Part 5 out of 6
There came a smart rapping at the door, followed by certain giggling and
swishing. Miss Morrissey smiled.
"That'll be some of 'em now. Just run and open the door, will you, like
a nice little thing? I'm too beat out to move."
The swishing swelled to a mighty rustle as the door opened. Taffeta was
good this year, and the three who entered were the last in the world to
leave you in ignorance of that fact. Ella Morrissey presented her new
friend to the three, giving the department each represented as one would
mention a title or order.
"The little plump one in black?--Ladies' and Misses' Ready-to-wear,
Gates Company, Portland.... That's a pretty hat, Carrie. Get it to-day?
Give me a big black velvet every time. You can wear 'em with anything,
and yet they're dressy too. Just now small hats are distinctly passy.
"The handsome one who's dressed the way you always imagined the
Parisiennes would dress, but don't?--Fancy Goods, Stein & Stack, San
Francisco. Listen, Fan: don't go back to San Francisco with that stuff
on your lips. It's all right in Paris, where all the women do it; but
you know as well as I do that Morry Stein would take one look at you and
then tell you to go upstairs and wash your face. Well, I'm just telling
you as a friend.
"That little trick is the biggest lace buyer in the country.... No, you
wouldn't, would you? Such a mite! Even if she does wear a twenty-eight
blouse she's got a forty-two brain--haven't you, Belle? You didn't make
a mistake with that blue crepe de chine, child. It's chic and yet it's
girlish. And you can wear it on the floor, too, when you get home. It's
quiet if it is stunning."
These five, as they sat there that June evening, knew what your wife and
your sister and your mother would wear on Fifth Avenue or Michigan
Avenue next October. On their shrewd, unerring judgment rested the
success or failure of many hundreds of feminine garments. The lace for
Miss Minnesota's lingerie; the jewelled comb in Miss Colorado's hair;
the hat that would grace Miss New Hampshire; the dress for Madam
Delaware--all were the results of their farsighted selection. They were
foragers of feminine fal-lals, and their booty would be distributed from
oyster cove to orange grove.
They were marcelled and manicured within an inch of their lives. They
rustled and a pleasant perfume clung about them. Their hats were so
smart that they gave you a shock. Their shoes were correct. Their skirts
bunched where skirts should bunch that year or lay smooth where
smoothness was decreed. They looked like the essence of frivolity--until
you saw their eyes; and then you noticed that that which is liquid in
sheltered women's eyes was crystallised in theirs.
Sophy Gold, listening to them, felt strangely out of it and plainer than
"I'm taking tango lessons, Ella," chirped Miss Laces. "Every time I went
to New York last year I sat and twiddled my thumbs while every one else
was dancing. I've made up my mind I'll be in it this year."
"You girls are wonders!" Miss Morrissey marvelled. "I can't do it any
more. If I was to work as hard as I have to during the day and then run
round the way you do in the evening they'd have to hold services for me
at sea. I'm getting old."
"You--old!" This from Miss Ready-to-Wear. "You're younger now than I'll
ever be. Oh, Ella, I got six stunning models at Estelle Mornet's.
There's a business woman for you! Her place is smart from the ground
floor up--not like the shabby old junk shops the others have. And she
greets you herself. The personal touch! Let me tell you, it counts in
"I'd go slow on those cape blouses if I were you; I don't think they're
going to take at home. They look like regular Third Avenue style to me."
"Don't worry. I've hardly touched them."
They talked very directly, like men, when they discussed clothes; for to
them a clothes talk meant a business talk.
The telephone buzzed. The three sprang up, rustling.
"That'll be for us, Ella," said Miss Fancy Goods. "We told the office to
call us here. The boys are probably downstairs." She answered the call,
turned, nodded, smoothed her gloves and preened her laces.
Ella Morrissey, in kimonoed comfort, waved a good-bye from her armchair.
"Have a good time! You all look lovely. Oh, we met Max Tack downstairs,
looking like a grand duke!"
Pert Miss Laces turned at the door, giggling.
"He says the French aristocracy has nothing on him, because his
grandfather was one of the original Ten Ikes of New York."
A final crescendo of laughter, a last swishing of silks, a breath of
perfume from the doorway and they were gone.
Within the room the two women sat looking at the closed door for a
moment. Then Ella Morrissey turned to look at Sophy Gold just as Sophy
Gold turned to look at Ella Morrissey.
"Well?" smiled Ella.
Sophy Gold smiled too--a mirthless, one-sided smile.
"I felt just like this once when I was a little girl. I went to a party,
and all the other little girls had yellow curls. Maybe some of them had
brown ones; but I only remember a maze of golden hair, and pink and blue
sashes, and rosy cheeks, and ardent little boys, and the sureness of
those little girls--their absolute faith in their power to enthrall, and
in the perfection of their curls and sashes. I went home before the ice
cream. And I love ice cream!"
Ella Morrissey's eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
"Then the next time you're invited to a party you wait for the ice
"Maybe I will," said Sophy Gold.
The party came two nights later. It was such a very modest affair that
one would hardly call it that--least of all Max Tack, who had spent
seventy-five dollars the night before in entertaining an important
On her way to her room that sultry June night Sophy had encountered the
persistent Tack. Ella Morrissey, up in her room, was fathoms deep in
work. It was barely eight o'clock and there was a wonderful opal sky--a
June twilight sky, of which Paris makes a specialty--all grey and rose
and mauve and faint orange.
"Somebody's looking mighty sweet to-night in her new Paris duds!"
Max Tack's method of approach never varied in its simplicity.
"They're not Paris--they're Chicago."
His soul was in his eyes.
"They certainly don't look it!" Then, with a little hurt look in those
same expressive features: "I suppose, after the way you threw me down
hard the other night, you wouldn't come out and play somewhere, would
you--if I sat up and begged and jumped through this?"
"It's too warm for most things," Sophy faltered.
"Anywhere your little heart dictates," interrupted Max Tack ardently.
"Just name it."
Sophy looked up.
"Well, then, I'd like to take one of those boats and go down the river
to St.-Cloud. The station's just back of the Louvre. We've just time to
catch the eight-fifteen boat."
"Boat!" echoed Max Tack stupidly. Then, in revolt: "Why, say, girlie,
you don't want to do that! What is there in taking an old tub and
flopping down that dinky stream? Tell you what we'll do: we'll--"
"No, thanks," said Sophy. "And it really doesn't matter. You simply
asked me what I'd like to do and I told you. Thanks. Good-night."
"Now, now!" pleaded Max Tack in a panic. "Of course we'll go. I just
thought you'd rather do something fussier--that's all. I've never gone
down the river; but I think that's a classy little idea--yes, I do. Now
you run and get your hat and we'll jump into a taxi and--"
"You don't need to jump into a taxi; it's only two blocks. We'll walk."
There was a little crowd down at the landing station. Max Tack noticed,
with immense relief, that they were not half-bad-looking people either.
He had been rather afraid of workmen in red sashes and with lime on
their clothes, especially after Sophy had told him that a trip cost
twenty centimes each.
"Twenty centimes! That's about four cents! Well, my gad!"
They got seats in the prow. Sophy took off her hat and turned her face
gratefully to the cool breeze as they swung out into the river. The
Paris of the rumbling, roaring auto buses, and the honking horns, and
the shrill cries, and the mad confusion faded away. There was the
palely glowing sky ahead, and on each side the black reflection of the
tree-laden banks, mistily mysterious now and very lovely. There was not
a ripple on the water and the Pont Alexandre III and the golden glory of
the dome of the Hotel des Invalides were ahead.
"Say, this is Venice!" exclaimed Max Tack.
A soft and magic light covered the shore, the river, the sky, and a soft
and magic something seemed to steal over the little boat and work its
wonders. The shabby student-looking chap and his equally shabby and
merry little companion, both Americans, closed the bag of fruit from
which they had been munching and sat looking into each other's eyes.
The long-haired artist, who looked miraculously like pictures of Robert
Louis Stevenson, smiled down at his queer, slender-legged little
daughter in the curious Cubist frock; and she smiled back and snuggled
up and rested her cheek on his arm. There seemed to be a deep and silent
understanding between them. You knew, somehow, that the little Cubist
daughter had no mother, and that the father's artist friends made much
of her and that she poured tea for them prettily on special days.
The bepowdered French girl who got on at the second station sat frankly
and contentedly in the embrace of her sweetheart. The stolid married
couple across the way smiled and the man's arm rested on his wife's
So the love boat glided down the river into the night. And the shore
faded and became grey, and then black. And the lights came out and cast
slender pillars of gold and green and scarlet on the water.
Max Tack's hand moved restlessly, sought Sophy's, found it, clasped it.
Sophy's hand had never been clasped like that before. She did not know
what to do with it, so she did nothing--which was just what she should
"Warm enough?" asked Max Tack tenderly.
"Just right," murmured Sophy.
The dream trip ended at St.-Cloud. They learned to their dismay that the
boat did not return to Paris. But how to get back? They asked questions,
sought direction--always a frantic struggle in Paris. Sophy, in the
glare of the street light, looked uglier than ever.
"Just a minute," said Max Tack. "I'll find a taxi."
"Nonsense! That man said the street car passed right here, and that we
should get off at the Bois. Here it is now! Come on!"
Max Tack looked about helplessly, shrugged his shoulders and gave it up.
"You certainly make a fellow hump," he said, not without a note of
admiration. "And why are you so afraid that I'll spend some money?" as
he handed the conductor the tiny fare.
"I don't know--unless it's because I've had to work so hard all my life
At Porte Maillot they took one of the flock of waiting _fiacres_.
"But you don't want to go home yet!" protested Max Tack.
"I--I think I should like to drive in the Bois Park--if you don't
"Mind!" cried the gallant and game Max Tack.
Now Max Tack was no villain; but it never occurred to him that one might
drive in the Bois with a girl and not make love to her. If he had driven
with Aurora in her chariot he would have held her hand and called her
tender names. So, because he was he, and because this was Paris, and
because it was so dark that one could not see Sophy's extreme plainness,
he took her unaccustomed hand again in his.
"This little hand was never meant for work," he murmured.
Sophy, the acid, the tart, said nothing. The Bois Park at night is a
mystery maze and lovely beyond adjectives. And the horse of that
particular _fiacre_ wore a little tinkling bell that somehow added to
the charm of the night. A waterfall, unseen, tumbled and frothed near
by. A turn in the winding road brought them to an open stretch, and they
saw the world bathed in the light of a yellow, mellow, roguish Paris
moon. And Max Tack leaned over quietly and kissed Sophy Gold on the
Now Sophy Gold had never been kissed in just that way before. You would
have thought she would not know what to do; but the plainest woman, as
well as the loveliest, has the centuries back of her. Sophy's mother,
and her mother's mother, and her mother's mother's mother had been
kissed before her. So they told her to say:
"You shouldn't have done that."
