Part 3 out of 6
into her last bill, she ate a three-cent frankfurter-sausage sandwich
from off a not quite immaculate push-cart, leaning forward as she bit
into it to save herself from the ooze of mustard. Again she had the
sense of Cora Kinealy hurrying along the opposite side of the street on
the tall heels that clicked. She let fall the bun into the gutter and
stood there trembling.
She obtained, one later afternoon, at the instance of a window-card, the
swabbing of the tiled floor of an automobile show-room. She left before
her first hour was completed, crying, her finger-tips stinging, two
Finally came that chimera of an hour when she laid down her last coin
for the raisin rolls. She ate them on the cot-edge. And then, because
her weekly dollar-and-twenty-five-cent room rent fell due that evening,
she wrapped two fresh and self-laundered waists, some white but unlacy
underwear, a mound of window-dried handkerchiefs, a little knitted
shoulder-shawl so long worn by her mother, her tooth-brush and tube of
paste, and all her sundry little articles no less indispensable, into a
white-paper package. There were left a short woolen petticoat, too
cumbersome to include, the small wooden rocker and lamp with the china
shade which she had rather unexplainably held out from the dealer's
inventory. She closed the door softly on them one evening and, parcel in
hand, tiptoed down the stonily cold halls and out into a street of long,
thin, high-stooped houses. Outside in the May evening it was as black,
as softly deep, as plushy as a pansy. She walked swiftly into it as if
with destination. But after five or six of the long cross-town blocks
her feet began to lag. She stood for a protracted moment outside a
drug-store window, watching the mechanical process of a pasteboard man
stropping his razor; loitered to read the violent three-sheet outside a
Third Avenue cinematograph. In the aura of white light a figure in a
sweater and cap nudged up to her.
She moved on.
In Stuyvesant Square were a first few harbingers of summer scattered
here and there--couples forcing the gladsome season of the dim park
bench; solitary brooders who can sit so long, so droop-shouldered, and
so deeply in silence. On one of these benches, beside a slim,
scant-skirted, light-spatted silhouette, Stella Schump sat finally down.
It was ten o'clock. There was a sense of panic, which she felt mostly at
her throat, rising in her. Then she would force herself into a state of
quiet, hand on bundle, nictitating, as it were--eyes opening, eyes
closing. The figure beside her slid over a bit, spreading the tiny width
of skirt as if to reserve the space between them.
"Lord!" she said, indicating Second Avenue with a nod. "The lane's like
a morgue to-night."
"Cold, ain't it?" said Stella Schump, shivering with night damp.
A figure with a tilted derby came sauntering toward them.
"Lay off my territory. I seen him first."
The place in between them was filled then, the tilted derby well forward
and revealing a rear bulge of head. There was an indeterminate moment of
silence broken by the slim-skirted silhouette.
"Where you goin'?"
Straightening, Miss Schump could hear more.
"No place. Where you goin'?"
"Buy you a drink?"
In the shaft of arc-light Miss Schump could see the little face framed
in the wan curls lift and crinkle the nose to smile.
She watched them recede down the narrow asphalt of the parkway. At
eleven o'clock, to lessen her stiffening of joints, she walked twice the
circumference of the fenced-in inclosure, finally sitting again, this
time beneath a gaunt oleander that was heavy with bud.
"O God!" she kept repeating, her stress growing. "O God! God! God!"
With the lateness, footfalls were growing more and more audible, the
gong of a street-car sounding out three blocks down.
"O my God!" And then in rapid succession, closing her eyes and digging
her finger-nails into her palms: "Mamma! Mamma! Mamma!"
She wanted and wanted to cry, but her throat would not let her, and so
she sat and sat.
There were still occasional figures moving through the little lanes and
a couple or two deep in the obscurity of benches. After another while,
at the remote end of her own bench, a figure sat down, lighting a pipe.
She watched him pu-pu-pup. At half after eleven she slid along
"Where you goin'?"
He turned to look down.
"Where you goin'?"
She leaned around, trying to bring her face to front his and to lift her
nose to a little wrinkly smile.
"Go home and go to bed," he said. "A nice-appearin' girl like you ought
to be ashamed."
"You're barkin' up the wrong tree."
She fell silent. A chill raced through her.
"O God!" she began, under her breath. "O God! God!" Then: "Mamma! Mamma!
"You _are_ cold," he said, reaching out to pinch her jacket sleeve.
"That's a warm coat. Where do you live?"
"Lemme alone," she said, staring out before her as if she were seeing
the stripe and vine, stripe and vine.
"You got the shivers," he said. "Better go home."
"Ain't there no way you girls can learn to behave yourselves?
Here"--digging down into his pocket--"here."
"Where you live?"
"I dunno. I dunno."
"You surely know where you live."
She looked up at him in one of the rare moments of opening wide her
"I tell you I dunno."
"What's in there?"
She plucked at the knot, drawing back for him to lean to see the top
layer of neatly folded waist.
"Don't," she said, withdrawing it quickly from his touch.
"Why," he said, "you poor little kid! What's got you into this mess?"
At that in his voice, such a quick, a thick, a hot layer of tears sprang
to her eyes that she could not relax her throat for words.
"What got you in?"
"Aw, now, yes, you do know. Try to think--take your time--what got you
"Yes, you can. Go on; I ain't lookin' at you."
He turned off to an angle.
Her first sob burst from her, tearing her throat and ending in a tremolo
of moans in her throat.
"Now, now," he said, still in profile; "that won't do. Not for a
sensible little girl like you. Easy--easy--take your time--"
"You see, mister--you see, it was my--my mamma--my beautiful, darling
"Yes, yes; it was your mamma--and then what?"
"It was my mamma, my beautiful, darling mamma! What'll I do, mister? I
can't make it up to her. No way--nohow. She's gone--she's gone--"
"Easy--easy--try to keep easy."
"I used to kiss her hands when they was embroiderin'. I used to grease
'em for her all night when she screamed with the pain of 'em. I used to
scream at night, too, when I was doin' my time--her there waitin'--she
died alone--there waitin'--the letter they gave me the stamp for--I--I
was crazy with scare when I wrote it--O God!--mamma--mamma--mamma!"
"'Sh-h-h! 'Sh-h-h! Try to keep easy."
"It was this way--O God, how was it?--it was this way--you see, me and
my mamma and sometimes a friend--Cora Jones--no--no--no--Cora
Kinealy--we used to sit in the lamplight--no--no--first, I was in the
shoes--the children's shoes--they used to come in, little kiddies with
their toes all kicked out wantin' new shoes--cute little baby-shoes that
I loved to try on 'em. My friend--Cora--my friend--O God!--"
"Now, now, like a good girl--go on."
"My friend Cora--my darling little mamma--I never knew nothing about
anything except me and my mamma, we--it worried her that I didn't have
it like--like other girls--I--you see--you see, mister?"
"Yes, yes, I see."
Her voice, so jerked up with sobs, quieted down to a drone finally, to a
low drone that talked on and on through an hour, through two. There were
large, shining beads of tears flowing constantly from her cheeks, but
she wiped at them unceasingly with her handkerchief and talked evenly
through a new ease in her throat.
"She died, mister," she ended up finally, turning her salt-bitten eyes
full upon him; "she died of that letter written when I was so full of a
scared craziness from bein' in--in that place--that terrible, terrible
place--but she didn't die believin' me bad. I never seen her alive again
to hear it from her, but there in her--her little coffin I--I seen it in
her little face, all sunk, she didn't believe it--she didn't die
thinkin' me bad. Mister, did she? Did she?"
He did not answer, sitting there, drooped forward for so long that
finally she put out her hand to touch his.
He did not turn his face, but reached around, inclosing her wrist,
pressing it, gripping it.
"Did she, mister?"
"No, no," he said, finally, "no, Stella; she didn't die thinkin' you
She sighed out, eyes closing, and her quivering lips falling quiet.
"Do you think I'm bad, mister?"
"No, Stella! No! No! No! My God, no!"
"I'm goin' to take you across the street there to the Young Women's
Shelter Home for to-night. Just across there. See the sign? Don't be
afraid, Stella. Please don't be afraid."
He retied the white-paper package, tucking it up under one arm.
She rose, swaying for the merest second. His arm shot out.
"I'm all right," she said, steadying herself, smilingly, shamefacedly,
but relaxing gratefully enough to the flung support.
"Don't be afraid, Stella," he said. "I'm here. I'm here."
His forearm where the cuff had ridden up bore a scar, as if molten lead
had run a fiery, a dagger-shaped, an excoriating course.
