Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Charlie Kirschner
and the PG Distributed Proofreaders
[Illustration: HE CAPERED THROUGH THE MELODY OF DVORŔK'S, WHICH IS AS
IRONIC AS A GRINNING MASK]
A LAUGH ON LIFE WITH
A TEAR BEHIND IT
By FANNIE HURST
OATS FOR THE WOMAN
A PETAL ON THE CURRENT
A BOOB SPELLED BACKWARD
EVEN AS YOU AND I
THE WRONG PEW
On either side of the Bowery, which cuts through like a drain to catch
its sewage, Every Man's Land, a reeking march of humanity and humidity,
steams with the excrement of seventeen languages, flung in _patois_ from
tenement windows, fire escapes, curbs, stoops, and cellars whose walls
are terrible and spongy with fungi.
By that impregnable chemistry of race whereby the red blood of the
Mongolian and the red blood of the Caucasian become as oil and water in
the mingling, Mulberry Street, bounded by sixteen languages, runs its
intact Latin length of pushcarts, clotheslines, naked babies, drying
vermicelli; black-eyed women in rhinestone combs and perennially big
with child; whole families of buttonhole-makers, who first saw the
blue-and-gold light of Sorrento, bent at home work round a single gas
flare; pomaded barbers of a thousand Neapolitan amours. And then, just
as suddenly, almost without osmosis and by the mere stepping down from
the curb, Mulberry becomes Mott Street, hung in grillwork balconies, the
moldy smell of poverty touched up with incense. Orientals whose feet
shuffle and whose faces are carved out of satinwood. Forbidden women,
their white, drugged faces behind upper windows. Yellow children,
incongruous enough in Western clothing. A draughty areaway with an
oblique of gaslight and a black well of descending staircase.
Show-windows of jade and tea and Chinese porcelains.
More streets emanating out from Mott like a handful of crooked rheumatic
fingers, then suddenly the Bowery again, cowering beneath Elevated
trains, where men burned down to the butt end of soiled lives pass in
and out and out and in of the knee-high swinging doors, a veiny-nosed,
acid-eaten race in themselves.
Allen Street, too, still more easterly, and half as wide, is straddled
its entire width by the steely, long-legged skeleton of Elevated
traffic, so that its third-floor windows no sooner shudder into silence
from the rushing shock of one train than they are shaken into chatter by
the passage of another. Indeed, third-floor dwellers of Allen Street,
reaching out, can almost touch the serrated edges of the Elevated
structure, and in summer the smell of its hot rails becomes an actual
taste in the mouth. Passengers, in turn, look in upon this horizontal of
life as they whiz by. Once, in fact, the blurry figure of what might
have been a woman leaned out, as she passed, to toss into one Abrahm
Kantor's apartment a short-stemmed pink carnation. It hit softly on
little Leon Kantor's crib, brushing him fragrantly across the mouth and
causing him to pucker up.
Beneath, where even in August noonday, the sun cannot find its way by a
chink, and babies lie stark naked in the cavernous shade, Allen Street
presents a sort of submarine and greenish gloom, as if its humanity were
actually moving through a sea of aqueous shadows, faces rather bleached
and shrunk from sunlessness as water can bleach and shrink. And then,
like a shimmering background of orange-finned and copper-flanked marine
life, the brass-shops of Allen Street, whole rows of them, burn
flamelessly and without benefit of fuel.
To enter Abrahm Kantor's--Brasses, was three steps down, so that his
casement show-window, at best filmed over with the constant rain of dust
ground down from the rails above, was obscure enough, but crammed with
copied loot of khedive and of czar. The seven-branch candlestick so
biblical and supplicating of arms. An urn, shaped like Rebecca's, of
brass, all beaten over with little pocks. Things--cups, trays, knockers,
ikons, gargoyles, bowls, and teapots. A symphony of bells in graduated
sizes. Jardiničres with fat sides. A pot-bellied samovar. A
swinging-lamp for the dead, star-shaped. Against the door, an octave of
tubular chimes, prisms of voiceless harmony and of heatless light.
Opening this door, they rang gently, like melody heard through water and
behind glass. Another bell rang, too, in tilted singsong from a pulley
operating somewhere in the catacomb rear of this lambent vale of things
and things and things. In turn, this pulley set in toll still another
bell, two flights up in Abrahm Kantor's tenement, which overlooked the
front of whizzing rails and a rear wilderness of gibbet-looking
clothes-lines, dangling perpetual specters of flapping union suits in a
mid-air flaky with soot.
Often at lunch, or even the evening meal, this bell would ring in on
Abrahm Kantor's digestive well-being, and while he hurried down, napkin
often bib-fashion still about his neck, and into the smouldering lanes
of copper, would leave an eloquent void at the head of his
This bell was ringing now, jingling in upon the slumber of a still newer
Kantor, snuggling peacefully enough within the ammoniac depths of a
cradle recently evacuated by Leon, heretofore impinged upon you.
On her knees before an oven that billowed forth hotly into her face,
Mrs. Kantor, fairly fat and not yet forty, and at the immemorial task of
plumbing a delicately swelling layer-cake with broom-straw, raised her
face, reddened and faintly moist.
"Isadore, run down and say your papa is out until six. If it's a
customer, remember the first asking-price is the two middle figures on
the tag, and the last asking-price is the two outside figures. See once,
with your papa out to buy your little brother his birthday present, and
your mother in a cake, if you can't make a sale for first price."
Isadore Kantor, aged eleven and hunched with a younger Kantor over an
oilcloth-covered table, hunched himself still deeper in a barter for a
large crystal marble with a candy stripe down its center.
"Izzie, did you hear me?"
"Go down this minute--do you hear? Rudolph, stop always letting your
big brother get the best of you in marbles. Iz-zie!"
"In a minute."
"Don't let me have to ask you again, Isadore Kantor!"
"Aw, ma, I got some 'rithmetic to do. Let Esther go!"
"Always Esther! Your sister stays right in the front room with her
"Aw, ma, I got spelling, too."
"Every time I ask that boy he should do me one thing, right away he gets
lessons! With me, that lessons-talk don't go no more. Every time you get
put down in school, I'm surprised there's a place left lower where they
can put you. Working-papers for such a boy like you!"
"How I worried myself! Violin lessons yet--thirty cents a lesson out of
your papa's pants while he slept! That's how I wanted to have in the
family a profession--maybe a musician on the violin! Lessons for you out
of money I had to lie to your papa about! Honest, when I think of it--my
own husband--it's a wonder I don't potch you just for remembering it.
Rudolph, will you stop licking that cake-pan? It's saved for your little
brother Leon. Ain't you ashamed even on your little brother's birthday
to steal from him?"
"Ma, gimme the spoon?"
"I'll give you the spoon, Isadore Kantor, where you don't want it. If
you don't hurry down, the way that bell is ringing, not one bite do you
get out of your little brother's birthday cake tonight!"
"I'm goin', ain't I?"
"Always on my children's birthdays a meanness sets into this house!
Rudolph, will you put down that bowl! Izzie--for the last time I ask
you--for the last time--"
Erect now, Mrs. Kantor lifted an expressive hand, letting it hover.
"I'm goin', ma; for golly sakes, I'm goin'!" said her recalcitrant one,
shuffling off toward the staircase, shuffling, shuffling.
Then Mrs. Kantor resumed her plumbing, and through the little apartment,
its middle and only bedroom of three beds and a crib lighted vicariously
by the front room and kitchen, began to wind the warm, the golden-brown
fragrance of cake in the rising.
By six o'clock the shades were drawn against the dirty dusk of Allen
Street and the oilcloth-covered table dragged out center and spread by
Esther Kantor, nine in years, in the sturdy little legs bulging over
shoe-tops, in the pink cheeks that sagged slightly of plumpness, and in
the utter roundness of face and gaze, but mysteriously older in the
little-mother lore of crib and knee-dandling ditties and in the ropy
length and thickness of the two brown plaits down her back.
There was an eloquence to that waiting, laid-out table, the print of the
family already gathered about it; the dynastic high chair, throne of
each succeeding Kantor; an armchair drawn up before the paternal
mustache-cup; the ordinary kitchen chair of Mannie Kantor, who spilled
things, an oilcloth sort of bib dangling from its back; the little chair
of Leon Kantor, cushioned in an old family album that raised his chin
above the table. Even in cutlery the Kantor family was not lacking in
variety. Surrounding a centerpiece of thick Russian lace were Russian
spoons washed in washed-off gilt; forks of one, two, and three tines;
steel knives with black handles; a hartshorn carving-knife. Thick-lipped
china in stacks before the armchair. A round four-pound loaf of black
bread waiting to be torn, and tonight, on the festive mat of cotton
lace, a cake of pinkly gleaming icing, encircled with five pink
At slightly after six Abrahm Kantor returned, leading by a resisting
wrist Leon Kantor, his stemlike little legs, hit midship, as it were, by
not sufficiently cut-down trousers and so narrow and birdlike of face
that his eyes quite obliterated the remaining map of his features, like
those of a still wet nestling. All except his ears. They poised at the
sides of Leon's shaved head of black bristles, as if butterflies had
just lighted there, whispering, with very spread wings, their message,
and presently would fly off again. By some sort of muscular contraction
he could wiggle these ears at will, and would do so for a penny or a
whistle, and upon one occasion for his brother Rudolph's dead rat, so
devised as to dangle from string and window before the unhappy
passer-by. They were quivering now, these ears, but because the entire
little face was twitching back tears and gulp of sobs.