And the answer, too, was backed by the centuries:
"I know it; but I couldn't help it. Don't be angry!"
"You know," said Sophy with a little tremulous laugh, "I'm very, very
ugly--when it isn't moonlight."
"Paris," spake Max Tack, diplomat, "is so full of medium-lookers who
think they're pretty, and of pretty ones who think they're beauties,
that it sort of rests my jaw and mind to be with some one who hasn't any
fake notions to feed. They're all right; but give me a woman with brains
every time." Which was a lie!
They drove home down the Bois--the cool, spacious, tree-bordered
Bois--and through the Champs Elysees. Because he was an artist in his
way, and because every passing _fiacre_ revealed the same picture, Max
Tack sat very near her and looked very tender and held her hand in his.
It would have raised a laugh at Broadway and Forty-second. It was quite,
quite sane and very comforting in Paris.
At the door of the hotel:
"I'm sailing Wednesday," said Max Tack. "You--you won't forget me?"
"You'll call me up or run into the office when you get to New York?"
He walked with her to the lift, said good-bye and returned to the
_fiacre_ with the tinkling bell. There was a stunned sort of look in his
face. The _fiacre_ meter registered two francs seventy. Max Tack did a
lightning mental calculation. The expression on his face deepened. He
looked up at the cabby--the red-faced, bottle-nosed cabby, with his
absurd scarlet vest, his mustard-coloured trousers and his glazed top
"Well, can you beat that? Three francs thirty for the evening's
entertainment! Why--why, all she wanted was just a little love!"
To the bottle-nosed one all conversation in a foreign language meant
dissatisfaction with the meter. He tapped that glass-covered contrivance
impatiently with his whip. A flood of French bubbled at his lips.
"It's all right, boy! It's all right! You don't get me!" And Max Tacked
pressed a five-franc piece into the outstretched palm. Then to the hotel
porter: "Just grab a taxi for me, will you? These tubs make me nervous."
Sophy, on her way to her room, hesitated, turned, then ran up the stairs
to the next floor and knocked gently at Miss Morrissey's door. A moment
later that lady's kimonoed figure loomed large in the doorway.
"Who is--oh, it's you! Well, I was just going to have them drag the
Seine for you. Come in!"
She went back to the table. Sheets of paper, rough sketches of hat
models done from memory, notes and letters lay scattered all about.
Sophy leaned against the door dreamily.
"I've been working this whole mortal evening," went on Ella Morrissey,
holding up a pencil sketch and squinting at it disapprovingly over her
working spectacles, "and I'm so tired that one eye's shut and the
other's running on first. Where've you been, child?"
"Oh, driving!" Sophy's limp hair was a shade limper than usual, and a
strand of it had become loosened and straggled untidily down over her
ear. Her eyes looked large and strangely luminous. "Do you know, I love
Ella Morrissey laid down her pencil sketch and turned slowly. She
surveyed Sophy Gold, her shrewd eyes twinkling.
"That so? What made you change your mind?"
The dreamy look in Sophy's eyes deepened.
"Why--I don't know. There's something in the atmosphere--something in
the air. It makes you do and say foolish things. It makes you feel queer
and light and happy."
Ella Morrissey's bright twinkle softened to a glow. She stared for
another brief moment. Then she trundled over to where Sophy stood and
patted her leathery cheek. "Welcome to our city!" said Miss Ella
THE THREE OF THEM
For eleven years Martha Foote, head housekeeper at the Senate Hotel,
Chicago, had catered, unseen, and ministered, unknown, to that great,
careless, shifting, conglomerate mass known as the Travelling Public.
Wholesale hostessing was Martha Foote's job. Senators and suffragists,
ambassadors and first families had found ease and comfort under Martha
Foote's regime. Her carpets had bent their nap to the tread of kings,
and show girls, and buyers from Montana. Her sheets had soothed the
tired limbs of presidents, and princesses, and prima donnas. For the
Senate Hotel is more than a hostelry; it is a Chicago institution. The
whole world is churned in at its revolving front door.
For eleven years Martha Foote, then, had beheld humanity throwing its
grimy suitcases on her immaculate white bedspreads; wiping its muddy
boots on her bath towels; scratching its matches on her wall paper;
scrawling its pencil marks on her cream woodwork; spilling its greasy
crumbs on her carpet; carrying away her dresser scarfs and pincushions.
There is no supremer test of character. Eleven years of hotel
housekeepership guarantees a knowledge of human nature that includes
some things no living being ought to know about her fellow men. And
inevitably one of two results must follow. You degenerate into a bitter,
waspish, and fault-finding shrew; or you develop into a patient,
tolerant, and infinitely understanding woman. Martha Foote dealt daily
with Polack scrub girls, and Irish porters, and Swedish chambermaids,
and Swiss waiters, and Halsted Street bell-boys. Italian tenors fried
onions in her Louis-Quinze suite. College boys burned cigarette holes in
her best linen sheets. Yet any one connected with the Senate Hotel, from
Pete the pastry cook to H.G. Featherstone, lessee-director, could vouch
for Martha Foote's serene unacidulation.
* * * * *
Don't gather from this that Martha Foote was a beaming, motherly person
who called you dearie. Neither was she one of those managerial and
magnificent blonde beings occasionally encountered in hotel corridors,
engaged in addressing strident remarks to a damp and crawling huddle of
calico that is doing something sloppy to the woodwork. Perhaps the
shortest cut to Martha Foote's character is through Martha Foote's
bedroom. (Twelfth floor. Turn to your left. That's it; 1246. Come in!)
In the long years of its growth and success the Senate Hotel had known
the usual growing pains. Starting with walnut and red plush it had, in
its adolescence, broken out all over into brass beds and birds'-eye
maple. This, in turn, had vanished before mahogany veneer and brocade.
Hardly had the white scratches on these ruddy surfaces been doctored by
the house painter when--whisk! Away with that sombre stuff! And in
minced a whole troupe of near-French furnishings; cream enamel beds,
cane-backed; spindle-legged dressing tables before which it was
impossible to dress; perilous chairs with raspberry complexions. Through
all these changes Martha Foote, in her big, bright twelfth floor room,
had clung to her old black walnut set.
The bed, to begin with, was a massive, towering edifice with a headboard
that scraped the lofty ceiling. Head and foot-board were fretted and
carved with great blobs representing grapes, and cornucopias, and
tendrils, and knobs and other bedevilments of the cabinet-maker's craft.
It had been polished and rubbed until now it shone like soft brown
satin. There was a monumental dresser too, with a liver-coloured marble
top. Along the wall, near the windows, was a couch; a heavy, wheezing,
fat-armed couch decked out in white ruffled cushions. I suppose the mere
statement that, in Chicago, Illinois, Martha Foote kept these cushions
always crisply white, would make any further characterization
superfluous. The couch made you think of a plump grandmother of bygone
days, a beruffled white fichu across her ample, comfortable bosom. Then
there was the writing desk; a substantial structure that bore no
relation to the pindling rose-and-cream affairs that graced the guest
rooms. It was the solid sort of desk at which an English novelist of the
three-volume school might have written a whole row of books without
losing his dignity or cramping his style. Martha Foote used it for
making out reports and instruction sheets, for keeping accounts, and for
her small private correspondence.
Such was Martha Foote's room. In a modern and successful hotel, whose
foyer was rose-shaded, brass-grilled, peacock-alleyed and tessellated,
that bed-sitting-room of hers was as wholesome, and satisfying, and real
as a piece of home-made rye bread on a tray of French pastry; and as
It was to the orderly comfort of these accustomed surroundings that the
housekeeper of the Senate Hotel opened her eyes this Tuesday morning.
Opened them, and lay a moment, bridging the morphean chasm that lay
between last night and this morning. It was 6:30 A.M. It is bad enough
to open one's eyes at 6:30 on Monday morning. But to open them at 6:30
on Tuesday morning, after an indigo Monday.... The taste of yesterday
lingered, brackish, in Martha's mouth.
"Oh, well, it won't be as bad as yesterday, anyway. It can't." So she
assured herself, as she lay there. "There never were _two_ days like
that, hand running. Not even in the hotel business."
For yesterday had been what is known as a muddy Monday. Thick, murky,
and oozy with trouble. Two conventions, three banquets, the lobby so
full of khaki that it looked like a sand-storm, a threatened strike in
the laundry, a travelling man in two-twelve who had the grippe and
thought he was dying, a shortage of towels (that bugaboo of the hotel
housekeeper) due to the laundry trouble that had kept the linen-room
telephone jangling to the tune of a hundred damp and irate guests. And
weaving in and out, and above, and about and through it all, like a
neuralgic toothache that can't be located, persisted the constant,
nagging, maddening complaints of the Chronic Kicker in six-eighteen.
Six-eighteen was a woman. She had arrived Monday morning, early. By
Monday night every girl on the switchboard had the nervous jumps when
they plugged in at her signal. She had changed her rooms, and back
again. She had quarrelled with the room clerk. She had complained to the
office about the service, the food, the linen, the lights, the noise,
the chambermaid, all the bell-boys, and the colour of the furnishings in
her suite. She said she couldn't live with that colour. It made her
sick. Between 8:30 and 10:30 that night, there had come a lull.
Six-eighteen was doing her turn at the Majestic.
Martha Foote knew that. She knew, too, that her name was Geisha McCoy,
and she knew what that name meant, just as you do. She had even laughed
and quickened and responded to Geisha McCoy's manipulation of her
audience, just as you have. Martha Foote knew the value of the personal
note, and it had been her idea that had resulted in the rule which
obliged elevator boys, chambermaids, floor clerks, doormen and waiters
if possible, to learn the names of Senate Hotel guests, no matter how
brief their stay.
"They like it," she had said, to Manager Brant. "You know that better
than I do. They'll be flattered, and surprised, and tickled to death,
and they'll go back to Burlington, Iowa, and tell how well known they
are at the Senate."
When the suggestion was met with the argument that no human being could
be expected to perform such daily feats of memory Martha Foote battered
it down with:
"That's just where you're mistaken. The first few days are bad. After
that it's easier every day, until it becomes mechanical. I remember when
I first started waiting on table in my mother's quick lunch eating house
in Sorghum, Minnesota. I'd bring 'em wheat cakes when they'd ordered
pork and beans, but it wasn't two weeks before I could take six orders,
from soup to pie, without so much as forgetting the catsup. Habit,
So she, as well as the minor hotel employes, knew six-eighteen as Geisha
McCoy. Geisha McCoy, who got a thousand a week for singing a few songs
and chatting informally with the delighted hundreds on the other side of
the footlights. Geisha McCoy made nothing of those same footlights. She
reached out, so to speak, and shook hands with you across their amber
glare. Neither lovely nor alluring, this woman. And as for her
voice!--And yet for ten years or more this rather plain person, somewhat
dumpy, no longer young, had been singing her every-day, human songs
about every-day, human people. And invariably (and figuratively) her
audience clambered up over the footlights, and sat in her lap. She had
never resorted to cheap music-hall tricks. She had never invited the
gallery to join in the chorus. She descended to no finger-snapping. But
when she sang a song about a waitress she was a waitress. She never
hesitated to twist up her hair, and pull down her mouth, to get an
effect. She didn't seem to be thinking about herself, at all, or about
her clothes, or her method, or her effort, or anything but the audience
that was plastic to her deft and magic manipulation.
