Part 7 out of 7
"It's a white Christmas for sure out where I live. Come on out and let
me show you a good time, little one."
"I wish you was half as white as this Christmas is. Honest, sometimes I
says to myself, I says, ain't there just none of you white? Has a girl
like me got to keep dodging all her life?"
"Come, sister, let's catch the five-eighteen."
"You better run along before you get me all rubbed the wrong way. At
five-eighteen I'll be buying my own meal ticket, let me tell you that."
"Then buy your own meal ticket, if that's what's hurting you, little
touchy, and come out on the eight-eighteen. It's only a thirty-minute
run; and if you say the word I'll be at the station with bells on to
meet you. Come on. I'll show you the Christmas Eve of your life. Be a
"Yes, I always say, inviting a girl to be a sport is a slick way of
inviting her to Hades. I've seen where being a sport lands a girl, I
have. I ain't game, maybe, but, thank God, I ain't. Thank God, I ain't,
is what I always say to them."
"Well, of all the funny little propositions."
"Well, there's nothing funny about your proposition."
"You're one funny little girl, but, gee! I like you."
There was that in his glance and the white flash of his teeth and the
pomaded air of geniality about him that sent a quick network of thrills
darting through her; all her perceptions rose, and her color.
"Come on, little girl."
"Oh," she cried, clenching her small tan hand, and a tempest of fury
flashing across her face, "you--you fresh fellows up-town here think
just because you wear good clothes and can hold down a decent job, that
you--you can put up any kind of a proposition to a girl like me. Oh--oh,
just every one of you!"
"Well, of all the little spitfires."
"What do you think I am? What does every one of you, up and down town,
think I am? Do I look like I was born yesterday? Well, I wasn't, or
the day before or the day before that. Honest to God, if I was a
nice-appearing fellow like you I'd be ashamed, I would. I'd go out in
the garden and eat worms, I would."
He retreated before her scorn, but smiling. "I'll get you yet, you
little vix," he said; "you pretty little black-eyed vix, you; I'll get
"Like hell you will."
"If you change your mind, come out on the eight-eighteen, girlie. Two
blocks to the left of the station; the corner house with a little
weather-cock over the porch. Can't miss it. I'll be drapin' the tree in
tin fringe and wishing you were there."
"Oh," she cried, her voice cracked spang across with a sob, "I--I just
"No, you don't," he said, smiling and gathering his parcels.
"What's that on your wrist?"
"There. I thought you said you threw it away."
Her right hand flew to her left wrist as if a welt lay there. "This,
I--huh--I--I forgot I had it on. This--this little old bracelet you said
you found in the Subway. It--it's nothing but red celluloid, anyway.
I--I nearly did throw it away."
"You look just like a little gipsy, you do, with that red comb in that
black hair of yours and that red bracelet on your little brown arm. I'll
swear if I didn't miss my train by ten minutes the first time I seen you
standing here at this counter with those big black eyes of yours shining
"You'll miss it again if you don't run away, Charley-boy."
"Dare you to come along! I'll wait for the five-eighteen."
"Don't hold your breath till I do."
"Dare you to come out on the eight-eighteen! Say the word, and I'll be
at the station."
"I'll see myself crazy with the blues first."
"You might as well come, kiddo, because I'll get you yet."
"Try the soft-pedal stuff about the kid and the Christmas tree on the
girl at the Glendale station. Maybe she hasn't cut her eye-teeth."
A flush swept his face like quick wind. "You're a bum sport, all
"And you! Gee! if I was to tell you what I think you are! If I was!" She
sank her teeth into her lower lip to keep it from trembling, but smiled.
"But I wouldn't take the trouble, Charley-boy--honest, I wouldn't take
"I'll get you yet, you little vix," he insisted, his white smile
flashing, and retreating into the crowd.
She stood looking after him, head backward and hip arched forward in the
pose of Carmen's immortal defiance. But behind her flashing attitude her
heart rose to her throat and a warm gush of blood to her face, betraying
When the illuminated hands of the illuminated tower clock swung to the
wide angle of five o'clock, Miss Marjorie Clark and Miss Minnie Bundt,
from the fancy-fruit stand opposite, cast off the brown cocoon of their
workaday for the trim street finery which the American shopgirl, to the
stupefaction of economists and theorists, can somehow evolve out of
eight dollars a week.