On a slope a white sprinkling of wood anemones lay spread like a patch
of linen bleaching in the sun. From a valley a lark cut a swift diagonal
upward with a coloratura burst of song. A stream slipped its ice and
took up its murmur where it had left off. A truant squelched his toes in
the warm mud and let it ooze luxuriantly over and between them.
A mole stirred in its hole, and because spring will find a way, even
down in the bargain basement of the Titanic Store, which is far below
the level of the mole, Sadie Barnet, who had never seen a wood anemone
and never sniffed of thaw or the wet wild smell of violets, felt the
blood rise in her veins like sap, and across the aisle behind the
white-goods counter Max Meltzer writhed in his woolens, and Sadie
Barnet, presiding over a bin of specially priced mill-ends out mid-aisle
between the white goods and the muslin underwear, leaned toward him, and
her smile was as vivid as her lips.
"Say, Max, guess why I think you're like a rubber band."
Classic Delphi was never more ready with ambiguous retort.
Behind a stack of Joy-of-the-Loom bed-sheets, Max Meltzer groped for
oracular divination, and his heart-beats fluttered in his voice.
"Like a rubber band?"
"Aw, give a guess."
"Well, I don't know, Miss Sadie, unless--unless it's because I'm stuck
Do not, ascetic reader, gag at the unsocratic plane. True, Max Meltzer
had neither the grain nor the leisure of a sophist, a capacity for
tenses or an appreciation of Kant. He had never built a bridge, led a
Bible class, or attempted the first inch of the five-foot bookshelf. But
on a two-figure salary he subscribed an annual donation to a
skin-and-cancer hospital, wore non-reversible collars, and maintained a
smile that turned upward like the corners of a cycle moon. Remember,
then, ascetic reader, that a rich man once kicked a leper; Kant's own
heart, that it might turn the world's heart outward, burst of pain; and
in the granite cañon of Wall Street, one smile in every three-score and
ten turns upward.
Sadie Barnet met Max Meltzer's cycle-moon smile with the blazing eyes of
scorn, and her lips, quivering to a smile, met in a straight line that
almost ironed out the curves.
"'Cause you're stuck on me! That's a swell guess. Gee! you're as funny
as a sob, you are."
The words scuttered from her lips like sharp hailstones and she glanced
at him sidewise over a hump of uplifted shoulder and down the length of
one akimbo arm.
"'Cause you're stuck on me! Huh!"
Max Meltzer leaned across a counter display of fringed breakfast
"Ain't that a good reason, Miss Sadie? It's a true one."
"You're one swell little guesser, you are _not_. You couldn't get inside
a riddle with a can-opener. 'Cause you're stuck on me! Gee!"
"Well, I am."
"I didn't ask you why you was like a bottle of glue. I asked you why you
was like a rubber band."
"Aw, I give up, Miss Sadie."
"'Cause you're so stretchy, see? 'Cause you're so stretchy you'll yawn
your arm off if you don't watch it."
Max Meltzer collapsed in an attitude of mock prostration against a
"Gee! that must have been cracked before the first nut."
Across the specially priced mill-ends she flashed the full line of her
teeth, and with an intensity his features ill concealed he noted how
sweet her throat as it arched.
"It's the spring fever gets inside of me and makes me so stretchy, Miss
Sadie. It's a good thing trade is slow down here in the basement to-day,
because it's the same with me every year; the Saturday before
spring-opening week I just get to feeling like all outdoors."
"Wait till you see me with a new red-satin bow stuck on my last
summer's shape. Dee Dee's got to lend me the price for two yards of
three-inch red-satin ribbon for my spring opening."
His breath rose in his throat.
"I bet you look swell in red, Miss Sadie. But a girl like you looks
swell in anything."
"Red's my color. Dee Dee says my mamma was a gay one, too, when it came
to color. Had to have a red bow pinned somewheres around all the months
she was in bed and--and up to the very night she died. Gimme red every
time. Dee Dee's the one that's always kicking against red; she says I
got too flashy taste."
"Say, if she keeps bossing and bossing at you, what do you keep on
living with her for?"
"Wouldn't you live with your own mother's sister if she raised you from
a kid? What am I going to do, put her in cold storage, now that her eyes
are going back on her? Up in the ribbons she can't hardly keep her
colors graduated no more, that's how blind she's getting. Only yesterday
a dame brought back some lavender ribbon and wiped up the whole
department with Dee Dee for putting it over on her as blue. What am I
going to do?"
"Honest, Miss Sadie, I didn't know that she was your aunt and that her
eyes was bad. I've seen you two together a lot and noticed her thick
lenses, but I just didn't think."
"Well, now I'm telling you."
"I just thought she was some old girl up in the ribbons you was living
with for company. Honest, I didn't know she had bad eyes. Gee!"
"No, they ain't bad. Only she's so blind she reads her paper upside down
and gets sore if you tell her about it."
"And me thinking she was nothing but a near-sighted old grouch with a
name like a sparrow."
Miss Barnet laughed with an upward trill.
"Dee Dee ain't her real name. When I was a kid and she took me to raise,
that's the way I used to pronounce Aunt Edith. Gee! you don't think Dee
Dee was the name they sprinkled on her when they christened her,
Max Meltzer leaned to the breath of her laughter as if he would fill his
lungs with it.
"Gee! but you're a cute little lady when you laugh like that."
"Say, and ain't you the freshie! Just because you're going to be
promoted to buyer for your department won't get your picture in the
Sunday supplement. No white-goods buyer I know of ever had to build
white marble libraries or present a bread-line to the city to get rid of
"I bet you was a cute little black-eyed, red-cheeked little youngster,
"I wasn't so worse. Like I tell Dee Dee, the way she's held me down and
indoors evenings, it's a wonder a kid like me grew up with any pep
"Poor little lady!"
"It's like Dee Dee says, though. I never was cut out for life behind the
counter. Gee! I'd soak my pillow in gasolene every night in the week if
it would make me dream I'm automobiling."
"Poor little lady!"
"Say, ain't it hot? With the Opening on Monday, they better get the fans
working. Last year three girls keeled. Honest, sometimes I think I'd
rather spend the summer under the daisies out on the hill than down here
in this basement."
"Don't I wish I had an auto to take you spinning in to-night."
"You ought to see the flier a friend of mine has got. A Mercury Six with
a limousine top like a grand-opera box."
"Yes. He's that slick-looking, little fat fellow that's a cousin to
Mamie Grant up in the ready-to-wears. He was down here talking to me the
"I seen him."
"Gee! you ought to feel yourself in his Mercury Six. 'Lemme die,' I says
to him the last time I was in it. 'Just lemme close my eyes right in
here and die happy,' I says, cuddled up in the red-leather seat with a
cornucopia of daffodils tickling my nose and a street-car full of
strap-hangers riding along-side of us."
"I--I guess if you got swell friends like that, a boat excursion down
the river 'ain't got much of a sound for you."
"He says he's got a launch in summer--"
"Honest, Miss Sadie, I--I just been trying for the better part of two
weeks to ask permission if I could come and call on you some evening,
Miss Sadie, but--"
"Whoops! ain't he the daredevil!"
"The first boat of the season, Miss Sadie, a swell new one they call the
_White Gull_, goes down to Coney to-night, and, it being real
springtime, and you feeling kind of full of it, I thought maybe, it
being the first boat of the season, maybe you would take a river ride
this grand April night, Miss Sadie."
Her glance slanted toward him, full of quirks.
"My aunt Dee Dee, Mr. Meltzer, she's right strict with me. She don't
think I ought to keep company with any boys that don't come to see me
first at my house."
"I know it, Miss Sadie; that's the right way to do it, but I think I can
get around her all right. Wasn't she down here in the basement the day I
first heard about my promotion, and didn't she give me the glad hand and
seem right friendly to me? I can get around her all right, Miss Sadie. I
can always tell if a person likes me or not."
"Anyways, if her eyes ain't too bad, Mr. Meltzer, I got a date with my
friend if his car is out of the shop from having the limousine top taken
off. We--we're going for a little spin."
A quick red belied her insouciance and she made a little foray into the
bin of mill-ends.
"Gee! if I've made three sales this livelong day I don't know nothing
about two of them."
Max Meltzer met her dancing gaze, pinioning it with his own quiet eyes.
"You're right to pick out the lucky fellows who can buy a good time. A
little girl like you ought to have every enjoyment there is. If I could
give it to you, do you think I would let the other fellows beat me to
it? The best ain't none too good for a little lady like you."
"Aw, Mr. Meltzer!" Her bosom filled and waned. "Aw, Mr. Meltzer!"
"I mean it."
An electric bell grilled through his words. Miss Barnet sprang reflexly
from the harness of an eight-hour day.
