Part 4 out of 7
"I guess now I must be going, Mrs. Meyerburg--to-night I promised my
Sollie we have cheese-Kuchen for supper."
"Always I used to make it with a short crust for my Isadore. How he
"Just again, Mrs. Meyerburg, I want you should let me say how--how this
is the finest present what I ever had in my life. I can tell you from
just how soft it is on me, I can tell how it must feel to ride in
A light flashed in brilliance up into Mrs. Meyerburg's face. "Mrs.
"Ja, Mrs. Meyerburg?"
"I tell you what! I--this afternoon my Becky, Mrs. Fischlowitz, she--she
ain't so well and like always can't take with me a ride in the Park.
Such--such a cold that girl has got. How I should like it, Mrs.
Fischlowitz, if you would be so kind to--to take with me my drive in--in
your new coat."
"Ja, ja, I know, Mrs. Fischlowitz, cheese Kuchen should first get cold
before supper, but if you could just an hour ride by me a little? If you
would be so kind, Mrs. Fischlowitz!"
Diffidence ran trembling along Mrs. Meyerburg's voice, as if she dared
not venture too far upon a day blessed with tasks. "I got always so--so
much time to myself now'days, Mrs. Fischlowitz, sometimes I--I get maybe
a--a little lonesome."
"Ach, Mrs. Meyerburg, you don't want to be bothered with such--such a
person like me when you ride so grand through the Park."
"Fit like a fiddle it will make you feel, Mrs. Fischlowitz. Button up
tight that collar and right away we start. Please, right next to you,
will you press that third button? That means we go right down and find
outside the car waiting for us."
"But, Mrs. Meyerburg--"
"See, just like you, I put on a coat on the inside fur. This way, Mrs.
Fischlowitz. Careful, your foot!"
In the great lower hall full of Tudor gloom the carved stone arches
dropping in rococo stalactites from the ceiling, and a marble staircase
blue-veined as a delicate woman's hand winding up to an oriole window,
a man-servant swung back two sets of trellised doors; bowed them
noiselessly shut again.
The quick cold of December bit them at the threshold. Opposite lay the
Park, its trees, in their smooth bark whipped bare, and gray as nuns,
the sunlight hard against their boles. More sunlight lay cold and
glittering down the length of the most facaded avenue in the world and
on the great up-and-down stream of motor-cars and their nickel-plated
snouts and plate-glass sides.
Women, with heads too haughty to turn them right or left, moved past in
closed cars that were perfumed and upholstered like jewel-boxes; the
joggly smartness of hansom cabs, their fair fares seeing and being seen
behind the wooden aprons and their frozen laughter coming from their
lips in vapor! On the broad sidewalks women in low shoes that defied
the wind, and men in high hats that the wind defied; nursemaids trim as
deaconesses, and their charges the beautiful exotic children of pure
milk and pure sunshine!
One of these deaconess-like nursemaids, walking out with a child whose
black curls lay in wide sprays on each shoulder, detached herself from
the up-town flow and crossed to the trellised threshold.
"Good afternoon, Madam Meyerburg. Mademoiselle, _dites bonjour a madame
In the act of descending her steps, Mrs. Meyerburg's hands flew outward.
"Ach, du little Aileen. Come, Aileen, to grandma. Mrs. Fischlowitz, this
is Felix's little girl. You remember Felix--such a beautiful bad little
boy he was what always used to fight your Sollie underneath the sink."
"_Gott in Himmel_, so this is Felix's little girl!"
"Ja, this is already his second. Come, Aileen, to grandma and say good
afternoon to the lady."
The maid guided the small figure forward by one shoulder. "_Dites
bonjour a madame, Mademoiselle Aileen_."
"Not a word of English she can speak yet, Mrs. Fischlowitz. I tell you
already my grandchildren are so smart not even their language I can
understand. _Aber_ for why such a child should only talk so in her own
country she can't be understood, I don't know."
"I guess, Mrs. Meyerburg, it's style now'days that you shouldn't know
your own language."
"Come by grandma to-morrow, Aileen, and upstairs I got in the little box
sweet cakes like grandma always keeps for you. Eh, baby?"
"Say thank you, grandmother."
"_Merci bien, grand'maman_."
And they were off into the stream again, the small white leggings at a
At the curb a low-bodied, high-power car, with the top flung back and
the wind-shield up, lay sidled against the coping.
"Get right in, Mrs. Fischlowitz. Burk, put under Mrs. Fischlowitz's both
feet a heater."
A second man, in too-accentuated livery of mauve and astrakhan, flung
open the wide door. A glassed-in chauffeur, in more mauve and astrakhan,
threw in his clutch. The door slammed. Mrs. Fischlowitz breathed deep
and grasped the nickel-plated door handle. Mrs. Meyerburg leaned out,
her small plumes wagging.
"Burk, since Miss Becky ain't along to-day, I don't want in front no
"I want instead you should take the roadster and call after Mrs.
Weinstein. You know, down by Twenty-third Street, the fourth floor
"I want you should say, Burk, that Mrs. Meyerburg says her and her
daughter should take off from their work an hour for a drive wherever
they say you should take them. And tell her, Burk, she should make for
me five dozens more them paper carnations. Right away I want you should
They nosed slowly into the stream of the Avenue.
"Always Becky likes there should be two men stuck up in front there.
I always say to look only at the backs of my servants I don't go out
Erect and as if to the fantastic requirements of the situation sat
Mrs. Fischlowitz, her face of a thousand lines screwed to maintain the
transiency of a great moment.
"That I should live, Mrs. Meyerburg, to see such a sight like this! In
the thirty years I been in this country not but once have I walked up
Fifth Avenue--that time when my Tillie paraded in the shirtwaist strike.
I--I can tell you I'm proud to live to see it this way from automobile."
"Lean back, Mrs. Fischlowitz, so you be more comfortable. That's all
right; you can't hurt them bottles. My Becky likes to have fancy touches
all over everything. Gold-tops bottles she has to have yet by her. I can
tell you, though, Mrs. Fischlowitz, if I do say it myself, when that
girl sits up in here like a picture she looks. How they stare you should
"Such a beau-ti-ful girl! I can tell you for her a prince ain't good
enough. Ach, what a pleasure it must be, Mrs. Meyerburg, for a mother to
know if her child wants heaven she can nearly get it for her. I can tell
you that must be the greatest pleasure of all for you, Mrs. Meyerburg,
to give to your daughter everything just like she wants it."
"Ja, ja," said with little to indicate mental ferment.
They were in the Park, with the wind scampering through the skeins of
bare tree branches. The lake lay locked in ice, skaters in the ecstasy
of motion lunging across it. Beneath the mink lap-robe Mrs. Fischlowitz
snuggled deeper and more lax.
"_Gott in Himmel_, I tell you this is better as standing over my cheese
"Always I used to let my cheese drip first the night before. Right
through a cheese-cloth sack hung from a nail what my husband drove in
for me under the window-sill."
"Right that same nail is there yet, Mrs. Meyerburg. _Oser_ we should
touch one thing!"
"I can tell you it's a great comfort, Mrs. Fischlowitz, I got such a
tenant as you in there."
"When you come to visit me, Mrs. Meyerburg, right to the last nail like
you left it you find it. Not even from the kitchen would I let my Sollie
take down the old clothes-line what you had stretched across one end."
"Ach, how many times in rainy days I used that line. It's a good little
line I bet yet. Not?"
"Ja." But with no corresponding kit of emotions in Mrs. Fischlowitz's
voice. She was still breathing deep the buoyant ether of the moment, and
beneath the ingratiating warmth of fur utterly soothed. "_Gott_," she
said, "I wish my sister-in-law, Hanna, with all her fine airs up where
she lives on One Hundred and Twenty-ninth Street, could see me now.
_Oser_ she could stare and stare, and bow and bow, and past her I would
roll like--like a rolling-pin."
From the gold-topped bottle nearest her came a long insidious whiff of
frangipani. She dared to lean toward it, sniffing.
"Such a beautiful smell." And let her eyes half close.
"You market your meat yet on Fridays down by old Lavinsky's, Mrs.
"Ja, just like always, only his liver ain't so good like it used to be.
I can tell you that's a beau-ti-ful smell."
An hour they rode purringly over smooth highways and for a moment
alongside the river, but there the wind was edged with ice and they were
very presently back into the leisurely flow of the Avenue. From her
curves Mrs. Fischlowitz unbent herself slowly.
"No, no, Mrs. Fischlowitz--you stay in."
"Ach, I get out here at your house, too, and take the street-cars. I--"
"No, no. James takes you all the way home, Mrs. Fischlowitz. I get out
because my Becky likes I should get home early and get dressed up for
"But Mrs. Meyerburg--"
"No, no. Right in you stay. 'Sh-h-h, just don't mention it. Enough
pleasure you give me to ride by me. Take good care your foot. Good-by,
Mrs. Fischlowitz. All the way home you should take her, James."
Once more within the gloom of her Tudor hall, Mrs. Meyerburg hurried
rearward and toward the elevator. But down the curving stairway the
small maid on stilts came, intercepting her.
"Madame will please come. Mademoiselle Betty this afternoon ees not so
well. Three spells of fainting, madame."
"Oui, not serious, madame, but what I would call hysteeria and
mademoiselle will not have doctor. Eef madame will come--"
With a great mustering of her strength Mrs. Meyerburg ran up the first
three of the marble steps, then quite as suddenly stopped, reaching out
for the balustrade. The seconds stalked past as she stood there, a fine
frown sketched on her brow, and the small maid anxious and attendant.
