Part 3 out of 5
"My girl's beau-ful cheeks all warm and full of some danged good cologne,"
said Mr. Connors, closing the door of their rooms upon them, pressing her
head back against the support of his arm, and kissing her throat as the
chin flew up.
He pressed a button, and the room sprang into more light, coming out pinkly
and vividly--the brocaded walls pliant to touch with every so often a
gilt-framed engraving; a gilt table with an onyx top cheerfully cluttered
with the sauciest short-story magazines of the month; a white mantelpiece
with an artificial hearth and a pink-and-gilt _chaise-longue_ piled high
with small, lacy pillows, and a very green magazine open and face downward
on the floor beside it.
"Comin' better, honeybunch?"
"I dunno, Babe. The town's mad with money, but I don't feel myself going
crazy with any of it."
"What ud you bring us, honey?"
He slid out of his silk-lined greatcoat, placing his brown derby atop.
"Three guesses, Babe," he said, rubbing his cold hands in a dry wash, and
smiling from five feet eleven of sartorial accomplishment down upon her.
"Honey darlin'!" said Mrs. Connors, standing erect and placing her cheek
against the third button of his waistcoat.
"Wow! how I love the woman!" he cried, closing his hands softly about her
throat and tilting her head backward again.
"Darlin', you hurt!"
"Br-r-r--can't help it!"
When Mr. Connors moved, he gave off the scent of pomade freely; his
slightly thinning brown hair and the pointy tips to a reddish mustache
lay sleek with it. There was the merest suggestion of _embonpoint_ to the
waistcoat, but not so that, when he dropped his eyes, the blunt toes of his
russet shoes were not in evidence. His pin-checked suit was pressed to a
knife-edge, and his brocaded cravat folded to a nicety; there was an air
of complete well-being about him. Men can acquire that sort of eupeptic
well-being in a Turkish bath. Young mothers and life-jobbers have it
Suddenly, Mrs. Connors began to foray into his pockets, plunging her hand
into the right, the left, then stopped suddenly, her little face flashing
up at him.
"It's round and furry--my honeybunch brought me a peach! Beau-ful pink
peach in December! Nine million dollars my hubby pays to bring him wifey a
beau-ful pink peach." She drew it out--a slightly runty one with a forced
blush--and bit small white teeth immediately into it.
"M-m-m!"--sitting on the _chaise-longue_ and sucking inward. He sat down
beside her, a shade graver.
"Is my babe disappointed I didn't dig her coat and earrings out of hock?"
She lay against him.
"I should worry!"
"There just ain't no squeal in my girl."
"Any one of 'em but you would be hollering for their junk out of pawn.
But, Lord, the way she rigs herself up without it! Where'd you dig up the
spangles, Babe? Gad! I gotta take you out to-night and buy you the right
kind of a dinner. When I walks my girl into a cafe, they sit up and take
notice, all righty. Spangles she rigs herself up in when another girl, with
the way my luck's been runnin', would be down to her shimmy-tail."
She stroked his sleeve as if it had the quality of fur.
"Is the rabbit's foot still kicking my boy?"
"Never seen the like, honey. The cards just won't come. This afternoon I
even played the wheel over at Chuck's, and she spun me dirt."
"It's gotta turn, Blutch."
"Remember the run of rotten luck you had that year in Cincinnati, when the
ponies was runnin' at Latonia?"
"Lost your shirt, hon, and the first day back in New York laid a hundred on
the wheel and won me my seal coat. You--we--We couldn't be no lower than
that time we got back from Latonia, hon?"
He laid his hand over hers.
"Come on, Babe. Joe'll be here directly, and then we're going and blow them
spangles to a supper."
"Now there's nothin' to worry about, Babe. Have I ever landed anywhere
but on my feet? We'll be driving a racer down Broadway again before the
winter's over. There's money in motion these wartimes, Babe. They can't
keep my hands off it."
"Blutch, how--how much did you drop to-day?
"I could tell clear down on the street you lost, honey, the way you walked
"What's the difference, honey? Come; just to show you I'm a sport, I'm
going to shoot you and Joe over to Jack's in one of them new white
"Blutch, how much?"
"Well, if you gotta know it, they laid me out to-day, Babe. Dropped that
nine hundred hock-money like it was a hot potato, and me countin' on
bringin' you home your coat and junk again to-night. Gad! Them cards
wouldn't come to me with salt on their tails."
"Nine hundred! Blutch, that--that leaves us bleached!"
"I know it, hon. Just never saw the like. Wouldn't care if it wasn't my
girl's junk and fur coat. That's what hurts a fellow. If there's one thing
he ought to look to, it's to keep his wimmin out of the game."
"It--it ain't that, Blutch; but--but where's it comin' from?"
He struck his thigh a resounding whack.
"With seventy-five bucks in my jeans, girl, the world is mine. Why, before
I had my babe for my own, many's the time I was down to shoe-shine money.
Up to 'leven years ago it wasn't nothing, honey, for me to sleep on a
pool-table one night and _de luxe_ the next. If life was a sure thing for
me, I'd ask 'em to put me out of my misery. It's only since I got my girl
that I ain't the plunger I used to be. Big Blutch has got his name from the
old days, honey, when a dime, a dollar, and a tire-rim was all the same
She sat hunched up in the pink-satinet frock, the pink sequins dancing, and
her small face smaller because of the way her light hair rose up in the
"Blutch, we--we just never was down to the last seventy-five before. That
time at Latonia, it was a hundred and more."
"Why, girl, once, at Hot Springs, I had to hock my coat and vest, and I got
started on a run of new luck playin' in my shirt-sleeves, pretending I was
a summer boy."
"That was the time you gave Lenny Gratz back his losings and got him back
to his wife."
"Right-o! Seen him only to-night. He's traveling out of Cleveland for an
electric house and has forgot how aces up looks. That boy had as much
chance in the game as a deacon."
Mrs. Connors laid hold of Mr. Connors's immaculate coat lapel, drawing him
"Oh, Blutch--honey--if only--if only--"
"If only what, Babe?"
"Why, honey, what's eatin' you? I been down pretty near this low many a
time; only, you 'ain't known nothing about it, me not wanting to worry your
pretty head. You ain't afraid, Babe, your old hubby can't always take care
of his girl A1, are you?"
"No, no, Blutch; only--"
"I wish to God you was out of it, Blutch! I wish to God!"
"Out of what, Babe?"
"The game, Blutch. You're too good, honey, and too--too honest to be in it.
What show you got in the end against your playin' pals like Joe Kirby and
Al Flexnor? I know that gang, Blutch. I've tried to tell you so often how,
when I was a kid livin' at home, that crowd used to come to my mother's--"
"Now, now, girl; business is--"
"You're too good, Blutch, and too honest to be in it. The game'll break you
in the end. It always does. Blutch darling, I wish to God you was out of
"Why, Ann 'Lisbeth, I never knew you felt this way about it."
"I do, Blutch, I do! For years, it's been here in me--here, under my
heart--eatin' me, Blutch, eatin' me!" And she placed her hands flat to her
"I never let on. You--I--You been too good, Blutch, to a girl like--like
I was for me to let out a whimper about anything. A man that took a girl
like--like me that had knocked around just like--my mother and even--even
my grandmother before me had knocked around--took and married me, no
questions asked. A girl like me 'ain't got the right to complain to no man,
much less to one like you. The heaven you've given me for eleven years,
Blutch! The heaven! Sometimes, darlin', just sittin' here in a room like
this, with no--no reason for bein' here--it's just like I--"
"Babe, Babe, you mustn't!"
"Sittin' here, waiting for you to come and not carin' for nothing or nobody
except that my boy's comin' home to me--it's like I was in a dream, Blutch,
and like I was going to wake up and find myself back in my mother's house,
"Babe, you been sittin' at home alone too much. I always tell you, honey,
you ought to make friends. Chuck De Roy's wife wants the worst way to get
acquainted with you--a nice, quiet girl. It ain't right, Babe, for you
not to have no friends at all to go to the matinee with or go buyin'
knickknacks with. You're gettin' morbid, honey."
She worked herself out of his embrace, withholding him with her palms
pressed out against his chest.
"I 'ain't got nothing in life but you, honey. There ain't nobody else under
the sun makes any difference. That's why I want you to get out of it,
Blutch. It's a dirty game--the gambling game. You ain't fit for it. You're
too good. They've nearly got you now, Blutch. Let's get out, honey,
while the goin's good. Let's take them seventy-five bucks and buy us a
peanut-stand or a line of goods. Let's be regular folks, darlin'! I'm
willin' to begin low down. Don't stake them last seventy-five, Blutch.
Break while we're broke. It ain't human nature to break while your luck's
He was for folding her in his arms, but she still withheld him.
"Blutch darlin', it's the first thing I ever asked of you."
He grew grave, looking long into her blue eyes with the tears forming over
"Why, Ann 'Lisbeth, danged if I know what to say! You sure you're feelin'
well, Babe? 'Ain't took cold, have you, with your fur coat in hock?"