"Abrahm--Leon--what is it?" Her hands and her forearms instantly out
from the business of kneading something meaty and floury, Mrs. Kantor
rushed forward, her glance quick from one to the other of them. "Abrahm,
"I'll feedle him! I'll feedle him!"
The little pulling wrist still in clutch, Mr. Kantor regarded his wife,
the lower half of his face, well covered with reddish bristles,
undershot, his free hand and even his eyes violently lifted. To those
who see in a man a perpetual kinship to that animal kingdom of which he
is supreme, there was something undeniably anthropoidal about Abrahm
Kantor, a certain simian width between the eyes and long, rather agile
hands with hairy backs.
"Hush it!" cried Mr. Kantor, his free hand raised in threat of descent,
and cowering his small son to still more undersized proportions. "Hush
it or, by golly! I'll--"
"Abrahm--Abrahm--what is it?"
Then Mr. Kantor gave vent in acridity of word and feature.
"_Schlemmil!_" he cried. "_Momser! Ganef! Nebich!_" by which, in smiting
mother tongue, he branded his offspring with attributes of apostate and
ne'er-do-well, of idiot and thief.
"Schlemmil!" repeated Mr. Kantor, swinging Leon so that he described a
large semicircle that landed him into the meaty and waiting embrace of
his mother. "Take him! You should be proud of such a little _momser_ for
a son! Take him, and here you got back his birthday dollar. A feedle!
Honest--when I think on it--a feedle!"
Such a rush of outrage seemed fairly to strangle Mr. Kantor that he
stood, hand still upraised, choking and inarticulate above the now
frankly howling huddle of his son.
"Abrahm, you should just once touch this child! How he trembles!
Leon--mamma's baby--what is it? Is this how you come back when papa
takes you out to buy your birthday present? Ain't you ashamed?"
Mouth distended to a large and blackly hollow O, Leon, between
terrifying spells of breath-holding, continued to howl.
"All the way to Naftel's toy-store I drag him. A birthday present for a
dollar his mother wants he should have, all right, a birthday present! I
give you my word till I'm ashamed for Naftel, every toy in his shelves
is pulled down. Such a cow--that shakes with his head--"
"No--no--no!" This from young Leon, beating at his mother's skirts.
Again the upraised but never quite descending hand of his father.
"By golly! I'll 'no--no' you!"
"Abrahm--go 'way! Baby, what did papa do?"
Then Mr. Kantor broke into an actual tarantella of rage, his hands palms
up and dancing.
"'What did papa do?' she asks. She's got easy asking. 'What did papa
do?' The whole shop, I tell you. A sheep with a baa inside when you
squeeze on him--games--a horn so he can holler my head off--such a knife
like Izzie's with a scissors in it. 'Leon,' I said, ashamed for Naftel,
'that's a fine knife like Izzie's so you can cut up with. All right,
then'--when I see how he hollers--'such a box full of soldiers to have
war with.' 'Dollar seventy-five,' says Naftel. 'All right, then,' I
says, when I seen how he keeps hollering. 'Give you a dollar fifteen for
'em.' I should make myself small for fifteen cents more. 'Dollar
fifteen,' I says--anything so he should shut up with his hollering for
what he seen in the window."
"He seen something in the window he wanted, Abrahm?"
"Didn't I tell you? A feedle! A four-dollar feedle! A moosicer, so we
should have another feedler in the family for some thirty-cents
"Abrahm--you mean--he--our Leon--wanted a violin?"
"'Wanted,' she says. I could potch him again this minute for how he
wanted it! _Du_--you little bum you--_chammer_--_momser_--I'll
Across Mrs. Kantor's face, as she knelt there in the shapeless
cotton-stuff uniform of poverty, through the very tenement of her body,
a light had flashed up into her eyes. She drew her son closer, crushing
his puny cheek up against hers, cupping his bristly little head in her
by no means immaculate palms.
"He wanted a violin! It's come, Abrahm! The dream of all my life--my
prayers--it's come! I knew it must be one of my children if I waited
long enough--and prayed enough. A musician! He wants a violin! He cried
for a violin! My baby! Why, darlink, mamma'll sell her clothes off her
back to get you a violin. He's a musician, Abrahm! I should have known
it the way he's fooling always around the chimes and the bells in
Then Mr. Kantor took to rocking his head between his palms.
"Oi--oi! The mother is crazier as her son. A moosician! A _fresser_, you
mean. Such an eater, it's a wonder he ain't twice too big instead of
twice too little for his age."
"That's a sign, Abrahm; geniuses, they all eat big. For all we know,
he's a genius. I swear to you, Abrahm, all the months before he was born
I prayed for it. Each one before they came, I prayed it should be the
one. I thought that time the way our Isadore ran after the organ-grinder
he would be the one. How could I know it was the monkey he wanted? When
Isadore wouldn't take to it I prayed my next one, and then my next one,
should have the talent. I've prayed for it, Abrahm. If he wants a
violin, please, he should have it."
"Not with my money."
"With mine! I've got enough saved, Abrahm. Them three extra dollars
right here inside my own waist. Just that much for that cape down on
Grand Street. I wouldn't have it now, the way they say the wind blows
"I tell you the woman's crazy--"
"I feel it! I know he's got talent! I know my children so well. A--a
father don't understand. I'm so next to them. It's like I can tell
always everything that will happen to them--it's like a pain--somewheres
here--like in back of my heart."
"A pain in the heart she gets."
"For my own children I'm always a prophet, I tell you! You think I
didn't know that--that terrible night after the pogrom after we got out
of Kief to across the border! You remember, Abrahm, how I predicted it
to you then--how our Mannie would be born too soon and--and not right
from my suffering! Did it happen on the ship to America just the way I
said it would? Did it happen just exactly how I predicted our Izzie
would break his leg that time playing on the fire-escape? I tell you,
Abrahm, I get a real pain here under my heart that tells me what comes
to my children. Didn't I tell you how Esther would be the first in her
confirmation-class and our baby Boris would be redheaded? At only five
years, our Leon all by himself cries for a fiddle--get it for him,
Abrahm--get it for him!"
"I tell you, Sarah, I got a crazy woman for a wife! It ain't enough we
celebrate eight birthdays a year with one-dollar presents each time and
copper goods every day higher. It ain't enough that right to-morrow I
got a fifty-dollar note over me from Sol Ginsberg; a four-dollar present
she wants for a child that don't even know the name of a feedle."
"Leon, baby, stop hollering. Papa will go back and get the fiddle for
you now before supper. See, mamma's got money here in her waist--"
"Papa will go back for the feedle _not_--three dollars she's saved for
herself he can holler out of her for a feedle!"
"Abrahm, he's screaming so he--he'll have a fit."
"He should have two fits."
"I tell you the way you spoil your children it will some day come back
"It's his birthday night, Abrahm--five years since his little head
first lay on the pillow next to me."
"All right--all right--drive me crazy because he's got a birthday."
"Leon baby--if you don't stop hollering you'll make yourself sick.
Abrahm, I never saw him like this--he's green--"
"I'll green him. Where is that old feedle from Isadore--that
"I never thought of that! You broke it that time you got mad at
Isadore's lessons. I'll run down. Maybe it's with the junk behind the
store. I never thought of that fiddle. Leon darlink--wait! Mamma'll run
down and look. Wait, Leon, till mamma finds you a fiddle."
The raucous screams stopped then, suddenly, and on their very lustiest
crest, leaving an echoing gash across silence. On willing feet of haste
Mrs. Kantor wound down backward the high, ladder-like staircase that led
to the brass-shop.
Meanwhile to a gnawing consciousness of dinner-hour had assembled the
house of Kantor. Attuned to the intimate atmosphere of the tenement
which is so constantly rent with cry of child, child-bearing, delirium,
delirium tremens, Leon Kantor had howled no impression into the motley
din of things. There were Isadore, already astride his chair, leaning
well into center table, for first vociferous tear at the four-pound
loaf; Esther, old at chores, settling an infant into the high chair,
careful of tiny fingers in lowering the wooden bib.
"Papa, Izzie's eating first again."
"Put down that loaf and wait until your mother dishes up, or you'll get
a potch you won't soon forget."
"Don't 'say, pop' me! I don't want no street-bum freshness from you!"
"I mean, papa, there was an up-town swell in, and she bought one of them
seventy-five-cent candlesticks for the first price."
"_Schlemmil! Chammer!_" said Mr. Kantor, rinsing his hands at the sink.
"Didn't I always tell you it's the first price, times two, when you see
up-town business come in? Haven't I learned it to you often enough a
slummer must pay for her nosiness?"
There entered then, on poor, shuffling feet, Mannie Kantor, so marred in
the mysterious and ceramic process of life that the brain and the soul
had stayed back sooner than inhabit him. Seventeen in years, in the down
upon his face and in growth unretarded by any great nervosity of system,
his vacuity of face was not that of childhood, but rather as if his
light eyes were peering out from some hinterland and wanting so terribly
and so dumbly to communicate what they beheld to brain-cells closed
At sight of Mannie, Leon Kantor, the tears still wetly and dirtily down
his cheeks, left off his black, fierce-eyed stare of waiting long enough
to smile, darkly, it is true, but sweetly.