When Mrs. Meyerburg spoke finally it was as if those seconds had been
years, sapping more than their share of life from her. "I--now I don't
go up, Therese. After a while I come, but--but not now. I want, though,
you should go right away up to Miss Becky with a message."
"I want you should tell her for me, Therese, that--that to-morrow
New-Year's dinner with the family all here, I--I want she should invite
the Marquis Rosencrantz. That everything is all right. Right away I want
you should go and tell her, Therese!"
Up in her bedroom and without pause Mrs. Meyerburg walked directly
to the small deal table there beside her bed and still littered with
half-curled blue-prints. These she gathered into a tight roll, snapping
a rubber band about it. She rang incisively the fourth of the row of
bells. A man-servant responded almost immediately with a light rap-a-tap
at the door. She was there and waiting.
"Kemp, I want you should away take down this roll to Goldfinger's office
in the Syndicate Building. Just say Mrs. Meyerburg says everything is
all right--to go ahead."
"Yes, madam." And he closed the door after him, holding the knob a
moment to save the click.
* * * * *
In a Tudor dining-hall, long as the banquet-room of a thane, faced in
thrice-weathered oak and designed by an architect too eminent to endure
interference--except when Miss Meyerburg had later and at her own
stealthy volition installed a Pompeian colored window above the high
Victorian fireplace--the wide light of a brilliant New-Year's day lay
against leaded window-panes, but shut out by thick hangings.
Instead, the yellow light from a ceiling sown with starlike bulbs lay
over that room. At each end of the table, so that the gracious glow fell
full upon the small figure of Mrs. Meyerburg at one end and upon the
grizzled head of Mr. Ben Meyerburg at the other, two braces of candles
burned softly, crocheting a flickering design upon the damask.
From the foot of that great table, his place by precedence of years, Mr.
Ben Meyerburg rose from his Voltairian chair, holding aloft a wineglass
like a torch.
"_Masseltov_, ma," he said, "and just like we drank to the happy couple
who have told us the good news to-day, so now I drink to the grandest
little mother in the world. _Masseltov_, ma." And he drained his glass,
holding it with fine disregard back over one shoulder for refilling.
Round that table Mrs. Meyerburg's four remaining sons, towering almost
twice her height, rose in a solemn chorus that was heavier than their
libations of wine.
"Ach, boys, my sons, _ich--ich--danke_." She was quivering now in the
edge of tears and grasped tightly at the arms of her chair.
"_Masseltov_, ma," said Rebecca Meyerburg, raising her glass and
her moist eyes shining above it. The five daughters-in-law followed
immediate suit. At Miss Meyerburg's left the Marquis Rosencrantz, with
pointed features and a silhouette sharp as a knife edge, raised his
glass and his waxed mustache and drank, but silently and over a deep
"Mamma--mother dear, the marquis drinks to you."
Mrs. Meyerburg turned upon him with a great mustering of amiability and
safely withdrawn now from her brink of tears. "I got now six sons what
can drink to my health--not, Marquis?"
"She says, Marquis," translated Miss Meyerburg, ardently, to the sharp
profile, "that now she has six sons to drink to her health."
_"Madame me fait trop d'honneur."_
"He says, mamma, that it is too great an honor to be your son."
From her yesterday's couch of mental travail Miss Meyerburg had risen
with a great radiance turping out its ravages. She was Sheban in
elegance, the velvet of her gown taken from the color of the ruby on her
brow, and the deep-white flesh of her the quality of that same velvet
with the nap raised.
"He wants to kiss your hand, ma. Give it to him. No, the right one,
"I--I'm much obliged, Marquis. I--well, for one little old woman like
me, I got now six sons and six daughters, each one big enough to carry
me off under his arm. Not?"
She was met with immediate acclaim from a large blond daughter-in-law,
her soft, expansive bosom swathed in old lace caught up with a great
"Little old nothing, ma. I always say to Isadore you've got more energy
yet than the rest of the family put together."
"Ach, Dora, always you children like to make me think I been young yet."
But she was smilingly tremulous and pushed herself backward in her heavy
throne-like chair. A butler sprang, lifting it gently from her.
Immediately the great, disheveled table, brilliantly littered with
crystal, frumpled napkins, and a great centerpiece of fruits and
flowers, was in the confusion of disorganization.
Daughters-in-law and husbands moved up toward a pair of doors swung
heavily backward by two servants.
Mrs. Isadore Meyerburg pushed her real-lace bodice into place and
adjusted the glittering lizard. "Believe me," she said, exuding a sigh
and patting her bosom on the swell of that deep breath, "I ate too much,
but if I can't break my diet for the last engagement in the family, and
to nobility at that, when will I do it?"
"I should say so," replied Mrs. Rudolph Meyerburg, herself squirming to
rights in an elaborate bodice and wielding an unostentatious toothpick
behind the cup of her hand; "like I told Roody just now, if I take on a
pound to-day he can blame his sister."
"Say, I wish you'd look at the marquis kissing ma's hand again, will
"Look at ma get away with it too. You've got to hand it to them French,
they've got the manners all right. No wonder our swell Trixie tags after
"Say, Becky shouldn't get manners yet with her looks and five hundred
thousand thrown in. I bet, if the truth is known, and since ma is going
to live over there with them, that there's a few extra thousand tacked
"Not if the court knows it! Like I told Roody this morning, she's
bringing a title into the family, but she's taking a big wad of the
Meyerburg money out of the country too."
"It is so, ain't it?"
Around her crowded Mrs. Meyerburg's five sons.
"Come with us, ma. We got a children's party up in the ballroom for
Aileen this afternoon, and then Trixie and I are going to motor down to
Sheepshead for the indoor polo-match. Come, ma."
"No, no, Felix. I want for myself rest this afternoon. All you children
go and have your good times. I got home more as I can do, and maybe
"Tell you what, ma, come with Dora and me and the kids. She wants to go
out to Hastings this afternoon to see her mother. Come with us, ma. The
drive will do you good."
"No, no, Izzy. When I ride too much in the cold right away up in my ribs
comes the sciatica again."
Miss Meyerburg bent radiant over her parent. "Mother," she whispered,
her throat lined with the fur of tenderness, "it's reception-day out at
that club, and all the cliques will be there, and I want--"
"Sure, Becky, you and the marquis should drive out. Take the big car,
but tell James he shouldn't be so careless driving by them curves out
there by the golf-links."
"But, ma dear, you come, too, and--"
"No, no, Becky; to-day I got not time."
"But, ma--ma, you ain't mad at me, dear? You can see now for yourself,
can't you, dear, what a big thing it is for the family and how you--"
"Yes, yes, Becky. Look, go over by your young man. See how he stands
there and not one word what Ben is hollering so at him can he
Across the room, alongside a buffet wrought out of the powerful Jacobean
period, Mr. Ben Meyerburg threw a violent contortion.
"Want to go up in the Turkish room and smoke?" he shouted, the
apoplectic purple of exertion rushing into his face and round to the
roll of flesh overhanging the rear of his collar.
"Smoke? Do you smoke? Smokez-vous? Cigarez-vous? See, like this. Fume.
Blow. Do you smoke? Smokez-vous?"
_"Pardon?"_ said the marquis, bowing low.
* * * * *
In the heavy solitude of Mrs. Meyerburg's bedchamber, the buzz of
departures over, silence lay resumed, but with a singing quality to it
as if an echo or so still lingered.
Before the plain deal table, and at her side two files bulging their
contents, Mrs. Meyerburg sat with her spatulate finger conning in among
a page of figures. After a while the finger ceased to move across the
page, but lay passive midway down a column. After another while she
slapped shut the book and took to roaming up and down the large room
as if she there found respite from the spirit of her which nagged and
carped. Peering out between the heavy curtains, she could see the tide
of the Avenue mincing, prancing, chugging past. Resuming her beat up and
down the vistas of the room, she could still hear its voice muffled and
not unlike the tune of quinine singing in the head.
The ormolu clock struck, and from various parts of the house musical
repetitions. A French tinkle from her daughter's suite across the hall;
from somewhere more remote the deep, leisurely tones of a Nuremberg
floor clock. Finally Mrs. Meyerburg dropped into the overstuffed chair
beside her window, relaxing into the attitude her late years had brought
her, head back, hands stretched out along the chair sides, and full of
rest. An hour she sat half dozing, and half emerging every so often with
a start, then lay quietly looking into space, her eyes quiet and the
erstwhile brilliancy in them gone out like a light.
Presently she sat forward suddenly, and with the quick light of
perception flooding up into her face; slid from her chair and padded
across the carpet. From the carved chest alongside the wall she withdrew
the short jacket with the beaver collar, worked her shoulders into it.
From the adjoining boudoir she emerged after a time in a small bonnet
grayish with age and the bow not perky. Her movements were brief and
full of decision. When she opened her door it was slyly and with a
quick, vulpine glance up and down the grave quiet of the halls. After a
cocked attitude of listening and with an incredible springiness almost
of youth, Mrs. Meyerburg was down a rear staircase, through a rear
hallway, and, unseen and unheard, out into the sudden splendor of a
winter's day, the side street quiet before her.
"Gott!" said Mrs. Meyerburg, audibly, breathing deep and swinging into
a smart lope eastward. Two blocks along, with her head lifted and no
effort at concealment, she passed her pantry-boy walking out with a
Swedish girl whose cheeks were bursting with red. He eyed his mistress
casually and without recognition.