In the locker-room they met, the placid sky-colored eyes of Miss Bundt
meeting Miss Clark's in the wavy square of mirror.
"Snowing, ain't it?"
"Gee! that's a nifty little hat, Min! Where'd you get the pompon?"
"If it 'ain't got the Avenue written all over it."
"Want some my powder, Min? Pink."
"Want to--want to go to a movie to-night or--or bum around the stores?
It's Christmas Eve."
A flush rose to Miss Clark's face, darkening it. She adjusted her
dyed-fur tippet and a small imitation-fur cap at just the angle which
doubled its face value. Something seemed to leap out from her eyes and
then retreat behind a smile and a squint.
"Say, Min, if my voice hurt me like yours does, I'd rub salve on it,"
and went out, slamming the door behind her. But a tear lay on the edge
of her down-curved lashes, threatening to ricochet down her smoothly
powdered cheek. She winked it in again. The station swarm was close to
her, jostling, kicking her ankles in passing, buffeting.
From out the swift tide a figure without an overcoat, and a cap vizor
pulled well down over his eyes, locked her arm from the rear, so that
she sprang about, releasing herself.
"For God's sake, Blink, cut the pussy-foot tread, will you? I've jabbed
with a hat-pin for less than that."
"Merry Christmas, Marj."
"Yes, I'm merry as a crutch. What brought you around, Blink?"
"Can't a fellow drop around to pick you up?"
"Land that job?"
"Not a chance. What they want down there is a rough-neck, not a
gentleman rubber-down. Say, take it from me; after a fellow has worked
in the high-class Turkish baths, Third Avenue joints ain't up to his
tone no more. I got to have class, kiddo. That's why I got such a lean
"Come down to-night, Marj?"
"Well, I guess not."
"Buy you a dinner."
"But you're flat as your hand."
He set up a jingling in his left pocket. "I am, am I?"
"Well, I'm not going."
"When you going to cut this comedy, Marj?"
"I'm not. I'm just beginning."
"Breaking into high society, eh? Fine chance."
"Yes, with the gang of you down there hanging on like the plague, I got
a swell chance, nix."
"It's because we know you too well, Marj. Knew you when you had two
black pigtails and used to carry a bucket into the family entrance of
Harry's place, crying with madness every time your old man sent you.
Gad! I can see you yet, sweetness, with your big black eyes blacker than
ever, and steering home your old man from off a jamboree."
"God! sometimes I wake up in the night just like him and ma was still
alive and me and her was sitting there listening to him creak up the
stairs on his bad nights. I wake up, I can tell you, in a sweat--right
in a sweat."
"I knew you in them days, kiddo, just like you knew me. That's why you
can't pull nothing over on a fellow, kiddo, that's had as many pulls on
your all-day suckers as I have. You're a little quitter, you are, and
sometimes I think you're out for bigger game."
"It don't mean because a girl was born in the mud she's got to stick
there, does it?"
"No, but she can't pretend she don't know one of the old mud-turtles
when she sees one."
"Mud-turtle is the right name."
"The crowd has got your number, all right, kiddo; they know you're out
after bigger game. You're a little turncoat, that's what they say about
"Turncoat! Who wouldn't turn a coat they was ashamed of? I guess you all
don't remember how I used to say, even back in those years when I was
taking tickets down at Lute's old Fourteenth Street Amusement Parlors,
how when my little minute came I was going to breeze away from the gang
"I remember, all righty."
"How I was going to get me a job up-town here, where I could get in with
a decent crowd of girls, and not be known for the kind down there that
you and all of 'em knew I--I wasn't."
"Sure we knew."
"Yes, but what good does that do me? Can a dirty little yellow-haired
snip over in the Fancy Fruits give me the once-over and a turn-down?
She can. And why? Because I ain't certified. I come from a counterfeit
crowd, and who's going to take the trouble to find my number and see if
"Didn't a broken-down old granny over in the Thirty-fourth Street house
where I roomed give me notice last week, because Addie Lynch found me
out one night and came to see me, lit up like a Christmas tree?"
"That's why I say, Marj, stick to the old ones who know you."
"Like May Pope used to say, a girl might as well have the game as the
"If I was a free man, Marj, I'd--"
"Where has the strait and narrow got me to, I'd like to know? Sometimes
I think it's nothing but a blind alley pushing me back."