"Giddy-app!" he cried. "Giddy-app!"
And then Mannie, true to habit, would scamper and scamper.
Up out of the traplike stair-opening came the head of Mrs. Kantor,
disheveled and a smudge of soot across her face, but beneath her arm,
triumphant, a violin of one string and a broken back.
"See, Leon--what mamma got! A violin! A fiddle! Look! The bow, too, I
found. It ain't much, baby, but it's a fiddle."
"Aw, ma--that's my old violin. Gimme. I want it. Where'd you find--"
"Hush up, Izzie! This ain't yours no more. See, Leon, what mamma brought
you. A violin!"
"Now, you little _chammer_, you got a feedle, and if you ever let me
hear you holler again for a feedle, by golly! if I don't--"
From his corner, Leon Kantor reached out, taking the instrument and
fitting it beneath his chin, the bow immediately feeling, surely and
lightly, for string.
"Look, Abrahm, he knows how to hold it! What did I tell you? A child
that never in his life seen a fiddle, except a beggar's on the street!"
Little Esther suddenly cantered down-floor, clapping her chubby hands.
The baby ceased clattering his spoon against the wooden bib. A silence
seemed to shape itself.
So black and so bristly of head, his little clawlike hands hovering over
the bow, Leon Kantor withdrew a note, strangely round and given up
almost sobbingly from the single string. A note of warm twining quality,
like a baby's finger.
Fumbling for string and for notes the instrument could not yield up to
him, the birdlike mouth began once more to open widely and terribly into
the orificial O.
It was then Abrahm Kantor came down with a large hollow resonance of
palm against that aperture, lifting his small son and depositing him
plop upon the family album.
"Take that! By golly! one more whimper out of you and if I don't make
you black-and-blue, birthday or no birthday! Dish up, Sarah, quick, or
I'll give him something to cry about."
The five pink candles had been lighted, burning pointedly and with
slender little smoke wisps. Regarding them owlishly, the tears dried on
Leon's face, his little tongue licking up at them.
"Look how solemn he is, like he was thinking of something a million
miles away except how lucky he is he should have a pink birthday-cake.
Uh--uh--uh! Don't you begin to holler again. Here, I'm putting the
feedle next to you. Uh--uh--uh!"
To a meal plentifully ladled out directly from stove to table, the
Kantor family drew up, dipping first into the rich black soup of the
occasion. All except Mrs. Kantor.
"Esther, you dish up. I'm going somewhere. I'll be back in a minute."
"Where you going, Sarah? Won't it keep until--"
But even in the face of query, Sarah Kantor was two flights down and
well through the lambent aisles of the copper-shop. Outside, she broke
into run, along two blocks of the indescribable bazaar atmosphere of
Grand Street, then one block to the right.
Before Mattel's show-window, a jet of bright gas burned into a
jibberwock land of toys. There was that in Sarah Kantor's face that was
actually lyrical as, fumbling at the bosom of her dress, she entered.
To Leon Kantor, by who knows what symphonic scheme of things, life was a
chromatic scale, yielding up to him, through throbbing, living nerves of
sheep-gut, the sheerest semitones of man's emotions.
When he tucked his Stradivarius beneath his chin the book of life seemed
suddenly translated to him in melody. Even Sarah Kantor, who still
brewed for him, on a small portable stove carried from city to city and
surreptitiously unpacked in hotel suites, the blackest of soups, and,
despite his protestation, would incase his ears of nights in an old
home-made device against their flightiness, would oftentimes bleed
inwardly at this sense of his isolation.
There was a realm into which he went alone, leaving her as detached as
the merest ticket purchaser at the box-office.
At seventeen Leon Kantor had played before the crowned heads of Europe,
the aching heads of American capital, and even the shaved head of a
South Sea prince. There was a layout of anecdotal gifts, from the molar
tooth of the South Sea prince set in a South Sea pearl to a
blue-enameled snuff-box incrusted with the rearing-lion coat-of-arms of
a very royal house.
At eighteen came the purchase of a king's Stradivarius for a king's
ransom, and acclaimed by Sunday supplements to repose of nights in an
At nineteen, under careful auspices of press agent, the ten singing
digits of the son of Abrahm Kantor were insured at ten thousand dollars
At twenty he had emerged surely and safely from the perilous quicksands
which have sucked down whole Lilliputian worlds of infant prodigies.
At twenty-one, when Leon Kantor played a Sunday-night concert, there was
a human queue curling entirely around the square block of the
operahouse, waiting its one, two, even three and four hours for the
privilege of standing room only.
Usually these were Leon Kantor's own people pouring up from the lowly
lands of the East Side to the white lands of Broadway, parched for
music, these burning brethren of his--old men in that line, frequently
carrying their own little folding camp-chairs, not against weariness of
the spirit, but of the flesh; youth with Slavic eyes and cheek-bones.
These were the six-deep human phalanx which would presently slant down
at him from tiers of steepest balconies and stand frankly emotional and
jammed in the unreserved space behind the railing which shut them off
from the three-dollar seats of the reserved.
At a very special one of these concerts, dedicated to the meager purses
of just these, and held in New York's super opera-house, the
Amphitheater, a great bowl of humanity, the metaphor made perfect by
tiers of seats placed upon the stage, rose from orchestra to dome. A
gigantic cup of a Colosseum lined in stacks and stacks of faces. From
the door of his dressing-room, leaning out, Leon Kantor could see a
great segment of it, buzzing down into adjustment, orchestra twitting
and tuning into it.
In the bare little room, illuminated by a sheaf of roses, just arrived,
Mrs. Kantor drew him back by the elbow.
"Leon, you're in a draught."
The amazing years had dealt kindly with Mrs. Kantor. Stouter, softer,
apparently even taller, she was full of small new authorities that could
shut out cranks, newspaper reporters, and autograph fiends. A
fitted-over-corsets black taffeta and a high comb in the graying hair
had done their best with her. Pride, too, had left its flush upon her
cheeks, like two round spots of fever.
"Leon, it's thirty minutes till your first number. Close that door. Do
you want to let your papa and his excitement in on you?"
The son of Sarah Kantor obeyed, leaning his short, rather narrow form in
silhouette against the closed door. In spite of slimly dark evening
clothes worked out by an astute manager to the last detail in boyish
effects, there was that about him which defied long-haired precedent.
Slimly and straightly he had shot up into an unmannered, a short, even a
bristly-haired young manhood, disqualifying by a close shave for the
older school of hirsute virtuosity.
But his nerves did not spare him. On concert nights they seemed to
emerge almost to the surface of him and shriek their exposure.
"Just feel my hands, ma. Like ice."
She dived down into her large silk what-not of a reticule.
"I've got your fleece-lined gloves here, son."
"No--no! For God's sake--not those things! No!"
He was back at the door again, opening it to a slit, peering through.
"They're bringing more seats on the stage. If they crowd me in I won't
go on. I can't play if I hear them breathe. Hi--out there--no more
chairs! Pa! Hancock--"
"Leon, Leon, ain't you ashamed to get so worked up? Close that door.
Have you got a manager who is paid just to see to your comfort? When
papa comes, I'll have him go out and tell Hancock you don't want chairs
so close to you. Leon, will you mind mamma and sit down?"
"It's a bigger house than the royal concert in Madrid, ma. Why, I never
saw anything like it! It's a stampede. God! this is real--this is what
gets me, playing for my own! I should have given a concert like this
three years ago. I'll do it every year now. I'd rather play before them
than all the crowned heads on earth. It's the biggest night of my life.
They're rioting out there, ma--rioting to get in."
"Leon, Leon, won't you sit down, if mamma begs you to?"
He sat then, strumming with all ten fingers upon his knees.
"Try to get quiet, son. Count--like you always do. One--two--three--"
"Please, ma--for God's sake--please--please!"
"Look--such beautiful roses! From Sol Ginsberg, an old friend of papa's
he used to buy brasses from eighteen years ago. Six years he's been away
with his daughter in Munich. Such a beautiful mezzo they say, engaged
already for Metropolitan next season."
"I hate it, ma, if they breathe on my neck."
"Leon darlink, did mamma promise to fix it? Have I ever let you play a
concert when you wouldn't be comfortable?"
His long, slim hands suddenly prehensile and cutting a streak of upward
gesture, Leon Kantor rose to his feet, face whitening.
"Do it now! Now, I tell you. I won't have them breathe on me. Do you
hear me? Now! Now! Now!"
Risen also, her face soft and tremulous for him, Mrs. Kantor put out a
gentle, a sedative hand upon his sleeve.
"Son," she said, with an edge of authority even behind her smile, "don't
holler at me!"
He grasped her hand with his two and, immediately quiet, lay a close
string of kisses along it.
"Mamma," he said, kissing again and again into the palm, "mamma--mamma."
"I know, son; it's nerves!"
"They eat me, ma. Feel--I'm like ice! I didn't mean it; you know I
didn't mean it!"
"My baby," she said, "my wonderful boy, it's like I can never get used
to the wonder of having you. The greatest one of them all should be
mine--a plain woman's like mine!"
He teased her, eager to conciliate and to ride down his own state of
"Now, ma--now--now--don't forget Rimsky!"
"Rimsky! A man three times your age who was playing concerts before you
was born! Is that a comparison? From your clippings-books I can show
Rimsky who the world considers the greatest violinist. Rimsky he
rubs into me!"