"No, no, no!"
"Well, I--I guess, honey, if the truth was told, your old man ain't cut out
for nothing much besides the gamin'-table--a fellow that's knocked around
the world the way I have."
"You are, Blutch; you are! You're an expert accountant. Didn't you run the
Two Dollar Hat Store that time in Syracuse and get away with it?"
"I know, Babe; but when a fellow's once used to makin' it easy and spendin'
it easy, he can't be satisfied lopin' along in a little business. Why, just
take to-night, honey! I only brought home my girl a peach this evening,
but that ain't sayin' that before morning breaks I can't be bringin' her a
couple of two-carat stones."
"No, no, Blutch; I don't want 'em. I swear to God I don't want 'em!"
"Why, Babe, I just can't figure out what's got into you. I never heard you
break out like this. Are you scared, honey, because we happen to be lower
"No, no, darlin'; I ain't scared because we're low. I'm scared to get high
again. It's the first run of real luck you've had in three years, Blutch.
There was no hope of gettin' you out while things was breakin' good for
you; but now--"
"I ain't sayin' it's the best game in the world. I'd see a son of mine laid
out before I'd let him get into it. But it's what I'm cut out for, and what
are you goin' to do about it? 'Ain't you got everything your little heart
desires? Ain't we going down to Sheepshead when the first thaw sets in?
Ain't we just a pair of love-birds that's as happy as if we had our right
senses? Come, Babe; get into your jacket. Joe'll be here any minute, and I
got that porterhouse at Jack's on the brain. Come kiss your hubby."
She held up her face with the tears rolling down it, and he kissed a dry
spot and her yellow frizzed bangs.
"My girl! My cry-baby girl!"
"You're all I got in the world, Blutch! Thinkin' of what's best for you has
eat into me."
"I know! I know!"
"We'll never get nowheres in this game, hon. We ain't even sure enough of
ourselves to have a home like--like regular folks."
"Never you mind, Babe. Startin' first of the year, I'm going to begin to
look to a little nest-egg."
"We ought to have it, Blutch. Just think of lettin' ourselves get down to
the last seventy-five! What if a rainy day should come--where would we be
at? If you--or me should get sick or something."
"You ain't all wrong, girl."
"You'd give the shirt off your back, Blutch; that's why we can't ever have
a nest-egg as long as you're playin' stakes. There's too many hard-luck
stories lying around loose in the gamblin' game."
"The next big haul I make I'm going to get out, girl, so help me!"
"I mean it. We'll buy a chicken-farm."
"Why not a little business, Blutch, in a small town with--"
"There's a great future in chicken-farmin'. I set Boy Higgins up with a
five-hundred spot the year his lung went back on him, and he paid me back
the second year."
"Blutch darlin', you mean it?"
"Why not, Babe--seein' you want it? There ain't no string tied to me and
the green-felt table. I can go through with anything I make up my mind to."
"Oh, honey baby, you promise! Darling little fuzzy chickens!"
"Why, girl, I wouldn't have you eatin' yourself thisaway. The first
ten-thou' high-water mark we hit I'm quits. How's that?"
"Ten thousand! Oh, Blutch, we--"
"What's ten thou', girl! I made the Hot Springs haul with a twenty-dollar
start. If you ain't careful, we'll be buyin' that chicken-farm next week.
That's what can happen to my girl if she starts something with her hubby."
Suddenly Mrs. Connors crumpled in a heap upon the lacy pillows, pink
"Why, Babe--Babe, what is it? You're sick or something to-night, honey." He
lifted her to his arms, bent almost double over her.
"Nothin', Blutch, only--only I just never was so happy."
"Lord!" said Blutch Connors. "All these years, and I never knew anything
was eatin' her."
"I--I never was, Blutch."
"Lord bless my soul! The poor little thing was afraid to say it was a
chicken-farm she wanted!"
He patted her constantly, his eyes somewhat glazy.
"Us two, Blutch, livin' regular."
"You ain't all wrong, girl."
"You home evenings, Blutch, regular like."
"You poor little thing!"
"You'll play safe, Blutch? Play safe to win!"
"I wish I'd have went into the farmin' three years ago, Babe, the week I
hauled down eleven thou'."
"You was too fed up with luck then, Blutch. I knew better 'n to ask."
"Lord bless my soul! and the poor little thing was afraid to say it was a
chicken-farm she wanted!"
"Promise me, Blutch, you'll play 'em close--to win!"
"Al's openin' up his new rooms to-night. Me and Joe are goin' to play 'em
fifty-fifty. It looks to me like a haul, Babe."
"He's crooked, Blutch, I tell you."
"No more 'n all of 'em are, Babe. Your eyes open and your pockets closed is
my motto. What you got special against Joe? You mustn't dig up on a fellow,
"I--. Why ain't he livin' in White Plains, where his wife and kids are?"
"What I don't know about the private life of my card friends don't hurt
"It's town talk the way he keeps them rooms over at the Liberty. 'Way back
when I was a kid, Blutch, I remember how he used to--"
"I know there ain't no medals on Joe, Babe, but if you don't stop listenin'
to town talk, you're going to get them pretty little ears of yours all
"I know, Blutch; but I could tell you things about him back in the days
when my mother--"
"Me and him are goin' over to Al's to-night and try to win my babe the
first chicken for her farm. Whatta you bet? Us two ain't much on the
sociability end, but we've played many a lucky card fifty-fifty. Saturday
is our mascot night, too. Come, Babe; get on your jacket, and--"
"Honeybunch, you and Joe go. I ain't hungry."
"I'll have 'em send me up a bite from the grill."
"You ain't sore because I asked Joe? It's business, Babe."
"Of course I ain't, honey; only, with you and him goin' right over to Al's
afterward, what's the sense of me goin'? I wanna stay home and think. It's
just like beginnin' to-night I could sit here and look right into the time
when there ain't goin' to be no more waitin' up nights for my boy. I--They
got all little white chickens out at Denny's roadhouse, Blutch--white with
red combs. Can we have some like them?"
"You betcher life we can! I'm going to win the beginnings of that farm
before I'm a night older. Lordy! Lordy! and to think I never knew anything
was eatin' her!"
"Blutch, I--I don't know what to say. I keep cryin' when I wanna laugh. I
never was so happy, Blutch, I never was."
"My little kitty-puss!"
* * * * *
At seven o'clock came Mr. Joe Kirby, dark, corpulent, and black of cigar.
"Come right in, Joe! I'm here and waitin' for you."
"Ain't the missis in on this killin'?"
"No, Joe; not--to-night."
"Sorry to hear it," said Mr. Kirby, flecking an inch of cigar-ash to the
table-top. "Fine rig-up, with due respect to the lady, your missis is
"The wife ain't so short on looks, is she?"
"You know my sentiments about her. They don't come no ace-higher."
She colored, even quivered, standing there beside the bronze Nydia.
"I tell her we're out for big business to-night, Joe."
"Sky's the limit. Picked up a pin pointin' toward me and sat with my back
to a red-headed woman. Can't lose."
"Well, good-night, Babe. Take care o' yourself."
"Good night, Blutch. You'll play 'em close, honey?"
"You just know I will, Babe."
An hour she sat there, alone on the _chaise-longue_, staring into space and
smiling at what she saw there. Finally she dropped back into the lacy mound
of pillows, almost instantly asleep, but still smiling.
* * * * *
At four o'clock, that hour before dawn cracks, even the West Forties, where
night is too often cacophonous with the sound of revelry, drop into long
narrow aisles of gloom. Thin, high-stooped houses with drawn shades recede
into the mouse-colored mist of morning, and, as through quagmire, this mist
hovering close to ground, figures skulk--that nameless, shapeless race of
many bloods and one complexion, the underground complexion of paste long
sour from standing.
At somewhat after that hour Mr. Blutch Connors made exit from one of these
houses, noiseless, with scarcely a click after him, and then, without
pause, passed down the brownstone steps and eastward. A taxicab slid by,
its honk as sorrowful as the cry of a plover in a bog. Another--this one
drawing up alongside, in quest of fare. He moved on, his breath clouding
the early air, and his hands plunged deep in his pockets as if to plumb
their depth. There was a great sag to the silhouette of him moving thus
through the gloom, the chest in and the shoulders rounding and lessening
their front span. Once he paused to remove the brown derby and wipe at his
brow. A policeman struck his stick. He moved on.
An all-night drug-store, the modern sort of emporium where the capsule
and the herb have become side line to the ivoritus toilet-set and the
pocket-dictionary, threw a white veil of light across the sidewalk. Well
past that window, but as if its image had only just caught up with him,
Mr. Connors turned back, retracing ten steps. A display-window, denuded of
frippery but strewn with straw and crisscrossed with two large strips of
poster, proclaimed Chicklet Face Powder to the cosmetically concerned. With
an eye to fidelity, a small brood of small chickens, half dead with bad
air and not larger than fists, huddled rearward and out of the grilling
light--puny victims to an indorsed method of correspondence-school
Mr. Connors entered, scouting out a dozy clerk.