"Aw, looka, and I wanted to sneak up before closing and get Dee Dee to
snip me two yards of red satin, and she won't cut an inch after the
bell. Ain't that luck for you? Ain't that luck?"
Her lips drew to a pout.
"Lemme get it for you, Miss Sadie. I know a girl up in the ribbons--"
"No, no, Mr. Meltzer. I--I got to charge it to Dee Dee, and, anyways,
she gets mad like anything if I keep her waiting. I gotta go. 'Night,
Mr. Meltzer! 'Night!"
She was off through the maze of the emptying store, in the very act of
pinning on her little hat with its jaunty imitation fur pompon, and he
breathed in as she passed, as if of the perfume of her personality.
At the ribbon counter on the main floor the last of a streamlet of
outgoing women detached herself from the file as Miss Barnet ascended
"Hurry up, Sadie."
"Dee Dee! How'd you girls up here get on your duds so soon? I thought
maybe if I'd hurry upstairs you--you'd find time to cut me a two-yard
piece of three-inch red satin for my hat, Dee Dee--to-morrow being
Sunday. Two yards, Dee Dee, and that'll make two-sixty-nine I owe you.
Aw, Dee Dee, it won't take a minute, to-morrow Sunday and all! Aw,
Miss Barnet slid ingratiating fingers into the curve of the older
woman's arm; her voice was smooth as salve.
"Aw, Dee Dee, who ever heard of wearing fur on a hat in April? I gotta
stick a red bow on my last summer's sailor, Dee Dee."
Miss Edith Worte stiffened so that the muscles sprang out in the crook
of her arm and the cords in her long, yellowing neck. Years had dried on
her face, leaving ravages, and through her high-power spectacles her
pale eyes might have been staring through film and straining to see.
"Please, Dee Dee!"
Miss Barnet held backward, a little singsong note of appeal running
through her voice.
Miss Worte jerked forward toward the open door. April dusk, the color of
cold dish-water, showed through it. Dusk in the city comes sadly,
crowding into narrow streets and riddled with an immediate quick-shot of
"'Ain't you got no sense a-tall? 'Ain't you got no sense in that curly
head of yourn but ruination notions?"
"Aw, Dee Dee!"
They were in the flood tide which bursts through the dam at six o'clock
like a human torrent flooding the streets, then spreading, thinning, and
finally seeping into homes, hall bedrooms, and Harlem flats.
Miss Edith Worte turned her sparse face toward the down-town tide and
against a light wind that tasted of rain and napped her skirts around
her thin legs.
"Watch out, Dee Dee! Step down; there's a curb."
"I don't need you. It's lots you care if I go blind on the spot."
"God! if I didn't have nothing to worry me but red ribbons! I told the
doctor to-day while he was putting the drops in my eyes, that if he'd
let me go blind I--I--"
"Now, now, Dee Dee! Ain't you seeing better these last few days?"
"If you had heard what the doctor told me to-day when he put the drops
in my eyes you'd have something to think about besides red ribbon,
"I forgot, Dee Dee, to-day was your eye-doctor day. He's always scarin'
you up. Just don't pay no attention. I forgot it was your day."
"Sure you forgot. But you won't forget if I wake up alone in the dark
"You won't forget then. You won't forget to nag me even then for duds to
go automobiling with fly men that can't bring you no good."
"Dee Dee, I 'ain't been but one night this week. I been saving up all
my nights for--for to-night."
"To-night. Say, I can't keep you from going to the devil on skates if--"
"It's only the second time this week, Dee Dee, and I--I promised. He'll
have the limousine top off to-night--and feel, it is just like summer. A
girl's gotta have a little something once in a while."
"What do I gotta have? What do I gotta have but slave and work?"
"It's different with you, Dee Dee. You're older even than my mamma was,
and didn't you say when you and her was girls together there wasn't a
livelier two sisters? Now didn't you, Dee Dee?"
"In a respectable way, yes. But there wasn't the oily-mouthed,
bald-headed divorced man alive, with little rat eyes and ugly lips, who
could have took me or your mamma out auto-riding before or after dark.
We was working-girls, too, but there wasn't a man didn't take off his
hat to us, even if he was bald-headed and it was twenty below zero."
"Yes, 'aw'! You keep running around with the kind of men that don't look
at a girl unless she's served up with rum-sauce and see where it lands
you. Just keep running if you want to, but my money don't buy you no red
ribbons to help to drive you to the devil!"
"The way you keep fussing at me, when I don't even go to dances like the
other girls! I--sometimes I just wish I was dead. The way I got to
watch the clock like it was a taximeter the whole time I'm out
anywheres. It's the limit. Even Max Meltzer gimme the laugh to-day."
"You'd never hear me say watch the clock if you'd keep company with a
boy like Max Meltzer. A straight, clean boy with honest intentions by a
girl lookin' right out of his face. You let a boy like Max Meltzer begin
to keep steady with you and see what I say. You don't see no yellow
streak in his face; he's as white as the goods he sells."
"I know. I know. You think now because he's going to be made buyer for
the white goods in September he's the whole show. Gee! nowadays that
ain't so muchy much for a fellow to be."
"No, I think the kind of fellows that fresh Mamie Grant gets you
acquainted with are muchy much. I'm strong for the old rat-eyed sports
like Jerry Beck, that 'ain't got a honest thought in his head. I bet he
gives you the creeps, too, only you're the kind of a girl, God help you,
that's so crazy for luxury you could forget the devil had horns if he
hid 'em under a automobile cap."
"Sure I am. I 'ain't seen nothing but slaving and drudging and pinching
all my life, while other girls are strutting the Avenue in their furs
and sleeping mornings as long as they want under eider-down quilts.
Sure, when a man like Jerry Beck comes along with a carriage-check
instead of a Subway-ticket I can thaw up to him like a water-ice, and I
ain't ashamed of it, neither."
They turned into a narrow aisle of street lined with unbroken rows of
steep, narrow-faced houses. Miss Worte withdrew her arm sharply and
plunged ahead, her lips wry and on the verge of tremoling.
"When a girl gets twenty, like you, it ain't none of my put-in no more.
Only I hope to God your mother up there is witness that if ever a woman
slaved to keep a girl straight and done her duty by her it was me. That
man 'ain't got no good intentions by--"
"Oh, ain't you--ain't you a mean-thinking thing, ain't you? What kind of
a girl do you think I am? If he didn't have the right intentions by me
do you think--"
"Oh, I guess he'll marry you if he can't get you no other way. Them kind
always do if they can't help themselves. A divorced old guy like him,
with a couple of kids and his mean little eyes, knows he's got to pay up
if he wants a young girl like you. Oh, I--Ouch--oh--oh!"
"Dee Dee, take my arm. That was only an ashcan you bumped into. It's the
drops he puts in your eyes makes 'em so bad to-night, I guess. Go on,
take my arm, Dee Dee. Here we are home. Lemme lead you up-stairs. It's
nothing but the drops, Dee Dee."
They turned in and up and through a foggy length of long hallway. Spring
had not entered here. At the top of a second flight of stairs a slavey
sat back on her heels and twisted a dribble of gray water from her cloth
into her bucket. At the last and third landing an empty coal-scuttle
stood just outside a door as if nosing for entrance.
"Watch out, Dee Dee, the scuttle. Lemme go in first. Gee! it's cold
indoors and warm out, ain't it? Wait till I light up. There!"
"Lemme alone. I can see."
An immemorial federation of landladies has combined against Hestia to
preserve the musty traditions of the furnished room. Love in a cottage
is fostered by subdivision promoters and practised by commuters on a
five-hundred-dollars-down, monthly-payment basis. Marble halls have been
celebrated in song, but the furnished room we have with us always at
three cents per agate line.
You with your feet on your library fender, stupefied with contentment
and your soles scorching, your heart is not black; it is only fat. How
can it know the lean formality of the furnished room? Your little
stenographer, who must wear a smile and fluted collars on eight dollars
a week, knows it; the book agent at your door, who earns eighteen cents
on each Life of Lincoln, knows it. Chambermaids know it when they knock
thrice and only the faint and nauseous fumes of escaping gas answer them
through the plugged keyhole. Coroners know it.
Sadie Barnet and Edith Worte knew it, too, and put out a hand here and
there to allay it. A comforting spread of gay chintz covered the sag in
their white iron bed; a photograph or two stuck upright between the
dresser mirror and its frame, and tacked full flare against the wall was
a Japanese fan, autographed many times over with the gay personnel of
the Titanic Store's annual picnic.