"All right, then, the press-clippings, but did Elsass, the greatest
manager of them all, bring me a contract for thirty concerts at two
thousand a concert? Now I've got you! Now!"
She would not meet his laughter. "Elsass! Believe me, he'll come to you
yet! My boy should worry if he makes fifty thousand a year more or less.
Rimsky should have that honor--for so long as he can hold it. But he
won't hold it long. Believe me, I don't rest easy in my bed till Elsass
comes after you. Not for so big a contract like Rimsky's, but
bigger--not for thirty concerts, but for fifty!"
"_Brava! Brava!_ There's a woman for you. More money than she knows
what to do with, and then not satisfied!"
She was still too tremulous for banter. "'Not satisfied'? Why, Leon, I
never stop praying my thanks for you!"
"All right, then," he cried, laying his icy fingers on her cheek;
"to-morrow we'll call a _mignon_--a regular old-fashioned Allen Street
"Leon, you mustn't make fun."
"Make fun of the sweetest girl in this room!"
"'Girl'! Ah, if I could only hold you by me this way, Leon. Always a
boy--with me--your poor old mother--your only girl. That's a fear I
suffer with, Leon--to lose you to a--girl. That's how selfish the mother
of such a wonder-child like mine can get to be."
"All right! Trying to get me married off again. Nice! Fine!"
"Is it any wonder I suffer, son? Twenty-one years to have kept you by me
a child. A boy that never in his life was out after midnight except to
catch trains. A boy that never has so much as looked at a girl and could
have looked at princesses. To have kept you all these years--mine--is it
any wonder, son, I never stop praying my thanks for you? You don't
believe Hancock, son, the way he keeps always teasing you that you
should have a--what he calls--affair--a love-affair? Such talk is not
nice, Leon--an affair!"
"Love-affair poppycock!" said Leon Kantor, lifting his mother's face and
kissing her on eyes about ready to tear. "Why, I've got something, ma,
right here in my heart for you that--"
"Leon, be careful your shirt-front!"
"That's so--so what you call 'tender,' for my best sweetheart that
She would not let her tears come.
"My boy--my wonder-boy!"
"There goes the overture, ma."
"Here, darlink--your glass of water."
"I can't stand it in here; I'm suffocating!"
"Got your mute in your pocket, son?"
"Yes, ma; for God's sake, yes! Yes! Don't keep asking things!"
"Ain't you ashamed, Leon, to be in such an excitement! For every concert
you get worse."
"The chairs--they'll breathe on nay neck."
"Leon, did mamma promise you those chairs would be moved?"
"Say--I'm grateful if he stays out. It took me enough work to get this
room cleared. You know your papa how he likes to drag in the whole world
to show you off--always just before you play. The minute he walks in the
room right away he gets everybody to trembling just from his own
excitements. I dare him this time he should bring people. No dignity has
that man got, the way he brings every one."
Even upon her words came a rattling of door, Of door-knob, and a voice
through the clamor.
A stiffening raced over Mrs. Kantor, so that she sat rigid on her
chair-edge, lips compressed, eye darkly upon the shivering door.
With a narrowing glance, Mrs. Kantor laid to her lips a forefinger of
"Sarah, it's me! Quick, I say!"
Then Leon Kantor sprang up, the old prehensile gesture of curving
fingers shooting up.
"For God's sake, ma, let him in! I can't stand that infernal battering."
"Abrahm, go away! Leon's got to have quiet before his concert."
"Just a minute, Sarah. Open quick!"
With a spring his son was at the door, unlocking and flinging it back.
"Come in, pa."
The years had weighed heavily upon Abrahm Kantor in avoirdupois only. He
was himself plus eighteen years, fifty pounds, and a new sleek pomposity
that was absolutely oleaginous. It shone roundly in his face, doubling
of chin, in the bulge of waistcoat, heavily gold-chained, and in eyes
that behind the gold-rimmed glasses gave sparklingly forth his estate of
"Abrahm, didn't I tell you not to dare to--"
On excited balls of feet that fairly bounced him, Abrahm Kantor burst
"Leon--mamma--I got out here an old friend--Sol Ginsberg. You remember,
mamma, from brasses--"
"Go 'way with your 'not now'! I want Leon should meet him. Sol, this is
him--a little grown up from such a _nebich_ like you remember
him--_nu_? Sarah, you remember Sol Ginsberg? Say--I should ask you if
you remember your right hand! Ginsberg & Esel, the firm. This is his
girl, a five years' contract signed yesterday--five hundred dollars an
opera for a beginner--six rôles--not bad--_nu_?"
"Abrahm, you must ask Mr. Ginsberg please to excuse Leon until after his
"Shake hands with him, Ginsberg. He's had his hand shook enough in his
life, and by kings, to shake it once more with an old bouncer like you!"
Mr. Ginsberg, not unlike his colleague in rotundities, held out a short,
a dimpled hand.
"It's a proud day," he said, "for me to shake the hands from mine old
friend's son and the finest violinist livink to-day. My little
"Yes, yes, Gina. Here, shake hands with him. Leon, they say a voice like
a fountain. Gina Berg--eh, Ginsberg--is how you stage-named her? You
hear, mamma, how fancy--Gina Berg? We go hear her, eh?"
There was about Miss Gina Berg, whose voice could soar to the
tirra-lirra of a lark and then deepen to mezzo, something of the actual
slimness of the poor, maligned Elsa so long buried beneath the buxomness
of divas. She was like a little flower that in its crannied nook keeps
"How do you do, Leon Kantor?"
There was a whir through her English of three acquired languages.
"How do _you_ do?"
"We--father and I--traveled once all the way from Brussels to Dresden to
hear you. It was worth it. I shall never forget how you played the
'Humoresque.' It made me laugh and cry."
"You like Brussels?"
She laid her little hand to her heart, half closing her eyes.
"I will never be so happy again as with the sweet little people of
"I, too, love Brussels. I studied there four years with Ahrenfest."
"I know you did. My teacher, Lyndahl, in Berlin, was his
"You have studied with Lyndahl?"
"He is my master."
"I--Will I some time hear you sing?"
"I am not yet great. When I am foremost like you, yes."
"Gina--Gina Berg; that is a beautiful name to make famous."
"You see how it is done? Gins--berg. Gina Berg."
They stood then smiling across a chasm of the diffidence of youth, she
fumbling at the great fur pelt out of which her face flowered so dewily.
"I--Well--we--we--are in the fourth box--I guess we had better be
going--Fourth box, left."
He wanted to find words, but for consciousness of self, could not.
"It's a wonderful house out there waiting for you, Leon Kantor, and
you--you're wonderful, too!"
"My father, he sent them. Come, father--quick!"
Suddenly there was a tight tensity seemed to crowd up the little room.
"Abrahm--quick--get Hancock. That first row of chairs--has got to be
moved. There he is, in the wings. See that the piano ain't dragged down
too far! Leon, got your mute in your pocket? Please, Mr. Ginsberg--you
must excuse--Here, Leon, is your glass of water; drink it, I say. Shut
that door out there, boy, so there ain't a draught in the wings. Here,
Leon, your violin. Got your neckerchief? Listen how they're shouting!
It's for you--Leon--darlink--Go!"
The center of that vast human bowl which had shouted itself out, slim,
boylike, and in his supreme isolation, Leon Kantor drew bow and a first
thin, pellucid, and perfect note into a silence breathless to
Throughout the arduous flexuosities of the Mendelssohn E minor concerto,
singing, winding from tonal to tonal climax, and out of the slow
movement which is like a tourniquet twisting the heart into the spirited
_allegro molto vivace_, it was as if beneath Leon Kantor's fingers the
strings were living vein-cords, youth, vitality, and the very foam of
exuberance racing through them.
That was the power of him. The vichy and the sparkle of youth, so that,
playing, the melody poured round him like wine and went down seething
and singing into the hearts of his hearers.
Later, and because these were his people and because they were dark and
Slavic with his Slavic darkness, he played, as if his very blood were
weeping, the "Kol Nidre," which is the prayer of his race for
And then the super-amphitheater, filled with those whose emotions lie
next to the surface and whose pores have not been closed over with a
water-tight veneer, burst into its cheers and its tears.
There were fifteen recalls from the wings, Abrahm Kantor standing
counting them off on his fingers and trembling to receive the
Stradivarius. Then, finally, and against the frantic negative pantomime
of his manager, a scherzo, played so lacily that it swept the house in
When Leon Kantor finally completed his program they were loath to let
him go, crowding down the aisles upon him, applauding up, down, around
him until the great disheveled house was like the roaring of a sea, and
he would laugh and throw out his arm in widespread helplessness, and
always his manager in the background gesticulating against too much of
his precious product for the money, ushers already slamming up chairs,
his father's arms out for the Stradivarius, and, deepest in the gloom of
the wings, Sarah Kantor, in a rocker especially dragged out for her, and
from the depths of the black-silk reticule, darning his socks.
"Bravo--bravo! Give us the 'Humoresque'--Chopin Nocturne--Polonaise
And even as they stood, hatted and coated, importuning and pressing in
upon him, and with a wisp of a smile to the fourth left box, Leon Kantor
played them the "Humoresque" of Dvorák, skedaddling, plucking,
quirking--that laugh on life with a tear behind it. Then suddenly,
because he could escape no other way, rushed straight back for his
dressing-room, bursting in upon a flood of family already there: Isadore
Kantor, blue-shaved, aquiline, and already graying at the temples; his
five-year-old son, Leon; a soft little pouter-pigeon of a wife, too,
enormous of bust, in glittering ear-drops and a wrist watch of diamonds
half buried in chubby wrist; Miss Esther Kantor, pink and pretty;
Rudolph; Boris, not yet done with growing-pains.