"Say, bo, what's one of them chicks worth?"
"Ain't fer sale."
Mr. Connors lowered his voice, nudging.
"I gotta sick wife, bo. Couldn't you slip me one in a 'mergency?"
"What's the idea--chicken broth? You better go in the park and catch her a
"On the level, friend, one of them little yellow things would cheer her up.
She's great one for pets."
"Can't you see they're half-dead now? What you wanna cheer her up with--a
corpse? If I had my way, I'd wring the whole display's neck, anyhow."
"What'll you take for one, bo?"
"It'll freeze to death."
"Look! This side pocket is lined with velvet."
"Aw, I said one, friend, not the whole brood."
"Leave or take."
Mr. Connors dug deep.
"Make it sixty cents and a poker-chip, bo. It's every cent I got in my
"Keep the poker-chip for pin-money."
When Mr. Connors emerged, a small, chirruping bunch of fuzz, cupped in his
hand, lay snug in the velvet-lined pocket.
At Sixth Avenue, where the great skeleton of the Elevated stalks
mid-street, like a prehistoric _pithecanthropus erectus_, he paused for an
instant in the shadow of a gigantic black pillar, readjusting the fragile
burden to his pocket.
Stepping out to cross the street, simultaneously a great silent motor-car,
noiseless but wild with speed, tore down the surface-car tracks, blacker in
the hulking shadow of the Elevated trellis.
A quick doubling up of the sagging silhouette, and the groan of a clutch
violently thrown. A woman's shriek flying thin and high like a javelin of
horror. A crowd sprung full grown out of the bog of the morning. White,
peering faces showing up in the brilliant paths of the acetylene lamps. A
uniform pushing through. A crowbar and the hard breathing of men straining
to lift. A sob in the dark. Stand back! Stand back!
* * * * *
Dawn--then a blue, wintry sky, the color and hardness of enamel; and
sunshine, bright, yet so far off the eye could stare up to it unsquinting.
It lay against the pink-brocaded window-hangings of the suite in the Hotel
Metropolis; it even crept in like a timid hand reaching toward, yet not
quite touching, the full-flung figure of Mrs. Blutch Connors, lying, her
cheek dug into the harshness of the carpet, there at the closed door to the
bedroom--prone as if washed there, and her yellow hair streaming back like
seaweed. Sobs came, but only the dry kind that beat in the throat and then
come shrilly, like a sheet of silk swiftly torn.
How frail are human ties, have said the _beaux esprits_ of every age in one
epigrammatic fashion or another. But frailty can bleed; in fact, it's first
Lying there, with her face swollen and stamped with the carpet-nap,
squirming in a grief that was actually abashing before it was
heartbreaking, Ann 'Lisbeth Connors, whose only epiphany of life was love,
and shut out from so much else that helps make life sweet, was now shut out
from none of its pain.
Once she scratched at the door, a faint, dog-like scratch for admission,
and then sat back on her heels, staring at the uncompromising panel,
holding back the audibility of her sobs with her hand.
Heart-constricting silence, and only the breath of ether seeping out to
her, sweet, insidious. She took to hugging herself violently against a
sudden chill that rushed over her, rattling her frame.
The bedroom door swung noiselessly back, fanning out the etheric fumes, and
closed again upon an emerging figure.
He looked down upon her with the kind of glaze over his eyes that Bellini
loved to paint, compassion for the pain of the world almost distilled to
"My poor little lady!"
"O God--no--no--no! No, Doctor, no! You wouldn't! Please! Please! You
wouldn't let him leave me here all alone, Doctor! O God! you wouldn't! I'm
all alone, Doctor! You see, I'm all alone. Please don't take him from me.
He's mine! You can't! Promise me, Doctor! My darlin' in there--why are you
hurtin' him so? Why has he stopped hollerin'? Cut me to pieces to give him
what he needs to make him live. Don't take him from me, Doctor. He's all I
got! O God--God--please!" And fell back swooning, with an old man's tear
splashing down as if to revivify her.
* * * * *
The heart has a resiliency. Strained to breaking, it can contract again.
Even the waiting women, Iseult and Penelope, learned, as they sat sorrowing
and watching, to sing to the swing of the sea.
When, out of the slough of dark weeks, Mrs. Connors took up life again,
she was only beaten, not broken--a reed lashed down by storm and then
resilient, daring to lift its head again. A wan little head, but the eyes
unwashed of their blue and the irises grown large. The same hard sunshine
lay in its path between the brocade curtains of a room strangely denuded.
It was as if spring had died there, when it was only the _chaise-longue_,
barren of its lacy pillows, a glass vase and silver-framed picture gone
from the mantel, a Mexican afghan removed from a divan and showing its
It was any hotel suite now--uncompromising; leave me or take me.
In taking leave of it, Mrs. Connors looked about her even coldly, as if
this barren room were too denuded of its memories.
"You--you been mighty good to me, Joe. It's good to
Mr. Joe Kirby sat well forward on a straight chair, knees well apart in the
rather puffy attitude of the uncomfortably corpulent.
"Now, cut that! Whatever I done for you, Annie, I done because I wanted to.
If you'd 'a' listened to me, you wouldn't 'a' gone and sold out your last
dud to raise money. Whatcha got friends for?"
"The way you dug down for--for the funeral, Joe. He--he couldn't have had
the silver handles or the gray velvet if--if not for you, Joe. He--he
always loved everything the best. I can't never forget that of you,
She was pinning on her little crepe-edged veil over her decently black hat,
and paused now to dab up under it at a tear.
"I'd 'a' expected poor old Blutch to do as much for me."
"He would! He would! Many's the pal he buried."
"I hate, Annie, like anything to see you actin' up like this. You ain't
fit to walk out of this hotel on your own hook. Where'd you get that
She looked down at herself, quickly reddening.
"It's a warm suit, Joe."
"Why, you 'ain't got a chance! A little thing like you ain't cut out for
but one or two things. Coddlin'--that's your line. The minute you're
nobody's doll you're goin' to get stepped on and get busted."
"Whatta you know about--"
"What kind of a job you think you're gonna get? Adviser to a corporation
lawyer? You're too soft, girl. What chance you think you got buckin' up
against a town that wants value received from a woman. Aw, you know what I
mean, Annie. You can't pull that baby stuff all the time."
"You," she cried, beating her small hands together, "oh, you--you--" and
then sat down, crying weakly. "Them days back there! Why, I--I was such a
kid it's just like they hadn't been! With her and my grandmother dead and
gone these twelve years, if it wasn't for you it's--it's like they'd never
"Nobody was gladder 'n me, girl, to see how you made a bed for yourself.
I'm commendin' you, I am. That's just what I'm tryin' to tell you now,
girl. You was cut out to be somebody's kitten, and--"
"O God!" she sobbed into her handkerchief, "why didn't you take me when you
"Now, now, Annie, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. A good-lookin' woman
like you 'ain't got nothing to worry about. Lemme order you up a drink.
You're gettin' weak again."
"No, no; I'm taking 'em too often. But they warm me. They warm me, and I'm
He put out a short, broad hand toward her.
"I gotta go now, Joe. These rooms ain't mine no more."
He barred her path.
'"Ain't I told you? I'm going out. Anybody that's willin' to work can get
it in this town. I ain't the softy you think I am."
He took her small black purse up from the table.
"What's your capital?"
"Ten--'leven--fourteen dollars and seventy-four cents."
"You can't cut no capers on that, girl."
He dropped something in against the coins.
She sprang at him.
"No, no; not a cent from you--for myself. I--I didn't know you in them
days for nothing. I was only a kid, but I--I know you! I know. You gimme!
He withheld it from her.
"Hold your horses, beauty! What I was then I am now, and I ain't ashamed of
it. Human, that's all. The best of us is only human before a pretty woman."
She had snatched up her small hand-satchel from the divan and stood
flashing now beside him, her small, blazing face only level with his
"What you spittin' fire for? That wa'n't nothin' I slipped in but my
address, girl. When you need me call on me. 'The Liberty, 96.' Go right up
in the elevator, no questions asked. Get me?" he said, poking the small
purse into the V of her jacket. "Get me?"
With her face flung back and twisted, and dodging his outflung arm, she was
down four flights of narrow, unused stairs and out. Once in the streets,
she walked with her face still thrust up and a frenzy of haste in her
stride. Red had popped out in her cheeks. There was voice in each
breath--moans that her throat would not hold.
That night she slept in the kind of fifty-cent room the city offers its
decent poor. A slit of a room with a black-iron bed and a damp mattress.
A wash-stand gaunt with its gaunt mission. A slop-jar on a zinc mat. A
caneless-bottom chair. The chair she propped against the door, the top slat
of it beneath the knob. Through a night of musty blackness she lay in a
rigid line along the bed-edge.
You who love the city for its million pulses, the beat of its great heart,
and the terrific symphony of its soul, have you ever picked out from its
orchestra the plaintive rune of the deserving poor?