Until very recently. Six months had wrought a subtle change in Geisha
McCoy. She still sang her every-day, human songs about every-day, human
people. But you failed, somehow, to recognise them as such. They sounded
sawdust-stuffed. And you were likely to hear the man behind you say,
"Yeh, but you ought to have heard her five years ago. She's about
Such was six-eighteen. Martha Foote, luxuriating in that one delicious
moment between her 6:30 awakening, and her 6:31 arising, mused on these
things. She thought of how, at eleven o'clock the night before, her
telephone had rung with the sharp zing! of trouble. The voice of Irish
Nellie, on night duty on the sixth floor, had sounded thick-brogued,
sure sign of distress with her.
"I'm sorry to be a-botherin' ye, Mis' Phut. It's Nellie speakin'--Irish
Nellie on the sixt'."
"What's the trouble, Nellie?"
"It's that six-eighteen again. She's goin' on like mad. She's carryin'
on something fierce."
"Th'--th' blankets, Mis' Phut."
"She says--it's her wurruds, not mine--she says they're vile. Vile, she
Martha Foote's spine had stiffened. "In this house! Vile!"
If there was one thing more than another upon which Martha Foote prided
herself it was the Senate Hotel bed coverings. Creamy, spotless, downy,
they were her especial fad. "Brocade chairs, and pink lamps, and gold
snake-work are all well and good," she was wont to say, "and so are
American Beauties in the lobby and white gloves on the elevator boys.
But it's the blankets on the beds that stamp a hotel first or second
class." And now this, from Nellie.
"I know how ye feel, an' all. I sez to 'er, I sez: 'There never was a
blanket in this _house_,' I sez, 'that didn't look as if it cud be
sarved up wit' whipped cr-ream,' I sez, 'an' et,' I sez to her; 'an'
fu'thermore,' I sez--"
"Never mind, Nellie. I know. But we never argue with guests. You know
that rule as well as I. The guest is right--always. I'll send up the
linen-room keys. You get fresh blankets; new ones. And no arguments. But
I want to see those--those vile--"
"Listen, Mis' Phut." Irish Nellie's voice, until now shrill with
righteous anger, dropped a discreet octave. "I seen 'em. An' they _are_
vile. Wait a minnit! But why? Becus that there maid of hers--that yella'
hussy--give her a body massage, wit' cold cream an' all, usin' th'
blankets f'r coverin', an' smearin' 'em right _an'_ lift. This was
afther they come back from th' theayter. Th' crust of thim people, using
the iligent blankets off'n the beds t'--"
"Good night, Nellie. And thank you."
"Sure, ye know I'm that upset f'r distarbin' yuh, an' all, but--"
Martha Foote cast an eye toward the great walnut bed. "That's all right.
"If I'm disturbed again on that woman's account for anything less than
"Well, there'll _be_ one, that's all. Good night."
Such had been Monday's cheerful close.
Martha Foote sat up in bed, now, preparatory to the heroic flinging
aside of the covers. "No," she assured herself, "it can't be as bad as
yesterday." She reached round and about her pillow, groping for the
recalcitrant hairpin that always slipped out during the night; found it,
and twisted her hair into a hard bathtub bun.
With a jangle that tore through her half-wakened senses the telephone at
her bedside shrilled into life. Martha Foote, hairpin in mouth, turned
and eyed it, speculatively, fearfully. It shrilled on in her very face,
and there seemed something taunting and vindictive about it. One long
ring, followed by a short one; a long ring, a short. "Ca-a-an't it?
"Something tells me I'm wrong," Martha Foote told herself, ruefully, and
reached for the blatant, snarling thing.
"Mrs. Foote? This is Healy, the night clerk. Say, Mrs. Foote, I think
you'd better step down to six-eighteen and see what's--"
"I _am_ wrong," said Martha Foote.
"Nothing. Go on. Will I step down to six-eighteen and--?"
"She's sick, or something. Hysterics, I'd say. As far as I could make
out it was something about a noise, or a sound or--Anyway, she can't
locate it, and her maid says if we don't stop it right away--"
"I'll go down. Maybe it's the plumbing. Or the radiator. Did you ask?"
"No, nothing like that. She kept talking about a wail."
"A wail. A kind of groaning, you know. And then dull raps on the wall,
behind the bed."
"Now look here, Ed Healy; I get up at 6:30, but I can't see a joke
before ten. If you're trying to be funny!--"
"Funny! Why, say, listen, Mrs. Foote. I may be a night clerk, but I'm
not so low as to get you out at half past six to spring a thing like
that in fun. I mean it. So did she."
"But a kind of moaning! And then dull raps!"
"Those are her words. A kind of m--"
"Let's not make a chant of it. I think I get you. I'll be down there in
ten minutes. Telephone her, will you?"
"Can't you make it five?"
"Not without skipping something vital."
Still, it couldn't have been a second over ten, including shoes, hair,
and hooks-and-eyes. And a fresh white blouse. It was Martha Foote's
theory that a hotel housekeeper, dressed for work, ought to be as
inconspicuous as a steel engraving. She would have been, too, if it
hadn't been for her eyes.
She paused a moment before the door of six-eighteen and took a deep
breath. At the first brisk rat-tat of her knuckles on the door there had
sounded a shrill "Come in!" But before she could turn the knob the door
was flung open by a kimonoed mulatto girl, her eyes all whites. The girl
began to jabber, incoherently but Martha Foote passed on through the
little hall to the door of the bedroom.
Six-eighteen was in bed. At sight of her Martha Foote knew that she had
to deal with an over-wrought woman. Her hair was pushed back wildly from
her forehead. Her arms were clasped about her knees. At the left her
nightgown had slipped down so that one plump white shoulder gleamed
against the background of her streaming hair. The room was in almost
comic disorder. It was a room in which a struggle has taken place
between its occupant and that burning-eyed hag, Sleeplessness. The hag,
it was plain, had won. A half-emptied glass of milk was on the table by
the bed. Warmed, and sipped slowly, it had evidently failed to soothe. A
tray of dishes littered another table. Yesterday's dishes, their
contents congealed. Books and magazines, their covers spread wide as if
they had been flung, sprawled where they lay. A little heap of
grey-black cigarette stubs. The window curtain awry where she had stood
there during a feverish moment of the sleepless night, looking down upon
the lights of Grant Park and the sombre black void beyond that was Lake
Michigan. A tiny satin bedroom slipper on a chair, its mate, sole up,
peeping out from under the bed. A pair of satin slippers alone,
distributed thus, would make a nun's cell look disreputable. Over all
this disorder the ceiling lights, the wall lights, and the light from
two rosy lamps, beat mercilessly down; and upon the white-faced woman in
She stared, hollow-eyed, at Martha Foote. Martha Foote, in the doorway,
gazed serenely back upon her. And Geisha McCoy's quick intelligence and
drama-sense responded to the picture of this calm and capable figure in
the midst of the feverish, over-lighted, over-heated room. In that
moment the nervous pucker between her eyes ironed out ever so little,
and something resembling a wan smile crept into her face. And what she
"I wouldn't have believed it."
"Believed what?" inquired Martha Foote, pleasantly.
"That there was anybody left in the world who could look like that in a
white shirtwaist at 6:30 A.M. Is that all your own hair?"
"Some people have all the luck," sighed Geisha McCoy, and dropped
listlessly back on her pillows. Martha Foote came forward into the room.
At that instant the woman in the bed sat up again, tense, every nerve
strained in an attitude of listening. The mulatto girl had come swiftly
to the foot of the bed and was clutching the footboard, her knuckles
"Listen!" A hissing whisper from the haggard woman in the bed. "What's
"Wha' dat!" breathed the coloured girl, all her elegance gone, her
every look and motion a hundred-year throwback to her voodoo-haunted
The three women remained rigid, listening. From the wall somewhere
behind the bed came a low, weird monotonous sound, half wail, half
croaking moan, like a banshee with a cold. A clanking, then, as of
chains. A s-s-swish. Then three dull raps, seemingly from within the
very wall itself.
The coloured girl was trembling. Her lips were moving, soundlessly. But
Geisha McCoy's emotion was made of different stuff.
"Now look here," she said, desperately, "I don't mind a sleepless night.
I'm used to 'em. But usually I can drop off at five, for a little while.
And that's been going on--well, I don't know how long. It's driving me
crazy. Blanche, you fool, stop that hand wringing! I tell you there's no
such thing as ghosts. Now you"--she turned to Martha Foote again--"you
tell me, for God's sake, what _is_ that!"
And into Martha Foote's face there came such a look of mingled
compassion and mirth as to bring a quick flame of fury into Geisha
"Look here, you may think it's funny but--"
"I don't. I don't. Wait a minute." Martha Foote turned and was gone. An
instant later the weird sounds ceased. The two women in the room looked
toward the door, expectantly. And through it came Martha Foote, smiling.
She turned and beckoned to some one without. "Come on," she said. "Come
on." She put out a hand, encouragingly, and brought forward the
shrinking, cowering, timorous figure of Anna Czarnik, scrub-woman on the
sixth floor. Her hand still on her shoulder Martha Foote led her to the
centre of the room, where she stood, gazing dumbly about. She was the
scrub-woman you've seen in every hotel from San Francisco to Scituate. A
shapeless, moist, blue calico mass. Her shoes turned up ludicrously at
the toes, as do the shoes of one who crawls her way backward, crab-like,
on hands and knees. Her hands were the shrivelled, unlovely members that
bespeak long and daily immersion in dirty water. But even had these
invariable marks of her trade been lacking, you could not have failed to
recognise her type by the large and glittering mock-diamond comb which
failed to catch up her dank and stringy hair in the back.
One kindly hand on the woman's arm, Martha Foote performed the
"This is Mrs. Anna Czarnik, late of Poland. Widowed. Likewise childless.
Also brotherless. Also many other uncomfortable things. But the life of
the crowd in the scrub-girls' quarters on the top floor. Aren't you,
Anna? Mrs. Anna Czarnik, I'm sorry to say, is the source of the
blood-curdling moan, and the swishing, and the clanking, and the
ghost-raps. There is a service stairway just on the other side of this
wall. Anna Czarnik was performing her morning job of scrubbing it. The
swishing was her wet rag. The clanking was her pail. The dull raps her
scrubbing brush striking the stair corner just behind your wall."