"Gee! Dee Dee, six-twenty already! I got to hurry. Unhook me while I
sew in this ruching."
"Going for supper?"
"Yeh. He invited me. This is cottage-pudding night; tell old lady Finch
when I ain't home for supper you got two desserts coming to you."
"I don't want no supper."
"Aw, now, Dee Dee!"
Miss Worte dropped her dark cape from her shoulders, hung it with her
hat on a door peg, and sat heavily on the edge of the bed.
"God! my feet!"
Miss Barnet peeled off her shirt-waist. Her bosom, strong and _flat_ as
a boy's, rose white from her cheaply dainty under-bodice; at her
shoulders the flesh began to deepen, and her arms were round and full
"Here, Dee Dee, I'm so nervous when I hurry. You sew in this ruche; you
got time before the supper-bell. See, right along the edge like that."
Miss Worte aimed for the eye of the needle, moistening the end of the
thread with her tongue and her fluttering fingers close to her eyes.
"God! I--I just 'ain't got the eyes no more. I can't see, Sadie; I can't
find the needle."
Sadie Barnet paused in the act of brushing out the cloud of her dark
hair, and with a strong young gesture ran the thread through the needle,
knotting its end with a quirk of thumb and forefinger.
"It's the drops, Dee Dee, and this gaslight, all blurry from the
curling-iron in the flame, makes you see bad."
Miss Worte nodded and closed her eyes as if she would press back the
tears and let them drip inward.
"Yeh, I know. I know."
"Sure! Here, lemme do it, Dee Dee. I won't stay out late, dearie, if
your eyes are bad. We're only going out for a little spin."
Miss Worte lay back on the chintz bedspread and turned her face to the
"I should worry if you come home or if you don't--all the comfort you
are to me."
"You say that to me many more times and you watch and see what I do; you
watch and see."
"The sooner the better."
In the act of fluting the soft ruche about her neck, so that her fresh
little face rose like a bud from its calyx, Miss Barnet turned to the
full length of back which faced her from the bed.
"That's just the way I feel about it--the sooner the better."
"Then we think alike."
"You 'ain't been such a holy saint to me that I got to pay up to you for
it all my life."
"That's the thanks I get."
"You only raised me because you had to. I been working for my own living
ever since I was so little I had to He to the inspectors about my age."
"Except what you begged out of my wages."
"I been as much to you as you been to me and--and I don't have to stand
this no longer. Sure I can get out and--and the sooner the better. I'm
sick of getting down on my knees to you every time I wanna squeeze a
little good time out of life. I'm tired paying up for the few dollars
you gimme out of your envelop. If I had any sense I--I wouldn't never
take it from you, nohow, the way you throw it up to me all the time. The
sooner the better is what I say, too; the sooner the better."
"That's the thanks I get; that's the--"
"Aw, I know all that line of talk by heart, so you don't need to ram it
down me. You gotta quit insinuating about my ways to me. I'm as straight
as you are and--"
"You--you--take off that ivory-hand breast-pin; that ain't yours."
"Sure I'll take it off, and this ruche you gimme the money to buy, and
this red bracelet you gimme, and--and every old thing you ever gimme.
Sure I'll take 'em all off. I wish I could take off these gray-top shoes
you paid a dollar toward, and I would, too, if I didn't have to go
barefoot. It's the last time I borrow from--"
"Aw, you commenced that line of talk when you was ten."
"I mean it."
"Well, if you do, take off them gloves that I bought for myself and you
begged right off my hands. Just take 'em off and go barehanded with your
little-headed friend; maybe he can buy--"
"You--Oh, I--I wish I was dead! I--I'll go barehanded to a snowball
feast rather than wear your duds. There's your old gloves--there!"
Tears were streaming and leaving their ravages on the smooth surface of
"I just wish I--I was dead."
"Aw, no, you don't! There's him now, with a horn on his auto that makes
a noise like the devil yelling! There's your little rat-eyed, low-lived
fellow, now. You don't wish you was dead now, do you? Go to him and his
two divorces and his little roundhead. That's where you belong; that's
where girls on the road to the devil belong--with them kind. There he is
now, waiting to ride you to the devil. He don't need to honk-honk so
loud; he knows you're ready and waiting for him."
Miss Barnet fastened on her little hat with fingers that fumbled.
"Aw, no, you don't. When you come home tonight you knock; no more
tiptoe, night-key business like last time. I knew you was lying to me
about the clock."
"You gimme that key. I don't want you to have to get up, with all your
kicking, to open the door for me. You gimme the key."
"If you wanna get in this room when you come home to-night, you knock
like any self-respecting girl ain't afraid to do."
"You--oh--you!" With a shivering intake of breath Miss Barnet flung wide
the door, slamming it after her until the windows and the blue-glass
vase on the mantelpiece and Miss Worte, stretched full length on the
Two flights down she flung open the front door. There came from the
curb the bleat of a siren, wild for speed.
Stars had come out, a fine powdering of them, and the moist evening
atmosphere was sweet, even heavy. She stood for a moment in the
embrasure of the door, scenting.
"Do I need my heavy coat, Jerry?"
The dim figure in the tonneau, with his arms flung out their length
across the back of the seat, moved from the center to the side.
"No, you don't. Hurry up! I'll keep you warm if you need a coat. Climb
in here right next to me, Peachy. Gimme that robe from the front
"Now didn't I say I was going to keep you warm? Quit your squirming,
Touchy. I won't bite. Ready, George. Up to the Palisade Inn, and let out
some miles there."
"Gee! Jerry, you got the limousine top off. Ain't this swell for
Mr. Jerome Beck settled back in the roomy embrasure of the seat and
exhaled loudly, his shoulder and shoe touching hers.
She settled herself out of their range.
"Now, now, snuggle up a little, Peachy."
She shifted back to her first position.
"Ain't it a swell night?"
"Now we're comfy--eh?"
They were nosing through a snarl of traffic and over streets wet and
slimy with thaw. Men with overcoats flung over their arms side-stepped
the snout of the car. Delicatessen and candy-shop doors stood wide
open. Children shrilled in the grim shadows of thousand-tenant
"Well, Peachy, how are you? Peachy is just the name for you, eh? 'Cause
I'd like to take a bite right out of you--eh, Peachy? How are you?"
"Fine and--and dandy."
"Look at me."
"Look at me, I say, you pretty little peach, with them devilish black
eyes of yours and them lips that's got a cherry on 'em."
She met his gaze with an uncertain smile trembling on her lips.
"Honest, you're the limit."
"What's your eyes red for?"
"You know what I'd do if I thought you'd been crying? I'd just kiss them
tears right away."
"Yes, you would _not_."
"Quit calling me that." But she colored as if his tribute had been a
sheath of lilies.
They veered a corner sharply, skidding on the wet asphalt and all but
grazing the rear wheels of a recreant taxicab.
"Gad, George! you black devil you, why don't you watch out what you're
"But, suh, I--"
"None of your black back-talk."
"Jerry!" She was shivering, and a veil of tears formed over her hot,
mortified eyes. "Gee! what are you made of? You seen he couldn't help it
when that taxi turned into us so sudden."
He relaxed against her. "Aw, did I scare the little Peachy? That's the
way they gotta be handled. I ain't ready by a long shot to let a black
devil spill my brains."
"'Shh-h. He couldn't--"
"Sure he could, if he watched. He's a bargain I picked up cheap,
anyways, 'cause he's lame and can't hold down heavy work. And bargains
don't always pay. But I'll break his black back for him if--Aw, now,
now, did I scare the little peach? Gee! I couldn't do nothing but kill
_you_ with kindness if you was driving for me. I'd just let you run me
right off this road into the Hudson Ocean if you was driving for me."
They were out toward the frayed edge of the city, where great stretches
of sign-plastered vacant lots began to yawn between isolated patches of
buildings and the river ran close enough alongside of them to reflect
their leftward lights. She smiled, but as if her lips were bruised.
"It ain't none of my put-in, but he couldn't help it, and I hate for you
to yell at anybody like that, Jerry."
"Aw, aw, did I scare the little Peachy? Watch me show the little Tootsie
how nice I can be when I want to--Aw--aw!"
She blinked back the ever-recurring tears.
"All tired out, too; all tired out. Wait till you see what I'm going to
buy you to-night. A great big beefsteak with mushrooms as big as dollars
and piping-hot German fried potatoes and onions. M-m-m-m! And more
bubbles than you can wink your eye at. Aw--aw, such poor cold little
hands, and no gloves for such cold little hands! Here, lemme warm 'em.