It is like the note of a wind instrument--an oboe adding its slow note to
the boom of the kettle-drum, the clang of gold-colored cymbals, and the
singing ecstasy of violins.
One such small voice Ann 'Lisbeth Connors added to the great threnody of
industry. Department stores that turned from her services almost before
they were offered. Offices gleaned from penny papers, miles of them, and
hours of waiting on hard-bottom chairs in draughty waiting-rooms. Faces,
pasty as her own, lined up alongside, greedy of the morsel about to fall.
When the pinch of poverty threatens men and wolves, they grow long-faced.
In these first lean days, a week of them, Ann 'Lisbeth's face lengthened a
bit, too, and with the fuzz of yellow bangs tucked well up under her not so
decent black hat, crinkles came out about her eyes.
Nights she supped in a family-entrance cafe beneath her room--veal stew and
a glass of beer.
She would sit over it, not unpleasantly muzzy. She slept of nights now, and
not so rigidly.
Then followed a week of lesser department stores as she worked her way
down-town, of offices tucked dingily behind lithograph and small-ware
shops, and even an ostrich-feather loft, with a "Curlers Wanted" sign hung
In what school does the great army of industry earn its first experience?
Who first employs the untaught hand? Upon Ann 'Lisbeth, untrained in any
craft, it was as if the workaday world turned its back, nettled at a
Once she sat resting on a stoop beneath the sign of a woman's-aid bureau.
She read it, but, somehow, her mind would not register. The calves of her
legs and the line where her shoe cut into her heel were hurting.
She supped in the family-entrance cafe again--the bowl of veal stew and two
glasses of beer. Some days following, her very first venture out into the
morning, she found employment--a small printing-shop off Sixth Avenue just
below Twenty-third Street. A mere pocket in the wall, a machine champing in
its plate-glass front.
VISITING-CARDS WHILE YOU WAIT
THIRTY-FIVE CENTS A HUNDRED
"The sign says--'girl wanted.'"
A face peered down at her from a high chair behind the champing machine.
"'Goil wanted,' is what it says. Goil!"
"I--I ain't old," she faltered.
"Five a week."
"Hang your coat and hat behind the sink."
Before noon, a waste of miscut cards about her, she cut her hand slightly,
fumbling at the machine, and cried out.
"For the love of Mike--you want somebody to kiss it and make it well?
Here's a quarter for your time. With them butter-fingers, you better get a
job greasin' popcorn."
Out in the sun-washed streets the wind had hauled a bit. It cut as she bent
into it. With her additional quarter, she still had two dollars and twenty
cents, and that afternoon, in lower Sixth Avenue, at the instance of
another small card fluttering out in the wind, she applied as dishwasher
in a lunch-room and again obtained--this time at six dollars a week and
The Jefferson Market Lunch Room, thick with kicked-up sawdust and the fumes
of hissing grease, was sunk slightly below the level of the sidewalk, a
fitting retreat for the mole-like humanity that dined furtively at its
counter. Men with too short coat-sleeves and collars turned up; women with
beery eyes and uneven skirt-hems dank with the bilge-water of life's lower
Lower Sixth Avenue is the abode of these shadows. Where are they from, and
whither going--these women without beauty, who walk the streets without
handkerchiefs, but blubbering with too much or too little drink? What is
the terrible riddle? Why, even as they blubber, are there women whose
bodies have the quality of cream, slipping in between scented sheets?
Ann 'Lisbeth, hers not to argue, but accept, dallied with no such question.
Behind the lunch-room, a sink of unwashed dishes rose to a mound. She
plunged her hands into tepid water that clung to her like fuzz.
"Go to it!" said the proprietor, who wore a black flap over one eye. "Dey
won't bite. If de grease won't cut, souse 'em wit' lye. Don't try to muzzle
no breakage on me, neither, like the slut before you. I kin hear a cup
"I won't," said Ann 'Lisbeth, a wave of the furry water slopping out and
down her dress-front.
Followed four days spent in the grease-laden heat of the kitchen, the smell
of strong foods, raw meat, and fish stews thick above the sink. She had
moved farther down-town, against car fare; but because she talked now
constantly in her sleep and often cried out, there were knockings from the
opposite side of the partitions and oaths. For two evenings she sat until
midnight in a small rear cafe, again pleasantly muzzy over three glasses
of beer and the thick warmth of the room. Another night she carried home a
small bottle, tucking it beneath her coat as she emerged to the street. She
was grease-stained now, in spite of precautions, and her hat, with her hair
uncurled to sustain it, had settled down over her ears, grotesquely large.
The week raced with her funds. On the sixth day she paid out her last fifty
cents for room-rent, and, without breakfast, filched her lunch from a
half-eaten order of codfish balls returned to the kitchen.
Yes, reader; but who are you to turn away sickened and know no more of
this? You who love to bask in life's smile, but shudder at its drool! A
Carpenter did not sicken at a leper. He held out a hand.
That night, upon leaving, she asked for a small advance on her week's wage,
retreating before the furiously stained apron-front and the one eye of the
proprietor cast down upon her.
"Lay off! Lay off! Who done your bankin' last year? To-morrow's your day,
less four bits for breakage. Speakin' o' breakage, if you drop your jacket,
it'll bust. Watch out! That pint won't last you overnight. Layoff!"
She reddened immediately, clapping her hand over the small protruding
bottle in her pocket. She dared not return to her room, but sat out the
night in a dark foyer behind a half-closed storm-door. No one found her
out, and the wind could not reach her. Toward morning she even slept
sitting. But the day following, weak and too soft for the lift, straining
to remove the great dish-pan high with crockery from sink to table, she let
slip, grasping for a new hold.
There was a crash and a splintered debris--plates that rolled like hoops
to the four corners of the room, shivering as they landed; a great ringing
explosion of heavy stoneware, and herself drenched with the webby water.
"O God!" she cried in immediate hysteria. "O God! O God!" and fell to her
knees in a frenzy of clearing-up.
A raw-boned Minerva, a waitress with whom she had had no previous word,
sprang to her succor, a big, red hand of mercy jerking her up from the
"Clear out! He's across the bar. Beat it while the going's good. Your
week's gone in breakage, anyways, and he'll split up the place when he
comes. Clear out, girl, and here--for car fare."
Out in the street, her jacket not quite on and her hat clapped askew, Ann
'Lisbeth found herself quite suddenly scuttling down a side-street.
In her hand a dime burnt up into the palm.
For the first time in these weeks, except when her pint or the evening beer
had vivified her, a warmth seemed to flow through Ann 'Lisbeth. Chilled,
and her wet clothing clinging in at the knees, a fever
nevertheless quickened her. She was crying as she walked, but not
blubbering--spontaneous hot tears born of acute consciousness of pain.
A great shame at her smelling, grease-caked dress-front smote her, too, and
she stood back in a doorway, scraping at it with a futile forefinger.
February had turned soft and soggy, the city streets running mud, and the
damp insidious enough to creep through the warmth of human flesh. A day
threatened with fog from East River had slipped, without the interim of
dusk, into a heavy evening. Her clothing dried, but sitting in a small
triangle of park in Grove Street, chill seized her again, and, faint for
food, but with nausea for it, she tucked her now empty pint bottle beneath
the bench. She was crying incessantly, but her mind still seeming to
revive. Her small black purse she drew out from her pocket. It had a
collapsed look. Yet within were a sample of baby-blue cotton crepe, a
receipt from a dyeing-and-cleaning establishment, and a bit of pink
chamois; in another compartment a small assortment of keys.
She fumbled among them, blind with tears. Once she drew out, peering
forward toward a street-lamp to inspect it. It clinked as she touched it, a
small metal tag ringing.
HOTEL LIBERTY 96
An hour Ann 'Lisbeth sat there, with the key in her lax hand. Finally she
rubbed the pink chamois across her features and adjusted her hat, pausing
to scrape again with forefinger at the front of her, and moved on through
the gloom, the wind blowing her skirt forward.
She boarded a Seventh Avenue street-car, extracting the ten-cent piece
from her purse with a great show of well-being, sat back against the
carpet-covered, lengthwise seat, her red hands, with the cut forefinger
bound in rag, folded over her waist.
At Fiftieth Street she alighted, the white lights of the whitest street in
the world forcing down through the murk, and a theater crowd swarming to be
turned from reality.
The incandescent sign of the Hotel Liberty jutted out ahead.
She did not pause. She was in and into an elevator even before a lackey
turned to stare.
She found "Ninety-six" easily enough, inserting the key and opening the
door upon darkness--a warm darkness that came flowing out scented. She
found the switch, pressed it.
A lamp with a red shade sprang up and a center chandelier. A warm-toned,
well-tufted room, hotel chromos well in evidence, but a turkey-red air of
Beyond, a white-tiled bathroom shining through the open door, and another
room hinted at beyond that.