At Third Avenue she boarded a down-town street-car, a bit winded from
the dive across cobbles, but smiling. Within, and after a preliminary
method of paying fare new and confusing to her, she sat back against the
rattly sides, her feet just lifted off the floor. She could hardly keep
back the ejaculations as old streets and old memories swam into view.
"Look at the old lay-dee talking to her-sel-uph," sang an urchin across
"Shut up," said the mother, slapping him sidewise.
At one of the most terrific of these down-town streets Mrs. Meyerburg
descended. Beneath the clang and bang of the Elevated she stood confused
for the moment and then, with her sure stride regained, swung farther
Slitlike streets flowed with holiday copiousness, whole families abroad
on foot--mothers swayback with babies, and older children who ran ahead
shouting and jostling. Houses lean and evil-looking marched shoulder to
shoulder for blocks, no gaps except intersecting streets. Fire-escapes
ran zigzag down the meanest of them. Women shouted their neighborhood
jargon from windows flung momentarily open. Poverty scuttled along close
to the scant shelter of these houses. An old man, with a beard to his
chest, paused in a doorway to cough, and it was like the gripe-gripe of
a saw with its teeth in hard wood. A woman sold apples from a stoop, the
form of a child showing through her shawl. Yet Mrs. Meyerburg smiled as
Midway in one of these blocks and without a pretense of hesitancy she
turned into a black mouth of an entrance and up two flights. On each
landing she paused more for tears than for breath. At a rear door
leading off the second landing she knocked softly, but with insistence.
It opened to a slight crack, then immediately swung back full span.
"_Gott in Himmel_, Mrs. Meyerburg! Mrs. Meyerburg! _Kommen Sie herein_.
Mrs. Meyerburg, for why you didn't let me know? To think not one of my
children home and to-day a holiday, my place not in order--"
"Now, now, Mrs. Fischlowitz, just so soon you go to one little bit of
trouble, right away I got no more pleasure. Please, Mrs. Fischlowitz.
Ach, if you 'ain't got on your pantry shelfs just the same paper edge
like my Roody used to cut out for me."
"Come, come, Mrs. Meyerburg, in parlor where--"
"Go way mit you. Ain't the kitchen where I spent seventeen years, the
best years in my life, good enough yet? Parlor yet she wants to take
An immediate negligee of manner enveloped her like an old wrapper.
A certain tulle of bewilderment had fallen. She was bold, even
"Don't fuss round me so much, Mrs. Fischlowitz. Just like old times
I want it should seem. Like maybe I just dropped in on you a lump of
butter to borrow. No, no, don't I know where to hang mine own bonnet in
mine own house? Ach, the same coat nails what he drove in himself!"
"To think, Mrs. Meyerburg, all my children gone out for a good time this
afternoon, my Tillie with Morris Rinabauer, who can't keep his eyes off
"How polished she keeps her stove, just like I used to."
"Right when you knocked I was thinking, well, I clean up a bit. Please,
Mrs. Meyerburg, let me fix you right away a cup coffee--"
"Right away, Mrs. Fischlowitz, just so soon you begin to make fuss over
me, I don't enjoy it no more. Please, Mrs. Fischlowitz, right here in
this old rocker-chair by the range let me, please, sit quiet a minute."
In the wooden rocker beside the warm stove she sat down quietly, lapping
her hands over her waist-line.
_"Gott in Himmel,"_ sitting well away from the chair-back and letting
her eyes travel slowly about the room, "just like it was yesterday; just
like yesterday." And fell to reciting the phrase softly.
"Ja, ja," said Mrs. Fischlowitz, concealing an unwashed litter of dishes
beneath a hastily flung cloth. "I can tell you, Mrs. Meyerburg, my house
ain't always this dirty; only to-day not--"
"Just like it was yesterday," said Mrs. Meyerburg, musing through a
tangle of memories. She fell to rocking. A narrow band of sunshine lay
across the bare floor, even glinted off a pan or two hung along the wall
over the sink. Along that same wall hung a festoon of red and green
peppers and a necklace of garlic. Toward the back of the range a pan
of hot water let off a lazy vapor. Beside the scuttle a cat purred and
fought off sleep.
"Already I got the hot water, Mrs. Meyerburg, to make you a cup coffee
"Please, Mrs. Fischlowitz, let me rest like this. In a minute I want you
should take me all through in the children's room and--"
"If I had only known it how I could have cleaned for you."
"Ach, my noodle-board over there! How grand and white you keep it."
"Yes, Mrs. Meyerburg?"
"Mrs. Fischlowitz, if you want to--to give me a real treat I tell you
what. I tell you what!"
"Ja, ja, Mrs. Meyerburg; anything what I can do I--"
"I want you should let me mix you on that old board a mess noodles!"
"Ach, Mrs. Meyerburg, your hands and that grand black-silk dress!"
"For why not, Mrs. Fischlowitz? Wide ones, like he used to like. Just
for fun, please, Mrs. Fischlowitz. To-morrow I send you two barrels
flour for what I use up."
"But, Mrs. Meyerburg, I should make for you noodles, not you for me--"
"It's good I should learn, Mrs. Fischlowitz, to get back my hand in
such things. Maybe you don't believe me, but I ain't so rich like I was
yesterday when you seen me, Mrs. Fischlowitz. To-day I'm a poor woman,
Mrs. Fischlowitz, with--"
Mrs. Fischlowitz threw out two hands in a liberal gesture. "Such a good
woman she is! In my house where I'm poor she wants, too, to play like
she's a poor woman. That any one should want to play such a game with
themselves! Noodles she wants to make for me, instead I should wait on
her like she was a queen."
"It takes me back, Mrs. Fischlowitz, to old times. Please, Mrs.
Fischlowitz, to-morrow I send you two barrels."
"Like you ain't welcome to everything what I got in the house. All
right, noodles you should make and always I keep 'em for remembrance.
Just let me run down to cellar and bring you up flour. No, no, you
set there and let me fold down the board for you. Rock there, Mrs.
Meyerburg, till I come up with the flour. Eggs plenty I got."
"And a little butter, Mrs. Fischlowitz, the size of an egg, and always a
pinch of salt."
"The neighbors should see this! Mrs. Simon Meyerburg making for me
noodles in my kitchen!" She was off and down a small rear stairway, a
ribbon of ejaculations trailing back over one shoulder.
In her chair beside the warm range Mrs. Meyerburg sat quiescent, her
head back against the rest, eyes half closed, and slanting toward the
kitchen door. Against the creaking floor her chair swayed rhythmically.
Tears ran down to meet the corners of her mouth, but her lips were
looped up in a smile.
The cat regarded her through green eyes slit down their middle. Toward
the rear of the stove the pan of water seethed.
Suddenly Mrs. Meyerburg leaned forward with a great flash across her
face. "Simon," she cried, leaning to the door and stretching forward
quavering arms. "Simon, my darling!" She leaned further, the rims of her
eyes stretched wide. "Simon--come, my darling. Simon!"
Into the opposite doorway, smirched with flour and a white pail of it
dangling, flashed Mrs. Fischlowitz, breathing hard from her climb.
"What, Mrs. Meyerburg, you want something?"
"Simon," cried Mrs. Meyerburg, her voice lifted in a paean of welcome;
"come, my darling, come in. Come!" And she tried to rise, but sat back,
quivering, her brow drenched in sudden sweat.
Raucous terror tore through Mrs. Fischlowitz's voice, and she let fall
her pail, a white cloud rising from off the spill. "Mrs. Meyerburg,
there ain't nobody there. Mrs. Meyerburg, he ain't there. Mrs.
"Mrs. Meyerburg, he ain't there. Nobody's there!
Back against Mrs. Fischlowitz's frenzied arms lay Mrs. Meyerburg, very
gray, her hand against her left breast and down toward the ribs.
"Gott! Gott! Please, Mrs. Meyerburg--Mrs. Meyerburg!" dragging back
one of the weary eyelids and crying out at what she saw there. "Help
She could not see, poor dear, that into those locked features was
crystallized the great ecstasy of reunion.
THE NTH COMMANDMENT
The Christmas ballad of the stoker, even though writ from the fiery
bowels of amidships and with a pen reeking with his own sweat, could
find no holiday sale; nor the story of the waiter who serves the wine he
dares only smell, and weary stands attendant into the joyous dawn.
Such social sores--the drayman, back bent to the Christmas box whose
mysteries he must never know; the salesgirl standing on her swollen feet
on into the midnight hour--such sores may run and fester, but not to
sicken public eyes.
For the Christmas spirit is the white flame of love burning in men's
hearts and may not be defiled. Shop-windows, magazine covers, and
post-cards proclaim good-will to all men; bedtime stories crooned when
little heads are drowsy are of Peace on Earth; corporations whose
draymen's backs are bent and whose salesgirls' feet are swollen plaster
each outgoing parcel with a Good-Will-Toward-Men stamp, and remove the
stools from behind the counters to give space to more of the glittering
In the Mammoth Store the stools have long since been removed and the
holiday hysteria of Peace on Earth rose to its Christmas Eve climax, as
a frenzied gale drives upward the sea into mountains of water, or scuds
through black-hearted forests, bending them double in wild salaam.
Shoppers pushed through aisles so packed that the tide flowed back upon
itself. A narrow-chested woman, caught in the whorl of one such vortex,
fainted back against the bundle-laden arms that pressed her on. Above
the thin orchestra of musical toys, the tramp of feet like an army
marching, voices raucous from straining to be heard, a clock over the
grand central stairway boomed nine, and the crowd pulled at its strength
for a last hour of bartering, tearing, pushing, haggling, sweating.