"If I was a free man, Marj--"
"Let me meet a slick little up-stage fellow that doesn't have to look
two ways before he walks the wrong beat in daylight; let me meet a
fellow like that, and where does it get me?"
"I'm no saint, Marj, but there ain't a beat in town I'd have to look two
ways on. Ask any cop--"
"Does the slick little up-stage fellow get my number? He does not. I'd
like to see one of them ask that dirty little yellow-head over in the
Fancy Fruits to go home with him. A little Nobody-Home like her, just
because she was raised in an amen corner of the Bronx and has a six-foot
master-mechanic brother to call for her every time she works fifteen
minutes later, she can wear her hands crossed on her chest and a lily
stuck in 'em and get away with it, too."
"You're right, kiddo; you got more sand than ten of such put together."
"I'm as good as her and better. I'm not so sure by a long shot that any
of those baby faces would say no if they was ever invited to say yes.
Watch out there, that cab, Blink. Gee! your nerves are as steady as
They were veering through the crowds and out into the soft flurry of the
storm. Flakes like pulled-out bits of cotton floated to their shoulders,
resting there. Seventh Avenue, for the instant before the eye left the
great Greek facade of the Pennsylvania Terminal, was like a dream of
Athens seen through the dapple of white shadows. Immediately the eye
veered, however, the great cosmopolis formed by street meeting avenue
tore down the illusion. Another block and second-hand clothing shops
nudged one another, their flapping wares for sale outside them like
clothes-wash on a line, empty arms and legs gallivanting in the wind. A
storm-car combed through the driven snow, scuttling it and clearing
the tracks. Down another block the hot, spicy smell of a Mexican dish
floated out between the swinging doors of an all-night bar. A man
lurched out, laughing and crying.
Marjorie Clark's companion steered her past and turned toward her, his
twitching features suddenly, and even through their looseness, softened.
"Poor kiddo!" he said. "Just send them to me for reference. I can do
some tall vouching for you."
"The way I feel lately sometimes, honest, I think if I get to getting
the indigoes much deeper, there's no telling where they'll land me. The
game as well as the name ain't all poetry, let me tell you that."
Through the fall of mild snow he could see her face shining out darkly,
and his bare, eager fingers moved toward her arm, and except when the
spasmodic twitch locked his features, his face, too, was thrust forward,
keen and close to hers.
"I've been telling you that for five years, girl."
"Now don't go getting me wrong, Blink."
"If I was what the law calls a free man, Marj, you know what kind of
a proposition I would have put up to you five years ago when I had my
health and my looks and--"
"If you want to make me sore, just tune up on that old song. You ain't
man enough to even get your own little kid out of the clutches of a
mother that's pulling her down to Hades with her. Take it from me, if
there wasn't something in me that's just sorry for you, I wouldn't walk
these here blocks with you. Sometimes when I look at you right hard,
Blink, honest, it looks to me like the coke's got you, Blink."
"You wouldn't tell me if it had. But you got the twitches, all righty."
"It's me nerves, Marj; me nerves and you."
"Bah! you got about as much backbone as a jellyfish. Blaming things on a
"You took the backbone out of me, I tell you."
"Oh no, I didn't; it's been missing since your first birthday."
"Eating out my heart and vitals for you and your confounded highfalutin
"Before you ever clapped eyes on me you was more famous for your arm
muscle than your backbone. I guess I don't remember how your own mother
told me the very day before she died how she tried on her old knees to
keep you out of a marriage with that woman. All that happened way back
in the days when you had your muscles and was head rubber-down at
Herschey's. You knew her kind when you did it, and now why ain't you man
enough to blame yourself for what you are instead of blaming the girl?
"I didn't mean it, Marj. It slipped. S'help me, I didn't. Sometimes I
just don't know what I'm saying, Marj; that's how my mind kinda gets
sometimes. All fuzzed over like."
"What's the odds what you say, Blink? You're just not man-size, I
She was a bleak little figure bowing into the wind, her tippet flapping
back over one shoulder.
"I ain't, ain't I? I 'ain't gone through a living hell sitting on the
water-wagon for you, have I?"
"Try to keep from twitching that way, Blink. You give me the horrors."
"I 'ain't cut out playing stakes, have I? Gad! I can live from Sunday to
Sunday on a pick-up from a little gamble here and a little gamble there.