She dropped, even in her hat and jacket, against the divan piled with
fat-looking satin cushions. Tears coursed out from her closed eyes, and she
relaxed as if she would swoon to the luxury of the pillows, burrowing and
letting them bulge up softly about her.
A half-hour she lay so in the warm bath of light, her little body so
quickly fallen into vagrancy not without litheness beneath the moldy skirt.
* * * * *
Some time after eight she rose, letting the warm water in the bathroom lave
over her hands, limbering them, and from a bottle of eau de Cologne in a
small medicine-chest sprinkled herself freely and touched up the corners of
her eyes with it. A thick robe of Turkish toweling hung from the bathroom
door. She unhooked it, looping it over one arm.
A key scraped in the lock. From where she stood a rigidity raced over Ann
'Lisbeth, locking her every limb in paralysis. Her mouth moved to open and
The handle turned, and, with a sudden release of faculties, darting this
way and that, as if at bay, she tore the white-enameled medicine-chest from
its moorings, and, with a yell sprung somewhere from the primordial depths
of her, stood with it swung to hurl.
The door opened and she lunged, then let it fall weakly and with a small
The chambermaid, white with shock at that cry, dropped her burden of towels
in the open doorway and fled. Ann 'Lisbeth fled, too, down the two flights
of stairs her frenzy found out for her, and across the flare of Broadway.
The fog from East River was blowing in grandly as she ran into its tulle.
It closed around and around her.
How saving a dispensation it is that men do not carry in their hearts
perpetual ache at the pain of the world, that the body-thuds of the
drink-crazed, beating out frantic strength against cell doors, cannot
penetrate the beatitude of a mother bending, at that moment, above a crib.
Men can sit in club windows while, even as they sit, are battle-fields
strewn with youth dying, their faces in mud. While men are dining where
there are mahogany and silver and the gloss of women's shoulders, are men
with kick-marks on their shins, ice gluing shut their eyes, and lashed with
gale to some ship-or-other's crow's-nest. Women at the opera, so fragrant
that the senses swim, sit with consciousness partitioned against a
sweating, shuddering woman in some forbidding, forbidden room, hacking open
a wall to conceal something red-stained. One-half of the world does not
know or care how the other half lives or dies.
When, one summer, July came in like desert wind, West Cabanne Terrace and
that part of residential St. Louis that is set back in carefully conserved,
grove-like lawns did not sip its iced limeades with any the less
refreshment because, down-town at the intersection of Broadway and West
Street, a woman trundling a bundle of washing in an old perambulator
suddenly keeled of heat, saliva running from her mouth-corners.
At three o'clock, that hour when so often a summer's day reaches its stilly
climax and the heat-dance becomes a thing visible, West Cabanne Terrace and
its kind slip into sheerest and crepiest de Chine, click electric fans to
third speed, draw green shades, and retire for siesta.
At that same hour, in the Popular Store, where Broadway and West Street
intersect, one hundred and fifty salesgirls--jaded sentinels for a
public that dares not venture down, loll at their counters and after the
occasional shopper, relax deeper to limpidity.
At the jewelry counter, a crystal rectangle facing broadside the main
entrance and the bleached and sun-grilled street without, Miss Lola
Hassiebrock, salient among many and with Olympian certainty of self, lifted
two Junoesque arms like unto the handles of a vase, held them there in the
kind of rigidity that accompanies a yawn, and then let them flop.
"Oh-h-h-h, God bless my soul!" she said.
Miss Josie Beemis, narrowly constricted between shoulders that barely
sloped off from her neck, with arms folded flat to her flat bosom and her
back a hypothenuse against the counter, looked up.
"Watch out, Loo! I read in the paper where a man up in Alton got caught in
the middle of one of those gaps and couldn't ungap."
Miss Hassiebrock batted at her lips and shuddered.
"It's my nerves, dearie. All the doctors say that nine gaps out of ten are
Miss Beemis hugged herself a bit flatter, looking out straight ahead into a
parasol sale across the aisle.
"Enough sleep ain't such a bad cure for gaps," she said.
"I'll catch up in time, dearie; my foot's been asleep all day."
"Huh!"--sniffling so that her thin nose quirked sidewise. "I will now
indulge in hollow laughter--"
"You can't, dearie," said Miss Hassiebrock, driven to vaudevillian
extremities, "you're cracked."
"Well, I may be cracked, but my good name ain't."
A stiffening of Miss Hassiebrock took place, as if mere verbiage had
suddenly flung a fang. From beneath the sternly and too starched white
shirtwaist and the unwilted linen cravat wound high about her throat and
sustained there with a rhinestone horseshoe, it was as if a wave of color
had started deep down, rushing up under milky flesh into her hair.
"Is that meant to be an in-sinuating remark, Josie?"
"'Tain't how it's meant; it's how it's took."
"There's some poor simps in this world, maybe right here in this store,
ought to be excused from what they say because they don't know any better."
"I know this much: To catch the North End street-car from here, I don't
have to walk every night down past the Stag Hotel to do it."
At that Miss Hassiebrock's ears, with the large pearl blobs in them,
tingled where they peeped out from the scallops of yellow hair, and she
swallowed with a forward movement as if her throat had constricted.
"I--take the street-car where I darn please, and it's nobody's darn
"Sure it ain't! Only, if a poor working-girl don't want to make it
everybody's darn business, she can't run around with the fast rich boys of
this town and then get invited to help hem the altar-cloth."
"Anything I do in this town I'm not ashamed to do in broad daylight."
"Maybe; but just the samey, I notice the joy rides out to Claxton don't
take place in broad daylight. I notice that 'tall, striking blonde' and
Charley Cox's speed-party in the morning paper wasn't exactly what you'd
call a 'daylight' affair."
"No, it wasn't; it was--my affair."
"Say, if you think a girl like you can run with the black sheep of every
rich family in town and make a noise like a million dollars with the horsy
way she dresses, it ain't my grave you're digging."
"Maybe if some of the girls in this store didn't have time to nose so much,
they'd know why I can make them all look like they was caught out in the
rain and not pressed the next morning. While they're snooping in what
don't concern them I'm snipping. Snipping over my last year's
black-and-white-checked jacket into this year's cutaway. If you girls had
as much talent in your needle as you've got in your conversation, you might
find yourselves somewheres."
"Maybe what you call 'somewheres' is what lots of us would call
Miss Hassiebrock drew herself up and, from the suzerainty of sheer height,
looked down upon Miss Beemis there, so brown and narrow beside the
"I'll have you know, Josie Beemis, that if every girl in this store watched
her step like me, there'd be a darn sight less trouble in the world."
"I know you don't go beyond the life-line, Loo, but, gee! you--you do swim
"Little Loo knows her own depth, all righty."
"Not the way you're cuttin' up with Charley Cox."
Miss Hassiebrock lowered her flaming face to scrutinize a tray of
rhinestone bar pins.
"I'd like to see any girl in this store turn down a bid with Charley Cox. I
notice there are plenty of you go out to the Highland dances hoping to meet
even his imitation."
"The rich boys that hang around the Stag and out to the Highlands don't get
girls like us anywheres."
"I don't need them to get me anywhere. It's enough when a fellow takes
me out that he can tuck me up in a six-cylinder and make me forget my
stone-bruise. Give me a fellow that smells of gasolene instead of bay rum
every time. Trolley-car Johnnies don't mean nothing in my life."
"You let John Simeon out of this conversation!"
"You let Charley Cox out!"
"Maybe he don't smell like a cleaned white glove, but John means something
by me that's good."
"Well, since you're so darn smart, Josie Beemis, and since you got so much
of the English language to spare, I'm going to tell you something. Three
nights in succession, and I can prove it by the crowd, Charley Cox has
asked me to marry him. Begged me last night out at Claxton Inn, with Jess
Turner and all that bunch along, to let them roust out old man Gerber there
in Claxton and get married in poetry. Put that in your pipe and smoke it
awhile, Josie; it may soothe your nerve."
"Y-aw," said Miss Beemis.
The day dwindled. Died.
At West Street, where Broadway intersects, the red sun at its far end
settled redly and cleanly to sink like a huge coin into the horizon. The
Popular Store emptied itself into this hot pink glow, scurried for the open
street-car and, oftener than not, the overstuffed rear platform, nose to
nose, breath to breath.
Fortunately the Popular Store took its semi-annual inventory of yards and
not of souls. Such a stock-taking, that of the human hearts which beat from
half after eight to six behind six floors of counters, would have revealed
empty crannies, worn thin in places with the grind of routine. The
eight-thirty-to-six business of muslin underwear, crash toweling, and
skirt-binding. The great middle class of shoppers who come querulous with
bunions and babies. The strap-hanging homeward ride. Supper, but usually
within range of the range that boils it. The same smells of the same foods.