"You're forgetting the wail," Geisha McCoy suggested, icily.
"No, I'm not. The wail, I'm afraid, was Anna Czarnik, singing."
Martha Foote turned and spoke a gibberish of Polish and English to the
bewildered woman at her side. Anna Czarnik's dull face lighted up ever
"She says the thing she was singing is a Polish folk-song about death
and sorrow, and it's called a--what was that, Anna?"
"It's called a dumka. It's a song of mourning, you see? Of grief. And of
bitterness against the invaders who have laid her country bare."
"Well, what's the idea!" demanded Geisha McCoy. "What kind of a hotel is
this, anyway? Scrub-girls waking people up in the middle of the night
with a Polish cabaret. If she wants to sing her hymn of hate why does
she have to pick on me!"
"I'm sorry. You can go, Anna. No sing, remember! Sh-sh-sh!"
Anna Czarnik nodded and made her unwieldy escape.
Geisha McCoy waved a hand at the mulatto maid. "Go to your room,
Blanche. I'll ring when I need you." The girl vanished, gratefully,
without a backward glance at the disorderly room. Martha Foote felt
herself dismissed, too. And yet she made no move to go. She stood there,
in the middle of the room, and every housekeeper inch of her yearned to
tidy the chaos all about her, and every sympathetic impulse urged her
to comfort the nerve-tortured woman before her. Something of this must
have shone in her face, for Geisha McCoy's tone was half-pettish,
half-apologetic as she spoke.
"You've no business allowing things like that, you know. My nerves are
all shot to pieces anyway. But even if they weren't, who could stand
that kind of torture? A woman like that ought to lose her job for that.
One word from me at the office and she--"
"Don't say it, then," interrupted Martha Foote, and came over to the
bed. Mechanically her fingers straightened the tumbled covers, removed a
jumble of magazines, flicked away the crumbs. "I'm sorry you were
disturbed. The scrubbing can't be helped, of course, but there is a
rule against unnecessary noise, and she shouldn't have been singing.
But--well, I suppose she's got to find relief, somehow. Would you
believe that woman is the cut-up of the top floor? She's a natural
comedian, and she does more for me in the way of keeping the other girls
happy and satisfied than--"
"What about me? Where do I come in? Instead of sleeping until eleven
I'm kept awake by this Polish dirge. I go on at the Majestic at four,
and again at 9.45 and I'm sick, I tell you! Sick!"
She looked it, too. Suddenly she twisted about and flung herself, face
downward, on the pillow. "Oh, God!" she cried, without any particular
expression. "Oh, God! Oh, God!"
That decided Martha Foote.
She crossed over to the other side of the bed, first flicking off the
glaring top lights, sat down beside the shaken woman on the pillows, and
laid a cool, light hand on her shoulder.
"It isn't as bad as that. Or it won't be, anyway, after you've told me
She waited. Geisha McCoy remained as she was, face down. But she did not
openly resent the hand on her shoulder. So Martha Foote waited. And as
suddenly as Six-eighteen had flung herself prone she twisted about and
sat up, breathing quickly. She passed a hand over her eyes and pushed
back her streaming hair with an oddly desperate little gesture. Her lips
were parted, her eyes wide.
"They've got away from me," she cried, and Martha Foote knew what she
meant. "I can't hold 'em any more. I work as hard as ever--harder.
That's it. It seems the harder I work the colder they get. Last week, in
Indianapolis, they couldn't have been more indifferent if I'd been the
educational film that closes the show. And, oh my God! They sit and
"Knit!" echoed Martha Foote. "But everybody's knitting nowadays."
"Not when I'm on. They can't. But they do. There were three of them in
the third row yesterday afternoon. One of 'em was doing a grey sock with
four shiny needles. Four! I couldn't keep my eyes off of them. And the
second was doing a sweater, and the third a helmet. I could tell by
the shape. And you can't be funny, can you, when you're hypnotised by
three stony-faced females all doubled up over a bunch of olive-drab?
Olive-drab! I'm scared of it. It sticks out all over the house. Last
night there were two young kids in uniform right down in the first row,
centre, right. I'll bet the oldest wasn't twenty-three. There they sat,
looking up at me with their baby faces. That's all they are. Kids. The
house seems to be peppered with 'em. You wouldn't think olive-drab could
stick out the way it does. I can see it farther than red. I can see it
day and night. I can't seem to see anything else. I can't--"
Her head came down on her arms, that rested on her tight-hugged knees.
"Somebody of yours in it?" Martha Foote asked, quietly. She waited. Then
she made a wild guess--an intuitive guess. "Son?"
"How did you know?" Geisha McCoy's head came up.
"Well, you're right. There aren't fifty people in the world, outside my
own friends, who know I've got a grown-up son. It's bad business to have
them think you're middle-aged. And besides, there's nothing of the stage
about Fred. He's one of those square-jawed kids that are just cut out to
be engineers. Third year at Boston Tech."
"Is he still there, then?"
"There! He's in France, that's where he is. Somewhere--in France. And
I've worked for twenty-two years with everything in me just set, like an
alarm-clock, for the time when that kid would step off on his own. He
always hated to take money from me, and I loved him for it. I never went
on that I didn't think of him. I never came off with a half dozen
encores that I didn't wish he could hear it. Why, when I played a
college town it used to be a riot, because I loved every fresh-faced boy
in the house, and they knew it. And now--and now--what's there in it?
What's there in it? I can't even hold 'em any more. I'm through, I tell
you. I'm through!"
And waited to be disputed. Martha Foote did not disappoint her.
"There's just this in it. It's up to you to make those three women in
the third row forget what they're knitting for, even if they don't
forget their knitting. Let 'em go on knitting with their hands, but keep
their heads off it. That's your job. You're lucky to have it."
"Yes _ma'am_! You can do all the dumka stuff in private, the way Anna
Czarnik does, but it's up to you to make them laugh twice a day for
"It's all very well for you to talk that cheer-o stuff. It hasn't come
home to you, I can see that."
Martha Foote smiled. "If you don't mind my saying it, Miss McCoy, you're
too worn out from lack of sleep to see anything clearly. You don't know
me, but I do know you, you see. I know that a year ago Anna Czarnik
would have been the most interesting thing in this town, for you. You'd
have copied her clothes, and got a translation of her sob song, and made
her as real to a thousand audiences as she was to us this morning;
tragic history, patient animal face, comic shoes and all. And that's the
trouble with you, my dear. When we begin to brood about our own troubles
we lose what they call the human touch. And that's your business asset."
Geisha McCoy was looking up at her with a whimsical half-smile. "Look
here. You know too much. You're not really the hotel housekeeper, are
"Well, then, you weren't always--"
"Yes I was. So far as I know I'm the only hotel housekeeper in history
who can't look back to the time when she had three servants of her own,
and her private carriage. I'm no decayed black-silk gentlewoman. Not me.
My father drove a hack in Sorgham, Minnesota, and my mother took in
boarders and I helped wait on table. I married when I was twenty, my man
died two years later, and I've been earning my living ever since."
"I must be, because I don't stop to think about it. It's part of my job
to know everything that concerns the comfort of the guests in this
"Including hysterics in six-eighteen?"
"Including. And that reminds me. Up on the twelfth floor of this hotel
there's a big, old-fashioned bedroom. In half an hour I can have that
room made up with the softest linen sheets, and the curtains pulled
down, and not a sound. That room's so restful it would put old Insomnia
himself to sleep. Will you let me tuck you away in it?"
Geisha McCoy slid down among her rumpled covers, and nestled her head in
the lumpy, tortured pillows. "Me! I'm going to stay right here."
"But this room's--why, it's as stale as a Pullman sleeper. Let me have
the chambermaid in to freshen it up while you're gone."
"I'm used to it. I've got to have a room mussed up, to feel at home in
it. Thanks just the same."
Martha Foote rose, "I'm sorry. I just thought if I could help--"
Geisha McCoy leaned forward with one of her quick movements and caught
Martha Foote's hand in both her own, "You have! And I don't mean to be
rude when I tell you I haven't felt so much like sleeping in weeks.
Just turn out those lights, will you? And sort of tiptoe out, to give
the effect." Then, as Martha Foote reached the door, "And oh, say! D'you
think she'd sell me those shoes?"
Martha Foote didn't get her dinner that night until almost eight, what
with one thing and another. Still as days go, it wasn't so bad as
Monday; she and Irish Nellie, who had come in to turn down her bed,
agreed on that. The Senate Hotel housekeeper was having her dinner in
her room. Tony, the waiter, had just brought it on and had set it out
for her, a gleaming island of white linen, and dome-shaped metal tops.
Irish Nellie, a privileged person always, waxed conversational as she
folded back the bed covers in a neat triangular wedge.
"Six-eighteen kinda ca'med down, didn't she? High toime, the divil. She
had us jumpin' yist'iddy. I loike t' went off me head wid her, and th'
day girl th' same. Some folks ain't got no feelin', I dunno."
Martha Foote unfolded her napkin with a little tired gesture. "You can't
always judge, Nellie. That woman's got a son who has gone to war, and
she couldn't see her way clear to living without him. She's better now.
I talked to her this evening at six. She said she had a fine afternoon."
"Shure, she ain't the only wan. An' what do you be hearin' from your
boy, Mis' Phut, that's in France?"
"He's well, and happy. His arm's all healed, and he says he'll be in it
again by the time I get his letter."
"Humph," said Irish Nellie. And prepared to leave. She cast an
inquisitive eye over the little table as she made for the
door--inquisitive, but kindly. Her wide Irish nostrils sniffed a
familiar smell. "Well, fur th' land, Mis' Phut! If I was housekeeper
here, an' cud have hothouse strawberries, an' swatebreads undher
glass, an' sparrowgrass, an' chicken, _an'_ ice crame, the way you
can, whiniver yuh loike, I wouldn't be a-eatin' cornbeef an' cabbage.
"Oh, yes you would, Nellie," replied Martha Foote, quietly, and spooned
up the thin amber gravy. "Oh, yes you would."
Tyler Kamps was a tired boy. He was tired from his left great toe to
that topmost spot at the crown of his head where six unruly hairs always
persisted in sticking straight out in defiance of patient brushing,
wetting, and greasing. Tyler Kamps was as tired as only a boy can be at
9.30 P.M. who has risen at 5.30 A.M. Yet he lay wide awake in his
hammock eight feet above the ground, like a giant silk-worm in an
incredible cocoon and listened to the sleep-sounds that came from the
depths of two hundred similar cocoons suspended at regular intervals
down the long dark room. A chorus of deep regular breathing, with an
occasional grunt or sigh, denoting complete relaxation. Tyler Kamps
should have been part of this chorus, himself. Instead he lay staring
into the darkness, thinking mad thoughts of which this is a sample:
"Gosh! Wouldn't I like to sit up in my hammock and give one yell! The
kind of a yell a movie cowboy gives on a Saturday night. Wake 'em up and
stop that--darned old breathing."