Wouldn't I just love to wrap a little Peachy like you up in a great big
fur coat and put them little cold hands in a great big muff and hang
some great big headlight earrings in them little bittsie ears. Wouldn't
I, though. M-m-m-m! Poor cold little hands!"
Her wraith of a smile dissolved in a spurt of hot tears which flowed
over her words.
"Gee! Ain't I the nut to--to cry? I--I'll be all right in a minute."
"I knew when I seen them red eyes the little Peachy wasn't up to snuff,
and her cute little devilishlike ways. What's hurting you, Tootsie? Been
bounced? You should worry. I'm going to steal you out of that cellar,
anyways. Been bounced?"
"The old hag 'ain't been making it hot for you, has she?"
"Gad! that old hag gets my fur up. I had a mother-in-law once tried them
tricks on me till I learned her they wouldn't work. But the old hag
"It's her eyes; the doctor must have scared her up again to-day. When
she gets scared like that about 'em she acts up so, honest, sometimes
I--I just wish I was dead. She don't think a girl oughtta have no life."
"Forget it. Just you wait. She's going to wake up some morning soon and
find a little surprise party for herself. I know just how to handle an
old bird like her."
"Sometimes she's just so good to me, and then again, when she gets sore
like to-night, and with her nagging and fussing at me, I don't care if
she is my aunt, I just _hate_ her."
"We're going to give her a little surprise party." Beneath the lap robe
his hand slid toward hers. She could feel the movement of the arm that
directed it and her own shrank away.
"But ain't I the limit, Jerry, airing my troubles to you, like you was a
"Quit! Leggo my hand."
They were spinning noiselessly along a road that curved for the moment
away from the river into the velvet shadows of trees. He leaned forward
suddenly, enveloping her.
"I got it. Why don't you lemme kidnap you, kiddo?"
"Lemme kidnap you to-night and give the old hag the surprise of her life
when she wakes up and finds you stolen. I'm some little kidnapper when
it comes to kidnapping, I am, kiddo. Say, wouldn't I like to take you
riding all wrapped up in a fur coat with nothing but your cute little
face sticking out."
"Aw, you're just fooling me."
"Fooling! Lemme prove it, to-night. Lemme kidnap you this very night.
She withdrew stiff-backed against his embrace.
"Is--is that what you mean by--by kidnapping me?"
"Sure. There ain't nothing I'd rather do. Are you on, Peaches? A
sensible little queen like you knows which side her bread is buttered
on. There ain't nothing I want more than to see you all bundled up in a
fur coat with--headlights in your little bittsie pink ears."
She sprang the width of the seat from him.
"You--What kind of a girl do you think I am? O God! What kind of a girl
does he think I am? Take me home--take me--What kind of a girl do you
think I am?"
He leaned toward her with a quick readjustment of tone.
"Just what I said, Peachy. What I meant was I'd marry you to-night if we
could get a license. I'd just kidnap you to-night if--if we could
"You--you didn't mean that."
"Sure I did, Peachy. Say, with a little girl of my own I ain't one of
them guys that you think I am. Ain't you ashamed of yourself,
Peachy--now ain't you?"
The color flowed back into her face and her lips parted.
"Jerry--Only a girl like me's got to be careful--that was all I meant,
He scooped her in his short arms and kissed her lips, with her small
face crumpled up against his shoulder, and she lay quiescent enough in
his embrace. Wind sang in her ears as they rushed swiftly and surely
along the oiled road, but the two small fists she pressed against his
coat lapels did not relax.
"Aw, now, Peachy, you mustn't treat a fellow cold no more! Ain't I going
to marry you? Ain't I going to set you up right in my house out in
Newton Heights? Ain't I going to give you a swell ten-room house? Ain't
you going to live right in the house with my girl, and ain't she going
to have you for a little stepmother?"
"Jerry, the--the little girl. I wonder if she wants--"
"Sure she does. Her mother gets her every other month. I'd let her go
for good if you don't want her, except it would do her mother too much
good. The courts give her to me every other month and I'll have her down
to the last minute of the last hour or bust."
"That's what I gotta keep up the house out there for. The court says I
gotta give her a home, and that's why I want a little queen like you in
it. Gad! Won't her mother throw a red-headed fit when she sees the
little queen I picked! Gad!"
"Oh, Jerry, her your first wife and all! Won't it seem funny my going in
her house and--and living with her kid."
"Funny nothing. Cloonan won't think it's funny when I tell her she's
finished running my house for me. Funny nothing. To-morrow's Sunday and
I'm going to take you out in the afternoon and show you the place, and
Monday, instead of going to your bargain bin, we're going down for a
license, and you kiss the old hag good-by for me, too. Eh, how's that
for one day's work?"
"Gee! and--and--Monday the spring opening and me not there! Jerry, I--I
can't get over me being a lady in my own house. Me! Me that hates
ugliness and ugly clothes and ugly living so. Me that hates street-cars
and always even hated boat excursions 'cause they was poor folks'
pleasures. Me a lady in my own house. Oh, Jerry!"
She quivered in his arms and he kissed her again with his moist lips
pressed flat against hers.
"Ten rooms, Peachy--that's the way I do things."
They were curving up a gravel way, and through the lacy foliage of
spring lights gleamed, and there came the remoter strains of
She sat up and brushed back her hair.
"Is this the place?"
"Right-o! Now for that steak smothered in mushrooms, and, gad! I could
manage a sweetbread salad on the side if you asked me right hard."
They drew up in the flood-light of the entrance.
"'Ain't I told you not to open the door for me, George? I don't need no
black hand reaching back here to turn the handle for me. That don't make
up for bad driving. Black hands off."
They alighted with an uncramping and unbending of limbs.
"How'd some Lynnhavens taste to you for a starter, Peachy?"
"Fine, whatever they are."
A liveried attendant bowed them up the steps.
A woman in blue velvet, her white arms bare to the shoulder and stars in
her hair, paused in the doorway to drop her cloak. Her heavy perfume
drifted out to meet them.
Sadie Barnet's clutch of her companion's arm quickened and her thoughts
"Jerry--gee! wouldn't I look swell in--in a dress like that? Gee! Jerry,
stars and all!"
The cords in the muscles of his arm rose under her fingers.
"Them ain't one-two-three-six to the duds I'm going to hang on you. I
know her; she's an old-timer. Them duds ain't one-two-three-six."
In the heart of a silence as deep as a bottomless pool, with the black
hours that tiptoe on the heels of midnight shrouding her like a nun's
wimple, limbs trembling and her hands reluctant, Sadie Barnet knocked
lightly at her door, once, twice, thrice, and between each rap her heart
beat with twice its tempo against her breast.
Then her stealthy hand turned the white china knob and released it so
that it sprang backward with a click.
"Me, Dee Dee."
Her voice was swathed in a whisper.
She could hear the plong of the bedspring, the patter of bare feet
across the floor; feel the slight aperture of the opening door. She
oozed through the slit.
"All right, Dee Dee."
"God! I--I must have been sound asleep. What time is it?"
"It isn't late, Dee Dee."
"Light the gas."
"I--I can undress in the dark."
"Light the gas."
"Light it, I say."
"It's lit, Dee Dee."
The figure in the center of the room, in her high-necked, long-sleeved
nightdress, her sparse hair drawn with unpleasant tension from her brow,
her pale eyes wide, moved forward a step, one bare foot, calloused even
across the instep, extended.
"Dee Dee, what's the matter?"
She took them from Miss Barnet's trembling ringers and curved them about
"Quit your nonsense now and light the gas. I ain't in no humor for
foolin'. Quit waving that little spark in front of me. Light the gas. I
ain't going to look at the clock. I'm done worrying about your
carryings-on. I'm done. Light the gas, Sadie, there's a good girl.
Light the gas."
"Dee Dee! My God! Dee Dee, I--I tell you it's lit--big."
"There's a good girl, Sadie. Don't fool your old aunt."
"See, dearie, I ain't fooling. See, the gas-jet here beside the dresser.
Look--I can't turn it no higher. Hear it sing and splutter. You ain't
awake good yet, Dee Dee."
Silence--the ear-splitting silence that all in its brief moment is
crammed with years and years upon years. A cold gray wash seemed
suddenly to flow over Miss Worte's face.
"Put my finger next to the gas flame. You--you're lying to me to--to
fool your old aunt. Lemme feel my finger get burnt."
They moved, these two, across the floor, their blanched faces straining
ahead. With the sudden sting of heat finally across her palm, reddening
it, Miss Worte flung wide her arms and her head backward, and her voice
tore out without restraint.
"God! God! God!" And she fell to trembling so that her knees gave way
under her and she crouched on the floor with her face bared to the
ceiling, rocking herself back and forth, beating her fists against her
"God! God! God!"