The, cinematograph or front-stoop hour before bed. Or, if Love comes,
and he will not be gainsaid, a bit of wooing at the fountain--the
soda-fountain. But even he, oftener than not, comes moist-handed, and in a
ready-tied tie. As if that matters, and yet somehow, it does. Leander wore
none, or had he, would have worn it flowing. Then bed, and the routine
of its unfolding and coaxing the pillow from beneath the iron clamp. An
alarm-clock crashing through the stuff of dreams. Coffee within reach of
the range. Another eight-thirty-to-six reality of muslin underwearing,
crash toweling, and skirt-binding.
But, not given to self-inventory, the Popular Store emptied itself
with that blessed elasticity of spirit which, unappalled, stretches to
to-morrows as they come.
At Ninth Street Miss Lola Hassiebrock loosed her arm where Miss Beemis
had linked into it. Wide-shouldered and flat-hipped, her checked suit so
pressed that the lapels lay entirely flat to the swell of her bosom, her
red sailor-hat well down over her brow, and the high, swathing cravat
rising to inclose her face like a wimple, she was Fashion's apotheosis in
tailor-made mood. When Miss Hassiebrock walked, her skirt, concealing yet
revealing an inch glimmer of gray-silk stocking above gray-suede spats,
allowed her ten inches of stride. She turned now, sidestepping within those
"See you to-morrow, Josie."
"Ain't you taking the car?"
"No, dearie," said Miss Hassiebrock, stepping down to cross the street;
"you take it, but not for keeps."
And so, walking southward on Ninth Street in a sartorial glory that was of
her own making-over from last season, even St. Louis, which at the stroke
of six rushes so for the breeze of its side yards, leaving darkness to
creep into down-town streets that are as deserted as canons, turned its
feminine head to bear in mind the box-plaited cutaway, the male eye
appraising its approval with bold, even quirking eye.
Through this, and like Diana, who, so aloof from desire, walked in the path
of her own splendor, strode Miss Hassiebrock, straight and forward of eye.
Past the Stag Hotel, in an aisle formed by lounging young bloods and a curb
lined with low, long-snouted motor-cars, the gaze beneath the red sailor
and above the high, horsy stock a bit too rigidly conserved.
Slightly by, the spoken word and the whistled innuendo followed her like
a trail of bubbles in the wake of a flying-fish. A youth still wearing a
fraternity pin pretended to lick his downy chops. The son of the president
of the Mound City Oil Company emitted a long, amorous whistle. Willie
Waxter--youngest scion, scalawag, and scorcher of one of the oldest
families--jammed down his motorgoggles from the visor of his cap, making
the feint of pursuing. Mr. Charley Cox, of half a hundred first-page
exploits, did pursue, catching up slightly breathless.
"What's your hurry, honey?"
She spun about, too startled.
"Charley Cox! Well, of all the nerve! Why didn't you scare me to death and
be done with it?"
"Did I scare you, sweetness? Cross my heart, I didn't mean to."
"Well, I should say you did!"
He linked his arm into hers.
"Come on; I'll buy you a drink."
"Honest, can't a girl go home from work in this town without one of you
fellows getting fresh with her?"
"All right, then; I'll buy you a supper. The car is back there, and we'll
shoot out to the inn. What do you say? I feel like a house afire this
evening, kiddo. What does your speedometer register?"
"Charley, aren't you tired painting this old town yet? Ain't there just
nothing will bring you to your senses? Honest, this morning's papers are a
disgrace. You--you won't catch me along again."
He slid his arm, all for ingratiating, back into hers.
"Come now, honey; you know you like me for my speed."
She would not smile.
"Honest, Charley, you're the limit."
"But you like me just the same. Now don't you, Loo?"
She looked at him sidewise.
"You've been drinking, Charley."
He felt of his face.
"Not a drop, Loo. I need a shave, that's all."
"Look at your stud--loose."
He jammed a diamond whip curling back upon itself into his maroon scarf. He
was slightly heavy, so that his hands dimpled at the knuckle, and above
the soft collar, joined beneath the scarf with a goldbar pin, his chin
threatened but did not repeat itself.
"I got to go now, Charley; there's a North End car coming."
"Aw, now, sweetness, what's the idea? Didn't you walk down here to pick me
An immediate flush stung her face.
"Well, of all the darn conceit! Can't a girl walk down to the loop to catch
her car and stretch her legs after she's been cooped up all day, without a
few of you boys throwing a bouquet or two at yourselves?"
"I got to hand it you, Loo; when you walk down this street, you make every
girl in town look warmed over."
"Do you like it, Charley? It's that checked jacket I bought at Hamlin's
sale last year made over."
"Say, it's classy! You look like all the money in the world, honey."
"Huh, two yards of coat-lining, forty-four cents, and Ida Bell's last
year's office-hat reblocked, sixty-five."
"You're the show-piece of the town, all right. Come on; let's pick up a
crowd and muss-up Claxton Road a little."
"I meant what I said, Charley. After the cuttings-up of last night and the
night before I'm quits. Maybe Charley Cox can afford to get himself talked
about because he's Charley Cox, but a girl like me with a job to hold down,
and the way ma and Ida Bell were sitting up in their nightgowns, green
around the gills, when I got home last night--nix! I'm getting myself
talked about, if you want to know it, running with--your gang, Charley."
"I'd like to see anybody let out so much as a grunt about you in front of
me. A fellow can't do any more, honey, to show a girl where she stands with
him than ask her to marry him--now can he? If I'd have had my way last
"You was drunk when you asked me, Charley."
"You mean you got cold feet?"
"Thank God, I did!"
"I don't blame you, girl. You might do worse--but not much."
"That's what you'd need for your finishing-touch, a girl like me dragging
"You mean pulling me up."
"Yes, maybe, if you didn't have a cent."
"I'd have enough sense then to know better than to ask you, honey. You
'ain't got that fourteen-carat look in your eye for nothing. You're the
kind that's going to bring in a big fish, and I wish it to you."
"Lots you know."
"Come on; let me ride you around the block, then."
"If--if you like my company so much, can't you just take a walk with me or
come out and sit on our steps awhile?"
"Lord, girl, Flamm Avenue is hot enough to fry my soul to-night!"
"We can't all have fathers that live in thirty-room houses out in
"Thank God for that! I sneaked home this morning to change my clothes, and
thought maybe I'd got into somebody's mausoleum by mistake."
"Was--was your papa around, Charley?"
"In the library, shut up with old man Brookes."
"Did he--did he see the morning papers? You know what he said last time,
Charley, when the motor-cycle cop chased you down an embankment."
"Honey, if my old man was to carry out every threat he utters, I'd be
disinherited, murdered, hong-konged, shanghaied, and cremated every day in
"I got to go now, Charley."
"Not let a fellow even spin you home?"
"You know I want to, Charley, but--but it don't do you any good, boy, being
seen with me in that joy-wagon of yours. It--it don't do you any good,
Charley, ever--ever being seen with me."
"There's nothing or nobody in this town can hurt my reputation, honey, and
certainly not my ace-spot girl. Turn your mind over, and telephone down for
me to come out and pick you up about eight."
"Don't hit it up to-night, Charley. Can't you go home one evening?"
He juggled her arm.
"You're a nice little girl, all righty."
"There's my car."
He elevated her by the elbow to the step, swinging up half-way after her to
drop a coin into the box.
"Take care of this little lady there, conductor, and don't let your car
She forced her way into the jammed rear platform, the sharp brim of the red
sailor creating an area for her.
Wedged there in the moist-faced crowd, she looked after him, at his broad
back receding. An inclination to cry pressed at her eyeballs.
Flamm Avenue, which is treeless and built up for its entire length with
two-story, flat-roofed buildings, stares, window for window, stoop for
stoop, at its opposite side, and, in summer, the strip of asphalt street,
unshaded and lying naked to the sun, gives off such an effluvium of heat
and hot tar that the windows are closed to it and night descends like a
gas-mask to the face.
Opening the door upon the Hassiebrock front room, convertible from bed- to
sitting-room by the mere erect-position-stand of the folding-bed, a wave
of this tarry heat came flowing out, gaseous, sickening. Miss Hassiebrock
entered with her face wry, made a diagonal cut of the room, side-stepping a
patent rocker and a table laid out with knickknacks on a lace mat, slammed
closed two windows, and, turning inward, lifted off her hat, which left a
brand across her forehead and had plastered down her hair in damp scallops.
"Lo-o, that you?"
"Come out to your supper. I'll warm up the kohlrabi."
Miss Hassiebrock strode through a pair of chromatic portieres, with them
swinging after her, and into an unlit kitchen, gray with dusk. A table
drawn out center and within range of the gas-range was a blotch in the
gloom, three figures surrounding it with arms that moved vaguely among a
litter of dishes.
"I wish to Heaven somebody in this joint would remember to keep those front
Miss Ida Bell Hassiebrock, at the right of the table, turned her head so
that, against the window, her profile, somewhat thin, cut into the gloom.
"There's a lot of things I wish around here," she said, without a ripple to
"I'll warm up the kohlrabi, Loo."
Mrs. Hassiebrock, in the green black of a cotton umbrella and as sparse of
frame, moved around to the gas-range, scraping a match and dragging a pot
over the blue flame.