But when you hollered, I didn't cut it and begin to work up muscle to
get back on the job again, did I? I didn't, did I?"
"You can't pump that into me, Blink."
His voice narrowed to a nasal quality. "I didn't send her and the kid
a whole Christmas box like you wanted me to, did I? I didn't stick a
brand-new fiver in the black-silk-dress pattern, knowing all the while
she'd have it drunk up before she opened the creases out. I didn't, did
They were approaching the intersection of a wide and white-lighted
cross-town street. The snowfall had lightened. Marjorie Clark let her
gaze rest for the moment upon her companion, and her voice seemed
suddenly to nestle deep in her throat.
"Gee! Blink, if I thought any of the--the uplift stuff I've tried to
pump into you had seeped in. Gee! if I could think that, Blink!"
Tears lay close to the surface of her words, and his lean face was
thrust farther forward in affirmation.
"It has, Marj. All I got to do is to think of you and those big black
eyes of yours shining, and I could lead a water-wagon parade."
"It's the habits, Blink, you got to watch most. For a minute to-night
you looked like coke and--and it scared me. Don't let the coke get you,
Blink. For God's sake, don't!"
"I sent her a fiver, Marj, and a black silk, and a doll with real hair
for the kid. Y'oughtta seen, Marj, real hair on it."
"That was fine, Blink. Fine!"
"Where you going? Aw, come, Marj. For the love of Mike, you're not
"Yes, yes. I got to go. This is Twenty-second Street, my corner. That's
where I room; that fourth house to the right. That dark one. I got to
"Where do you s'pose? Home."
"What's doin' there?"
"Whatta you going to do Christmas Eve? Sit in your two-by-four and
twiddle your thumbs?"
Immediate sobs rose in her throat. "Lord!" she said, "I dun'no'! I
He set up the jangling again. "It's Christmas Eve, Marj."
"That's right, rub it in," and looked away from him.
"Come, Marj, don't leave me high and dry like this. Come, I'll blow you
to a little supper, kiddo. I got a couple of meal tickets coming to me
down at Harry's on some ivories I threw last night."
"Dice! And after the line of talk you just tried to make me swallow. Did
I believe it? I did not!"
"No stakes, Marj. Just for a couple of meal tickets we tossed. Come,
girl, you 'ain't been down to Harry's for months; you won't get your
halo mussed from one time. It's Christmas Eve, Marj."
"I heard you the first time."
"If I got to go it alone to-night, Marj, it'll be the wettest Christmas
I ever spent, it will. I'll pickle this Christmas Eve like it was never
pickled before, I will."
"Aren't you no man at all, threatening like that? Just no man at all?"
"I tell you if I got to go it alone to-night, I won't be. I'm crazy
enough to tear things wide open."
"A line of talk like that will send me home quicker than anything, if
you want to know it." She turned her face away and toward the dark aisle
of the side street.
"I didn't mean it, Marj."
"I hate whining."
"Don't go, girl. Don't. Don't give me the horrors and leave me alone
She moved slowly into the gloom of the cross-town street. Solemn rows of
blank-faced houses flanked it. Wind slewed as through a canon, whistling
in high pitch.
"Fine little joy lane for your Christmas Eve, eh? Don't go, Marj. Have
a heart and be a sport. Let me blow you to a supper down at Harry's for
old times' sake. Didn't you promise my old woman to keep an eye on me?
Didn't you? For old times' sake, Marj. It's Christmas."
She stood shivering and gazing down into the black throat of the street.
"It'll be a merry evening in that two-by-four of yours, won't it? Look
at it down there. Cheerful, ain't it?"
Tears formed in a glaze over her eyes.
"Be a sport, Marj."
* * * * *
At the family entrance to Harry's place, and just around the corner from
the main entrance of knee-high swinging doors and a broadside of frosted
plate-glass front, a bead of gas burned sullenly through a red globe,
winking, so to speak, at all who would enter there under cover of its
Women with faces the fatty white of jade, and lips that might have
kissed blood, slipped from the dark tide of the side street into the
entrance. Furtive couples rose out of the night: the men, lean as laths,
collars turned up and caps drawn down; girls, some with red lights and
some with no lights in their eyes, and most of them with too red lips of
too few curves, and all of them with chalk-colored powder laid on over
the golden pollen of youth.