Nerves. He breathed deeply himself, once or twice, because it seemed,
somehow to relieve his feeling of irritation. And in that unguarded
moment of unconscious relaxation Sleep, that had been lying in wait for
him just around the corner, pounced on him and claimed him for its own.
From his hammock came the deep, regular inhalation, exhalation, with an
occasional grunt or sigh. The normal sleep-sounds of a very tired boy.
The trouble with Tyler Kamps was that he missed two things he hadn't
expected to miss at all. And he missed not at all the things he had been
prepared to miss most hideously.
First of all, he had expected to miss his mother. If you had known
Stella Kamps you could readily have understood that. Stella Kamps was
the kind of mother they sing about in the sentimental ballads; mother,
pal, and sweetheart. Which was where she had made her big mistake. When
one mother tries to be all those things to one son that son has a very
fair chance of turning out a mollycoddle. The war was probably all that
saved Tyler Kamps from such a fate.
In the way she handled this son of hers Stella Kamps had been as crafty
and skilful and velvet-gloved as a girl with her beau. The proof of it
is that Tyler had never known he was being handled. Some folks in
Marvin, Texas, said she actually flirted with him, and they were almost
justified. Certainly the way she glanced up at him from beneath her
lashes was excused only by the way she scolded him if he tracked up the
kitchen floor. But then, Stella Kamps and her boy were different,
anyway. Marvin folks all agreed about that. Flowers on the table at
meals. Sitting over the supper things talking and laughing for an hour
after they'd finished eating, as if they hadn't seen each other in
years. Reading out loud to each other, out of books and then going on
like mad about what they'd just read, and getting all het up about it.
And sometimes chasing each other around the yard, spring evenings, like
a couple of fool kids. Honestly, if a body didn't know Stella Kamps so
well, and what a fight she had put up to earn a living for herself and
the boy after that good-for-nothing Kamps up and left her, and what a
housekeeper she was, and all, a person'd think--well--
So, then, Tyler had expected to miss her first of all. The way she
talked. The way she fussed around him without in the least seeming to
fuss. Her special way of cooking things. Her laugh which drew laughter
in its wake. The funny way she had of saying things, vitalising
commonplaces with the spark of her own electricity.
And now he missed her only as the average boy of twenty-one misses the
mother he has been used to all his life. No more and no less. Which
would indicate that Stella Kamps, in her protean endeavours, had
overplayed the parts just a trifle.
He had expected to miss the boys at the bank. He had expected to miss
the Mandolin Club. The Mandolin Club met, officially, every Thursday and
spangled the Texas night with their tinkling. Five rather dreamy-eyed
adolescents slumped in stoop-shouldered comfort over the instruments
cradled in their arms, each right leg crossed limply over the left, each
great foot that dangled from the bony ankle, keeping rhythmic time to
He had expected to miss the familiar faces on Main Street. He had even
expected to miss the neighbours with whom he and his mother had so
rarely mingled. All the hundred little, intimate, trivial, everyday
things that had gone to make up his life back home in Marvin,
Texas--these he had expected to miss.
And he didn't.
After ten weeks at the Great Central Naval Training Station so near
Chicago, Illinois, and so far from Marvin, Texas, there were two things
He wanted the decent privacy of his small quiet bedroom back home.
He wanted to talk to a girl.
He knew he wanted the first, definitely. He didn't know he wanted the
second. The fact that he didn't know it was Stella Kamps' fault. She had
kept his boyhood girlless, year and year, by sheer force of her own love
for him, and need of him, and by the charm and magnetism that were hers.
She had been deprived of a more legitimate outlet for these emotions.
Concentrated on the boy, they had sufficed for him. The Marvin girls had
long ago given him up as hopeless. They fell back, baffled, their
keenest weapons dulled by the impenetrable armour of his impersonal
The room? It hadn't been much of a room, as rooms go. Bare, clean,
asceptic, with a narrow, hard white bed and a maple dresser whose second
drawer always stuck and came out zig-zag when you pulled it; and a
swimmy mirror that made one side of your face look sort of lumpy, and
higher than the other side. In one corner a bookshelf. He had made it
himself at manual training. When he had finished it--the planing, the
staining, the polishing--Chippendale himself, after he had designed and
executed his first gracious, wide-seated, back-fitting chair, could have
felt no finer creative glow. As for the books it held, just to run your
eye over them was like watching Tyler Kamps grow up. Stella Kamps had
been a Kansas school teacher in the days before she met and married
Clint Kamps. And she had never quite got over it. So the book case
contained certain things that a fond mother (with a teaching past) would
think her small son ought to enjoy. Things like "Tom Brown At Rugby" and
"Hans Brinker, Or the Silver Skates." He had read them, dutifully, but
they were as good as new. No thumbed pages, no ragged edges, no creases
and tatters where eager boy hands had turned a page over--hastily. No,
the thumb-marked, dog's-eared, grimy ones were, as always, "Tom Sawyer"
and "Huckleberry Finn" and "Marching Against the Iroquois."
A hot enough little room in the Texas summers. A cold enough little
room in the Texas winters. But his own. And quiet. He used to lie there
at night, relaxed, just before sleep claimed him, and he could almost
feel the soft Texas night enfold him like a great, velvety, invisible
blanket, soothing him, lulling him. In the morning it had been pleasant
to wake up to its bare, clean whiteness, and to the tantalising
breakfast smells coming up from the kitchen below. His mother calling
from the foot of the narrow wooden stairway:
"Ty-_ler_!," rising inflection. "_Ty_-ler," falling inflection. "Get up,
son! Breakfast'll be ready."
It was always a terrific struggle between a last delicious stolen five
minutes between the covers, and the scent of the coffee and bacon.
"Ty-_ler_! You'll be late!"
A mighty stretch. A gathering of his will forces. A swing of his long
legs over the side of the bed so that they described an arc in the air.
"Been up years."
Breakfast had won.
Until he came to the Great Central Naval Training Station Tyler's
nearest approach to the nautical life had been when, at the age of six,
he had sailed chips in the wash tub in the back yard. Marvin, Texas, is
five hundred miles inland. And yet he had enlisted in the navy as
inevitably as though he had sprung from a long line of Vikings. In his
boyhood his choice of games had always been pirate. You saw him, a red
handkerchief binding his brow, one foot advanced, knee bent, scanning
the horizon for the treasure island from the vantage point of the
woodshed roof, while the crew, gone mad with thirst, snarled and
shrieked all about him, and the dirt yard below became a hungry, roaring
sea. His twelve-year-old vocabulary boasted such compound difficulties
as mizzentopsail-yard and main-topgallantmast. He knew the intricate
parts of a full-rigged ship from the mainsail to the deck, from the
jib-boom to the chart-house. All this from pictures and books. It was
the roving, restless spirit of his father in him, I suppose. Clint Kamps
had never been meant for marriage. When the baby Tyler was one year old
Clint had walked over to where his wife sat, the child in her lap, and
had tilted her head back, kissed her on the lips, and had gently pinched
the boy's roseleaf cheek with a quizzical forefinger and thumb. Then,
indolently, negligently, gracefully, he had strolled out of the house,
down the steps, into the hot and dusty street and so on and on and out
of their lives. Stella Kamps had never seen him again. Her letters back
home to her folks in Kansas were triumphs of bravery and bare-faced
lying. The kind of bravery, and the kind of lying that only a woman
could understand. She managed to make out, somehow, at first. And later,
very well indeed. As the years went on she and the boy lived together in
a sort of closed corporation paradise of their own. At twenty-one Tyler,
who had gone through grammar school, high school and business college
had never kissed a girl or felt a love-pang. Stella Kamps kept her age
as a woman does whose brain and body are alert and busy. When Tyler
first went to work in the Texas State Savings Bank of Marvin the girls
would come in on various pretexts just for a glimpse of his charming
blondeur behind the little cage at the rear. It is difficult for a
small-town girl to think of reasons for going into a bank. You have to
be moneyed to do it. They say that the Davies girl saved up nickels
until she had a dollar's worth and then came into the bank and asked to
have a bill in exchange for it. They gave her one--a crisp, new, crackly
dollar bill. She reached for it, gropingly, her eyes fixed on a point at
the rear of the bank. Two days later she came in and brazenly asked to
have it changed into nickels again. She might have gone on indefinitely
thus if Tyler's country hadn't given him something more important to do
than to change dollars into nickels and back again.
On the day he left for the faraway naval training station Stella Kamps
for the second time in her life had a chance to show the stuff she was
made of, and showed it. Not a whimper. Down at the train, standing at
the car window, looking up at him and smiling, and saying futile,
foolish, final things, and seeing only his blond head among the many
thrust out of the open window.
"... and Tyler, remember what I said about your feet. You know. Dry....
And I'll send a box every week, only don't eat too many of the nut
cookies. They're so rich. Give some to the other--yes, I know you will.
I was just ... Won't it be grand to be right there on the water all the
time! My!... I'll write every night and then send it twice a week....
I don't suppose you ... Well once a week, won't you, dear?...
You're--you're moving. The train's going! Good-b--" she ran along with
it for a few feet, awkwardly, as a woman runs. Stumblingly.
And suddenly, as she ran, his head always just ahead of her, she
thought, with a great pang:
"O my God, how young he is! How young he is, and he doesn't know
anything. I should have told him.... Things.... He doesn't know anything
about ... and all those other men--"
She ran on, one arm outstretched as though to hold him a moment longer
while the train gathered speed. "Tyler!" she called, through the din and
shouting. "Tyler, be good! Be good!" He only saw her lips moving, and
could not hear, so he nodded his head, and smiled, and waved, and was
So Tyler Kamps had travelled up to Chicago. Whenever they passed a
sizable town they had thrown open the windows and yelled, "Youp! Who-ee!
People had rushed to the streets and had stood there gazing after the
train. Tyler hadn't done much youping at first, but in the later stages
of the journey he joined in to keep his spirits up. He, who had never
been more than a two-hours' ride from home was flashing past villages,
towns, cities--hundreds of them.
The first few days had been unbelievably bad, what with typhoid
inoculations, smallpox vaccinations, and loneliness. The very first day,
when he had entered his barracks one of the other boys, older in
experience, misled by Tyler's pink and white and gold colouring, had
leaned forward from amongst a group and had called in glad surprise, at
the top of a leathery pair of lungs:
"Why, hello, sweetheart!" The others had taken it up with cruelty of
their age. "Hello, sweetheart!" It had stuck. Sweetheart. In the hard
years that followed--years in which the blood-thirsty and piratical
games of his boyhood paled to the mildest of imaginings--the nickname
still clung, long after he had ceased to resent it; long after he had
stripes and braid to refute it.