"Never mind, ma; I ain't hungry."
At the left of the table Genevieve Hassiebrock, with thirteen's crab-like
silhouette of elbow, rigid plaits, and nose still hitched to the star of
her nativity, wound an exceedingly long arm about Miss Hassiebrock's trim
"I got B in de-portment to-day, Loo. You owe me the wear of your spats
Miss Hassiebrock squeezed the hand at her waist.
"All right, honey. Cut Loo a piece of bread."
"Gussie Flint's mother scalded her leg with the wash-boiler."
"Did she? Aw!"
Mrs. Hassiebrock came then, limping around, tilting the contents of the
steaming pot to a plate.
"Sit down, ma; don't bother."
Miss Hassiebrock drew up, pinning a fringed napkin that stuck slightly in
the unfolding across her shining expanse of shirtwaist. Broke a piece of
"Paula Krausnick only got C in de-portment. When the monitor passed the
basin, she dipped her sponge soppin'-wet."
"Anything new, ma?"
Mrs. Hassiebrock, now at the sink, swabbed a dish with gray water.
"My feet's killin' me," she said.
Miss Ida Bell, who wore her hair in a coronet wound twice round her small
head, crossed her knife and fork on her plate, folded her napkin, and tied
it with a bit of blue ribbon.
"I think it's a shame, ma, the way you keep thumping around in your
stocking feet like this was backwoods."
"I can't get my feet in shoes--the joints--"
"You thump around as much as you darn please, ma. If Ida Bell don't like
the looks of you, let her go home with some of her swell stenog friends.
You let your feet hurt you any old way you want 'em to. I'm going to buy
you some arnica. Pass the kohlrabi."
"Well, my swell 'stenog friends,' as you call them, keep themselves
self-respecting girls without getting themselves talked about, and that's
more than I can say of my sister. If ma had the right kind of gumption with
you, she'd put a stop to it, all right."
Mrs. Hassiebrock leaned her tired head sidewise into the moist palm of her
"She's beyond me and the days when a slipper could make her mind. I wisht
to God there was a father to rule youse!"
"I tell you, ma--mark my word for it--if old man Brookes ever finds out I'm
sister to any of the crowd that runs with Charley Cox and Willie Waxter and
those boys whose fathers he's lawyer for, it'll queer me for life in
that office--that's what it will. A girl that's been made confidential
stenographer after only one year in an office to have to be afraid, like I
am, to pick up the morning's paper."
"Paula Krausnick's lunch was wrapped in the paper where Charley Cox got
pinched for speedin'--speedin'--speedin'--"
"Shut up, Genevieve! Just don't you let my business interfere with
yours, Ida Bell. Brookes don't know you're on earth outside of your
dictation-book. Take it from me, I bet he wouldn't know you if he met you
on the street."
"That's about all you know about it! If you found yourself confidential
stenographer to the biggest lawyer in town, he'd know you, all right--by
your loud dressing. A blind man could see you coming."
"Ma, are you going to stand there and let her talk to me thataway? I notice
she's willing to borrow my loud shirtwaists and my loud gloves and my loud
"If ma had more gumption with you, maybe things would be different."
Mrs. Hassiebrock limped to the door, dangling a pail.
"I 'ain't got no more strength against her. My ears won't hold no more. I'm
taking this hot oil down to Mrs. Flint's scalds. She's, beyond my control,
and the days when a slipper could make her mind. I wisht to God there was a
father! I wisht to God!"
Her voice trailed off and down a rear flight of stairs.
"Yes _sir_," resumed Miss Hassiebrock, her voice twanging in her effort at
suppression, "I notice you're pretty willing to borrow some of my loud
dressing when you get a bid once in a blue moon to take a boat-ride up to
Alton with that sad-faced Roy Brownell. If Charley didn't have a cent to
his name and a harelip, he'd make Roy Brownell look like thirty cents."
"If Roy Brownell was Charley Cox, I'd hate to leave him laying around loose
where you could get your hands on him."
"Genevieve, you run out and play."
"If--if you keep running around till all hours of the night, with me and ma
waiting up for you, kicking up rows and getting your name insinuated in the
newspapers as 'the tall, handsome blonde,' I--I'm going to throw up my job,
I am, and you can pay double your share for the running of this flat. Next
thing we know, with that crowd that don't mean any good to you, this family
is going to find itself with a girl in trouble on its hands."
"And if you want to know it, and if I wasn't somebody's confidential
stenographer, I could tell you that you're on the wrong scent. Boys like
Charley Cox don't mean good by your kind of a girl. If you're not speedy,
you look it, and that's almost the same as inviting those kind of boys
Miss Lola Hassiebrock sprang up then, her hand coming down in a small crash
to the table.
"You cut out that talk in front of that child!"
Thus drawn into the picture, Genevieve, at thirteen, crinkled her face for
not uncalculating tears.
"In this house it's fuss and fuss and fuss. Other children can go to the
'movies' after supper, only me-e-e--"
"Here, honey; Loo's got a dime for you."
"Sending that child out along your own loose ways, instead of seeing to it
she stays home to help ma do the dishes!"
"I'll do the dishes for ma."
"It's bad enough for one to have the name of being gay without starting
that child running around nights with--"
"You dry up, Ida Bell! I'll do what I pl--ease with my di--uhm--di--uhm."
"If you say another word about such stuff in front of that child, I'll--"
"Well, if you don't want her to hear what she sees with her eyes all around
her, come into the bedroom, then, and I can tell you something that'll
bring you to your senses."
"What you can tell me I don't want to hear."
"I am, am I?"
With a wrench of her entire body, Miss Lola Hassiebrock was across the room
at three capacity strides, swung open a door there, and stood, head flung
up and pressing back tears, her lips turned inward.
"All right, then--tell--"
After them, the immediately locked door resisting, Genevieve fell to
batting the panels.
"Let me in! Let me in! You're fussin' about your beaux. Ray Brownell has a
long face, and Charley Cox has a red face--red face--red face! Let me in!
After a while the ten-cent piece rolled from her clenched and knocking
fist, scuttling and settling beneath the sink. She rescued it and went out,
lickety-clapping down the flight of rear stairs.
Silence descended over that kitchen, and a sooty dusk that almost
obliterated the table, drawn out and cluttered after the manner of those
who dine frowsily; the cold stove, its pots cloying, and a sink piled high
with a task whose only ending is from meal to meal.
Finally that door swung open again; the wide-shouldered, slim-hipped
silhouette of Miss Hassiebrock moved swiftly and surely through the kind
of early darkness, finding out for itself a wall telephone hung in a small
patch of hallway separating kitchen and front room. Her voice came tight,
as if it were a tense coil in her throat that she held back from bursting
"Give me Olive, two-one-o." The toe of her boot beat a quick tattoo.
"Stag?... Say, get me Charley Cox. He's out in front or down in the grill
or somewhere around. Page him quick! Important!" She grasped the nozzle of
the instrument as she waited, breathing into it with her head thrown back.
"Hello--Charley? That you? It's me. Loo ... _Loo_! Are you deaf, honey?
What you doing?... Oh, I got the blues, boy; honest I have. Blue as a
cat.... I don't know--just the indigoes. Nothing much. Ain't lit up, are
you, honey?... Sure I will. Don't bring a crowd. Just you and me. I'll walk
down to Gessler's drug-store and you can pick me up there.... Quit your
kidding.... Ten minutes. Yeh. Good-by."
* * * * *
Claxton Inn, slightly outside the city limits and certain of its decorums,
stands back in a grove off a macadamized highway that is so pliant to tire
that of summer nights, with tops thrown back and stars sown like lavish
grain over a close sky and to a rushing breeze that presses the ears like
an eager whisper, motor-cars, wild to catch up with the horizon, tear out
that road--a lightning-streak of them--fearing neither penal law nor Dead
Slacking only to be slacked, cars dart off the road and up a gravel
driveway that encircles Claxton Inn like a lariat swung, then park
themselves among the trees, lights dimmed. Placid as a manse without, what
was once a private and now a public house maintains through lowered
lids its discreet white-frame exterior, shades drawn, and only slightly
revealing the parting of lace curtains. It is rearward where what was
formerly a dining-room that a huge, screened-in veranda, very whitely
lighted, juts suddenly out, and a showy hallway, bordered in potted palms,
leads off that. Here Discretion dares lift her lids to rove the gravel
drive for who comes there.
In a car shaped like a motor-boat and as low to the ground Mr. Charley Cox
turned in and with a great throttling and choking of engine drew up among
the dim-eyed monsters of the grove and directly alongside an eight-cylinder
roadster with a snout like a greyhound.
"Aw, Charley, I thought you promised you wasn't going to stop!"
"Honey, sweetness, I just never was so dry."
Miss Hassiebrock laid out a hand along his arm, sitting there in the quiet
car, the trees closing over them.
"There's Yiddles Farm a little farther out, Charley; let's stop there for
some spring water."
He was peeling out of his gauntlets, and cramming them into spacious side
"Water, honey, can wash me, but it can't quench me."