Behind the counters workers sobbed in their throats and shifted from one
swollen foot to the other. A cash-girl, her eyeballs glazed like
those of a wounded hare in the torture of the chase, found a pile of
pasteboard boxes behind a door, and with the indifference of exhaustion
dropped on to it asleep. The tide flowed on, and ever and again back
upon itself. A Santa Claus in a red canton-flannel coat lost his white
canton-flannel beard, nor troubled to recover it. A woman trembling with
the ague of terror drew an imitation bisque doll off a counter and into
the shallow recesses of her cape, and the cool hand of the law darted
after her and closed over her wrist and imitation bisque evidence. A
prayer, a moan, the crowd parting and closing again.
The mammoth Christmas tree beneath the grand central stairway loped
ever so slightly of its own gorgeousness, and the gold star at its
apex titillated to the tramp-tramp of the army. Across the novelty
leather-goods counter Mr. Jimmie Fitzgibbons leaned the blue-shaven,
predacious face that head waiters and underfed salesgirls know best over
a hot bird and a cold bottle. Men's hands involuntarily close into tight
fists when his well-pressed sleeve accidentally brushes their wives or
sisters. Six-dollar-a-week salesgirls scrape their luscious rare birds
to the bone, drink thin gold wine from thin, gold-edged glasses, and
curse their God when the reckoning comes.
Behind the novelty leather-goods counter Mrs. Violet Smith, whose eyes
were the woodland blue her name boasted, smiled back and leaned against
the stock-shelves, her face upturned and like a tired flower.
"If the rush hadn't quit right this minute I--I couldn't have lasted it
out till closing, honest I couldn't."
"Poor tired little filly!"
"Even them ten minutes I got leave to go up to old Ingram's office
they made up for when I came back, and put another batch of them
fifty-nine-cent leatherette purses out in the bin."
"Poor little filly! What you need is a little speed. I wanna blow you
to-night, Doll. You went once and you can make it twice. Come on, Doll,
it ain't every little girl I'd coax like this."
"I wanna blow you to-night, Doll. A poor little blue-eyed queenie like
you, all froze up with nothing but a sick husband for a Christmas
tree--a poor little baby doll like you!"
"The kid, too, Jimmie, I--oughtn't!"
"Didn't you tell me yourself it sleeps through the night like a
whippersnapper? Don't be a quitter Doll, didn't you?"
"A poor little baby doll like you! Why, there just ain't nothing too
good for you. Some little time I showed you last Tuesday night--eh,
"Well, if you think that was some evening, you watch me to-night!"
"I--can't--go, Jimmie, him layin' there, and the kid and all!"
"Didn't I have to coax you last time just like to-night? And wasn't you
glad when you looked out and seen how blasted cold and icy it was that
you lemme blow you--wasn't you?"
"Yes, Jimmie, but--"
"Didn't I blow you to a bottle of bubble water to take home with you
even after the big show was over, and wouldn't I have blown you to
yellow instead of the red if you hadn't been a little cheap skate and
wanted the red? Didn't I pin a two-dollar bunch of hothouse grapes on
your hat right out of the fruit-bowl? Didn't I blow you for proper?"
"It was swell, Jimmie!"
"Well, I'm going to blow in my winnings on you to-night, Doll. It's
Christmas Eve and--"
"Yes, it's Christmas Eve, Jimmie, and he--he had one of his bad
hemorrhages last night, and the kid, she--she's too little to know she's
getting cheated out of her Christmas, but, gee--a--a kid oughtta have
something--a tree or something."
He leaned closer, hemmed in by the crowd. "It's _you_ oughtta have
"I--I never oughtta gone with you last Tuesday night, Jimmie. When I got
home, he--he was laying there like a rag."
"I like you, Doll. I'm going to blow in the stack of my winnings on
you--that's how much I like you. There ain't nothing I wouldn't do for a
little filly like you."
"You wouldn't be in the hole you are now, Doll, if you hadn't sneaked
off two years ago and done it while I wasn't looking. Nearly two whole
years you lemme lose track of you! That ain't a nice way to treat a
fellow that likes you."
"We went boarding right away, Jimmie, and I only came back to the
department two months ago, after he got so bad. 'Ain't I told you how
things just kinda happened?"
"I liked you myself, Doll, but you fell for a pair of shoulders over in
the gents' furnishing that wasn't wide from nothing but padding. I could
have told you there was all cotton batting and no lungs there. I could
have told you."
"Jimmie, ain't you ashamed! Jimmie!"
"Aw, I was just kidding. But you ain't real on that true-blue stuff,
Doll. I can look into your eyes and see you're bustin' to lemme blow
you. That's what you get, sweetness, when you don't ask your Uncle
Fuller first. If you'd have asked me I could have told you he was weak
in the chest when you married him. I could have told you that you'd
be back here two years later selling leatherette vanity-cases and
"You! Jimmie Fitzgibbons, you--"
"Gad, Doll, go to it! When you color up like that you look like a
rose--a whole bouquet of them."
"You--you don't know nothing about him. He--he never knew he had a lung
till a month after the kid came, and they moved the gents' furnishing
over by the Broadway door where the draught caught him."
"Sure, he didn't, Doll; no harm meant. That's right, stand by him. I
like to see it. Why, a little queen across the counter from you tole me
you'd have married him if he'd had three bum lungs, that crazy you was!"
"Like fun! If me or him had dreamt he wasn't sound we--I wouldn't be in
this mess, I--we--I wouldn't!"
Her little face was pale as a spray of jessamine against a dark
background, and, try as she would to check them, tears sprang hot to her
eyes, dew trembled on her lashes.
"Poor little filly!"
More tears rushed to her eyes, as if he had touched the wellsprings of
her self-compassion. "You gotta excuse me, Jimmie. I ain't cryin', only
I'm dog tired from nursin' and drudgin', drudgin' and nursin'."
"Hard luck, little un!"
"Him layin' there and me tryin' to--to make things meet. You gotta
excuse me, Jimmie, I'm done up."
"That's why I wanna blow you, sweetness. I can't bear to see a little
filly like you runnin' with the odds dead agin her."
"You been swell to me, Jimmie."
"The sky's my limit, Doll."
"Maybe it wasn't right for me to go with you last Tuesday night, him
layin' there, and the kid and all, but a girl's gotta have something,
don't she, Jimmie? A girl that's got on her shoulders what I got has
gotta have something--a laugh now and then!"
"That's the goods, Doll. A little filly like you has got to."
"Honest, the way I laughed when you stuck them hothouse grapes on my
hat for trimming the other night, just like they didn't cost
nothing--honest, the way I laughed gimme enough strength for a whole
night's nursin'. Honest, I felt like in the old days before--before I
"Gad! if you had treated me white in them days, Doll--if you hadn't
pulled that saint stuff on me and treated me cold storage--there ain't
nothing I wouldn't have done for you."
"I--I didn't mean nothing, Jimmie."
"I ain't sore, Doll. I like you and I like your style. I always did,
even in the days when you turned me down, you great big beautiful doll,
"If you're the real little sport I think you are, you're going to lemme
blow you to the liveliest Christmas a little queen like you ever seen.
I didn't make that winnin' down in Atlanta for nothing. When I got the
telegram I says to myself: 'Here goes! I'm goin' to make last Tuesday
night look like a prayer-meeting, I am.' Eh, Doll?"
"I--I can't, Jimmie. I--'S-s-s-s-h!"
A tide flowed in about the counter, separating them, and she was
suddenly the center of a human whorl, a battle of shoulders and elbows
and voices pitched high with gluttony. Mr. Fitzgibbons skirted its edge,
Outside a flake floated down out of the dark pocket of packed clouds,
then another and yet another, like timid kisses blown down upon the
clownish brow of Broadway. A motorman shielded his eyes from the right
merry whirl and swore in his throat. A fruit-cheeked girl paused in the
flare of a Mammoth Store show-window, looked up at her lover and the
flaky star that lit and died on his mustache, and laughed with the
musical glee of a bird. A beggar slid farther out from his doorway and
pushed his hat into the flux of the sidewalk. More flakes, dancing
upward like suds blown in merriment from the palm of a hand--light,
lighter, mad, madder, weaving a blanket from God's own loom, from God's
own fleece, whitening men's shoulders with the heavenly fabric.
Mrs. Violet Smith cast startled eyes upon the powdered shoulders and
snow-clumped shoes passing down the aisleway, and her hand flew to her
throat as if to choke its gasp.
"My! It ain't snowin', is it? It ain't snowin'?"
Mr. Jimmie Fitzgibbons wormed back to the counter. His voice was sunk to
the golden mezzo of an amorous whisper.
"Snowin' is right, Doll! A real dyed-in-the-wool white Christmas for you
"Don't you like snow, baby doll? Cheer up, I'm going to hire a taxicab
by the hour. I'm--"
She breathed inward, shivering, stricken, and her mouth, no older than a
child's, trembled at the corners and would not be composed.
"He--he can't stand no snow-storm. That's why the doctor said if--if
we could get him South before the first one, if we could get him South
before the first one--South, where the sun shines and he could feel it
clear through him, he--Oh, ain't I--ain't I in a mess!"
"Poor little filly!" He focused his small eyes upon her plump and
throbbing throat. "Poor little filly, all winded!"