But in that Tyler Kamps we are not interested. It is the boy Tyler Kamps
with whom we have to do. Bewildered, lonely, and a little resentful.
Wondering where the sea part of it came in. Learning to say "on the
station" instead of "at the station," the idea being that the great
stretch of land on which the station was located was not really land,
but water; and the long wooden barracks not really barracks at all, but
ships. Learning to sleep in a hammock (it took him a full week).
Learning to pin back his sailor collar to save soiling the white braid
on it (that meant scrubbing). Learning--but why go into detail? One
sentence covers it.
Tyler met Gunner Moran. Moran, tattooed, hairy-armed, hairy-chested as a
gorilla and with something of the sadness and humour of the gorilla in
his long upper lip and short forehead. But his eyes did not bear out the
resemblance. An Irish blue; bright, unravaged; clear beacon lights in a
rough and storm-battered countenance. Gunner Moran wasn't a gunner at
all, or even a gunner's mate, but just a seaman who knew the sea from
Shanghai to New Orleans; from Liverpool to Barcelona. His knowledge of
knots and sails and rifles and bayonets and fists was a thing to strike
you dumb. He wasn't the stuff of which officers are made. But you should
have seen him with a Springfield! Or a bayonet! A bare twenty-five,
Moran, but with ten years' sea experience. Into those ten years he had
jammed a lifetime of adventure. And he could do expertly all the things
that Tyler Kamps did amateurishly. In a barrack, or in a company street,
the man who talks the loudest is the man who has the most influence. In
Tyler's barrack Gunner Moran was that man.
Because of what he knew they gave him two hundred men at a time and made
him company commander, without insignia or official position. In rank,
he was only a "gob" like the rest of them. In influence a captain. Moran
knew how to put the weight lunge behind the bayonet. It was a matter of
balance, of poise, more than of muscle.
Up in the front of his men, "G'wan," he would yell. "Whatddye think
you're doin'! Tickling 'em with a straw! That's a bayonet you got there,
not a tennis rackit. You couldn't scratch your initials on a Fritz that
way. Put a little guts into it. Now then!"
He had been used to the old Krag, with a cam that jerked out, and threw
back, and fed one shell at a time. The new Springfield, that was a
gloriously functioning thing in its simplicity, he regarded with a sort
of reverence and ecstasy mingled. As his fingers slid lightly,
caressingly along the shining barrel they were like a man's fingers
lingering on the soft curves of a woman's throat. The sight of a rookie
handling this metal sweetheart clumsily filled him with fury.
"Whatcha think you got there, you lubber, you! A section o' lead pipe!
You ought t' be back carryin' a shovel, where you belong. Here. Just a
touch. Like that. See? Easy now."
He could box like a professional. They put him up against Slovatsky, the
giant Russian, one day. Slovatsky put up his two huge hands, like hams,
and his great arms, like iron beams and looked down on this lithe, agile
bantam that was hopping about at his feet. Suddenly the bantam crouched,
sprang, and recoiled like a steel trap. Something had crashed up against
Slovatsky's chin. Red rage shook him. He raised his sledge-hammer right
for a slashing blow. Moran was directly in the path of it. It seemed
that he could no more dodge it than he could hope to escape an onrushing
locomotive, but it landed on empty air, with Moran around in back of the
Russian, and peering impishly up under his arm. It was like an elephant
worried by a mosquito. Then Moran's lightning right shot out again,
smartly, and seemed just to tap the great hulk on the side of the chin.
A ludicrous look of surprise on Slovatsky's face before he crumpled and
This man it was who had Tyler Kamps' admiration. It was more than
admiration. It was nearer adoration. But there was nothing unnatural or
unwholesome about the boy's worship of this man. It was a legitimate
thing, born of all his fatherless years; years in which there had been
no big man around the house who could throw farther than Tyler, and eat
more, and wear larger shoes and offer more expert opinion. Moran
accepted the boy's homage with a sort of surly graciousness.
In Tyler's third week at the Naval Station mumps developed in his
barracks and they were quarantined. Tyler escaped the epidemic but he
had to endure the boredom of weeks of quarantine. At first they took it
as a lark, like schoolboys. Moran's hammock was just next Tyler's. On
his other side was a young Kentuckian named Dabney Courtney. The
barracks had dubbed him Monicker the very first day. Monicker had a
rather surprising tenor voice. Moran a salty bass. And Tyler his
mandolin. The trio did much to make life bearable, or unbearable,
depending on one's musical knowledge and views. The boys all sang a
great deal. They bawled everything they knew, from "Oh, You Beautiful
Doll" and "Over There" to "The End of a Perfect Day." The latter, _ad
nauseum_. They even revived "Just Break the News to Mother" and seemed
to take a sort of awful joy in singing its dreary words and mournful
measures. They played everything from a saxophone to a harmonica. They
read. They talked. And they grew so sick of the sight of one another
that they began to snap and snarl.
Sometimes they gathered round Moran and he told them tales they only
half believed. He had been in places whose very names were exotic and
oriental, breathing of sandalwood, and myrrh, and spices and aloes. They
were places over which a boy dreams in books of travel. Moran bared the
vivid tattooing on hairy arms and chest--tattooing representing anchors,
and serpents, and girls' heads, and hearts with arrows stuck through
them. Each mark had its story. A broad-swathed gentleman indeed, Gunner
Moran. He had an easy way with him that made you feel provincial and
ashamed. It made you ashamed of not knowing the sort of thing you used
to be ashamed of knowing.
Visiting day was the worst. They grew savage, somehow, watching the
mothers and sisters and cousins and sweethearts go streaming by to the
various barracks. One of the boys to whom Tyler had never even spoken
suddenly took a picture out of his blouse pocket and showed it to Tyler.
It was a cheap little picture--one of the kind they sell two for a
quarter if one sitter; two for thirty-five if two. This was a twosome.
The boy, and a girl. A healthy, wide-awake wholesome looking small-town
girl, who has gone through high school and cuts out her own shirtwaists.
"She's vice-president of the Silver Star Pleasure Club back home," the
boy confided to Tyler. "I'm president. We meet every other Saturday."
Tyler looked at the picture seriously and approvingly. Suddenly he
wished that he had, tucked away in his blouse, a picture of a
clear-eyed, round-cheeked vice-president of a pleasure club. He took out
his mother's picture and showed it.
"Oh, yeh," said the boy, disinterestedly.
The dragging weeks came to an end. The night of Tyler's restlessness was
the last night of quarantine. To-morrow morning they would be free. At
the end of the week they were to be given shore leave. Tyler had made up
his mind to go to Chicago. He had never been there.
Five thirty. Reveille.
Tyler awoke with the feeling that something was going to happen.
Something pleasant. Then he remembered, and smiled. Dabney Courtney, in
the next hammock, was leaning far over the side of his perilous perch
and delivering himself of his morning speech. Tyler did not quite
understand this young southern elegant. Monicker had two moods, both of
which puzzled Tyler. When he awoke feeling gay he would lean over the
extreme edge of his hammock and drawl, with an affected English accent:
"If this is Venice, where are the canals?"
In his less cheerful moments he would groan, heavily, "There ain't no
This last had been his morning observation during their many weeks of
durance vile. But this morning he was, for the first time in many days,
enquiring about Venetian waterways.
Tyler had no pal. His years of companionship with his mother had bred in
him a sort of shyness, a diffidence. He heard the other boys making
plans for shore leave. They all scorned Waukegan, which was the first
sizable town beyond the Station. Chicago was their goal. They were like
a horde of play-hungry devils after their confinement. Six weeks of
restricted freedom, six weeks of stored-up energy made them restive as
"Goin' to Chicago, kid?" Moran asked him, carelessly. It was Saturday
"Yes. Are you?" eagerly.
"Kin a duck swim?"
At the Y.M.C.A. they had given him tickets to various free amusements
and entertainments. They told him about free canteens, and about other
places where you could get a good meal, cheap. One of the tickets was
for a dance. Tyler knew nothing of dancing. This dance was to be given
at some kind of woman's club on Michigan Boulevard. Tyler read the card,
glumly. A dance meant girls. He knew that. Why hadn't he learned to
Tyler walked down to the station and waited for the train that would
bring him to Chicago at about one o'clock. The other boys, in little
groups, or in pairs, were smoking and talking. Tyler wanted to join
them, but he did not. They seemed so sufficient unto themselves,
with their plans, and their glib knowledge of places, and amusements,
and girls. On the train they all bought sweets from the train
butcher--chocolate maraschinos, and nut bars, and molasses kisses--and
ate them as greedily as children, until their hunger for sweets was
Tyler found himself in the same car with Moran. He edged over to a
seat near him, watching him narrowly. Moran was not mingling with the
other boys. He kept aloof, his sea-blue eyes gazing out at the flat
Illinois prairie. All about him swept and eddied the currents and
counter-currents of talk.
"They say there's a swell supper in the Tower Building for fifty cents."
"Fifty nothing. Get all you want in the Library canteen for nix."
"Where's this dance, huh?"
"Heh, Murph! I'll shoot you a game of pool at the club."
"Naw, I gotta date."
Tyler's glance encountered Moran's, and rested there. Scorn curled the
Irishman's broad upper lip. "Navy! This ain't no navy no more. It's a
Sunday school, that's what! Phonographs, an' church suppers, an' pool
an' dances! It's enough t' turn a fella's stomick. Lot of Sunday school
kids don't know a sail from a tablecloth when they see it."
He relapsed into contemptuous silence.
Tyler, who but a moment before had been envying them their familiarity
with these very things now nodded and smiled understanding at Moran.
"That's right," he said. Moran regarded him a moment, curiously. Then he
resumed his staring out of the window. You would never have guessed that
in that bullet head there was bewilderment and resentment almost
equalling Tyler's, but for a much different reason. Gunner Moran was of
the old navy--the navy that had been despised and spat upon. In those
days his uniform alone had barred him from decent theatres, decent
halls, decent dances, contact with decent people. They had forced him to
a knowledge of the burlesque houses, the cheap theatres, the shooting
galleries, the saloons, the dives. And now, bewilderingly, the public
had right-about faced. It opened its doors to him. It closed its saloons
to him. It sought him out. It offered him amusement. It invited him to
its home, and sat him down at its table, and introduced him to its
"Nix!" said Gunner Moran, and spat between his teeth. "Not f'r me. I
pick me own lady friends."
Gunner Moran was used to picking his own lady friends. He had picked
them in wicked Port Said, and in Fiume; in Yokohama and Naples. He had
picked them unerringly, and to his taste, in Cardiff, and Hamburg, and
When the train drew in at the great Northwestern station shed he was
down the steps and up the long platform before the wheels had ceased
Tyler came down the steps slowly. Blue uniforms were streaming past
him--a flood of them. White leggings twinkled with the haste of their
wearers. Caps, white or blue, flowed like a succession of rippling waves
and broke against the great doorway, and were gone.