"No high jinks to-night, though, Charley?"
They high-stepped through the gloom, and finally, with firmer step, up the
gravel walk and into the white-lighted, screened-in porch.
Three waiters ran toward their entrance. A woman with a bare V of back
facing them, and three plumes that dipped to her shoulders, turned square
in her chair.
"Hi, Charley. Hi, Loo!"
They walked, thus guided by two waiters, through a light _confetti_ of
tossed greetings, sat finally at a table half concealed by an artificial
"You don't feel like sitting with Jess and the crowd, Loo?"
"Charley, hasn't that gang got you into enough mix-ups?"
"All right, honey; anything your little heart desires."
She leaned on her elbows across the table from him, smiling and twirling a
great ring of black onyx round her small finger.
"Sure. What'll you have, hon?"
"I don't care."
"Got any my special Gold Top on ice for me, George? Good. Shoot me a bottle
and a special layout of _hors-d'oeuvre_. How's that, sweetness?"
"Poor little girl," he said, patting the black onyx, "with the bad old
blues! I know what they are, honey; sometimes I get crazy with 'em myself."
Her lips trembled.
"It's you makes me blue, Charley."
"Now, now; just don't worry that big, nifty head of yours about me."
"The--the morning papers and all. I--I just hate to see you going so to--to
the dogs, Charley--a--fellow like you--with brains."
"I'm a bad egg, girl, and what you going to do about it? I was raised like
one, and I'll die like one."
"You ain't a bad egg. You just never had a chance. You been killed with
"Killed with coin! Why, Loo, do you know, I haven't had to ask my old man
for a cent since my poor old granny died five years ago and left me a world
of money? While he's been piling it up like the Rocky Mountains I've been
getting down to rock-bottom. What would you say, sweetness, if I told you I
was down to my last few thousands? Time to touch my old man, eh?"
He drank off his first glass with a quaff, laughing and waving it empty
before her face to give off its perfume.
"My old man is going to wake up in a minute and find me on his
checking-account again. Charley boy better be making connections with
headquarters or he won't find himself such a hit with the niftiest doll in
"Charley, you--you haven't run through those thousands and thousands and
thousands the papers said you got from your granny that time?"
"It was slippery, hon; somebody buttered it."
"Charley, Charley, ain't there just no limit to your wildness?"
"You're right, girl; I've been killed with coin. My old man's been too busy
all these years sitting out there in that marble tomb in Kingsmoreland
biting the rims off pennies to hold me back from the devil. Honey, that old
man, even if he is my father, didn't know no more how to raise a boy like
me than that there salt-cellar. Every time I got in a scrape he bought me
out of it, filled up the house with rough talk, and let it go at that. It's
only this last year, since he's short on health, that he's kicking up the
way he should have before it got too late. My old man never used to talk it
out with me, honey. He used to lash it out. I got a twelve-year-old welt on
my back now, high as your finger. Maybe it'll surprise you, girl, but now,
since he can't welt me up any more, me and him don't exchange ten words a
"Did--did he hear about last night, Charley? You know what came out in
the paper about making a new will if--if you ever got pulled in again for
"Don't you worry that nifty head of yours about my old man ever making a
new will. He's been pulling that ever since they fired me from the academy
for lighting a cigarette with a twenty-dollar bill."
"Next to taking it with him, he'll leave it to me before he'll see a penny
go out of the family. I've seen his will, hon."
"Charley, you--you got so much good in you. The way you sent that wooden
leg out to poor old lady Guthrie. The way you made Jimmy Ball go home, and
the blind-school boys and all. Why can't you get yourself on the right
track where you belong, Charley? Why don't you clear--out--West where it's
"I used to have that idea, Loo. West, where a fellow's got to stand on his
own. Why, if I'd have met a girl like you ten years ago, I'd have made you
the baby doll of the Pacific Coast. I like you, Loo. I like your style and
the way you look like a million dollars. When a fellow walks into a cafe
with you he feels like he's wearing the Hope diamond. Maybe the society in
this town has given me the cold shoulder, but I'd like to see any of the
safety-first boys walk in with one that's got you beat. That's what I think
of you, girl."
"Aw, now, you're lighting up. Charley. That's four glasses you've taken."
"Thought I was kidding you last night--didn't you--about wedding-bells?"
"You were lit up."
"I know. You're going to watch your step, little girl, and I don't know as
I blame you. You can get plenty of boys my carat, and a lot of other things
thrown in I haven't got to offer you."
"As if I wouldn't like you, Charley, if you were dead broke!"
"Of course you would! There, there, girl, I don't blame any of you for
feathering your nest." He was flushed now and above the soft collar, his
face had relaxed into a not easily controllable smile. "Feather your nest,
girl; you got the looks to do it. It's a far cry from Flamm Avenue to where
a classy girl like you can land herself if she steers right. And I wish it
to you, girl; the best isn't good enough."
"I--I dare you to ask me again, Charley!"
"You know. Throw your head up the way you do when you mean what you say
He was wagging his head now insistently, but pinioning his gaze with the
slightly glassy stare of those who think none too clearly.
"Honest, I don't know, beauty. What's the idea?"
"Didn't you say yourself--Gerber, out here in Claxton that--magistrate that
marries you in verse--"
"By gad, I did!"
"Well--I--I--dare you to ask me again, Charley."
He leaned forward.
"You game, girl?"
"I'm serious, girl."
"There's Jess over there can get us a special license from his
brother-in-law. Married in verse in Claxton sounds good to me, honey."
"But not--the crowd, Charley; just you--and--"
"How're we going to get the license, honey, this time of night without
Jess? Let's make it a million-dollar wedding. We're not ashamed of nobody
"Of course not, Charley."
"Now, you're sure, honey? You're drawing a fellow that went to the dogs
before he cut his canines."
"You're not all to the canines yet, Charley."
"I may be a black sheep, honey, but, thank God, I got my golden fleece to
"You should worry, girl! I'm going to make you the million-dollar baby doll
of this town, I am. If they turn their backs, we'll dazzle 'em from behind.
I'm going to buy you every gewgaw this side of the Mississippi. I'm going
to show them a baby doll that can make the high-society bunch in this town
look like Subway sports. Are you game, girl? Now! Think well! Here goes.
"Jess--over here! Quick!"
* * * * *
At eleven o'clock a small, watery moon cut through a sky that was fleecily
clouded--a swift moon that rode fast as a ship. It rode over but did
not light Squire Gerber's one-and-a-half-storied, weathered-gray, and
set-slightly-in-a-hollow house on Claxton countryside.
Three motor-cars, their engines chugging out into wide areas of stillness,
stood processional at the curb. A red hall light showed against the
door-pane and two lower-story windows were widely illuminated.
Within that room of chromos and the cold horsehair smell of unaired years,
silence, except for the singing of three gas-jets, had momentarily fallen,
a dozen or so flushed faces, grotesquely sobered, staring through the
gaseous fog, the fluttering lids of a magistrate whose lips habitually
fluttered, just lifting from his book.
A hysterical catch of breath from Miss Vera de Long broke the ear-splitting
silence. She reached out, the three plumes dipping down the bare V of her
back, for the limp hand of the bride.
"Gawd bless you, dearie; it's a big night's work!"
* * * * *
In the tallest part of St. Louis, its busiest thoroughfares inclosing it
in a rectangle, the Hotel Sherman, where traveling salesmen with real
alligator bags and third-finger diamonds habitually shake their first
Pullman dust, rears eighteen stories up through and above an aeriality of
soft-coal smoke, which fits over the rim of the city like a skull-cap.
In the Louis Quinze, gilt-bedded, gilt-framed, gilt-edged bridal-suite _de
luxe_ on the seventeenth floor, Mrs. Charley Cox sat rigid enough and in
shirt-waisted incongruity on the lower curl of a gilt divan that squirmed
to represent the letter S.
He wriggled out of his dust-coat, tossing it on the gilt-canopied bed and
crossed to her, lifting off her red sailor.
"Now that's a fine question for a ten-hours' wifey to ask her hubby, ain't
it? Am I sorry, she asks me before the wedding crowd has turned the corner.
Lord, honey, I never expected anything like you to happen to me!"
She stroked his coat-sleeve, mouthing back tears.
"Now everybody'll say--you're a goner--for sure--marrying a--Popular Store
"If anybody got the worst of this bargain, it's my girl."
"My own boy," she said, still battling with tears.
"You drew a black sheep, honey, but I say again and again, 'Thank God, you
drew one with golden fleece!'"
"That--that's the trouble, Charley--there's just no way to make a boy with
money know you married him for any other reason."
"I'm not blaming you, honey. Lord! what have I got besides money to talk
"Lots. Why--like Jess says, Charley, when you get to squaring your lips and
jerking up your head, there's nothing in the world you can't do that you
set out to do."
"Well, I'm going to set out to make the stiff-necks of this town turn
to look at my girl, all right. I'm going to buy you a chain of diamonds