"There's the bell, Doll. Poor, tired little girlie, hurry and I'll buy
you a taxicab. Hear it--there's the closing bell! Merry Christmas, Doll!
A convulsion tore through the store, like the violent asthma of a
thirty-thousand-ton ocean liner breathing the last breath of her voyage
and slipping alongside her pier. On that first stroke of ten a girl
behind the candy-counter collapsed frankly, rocking her left foot in her
lap, pressing its blains, and blubbering through her lips salty with her
own bitter tears. A child, qualified by legislation and his fourteen
years to brace his soft-boned shoulder against the flank of life, bent
his young spine double to the weight of two iron exit doors that swung
outward and open. A gale of snow and whistling air danced in. The crowd
turned about, faced, thinned, died.
Mrs. Violet Smith turned a rose-white face to the flurry. "Snowin'!"
"A real, made-to-order white Christmas for you and me, Doll. The kind
you read about."
"It--it don't mean nothing to me, but--"
"Sure, it does; I'm goin' to blow you right, Doll. Half the money is
yourn, anyways. You made that winning down in Atlanta yesterday as much
as me, girlie. If I hadn't named that filly after you she'd 'a' been
left at the post."
"You--you never had the right to name one of your race-horses after me.
There ain't a girl ever went out with you that you 'ain't named one
after. You--you never had the right to!"
"I took it, kiddo, 'cause I like you! Gad! I like you! Nix, it ain't
every little girl I'd name one of my stable after. 'Violet!'--some
little pony that, odds ag'in her and walks off with the money."
"I--honest, I sometimes--I--just wish I was dead!"
"No, you don't, Doll. You know you just wanna go to-night, but you
'ain't got the nerve. I wanna show you a Christmas Eve that'll leave any
Christmas Eve you ever spent at the post. Gad! look out there, will you?
I'm going to taxicab you right through the fuzz of that there snow-storm
if it costs every cent the filly won for us!"
Mrs. Smith leaned back against the shelves limp, as if the blood had run
from her heart, weakening her, but her eyes the color of lake-water
when summer's moment is bluest. Her lips, that were meant to curve,
straightened in a line of decision.
"I'll go, Jimmie."
"That's the goods!"
"A girl's just gotta have something to hold herself together, don't
she? It--it ain't like the kid and Harry was layin' awake for me--last
Tuesday they was both asleep when I got home. They don't let each other
get lonesome, and Harry--he--There ain't nothing much for me to do round
"Now you're talkin' the English language, Doll."
"I'll go, Jimmie."
He extended his cane at a sharper angle until it bent in upon itself,
threatening to snap, and flung one gray-spatted ankle across the other.
"Sure, you're going! A poor little filly like you, sound-kneed,
sound-winded, and full of speed, and no thin' but trouble for your
Christmas stockin'. A poor little blue-eyed doll like you!"
"A girl's gotta have something! You knew me before I was married,
Jimmie, and there never was a girl more full of life."
"Sure I knew you. But you was a little cold-storage queen and turned me
"He--Harry, he never asks me nothing when I come in, and the kid's
"Color up there a little, Doll. Where I'm going to take you there ain't
nothing but live ones. I'm going to take you to a place where the color
scheme of your greenbacks has got to be yellow. Color up there, Doll.
You ain't going dead, are you?"
She stretched open her eyes to wide, laughing pools, plowed through the
rear-counter debris of pasteboard boxes and tissue-paper, reached for
her jacket and tan, boyish hat. A blowy, corn-colored curl caught like a
tendril and curled round the brim.
"Going dead! Say, my middle name is Speed! It's like Harry used to
tell me when we wasn't no farther along in the marriage game than his
sneaking over here from the gents' furnishing three times a day to price
bill-folders--he used to say that I was a live wire before Franklin flew
"I ain't tired, Jimmie. Not countin' the year and a half I was home
before Harry took sick, I been through the Christmas hell just six
times. The seventh don't mean nothing in my life. I've seen 'em behind
these very counters cursing Christmas with tears in their eyes and
spending their merry holiday in bed trying to get some of the soreness
out. It takes more than one Christmas to put me out of business."
"Here, lemme tuck that curl in for you, Doll."
"Quit, I say!"
"Color up there, girlie. Look live!"
She rubbed her palms briskly across her cheeks to generate a glow, and
they warmed to color as peaches blush to the kiss of the sun.
"Pink as cherries!"
"That's right, kid me along."
"Tried to dodge me to-night, didn't you, kitten?"
"I--I didn't think I ought to go to-night."
"It's a good thing my feelings ain't hurt easy."
"Honest, Jimmie, I didn't try to dodge you. I--I only thought, with
the girls here gabbling so much about last Tuesday night and all, it
wouldn't look right. And he had a spell last night again, and the doctor
said we--we ought to get him South before the first snow--South, where
the sun shines. But he's got as much chance of gettin' South as I have
of climbing the South Pole!"
"A pretty little thing like you climbing the South Pole! I'd be there
with field-glasses all-righty!"
"I--I went up and talked and begged and begged and talked to old Ingram
up at the Aid Society to-day, but the old skinflint says they can't do
nothing for an employee after he's been out of his department more'n
eight weeks, and--and Harry's been out twelve. He says the Society can't
do nothing no more, much less send him South. Just like a machine he
talked. I could have killed him!"
"Poor little filly! I was that surprised when I seen you was back in the
store again! There ain't been a classy queen behind the counter since
"Aw, Jimmie, no wonder the girls say you got your race-horses beat for
Aisles thinned and the store relaxed into a bacchanalian chaos of
trampled debris, merchandise strewn as if a flock of vultures had left
their pickings--a battlefield strewn with gewgaws and the tinsel of
Christmastide, and reeking with foolish sweat.
"Button up there, Doll, and come on; it's a swell night for Eskimos."
Mr. Fitzgibbons folded over his own double-breasted coat, fitted his
flat-brimmed derby hat on his well-oiled hair, drew a pair of gray suede
gloves over his fingers, and hooked his slender cane to his arm.
"The girls, Jimmie--look at 'em rubbering and gabbling like ducks!
It--it ain't like I could do any good at home, it ain't."
"I'd be the first to ship you there if you could. You know me, Doll!"
His words deadened her doubts like a soporific. She glanced about for
the moment at the Dionysian spectacle of the Mammoth Store ravished
to chaos by the holiday delirium; at the weary stream of shoppers and
workers bending into the storm as they reached the doors; at the swift
cancan of snowflakes dancing whitely and swiftly without; at Mr. Jimmie
Fitzgibbons standing attendant. Then she smiled.
"Come on, Jimmie!"
"Come on yourself, Doll!"
Snow beat in their faces like shot as they emerged into the merry night.
She shivered in her thin coat. "Gee! ain't it cold!"
"Not so you can notice it. Watch me, Doll!" He hailed a passing cab with
a double flourish of cane and half lifted her in, his fingers closing
tight over her arm. "Little Doll, now I got you! And we understand one
another, don't we, Doll?"
She leaned back, quiescent, nor did his hold of her relax. A fairy
etching of snow whitened the windows and wind-shield, and behind their
security he leaned closer until she could feel the breath of his smile.
"Doll, we sure understand each other, don't we, sweetness? Eh? Answer
me, sweetness, don't we? Eh? Eh?"
Over the city bells tolled of Christmas.
* * * * *
The gentle Hestia of Christmas Eve snug beside her hearth, with little
stockings dangling like a badly matched row of executed soldiers,
the fire sinking into embers to facilitate the epic descent from
the chimney, the breathing of dreaming children trembling for their
to-morrow--this gentle Hestia of a thousand, thousand Christmas Eves was
not on the pay-roll of Maxwell's thousand-dollar-a-week cabaret.
A pandering management, with its finger ever on the thick wrist of its
public, substituted for the little gray lady of tradition the glittering
novelty of full-lipped bacchantes whose wreaths were grape, and
mistletoe commingling with the grape.
An electric fountain shot upward its iridescent spray, now green, now
orange, now violet, and rained down again upon its own bosom and into a
gilt basin shaped like a grotto with the sea weeping round it. And out
of its foam, wraithlike, rose a marble Aphrodite, white limbed, bathed
On the topmost of a flight of marble steps a woman sang of love who had
defiled it. At candle-shaded tables thick tongues wagged through thick
aromas and over thick foods, and as the drama was born rhythmic out of
the noisy dithyramb, so through these heavy discords rose the tink of
Venetian goblets, thin and pure--the reedy music of grinning Pan blowing
Rose-colored light lay like a blush of pleasure over a shining table
spread beside the coping of the fount. A captain bowed with easy
recognition and drew out two chairs. A statue-like waiter, born but to
obey and, obeying, sweat, bowed less easy recognition and bent his spine
to the backaching, heartbreaking angle of servitude. And through the
gleaming maze of tables, light-footed as if her blood were foaming, Mrs.
Violet Smith, tossing the curling ribbon of a jest over one shoulder.
Following her Mr. Jimmie Fitzgibbons, smiling.
"Here, sit on this side of the table, Doll, so you can see the big
"It's the best table in the room to see the staircase dancing."
"Told you I was going to show you a classy time to-night, didn't I,
"Yeh, but--but I ain't dressed for a splash like this, Jimmie, I--I
"Say, they know me round here, Doll. They know I'd fall for a pair of
eyes like yourn, if you was doing time on a rock-pile and I had to bring
you in stripes."
"If you wasn't such a little pepper-box I'd blow you to a feather or
"Ain't no pepper-box!"