In Tyler's town, back home in Marvin, Texas, you knew the train numbers
and their schedules, and you spoke of them by name, familiarly and
affectionately, as Number Eleven and Number Fifty-five. "I reckon
Fifty-five'll be late to-day, on account of the storm."
Now he saw half a dozen trains lined up at once, and a dozen more tracks
waiting, empty. The great train shed awed him. The vast columned waiting
room, the hurrying people, the uniformed guards gave him a feeling of
personal unimportance. He felt very negligible, and useless, and alone.
He stood, a rather dazed blue figure, in the vastness of that shining
place. A voice--the soft, cadenced voice of the negro--addressed him.
"Lookin' fo' de sailors' club rooms?"
Tyler turned. A toothy, middle-aged, kindly negro in a uniform and red
cap. Tyler smiled friendlily. Here was a human he could feel at ease
with. Texas was full of just such faithful, friendly types of negro.
"Reckon I am, uncle. Show me the way?"
Red Cap chuckled and led the way. "Knew you was f'om de south minute Ah
see yo'. Cain't fool me. Le'ssee now. You-all f'om--?"
"I'm from the finest state in the Union. The most glorious state in
"H'm--Texas," grinned Red Cap.
"How did you know!"
"Ah done heah 'em talk befoh, son. Ah done heah 'em talk be-foh."
It was a long journey through the great building to the section that had
been set aside for Tyler and boys like him. Tyler wondered how any one
could ever find it alone. When the Red Cap left him, after showing him
the wash rooms, the tubs for scrubbing clothes, the steam dryers, the
bath-tubs, the lunch room, Tyler looked after him regretfully. Then he
sped after him and touched him on the arm.
"Listen. Could I--would they--do you mean I could clean up in there--as
much as I wanted? And wash my things? And take a bath in a bathtub, with
all the hot water I want?"
"Yo' sho' kin. On'y things look mighty grabby now. Always is Sat'days.
Jes' wait aroun' an' grab yo' tu'n."
Tyler waited. And while he waited he watched to see how the other boys
did things. He saw how they scrubbed their uniforms with scrubbing
brushes, and plenty of hot water and soap. He saw how they hung them
carefully, so that they might not wrinkle, in the dryers. He saw them
emerge, glowing, from the tub rooms. And he waited, the fever of
cleanliness burning in his eye.
His turn came. He had waited more than an hour, reading, listening to
the phonograph and the electric piano, and watching.
Now he saw his chance and seized it. And then he went through a ceremony
that was almost a ritual. Stella Kamps, could she have seen it, would
have felt repaid for all her years of soap-and-water insistence.
First he washed out the stationary tub with soap, and brush, and
scalding water. Then he scalded the brush. Then the tub again. Then,
deliberately, and with the utter unconcern of the male biped he divested
himself, piece by piece, of every stitch of covering wherewith his body
was clothed. And he scrubbed them all. He took off his white leggings
and his white cap and scrubbed those, first. He had seen the other boys
follow that order of procedure. Then his flapping blue flannel trousers,
and his blouse. Then his underclothes, and his socks. And finally he
stood there, naked and unabashed, slim, and pink and silver as a
mountain trout. His face, as he bent over the steamy tub, was very red,
and moist and earnest. His yellow hair curled in little damp ringlets
about his brow. Then he hung his trousers and blouse in the dryers
without wringing them (wringing, he had been told, wrinkled them). He
rinsed and wrung, and flapped the underclothes, though, and shaped his
cap carefully, and spread his leggings, and hung those in the dryer,
too. And finally, with a deep sigh of accomplishment, he filled one of
the bathtubs in the adjoining room--filled it to the slopping-over point
with the luxurious hot water, and he splashed about in this, and
reclined in it, gloriously, until the waiting ones threatened to pull
him out. Then he dried himself and issued forth all flushed and rosy. He
wrapped himself in a clean coarse sheet, for his clothes would not be
dry for another half hour. Swathed in the sheet like a Roman senator he
lay down on one of the green velvet couches, relics of past Pullman
glories, and there, with the rumble and roar of steel trains overhead,
with the smart click of the billiard balls sounding in his ears, with
the phonograph and the electric piano going full blast, with the boys
dancing and larking all about the big room, he fell sound asleep as only
a boy cub can sleep.
When he awoke an hour later his clothes were folded in a neat pile by
the deft hand of some jackie impatient to use the drying space for his
own garments. Tyler put them on. He stood before a mirror and brushed
his hair until it glittered. He drew himself up with the instinctive
pride and self respect that comes of fresh clean clothes against the
skin. Then he placed his absurd round hat on his head at what he
considered a fetching angle, though precarious, and sallied forth on the
streets of Chicago in search of amusement and adventure.
He found them.
Madison and Canal streets, west, had little to offer him. He sensed that
the centre of things lay to the east, so he struck out along Madison,
trying not to show the terror with which the grim, roaring, clamorous
city filled him. He jingled the small coins in his pocket and strode
along, on the surface a blithe and carefree jackie on shore leave; a
forlorn and lonely Texas boy, beneath.
It was late afternoon. His laundering, his ablutions and his nap had
taken more time than he had realised. It was a mild spring day, with
just a Lake Michigan evening snap in the air. Tyler, glancing about
alertly, nevertheless felt dreamy, and restless, and sort of melting,
like a snow-heap in the sun. He wished he had some one to talk to. He
thought of the man on the train who had said, with such easy confidence,
"I got a date." Tyler wished that he too had a date--he who had never
had a rendezvous in his life. He loitered a moment on the bridge. Then
he went on, looking about him interestedly, and comparing Chicago,
Illinois, with Marvin, Texas, and finding the former sadly lacking. He
passed LaSalle, Clark. The streets were packed. The noise and rush
tired him, and bewildered him. He came to a moving picture theatre--one
of the many that dot the district. A girl occupied the little ticket
kiosk. She was rather a frowsy girl, not too young, and with a certain
look about the jaw. Tyler walked up to the window and shoved his money
through the little aperture. The girl fed him a pink ticket without
looking up. He stood there looking at her. Then he asked her a question.
"How long does the show take?" He wanted to see the colour of her eyes.
He wanted her to talk to him.
"'Bout a hour," said the girl, and raised wise eyes to his.
"Thanks," said Tyler, fervently, and smiled. No answering smile curved
the lady's lips. Tyler turned and went in. There was an alleged comic
film. Tyler was not amused. It was followed by a war picture. He left
before the show was over. He was very hungry by now. In his blouse
pocket were the various information and entertainment tickets with which
the Y.M.C.A. man had provided him. He had taken them out, carefully,
before he had done his washing. Now he looked them over. But a dairy
lunch room invited him, with its white tiling, and its pans of baked
apples, and browned beans and its coffee tank. He went in and ate a
solitary supper that was heavy on pie and cake.
When he came out to the street again it was evening. He walked over to
State Street (the wrong side). He took the dance card out of his pocket
and looked at it again. If only he had learned to dance. There'd be
girls. There'd have to be girls at a dance. He stood staring into the
red and tin-foil window display of a cigar store, turning the ticket
over in his fingers, and the problem over in his mind.
Suddenly, in his ear, a woman's voice, very soft and low. "Hello,
Sweetheart!" the voice said. His nickname! He whirled around, eagerly.
The girl was a stranger to him. But she was smiling, friendlily, and she
was pretty, too, sort of. "Hello, Sweetheart!" she said, again.
"Why, how-do, ma'am," said Tyler, Texas fashion.
"Where you going, kid?" she asked.
Tyler blushed a little. "Well, nowhere in particular, ma'am. Just kind
of milling around."
"Come on along with me," she said, and linked her arm in his.
And yet Texas people were always saying easterners weren't friendly. He
felt a little uneasy, though, as he looked down into her smiling face.
"Hello, Sweetheart!" said a voice, again. A man's voice, this time. Out
of the cigar store came Gunner Moran, the yellow string of a tobacco bag
sticking out of his blouse pocket, a freshly rolled cigarette between
A queer feeling of relief and gladness swept over Tyler. And then Moran
looked sharply at the girl and said, "Why, hello, Blanche!"
"Hello yourself," answered the girl, sullenly.
"Thought you was in 'Frisco."
"Well, I ain't."
Moran shifted his attention from the girl to Tyler. "Friend o' yours?"
Before Tyler could open his lips to answer the girl put in, "Sure he is.
Sure I am. We been around together all afternoon."
Tyler jerked. "Why, ma'am, I guess you've made a mistake. I never saw
you before in my life. I kind of thought when you up and spoke to me you
must be taking me for somebody else. Well, now, isn't that funny--"
The smile faded from the girl's face, and it became twisted with fury.
She glared at Moran, her lips drawn back in a snarl. "Who're you to go
buttin' into my business! This guy's a friend of mine, I tell yuh!"
"Yeh? Well, he's a friend of mine, too. Me an' him had a date to meet
here right now and we're goin' over to a swell little dance on Michigan
Avenoo. So it's you who's buttin' in, Blanche, me girl."
The girl stood twisting her handkerchief savagely. She was panting a
little. "I'll get you for this."
"Beat it!" said Moran. He tucked his arm through Tyler's, with a little
impelling movement, and Tyler found himself walking up the street at a
smart gait, leaving the girl staring after them.
Tyler Kamps was an innocent, but he was not a fool. At what he had
vaguely guessed a moment before, he now knew. They walked along in
silence, the most ill-sorted pair that you might hope to find in all
that higgledy-piggledy city. And yet with a new, strong bond between
them. It was more than fraternal. It had something of the character of
the feeling that exists between a father and son who understand each
Man-like, they did not talk of that which they were thinking.
Tyler broke the silence.
"Do you dance?"
"Me! Dance! Well, I've mixed with everything from hula dancers to geisha
girls, not forgettin' the Barbary Coast in the old days, but--well, I
ain't what you'd rightly call a dancer. Why you askin'?"
"Because I can't dance, either. But we'll just go up and see what it's
"See wot wot's like?"
Tyler took out his card again, patiently. "This dance we're going to."
They had reached the Michigan Avenue address given on the card, and
Tyler stopped to look up at the great, brightly lighted building. Moran
stopped too, but for a different reason. He was staring, open-mouthed,
at Tyler Kamps.
"You mean t' say you thought I was goin'--"
He choked. "Oh, my Gawd!"
Tyler smiled at him, sweetly. "I'm kind of scared, too. But Monicker
goes to these dances and he says they're right nice. And lots of--of
pretty girls. Nice girls. I wouldn't go alone. But you--you're used to
dancing, and parties and--girls."
He linked his arm through the other man's. Moran allowed himself to be
propelled along, dazedly. Still protesting, he found himself in the
elevator with a dozen red-cheeked, scrubbed-looking jackies. At which
point Moran, game in the face of horror, accepted the inevitable. He
gave a characteristic jerk from the belt.