"Dee Dee!--Dee Dee! my darling! my darling!"
"O God! O God! O God!"
"Dee Dee darling, it ain't nothing! A little too much strain, that's
all. 'Shh-h-h! Lemme bathe them. 'Shh-h-h, my darling. Oh, my God!
"Lemme go! Lemme go! He told me to-day it would come like this! Only he
didn't say how soon. Not how soon. I'm done for, I tell you! I'm done!
Kill me, Sadie; if you love me, kill me! He told me and I wouldn't
believe it! Kill me, girl, and put me out of it! I can't breathe in the
dark! I can't! I can't! I can't live in the dark with my eyes open! Kill
me, girl, and put me out of it--kill me! Kill me!"
"Dee Dee, my darling, ain't I right here with you? Didn't you always
say, darling, when it came you--you'd face it?"
Like St. Cecilia, who could not die, she crouched, and the curve of her
back rose and fell.
"O God! Oh--"
"Dee Dee darling, try not to holler out so! Maybe it ain't for--for
good. Aw, darling, keep your head down here next to me! Feel how close I
am, Dee Dee, right here next to you. 'Shh-h-h! O God! Dee Dee darling,
you'll kill yourself going on like that! Don't pull at your hair,
darling--don't! Oh, my God, don't!"
"I'm done! Kill me! Kill me! Don't make me live in the dark with my eyes
open--don't! There's a good girl, Sadie. Don't! Don't! Don't!"
From the room adjoining came a rattling at the barred door between.
"Cut it, in there! This ain't no barroom. Go tell your D. T.'s to a
They crouched closer and trembling.
"'Shh-h-h! Dee Dee, darling, try to be easy and not raise the
Miss Worte lay back exhausted against Miss Barnet's engulfing arms. Her
passion ebbed suddenly and her words came scant, incoherent, and full
"No use. No use. He told me to-day he wouldn't operate. He told me. No,
no, all the colors so pale--even the reds--so pale! Lavender and blue
I--I just couldn't tell. I couldn't. So pale. Two yards she brought back
next day, kicking at--Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"
'"Shh-h-h, darling! Don't take on so! Wait till morning and we'll get
new drops from him. 'Shh-h-h! Maybe it's only strain."
"I know. I'm in the dark for good, Sadie. Oh, my God! I'm in the dark!"
Except that her face was withered, she was like Iphigenia praying for
"Lemme die! Lemme die!"
"'Shh-h-h--darling--That's it, rest quiet."
Suddenly Miss Worte flung up one arm about Sadie Barnet's neck, pressing
her head downward until their faces touched.
"Dee Dee darling, you--you hurt."
"You won't never leave me, Sadie, like you said you would? You won't
leave me alone in the dark, Sadie?"
"No, no, my darling; you know I won't, never, never."
"You'll keep me with you always, promise me that, Sadie. Promise me
_that_ on the curl of your mother's hair you wear in your locket.
Promise me, little Sadie, you won't leave your aunt Dee Dee alone in
the dark. My poor little girl, don't leave me alone in the dark. I can't
see; Sadie, I can't see no more. Promise me, Sadie, promise me,
From Sadie Barnet's heart, weakening her like loss of blood, flowed her
tears. She kissed the heart of Edith Worte where it beat like a clock
beneath the high-necked nightdress; she made of her bosom a pillow of
mercy and drew the head up to its warmth.
"I--I promise, Dee Dee, on her curl of hair. Sure I promise. Always will
I keep you with me, darling, always, always, so help me, always."
Along the road to Newton Heights Spring and her firstlings crept out
tenderly. Even close up to the rim of the oiled highway itself, an
occasional colony of wood violets dared to show their heads for the
brief moment before they suffocated. The threat of rain still lay on the
air, but the Sunday rank and file of motors threw back tops, lowered
windshields, and turned shining noses toward the greening fields.
In the red-leather tonneau, with her little face wind-blown and bared to
the kiss in the air, Sadie Barnet turned to her companion and peered
under the visor of his checked cap and up into his small inset eyes.
"Is--is that the house up on the hill there, Jerry?"
"Not yet. It's right around the next bend."
"Gee! My--my hands are like ice, I--I'm that nervous."
"That's a swell way to treat a fellow who's promised to marry you."
"You--you must excuse me to-day, Jerry. Honest, without a wink of
sleep last night--you must excuse me to-day. I--I'm so upset with poor
Dee Dee, and on top of that so nervous about--your little girl and the
house and everything. And, Dee Dee--when I think of Dee Dee."
"Don't think, Peachy; that's the way to get around that."
"I--I can't help it. You ought to seen her at the doctor's this
morning, how--how the poor thing lost her nerve when he told her that
there--there wasn't no hope."
"Aw, now, cut the sob stuff, Peachy! You can't help it. Nobody can,
that's the trouble. Say, what kind of a little queen will they think you
are if I bring you home all soppy with crying?"
"I ought not to have come, Jerry. I'm no kind of company to-day, only
all of a sudden she's got so--so soft with me and she made me come while
she--she tried to take a nap. Poor old Dee Dee!"
"Yeh, and poor old devil. Maybe she's just getting what's due to her."
"Sure, I believe every one of us gets what's coming to us."
"Here we are, Tootsie. See, Peachy, that's the house I bought her and
her mother, and they was kicking at it before the plaster was dry."
"That's a concrete front. Neat, ain't it? That's a mosaic-floor porch,
too, I built on a year after her and her mother vamoosed."
"It's a beau-tiful house, Jerry."
"You're the land of a kid that knows how to appreciate a home when she
gets it. But her with her she-devil of a mother, they no sooner got in
than they began to side with each other against me--her and her old
mother trying to learn me how to run my own shebang."
"Gad! they're living in a dirty Harlem flat now and tryin' to put it
over on me that they're better off in it. Bah! if I had to double up on
alimony, I wouldn't give her a smell at this house, not a smell."
"Say, but ain't it pretty, Jerry, right up over the river, and country
all around, and right over there in back the street-cars for the city
when you want them?"
"This is going to be your street-car, Peachy, a six-cylinder one."
She colored like a wild rose.
"Oh, Jerry, I--I keep forgetting."
"By Gad! it's a good thing I'm going to give up my city rooms and come
out here to watch my p's and q's. Gosh darn her neck! I told her to quit
cluttering up that side-yard turf with her gosh darn little flower-beds!
Gosh darn her neck! There never was a servant worth her hide."
"Jerry, why, they're beautiful! They just look beautiful, those pansies,
and is that the little girl sitting up there on the porch steps? Is--is
They drew to a stop before the box-shaped ornate house, its rough
concrete front pretentiously inlaid over the doors and windows with a
design of pebbles stuck like dates on a cake, and perched primly on the
topmost step of the square veranda the inert figure of a small girl.
"Aw, ain't she cute?"
Miss Barnet sprang lightly to the sidewalk, and beside her Mr. Jerome
Beck flecked the dust of travel from the bay of his waistcoat, shaking
his trousers knees into place.
"This has got your Twenty-third Street dump beat a mile, and then some,
'ain't it, Peachy?"
"Jerry, call her here, the little girl. You tell her who--who I am. Tell
her gently, Jerry, and--and how good I'm going to be to her and--Aw,
ain't I the silly, though, to feel so trembly?"
The child on the step regarded their approach with unsmiling eyes, nor
did she move except to draw aside her dark stuff skirts and close her
knees until they touched.
"Hello there! Moping again, eh? Get up! Didn't I tell you not to let me
catch you not out playing or helping Cloonan around? Say howdy to this
lady. She's coming out here to live. Come here and say howdy to her."
The child shrank to the newel-post, her narrow little face overtaken
with an agony of shyness.
"Cat got your tongue? Say howdy. Quit breathing through your mouth like
a fish. Say howdy, that's a good girl."
"Don't force her, Jerry. She's bashful. Ain't you, dearie? Ain't you,
"Moping, you mean. If it was her month in the dirty Harlem flat she'd be
spry enough. She knows what I mean whan I say that, and she knows she
better cut out this pouting. Quit breathing through your mouth or I'll
stick a cork in it."
"Aw, Jerry, she can't help that!"
"Cat got your tongue? Where's Cloonan?"
The child's little face quivered and screwed, each feature drawing
itself into position for tears. Her eyes disappeared, her nostrils
distended, her mouth opened to a quivering rectangle, and she fell into
"Aw, Jerry--you--you scared her! Come here, darling; come here to me,
Maisie; come, dearie."
But the child slid past the extended arms, down the wooden steps, and
around a corner of the house, her arm held up across her eyes.