Within Harry's place, Christmas found little enough berth except that
above the great soaped-over mirror at the far end of the room a
holly wreath dangled from the tarnished gilt frame and against the
clouded-over glass a forefinger had etched a careless Merry Christmas.
At tables set so close that waiters side-stepped between them, the
habitues of Harry's place dined--wined, too, but mostly out of uncovered
steins or two-inch stemless glasses. And here and there at smaller
tables a solitary figure with a seer's light in his eyes sipped his
An electric piano, its shallow tones undigested by the crowded room,
played in response to whomsoever slipped a coin into its maw. Kicked-up
sawdust lay in the air like flakes.
From her table near the door Miss Marjorie Clark pushed from her a
litter of half-tasted dishes and sent her dark glance out over the room.
A few pairs of too sinuous dancers circled a small clearing around the
electric piano. Waiters with fans of foam-drifting steins clutched
between fingers jostled them in passing. At a small table adjoining, a
girl slept in her arms. Two more entered, elbow in elbow, and directly
a youth in a wide-striped wool sweater muffled high to his teeth, and
features that in spite of himself would twitch and twitch again.
"Hi, Blink," he said in passing.
Reader, your heart lifted up and glowing with Yuletide and good-will
toward men, turn not in warranted nausea from the reek of Harry's
place. Mere plants can love the light and turn to it, but have not the
beautiful mercy to share their loveliness with foul places. The human
heart is a finer work. It can, if it will, turn its white light upon
darkness, so that out of it even a single seed may take heart and grow.
A fastidious olfactory nerve has no right to dominion over the quality
of mercy. The heart should keep its thousand doors all open, each
heart-string a latch-string, and each latch-string out.
Marjorie Clark met her companion's eyes above the rim of his stein.
"Looks more like hell on a busy day down here than like Christmas Eve,
He was warmed, and the tight skin had softened as dried fruit expands in
water. "Ah-h-h, but I feel better, kiddo."
"That's three steins you've had, Blink. And there's no telling what you
filled up on those three times you went out."
"It's Christmas Eve, kiddo. What kind of a good time do you want for
your money? A Christmas tree trimmed in tin angels?"
"Do I? You just bet your life I do."
"Then let me get it for you, sugar-plum. You just stick to me to-night
and you can have any little thing your heart desires. Here, waiter." And
he jingled again in the depths of his pocket.
"If you want to lose my company double quick, just you order another
stein. Just look at you seeing double already."
"I'm all right, baby; never felt better in my life."
"You caught me when I was down and blue, didn't you, and pumped me full
of a lot of Sunday-school talk, that's what you did. And I was fool
enough to get soft and come down here with you, I was! But I felt it in
my bones you was lying. I knew I was right about the coke. I seen you
throw a high sign to that twitching guy in the striped sweater. I knew I
was right. God, I--I just knew."
He leaned for her hand. "Little bittsie, black-eyed baby, you got me
"Ugh-h! Quit! Let go!"
He straightened, regarding her solemnly and controlling the slight
swaying of his figure. "I'm a gentleman."
Her laugh was more of a cough. "There ain't no such animal."
"There ain't? I seen you trying to rope one to-day, all righty. I seen
"Sure I did. The slick guy in checks."
"Sure I seen you. I was loafing around the station a whole hour before
you seen me to-day, baby doll. I seen the whole show. Grabbed the slick
little Checkers right out of the line, didn't you? Bowled him over with
those black eyes of yours. Went for him right like he was a stick of
candy and you was licking it, eh? Pretty slick to take in a big eyeful
like that, wasn't I? Some little Checkers, he was."
Red leaped to her face. "Cut that!"
"Gad! what you mad about, kiddo? Gentleman friend, eh?"
"You just cut that talk, and double quick, too."
"After bigger game, eh, kiddo?"
"Not good enough down here, eh?"
"No, if you want to know it. No."
"He liked you, kiddo."
"Yes, he liked me. He liked me, all righty, like they all do. God! if
I'd ever run across a fellow that was on the level with me, I'd get the
hysterics right in his face, I would. Right in his face!"
"I'm on the level, Marj, only--"
"You try to begin that, now."
"I am, and you know it."
"You're about as straight as a horseshoe."
"I may backslide now and then, sweetness, but--"
"There's no backsliding for you any more, Blink. After that Gregory raid
business you slid back as far in my mind as a fellow can slide."