"You used to be, Doll. Two years back there wasn't a girl behind the
counter ever gimme the cold storage like you did. I liked your nerve,
too, durned if I didn't!"
"I--I only thought you was guyin'."
"I 'ain't forgot, Doll, the time I asked you out to dinner one night
when you was lookin' pretty blue round the gills, and you turned me down
so hard the whole department gimme the laugh. It's a good thing I 'ain't
got no hard feelings."
"Honest, Jimmie, I--"
"That was just before you stole the march on me with the Charley from
the gents' furnishing. I ain't holding it against you, Doll, but you
gotta be awful nice to me to make up for it, eh?"
A shower of rose-colored rain from the fountain threw its soft blush
across her face.
"Aw, Jimmie, don't rub it in! Ain't I tryin' hard enough to--to square
myself? I--I was crazy with the heat two years ago. I--aw, I--Now
it's different. I--It's like you say, Jimmie, you 'ain't got no hard
feelings." She swallowed a rising in her throat and took a sip of clear,
cold water. A light film of tears swam in her eyes. "You 'ain't, have
He leaned across the table and out of the hearing of the attendant
waiter. "Not if we understand each other, Doll. You stick to me and
you'll wear diamonds. Gad! I bet if I had two more fillies like Violet
I'd run Diamond Pat Cassidy's string of favorites back to pasture, you
little queenie, you!"
Her timid glance darted like the hither and thither of a wind-blown
leaf. "I ain't much of a looker for a Broadway palace like you've
brought me to, Jimmie. Look at 'em, all dolled up over there. Honest,
Jimmie, I--I feel ashamed."
"Just you stick to me, peaches, and there ain't one at that table that's
got on anything you can't have twice over. I know that gang--the pink
queen and all. 'Longside of you they look like stacks o' bones tied up
in a rag o' satin."
"Aw, Jimmie, look at 'em, so blond and all!"
"They're a broken-winded bunch. Look at them bottles on their table!
We're going to have twice as many and only one color in our glasses,
kiddo. Yellow, the same yellow as your hair, the kinda yellow that's
mostly gold. That's the kind of bubble water we're going to buy, kiddo!"
"Jimmie, such a spender!"
"It's sure like the girls say--the sky's your limit."
"Look, Doll, there's the swellest little dancer in this town--one
swell little pal and a good sport. Watch her, kiddo--watch her do that
staircase dance. Ain't she a lalapaloo!"
A buxom nymph of the grove, whose draperies floated from her like
flesh-colored mist, spun to the wild passion of violins up the eight
marble steps of the marble flight. A spotlight turned the entire range
of the spectrum upon her. She was like a spinning tulip, her draperies
folding her in a cup of sheerest petals, her limbs shining through.
"Classy, ain't she, Doll?"
"Well, I guess!"
"Wanna meet her? There ain't none of 'em that 'ain't sat at my table
many a time."
"I like it better with just you, Jimmie."
"Sweetness, don't you look at me like that or you'll get me so mixed up
I'll go out and buy the Metropolitan Tower for your Christmas present.
Whatta you want for Christmas--eh, Doll?"
"Aw, Jimmie, I don't want nothing. I 'ain't got no right to take nothing
from you!" She played with the rich, unpronounceable foods on her plate
and took a swallow of golden liquid to wash down her fiery confusion.
"I--'ain't got no right."
"When I get to likin' a little girl there ain't nothing she 'ain't got a
"Aw, Jimmie, when you talk like that I feel so--so--"
"So what, Doll?"
"Aw, I can't say it. You'll think I'm fresh."
But she regarded him with the nervous eyes of a gazelle and the red swam
high up into her hair, and he drained his glass down to the bottom of
its hollow stem and leaned his warming face closer.
"You treat me white, sweetness, and understand me right, and you won't
be sorry for nothing you say. Drink, Doll, drink to you 'n' me--you 'n'
Their bubble-thin glasses met in a tink and a pledge and her ready
laughter rose in duet with his. She caught the lilt of a popular song
from, the tenpiece orchestra and sang upward with the tirralirra of
a lark, and the group at the adjoining table threw her a shout. Mr.
Fitzgibbons beat a knife-and-fork tattoo on his plate and pinched her
cheek lightly, gritting his teeth in a fine frenzy of delight.
"That's the way to make 'em sit up and take notice, Doll, that's the way
I like 'em. Live! As live and frisky as colts!"
An attendant placed a souvenir of the occasion beside her plate--a white
wool bear, upright and with bold bead eyes and a flare of pink bow
beneath its chin.
"See, Doll, a Teddy bear! By Gad! a Teddy bear with his arms stretched
out to hug her! Gad! if I was that Teddy I'd hug the daylight out of
her, too! Gad! wouldn't I!"
Mrs. Violet Smith wafted the bead-eyed toy a kiss, then slapped him
sharply sidewise, toppling him in a heap, and her easy laughter mingled
with her petulance.
"I wanna big grizzly, Jimmie; a great big brown grizzly bear with a
grin. I wanna big brown grizzly."
"'Ain't you got one, Doll? A little white one with a pink bow. Here,
let's give him a drink!"
But the petulance grew upon her, nor would she be gainsaid. "I wanna big
brown grizzly--a great big brown one with a grin."
"Aw, Doll, look at this little white one--a classy little white one.
Look at his nose, cutie, made out of a button. Look, ain't that some
nose! Look, ain't--"
"A big brown one that I can dance with, Jimmie. I wanna dance. Gee! who
could dance with a little dinky devil like that! I wanna dance, Jimmie,
honest I could dance with a great big brown one if he was big enough.
I--Gee, I wanna dance. Jimmie, honest, I could dance with a great big
brown one if he was big enough. I--Gee! I wanna dance, Jimmie! Gee, I
He whacked the table and flashed the twinkle of a wink to the waiter.
"Gad! Doll, if you look at me with them frisky eyes I--"
"I wanna bear, Jimmie, a great big brown--"
"A great big brown one, Jimmie, with a grin. Tell him a great big brown
"Waiter, that ain't no kind of a souvenir to bring a lady--a cheap bunch
o' wool like that. Bring her a great big brown one--"
"A great big brown one with a grin, tell him, Jimmie."
"We have no brown ones, sir; only the small white ones for the ladies."
"Get one, then! Get out and buy the biggest one they got on Broadway.
Get out and get one then!"
"But, sir, the--"
"If the stores ain't open, bust 'em open! I ain't the best customer this
joint has got not to get service when my lady friend wants to dance with
a great big brown bear. If my lady friend can't get a great big brown
"With a grin, Jimmie."
"--with a grin, there are other places where she can get two great big
brown bears if she wants 'em."
"I'll see, sir. I'll see what I can do."
Mr. Fitzgibbons brought a fist down upon the table so that the dishes
rattled and the wine lopped out of the glasses. "Sure you'll see, and
quick, too! A great big brown bear, d'you hear? My lady friend wants to
dance, don't you, Doll? You wanna dance, and nothing but a great big
brown bear won't do--eh, Doll?"
"With a grin, Jimmie!"
"With a grin, d'ye hear?" He whacked at her hand in delight and they
laughed in right merry duet.
"Oh, Jimmie, you're killing!"
"The sky's my limit!"
She nibbled at a peach whose cheeks were pink as her own, and together
from the great overflowing bowl of fruits they must trim her hat with
its boyish brim. First, a heavy bunch of black hothouse grapes that she
pinned deftly to the crown, a cluster of cherries, a purple plum, a
tangerine stuck at a gay angle. They surveyed their foolish labor of
caprice with little rills of laughter that rose and fell, and when
she replaced her hat the cherries bobbed and kissed her cheek and the
adjoining group leaned to her in the kinship of merriment.
"It's a sweller trimming than I gave it last Tuesday, Jimmie. Look how
tight it's all pinned on. Look at the cherries! I'm going to blow 'em
right off and then eat 'em--eat 'em! Pf-f-f-f!"
She made as if to catch them with pursed lips, but they bobbed sidewise,
and he regarded her with a swelling pride, then glanced about the room,
pleased at the furor that followed her little antics.
"Gad, Doll, you're a winner! I can pick 'em every time! You ain't dolled
up like the rest of 'em, but you're a winner!"
"That's the ticket, waiter! I knew there wasn't nothing round here that
tin wouldn't buy. I guess that ain't some great big brown grizzly with a
grin for you, Doll!"
"I guess they didn't rustle round when your Uncle Fuller began to get
sore, and get a great big brown one for you! Gad! the biggest I ever
seen--almost as big as you, Doll! That's the ticket! There ain't
anything in this town tin can't buy!"
"Oh-oh-oh!" She lifted the huge toy off the silver tray held out to her
and buried her shining face in the soft, silky wool. "Ain't he a beauty?
Ain't he the softest, brownest beauty?"
"Now, peaches, now cherries, now you little fancy-fruit stand, there
goes the music. Let's see that dance!"
"Aw, Jimmie, I--I was only kiddin'!"
"Kiddin' nothing! Come now, Doll, I blew me ten bucks if I blew me a
cent for that bunch of wool. Come now, let's see that dance you been
blowing about! Go as far as you like, Doll!"
"I--honest, I was only guyin', Jimmie."
"Don't be a quitter and make me sore, Doll! I wanna show 'em I pick the
live ones every time. There's the music!"
"Go as far as you like, Doll. Here, gimme your hat! Go to it, sister. If
you land in the fountain by mistake I'll blow you to the swellest new
duds on the Avenue."