"Aw, Jerry, honest, you can be awful mean!"
"I'll get that out of her or know the reason why. They've poisoned her
against me, that's about how it is in a nutshell. I'll get that pouting
to be in that dirty Harlem hole with her mother and grandmother out of
her or know the reason why."
"Look, this is the front hall. Guess this 'ain't got that sty in
Twenty-third Street beat some. Look! How do you like it? This way to the
parlor and dining-room."
Sadie Barnet smiled through the shadows in her eyes.
"Jerry! Say, ain't this beau-tiful! A upright piano and gold, chairs
and--Why, Jerry! why, Jerry!"
"And look in here, the dining-room. Her and her mother shopped three
weeks to get this oak set, and see this fancy cabinet full of china.
Slick, ain't it?"
Her fingers curled in a soft, clutch around her throat as if her breath
came too fast.
"Jerry, it--it's just grand."
He marshaled her in all the pride of ownership.
"Look, butler's pantry, exposed plumbing."
"Here, Cloonan. I told you I was going to bring somebody out to take
hold and sit on you and your bills, didn't I? This lady's coming out
here tomorrow, bag and baggage. Hand over your account-book to her and I
bet she does better with it. See that you fix us up in honeymoon style,
too. Bag and baggage we're coming. Savvy?"
The figure beside the ill-kept stove, bowl in lap and paring potatoes
with the long fleshless hands of a bird, raised a still more
"Cloonan's been running this shebang for two years now, Peachy, and
there ain't nothing much she can't learn you about my ways. They ain't
hard. Look! Porcelain-lined sink. It's got Twenty-third Street beat
some, 'ain't it?"
"Fix us a beefsteak supper, Cloonan, and lemme weigh up them groceries I
sent out and lemme see your books afterward. Come, Peachy, here, up
these stairs. This is the second floor. Pretty neat, ain't it? Her and
her mother shopped three more weeks on this oak bed-set. Some little
move out here from Twenty-third Street for a little rooming-house queen
like you, eh? Neat little bedroom, eh, Peachy? Eh?"
His face was close to her and claret red with an expression she did not
dare to face.
"And what's this next room here, Jerry? Ain't it sweet and
quiet-looking! Spare room? Ain't it pretty with them little white
curtains? Quit, quit, Jerry! You mustn't--you mustn't."
She broke from his embrace, confusion muddling her movements.
"Is this the--the spare room?"
"It is, now. It used to be the old woman's till I laid down on the
mother-in-law game and squealed. Yeh, I used to have a little
mother-in-law in our house that was some mother-in-law. Believe me, she
makes that old devil of yourn look like a prize angel."
"I--This'll be just the room for Dee Dee, Jerry, where she can feel the
morning sun and hear the street-cars over there when she gets lonesome.
She ought to have the sunniest room, because it's something she can feel
without seeing--poor thing. This will be a swell room for poor old blind
Dee Dee, won't it, Jerry? Won't it, Jerry dear?"
"Cut the comedy, Peachy. There's a neat free ward waiting for her just
the other direction from the city than Newton Heights. Cut the
"Jerry, I--I gotta have her with me. I--Now that she--she's in the dark.
She couldn't stand an institution, Jerry, she--she just couldn't."
"That's what they all say, but they get over it. I know a--"
"She couldn't, Jerry. She 'ain't had much in her life, but she's always
had a roof over her head that wasn't charity, and she always said,
Jerry, that she couldn't never stand a--a institution. She can take any
other room you say, Jerry. Maybe there's a little one up-stairs in the
third story we could fix up comfy for her; but she's in the dark now,
Jerry, and, my God! Jerry, she just couldn't stand an institution!"
He patted her shoulder and drew her arm through his.
"You lemme take care of that. She don't need to know nothing about it.
We'll tell her we're sending her for a visit to the country for a while.
After the second day she'll be as snug as a bug in a rug. They're good
to 'em in those places; good as gold."
"No, no, Jerry! No, no! I gotta have her with me! She raised me from a
kid and--and she couldn't stand it, Jerry! I gotta have her, I gotta! I
His mouth sagged downward suddenly and on an oblique.
"Say, somebody must have given you a few lessons in nagging, yourself.
Them's the lines she used to recite to me about her she-devil of a
mother, too. Gad! she used to hang on her mother's apron-strings like
she was tied."
"Come, Peachy, don't get me sore. Come, let's talk about to-morrow. We
gotta get the license first and--"
"Jerry, I--Promise me I can have her with me first. I--Just a little yes
is all I want--Jerry dear--just a little yes."
A frown gathered in a triple furrow on his brow.
"Now, kiddo, you got to cut that with me, and cut it quick. If there's
two things I can't stand it's nagging and pouting. Cloonan can tell you
what pouting can drive me to. I'll beat it out of that girl of mine
before she's through with me, and I won't stand it from no one else. Now
cut it, Peachy, that's a nice girl."
He paced the carpeted space of floor between the dresser and bed, his
mouth still on the oblique.
"Now cut it, Peachy, I said, and cut it quick."
She stood palpitating beside the window, her eyes flashing to his face
and fastening there.
"God! I--I wanna go."
Her glance flashed past him out of the window and across the patch of
rear lawn. A street-car bobbed across the country; she followed it with
"I wanna go."
He advanced, conciliatory. "Aw, now, Peachy, a row just the day before
we are married. You don't want to start out making me train you just
like you was a little kid. If you was a little girl I could beat your
little ways out of you, but I wanna be on the level with you and show
you how nice I can be. All the things I'm going to give you, all--"
"Quit, you! I wanna go! I wanna go!"
"You can go to hell, for my part. I'm going to get a steak inside of me
before we budge. Quit your fooling. See, you nearly got me sore there.
Come, the car won't be back for us until six. Come, Peachy, come."
She was past him and panting down the stairs, out across the patch of
rear lawn, and toward the bobbing street-car, the streamer of ribbon at
her throat flying backward over her shoulder.
In the bargain basement of the Titanic Store the first day of the spring
opening dragged to its close. In a meadow beside a round pond a tree
dripped apple blossoms, each so frail a thing that it fluttered out and
away, too light to anchor.
In careless similitude the bargain basement of the Titanic Store
resuscitated from its storerooms, and from spring openings long gone by,
dusty garlands of cotton May blossoms, festooning them between the great
white supporting pillars of the basement and intertwining them.
Over the white-goods counter and over Sunday, as it were, a papier-mâché
pergola of green lattice-work and more cotton-back May blossoms had
sprung up as if the great god Wotan had built it with a word. Cascades
of summer linens, the apple green and the butter yellow, flowed from
counters and improvised tables. Sadie Barnet's own mid-aisle bin had
blossomed into a sacrificial sale of lawn remnants, and toward the close
of the day her stock lay low, depleted.
Max Meltzer leaned out of his bower, and how muted his voice, as if it
came from an inner throat that only spoke when the heart bade it.
"Little one, them remnants went like hot cakes, didn't they?"
"Hot cakes! Well, I guess. You'd have thought there was a mill-end sale
on postage stamps."
"And if you don't look all tired out! If you just don't!"
The ready tears swam in her voice.
"It's--it's been awful--me away from her all day like this. But,
anyways, I got news for her when I go home to-night about her five
weeks' benefit money. Old Criggs was grand. He's going to send the
committee to see her. Anyways, that's some good news for her."
"I just can't get her out of my mind, neither. Seems like I--I just can
see her poor blind face all the time."
"They say the girls up in the ribbons been crying all day. She was no
love-bird, but they say she wasn't bad underneath."
"God knows she--she wasn't."
"That's the way with some folks; they're hard on top, but everybody
knows hard-shell crabs have got sweeter meat than soft."
"Nobody knows that she was a rough diamond better than me. I got sore at
her sometimes, but I--I know she was always there when I--I needed her,
"Now, now, little girl, don't cry! You're all worn out."
"She--she was always there to stand by me in--in a pinch."
"Honest, Miss Sadie, you look just like a pretty little ghost. What you
need is some spring air, girlie, some spring air for a tonic. Wouldn't I
just love to take you all by your little self down the river to-night on
one of them new Coney boats, where we could be--right quiet. Say,
"I wanna talk to you, Miss Sadie. Can't you guess? I wanna get you all
by yourself and talk to you right in your little ear."
'"Shh-h-h! You mustn't talk like that."
"That's the only way I have of trying to tell you how--how I feel, Miss
"When I call you that it means--well, you know, dearie, you know. That's
why I wanna take you to-night, dearie, all by your little self and--"
"No, no, Mr. Meltzer! I can't leave her alone like that. I promised I
would never leave her alone in the dark if--if I could help it."