He drained his glass, and this time caught his sway a bit too late.
"Forget that, kiddo."
"I can't. It was that showed me plainer than all that went before how I
was wasting my time working over you."
"'Ain't I got something on you, too, peaches? But you don't hear me
throwing it up to you, do you? 'Ain't I got Checkers on you?"
"But I ain't blaming you. Come, Marj, let's swap our real names."
"Sure, I ain't blaming you. Only be on the level, girl--be on the level.
If it's big fry you're after, and we don't measure up down here, say
"You--I think you're crazy, Blink."
"I know life, kiddo. I've used up thirty years of my lease on it getting
wise to it. Come now, is it Checkers, queenie? What's your game?"
She leaned forward, looking him evenly between the eyes, but her lips
seared as if from his hot insult. "You take that back."
"What you green around the gills for, kiddo? Didn't you say yourself
that the name and the game come together in the same package? I ain't
arguing it with you."
"You take it back, I said."
He laughed and flecked his fingers for a waiter, flinging out his legs
at full length alongside the table. "You're a clever little girl, Marj,
and I've got to hand it to you. Another stein there, waiter, and one for
the girl; she needs it."
"I'll spill it right out if it comes."
"Lord! what you so sheety-looking for? White with temper and green at
the gills, eh? Gad! I like you that way. I like you for your temper, and
if you want to know it, I like you for every blamed thing about you."
"You--quit! Let go! Let go, I say! Ug-gh!" Her lips, with the greenish
auro about them, would only move stiffly, and she pushed back from the
table only half articulate. "Let me pass--please."
"Where you going, peaches?" He reached for her hand. "You mad, Marj? I
didn't mean to get you sore."
"You beauty, you."
"Gad! but I like you. Sit down, Marj, I got a new proposition to put to
you. I can talk big money, girl."
"Sit down, girl. Harry don't stand for no stage stuff in here no more."
"I got a new proposition, girl. One that'll make Checkers look like
thirty cents. A white proposition, too, Marj. A baby could listen to
"Yes, yes, Blink, but not now. When you get lit up you--you oughtn't
begin to dream about those millionaire propositions, Blink. Try and keep
"A baby could listen to this here proposition, Marj. And big money, too,
Marj. It's diamonds for you."
Somehow with her lips she smiled down at him, and did not tug for the
release of her hand. Dallied for the instant instead.
"You're lit up, Blink."
"Some big guns in Wall Street, Marj, are after me, Marj, with a
million-dollar proposition. I--"
"Yes, yes, but wait a minute, Blink. I'll be back." She even lay a pat
on his shoulder and slid past him lightly. "In a minute, Blink."
"Hurry," he said, his smile broken by a swift twitch of feature, and
raising his fresh stein.
Once out of his vision, she veered sharply and in a bath of fear darted
toward the small hallway, with its red bead of gaslight burning on and
flickering against the two panels of colored glass in the dingy brown
Outside, the flakes had ceased and the sinister-looking side street lay
in a white hush, a single line of scraggly footsteps crunched into the
snow of the sidewalk. A clock from a sky-scraping tower rang out eight,
its echoes singing like anvils in the sharp, thin air. On the cross-town
street the shops were full of light and activity, crowds wedging in and
out. Marjorie Clark pulled at her strength and ran.
At the Twenty-second Street corner she paused for the merest moment
for breath and for a quick glance into the dark lane of the diverging
street. The double row of stone houses, blank-faced and shouldering
one another like paper dolls cut from a folded newspaper, stood back
indistinctly against the night, most of the high stoops cushioned
in untrod snow, the fourth of them from the right, lean-looking and
undistinguished, except that the ash-can at its curb was a glorified urn
As she stood there the ache in Marjorie Clark's throat threatened to
become articulate. She took up her swift pace again, but onward.
Ten minutes later, within the great heated mausoleum of the Pennsylvania
Terminal, she bought a ticket for Glendale. On track ten the
eight-eighteen had already made its first jerk outward as she made her
dash for it.
In the spick swaddling clothes of new-laid snow, its roadways and garden
beds, macadamized streets and runty lanes all of one identity, Glendale
lay in a miniature valley beneath the railroad elevation; meandered down
a slight hillside and out toward the open country.
Immediately removed from the steep flight of stairs leading down from
the gabled station, small houses with roofs that wore the snow like
coolies' hoods appeared in uncertain ranks forming uncertain streets.