"I don't know no dances no more, Jimmie. I--I can't dance with this big
old thing anyways. Look, he's almost as big as me!"
"Go it alone, then, Doll; but get up and show 'em. Get up and show 'em
that I don't pick nothing but the livest! Get up and show 'em, Doll; get
up and show 'em!"
She set down her glass suddenly and pirouetted to her feet.
"Go to it, Doll!"
She leaped forward in her narrow little skirt, laughing. Chairs scraped
back and a round of applause went with her. Knives and forks beat tattoo
on frail glasses; a tinsel ball flung from across the room fell at her
feet. She stooped to it, waved it, and pinned it to her bosom. Her hair,
rich as Australian gold, half escaped its chignon and lay across her
shoulders. She danced light as the breeze up the marble stairway, and at
its climax the spotlight focused on her, covering her with the sheen of
mica; then just as lightly down the steps again, so rapidly that her
hair was tossed outward in a fairy-like effect of spun gold.
"Go to it, Doll. I'm here to back you!"
"Dare me, Jimmie?"
"Yeh, I dare you to do anything your little heart desires. Gad!
you--Gad! if she 'ain't!"
Like a bird in flight she danced to the gold coping, paused like an
audacious Undine in a moment of thrilled silence, and then into the
purple and gold, violet and red rain of the electric fountain, her arms
outstretched in a radiant _tableau vivant_, water crowding in about her
knees, spray dancing on her upturned face.
"Gad! the little daredevil! I didn't think she had it in her. Gad! the
Clang! Clang! Tink! Tink! "Bravo, kiddo! Who-o-o-p!"
Shaking the spray out of her eyes, her hair, she emerged to a grand
orchestral flare. The same obsequious hands that applauded her helped
her from the gold coping. Waiters dared to smile behind their trays. Up
to her knees her dark-cloth skirt clung dankly. Water glistened on her
shoulders, spotted her blouse. Mr. Jimmie Fitzgibbons lay back in his
chair, weak from merriment.
"Gad! I didn't think she had it in her! Gad! I didn't!"
"Bo-o-o-o!" She shook herself like a dainty spaniel, and he grasped the
table to steady himself against his laughter.
"Gad! I didn't!"
"Fine weather for ducks!"
"I'm a nice girl and they treat me like a sponge."
"April weather we're havin', ain't it?"
"You ain't much wet, are you, Doll?"
"Here, waiter, get the lady a coat or something. Gad! you're the hit
of the place, Doll! Aw, you ain't cold, hon? Look, you ain't even wet
through--what you shaking about?"
She drew inward little breaths of shivery glee. "I ain't wet! Say,
whatta you think that fountain's spouting--gasoline? I--ain't--wet!
Looka my hair curling up like it does in a rain-storm! Feel my skirt
down here at the hem! Can you beat it? I ain't wet, he says!"
"Here, drink this, Doll, and warm up."
She threw a dozen brilliant glances into the crowd, tossed an
invitational nod to the group adjoining, and clapped her hands for the
iridescent Christmas ball that dangled over their table.
"Here, send 'er over--here, give you leave. I'm some little catcher
It bounded to her light as air, and she caught it deftly, tossed it
ceilingward until it bounced against an incandescent bulb, tossed it
again, caught it lightly, nor troubled to heed the merry shouts for its
From across the room some one threw her a great trailing ribbon of gilt
paper. She bound it about her neck like a ruff. A Christmas star with
a fluted tissue-paper edge floated into her lap. She wore it like an
earring, waggling it slyly so that her curls were set a-bobbing.
"Gimme my bear."
She hugged the woolly image to her as if she would beg its warmth, her
teeth clicking the while with chill.
"Take a little swallow or two to warm you up, Doll!"
"Gee! I took your dare, Jimmie--and--and--br-r-r-r!"
"A little swallow, Doll!"
"I took your dare, Jimmie, and I--I can feel my skirt shrinking up
like it was rigging. I--I guess I'll have to go to work next week in a
"Didn't I tell you I was backing this toot, sister?"
"I didn't have no right to dive in there and spoil my duds, Jimmie. I--"
"Who had a better right?"
"Ain't it just like a nut like me? But I 'ain't had a live time for so
long I--I lost my head. But I 'ain't got no right to spoil the only
duds I got to my back. Looka this waist; the color's running. I
ought to--I--Oh, like I wasn't in enough of a mess already
without--without--acting the crazy nut!"
"Aw, Doll, cut the tragedy! Didn't I tell you I was going to blow you to
anything your little heart desires?"
"But the only duds I got to my back, Jimmie! Oh, ain't I a nut when I
get started, Jimmie! Ain't I a nut!"
She regarded him with tears in her eyes and the wraith of a smile on her
lips. A little drop escaped and she dashed it away and her smile broke
out into sunshine.
"Ain't I a nut, though!"
"You're a real, full-blooded little winner, that's what you are, and you
can't say I ain't one, neither, Doll. Here's your damages. Now go doll
yourself up like a Christmas tree!"
He tossed a yellowback bill lightly into her lap, and she made a great
show of rejecting it, even pushing it toward him across the table and to
"I--Aw, what kind of a girl do you think I am? There, take your money.
I--honest, I--What kind of a girl do you think I am?"
"Now, now, sister, don't we understand each other? Them's damages,
kiddo. Wasn't it me dared you? Ain't it my fault you doused your duds?"
"Aw, come now, Doll, don't pull any of that stuff on me! You and me
understand each other--not?"
"Take and forget it. You won it. That ain't even interest on the filly's
winnings. Take it. I never started nothing in my life I couldn't see
the finish to. Take it and forget it!" He crammed the bill into her
reluctant fingers, closed them over it, and sealed her little fist with
a grandiose pat. "Forget it, Doll!"
But her lids fluttered and her confusion rose as if to choke her.
"I--honest, I--Aw, what kind of a girl do you think I am?"
"I told you I think you're the sweetest, livest little queen I know."
"Come on, little live wire. Put on your swell, hothouse-trimmed hat. I'm
going to take you to a place farther up the street where there are two
staircases and a fountain twice as big for you to puddle your little
footsies in. Waiter--here--check--get a cab! Here, little Doll, quit
your shivering and shaking and lemme help you on--lemme help you."
She was suddenly pale, but tense-lipped like a woman who struggles
on the edge of a swoon. "Jimmie, honest, I--I'm shaking with chills!
Jimmie--I--I can't go in these duds, neither. I--I gotta go home now.
He'll be wakin' and I--I gotta go home now. I'm all shaking." In spite
of herself her lips quivered and an ague shot through her body. "I--I
gotta go home now, Jimmie. Look at me shivering, all shivering!"
"Home now!" His eyes retreated behind a network of calculating wrinkles
and she paled as she sat. "Home now? Say, Doll, I thought--"
"Honest, I wanna go to the other place, but I'm cold, Jimmie, and--wet
through. I gotta keep well, Jimmie, and I--I oughtta go home."
"Pah!" he said, spluttering out the end of a bitten cigar. "If I'd 'a'
known you was a puny Doll like that!"
"I ain't, Jimmie; I--"
"If I'd 'a' known you was that puny! It's like I been sayin', Doll, it
ain't like you and me don't understand each other. I--"
"Sure we do, Jimmie. Honest, I--To-morrow night I--I can fix it so
that--that the sky's my limit. I'll meet you at Hinkley's at eight,
cross my heart on a wishbone, Jimmie."
"To-night, Jimmie, I'm chilled--all in. Look at me in these duds,
Jimmie. I'm cold. Oh, Jimmie, get me a cab quick, please; I'm co-old!"
She relaxed frankly into a chill that rumbled through her and jarred her
knees together. A little rivulet of water oozed from her hair, zigzagged
down her cheek and seeped into her blouse, but her blue-lipped smile
"Ain't I a nut, though! But wait till you see me dolled up to-morrow
night, Jimmie! Eight at Hinkley's. I didn't have a hunch how cold--how
cold that water was. Next time they gotta--heat it."
"Got to heat it is good, Doll! All I got to do is ask once, and my
word's law round here. Here, take a swallow and warm up, hon. You don't
need to go home if you warm up right."
But the glass tinked against her teeth.
"I'll take some home with me to warm me up when I get in bed, Jimmie.
I--Not that kind, give it to me red like you did last Tuesday night,
without the sparkles. That's the kind to warm me up. Order a bottle of
red without the sparkles, Jimmie--without the sparkles. I--I can't stand
no more bubbles to-night."
He helped her into her coat, and she leaned to him with a little
movement of exhaustion that tightened his hold of her.
"Hurry a cab, waiter; the lady's sick!"
"Ain't I a nut, though!"
"Poor wet little Doll, I didn't think you was much more'n damp! You
gotta make up for this to-morrow night, Doll. Eight sharp, Doll, and no
funny business to-morrow night."
"Swell little sport you are, gettin' the chills! But we understand each
other, don't we, Doll?"
"Come on, hon. Shakin' like a leaf, ain't you? Wait till I get you out
in the cab, I'll warm you up. You look just like a Christmas doll, all
rigged up in that hat and that star and all--just like a Christmas
"My grizzly, my brown grizzly! Gee, I nearly forgot my grizzly!"
And she packed the huge toy under her arm, along with the iridescent
ball and the gewgaws of her plunder, and out into the cab, where an
attendant tucked a bottle of the red warming wine between them.
The silent storm had continued its silent work, weaving its blanket
softer, deeper. The straggling pedestrians of early morning bent their
heads into it and drove first paths through the immaculate mantle.