"Ain't I the dub? Sure you can't leave her. We gotta stick by her now,
dearie. 'Ain't we? 'Ain't we?"
A red seepage of blood surged across his face and under his hair.
Beneath his little hedge of mustache his lips quivered as if at their
"We gotta stick by her, dearie."
All her senses swam, nor could she control the fluttering of her hands.
"What you and poor old Dee Dee need is some of this spring air. Gee!
wouldn't I love to take you--and her down the river to-night on one of
them new Coney boats? Gee! would I? Just you and--and her."
"Max--oh, Max dearie!"
By the great order of things which decreed that about the time Herod,
brother to no man, died, Jesus, brother to all men, should be born; and
that Rabelais, moral jester, should see light the very year that
orthodox Louis XI passed on, by that same metaphysical scheme reduced to
its lowliest, Essman's drop-picture machine, patent applied for, was
completed the identical year that, for Rudolph Pelz, the rainy-day skirt
slumped from a novelty to a commodity.
At a very low tide in the affairs of the Novelty Rainy Day
Skirt Company, Canal Street, that year of our Lord, 1898, when
letter-head stationery was about to be rewritten and the
I-haven't-seen-you-since-last-century jocosity was about to be born,
Rudolph Pelz closed his workaday by ushering out Mr. Emil Hahn, locking
his front door after his full force of two women machine-stitchers, and
opening a rear door upon his young manhood's estate. A modest-enough
holding in the eyes of you or me as beholders; but for the past week not
an evening upon opening that door but what tears rushed to his throat,
which he laughed through, for shame of them.
On a bed, obviously dragged from its shadowy corner to a place beside
the single window, and propped up so that her hair, so slickly banding
her head in two plaits, sprang out against the coarsely white pillows,
Mrs. Rosa Sopinsky Pelz, on an evening when the air rose sultry, stale,
and even garbage-laden from a cat-and-can-infested courtyard, flashed
her quick smile toward that opening door, her week-old infant suckling
at her breast.
"You ought to seen, Roody; she laughed! Puckered herself up into the
cutest little grin when mamma left just now."
Mr. Pelz wound his way through an overcrowded huddle of furniture that
was gloomily, uglily utilitarian. A sideboard spread in pressed glass; a
chest of drawers piled high with rough-dry family wash; a coal-range,
and the smell and sound of simmering. A garland of garlic, caught up
like smilax, and another of drying red peppers. On a shelf above the
sink, cluttered there with all the pitiful unprivacy of poverty, a
layout, to recite which will label me with the nigritude of the realist,
but which is actually the nigritude of reality--a dish of
brown-and-white blobs of soap; a coffee-cup with a great jag in its lip;
a bottle of dried beans; a rubber nipple floating in a saucer of water;
a glass tumbler containing one inverted tooth-brush; a medicine-bottle
glued down in a dark-brown pool of its own substance; a propped-up bit
of mirror, jagged of edge; a piece of comb; a rhinestone breastpin; a
bunion-plaster; a fork; spoon; a sprouting onion. Yet all of this
somehow lit by a fall of very coarse, very white, and very freshly
starched lace curtains portière-fashion from the door, looped back in
great curves from the single window, and even skirting stiffly and
cleanly the bureau-front and bed-edge.
"How is my little mammela?" said Mr. Pelz, leaning over the bed to kiss
Mrs. Pelz on the shining plaits, the light-tan column of throat and the
little fist pressed so deeply into her bosom.
"Just ought to seen, Roody--honest, she laughed and nearly jerked off
mamma's _sheidel!_" [Footnote: Black wig worn by orthodox Jewish
women after marriage.]
"Red head!" he said, stroking down at the warm "bulge of blanket, so
snugly enclosed in the crotch of mothering arm.
"It's redder than yours already, Roody."
"She's sure a grand little thing cuddled up there, ain't it so,
She reached up to pat his blue shirt-sleeve.
"There's some herring on the table mamma brought over, and some raw meat
and onions. That's some _borshtsh_ on the stove Etta carried all the way
over from Hester Street for your supper."
"And what for the little mammela?"
"I'm fed up, Roody. Mamma closed the store at five to run over with some
of that milk-shake like Doctor Aarons said. He sent his little son
Isadore over with the prescription. Like I said to mamma, she should let
the Canal Street Kosher Sausage Company do double the business from five
until six while she closes shop to carry her daughter a milk-shake! Like
I was used to it from home!"
"When my girl gets to be a little mammela, the best shouldn't be none
She continued to stroke up at his sleeve and occasionally on up into
his uneven shock of red hair.
"You miss me in the shop, Roody?"
"You should just see once how that Ruby Grabenheiner sits at your
machine! She does one-half your work not one-half so good."
"I'll be back next week Monday."
He patted her quickly. "No! No! A mammela's place is with her baby."
"Roody, you make me laugh. I should sit at home now since we got a new
mouth to feed? That would be a fine come-off!"
"Who do you think was just in, Rosie? Emil Hahn."
"Sol is going to make for me, Roody, one of those little packing-case
cribs like he built for Etta up in the pants-factory, so when the
machine works it rocks, too. Did--did the check from Solomon & Glauber
come in on the last mail, Roody?"
"Now, Rosie, you mustn't worry yourself about such--"
"What you looking so funny for, Roody?"
"I was starting to tell you, Rosie--Hahn was just in and--"
"Roody, don't change the subject on me always. You looked funny. Is it
something wrong with Solomon & Glau--"
"If you don't take the cake, Rosie! Now, why should I look funny?
'Funny,' she says I look, I'm hungry. I smell Etta's _borshtsh_."
She half raised herself, the pulling lips of the child drawing up the
little head from the cove of arm.
"Rosie, you mustn't lift up that way!"
"Roody, I can read you like a book! Solomon & Glauber have
"Now, Rosie, wouldn't that keep until--"
"Well, if you got to know it, Rosie, they're shipping back the
"What you going to do about it? Give you my word never seen the like.
It's like the rainy-day skirt had died overnight. All of a sudden from a
novelty, I find myself with such a commodity that every manufacturer in
the business is making them up for himself."
"You seen it first, though, Roody. Nobody can take it away from you that
you seen first how the rainy-day skirt and its shortness would be such a
success with the women."
"'Seen it first,' she says! Say, what good does it do me if I didn't see
far enough? I pick for myself such a success that I crowd myself out of
"It's a dirty shame! A big firm like Solomon & Glauber should not be
"Say, if it wouldn't be Solomon & Glauber, it would be Funk & Hausman or
any other firm. The rainy-day skirt has slipped out of my hands, Rosie,
to the big fellows. We must realize that for ourselves. That's the
trouble when you don't deal in a patented product. What's the little
fellows like myself to do against a firm like Solomon & Glauber? Start
"Three countermands in a week, and no orders coming in!"
"Say, it don't tickle my ribs no more than yours."
"Roody, maybe it's the worst thing ever happened to us you wouldn't
listen to mamma and be satisfied with being chief cutter at Lipschuts'."
"Shame on you, Rosie! You want your daughter to grow up with a
pants-cutter all her life for a father? You want I should die in
somebody else's harness. Maybe I didn't hit it right away, but I say
yet, if a fellow's got the eyes and the nerve to see ahead a little with
"'Imagination.' He talks like a story-book."
"Now--now, take Hahn, Rosie--there's a fellow's got imagination--but not
enough. I know it makes you mad when I talk on his picture-machine, but
you take it from me--there's a fellow with a good thing under his very
nose, but he--he 'ain't quite got the eyes to see ahead."
"Say, for such a good thing like Emil Hahn's picture-machine, where his
wife had to work in my own mother's sausage-store, I can't make
"He 'ain't quite got the eyes to see, Rosie, the big idea in it. He's
afraid of life, instead of making it so that life should be afraid of
him. Ten dollars cheaper I can buy that machine to-day than last week. A
song for it, I tell you."
"Ninety dollars to me is no cheap song, Roody."
"The people got to be amused the same as they got to be fed. A man will
pay for his amusements quicker than he will pay his butcher's or his
doctor's bill. It's a cash business, Rosie. All you do with such a
machine like Hahn's is get it well placed, drop your penny in the slot,
and see one picture after another as big as life. I remember back in the
old country, the years before we came over, when I was yet a
"You bet Hahn never put his good money in that machine. I got it from
Birdie Hahn herself. For a bad debt he took it over along with two
feather beds and--"
"One after another pictures as big as life, Rosie, like real people
moving. One of them, I give you my word, it's grand! A woman it shows
all wrapped tight around in white, on a sofa covered over with such a