you got me where you
want me," he jeered. "Well, _I_ just as soon tell you where I
get this car."
"I'd just as soon you wouldn't, Walter," she said, hurriedly.
But Walter meant to tell her. "Why, there's nothin' exactly
CRIMINAL about it," he said. "It belongs to old J. A. Lamb
himself. He keeps it for their coon chauffeur. I rent it from
"From Mr. LAMB?"
"No; from the coon chauffeur."
"Walter!" she gasped.
"Sure I do! I can get it any night when the coon isn't goin' to
use it himself. He's drivin' their limousine to-night--that
little Henrietta Lamb's goin' to the party, no matter if her
father HAS only been dead less'n a year!" He paused, then
inquired: "Well, how d'you like it?"
She did not speak, and he began to be remorseful for having
imparted so much information, though his way of expressing regret
was his own. "Well, you WILL make the folks make me take you to
parties!" he said. "I got to do it the best way I CAN, don't I?"
Then as she made no response, "Oh, the car's CLEAN enough," he
said. "This coon, he's as particular as any white man; you
needn't worry about that." And as she still said nothing, he
added gruffly, "I'd of had a better car if I could afforded it.
You needn't get so upset about it."
"I don't understand--" she said in a low voice--"I don't
understand how you know such people."
"Such people as who?"
"Oh, look here, now!" he protested, loudly. "Don't you know this
is a democratic country?"
"Not quite that democratic, is it, Walter?"
"The trouble with you," he retorted, "you don't know there's
anybody in town except just this silk-shirt crowd." He paused,
seeming to await a refutation; but as none came, he expressed
himself definitely: "They make me sick."
They were coming near their destination, and the glow of the big,
brightly lighted house was seen before them in the wet night.
Other cars, not like theirs, were approaching this center of
brilliance; long triangles of light near the ground swept through
the fine drizzle; small red tail-lights gleamed again from the
moist pavement of the street; and, through the myriads of little
glistening leaves along the curving driveway, glimpses were
caught of lively colours moving in a white glare as the
limousines released their occupants under the shelter of the
Alice clutched Walter's arm in a panic; they were just at the
driveway entrance. "Walter, we mustn't go in there."
"What's the matter?"
"Leave this awful car outside."
"Stop!" she insisted, vehemently. "You've got to! Go back!"
The little car was between the entrance posts; but Walter backed
it out, avoiding a collision with an impressive machine which
swerved away from them and passed on toward the porte-cochere,
showing a man's face grinning at the window as it went by.
"Flivver runabout got the wrong number!" he said.
"Did he SEE us?" Alice cried.
"Did who see us?"
"Harvey Malone--in that foreign coupe."
"No; he couldn't tell who we were under this top," Walter assured
her as he brought the little car to a standstill beside the
curbstone, out in the street. "What's it matter if he did, the
Alice responded with a loud sigh, and sat still.
"Well, want to go on back?" Walter inquired. "You bet I'm
"Well, then, what's the matter our drivin' on up to the
porte-cochere? There's room for me to park just the other side
"What you expect to do? Sit HERE all night?"
"No, leave the car here."
"_I_ don't care where we leave it," he said. "Sit still till I
lock her, so none o' these millionaires around here'll run off
with her." He got out with a padlock and chain; and, having put
these in place, offered Alice his hand. "Come on, if you're
"Wait," she said, and, divesting herself of the raincoat, handed
it to Walter. "Please leave this with your things in the men's
dressing-room, as if it were an extra one of your own, Walter."
He nodded; she jumped out; and they scurried through the drizzle.
As they reached the porte-cochere she began to laugh airily, and
spoke to the impassive man in livery who stood there. "Joke on
us!" she said, hurrying by him toward the door of the house.
"Our car broke down outside the gate."
The man remained impassive, though he responded with a faint
gleam as Walter, looking back at him, produced for his benefit a
cynical distortion of countenance which offered little
confirmation of Alice's account of things. Then the door was
swiftly opened to the brother and sister; and they came into a
marble-floored hall, where a dozen sleeked young men lounged,
smoked cigarettes and fastened their gloves, as they waited for
their ladies. Alice nodded to one or another of these, and went
quickly on, her face uplifted and smiling; but Walter detained
her at the door to which she hastened.
"Listen here," he said. "I suppose you want me to dance the
first dance with you----"
"If you please, Walter," she said, meekly.
"How long you goin' to hang around fixin' up in that
"I'll be out before you're ready yourself," she promised him; and
kept her word, she was so eager for her good time to begin. When
he came for her, they went down the hall to a corridor opening
upon three great rooms which had been thrown open together, with
the furniture removed and the broad floors waxed. At one end of
the corridor musicians sat in a green grove, and Walter, with
some interest, turned toward these; but his sister, pressing his
arm, impelled him in the opposite direction.
"What's the matter now?" he asked. "That's Jazz Louie and his
half-breed bunch--three white and four mulatto. Let's----?"
"No, no," she whispered. "We must speak to Mildred and Mr. and
"'Speak' to 'em? I haven't got a thing to say to THOSE berries!"
"Walter, won't you PLEASE behave?"
He seemed to consent, for the moment, at least, and suffered her
to take him down the corridor toward a floral bower where the
hostess stood with her father and mother. Other couples and
groups were moving in the same direction, carrying with them a
hubbub of laughter and fragmentary chatterings; and Alice,
smiling all the time, greeted people on every side of her
eagerly--a little more eagerly than most of them responded--while
Walter nodded in a noncommittal manner to one or two, said
nothing, and yawned audibly, the last resource of a person who
finds himself nervous in a false situation. He repeated his yawn
and was beginning another when a convulsive pressure upon his arm
made him understand that he must abandon this method of
reassuring himself. They were close upon the floral bower.