Lights gleamed in frequent windows, throwing squares of gold-colored
light in the snow.
Here and there where shades were drawn the grotesque shadow of a
fir-tree stood against the window; silhouettes moved past. Picket
fences marched crookedly along. At each intersection of streets a white
arc-light dangled, hissing and spreading its radiance to the very stoops
of adjoining houses.
Two blocks from the left of the station Marjorie Clark paused in the
white shower of one of these arc-lights. The wind had hauled around to
the north and its raw breath galloped across the open country, stinging
Across the street, diagonal, a low house of too many angles, the snow
banked in a high drift across its north flank, stood well back in
shadow, except that on the peak of its small veranda, and clearly
defined by the arc-light, a weather-vane spun to the gale.
Marjorie Clark ducked her head to the onslaught of wind and crossed the
street, kicking up a fine flurry of snow before her. A convoy of trees
stood in military precision down the quiet avenue, their bare branches
embracing her in immediate shadows. The gate creaked when she drew it
backward, scraping outward and upon the sidewalk a hill of loose snow.
Before that small house a garden lay tucked beneath its blanket, a
scrawny line of hedge fluted with snow inclosing it and a few stalks
that would presently flower. The hood of the dark veranda, surmounted
with its high ruche of snow, seemed to incline, invitational.
Yet when Marjorie Clark pulled out the old-fashioned bell-handle her
face sickened as she stood and she was down the steps again, the
tightness squeezing her throat, her gloved hands fumbling the gate
latch, and her knee flung against it, pressing it outward.
In the moment of her most frenzied attitude a golden patch of light from
an opened door streamed out and over her. In its radiance a woman's
wide-bosomed, wide-hipped silhouette, hand bent in a vizor over her
eyes, leaned forward, and, rushing past her and down the plushy steps,
the bareheaded figure of Mr. Charley Scully, a red and antiquated red
wool indoor jacket flying to the wind, and a forelock of his shiny hair
She backed against the gate.
"Why, little one! Marjie! Marjie!"
But her inertia was of no moment, and very presently, Charles Scully's
strong right arm propelling her, she was in the warm, bright-lighted
hallway, its door closing her in and the wide-bosomed, wide-hipped
figure in spotted silk fumbling the throat fastenings of her jacket, and
the stooped form of Charley Scully dragging off her thin rubber shoes.
"Whew! they're soaking wet, ma. Get her a pair of Till's slippers or
"Don't jerk the child like that, son. Pull 'em off easy."
Through glazed eyes Marjorie Clark, balancing herself first on one foot,
then the other, the spotted silk arm half sustaining her, could glimpse
the scene of an adjoining room: a fir-tree standing against a drawn
window-blind half hung in tinsel fringe, and abandoned in the very act
of being draped; a woman and a child stooping at its base. Above a
carved black-walnut table and from a mother-of-pearl frame, a small
amateur photograph of Marjorie Clark smiled out at herself.
The figure in spotted silk dragged off the wet jacket and hurried with
it toward the rear of the hallway, her left foot dragging slightly.
"Just a second, dearie-child, until I find dry things for you. Son, stop
fussing around the lamb until she gets rested."
But on the first instant of the two of them standing alone there in
the little hallway, Charley Scully turned swiftly to Marjorie Clark,
catching up her small hand. His eyes carried the iridescence of bronze.
"Marjie," he said, "to--why, to think you'd come! Why--why, little
"I--oh, Charley-boy, I--"
"What, little one? What?"
"What is it, hon? Ain't you as glad as I am?"
"I dun'no', only I--I--I'm scared, Charley--scared, I guess."
"Why, you just never was so safe, Marjie, as now--you just never was!"
She could not meet the eloquence of his eyes, but his smile was so near
that the tightness at her throat seemed suddenly to thaw.
"Charley-boy," she said.
But at the sound of returning footsteps she sprang backward, clasping
her hands behind her. A copper-haired woman with a copper-haired child
in the curve of her arm moved through the lighted front room and toward
them. Her smile was upturned, with a dimple low in one cheek, like a
star in the cradle of a crescent moon. Charley Scully turned his vivid
face toward her.
"Till," he cried, "she come, anyway. Looka, she's come!"
"Yes, I--I've come," said Marjorie Clark. There was a layer of hysteria
in her voice.