The fronts of owl cars and cabs were coated with a sugary white rime.
Broadway lay in a white lethargy that is her nearest approach to sleep.
Snow-plows were already abroad clearing tracks, dry snow-dust spinning
from under them. At Longacre Square the flakes blew upward in spiral
flurries, erratic, full of antics. The cab snorted, plunged, leaped
forward. Mr. Fitzgibbons inclined toward the little huddle beside him.
"Sweetness, now I got you! You little sweetness you, now I got you,
"Jimmie! Quit! Quit! You--you old--you--you--"
The breath of a forgotten perfume and associations webby with age stir
through the lethargy of years. Memories faded as flowers lift their
heads. The frail scent of mignonette roused with the dust of letters
half a century old, and eyes too dim and watery to show the glaze of
tears turn backward fifty years upon the mignonette-bowered scene of
love's young dream. A steel drawing-room car rolling through the clean
and heavy stench of cow pasture, and a steady-eyed, white-haired
capitalist, rolling on his rolling-stock, leans back against the
upholstery and gazes with eyes tight closed upon a steady-eyed,
brown-haired youngster herding in at eventide. The whiff of violets from
a vender's tray, and a young man dreams above his ledger. The reek of a
passing brewer's wagon, and white faces look after, suddenly famished.
When the familiar pungency of her boarding-house flowed in and round
Mrs. Violet Smith, she paused for a moment and could not push through
the oppression. Then, with the associations of odor crowding in about
her, she stripped herself of her gewgaws, as if here even the tarnished
tinsel of pleasure could have no place, and tiptoed up the weary wind
of three unlighted flights and through the thick staleness of unaired
At the third landing a broom and a dirty tangled debris of scrub-cloths
lay on the topmost stair, as if an aching slavey had not found the
strength to remove them. They caught the heel of her shoe, pitching her
forward so that she fell sharply against her own door. In the gloom
she paused for a palpitating moment, her hands pressing her breast,
listening; then deposited her laden hat, the little pile of tinsel and
the woolen bear on the floor outside the door.
"Vi! Vi! That you, dear?"
She pulled at her strength and opened the door suddenly, blowing in like
a gale. "It's me, darlin'."
She was suddenly radiant as morning, and a figure on the bed in the far
corner of the dim-lit room raised to greet her with vague, white-sleeved
arms outstretched. She flew to their haven.
"Darlin', darlin', how you feeling?"
"Vi, poor tired little girl!"
"Harry, how you feeling, darlin'? They worked the force all night--first
time ever. How you feeling, darlin'--how?" And she burrowed kisses on
the poor, white face, and then deep into the tiny crib and back again
into the vague white arms. "Oh, my babies, both of you! How you feeling,
darlin'? So worried I've been. And the kid! Oh, God, darlin', I--I been
so busy rightin' stock and all--all night they kept the force. I got
such news, darlin'. We should worry that it's snowing! Such news,
darlin'! The kid, Harry--did Mrs. Quigley bring her milk on time? How
you feeling, darlin'! You 'ain't coughed, have you?"
He kissed her damp hair and turned her face up like a flower, so that
his deep-sunk eyes read into hers. "I 'ain't coughed once since noon,
darlin'. We should worry if it snows is right! A doctor's line of talk
can't knock me out. I can buck up without going South. I 'ain't coughed
once since noon, Vi; I--"
A strangling paroxysm shook him in mockery of his words, and she
crouched low beside the bed, her face etched in the agony of bearing
each rack and pain with him.
"Oh, my darlin'! Oh--oh--"
"It's--all right now, Vi! It's all right! It's all right!"
"Oh, my darlin', yes, yes, it's all right now! All right now!"
She ran her hands over his face, as if to reassure herself of his very
features, nor would she let him read into her streaming eyes.
"Lay quiet, Harry darlin'; it's all right! Oh, my darlin'!"
"'S-s-s-s-h, Vi dear! Sure it's all right. 'S-s-s-s-h! Don't cry, Vi!"
"'S-s-s-s-h, darlin'! Don't!"
"I--oh, I can't help it; but I ain't cryin', Harry, I ain't!"
"All worn out and cold and wet, that's what's a-hurtin' you. All worn
out and hysterical and all! Poor little Vi-dee!"
"It's all over now, Vi. See, I'm all right! Everything's all right! Just
my luck to have the first one since noon right when you get home. It's
all over now, Vi. Everything's over, Christmas rush and all. Don't you
worry about the snow, neither, darlin'. I knew it would scare you up,
but it takes more than a doctor's line of talk to down-and-out me."
"I--I ain't worryin', darlin'."
"You're the one I been worryin' about, Vi. It's just like the kid was
worried too--cried when Mrs. Quigley sung her to sleep."
"Oh, my baby! Oh, my baby!"
"Don't worry, dear. She don't even know it's Christmas--a little thing
like her. And, anyways, look, Vi-dee, Mrs. Quigley brought her up that
little stuffed lamb there. But she don't even know it's Christmas, dear;
she don't even know. You poor, tired little kiddo!"
"I ain't tired."
"I been lying here all night, sweet, thinking and thinking--a little
doll like you hustling and a big hulk like me lying here."
"'S-s-s-s-h! Honest, Harry, it's fun being back in the store again till
you get well--honest!"
"I never ought to let you done it in the beginning, darlin'. Remember
that night, even when I was strong enough to move a ox team, I told you
there was bum lungs 'way back somewhere in my family? I never ought to
let you take a chance, Vi-dee--I never ought!"
"'S-s-s-s-h! Didn't I say I'd marry you if you was playin' hookey from
the graveyard? Wasn't that the answer I give you even when you was
strong as a whole team?"
"I didn't have no right to you, baby--the swellest little peach in the
store! I--I didn't have no right to you! Vi-dee, what's the matter? You
look like you got the horrors--the horrors, hon! Vi-dee!"
"Oh, don't, Harry, don't. I--I can't stand it, hon. I--I'm tired,
darlin', darlin', but don't look like that, darlin'. I--got news--I got
'"S-s-s-s-h, baby, you're all hysterical from overwork and all tired out
from worry. There ain't no need to worry, baby. Quigley'll say it can go
over another week. She ain't dunning for board, she ain't, baby."
"Shaking all over, baby, just like you got the horrors! I bet you got
scared when you see the snow coming and tackled Ingram to-day, and
you're blue. What you got the horrors about, baby--Ingram?"
"I told you not to ask the old skinflint. I told you they won't do
nothing after twelve weeks. I ain't bluffed off by snow-storm, Vi. I
don't need South no more'n you do, I don't, baby. I ain't a dead one by
a long shot yet! Vi, for God's sake, why you got the horrors?"
She tried to find words and to smile at him through the hot rain of
her tears, and the deep-rooted sobs that racked her subsided and she
snuggled closer and burrowed into his pillow.
"I--I can't keep it no longer, darlin'. I ain't cryin', I--I 'ain't got
the horrors. I'm laffin'. I--I seen him, Harry--Ingram--I seen him
just before closin', and--and--oh, Harry, you won't believe it, he
said--he--I--I'm laffin' for joy, Harry!"
"What? What, Vi? What?"
She fumbled into the bosom of her blouse and slid a small folded square
of yellowback bill into his hand.
"What? What, Vi? What?"
"A cool hundred, darlin'. Ingram--the Aid Society, because it's
Christmas, darlin'. They opened up--a cool hundred! We--we can light out
To-morrow, darlin'. A cool hundred! Old Ingram, the old skinflint, he
opened up like--like a oyster. South, all of us, to-morrow, darlin'; it
ain't nothing for me to get a job South. When I seen it was snowin'
I'd 'a' killed somebody to get it. I--I had to have it and we got it,
darlin', we--we got it--a cool hundred!"
He lay back on the pillow, suddenly limp, the bill fluttering to the
coverlet, and she slid her arm beneath his head.
"You could have knocked me down, too, darlin'. Easy, just like that he
forked over. 'What's a Aid Society for?' he kept sayin'. 'What's a Aid
"Don't cry, darlin', don't cry. I just can't stand it!"
"'S-s-s-s-h! Easy, just like that he gimme it, darlin'."
"And me lying here hatin' him for a skinflint and his store for a
bloodsucker and the Aid Society for a fake!"
"Yes, yes, darlin'."
"I feel new already, Vi. I can feel the sun already shining through me.
If he was here, I--I could just kiss his hand; that's how it feels for
a fellow to get his nerve back. I got my chance now, Vi; there ain't
nothing can keep me down. Just like he says--I'll be a new man out
there. Look, hon, just talking about it! Feel how I got some strength
back already. An hour ago I couldn't hold you like this."
"Oh, my darlin'!"
He sat up suddenly in bed and drew her into his arms and she laid her
cheek against his, and in the silence, from the trundle crib beside
them, the breathing of a child rose softly, fell softly.
"I--I blew us to a real Christmas, darlin', us and the kid. I--I
couldn't help it. I couldn't bear to have her wake up without it, Harry,
her and you--and me."
"A real Christmas, baby!"
"Red wine for you, darlin', like I brought you last Tuesday night and
warmed you up so nice. The kind the doctor says is so grand for you,
darlin'--red wine without bubbles like he says you gotta have."
"Yeh, and black grapes like I brought you last Tuesday, and like he says
you oughtta have--black grapes and swell fruit that's good for you,
"A real blow-out, Vi-dee."
"A bear for the kid, Harry!"