At the door Miss Kantor met her brother, her eyes as sweetly moist as
"Leon darling, you surpassed even yourself!"
"Quit crowding, children. Let him sit down. Here, Leon, let mamma give
you a fresh collar. Look how the child's perspired. Pull down that
window, Boris. Rudolph, don't let no one in. I give you my word if
to-night wasn't as near as I ever came to seeing a house go crazy. Not
even that time in Milan, darlink, when they broke down the doors, was it
"Ought to seen, ma, the row of police outside--"
"Hush up, Roody! Don't you see your brother is trying to get his
From Mrs. Isadore Kantor: "You should have seen the balconies, mother.
Isadore and I went up just to see the jam."
"Six thousand dollars in the house to-night, if there was a cent," said
"Hand me my violin, please, Esther. I must have scratched it, the way
"No, son, you didn't. I've already rubbed it up. Sit quiet, darlink!"
He was limply white, as if the vitality had flowed out of him.
"God! wasn't it--tremendous?"
"Six thousand, if there was a cent," repeated Isadore Kantor. "More than
Rimsky ever played to in his life!"
"Oh, Izzie, you make me sick, always counting--counting!"
"Your sister's right, Isadore. You got nothing to complain of if there
was only six hundred in the house. A boy whose fiddle has made already
enough to set you up in such a fine business, his brother Boris in such
a fine college, automobiles--style--and now because Vladimir Rimsky,
three times his age, gets signed up with Elsass for a few thousand more
a year, right away the family gets a long face--"
"Ma, please! Isadore didn't mean it that way!"
"Pa's knocking, ma! Shall I let him in?"
"Let him in, Roody. I'd like to know what good it will do to try to keep
In an actual rain of perspiration, his tie slid well under one ear,
Abrahm Kantor burst in, mouthing the words before his acute state of
strangulation would let them out.
"Elsass--it's Elsass outside! He--wants--to sign--Leon--fifty
concerts--coast to coast--two thousand--next season! He's got the
papers--already drawn up--the pen outside waiting--"
In the silence that followed, Isadore Kantor, a poppiness of stare and
a violent redness set in, suddenly turned to his five-year-old son,
sticky with lollipop, and came down soundly and with smack against the
infantile, the slightly outstanding and unsuspecting ear.
"_Momser!_" he cried. "_Chammer! Lump! Ganef_! You hear that? Two
thousand! Two thousand! Didn't I tell you--didn't I tell you to
Even as Leon Kantor put pen to this princely document, Franz Ferdinand
of Serbia, the assassin's bullet cold, lay dead in state, and let slip
were the dogs of war.
* * * * *
In the next years, men, forty deep, were to die in piles; hayricks of
fields to become human hayricks of battle-fields; Belgium disemboweled,
her very entrails dragging, to find all the civilized world her
champion, and between the poppies of Flanders, crosses, thousand upon
thousand of them, to mark the places where the youth of her allies fell,
avenging outrage. Seas, even when calmest, were to become terrible, and
men's heart-beats, a bit sluggish with the fatty degeneration of a
sluggard peace, to quicken and then to throb with the rat-a-tat-tat, the
rat-a-tat-tat of the most peremptory, the most reverberating call to
arms in the history of the world.
In June, 1917, Leon Kantor, answering that rat-a-tat-tat, enlisted.
In November, honed by the interim of training to even a new leanness,
and sailing-orders heavy and light in his heart, Lieutenant Kantor, on
two days' home-leave, took leave of home, which can be crudest when it
Standing there in the expensive, the formal, the enormous French parlor
of his up-town apartment de luxe, from not one of whose chairs would his
mother's feet touch floor, a wall of living flesh, mortared in blood,
was throbbing and hedging him in.
He would pace up and down the long room, heavy with the faces of those
who mourn, with a laugh too ready, too facetious, in his fear for them.
"Well, well, what is this, anyway, a wake? Where's the coffin? Who's
His sister-in-law shot out her plump, watch-encrusted wrist. "Don't,
Leon!" she cried. "Such talk is a sin! It might come true."
"Rosie-posy-butter-ball," he said, pausing beside her chair to pinch her
deeply soft cheek. "Cry-baby-roly-poly, you can't shove me off in a
wooden kimono that way."
From his place before the white-and-gold mantel, staring steadfastly at
the floor tiling, Isadore Kantor turned suddenly, a bit whiter and older
at the temples.
"I don't get your comedy, Leon."
"That's the way the fellows at camp joke about coffins, ma. I didn't
mean anything but fun! Great Scott! Can't any one take a joke!"
"O God! O God!" His mother fell to swaying softly, hugging herself
"Did you sign over power of attorney to pa, Leon?"
"All fixed, Izzie."
"I'm so afraid, son, you don't take with you enough money in your
pockets. You know how you lose it. If only you would let mamma sew that
little bag inside your uniform, with a little place for bills and a
little place for the asafoetida!"
"Now, please, ma--please! If I needed more, wouldn't I take it? Wouldn't
I be a pretty joke among the fellows, tied up in that smelling stuff!
Orders are orders, ma, I know what to take and what not to take."
"Please, Leon, don't get mad at me, but if you will let me put in your
suit-case just one little box of that salve, for your finger-tips, so
they don't crack--"
Pausing as he paced to lay cheek to her hair, he patted her. "Three
boxes, if you want. Now, how's that?"
"And you won't take it out so soon as my back is turned?"
"Cross my heart."
His touch seemed to set her trembling again, all her illy concealed
emotions rushing up. "I can't stand it! Can't! Can't! Take my life--take
my blood, but don't take my boy--don't take my boy--"
"Mamma, mamma, is that the way you're going to begin all over again,
after your promise?"
She clung to him, heaving against the rising storm of sobs. "I can't
help it--can't! Cut out my heart from me, but let me keep my boy--my
"Oughtn't she be ashamed of herself? Just listen to her, Esther! What
will we do with her? Talks like she had a guarantee I wasn't coming
back. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if by spring I wasn't tuning up again
for a coast-to-coast tour--"
"Spring! That talk don't fool me. Without my boy, the springs in my life
"Why, ma, you talk like every soldier who goes to war was killed!
There's only the smallest percentage of them die in battle--"
"'Spring,' he says; 'spring'! Crossing the seas from me! To live through
months with that sea between us--my boy maybe shot--my--"
"I can't help it, Leon; I'm not one of those fine mothers that can be so
brave. Cut out my heart, but leave my boy! My wonder-boy--my child I
"There's other mothers, ma, with sons!"
"Yes, but not wonder-sons! A genius like you could so easy get excused,
Leon. Give it up. Genius it should be the last to be sent to--the
slaughter-pen. Leon darlink--don't go!"
"Ma, ma--you don't mean what you're saying. You wouldn't want me to
reason that way! You wouldn't want me to hide behind my--violin."
"I would! Would! You should wait for the draft. With my Roody and even
my baby Boris enlisted, ain't it enough for one mother? Since they got
to be in camp, all right, I say, let them be there, if my heart breaks
for it, but not my wonder-child! You can get exemption, Leon, right away
for the asking. Stay with me, Leon! Don't go away! The people at home
got to be kept happy with music. That's being a soldier, too, playing
their troubles away. Stay with me, Leon! Don't go leave
He suffered her to lie, tear-drenched, back into his arms, holding her
close in his compassion for her, his own face twisting.
"God! ma, this--this is awful! Please--you make us ashamed--all of us! I
don't know what to say. Esther, come quiet her--for God's sake
From her place in that sobbing circle Esther Kantor crossed to kneel
beside her mother.
"Mamma darling, you're killing yourself. What if every family went on
this way? You want papa to come in and find us all crying? Is this the
way you want Leon to spend his last hour with us--"
"I mean his last hour until he comes back, darling. Didn't you just hear
him say, darling, it may be by spring?"
"'Spring'--'spring'--never no more springs for me--"
"Just think, darling, how proud we should be! Our Leon, who could so
easily have been excused, not even to wait for the draft."
"It's not too late yet--please--Leon--"
"Our Roody and Boris both in camp, too, training to serve their country.
Why, mamma, we ought to be crying for happiness. As Leon says, surely
the Kantor family, who fled out of Russia to escape massacre, should
know how terrible slavery can be. That's why we must help our boys,
mamma, in their fight to make the world free! Right, Leon?" trying to
smile with her red-rimmed eyes.
"We've got no fight with no one! Not a child of mine was ever raised to
so much as lift a finger against no one. We've got no fight with
"We have got a fight with some one! With autocracy! Only this time it
happens to be Hunnish autocracy. You should know it, mamma--oh, you
should know it deeper down in you than any of us, the fight our family
right here has got with autocracy! We should be the first to want to
"Leon's right, mamma darling, the way you and papa were beaten out of
"There's not a day in your life you don't curse it without knowing it!
Every time we three boys look at your son and our brother Mannie, born
an--an imbecile--because of autocracy, we know what we're fighting for.