"Me, I'll try anything oncet. Lead me to it."
The elevator stopped at the ninth floor. "Out here for the jackies'
dance," said the elevator boy.
The two stepped out with the others. Stepped out gingerly, caps in hand.
A corridor full of women. A corridor a-flutter with girls. Talk.
Laughter. Animation. In another moment the two would have turned and
fled, terrified. But in that half-moment of hesitation and bewilderment
they were lost.
A woman approached them hand outstretched. A tall, slim, friendly
looking woman, low-voiced, silk-gowned, inquiring.
"Good-evening!" she said, as if she had been haunting the halls in the
hope of their coming. "I'm glad to see you. You can check your caps
right there. Do you dance?"
Two scarlet faces. Four great hands twisting at white caps in an agony
of embarrassment. "Why, no ma'am."
"That's fine. We'll teach you. Then you'll go into the ball room and
have a wonderful time."
"But--" in choked accents from Moran.
"Just a minute. Miss Hall!" She beckoned a diminutive blonde in blue.
"Miss Hall, this is Mr.--ah--Mr. Moran. Thanks. And Mr.?--yes--Mr.
Kamps. Tyler Kamps. They want to learn to dance. I'll turn them right
over to you. When does your class begin?"
Miss Hall glanced at a toy watch on the tiny wrist. Instinctively and
helplessly Moran and Tyler focused their gaze on the dials that bound
their red wrists. "Starting right now," said Miss Hall, crisply. She
eyed the two men with calm appraising gaze. "I'm sure you'll both make
wonderful dancers. Follow me."
She turned. There was something confident, dauntless, irresistible about
the straight little back. The two men stared at it. Then at each other.
Panic was writ large on the face of each. Panic, and mutiny. Flight was
in the mind of both. Miss Hall turned, smiled, held out a small white
hand. "Come on," she said. "Follow me."
And the two, as though hypnotised, followed.
A fair-sized room, with a piano in one corner and groups of fidgeting
jackies in every other corner. Moran and Tyler sighed with relief at
sight of them. At least they were not to be alone in their agony.
Miss Hall wasted no time. Slim ankles close together, head held high,
she stood in the centre of the room. "Now then, form a circle please!"
Twenty six-foot, well-built specimens of manhood suddenly became
shambling hulks. They clumped forward, breathing hard, and smiling
mirthlessly, with an assumption of ease that deceived no one, least of
all, themselves. "A little lively, please. Don't look so scared. I'm not
a bit vicious. Now then, Miss Weeks! A fox trot."
Miss Weeks, at the piano, broke into spirited strains. The first
faltering steps in the social career of Gunner Moran and Tyler Kamps had
To an onlooker, it might have been mirth-provoking if it hadn't been,
somehow, tear-compelling. The thing that little Miss Hall was doing
might have seemed trivial to one who did not know that it was
magnificent. It wasn't dancing merely that she was teaching these
awkward, serious, frightened boys. She was handing them a key that would
unlock the social graces. She was presenting them with a magic something
that would later act as an open sesame to a hundred legitimate delights.
She was strictly business, was Miss Hall. No nonsense about her.
"One-two-three-four! And a _one_-two _three_-four. One-two-three-four!
And a _turn_-two, _turn_-four. Now then, all together. Just four
straight steps as if you were walking down the street. That's it!
One-two-three-four! Don't look at me. Look at my feet. And a _one_-two
Red-faced, they were. Very earnest. Pathetically eager and docile. Weeks
of drilling had taught them to obey commands. To them the little
dancing teacher whose white spats twinkled so expertly in the tangle of
their own clumsy clumping boots was more than a pretty girl. She was
knowledge. She was power. She was the commanding officer. And like
children they obeyed.
Moran's Barbary Coast experience stood him in good stead now, though the
stern and watchful Miss Hall put a quick stop to a certain tendency
toward shoulder work. Tyler possessed what is known as a rhythm sense.
An expert whistler is generally a natural dancer. Stella Kamps had
always waited for the sound of his cheerful whistle as he turned the
corner of Vernon Street. High, clear, sweet, true, he would approach his
top note like a Tettrazini until, just when you thought he could not
possibly reach that dizzy eminence he did reach it, and held it, and
trilled it, bird-like, in defiance of the laws of vocal equilibrium.
His dancing was much like that. Never a half-beat behind the
indefatigable Miss Weeks. It was a bit laboured, at first, but it was
true. Little Miss Hall, with the skilled eye of the specialist, picked
him at a glance.
"You've danced before?"
"Take the head of the line, please. Watch Mr. Kamps. Now then, all
And they were off again.
At 9.45 Tyler Kamps and Gunner Moran were standing in the crowded
doorway of the ballroom upstairs, in a panic lest some girl should ask
them to dance; fearful lest they be passed by. Little Miss Hall had
brought them to the very door, had left them there with a stern
injunction not to move, and had sped away in search of partners for
Gunner Moran's great scarlet hands were knotted into fists. His Adam's
apple worked convulsively.
"Le's duck," he whispered hoarsely. The jackie band in the corner
crashed into the opening bars of a fox trot.
"Oh, it don't seem--" But it was plain that Tyler was weakening. Another
moment and they would have turned and fled. But coming toward them was
little Miss Hall, her blonde head bobbing in and out among the swaying
couples. At her right and left was a girl. Her bright eyes held her two
victims in the doorway. They watched her approach, and were helpless to
flee. They seemed to be gripped by a horrible fascination. Their limbs
A sort of groan rent Moran. Miss Hall and the two girls stood before
them, cool, smiling, unruffled.
"Miss Cunningham, this is Mr. Tyler Kamps. Mr. Moran, Miss Cunningham.
Miss Drew--Mr. Moran, Mr. Kamps."
The boy and the man gulped, bowed, mumbled something.
"Would you like to dance?" said Miss Cunningham, and raised limpid eyes
"Why--I--you see I don't know how. I just started to--"
"Oh, _that's_ all right," Miss Cunningham interrupted, cheerfully.
"We'll try it." She stood in position and there seemed to radiate from
her a certain friendliness, a certain assurance and understanding that
was as calming as it was stimulating. In a sort of daze Tyler found
himself moving over the floor in time to the music. He didn't know that
he was being led, but he was. She didn't try to talk. He breathed a
prayer of thanks for that. She seemed to know, somehow, about those four
straight steps and two to the right and two to the left, and four again,
and turn-two, turn-four. He didn't know that he was counting aloud,
desperately. He didn't even know, just then, that this was a girl he was
dancing with. He seemed to move automatically, like a marionette. He
never was quite clear about those first ten minutes of his ballroom
The music ceased. A spat of applause. Tyler mopped his head, and his
hands, and applauded too, like one in a dream. They were off again for
Five minutes later he found himself seated next Miss Cunningham in a
chair against the wall. And for the first time since their meeting the
mists of agony cleared before his gaze and he saw Miss Cunningham as a
tall, slim, dark-haired girl, with a glint of mischief in her eye, and a
mouth that looked as if she were trying to keep from smiling.
"Why don't you?" Tyler asked, and was aghast.
"Why don't I what?"
"Smile if you want to."
At which the glint in her eye and the hidden smile on her lips sort of
met and sparked and she laughed. Tyler laughed, too, and then they
laughed together and were friends.
Miss Cunningham's conversation was the kind of conversation that a nice
girl invariably uses in putting at ease a jackie whom she has just met
at a war recreation dance. Nothing could have been more commonplace or
unoriginal, but to Tyler Kamps the brilliance of a Madame de Stael would
have sounded trivial and uninteresting in comparison.
"Where are you from?"
"Why, I'm from Texas, ma'am. Marvin, Texas."
"Is that so? So many of the boys are from Texas. Are you out at the
station or on one of the boats?"
"I'm on the Station. Yes ma'am."
"Do you like the navy?"
"Yes ma'am, I do. I sure do. You know there isn't a drafted man in the
navy. No ma'am! We're all enlisted men."
"When do you think the war will end, Mr. Kamps?"
He told her, gravely. He told her many other things. He told her about
Texas, at length and in detail, being a true son of that Brobdingnagian
state. Your Texan born is a walking mass of statistics. Miss Cunningham
made a sympathetic and interested listener. Her brown eyes were round
and bright with interest. He told her that the distance from Texas to
Chicago was only half as far as from here to there in the state of Texas
itself. Yes _ma'am_! He had figures about tons of grain, and heads of
horses and herds of cattle. Why, say, you could take little ol' meachin'
Germany and tuck it away in a corner of Texas and you wouldn't any more
know it was there than if it was somebody's poor no-'count ranch. Why,
Big Y ranch alone would make the whole country of Germany look like a
cattle grazin' patch. It was bigger than all those countries in Europe
strung together, and every man in Texas would rather fight than eat. Yes
ma'am. Why, you couldn't hold 'em.
"My!" breathed Miss Cunningham.
They danced again. Miss Cunningham introduced him to some other girls,
and he danced with them, and they in turn asked him about the station,
and Texas, and when he thought the war would end. And altogether he had
a beautiful time of it, and forgot completely and entirely about Gunner
Moran. It was not until he gallantly escorted Miss Cunningham downstairs
for refreshments that he remembered his friend. He had procured hot
chocolate for himself and Miss Cunningham; and sandwiches, and
delectable chunks of caramel cake. And they were talking, and eating,
and laughing and enjoying themselves hugely, and Tyler had gone back for
more cake at the urgent invitation of the white-haired, pink-cheeked
woman presiding at the white-clothed table in the centre of the
charming room. And then he had remembered. A look of horror settled down
over his face. He gasped.
"W-what's the matter?" demanded Miss Cunningham.
"My--my friend. I forgot all about him." He regarded her with stricken
"Oh, that's all right," Miss Cunningham assured him for the second time
that evening. "We'll just go and find him. He's probably forgotten all
about you, too."
And for the second time she was right. They started on their quest. It
was a short one. Off the refreshment room was a great, gracious
comfortable room all deep chairs, and soft rugs, and hangings, and
pictures and shaded lights. All about sat pairs and groups of sailors
and girls, talking, and laughing and consuming vast quantities of cake.
And in the centre of just such a group sat Gunner Moran, lolling at his
ease in a rosy velvet-upholstered chair. His little finger was crookt
elegantly over his cup. A large and imposing square of chocolate cake in
the other hand did not seem to cramp his gestures as he talked. Neither
did the huge bites with which he was rapidly demolishing it seem in the
least to stifle his conversation. Four particularly pretty girls, and
two matrons surrounded him. And as Tyler and Miss Cunningham approached
him he was saying, "Well, it's got so I can't sleep in anything _but_ a
hammick. Yessir! Why, when I was fifteen years old I was--" He caught
Tyler's eye. "Hello!" he called, genially. "Meet me friend." This to the
bevy surrounding him. "I was just tellin' these ladies here--"