We know. You know, too. Look at him over there, even before he was born,
ruined by autocracy! Know what I'm fighting for? Why, this whole family
knows! What's music, what's art, what's life itself in a world without
freedom? Every time, ma, you get to thinking we've got a fight with no
one, all you have to do is look at our poor Mannie. He's the answer.
He's the answer."
In a foaming sort of silence, Mannie Kantor smiled softly from his chair
beneath the pink-and-gold shade of the piano-lamp. The heterogeneous
sounds of women weeping had ceased. Straight in her chair, her great
shelf of bust heaving, sat Rosa Kantor, suddenly dry of eye; Isadore
Kantor head up. Erect now, and out from the embrace of her daughter,
Sarah looked up at her son.
"What time do you leave, Leon?" she asked, actually firm of lip.
"Any minute, ma. Getting late."
This time she pulled her lips to a smile, waggling her forefinger.
"Don't let them little devils of French girls fall in love with my dude
in his uniform."
Her pretense at pleasantry was almost more than he could bear.
"Hear! Hear! Our mother thinks I'm a regular lady-killer! Hear that,
Esther?" pinching her cheek.
"You are, Leon--only--only, you don't know it!"
"Don't you bring down too many beaux while I'm gone, either, Miss
_Sotto voce_ to her: "Remember, Esther, while I'm gone, the royalties
from the discaphone records are yours. I want you to have them for
pin-money and--maybe a dowry?"
She turned from him. "Don't, Leon--don't--"
"I like him! Nice fellow, but too slow! Why, if I were in his shoes I'd
have popped long ago."
She smiled with her lashes dewy.
There entered then, in a violet-scented little whirl, Miss Gina Berg,
rosy with the sting of a winter's night, and, as usual, swathed in the
She was for greeting every one, a wafted kiss to Mrs. Kantor, and then,
arms wide, a great bunch of violets in one outstretched hand, her glance
straight, sure, and sparkling for Leon Kantor.
"Why, Gina--we read--we thought you were singing in Philadelphia
"So did I, Esther darling, until a little bird whispered to me that
Lieutenant Kantor was home on farewell leave."
He advanced to her down the great length of room, lowering his head over
her hand, his puttee-clad legs clicking together. "You mean, Miss
Gina--Gina--you didn't sing?"
"Of course I didn't! Hasn't every prima donna a larynx to hide behind?"
She lifted off her fur cap, spilling curls.
"Well, I--I'll be hanged!" said Lieutenant Kantor, his eyes lakes of her
She let her hand linger in his. "Leon--you--really going? How--terrible!
"How wonderful'--your coming!"
"I--You think it was not nice of me--to come?"
"I think it was the nicest thing that ever happened in the world."
"All the way here in the train I kept saying, 'Crazy--crazy--running to
tell Leon--Lieutenant--Kantor good-by--when you haven't even seen him
three times in three years--'"
"But each--each of those three times we--we've remembered, Gina."
"But that's how I feel toward all the boys, Leon--our fighting
boys--just like flying to them to kiss them each one good-by."
"Come over, Gina. You'll be a treat to our mother. I--Well, I'm hanged!
All the way from Philadelphia!"
There was even a sparkle to talk, then, and a letup of pressure. After a
while Sarah Kantor looked up at her son, tremulous, but smiling.
"Well, son, you going to play--for your old mother before--you go? It'll
be many a month--spring--maybe longer, before I hear my boy again
except on the discaphone."
He shot a quick glance to his sister. "Why, I--I don't know. I--I'd love
it, ma, if--if you think, Esther, I'd better."
"You don't need to be afraid of me, darlink. There's nothing can give me
the strength to bear--what's before me like--like my boy's music.
That's my life, his music."
"Why, yes; if mamma is sure she feels that way, play for us, Leon."
He was already at the instrument, where it lay, swathed, atop the grand
piano. "What'll it be, folks?"
"Something to make ma laugh, Leon--something light, something funny."
"'Humoresque,'" he said, with a quick glance for Miss Berg.
"'Humoresque,'" she said, smiling back at him.
He capered through, cutting and playful of bow, the melody of Dvorák's,
which is as ironic as a grinning mask.
Finished, he smiled at his parent, her face still untearful.
She nodded. "It's like life, son, that piece. Crying to hide its
laughing and laughing to hide its crying."
"Play that new piece, Leon--the one you set to music. You know. The
words by that young boy in the war who wrote such grand poetry before he
was killed. The one that always makes poor Mannie laugh. Play it for
Her plump little unlined face innocent of fault, Mrs. Isadore Kantor
ventured her request, her smile tired with tears.
"No, no--Rosa--not now! Ma wouldn't want that!"
"I do, son; I do! Even Mannie should have his share of good-by."
To Gina Berg: "They want me to play that little arrangement of mine from
Allan Seegar's poem. 'I Have a Rendezvous....'"
"It--it's beautiful, Leon. I was to have sung it on my program
to-night--only, I'm afraid you had better not--here--now--"
"Please, Leon! Nothing you play can ever make me as sad as it makes me
glad. Mannie should have, too, his good-by."
"All right, then, ma, if--if you're sure you want it. Will you sing it,
She had risen. "Why, yes, Leon."
She sang it then, quite purely, her hands clasped simply together and
her glance mistily off, the beautiful, the heroic, the lyrical prophecy
of a soldier-poet and a poet-soldier:
"But I've a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear."
In the silence that followed, a sob burst out, stifled, from Esther
Kantor, this time her mother holding her in arms that were strong.
"That, Leon, is the most beautiful of all your compositions. What does
it mean, son, that word, 'rondy-voo'?"
"Why, I--I don't exactly know. A rendezvous--it's a sort of meeting, an
engagement, isn't it, Miss Gina? Gina? You're up on languages. As if I
had an appointment to meet you some place--at the opera-house, for
"That's it, Leon--an engagement."
"Have I an engagement with you, Gina?"
She let her lids droop. "Oh, how--how I hope you have, Leon."
"In the spring?"
"That's it--in the spring."
Then they smiled, these two, who had never felt more than the merest
butterfly wings of love brushing them, light as lashes. No word between
them, only an unfinished sweetness, waiting to be linked up.
Suddenly there burst in Abrahm Kantor, in a carefully rehearsed gale of
"Quick, Leon! I got the car down-stairs. Just fifteen minutes to make
the ferry. Quick! The sooner we get him over there the sooner we get him
back! I'm right, mamma? Now, now! No waterworks! Get your brother's
suit-case, Isadore. Now, now! No nonsense! Quick--quick--"
With a deftly manoeuvered round of good-bys, a grip-laden dash for the
door, a throbbing moment of turning back when it seemed as though Sarah
Kantor's arms could not unlock their deadlock of him, Leon Kantor was
out and gone, the group of faces point-etched into the silence
The poor, mute face of Mannie, laughing softly. Rosa Kantor crying into
her hands. Esther, grief-crumpled, but rich in the enormous hope of
youth. The sweet Gina, to whom the waiting months had already begun
Not so Sarah Kantor. In a bedroom adjoining, its high-ceilinged vastness
as cold as a cathedral to her lowness of stature, sobs dry and terrible
were rumbling up from her, only to dash against lips tightly
On her knees beside a chest of drawers, and unwrapping it from
swaddling-clothes, she withdrew what at best had been a sorry sort
Cracked of back and solitary of string, it was as if her trembling arms,
raising it above her head, would make of themselves and her swaying body
the tripod of an altar.
The old twisting and prophetic pain was behind her heart. Like the
painted billows of music that the old Italian masters loved to do,
there wound and wreathed about her clouds of song:
But I've a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
OATS FOR THE WOMAN
That women who toil not neither do they spin might know the feel of
fabrics so cunningly devised that they lay to the flesh like the inner
petals of buds, three hundred and fifty men, women, and children
contrived, between strikes, to make the show-rooms of the Kessler
Costume Company, Incorporated, a sort of mauve and mirrored Delphi where
buyers from twenty states came to invoke forecast of the mood of skirts,
the caprice of sleeves, and the rumored flip to the train. Before these
flips and moods, a gigantic industry held semi-annual pause, destinies
of lace-factories trembling before a threatened season of strictly
tailor-mades, velvet-looms slowing at the shush of taffeta. When woman
would be sleazy, petticoat manufacturers went overnight into an oblivion
from which there might or might not be returning. The willow plume waved
its day, making and unmaking merchants.
Destiny loves thus to spring from acorn beginnings. Helen smiled, and
Troy fell. Roast pork, and I doubt not then and there the apple sauce,
became a national institution because a small boy burnt his fingers.
That is why, out from the frail love of women for the flesh and its
humors, and because for the webby cling of chiffon too often no price is
too high, the Kessler Costume Company employed, on the factory side of
the door, the three hundred and fifty sewers and cutters, not one of
whose monthly wage could half buy the real-lace fichu or the
painted-chiffon frock of his own handiwork.
On the show-room side of the door, painted mauve within and not without,
_mannequins_, so pink finger-tipped, so tilted of instep, and so bred in
the thrust to the silhouette, trailed these sleazy products of thick
ringers across mauve-colored carpet and before the appraising eyes of
Often as not, smoke rose in that room from the black cigar of the Omaha
Store, Omaha, or Ladies' Wear, Cleveland. In season, and particularly
during the frenzied dog-days of August, when the fate of the new
waist-line or his daring treatment of cloth of silver hung yet in the
balance, and the spirit of Detroit must be browbeaten by the dictum of
the sleeveless thing in evening frocks, Leon Kessler himself smoked a
day-long chain of cigarettes, lighting one off the other.
In the model-room, a long, narrow slit, roaringly ventilated by a
whirling machine, lined in frocks suspended from hangers, and just wide
enough for two very perfect thirty-sixes to stand abreast, August fell
heavily. So heavily that occasionally a cloak-model, her lot to show
next December's conceit in theater wraps, fainted on the show-dais; or a
cloth-of-gold evening gown, donned for the twentieth time that
sweltering day, would suddenly, with its model, crumple, a glittering
huddle, to the floor.
Upon Miss Hattie Becker, who within the narrow slit had endured eight of
these Augusts with only two casual faints and a swoon or two nipped in
the bud, this ninth August came in so furiously that, sliding out of her
sixth showing of a cloth-of-silver and blue-fox opera wrap, a shivering
that amounted practically to chill took hold of her.
"Br-r-r!" she said, full of all men's awe at the carbon-dioxide paradox.
"I'm so hot I'm cold!"
Miss Clarice Delehanty slid out of a shower of tulle-of-gold
dancing-frock and into an Avenue gown of rough serge. The tail of a very
arched eyebrow threatened, and then ran down in a black rill.
"If Niagara Falls was claret lemonade,
You'd see me beat it to a watery grave."
"That'll be enough canary-talk out of you, Clare. Hand me my shirt-waist
there off the hook."
"Didn't Kess say we had to show Keokuk the line before lunch?"
"If the King of England was buying ermine sport coats this morning, I
wouldn't show 'em before I had a cold cut and a long drink in me. Hurry!
Hand me my waist, Clare, before the girls come in from showing the
Miss Delehanty flung the garment down the narrow length of the room.
"Minneapolis don't know it, but after this showing he's going to blow me
to the frappiest little lunch on the Waldorf roof."
Miss Becker buttoned her flimsy blouse with three pearl beads down its
front, wiping constantly at a constantly dampening brow.
"You'd shove over the Goddess of Liberty if you thought she had her foot
on a meal ticket."
"Yes; and if I busted her, you could build a new one on the lunch money
you've saved in your time."
"Waldorf! You've got a fine chance with Minneapolis. You mean the
Automat, and two spoons for the ice-cream."
Miss Delehanty adjusted a highly eccentric hat, a small green velvet,
outrageously tilted off the rear of its _bandeau_, and a wide black
streamer flowing down over one shoulder. It was the match to the
explosive effect of the _trotteur_ gown. She was Fashion's humoresque,
except that Fashion has no sense of humor. Very presently Minneapolis
would appraise her at two hundred and seventy-five as is. Miss Delehanty
herself came cheaper.
"Say, Hattie, don't let being an old man's darling go to your head. The
grandchildren may issue an injunction."
A flare of crimson rushed immediately over Miss Becker's face, spreading
down into her neck.
"You let him alone! He's a darn sight better than anything I've seen you
girls picking for yourselves. You never met a man in your life whose
name wasn't Johnnie. You couldn't land a John in a million years."
Miss Delehanty raised her face from over a shoe-buckle. A stare began to
set in, as obviously innocent as a small boy's between spitballs.
"Well, who said anything about old St. Louis, I'd like to know?"
"You did, and you leave him alone! What do you know about a real man?
You'd pass up a Ford ride to sit still in a pasteboard limousine
"Well, of all things! Did I say anything?"
"Yes, you did!"
"Why, for my part, he can show you a good time eight nights in the week
and Sundays, too."
"He 'ain't got grandchildren--if you want to know it."
"Did I say he had?"
"Yes, you did!"
"Why, I don't blame any girl for showing grandpa a good time."
"You could consider yourself darn lucky, Clarice Delehanty, if one half
as good ever--"
"Ask the girls if I don't always say old St. Louis is all to the good.
Three or four years ago, right after his wife died, I said to Ada,
A head showed suddenly through the lining side of the mauve portičres,
blue-eyed, blue-shaved, and with a triple ripple of black hair
"Hurry along there with fifty-seven, Delehanty! Heyman's got to see the
line and catch that six-two Chicago flier."
Miss Delehanty fell into pose, her profile turned back over one
"Tell him to chew a clove; it's good for breathless haste," she said,
disappearing through portičres into the show-room.
Miss Becker thrust herself from a hastily-found-out aperture, patting,
with final touch, her belt into place.
"Have I been asking you for five years, Kess, to knock before you poke
your head in on us girls?"
Mr. Leon Kessler appeared then fully between the curtains, letting them
drape heavily behind him. Gotham garbs her poets and her brokers, her
employers and employees, in the national pin-stripes and sack coat.
Except for a few pins stuck upright in his coat lapel, Mr. Kessler might
have been his banker or his salesman. Typical New-Yorker is the pseudo,
half enviously bestowed upon his kind by _hinter_ America. It signifies
a bi-weekly manicure, femininely administered; a hotel lobbyist who can
outstare a seatless guest; the sang-froid to add up a dinner check;
spats. When Mr. Kessler tipped, it did not clink; it rustled. In
theater, at each interval between acts, he piled out over ladies' knees
and returned chewing a mint. He journeyed twice a year to a famous
Southern spa, and there won or lost his expenses. He regarded Miss
Becker, peering at her around the fluff of a suspended frock of
"What's the idea, Becker? Keokuk wants to see you in the wrap line."
Miss Becker swallowed hard, jamming down and pinning into a small
taffy-colored turban, her hair, the exact shade of it, escaping in
scallops. Carefully powdered-out lines of her face seemed to emerge
suddenly through the conserved creaminess of her skin. Thirty-four, in
its unguarded moments, will out. Miss Becker had almost detained
twenty's waistline and twenty-two's ardent thrust of face. It was only
the indentures of time that had begun to tell slightly--indentures that
powder could not putty out. There was a slight bagginess of throat where
the years love to eat in first, and out from the eyes a spray of fine
lines. It was these lines that came out now indubitably.
"If you want me to lay down on you, Kess, for sure, just ask me to show
the line again before lunch. I'm about ready to keel. And you can't put
me off again. I'm ready, and you got to come now."
He dug so deeply into his pockets that his sleeves crawled up.
"Say, look here. I've got my business to attend to, and, when my trade's
in town, my trade comes first. See? Take off and show Keokuk a few
numbers. I want him to see that chinchilla drape."
She reached out, closing her hand over his arm.
"I'll show him the whole line, Kess, when we're back from lunch. I got
to talk to you, I tell you. You put me off yesterday and the day before,
and this--this is the last."
"The last what?"
"Please, Kess, if you only run over to Rinehardt's with me. I got to
tell you something. Something about me and--and--"
He regarded her in some perplexity. "Tell it to me here. Now!"
"I can't. The girls'll be swarming in any minute. I can't get you
anywheres but lunch. It's the first thirty minutes of your time I've
asked in five years, Kess--is that little enough? Let Cissie show
Keokuk the blouses till we get back. It's something, Kess, I can't put
off. Kess, please!"
Her face was so close to him and so eager that he turned to back out.
"Wait for me at the Thirty-first Street entrance," he said, "and I'll
shoot you across to Rinehardt's."
She caught up her small silk hand-bag and ran out toward the elevators.
Down in Thirty-first Street a wave of heat met, almost overpowering her.
New York, enervated from sleepless nights on fire-escapes and in
bedrooms opening on areaways, moved through it at half-speed, hugging
the narrow shade of buildings. Infant mortality climbed with the
thermometer. In Fifth Avenue, cool, high bedrooms were boarded and
empty. In First Avenue, babies lay naked on the floor, snuffing out for
want of oxygen.
Across that man-made Grand Cańon men leap sometimes, but seldom. Mothers
whose babies lie naked on the floor look out across it, damning.
Out into this flaying heat Miss Becker stepped gingerly, almost
immediately rejoined by Mr. Leon Kessler, crowningly touched with the
correct thing in straw sailors.
"Get a move on," he said, guiding her across the soft asphalt.
In Rinehardt's, one of a thousand such _Rathskeller_ retreats designed
for a city that loves to dine in fifteen languages, the noonday cortčge
of summer widowers had not yet arrived. Waiters moved through the dim,
pink-lit gloom, dressing their tables temptingly cool and white,
dipping ice out from silver buckets into thin tumblers.
They seated themselves beneath a ceiling fan, Miss Becker's
taffy-colored scallops stirring in the scurry of air.
"Lordy!" she said, closing her eyes and pressing her finger-tips against
them, "I wish I could lease this spot for the summer!"
He pushed a menu-card toward her. "What'll you have? There's plenty
under the 'ready to serve.'"
She peeled out of her white-silk gloves.
"Some cold cuts and a long ice-tea."
He ordered after her and more at length, then lighted a cigarette.
"Well?" he said, waving out a match.
She leaned forward, already designing with her fork on the table-cloth.
"Kess, can you guess?"
"Come on with it!"
"Have you--noticed anything?"
"Say, I'd have a sweet time keeping up with you girls!"
She looked at him now evenly between the eyes.
"You kept up with me pretty close for three years, didn't you?"
"Say, you knew what you were doing!"
"I--I'm not so sure of that by a long shot. I--I was fed up with the
most devilish kind of promises there are. The kind you was too smart to
put in words or--or in writing. You--you only looked 'em."
"I suppose you was kidnapped one dark and stormy night while the
villain pursued you, eh? Is that it?"
"Oh, what's the use--rehashing! After that time at Atlantic City
and--and then the--flat, it--it just seemed the way I felt about you
then--that nothing you wanted could be wrong. I guess I knew what I was
doing all right, or, if I didn't, I ought to have. I was rotten--or I
couldn't have done it, I guess. Only, deep inside of me I was waiting
and banking on you like--like poor little Cissie is now. And you knew
it; you knew it all them three years."
"Say, did you get me over here to--"
"I only hope to God when you're done with Cissie you'll--"
"You let me take care of my own affairs. If it comes right down to it,
there's a few things I could tell you, girl, that ain't so easy to
listen to. Let's get off the subject while the going's good."
"Oh, anybody that plays as safe as you--"
He raised his voice, shoving back his chair. "Well, if you want me to
clear out of this place quicker than you can bat your eye, you just--"
"No, no, Kess! 'Sh-h-h-h!"
"If there ever was a girl in my place had a square deal, that girl's
"'Square deal!' Because after I held on and--ate out my heart for three
years, you didn't--take away my job, too? Somebody ought to pin a
Carnegie medal on you!"
"You've held down a twenty-dollar-a-week job season in and season out,
when there've been times it didn't even pay for the ink it took to
write you on the pay-roll."
"There's nothing I ever got out of you I didn't earn three times over."
"A younger figure than yours is getting to be wouldn't hurt the line
any, you know. It's because I make it a rule not to throw off the old
girls when their waist-lines begin to spread that makes you so grateful,
is it? There's not a firm in town keeps on a girl after she begins to
heavy up. If you got to know why I took you off the dress line and put
you in the wraps, it's because I seen you widening into a thirty-eight,
and a darn poor one at that. I can sell two wraps off Cissie to one off
you. You're getting hippy, girl, and, since you started the subject, you
can be darn glad you know where your next week's salary's coming from."
She was reddening so furiously that even her earlobes, their tips
escaping beneath the turban, were tinged.
"Maybe I--I'm getting hippy, Kess; but it'll take more than anything you
can ever do for me to make up for--"
"Gad!" he said, flipping an ash in some disgust, "I wish I had a
ten-cent piece for every one since!"
"Oh," she cried, her throat jerking, "you eat what you just said! You
eat it, because you know it ain't so!"
"Now look here," he said, straightening up suddenly, "I don't know what
your game is, but if you're here to stir up the old dust that's been
laid for five years--"
"No, no, Kess! It's only that--what I got to tell you--I--it makes a
"There's nothing in these years since, I swear to God, or in the years
before, that I got to be ashamed of!"
"All right! All right!"
"If ever a girl came all of a sudden to her senses, it was me. If ever a
girl has lived a quiet life, picking herself up and brushing the dust
off, it's been me. Oh, I don't say I 'ain't been entertained by the
trade--I didn't dodge my job--but it's been a straight kind of a
"I'm not asking for an alibi, Becker. What's the idea?"
"Kess," she said, leaning forward, with tears popping out in her eyes,
"I.W. Goldstone has asked me to marry him."
He laid down his roll in the act of buttering it, gazing across at her
with his knife upright in his hand.
"Night before last, Kess, in the poppy-room at Shalif's."
"Are you crazy?"
"It's the God's truth, Kess. He's begging me for an answer by to-night,
before he goes back home."
"I.W. Goldstone, of Goldstone & Auer, ladies' wear?"
She nodded, her hand to her throat.
"Well, I'll be strung up!"
"He--he says, Kess, it's been on his mind for a year and a half, ever
since his spring trip a year ago. He wants to take me back with him,
"Whew!" said Mr. Kessler, wiping his brow and the back of his collar.
"You're no more surprised than me, Kess. I--I nearly fell off the
"Good Lord! Why, his wife--he had her in the store it seems yesterday!"
"She's been dead four years and seven months, Kess."
"Old I.W. and you!"
"He's only fifty-two, Kess; I'm thirty-four."
"I know it. I can't realize it, neither."
"Why, he's worth two hundred thousand, if he's worth a cent!"
"I know it, Kess."
"The old man's stringing you, girl. His kind stop, look, and listen."
"He's not stringing me! I tell you he's begging me to marry him and go
back home with him. He's even told his--daughter about me."
"Good Lord--little Effie! I was out there once when she was a kid.
Stopped off on my way to Hot Springs. They live in a kind of
park--Forest Park Street or something or other. Why, I've done business
with Goldstone & Auer for fifteen years, and my father before me!
"What'll I do, Kess?"
"So that's the size of the fish you went out and landed!"
"I didn't! I didn't! He's been asking me out the last three trips, and
post-cards in between, but I never thought nothing of it."
"Why, he can't get away with this!"
"They won't stand for it out in that Middle West town. He's the head of
a big business. He's got a grown daughter."
"He's got her fixed, Kess--settled on her."
"Hattie Becker, Mrs. I.W. Goldstone! Gad! can you beat it? Can't you
just see me, when I come out to St. Louis pretty soon, having dinner out
at Mrs. I.W. Goldstone's house? Say, am I seeing things?"
"What'll I do, Kess? What'll I do?"
"I tell you that you can't get away with it, girl. The old man's getting
childish; they'll have to have him restrained. Why, the woman he was
married to for twenty years, Lenie Goldstone, never even seen a
skirt-dance. I remember once he brought her to New York and then
wouldn't let her see a cabaret show. He won't even buy sleeveless models
for his French room."
"I tell you, Kess, he'll take me to Jersey to-morrow and marry me, if I
give the word."
"Not a chance!"
"I tell you yes. That's why I got to see you. I got to tell him
to-night, Kess. He--goes back to-morrow."
He regarded her slowly, watching her throat where it throbbed.
"Well, what are you going to do?"
"I--I don't know."
"Where do you stand with him? Sweet sixteen and never been kissed?"
"He--he don't ask questions, Kess. I--I'm his ideal, he says, of
the--kind of--woman can take up for him where his wife left off. He says
we're alike in everything but looks, and that a man who was happy in
marriage like him can't be happy outside of it. He--he's sized up pretty
well the way I live, and--and--he knows I don't expect too much out of
life no more. Just a quiet kind of team-work, he puts it--pulling
together fifty-fifty, and somebody's hand to hold on to when old fellow
Time hits you a whack in the knees from behind. But he ain't old when he
talks that way, Kess; he--he's beautiful to me."
"Does he wear a mask when he makes love?"
"He's got a fine face."
"So that's the way you're playing it, is it? Love-stuff?"
"Oh, I've had all the love-stuff knocked out of me. Three years of
eating out my heart is about all the love-stuff I can handle for a
while. He don't want that in a woman. I don't want it in him. He's just
a plain, good man I never in my life could dream of having. A good home
in a good town where life ain't like a red-eyed devil ready to hit in
deep between the shoulder-blades. I know why he says he can see his wife
in me. He knows I'm the kind was cut out for that kind of life--home and
kitchen and my own parsley in my own back yard. He knows, if he marries
me, carpet slippers seven nights in the week is my speed. I never want
to see a 'roof,' or a music-show, or a cabaret again to the day I die.
He knows I'll fit in home like a goldfish in its bowl. Life made a
mistake with me, and it's going to square itself. It's fate, Kess;
that's what it is--fate!"
She clapped her hands to her face, sobbing down into them.
He glanced about him in quick and nervous concern.
"Pull yourself together there, Becker; we're in a public place."
"If only I could go to him and tell him."
"Well, you can't."
"It's not you that keeps me. Only, I know that with his kind of man and
at his age, a woman is--is one thing or another and that ends it. With a
grown daughter, he wouldn't--couldn't--he's too set in his ways to know
how it was with me--and--what'll I do, Kess?"
"Say, I'm not going to stand in your light, if that's what's eating you.
If you can get away with it, I don't wish you nothing but well. Looks to
me like all right, if you want to make the try. I'll even come and break
bread with you when I go out to see my Middle West trade pretty soon.
That's the kind of a hairpin I am."
"It's like I keep saying to myself, Kess. If--if he'd ask me anything,
it--it would be different. He--he says he never felt so satisfied that a
woman had the right stuff in her. And I have! There's nothing in the
world can take that away from me. I can give him what he wants. I know I
can. Why, the way I'll make up to that little girl out there and love
her to death! I ask so little, Kess--just a decent life and rest--peace.
I'm tired. I want to let myself get fat. I'm built that way, to get fat.
It was nothing but diet gave me the anaemia last summer. He says he
wants me to plump out. Perfect thirty-six don't mean nothing in his life
except for the trade. No more rooming-houses with the kitchenette in the
bath-room. A kitchen, he says, Kess, half the size of the show-room,
with a butler's pantry. He likes to play pinochle at night, he says,
next to the sitting-room fire. He tried to learn me the rules of the
game the other night in the poppy-room. It's easy. His first wife was
death on flowers. She used to train roses over their back fence. He
loved to see her there. He wants me to like to grow them. He wants to
take me back to a home of my own and peace, where life can't look to a
girl like a devil with horns. He wants to take me home. What'll I do,
Kess? Please, please, what'll I do?"
He was rather inarticulate, but reached out to pat her arm. "Go--to
it--girl, and--God bless you!"